As a mom of two toddlers whose summertime cabin fever results in mass destruction, I am all about the staycation. Though we have a beach weekend to look forward to at the end of the summer, I still have to figure out what to do with these lovable rug rats for the eight weekends leading up to our trip.
What I have discovered during my “local fun times” research is that whoever coined the term staycation is a genius. The internet — and especially Pinterest — is full of cheap and easy staycation ideas for families and singles. I would wager to bet that there are at least a dozen inexpensive or free places you haven’t explored yet in your neck of the woods.
If you need some ideas for summertime weekend entertainment, or if you want to plan a low-cost local getaway on a budget, these amazing staycation ideas are the answer to your prayers.
1. Get a Groupon
Are you, too, a seemingly average lady with a secret Groupon addiction? If so, we can be friends. I’m not much of a coupon cutter, but try as I might, I can’t delete any Groupon email that hits my inbox. As Carol Jones of My Bored Toddler points out, local Groupon deals are a staycation gold mine. They’ll give you plenty of new ideas for nearby tourist attractions you may not have thought of before. (Half-price honey-bottling tour, anyone?)
If you want to have the best Groupon experience, take the advice of Meghan Khaitan, family travel expert and founder of the MyBuckleMate seat belt, and get organized. She says, “Make a schedule of each day of your staycation and what you plan to do. Make sure you have enough activities planned to cover the duration of the staycation. Get the kids involved to make sure you have activities they will enjoy. Having a mix of time at home and time out of the house will be a good balance.”
2. Go camping
— Guy Thériault (@Guy_Theriault) June 5, 2015
Perhaps the smartest way to keep your staycation under two Hamiltons is to map out local state parks and plan a family camping trip with the gear you already have on hand. Richard Masoner, avid cyclist and camper, says, “Some California state parks offer walk-in/bike-in campsites for only $5 a night. Some of these are near urban areas, so no travel required for those who happen to live nearby.” Masoner provides a hefty helping of staycation inspiration in his blog that catalogs his family’s cheap, overnight bike camping adventure.
For a bare-bones version of Masoner’s staycation, Jones explains her cheap and fun approach to keeping young children busy: “Camp out in your backyard — put up a tent and BBQ outside for the night.”
3. Go to a festival
While I am a fan of major festivals that involve music, fried Oreos and beer, I’m an even bigger fan of the random and the weird festivals you may find off the beaten path. If you live in a bustling metropolis, locating a festival almost any weekend of the summer shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re willing to travel to smaller towns in your radius, a fantastically unexpected fiesta may await you — like the Lilac Festival in Mackinac Island, Michigan, in June or the Rosenberg Junk Hippy Roadshow in Rosenberg, Texas, in July.
4. Go to the symphony
— Cassie O'Brien (@cassiiobrien) February 20, 2013
If summertime heat is melting your face off, as it is in my area of South Texas, you may want to move this tip to the top of your list. Perfect for families with older children, couples and singles, April Masini of Ask April recommends an evening of culture as a refreshing summertime treat. Masini says, “Find your local symphony and scour their website for concerts being performed during your staycation. There are usually $20 seats in the back of symphony concerts or up front for quartets or smaller event concerts. Live music is a treat that we usually forget about because iTunes are so easy. Treat yourself!”
5. Hit the beach
— DeAnna Lynn Englezos (@DeeLynn) May 25, 2015
If there is a coast within driving distance of your town, put a day trip to the beach on your summer radar, stat. Take it from me — a single day beach trip could save you anywhere from $200-$500 on the cost of an overnight hotel or condo rental. You can keep costs low during your day of fun in the sun with this helpful tip from TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals’ spokesperson Laurel Greatrix: Bring food from home.
Greatrix tells SheKnows, “When it comes to lunch, avoid the pricey beachfront restaurants and pack a cooler with sandwiches and shareable snacks instead. Not only will this cut down on costs, you’ll be able to spend more time on the beach and less time in long lines.”
6. Hit up local businesses
— Claire Said 🇿🇦 (@claire_said_hi) February 2, 2014
If you happen to live in a non-touristy area, i.e., anywhere in the country that isn’t next to a beautiful beach or a major theme park, you may notice an interesting phenomenon in your town during the hot summer months. Paul Moyer of Saving Freak explains that local businesses often see a dip in traffic during vacation season, incentivizing them to drop their rates even more.
Moyer continues, “For instance, our local bowling alley is doing $10 all you can bowl, one day a week in June. So for my family, the biggest deal is always on local businesses and attractions that do not do as much business in the summer or on holidays.”
7. Watch a movie under the stars
Once the weather is warmer, one of the most affordable and relaxing ways to while away a summer night is to watch a movie alfresco. For the most part, you’re going to find a much more eclectic selection of movie showings at a local park or on a city rooftop — i.e., classic films and favorites instead of major box office hits. For example, the up-and-coming Arts + Entertainment District (A+E) in the heart of Greater Downtown Miami features free outdoor film screenings as a favorite summertime activity, in partnership with the Miami International Film Festival.
If it’s too sticky to even think about sitting outside on a summer night, Khaitan has the perfect solution — have a sundae and movie day instead. “If your kids love movies, pick out some classic movies to binge on for a day. Create an ice cream sundae bar with lots of ice cream flavors and toppings. Also, make some popcorn and have soda on hand. Choose a theme like cowboy westerns, comedies, aliens or even Harry Potter!”