Spring is finally here and summer is just around the corner. You know what that means: you have to figure out how to entertain the kids until school is back in session.
Summer’s the perfect time to get away with the family, but vacations can be expensive, especially if you’re bringing the whole gang. Between airfare, car rentals, hotels – and oh yeah, doing activities when you actually get to where you’re going – it makes you wonder if you can even afford a vacation (especially when you could be using that money for other things like like your retirement and life insurance).
Maybe that’s why unused vacation time is at a 40 year high.
But vacations are important! They’re good for your health, give you opportunities to learn new things, and help strengthen relationships. Luckily, they don't have to cost you a fortune.
Choosing your vacation
Regardless of where you go on vacation, there are a few things you can do to lower the costs.
First, consider visiting your destination in the off season. For example, tropical beaches in the summer are prime spots for hurricanes, so prices are lower. For a less-dangerous example, wine country visits are cheaper, not to mention less crowded, in the winter. Marriott has a great infographic of travel spots and when they’re at their most affordable.
Second, use travel comparison sites. Using sites like Kayak will let you compare deals on hotels, flights, and cars, and many have package deals for an all-in-one experience. Do a little digging and keep your eye out for deals to save potentially hundreds of dollars.
Finally, consider alternative forms of accommodation. Airbnb can save you a ton over a hotel, and you can stay in places that are a little more intimate and local than a 15-story building off of a freeway exit. If you’re the adventurous type and willing to get friendly with other visitors, hostels can be a great experience, in a "college student backpacking across Europe" sort of way.
Obviously, where you go plays a huge role, too. With these six travel plans you can take a cheap family vacation that's also an unforgettable trip.
Is this cheating a little since it’s not a single destination? Maybe, but it’s hard to get a better deal than visiting a national park.
The United States has 59 national parks. Some of them are pretty popular – you’ve heard of the Grand Canyon, right? – but that doesn’t mean they’re expensive. Most national parks have an entrance fee of $30 for a vehicle, and the cost covers your whole family – no paying individual admission fees for each person. Some parks, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, don’t even have an entrance fee, and most parks participate in free entrance days, when the fee will be waived 5 or 6 days out of the year.
National parks are filled with history lessons (tell your kids about how Ulysses S. Grant started the National Park Service with Yellowstone) and you and your family can experience the outdoors all across the country.
There are a lot of options if you’re interested in experiencing some Southern charm, but if you want to avoid the bustle of big cities, Savannah should be on your list.
Even better, there are a ton of things to do on the cheap in Savannah. Whether it’s touring historical cemeteries, homes, and churches, checking out beaches and boardwalks of Tybee Island, or hitting all of its famous squares, there’s a lot you can do without ever pulling out your wallet.
Our nation’s capital is pricey – the median home price is over half a million dollars – but if you’re vacationing, there’s a lot you can do on the cheap to keep your overall costs low.
It’s hard to beat D.C. in terms of educational vacations. The number of museums and monuments is second to none, and whether you’re learning about the history of the United States, checking out the National Air and Space Museum, or just walking the National Mall, most of it won’t cost you a dime – admission for all of the Smithsonian museums (there are 17 in D.C., with 11 on the National Mall itself) and the National Zoo are free.
Obviously, if you want to save money (and bring the kids along) skip Mardi Gras. But – surprise! – there are things to do in New Orleans that don’t involve alcohol and beads.
The French Quarter is the crown jewel of New Orleans, and free walking tours means you can see all of the history and culture it has to offer while saving your money for great cuisine and jazz music. Staying in the Central Business District or the Garden District, or choosing smaller accommodations instead of a chain hotel, helps stretch your dollar even further.
You can’t go wrong visiting a beach, but you don’t want to have to compromise between price and locale. The last thing you need on your vacation is to save a ton of money and then realize the beach is more sharp rock than warm sand.
Luckily, with Myrtle Beach, you don’t have to make that compromise. It’s a great place to visit, especially with a family, and it’s affordable.
You can’t put a price on lounging peacefully in the sun (except for the cost of sunscreen!) but even if you get tired of the beach, you can check out the aquarium, baseball team, and the boardwalk. There’s even an amusement park, and with tickets under $30, compared to, say, Disney World’s ~$100 ticket price, it becomes an even better deal.
Okay, time for another cheat, because this isn’t a single destination, either. But did you know you could actually do work when you’re on vacation?
I know, that’s probably not what you had in mind, right? After all, you take vacations to get away from work, not to do more!
But hear me out. Coordinating your vacation with an organization like WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – or Farm Stay U.S., will allow you to stay on a farm and get food and accommodations in exchange for a little old fashioned work. Nothing says "cheap vacation" than not having to pay for it.
If you’re stuck behind a desk all day, a vacation where you plant seeds, cut wood, and build fences might be exactly what you need to refresh yourself. And what kid wouldn’t want to spend a little time milking cows, feeding goats, and making mud bricks? It’s like a petting zoo!
A good vacation isn’t just relaxing or letting off steam. The places listed above give a ton of opportunities for the whole family to experience new settings, new cultures, and to learn, whether it’s in a museum or at a historical site.
Plus, none of them are short on fun. We didn’t forget that part about vacations.