A lot of people are on budget these days that make things like air travel, hotels and a week of “eating out” pretty much impossible. The frustration of not being able to provide these mega-adventures for your family can make you want to throw up your hands and just rent RedBox and pop popcorn for a week and say “sorry kids; that’s it!”, but even with just a few dollars you might be able to do so much more. You have to dedicate yourself to a little research, and maybe enlist some help from family and friends, but you might be surprised at what’s out there.
Where can you go?
Do you know anyone with a house, condo or apartment in a desirable location you can get to on your budget? If you put it out there that you’d like to trade your time, expertise, hard labor, or maybe just a little money for a few days at this Shangri-La, you might be surprised at what happens next. If your kids aren’t prone to playing with hammers and bats in the house, you might have some nice offers to help with a little break.
Camping may be an option too. Many campsites with running water are only $10-$20 per night. You can pick up air mattresses and sleeping bags at garage sales almost any weekend (you might needs some patch kits for those mattresses though), and even a camp stove and decent tent probably won’t set you back more than $100 or so total. Some parks have full bathroom facilities and even showers.
If you determine your best option is to stay at home, you can still make it a vacation. Count the days until it starts, prepare the house and yard for the things you’re planning, and get everyone on board with the idea that when you wake up on the “first day”, your house is now your hotel.
Things to do
Pretty much every region in the country has some kind of “Free things to do with your kids near (where you are) guide. It might be an actual book or it might be a website (or even a blog like this one), but there’s probably something you can find. I have a book called “FREE things to do with kids in Orange County”. It’s a BIG, THICK BOOK!!! Parks with “come on in!” water fountains. Hiking trails to waterfalls with swimming holes. FREE days at museums and art galleries. “Ranger talks” at regional parks (you may have to pay $3-$5 per car at the gate). Lots of cool things your kids may remember for years.
If you can spend a few dollars, the opportunities grow exponentially. Regional, state and national parks. Discount movies. Miniature golf and other activity parks. Whenever you find something that sounds “right”… do another internet search for discounts or coupons to make it even cheaper!
When you’re planning your time together, find out what people want to eat. If you can eat out a few times, see where you can go that has the food your family wants. Then look for specials, coupons, and/or the “kids eat free” night (many restaurants have these). For the nights you’re eating “in” make a big deal out of what people want and how you’re all going to enjoy making that happen. Make the meals “events”, so you don’t lose any enthusiasm during your special time with the family.
You can also “eat out” at many local parks. We have regional parks with lakes, train rides, baseball diamonds, boat rentals and other activities, and plenty of BBQ pits and picnic tables to go around, especially on weekdays. It’s almost as easy as BBQing in the back yard, but you’re kids will feel like they’re on an adventure. Don’t forget to make a checklist though… you don’t want to get there and realize you can’t light your coals or flip your burgers!
This will mean different things depending on how small your budget is running. It may be a dinner out “at the water”, or a special day at a theme park or other attraction. Maybe deep sea fishing or a visit to a special museum. What are the key attraction where you’re staying? Check out all your options. Kid and senior discounts? Auto Club discounts? Discounts for Scouts? Do web searches on everything you can think of, and call the venue if you don’t find anything… “any special pricing or add-ons for…???” Ask again the day you arrive… you never know.
Have a schedule
Even if you’re running your whole vacation from home, have a schedule, talk about the schedule and stay excited and engaged. “Finish eating! We nee do be on the trail by 9am so we can have lunch cooking by 1!” “We’ve got to be back to the car in 20 minutes, or we’ll miss the beginning of tonight’s movie!”
More than anything else, your kids want to spend quality time with YOU. If they can see that you are loving the experience of doing that, you’re creating the quality time you so want to provide!