Tips on Planning a Family Vacation on a Budget
An AAA survey in 2008 “showed that the average American couple traveling in North America would spend about $250 per day for lodging and meals. Typically, people travel for 2-5 days so this would put a trip for two at about $500 – $1250. The cost does go up if there are more people involved or traveling with kids.” (WhattoKnow.org) Depending on the age of your children, their cost per day probably equals, or, in some cases exceeds, yours.
A successful family vacation doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but does take a little bit of research and a bit of imagination.
The Voice of Experience
Last summer, I found myself in the predicament many families are facing these days – too much month at the end of the money. Of course, this presents a particular challenge in keeping my boys occupied during the summer. We did what I think many families are choosing to do – “stay”-cations. There are so many things to discover in the areas around where we live – car shows, festivals, waterways, small-town museums, grist mills, National parks, boat locks that are either free or cost very little (aside from the cost of gas). These activities fed one son’s love of history and old things, and the other son’s fascination with boats and water. They also provided me a chance to create memories for my sons and build my relationship with them. It was a great summer even though many of our trips didn’t cost a thing, again, except for gas. Our little trips weren’t extravagant, but they sure were fun.
Economical Family Vacation Tips
Camping – “According to USA Tourist, it costs on average $20-$30 per night for a ‘well-equipped’ campsite and the average stay at a state park is 3-4 days” (Smartfamilyfinance.com) and in the end costs nearly $400 less than vacations that involve hotels (which cost around $100 per night). Even using an RV can result in considerable cost savings over car/hotel vacations.
Cost saving tips include:
- Borrowing your camping equipment or buy used (Craigslist, ebayclassifieds, garage sales)
- Bringing your own food and drinks, and other supplies to avoid paying higher costs at the campsite
- Being aware that having a campsite with more amenities and conveniences will cost more – go as basic as possible
- Choosing a campground that is not in the “immediate” tourist area. Campgrounds in the heart of a tourist area often charge more.
- Considering a State park – some State parks charge as little at $10 per night
Summer Festivals and Fairs – Summer festivals are a lot of fun and can offer entertainment and education at the same time. Fairs often have rides and concessions that require tickets, so do your research and plan your budget in advance for these things. Keep watching local newspapers to find out what activities are going on. Most states have tourism offices that can provide you with information about what’s happening in your area, or wherever you plan to visit. Vintage car shows are also fun free entertainment for an afternoon.
National Parks – Perhaps consider a visit to one of the 2,000 National Parks. An annual adult pass costs $80 which gets you into all 2,000 parks. Children 15 and under are free. The pass covers “entrance and standard amenity fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or four adults at sites that charge per person).” (National Park Service) Active duty military personnel and dependents can get a FREE annual pass. Seniors can pay $10 for a lifetime pass. The National Parks also offer certain days of the year free.
Museums and Historic Sites – Aside from the obvious big museums, take a few moments to look into some of the smaller museums in your area. Many old historic buildings have been turned into museums to tell about the lives of those who lived before us and helped build a nation. Often these little-known and little-publicized museums can offer great discoveries and teach you things you never knew about the past. Grist mills, dams, bridges, boat locks, forts, lighthouses – these kinds of activities can bring history alive for you and your kids, and provide for a unique vacation experience. Last summer, we discovered a local dinosaur “walk-through” park, a model boat museum, several grist mills, and small-town museums that taught us about the people who build those towns. Many of these kinds of things are low-cost (less than $10 per person) or free. For those that are free or accept donations (most do), I will post details and photos on my Facebook page to help promote them to my friends. Most places are glad to have the free publicity along with the endorsement of someone who enjoyed their visit.
Amusement Parks – In terms of “stay”-cations, amusement parks are fun, but they don’t always present the cheapest family entertainment option. The key is to buy early and look on the theme park websites for deals on admissions or pass discounts.
In this information age, the world is at our virtual fingertips, as are places to help us plan a great vacation. Sites like Groupon are great for getting great discounts on fun activities (be careful of time of use restrictions or “use by” dates). HomeAway.com helps connect families find affordable cottage accommodations. Familytravelforum.com can also help provide budget-friendly and family-fun activity options.
There are so many opportunities in our own communities to check out and explore with our children. It is so common for people to live a lifetime in a place and still not visit museums and festivals and historical sites around them. Remember, you often don’t have to go far to have a little bit of fun and give you and your kids a summer to remember.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
What Does the Average American Family Spend On a Vacation? WhattoKnow.org. Web. May 15, 2012.
“Are Theme Park Admission Fees Going up?” Thau, Barbara. DailyFinance.com. Web. May 15, 2012.
What’s the Average Cost of a Camping Trip: Plus, Tips for Saving Money on Your Camping Trip. SmartFamilyFinance.com. Web. May 15, 2012.
“Is Camping Still an Economical Way to Travel?” Derrick, Jennifer. SavingAdvice.com. Web. May 15, 2012.
Family Vacation Cost Comparison. Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. Web. May 15, 2012.
Strategies for trimming summer vacation costs. MSNBC. Web. May 15, 2012.
America the Beautiful: The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. May 15, 2012.
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