Do you love to travel but want to avoid the expenses that go along with the typical tourism-style family vacation? Now that summer is here and the kids are out of school, a lot of families want to go on vacation. Some choose to spend their vacation time close to home, while others prefer the adventure and excitement of going somewhere new. If you do want to travel somewhere new, it doesn’t have to mean that you spend a fortune and come home feeling stressed about how to pay off the credit card bills from your trip.
Destinations Less Visited
There are lots of ways to travel without spending a lot of money. You just have to think outside the glossy tourism brochures and websites and be flexible in terms of where you go and what you do. If you go to the same place that everyone else goes, at the time of year that’s most popular to go there, it’s likely to be crowded and expensive. But if you’re willing to go at non-peak times, or go somewhere that isn’t a resort or a common vacation destination, you could have an awesome trip for a lot less money.
You can also be creative with lodging. Camping is a time-tested solution (although parents might want to save a little space in the car to stash an air mattress, since the ground gets a little harder each night you sleep on it. Kids seem to be immune to noticing this.), but if roughing-it isn’t your idea of a good time, you can also find creative ways to get yourself a bed and bathroom while on vacation. Put the word out to your friends and family that you’re interested in traveling, and see if anyone wants to swap houses for a week. You might find that your friend from college who lives in California wants to take a vacation to the east coast where you live – a little strategic planning on both family’s parts and you can all have a great vacation without paying for a hotel. You could also volunteer to be a traveling house-sitter for families who are going to be away from their homes. This would require some flexibility in terms of scheduling, since you’d have to plan your trip to coincide with theirs. But with friends and family, it’s probably a plausible solution, since everyone has a vested interest in having it work out well.
Don’t be a Packrat
When you head out on your family vacation, pack light! The less stuff you have to haul around with you, the happier you’ll all be. Set out the things you want to take with you, and then put half of it back. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re carting your luggage through the airport or trying to load it all back into your car at the end of your trip. If you can get by with just one small backpack for each person, you’ll be more mobile the whole time you’re on vacation. Less stuff to haul around means more opportunities for spontaneous adventures during your trip, and it also leaves you open to catching a different flight at the airport if that’s offered as an option. If you’ve already checked a bunch of bags and then the airline offers vouchers to people who are willing to be bumped to a later flight, you don’t really have the option of taking their offer. But you can if you’re just traveling with carry-on baggage and a spirit of adventure.
Take the Passenger Seat
Once you get to your destination, consider getting a bus or light-rail pass instead of renting a car. Unless there are a lot of people in your group, you’ll probably find that it’s less expensive and also less stressful. A lot of cities offer daily or weekly bus, subway, and light rail passes for a fraction of the cost of a car rental. You’ll also get to ride around and actually take in the sights without worrying about getting lost or getting a parking ticket or a door ding in an unfamiliar city. The tip about packing light will come in very handy if you opt for public transportation instead of renting a car. One backpack per person is pretty easy to maneuver on the light rail. A huge rolling suitcase probably wouldn’t be such a good idea though.
Stretch Your Legs
Walking is also a great way to take in the sights in a new area – and it will burn off a lot of the calories that are inevitably consumed on vacation. Again, the lighter you pack, the easier it will be to check out a new city on foot.
Everyone likes a change of pace now and then, but you might have been conditioned to think that a vacation needs to be fancy and flashy and involve high-priced entertainment like amusement parks or skiing or swimming with dolphins. Sure, you might want to do some of those things every once in a while, but don’t limit all your vacations to just the ideas you see on the travel websites. Especially if you’re traveling with children, simple might be better. If you watch the crowds leaving high-priced amusement parks at the end of a summer day, you’re likely to see more than a few melt-downs in progress. Maybe the day would be better spent going for a long walk (with a stroller or backpack in case little ones get tired) along a river, taking breaks to sit in the shade and eat a picnic lunch or throw pebbles in the water. If that seems overly-simplistic, remind yourself of how exhausted people look when they’re leaving those high-priced tourist traps. Overly-simplistic might be just what you and your kids need. Remember, you want to feel refreshed after your vacation – not worn out and depleted.