Frugal Family Vacation Ideas
Whether you are taking a vacation or just having fun over the weekend there are many ways this can be done without costing a fortune. I speak from experience because I am a single parent without very much extra cash to work with. On many occasions my kids and I have gone on trips or had a blast staying at home by using just a little creative thinking and money management.
I remember one trip we took many years ago that was funded mostly through my employment. I was a secretary and at that particular time I was working in Texas and Southwest Airlines would give out points to secretaries every time they booked a flight with them for their bosses. I ended up with three round trip tickets to anywhere that the airline flew. We had a friend that lived in Portland, Oregon that we wanted to see but the airline only flew as far as San Francisco at the time. We decided we would meet there but there were other issues and hurdles we had to overcome. One being where we were going to stay that we could afford and how we were going to get around since our friend could only come for a couple days and we were going to be there for five days.
So I started praying about it and started asking around to some friends at church if they had ever been or had any advice. Well, we talked to a guy that had been in seminary and had spent some time in San Francisco at that seminary. It was Thanksgiving that we were planning on going because I had some time off and we thought there may be less cost because it was a holiday that not too many people traveled (except for to grandma’s house that is). Anyway, this fellow told us that sometimes the seminaries allow you to rent rooms when everyone was away on holidays so we took a chance and called. They rented us a room which was like a dorm room with a common kitchen, a common living area, and a common bathroom for ten dollars a night! This was many years ago now but can I just say wow? We ended up being the only ones there too; we had it all to ourselves.
Then we called trying to get a rental car and would you believe that since it was Thanksgiving and going into a weekend we got the car for something like fifty or sixty dollars for the whole time we were there? Granted it was a compact but that was all we needed. What a blessing it was. The cherry on the top came when on Thanksgiving Day we were riding around looking at the scenery near the seminary. Which, by the way, happens to sit on a hill overlooking the Golden GateBridge and you can see beauty for miles! Well, we were driving around and happened upon the most beautiful church and noticed that the people were gathering there. We decided to see if they were having a service that we could join and also get a better look at the church. Would you believe that they were having Thanksgiving dinner for those that had no where to go or for those who were less fortunate? Many of the people there were just members of the church that did not have family. They were thrilled we stopped and invited us to eat and it was one of the best meals that you could imagine since it was all provided by the members of the church.
This vacation ended up costing us like two or three hundred dollars at most because we cooked in the kitchen of the seminary most of the time. Our friend came down and took us to see a few of the sights that cost money but in San Francisco the view is plenty and you can just walk around and see so many beautiful things, not to mention the wonderful weather. It was one of the best vacations we ever had and it hardly cost us anything. Now I understand that the airlines are not doing this much anymore but I just wanted to share this story with you because there are ways to be creative when you do not have a lot of money.
Most of our trips were funded by garage sales featuring some of the children’s earlier aged toys they had grown out of or baby items, etc. We would make a hundred or so and save a couple hundred and once a year go somewhere special. The majority of the money was spent on gas because we camped our way to our destination and camped while we were there. The state parks are wonderful places to stay and generally, on the whole, very safe, clean, and taken care of by rangers with locked gates at night. We would ask the rangers which camp sites were available and then drive around and take a look at each one. We would check out who was camping near the sites, if it was families or single people, etc. We would pick a site that looked the most family friendly and always near the potties!
One summer we took a trip to Carlsbad Caverns and then went on up to Cloudcroft, New Mexico which has one of the highest altitudes in the country and it dipped down into the forties in mid July. A bit nippy but with lots of blankets we had a blast. It warmed up to the seventies in the day time and what beauty everywhere! We rode around picking wild berries in the mountains and saw so much wildlife. Most of the people camping there had RVs and probably thought we were crazy but they invited us in for a hot cocoa in the early mornings and at night the camping park had a bonfire and we would all sit around and sing. Now I know some of you may think this was crazy but what an adventure we had.
Many times we just stay near home and go camping a couple of hours away at a beautiful state park here in Texas. Just pull up a map of state parks on the internet and look at all the parks across the country, you probably are not even aware of how many there are, and so many of them are in very scenic locations because wonderful people have donated them and wanted these beautiful areas to stay open for everyone.
I know that not everyone is up for camping but if you have not tried it then you need to give it a chance. The kids absolutely love it because it is a great adventure. Even when we can not actually get away we have set up camp in the back yard and spent a couple of nights out there. They think we have gone on a vacation. If you make it fun your kids will always appreciate it, especially when they are younger. We would even run extension cords out of the house and hook up a video/dvd player and watch movies or we would play board games and tell stories. Kids love picnics and eating outdoors too and when you load up the ice chest and break out the camping stove they are thrilled. We even built a place to make a campfire for roasting marshmallows by using bricks and making a pit which really tickled the kids.
It really does not take much to make children happy, especially if you as the parent make it happy. Attitude has a lot to do with it and creativity as well. There are ways to have really great vacations on a small budget even if they are in your own backyard. We started out with a small three man dome tent (which is actually a two adult or one adult and a child size unless you are in there like sardines). It was great for us and it did not cost very much at all to buy. We brought along some old pillows and couch cushions or sometimes the cheap floats you buy for the pool so we did not have to sleep on the ground. Covered with a blanket they are mighty comfy. Take whatever food you have on hand or get lots of hot dogs and hamburgers because that is pretty much what kids like. A few snack items, a couple of cheap fishing poles and a good solid pair of hiking shoes and you have it made! My children loved to fish and hike when we were in the state park; most of them have lakes for fishing and swimming as well as hiking trails.
Most of the time our children will be happy and content as long as we are with them and we are happy being where we are; we can make or break a vacation just by our attitudes. Even if we have all the money in the world and take them to the best places but we are unhappy or cranky while doing it then we have failed. We can camp in the back yard and be happy, joyous, and loving and make it the best vacation they ever remember.
Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author @ gmail.com.