July 15, 2024

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Navigating Travel Tales

Traveling Is Too Expensive for My Family of 6, so This Is What We Do

3 min read

Last summer, my family of six went on vacation to a Florida beach. We hadn’t been on a “real vacation” since before the pandemic. Despite having free flights by using credit card rewards, between the rental car, food (most of which we prepared and ate at the rental), and condo costs, as well as limiting our vacation to five days instead of a week, we dropped close to $6000.

Summer has barely started, and my social media feed is flooded with friends and family members’ vacation pics. Unlike them, we will not be going on vacation this year.

Instead, we’ve figured out how to vacation from or close to home. Here are my tips for the families, like mine, who can’t travel this summer.

Take advantage of local, outdoor fun

Along with your kids, research local nature centers, hiking or biking trails, and cool parks (splash pad, anyone?) in neighboring towns.

Getting out in nature is almost always free, exposes everyone to fresh air and sunshine, and allows for new adventures. Don’t have bikes? Rent them. Need binoculars? Borrow them. I know, for example, that our local library offers loanable fishing poles to patrons.

Plan a staycation

What’s the closest major city to your family? Find a hotel (with a pool, of course), research restaurants and entertainment spots and you’ve got a low-budget staycation.

One year, we staycationed in St. Louis. We rented a large, historical home (it had a ballroom!) for less than $250 a night. It had a kitchen, so we had breakfast and lunch “at home” every day, and enjoyed dinner out at St. Louis-famous restaurants at night. We took our kids to the ever-popular City Museum. To this day, our kids still say this was their favorite vacation.

Pick a theme

What’s something your family enjoys? Mine loves ice cream. A theme can set the mood for the summer, such as finding and trying ice cream shops. Decide how often your crew would like to embark on your themed-adventure and get some dates and places on the calendar.

Other theme ideas include sports, music, animals, movies, or art. Then plan your activities accordingly, out and about or at home.

Put ideas in a bowl and draw a surprise

Have each family member come up with closer-to-home activities. With parent approval, place ideas in a bowl. Once a week, draw an activity and do it. Ideas include seeing a movie, going to brunch, visiting a bookstore, enjoying a walking trail, packing a picnic, volunteering, visiting a family member. This can also be tasks like gathering and donating clothing, toys, and books.

Head to a family or friend’s house

You know that one family member who is always telling you to come and stay anytime? Now is the time. Take them up on their offer to house your crew, just don’t overstay your welcome. See their local sights and enjoy local restaurants. Clean up after yourselves, offer to buy dinner one night, and take the host a gift that’s special to your geographical location: wine from a local winery, for example.

Get season passes

Season passes to a nearby theme park or kid-friendly museum or activity center can save you substantial money. For example, a theme park that is within an hour of our home offers season passes that would be paid for if our family of six visits the park just once during the entire summer (between admission tickets and parking).

Frame your summer fun planning as a positive, not as what you could be doing if you had more money and time. You “get” to do these things, an incredible opportunity. Set the tone for a family-fun summer, enjoying the process while saving money.


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