Planning a vacation is one of my favorite things to do. It’s almost as enjoyable as the actual vacation. It gives me something to get excited about in my very routine days.
If you want to vacation super cheap, camping is the way to go. We did a lot of camping when we first got married. Being outdoors is great! Nature is so good for the soul! The kids love finding rocks, sticks, and looking for wildlife. Recreation.gov is a great way to reserve ahead. Usually you can reserve 6 months ahead. So if you are thinking about going this Summer-now is the time to plan it. I like to have a camping spot reserved ahead of time. Some campgrounds have walk-up spots that you don’t have to reserve in advance, but I don’t like to risk it.
A couple of essential bigger items you’ll need camping; a tent (I count on a few more people than it says since air mattresses take up more space), air mattresses, a car pump, a warm sleeping bag (at least 0 degrees) because it gets cold at night in the mountains, and a small cooking stove (unless you have a bigger family then I’d recommend a larger stove). We splurged after a few years and got a deluxe cot and a super warm sleeping bag. I got tired of being cold at night. The campground is fairly cheap to reserve-but you do need to make an initial investment buying some camping basics at the beginning. Consider giving family members these items for birthdays or for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. There are lots of great deals around Memorial Day as well. I’ll do a post about camping specifics when it gets closer to the Summer. But get a spot reserved soon to try it out.
We like to take mini trips which consist of 1-3 days somewhere 1-3 hours away. We are blessed to live near so many beautiful places. We love to explore new towns and sites. We also plan 1-2 bigger trips during the year. These are usually where most of the money goes so the mini trips and camping fill in the rest of the year.
We usually drive everywhere since it is so much cheaper for five people than flying. We’ve been to Disneyland, San Diego, Yellowstone, and on a history tour. We are thinking about Hawaii next year for my daughter’s graduation so if you have any tips, I’d love to hear them since I’ve already started planning. Planning a year ahead also helps so we can start saving for it now.
To start the planning process, my husband and I talk about some options and where we might like to go. Then I tentatively price out hotels and travel to see if it’s in our budget. Then we talk with the kids. I like to use Expedia.com or Hotels.com for a quick idea of the cost. We have found great travel deals from Costco travel and Entertainment coupons from our Happening’s book as well. If we are going with a larger group, we like to use Vrbo.com. Because there are a lot of fees with it, you have to stay for 3+ days to make it worthwhile. Most of these places have a kitchen so you can save money by eating in. Airbnb.com is a similar option but you can rent a single room, part of a house, or the entire thing. We did a little 2 day trip and stayed in a basement and saved a lot. We usually try to get a room with 3 beds (or a sofa bed), free breakfast, and a pool. My kids love swimming and love it whenever we stay near a pool. Be careful not to go with the cheapest option in hotels…we did that one trip and really stayed in some scary places. Pay attention to the reviews. If they see mice droppings or cockroaches, stay away!
You can save lots of money where you eat. We try to get a hotel with free breakfast. That saves a lot. Some hotels breakfasts are definitely better than others so I always pack extra snacks, just in case. I read the online reviews and look for a “hot breakfast” option. We always pack lunch items. Although I just discovered my kids don’t like sandwiches any more. Any suggestions for packable lunches? I’m going to have to get creative on our next trip. Most hotels have mini fridges to store smaller items. We try to only eat out one meal each day for dinner. If you really want to save then try not to eat out at all. This takes some planning for each meal. Think about every item you’ll need and write them down. Don’t forget the basics like salt and pepper! We’ve had to go buy a lot of that over the years. I make a list of things that we’ll put in the cooler and a list of food for the snack bin. I also fill up a gallon bag with a random selection of granola bars, beef jerky, nuts, cookies, etc. That way the kids can have lots of options.
I always check town websites and calendars. Google the town where you are staying and things to do nearby. I’ve found lots of helpful info and tips from the links. We love hiking so we try to add some hikes to the list. Look for museums, ghost towns, parks, nature preserves, or other things unique to that area. We usually have a good list of more than enough things to do so depending on the time and how we are feeling we can pick from the list.
Because we drive everywhere, we spend a lot of time in the car. When the kids were little, I made some behind the seat organizers and filled them with things like: unique games, activity books, coloring books, license plate games, travel kit, diy roads, or a Lego busy box. We made an animal graph in Yellowstone. These are things that they don’t get to play with at other times. Each trip was a little different and it kept them more than entertained. Look on Pinterest for free travel printables at your child’s levels. We have gotten books from the library on CD to listen to, but we found it was harder for us to pay attention to that. We like to play travel games and read trivia questions. You have kids with nothing to do and no where to go. Make it a fun trip for them. I’ll have to do a post about car travel tips. Now the kids pack their own bags. Their Spring Break trip bags consisted of a lot of homework and books! Poor kids! Who gives homework on school breaks? Seriously!
There are a lot of fun places you can go with a limited budget. The most important thing is to plan it out well so you can get the most out of your trip. We have had some really fun times not far from our home. Spending quality time as a family has so many benefits and will surely bring your family closer together! Let me know how it goes!