Yes, You Can Vacation on a Budget!
Yes, it can be done!
First things first. Plan ahead! Since we have never really had much money for vacations but love to travel, my first tip is to research your vacation spot well in advance. You can apply to get a city guide sent to you or browse it online. Look up tourist attractions or stores you want to visit. You can find out prices at attractions so you will know exactly how much things cost and can be prepared for that. One of our favorite things to do in Atlanta, GA, is go to IKEA. We rarely buy anything but browsing is fun.
Have a budget! Plan the amount of money you have available to spend on lodging, meals, souvenirs, travel, etc. We usually allow one small souvenir per person and buy it at the end of the trip. Our weakness is eating out so we budget for that.
Where are we going? While I enjoy visiting our favorite places, I always like to go somewhere new. Since airfare is not in our budget, it is usually a place within a 3-4 hour drive. Take a family vote from 2 or 3 choices.
How long will we be gone? Just because you get a week or two off work doesn't mean that you have to take all that time. That runs into a lot of money. Have a 3 or 4 day vacation and it doesn't have to be over the weekend. Many hotels have deep discounts during the week.
If money is really tight but you still want to DO something, consider a "staycation" or a vacation from home. These are pretty popular right now and for good reason. "Unplug" the computer, phones and TV, sleep in and visit your town like a tourist would. Go see those attractions you've never been to. Have a family campout in your den. Roast marshmallows. Go on a picnic. You can spend as much or as little as you want.
Go camping! This is my favorite low-cost vacation idea. We discovered tent camping about nine years ago and have been hooked ever since. After the initial purchase of camping equipment (tent, sleeping bags, etc.), renting campsites in state parks and elsewhere is extremely cost effective. We gradually moved from a tent to a pop-up camper and now have a small travel trailer. With a built-in kitchen and bathroom, we can go anywhere. The only time we did not camp on vacation was our last trip to Disney World in 2006 (which was way more than our typical 3-4 hour drive) and we stayed in one of their budget hotels at the resort because it was part of a package. It averaged about the same amount of money as camping at their campground.
You could even borrow a tent and other supplies from a friend experienced in camping and try it out in the backyard first.
Cook your own meals! Get a hotel or motel room with a kitchenette and go to the grocery store. The meals don't have to be fancy. We usually try to save some money for at least one breakfast, lunch and dinner at a reasonably-priced restaurant.
Get recommendations from friends who live in or have visited the area about places to go, favorite restaurants and "must see" things.
Research low-cost and free places to visit. Some offer discount tickets if you purchase them online.
The bottom line is that a vacation doesn't have to cost a lot of money. It's good to get away from the stress and demands of everyday living once in awhile. Enjoy your family while you can.
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