Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Makings of an Inexpensive Family Vacation

Yeah, the economy has got a lot of people talking about stay-cations and not taking a vacation at all. But I think it's even possible to take a vacation... just on less. We gave it a try. I'd like to share the strategy we used.

Guidelines for Planning an Inexpensive Vacation:
  • Decide how far you are willing to drive. (This decision should take into account your sanity and as well as your budget.) Check out this gas calculator from AAA.
  • Get a map and check out what places of interest there might be within your appointed travel radius.
  • Research your options. This is the exciting part. Bet you never knew how many unique things there are just within a few hours of your own home! Look for National Parks and Stake Parks (they have very reasonable admission rates) and free things to see and do.
  • Plan Lodging. Now, if you've got more than 1 kid, I don't suggest cramming yourselves into a hotel room. They are expensive and there is little room to play. Instead, check out camping options. Even if you are not much of a camper, there are some great campgrounds all over the country that rent out modest cabins (with bathrooms) for $45-150 a night. The benefit here is that your kids have a place to play (outside) and you can cook your own meals (over a fire or grill). Check reviews of the places you would like to stay before you make a decision. Reserve your lodging.
  • Food. You can bring a cooler or just buy it once you get to your destination. We do a combination of both. We planned to eat out for a couple of meals, but also made a menu of simple and tasty meals we could cook on a grill.
  • Lists: Make lots of lists. Type them up and save them so you won't have to come up with them again next year. If camping, make a list of cooking supplies you'll need, including groceries. Have a list of any bedding or toiletries you might need as well.
  • Budget Money for the sites you'd like to see, the trinkets you'll likely pick up along the way... and anything else.
CASE IN POINT
We just got back from our family vacation few weeks ago. We decided that we could stand to drive 8 hours each way. That took us to Mt. Rushmore. The admission is $10 a carload. Not bad for a family of six, huh? We camped at Rafter J Bar Ranch for about $93 a night (four nights). The cabin slept six people and had a kitchenette as well as grills and picnic table outside. We took a day to drive to Rapid City (30 min drive) to take in some free attractions there: Storybook Island (highly recommended- the kids could have stayed there all day, no joke) and Dinosaur Park (fun for the kids, but only a 20 min visit, really). Groceries cost us $80 for the trip. Gas cost us about $110. In total our trip was $650. For five fun days with the family, this was totally worth it.

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