This is my post to join in with Heidi at one of my favorite blogs, Mt Hope Chronicles in her series Living Lovely With Family. She is an amazingly intentional and organized homeschooling mom of three boys. The idea behind her series is to bring together ideas for how we can live together as family. With a four year old and two year old, we are just starting to find our rhythm and pace as a family, so I haven't had much to say on most of her topics. But cheap vacations is something I know a bit about, so here are my tips.
We live on one income, so we do not have a lot of extra money, but my husband does get a month of vacation every year. We have naturally adventurous spirits, so we have found many inexpensive, fun ways to spend this time. When our oldest son was 11 months, we saved up my maternity leave for the year and went to Ireland for two weeks. The next summer we took a road trip out to British Columbia, and the two years since then, we've hung out in Winnipeg and Regina. Here are some of the things we've learned:
- buying a good quality tent and camping gear one time is cheaper than staying in a hotel every year
A couple of years ago we bought a big, very leak proof tent. It divides into three sections, so in the future we can have our own space. For now, we can store all of our gear in one section, lay out all our air matresses, and have space for the boys to play quietly during the rain. This is our home base while we're away from home.
- armed with our tent we stay in RV parks outside of cities we are interested in exploring.
RV parks are not ideal if you actually want to camp, but we prefer to explore cities on the cheap. So for $20 a night we can get a campsite, lounge, free internet connection, clean bathrooms, usable showers, and a playground for our kids. From here we are usually a close distance to the edge of town where we can explore during the day.
- check out restraunts for lunch instead of supper
Since we live in a small, homogeneous town, we love to get our fill of sushi, noodle soup and curry when we're in larger centers. We make this affordable by going at lunch -- it the same food, but usually at half the price.
- diner breakfasts can get you through the day
Every town has a $5 breakfast special somewhere. Fill up on a big, cheap breakfast and have bread and fruit for lunch
- buy most of your food at a grocery store or, better still, a local farmer's market
even when you are just in the car, you can fit a small, soft cooler and a sharp knife with you somewhere. Pick up sandwich ingredients, fresh fruit and milk and you will have way happier bodies at the end of your vacation than if you stopped for fries all the time. I have a great memory of sitting in the cafeteria of a zoo with our cooler, making tomato and cheese sandwiches while everyone around us was eating fries with gravy.
- check out fun, family friendly events
many cities will have free music and theatre events during the day in the summer. Find out what is going on in the cities you want to go to. Then plan around the times of these events. We always hit up at least one Folk Music festival. Kids are free, there is usually a great day time area full of craft activities, and you get to see 15 - 20 acts in a weekend for one ticket price. Look for music festivals, theater festivals and Children's festivals with free activities and acts.
- find out where the local kid-friendly parks are
every city has them. You just need to find them. We usually take a break in the middle of the day to go to a park. Especially on busy days full of grown-up sightseeing this can help everyone relax and unwind. The kids get to run their energy off, and the parents don't have to worry about kids breaking anything or running into traffic. During a long day of travel, instead of relying too heavily on the in-car DVD, stop at a park off the highway every few hours. This works well when traveling on the Trans-Canada. Every little town along the way has at least one park you can stop in. Yes, the locals may drive by ten times to try to figure out who you are, but the kids will be more relaxed along the way.
- intersperse grown up activities and kids activities
Visit a park at the end of a long bout of wandering through interesting shops. Find museums and art galleries with free kid-specific, hands on areas, or open, happy spaces. I remember in Ireland, we went to a gallery full of illuminated manuscripts. With interests in English and Religion we were fascinated. Our 11 month old was restless. But at the bottom of the gallery there was an open court with a beautiful, tiled fountain. One of my favorite memories is watching my little one dip his hands in the fountain and run through the open courtyard while my husband finished looking at the galleries that interested him.
- be flexible and don't over-plan your days.
With kids, the unexpected will happen. Expect road trips to take at least 2 hours longer than they would with just adults in tow. Expect your days to be broken up by visits to parks and playgrounds. Keep a simple to follow routine as your basic daily structure so young children know what to expect. Keep it fun -- remember, this is your vacation.
The great thing about taking a low budget approach to vacations is that you teach your kids that they don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun. Vacations that don't revolve exclusively around amusement parks and malls open them up to the world, and teach them a sense of adventure. Show them that there are interesting things and people everywhere, and give them a taste of simple living. They will see you solve problems and negotiate. they will learn to be curious and open to experience. And you will have a lot of fun and make a lot of memories along the way.
You can go here to see what others have said about inexpensive vacations, and to add your own two cents.