5 Ways to Create a Family Vacation You Can Actually Afford

A few months ago, I decided it was a good idea to have a "guest janitor" here in the Break Room on a monthly basis.  Last month, Stephanie from Southern Momentum sat in for me with ABCs of a Thankful Blogger Mom.  THIS month Traci L. Suppa, who drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home, is going to be restocking the Cokes and wiping down that lone orange chair up in the corner.  Yay!  Restocking Cokes wears me out!  So thankful you are here, Traci!

“Humor” blogging is not my regular gig. I'm what's known as a “family travel” blogger. I'm supposed to share useful information about travel based on my experiences with my husband and two kids.

Only, we don't travel all that much, or all that far. And we can't afford to go to the kind of places you really want to read about, anyway.

“Family travel” is a misnomer, really. It works because it's a short, catchy phrase, and rolls off the tongue better than “keeping the ungrateful, hyperactive kids busy in order to avoid meltdowns in a remote location accessed via a gruelingly long road trip or an invasive TSA pat-down.” Even the acronym – KTUHKBIOTAMIARLAVAGLRTOAITP – is a bit unwieldy.

Okay, we DO sometimes make the effort. Yet, while I love the idea of a 10-day vacation at Walt Disney World or a Royal Caribbean cruise, my wallet doesn’t. And I would rather stick a red hot poker in my eye than do another “staycation” at our local water park.

So how do I convince my jaded children that there’s fun to be had on a regional road trip, without fear that they will besmirch my name to my grandchildren after I’m long gone? (“Your grandmother was SO cheap, she would make us drive to WallyWorld rather than fly us to Disney.”)

Here are five ways I try to incorporate fun into cheap (sorry, “budget-friendly”) family travel:

Pools – Book a hotel with a pool. Indoor, outdoor, any shape or size will do. Bring your own pool toys. Voila; there's one afternoon you don't have to spend at a theme park.

Museums – Find a children's museum in your destination with free or “pay what you like” evenings. These are usually weekly or monthly, and they're usually during the week rather than weekends, but you can save a bundle in admission fees.

Parks – National, state, or local parks can offer some surprising and atypical entertainment at little to no cost. At Kent Falls State Park in CT, for example, you can climb uphill alongside a waterfall, or wade in the cool pools at its base. There's the whole element of camping, of course. I have a super low tolerance for nature, so I can't help you there.

Drive-in movies -- Remember what FUN Sandy, Rizzo, and the rest of the Pink Ladies would have at the drive-in?! No? Am I the only one over 40 around here? There are still many drive-in theaters out there, showing family movies for really low prices. Websites like DriveInnMovie.com and Drive-Inns.com list locations anywhere you may be traveling.

Roadside attractions – If your kids can't see the charm and humor in the world's largest ball of twine, you're not raising them right. Really, you can find some fun and quirky places which make great photo ops, as well as provide some entertainment. (Our last Christmas card featured us in front of the world's largest garden gnome.)

For example, visit the world's largest bowling pin in Tampa, FL, then bowl ten frames at Splitsville. Check out the 100-ft Coca-Cola bottle on the Strip in Vegas, then browse the Coca-Cola store and the M&M's World next door. Or come visit us in the Hudson Valley, where Chomsky, the aforementioned gnome, lives on a farm with a mini-golf course, petting zoo, and playground.

Click here for Traci's blog Go Big or Go Home, here to like her on Facebook and here to follow her on Twitter.

*If you are interested in restocking Cokes in the Break Room, let me know!*