These days, travel budgets are tight for most families. Try one of these ideas for a "staycation," a way to have the fun of a vacation without the cost.
Pitch a tent in your backyard for the ultimate getaway, without really going anywhere. Kids love the adventure of sleeping outdoors, while still having the security of knowing that home is right nearby. Plan a night of classic camping activities: build a fire, roast s'mores, and tell scary stories.
If you're fortunate to live within driving distance of a state or national park, consider a multi-day hike. This is more arduous than backyard camping, but more rewarding in many ways. Enjoy the beauty of nature and come together as a family in a quiet, serene setting. Before you go, be prepared: Make sure to stock up on food and water, and pack rain gear. You won't even miss cable TV.
It's sad but true that most people never open their eyes to the intriguing possibilities of their hometown. Make a plan to explore your city as a traveler would. Seek out historic sites, visit museums, and try out-of-the-way restaurants you've never eaten at before. You may find that you've been living in a tourist's paradise all along!
Dining out can be a special occasion at any time of the year. Don't just hit up your local chain restaurant - make it an event! If youre kids are older, head to a fancy restaurant where reservations are required. Dress up, and then take your time savoring a multi-course meal.
For younger kids, consider an unusual treat like breakfast out before you begin a day of adventure. No matter what you do, nothing says treating yourself quite like letting someone else prepare and serve the meal.
Visit an Amusement Park
In the past, Americans have thought that visiting amusement parks requires a week-long trip, airfare and hotel, and dealing with hours-long lines. Not anymore. No matter where you live, there's probably an amusement park near you. From thrill rides to waterslides, you don't have to go far to find a day's worth of fun. Lots of parks offer admission discounts if you buy online, or bring certain products with you (like an empty soda can).
Hotels these days can have lots of amenities: restaurants, a pool, a game room, a library, even a tennis court. Staying in a nearby hotel for a night or two can be a great way to feel like you're getting away, without going far at all. A day full of swimming and sports, and maybe heading to a nearby movie theater, can feel like a full vacation at a fraction of the price. Plus, when you get back to your room, it'll be all clean and tidy. That's a getaway for any busy parent.
Set Up a Scavenger Hunt
A fun scavenger hunt requires little in the way of money or resources. All you need is some advance planning. Print up a list of things for your kids and their friends to find: these can be people, places, or things. Then, set them loose (with parental supervision, if necessary) to find their targets. The winning team gets a prize.
A variation on this is the treasure hunt, in which you plant treasures for your children to find. Each one has a clue that leads them to the next one. Most of the treasures can be small, like candy or small toys, and the final treasure can be a real treat, like a new video game or dinner out.
If you're fortunate to live near the ocean, then a cheap day out is never more than a sunny day away. Pack a lunch, grab some sunscreen, and catch some rays. Even people who don't live on the coast will probably have a lake nearby, which can be just as good. If a beach isn't an option, try a community pool.
Of course, if none of those are options, and your heart's set on a homemade tropical getaway, you can always fill up a kiddie pool and whip up some virgin margaritas in the blender.
Have a movie marathon with the works: popcorn, soda, and a triple-feature. Let everyone in the family choose a movie to watch, and start early. To increase the degree of difficulty, try to rig up a projection system outdoors (yes, it's possible). You can invite the whole neighborhood over, just like in the heyday of the drive-in.
No matter what you do, remember that a staycation is still supposed to be a vacation. It's a chance to spend time with your family, without any interruptions. So turn off the TV, disconnect from the Internet, and leave your cell phones at home. Reconnecting with your family - now that's a real getaway.