The M-Network Vacation Guide – Low cost summer family vacations

By glblguy

Beach Vacation
Photo by: pinkiwinkitinki

Today, all of the members of the M-Network are writing about vacationing. Frugal tips, ideas, experiences, personal accounts…everything. Check out the other M-Network blogs for more!

Here in the Carolinas its getting hot. Along with the soaring temperatures, gas prices are also soaring and the side effect is a bank account that’s looking a little thinner than I’d like. For the past few weeks it doesn’t seem to get dark until around midnight, our children suddenly have far too much energy and are coming home with no homework. Hmmmm…it must be summer and time for that summer family vacation!

But wait. There’s a bit of a twist this summer. In front of that warm beautiful summer sun, the dark clouds of recession are looming. People, including me, are wondering: Can we afford summer vacation this year?

Contrary to popular belief, summer family vacations don’t have to be expensive. Here are some things to consider that will save you some money and provide you with a low cost summer family vacation:

Vacation closer to home

Instead of taking that cross country vacation this year, how about looking within your own state or in border states around you? You won’t need to fly and you’ll save a huge amount on gas. If you do a little digging, you might be really surprised at the number of vacation options right in your own backyard. Options can include beaches, mountains, nearby water and/or amusement parks, local museums, historic areas, nearby water and amusement parks and much more. Check the websites for cities near you to find the details on places you can visit and stay.


What? Did you say Drive?? Are you crazy, gas is $4.00+ a gallon! Are you mad?” No, I’m not crazy. Driving is still cheaper than flying and driving to your destination can actually turn into part of the vacation. The downside of course is that you’ll have to plan a little more time for your vacation in order to drive there and get back. Plan your trip out and you can find some wonderful places to stop and maybe even stay for the night.

When we took our big trip to Walt Disney World a few years back, we brought our camper on the 11 hour drive. We stopped half way for the night at this awesome little campground off of I-95 that was right next to a huge swamp. We had a blast exploring the wooden walkways through the swamp and watching the wildlife. The place was dirt cheap and really nice.

Visit family and/or friends

Another low cost option that will both get you away from home and give you some time with friends or relatives you may not see often is to visit and stay with them. This is a particularly good option if they live in a city with a number of attractions or historical areas. My Mom lives just outside of Washington DC. Before we had 6 kids, we would stay with her and spend our days seeing the sites of Washington DC.

Oh…You might want to ask them first though!

Consider Camping

This is my number one favorite low cost family vacation option. There are some amazing campgrounds all around the world that allow you to sleep in some of the most beautiful places. While RV camping can be a very expensive hobby, tent camping is relatively cheap. Just in the past few days, I’ve seen a number of people on freecycle offering free tents.

Make sure you make your reservations in advance, and spend some time researching activities around the area in case in rains.

Take a cruise

Traditionally taking a cruise has been a expensive option, but recent offerings from many of the various cruise companies are quit economical. You’ll save gas by driving to your ship rather than flying. Spend time researching offers on the internet and you can really get some great deals. Your room and food are included and make trip planning easy. Many cruise lines offer family friendly cruises as well that offer large rooms and activities for all ages including childcare.

General vacation tips for keeping costs down

Here are just a few tips to help you keep costs down no matter what vacation option you choose:

  • Eat at kids eat free restaurants – When eating out, look for restaurants that offer kids eat free deals.
  • Go grocery shopping and fix your own meals – When staying at a hotel, ask for an upgrade to a kitchenette. The cost is generaly nothing to minimal. The advantage being you can buy groceries and cook your own meals instead of eating out and paying the high prices.
  • Drink water instead of soft drinks – Not only is it free, water is more healthy for you.
  • Research discount ticket opportunities – With the many travel websites now on the internet, there always seems to be a deal or discount coupon for almost everything. You just have to look hard enough.
  • Avoid the souvenirs and t-shirts – Avoid buying those expensive souveniers, t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts. Chances are you won’t use them anyway and they’re expensive! Instead, create memories and take lots of pictures.
  • Set a budget and stick to it – Before heading out on that vacation, set a budget that everyone agrees to and stick to it.
  • Plan activities in advance – Plan out your vacation activities to avoid sudden splurges and to give yourself an opportunity to find discount coupons or to purchase tickets in advance.

What tips do you have for a low cost family vacation? Share your most frugal family vacation story? What tips can you share? Add a comment!

17 Responses (including trackbacks) to “The M-Network Vacation Guide – Low cost summer family vacations”

  1. Penelope @ Our Fourpence Worth Says:

    Nice suggestions. We just got back from a trip to Disneyland, and it really helped to prepare for it in advance and research all costs and available savings beforehand. I looked up the address and driving directions to Walmart from our hotel so we could go there to pick up food and necessary things such as sunblock.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a Vacation Preparation Checklist that I recently put together for my blog, since it goes nicely in hand with your post.

    Frugal Travel Begins Before the Trip: Vacation Preparation Checklist

  2. David Says:

    Camping is definitely one of my favorite low-cost vacation ideas (once you own the gear) – just throw the stuff in the car and you are off to camp for as little as $10 a night! Thanks for the tips GLBL!

  3. Mrs. Micah Says:

    One exciting thing about our next trip to Europe (in a few years, most likely) will be staying with my aunt and uncle. That’ll save us untold $$ in hotel bills as well as give us a local perspective on what’s really fun to visit. Plus, I much prefer low-key friend and family visits because they always seem to end up being more fun.

  4. PT Says:

    Great tips. We took a trip to Florida one Summer (when I was a kid) and hadn’t booked a hotel prior to leaving. Ended up sleeping in the car on the beach the first night. How’s that for frugal. ;)

    We were all a bit grumpy till we finally booked a nice room, but I’ll never forget that cheap trip.

  5. debt consolidation unsecured Says:

    Great Finding! I was thinkig of upcoming summer vacations under the shadow of an announced depression in financial markets.

    Your suggestions brought to my mind that saying, “where there is a will, there is a way” and you have told us how, thank you :)

  6. Jim Says:

    Grocery shopping is an excellent tip. We go to Hawaii for a week almost every summer, and one of the ways we save on money is to hit the local Costco our first day and buy enough groceries and drinks to last the whole week. We still have a nice restaurant dinner a couple of times during the vacation, but for the most part we cook our own meals, and they are fast, cheap and delicious.

  7. michael Says:

    The gf and I last year spent $3000 on a fantastic vacation to the Caribbean. This year we’ll be spending a mere $500 (includes the gas to get there!) to backpack for a week in the Grand Canyon. Both are wonderful adventures, but dollar for dollar, I’ll take the Grand Canyon any day. You can’t go wrong camping.

  8. mary w Says:

    a vacation?? really?? a vacation is the ultimate luxury item-I don’t know how the expense can be justified in this economy. We haven’t been on vacation since 2001-this blog if obviously not for the average person looking to get by in this crazy time.

  9. Sandra F. Says:

    This isn’t a vacation in the traditional sense, but last year, we had our two children go to overnight camp for a week. The kids loved the experience. My husband and I still took the time off from work and did a lot of the grown-up things that we wouldn’t otherwise. It was romantic AND relatively inexpensive!