Family vacation time was always something I looked forward to each and every year when I was growing up. The time we spent together as a family on our special adventures is something that has helped to shape my life and my goals as a parent.
As homeschoolers, we have more time than most to spend together, though it can still be difficult to get the whole family off on an adventure. Along the way, I’ve found quite a few ideas to keep finances from interfering – tips for frugal family vacations!
- Use discount hotel chains – We’ve earned loads of free nights as well as discounts on affordable and clean hotels. I choose hotels that are not terribly fancy but are still safe and clean. Always ask to use a AAA (Triple A) discount or if they have others available.
One year, I found a last minute discount at a family resort. We spent five days and four nights at a four star beach resort for only $250. It included a two-bedroom condo with a full kitchen where we cooked all of our meals.
- Choice Privileges – other discount hotels
- AAA discount
- Last minute offers
- Weekday offers – as homeschoolers, our schedules can be more flexible if you plan to go before school is out or after school is back in session.
- Cook family meals on the go – With a little planning and preparation ahead of time, eating on the road does not need to break the bank. We always travel with a cooler and stop at grocery stores along the way for additional meals. If you cook the meat ahead of time, all of the following meals will travel well and can be heated in the microwave. This simple meal plan is a week of meals for a frugal vacation.
- Cooked chicken – roll up tortillas with salsa and cheese – store in plastic container or bag for the trip.
- Cooked barbeque – rolls & raw veggies (carrots, cucumbers, tomato)
- Stuffed Baked potatoes – with salad in a bag
- Mac-n-cheese with chicken – fresh veggies
- Pot pies, pizza rolls, hot pockets – fun vacation food
- Ham and beans – rolls and veggies – we save leftover ham from holidays in the freezer.
- BLT’s – wrap bacon in paper towels, cook in the microwave
- Plan for educational museum stops along the way or as a destination – The trip I mentioned above, where we found the last minuted deal for $250, started with me scouring the ASTC.org Passport list to find fun museums we could visit for free! I found one big science museum in that area, the discounted condo offer, and a free turtle rescue center along with a state park famous for snorkeling. (ASTC is Association of Science-Technology Centers.)
Other museums may have local coupons in booklets at the hotels, restaurants, and visitors centers. Local visitors centers can provide a wealth of information and additional discounts as well as local history information.
- ASTC.org – Passport List – Free Museums
- Homeschool discounts – simply ask
- Parks – day trips and overnight – Many local parks in a destination area and state or national parks have historical and/or scientific significance. Don’t rule out the small places! We have found great value in small, out-of-the-way places where rules may not be as strict. We were allowed to touch the carving cut out of a tree trunk where Daniel Boone actually carved his initials at a small museum in Kentucky.
- Local, state, national parks (check camping & lodging)
- Mom and Pop places
- Family Travel Fun – There is something special about the whole family taking off together for a vacation. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks, adding in a few special games and fun ideas can be affordable and will hold valuable memories for the whole family.
- Family games – Scrabble, card games like Uno or Phase 10, Sequence, and Yahtzee are a few of our favorites. They give us opportunities to share stories about playing games with our parents and grandparents. Our children love to hear stories from our childhood, and family vacation is a wonderful time to share those memories while making new ones. For a homeschool family – they provide some extra homeschool fun! Download a free license plate game here.
- Geocaching – Add an air of adventure with geocaching. Find out more about this real world treasure hunt here.
- Map skills & more – Whether you are geocaching or not, having the kids use maps to track your journey adds an educational, yet fun flair to the trip. You can print small maps of the area or purchase inexpensive large road maps for them to use. Even with today’s GPS on every phone, map skills are both fun and important skills to learn.
- Special “vacation food” can be simple and extra fun. We used to have vacation cereal that we weren’t allowed to have at other times. I purchase orange slice candies that my grandfather always used to give me. These little touches that are attached to family history are more than just a treat, but are also another way of sharing those special family stories.
Even if you can only go for a couple of days, whether you are camping or staying in resorts – the family time you spend exploring the world together is time you won’t regret! It provides additional opportunities to spend one-on-one time with your children and opens the door for wonderful observations and conversations about the world around them.
Do you have a great frugal vacation tip to add? Share with us in the comments – we love to hear from you!