Financial difficulties and economic uncertainty can prevent many families from taking their dream summer vacation. However, families can discover plenty of cheap vacation options through careful research. Local entertainment, free museums and service opportunities can contribute to an unforgettable family summer vacation that stays within budget.
Families can save big on recreation but still enjoy a relaxing, entertaining summer vacation by staying in their local area. Save the money you would have spent on hotels, travel expenses and food costs by staying home and discovering the attractions in your own backyard. Coordinate a “Staycation” with popular summer festivals—such as the Ann Arbor Summer Festival in Michigan—to enjoy free classes, shows and activities. Peruse the city newspaper for free summer concerts, low-cost film series and outdoor children’s theatre. Visit at least two of the area’s most popular tourist spots, such as aquariums, zoos, sporting events and museums. Plan one unique activity for a summer splurge, such as an afternoon of horseback riding or parasailing. Enjoy summer outdoor activities through hiking, fishing, canoeing and bicycling.
Families able to drive or snag a cheap flight to Washington, D.C., can enjoy many museums that have free admission. The Smithsonian Museums along the National Mall are some of the most-visited museums in the world. Discover the history of aviation at the National Air & Space Museum through hands-on exhibits and interactive flight simulators. Hours of entertainment await at the Museum of Natural History, where children will squeal in delight over dinosaur bones, mammal representations and famous artifacts (such as the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond). Other D.C. attractions include the newly reopened National Museum of American History; items on display include Kermit the Frog, Dorothy’s red sparkly shoes from “The Wizard of Oz” and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat. An added bonus in Washington, D.C.? The monuments are also free for viewing.
Consider serving others this summer with the family by your side. VolunTourism—a newly coined word that references vacations based around community service—provides the opportunity to make a summer trip meaningful. Head to the Big Easy and work with Hands On New Orleans. Visitors can receive free meals and housing while volunteering in the local community (check with the organization for age limitations). Save on vacation lodging and food expenses and fuel up on emotional fulfillment. Volunteer at St. Margaret’s and socialize with the residents, lend a hand with home-building in needy neighborhoods, plant trees in community gardens or change city lightbulbs to energy-efficient styles.
Are you a family of animal lovers? Spend a summer in toasty Utah at the Best Friends Sanctuary. Take care of more than 2,000 homeless pets—pigs, dogs, horses, birds, bunnies and cats—and help boost their chances of finding adoptive homes. Cheap cabin lodging is available nearby.