5 Ways to Take an Affordable Family Vacation This Summer

Budget family vacation
Key Takeaways:
  • Family summer vacations don’t have to be expensive.
  • Staycations, visiting family, and volunteer tourism can create memories without breaking the bank.
  • Last-minute deals can get you a great trip at a low price if you’re flexible.

You want to create memories and have a great time with your family this summer. And you can do that without causing a fall debt hangover – short on cash doesn’t have to mean short on fun. Here are five fantastic summer vacation ideas to bring your family closer without busting your budget. 

Low Budget, High Fun: The Awesome Staycation

Staycations (taking time off and having fun at home or near home) have more going for them than just savings. Travel is stressful. Dragging luggage through airports or driving for hours is no fun. Why not skip it? 

Here are a few ideas for a fabulous staycation:

  • When people come to visit you, where do you take them? What does your local tourism agency promote? Restaurants, outdoor attractions, special events? Why not build a family vacation around these things?

  • Let everyone stay up late and have a “film festival.” Set up your streaming, invite friends, stock up on everyone’s favorite treats, and pile pillows, blankets, and air mattresses on the floor. Set up another room for little ones when they tire out.

  • Dress up in your finest, and all go out to dinner one night for a special treat.

  • Head to an outdoor concert and take a picnic.

  • Try an “all American” summer activity like fishing, visiting a farm, or taking in a nearby county fair or ballgame.

  • Go to a craft store with your kids and set them up with supplies, or enroll everyone in a fun class.

  • Round the fam up for a day at the beach, mountains, or a pretty park. 

Vacation Classic: Family Camping

Camping in the summer is a time-honored tradition in many families. It can be inexpensive because you take your food and campsites often run just a few dollars a day. You don’t even have to “rough it” because many camps feature tent cabins (wood floors and canvas walls), yurts, RVs, or treehouses. 

Many clubs and church groups offer budget, all-inclusive camping vacations to members and non-members alike. You can send your kids off to safely play or craft while you enjoy a swim, a hike, a quiet lunch, or even a massage.

One challenge of summer camping is finding a site that’s not crowded or full. Seasoned campers avoid this by choosing from campgrounds that operate on a first-come, first-serve basis and getting there early. Your best shot is a Sunday or Monday morning arrival because most campers leave on Sunday. Another option is to camp a little further from the most popular beaches or parks. Often, there are less-traveled campgrounds within a 20-minute drive of the crowded ones. 

Visit Friends or Relatives

If you’re lucky enough to have relatives within driving distance, plan a visit. You’ll save on lodging and can eat at least some meals at home. Assuming that you want to be invited back, budget to take your hosts out for at least one nice meal and/or help with food costs. 

What you save on lodging can be used to enjoy some of the local attractions where your relatives live. 

Alternatively, you can invite your favorite friends or relatives to come and stay with you. Plan their visit the way you might a staycation – around a local festival or another event. Give your visitors some time on their own and create some fun activities to do together. Go shopping with your kids for a new game they can play with their cousins or grandparents.

Work or Volunteer Travel

If your children are older, consider volunteer tourism. Children as young as 12 are allowed to participate in many opportunities, and they are not “all work and no play.” 

You can choose to stay in a jungle, a village, an eco-friendly surf resort, or a farm with plenty of opportunities to immerse in the local customs and enjoy adventure or relaxation. Expect to work together in activities like wildlife rescue, cleaning up beaches, comforting survivors, teaching skills, or building paths.

By choosing a cause that your whole family cares about, you can enjoy an experience and culture that no one will forget and forge a deeper connection with each other. For many vacations, you just have to cover transportation. Room and board are included. Volunteer tourism is ideal for longer stays because many programs run for two to four weeks.

Last-Minute Travel

There are two ways to save on vacation travel – booking far in advance and booking at the last minute. Set yourself up for alerts with several sites like Travel Zoo or Kayak. Establish a budget beforehand and review offers that you can afford with your family. 

You may find bargain lodging near a water park, grab a last-minute Airbnb cabin or snag an all-inclusive resort deal. If you live near a port, even a family cruise for a few days is not out of the question – the all-inclusive nature of cruising can make it an inexpensive choice. The key is to be flexible and teach your kids the joy of spontaneity. 

To truly enjoy a bargain family vacation, it’s helpful to remember why families vacation in the first place – to take time from the usual routine and be together. When your children look back on these times, it won’t be the roller coaster or fancy hotel they recall. It will be the joy of spending time with people they love.