Unless they’ve been saving for the trip of a lifetime this summer, many families are opting for staycations this year. They may also be cutting back on expensive summer camps, leaving more time for idle hands to get into trouble (or on your last nerve).
Here are some ideas for how to enjoy the summer, and your kids, without dipping into what’s left of your retirement savings.
If your work situation permits, don’t take all your vacation days in a single week. Instead, spread them out over the whole summer. This gives the kids something to look forward to, not to mention something you can use to motivate good behavior.
Consider taking some days off in the middle of the week rather than bracketing a weekend. Popular attractions like amusement and water parks tend to be less crowded mid-week so you’ll get more for your admission dollars.
Check to see if the local swim/tennis/country club has a summer family membership. The chi chi swanky ones may not, but smaller health clubs rely on the extra income to pay for the outdoor pool and required lifeguard staff. Even if you work full-time at an office, there are a few hours every night plus weekends, giving every day a little vacation feel.
Coordinate with the parents of your children’s friends to take a groups of kids someplace one day in exchange for them taking the kids another. This is harder to organize if you have more than a couple kids, as the group can get somewhat large, but if you work out of a home office, those extra days of peace are well worth the one or two harried days with a gaggle of kids at the science museum or aquarium.
Looking for ideas on where to go? Consider going back to the places the kids went on field trips during the school year. They’ll generally be within an one hour drive, and guaranteed, your kids did not see everything in the couple hours they had at the attraction unless it is very small. They’ll also enjoy showing you around a place they’ve already seen, plus getting to stop in the gift shop. Give them a budget in advance ($3-5). If they earn an allowance, tell them you’ll supplement with a few dollars but they are spending their own money. Otherwise you’ll be spending the end of a lovely day arguing about crummy souvenirs.
We’re spoiled, living in eastern Massachusetts. Old Sturbridge Village, Plimoth Plantation, Fruitlands, Strawbery Banke, Concord and Lexington, Boston, Salem and the North Shore, Falmouth and the Upper Cape are all located within a 90 minute drive. Not to mention hiking and swimming, lakes, ponds, mountains and ocean.
But every region has its charms, history, activities. If you’ve already hit all the obvious ones in your area , dig around a bit. There’s bound to be something you haven’t discovered yet.
For example, recently I was a speaker at a local chamber event held at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. Yes, you read that right. Museum of Russian Icons. Over the years and many trips to Russia, local businessman Gordon Lankton had acquired a large number of Russian icons. He considered donating them to established museums, but they would only exhibit a few at a time. So, he founded the Museum of Russian Icons. The collection includes about 340 Russian icons, the largest collection of its kind in North America and one of the largest private collections outside of Russia. They offer kids’ activities of the scavenger hunt variety, so good for older kids, but I would not recommend it for very young children. Local folks might want to combine it with a visit to the Davis Farmland Corn Maze in August/September.
Discounts & reciprocal admissions. If you are a member of AAA or other travel clubs, check for discounts at attractions (and hotels too). We saved money on our Gatorland tickets this spring due to our AAA membership. We’ve also saved money at places like the LaBrea Tarpits in LA and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh due to our memberships in home museums like the Museum of Science and Museum of Fine Arts. It never hurts to ask what discounts are available.
Overnights. Sometimes the place you want to go is just a little bit out of comfortable driving range. Do an overnight, but don’t skimp on the hotel. At a minimum, make sure it has a pool. Many attractions will have a two-day ticket that isn’t that much more expensive than the one-day admission. Drive down in the morning, spend a few hours at the attraction and then adjourn to the hotel pool. In the morning, you can swim and then sightsee, or just go right to the attraction. Drive home in the afternoon; you’ll be home for dinner.
Bottom line? It’s about spending time together as a family doing things you all enjoy. Your kids will remember a long weekend that everyone enjoyed with as much — perhaps more — joy than a forced march through Disney. Some of my best travel memories are of short trips taken with my mom and brother when I was a kid. Perhaps not the most luxurious (lawn furniture in the motel room) but good times.
That’s what we want to duplicate for our kids. Regardless of the economy. The good news? You can. You just have to be clever and flexible about your plans. Whether you take a vacation or staycation, there are lots of options for those who look.