In this economy, families are increasingly choosing to forgo the traditional family vacation as they tighten their belts and try to pay down debt. A Harris Interactive survey estimated that 57% of working Americans did not use their full vacation time by the end of 2011, forfeiting up to 11 days or 70% of their paid time off.
Airfare for a family of four, accommodations, eating out at restaurants, plus attractions? If you haven’t saved up for a vacation, these kinds of luxuries may seem out of reach. When money is tight, there are still economical ways to enjoy a change of scenery without going into debt. Maybe this is not the year for the Disney vacation, so families just have to get a little more creative. And you can use the money you save to retire some debt.
Off-Season Destination Consider visiting “off-season” attractions. Think Aspen in August or Phoenix in July. Destinations like ski resorts that are packed during the winter still welcome tourists and offer discounts in off-peak seasons. If you can stand the Phoenix heat in July, you can stay at a four-star resort for the cost of a Holiday Inn.
National and State Parks You’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, or Mount Rushmore — that’s downright un-American. Don’t have time, money or patience to travel that far? You won’t have to cross the country to enjoy one of the many state and national parks found in every region. Your family can enjoy beaches, biking, hiking, fishing and even rafting for the bargain price of $10 per park, or invest in a National Park Pass for $50 for the summer that grants entry into any park for a year. Explore our nation’s parks at Recreation.gov.
Nontraditional Accommodations Even with discounts and deals, hotel bills can add up quickly. With an open mind, families may not have to open their wallets quite as wide to still enjoy a vacation. Every family should try camping – at least once. Gear can get expensive, but if it’s your first time to try sleeping under the stars, perhaps you can rent or borrow camping gear instead of making the full purchase investment. Many state parks require reservations, so visit Recreation.gov to secure a spot. Though generally more popular in Europe and other countries, the U.S does have hostels, which offer significant savings over hotels. If you’re imagining bunker style dormitories with a room full of strangers, there are many that offer family accommodations complete with laundry facilities and high-speed internet, game rooms, and other amenities. Check out Hostels.com for recommendations and reservations and cost-saving tips. Another trend in vacationing is the home exchange, where vacationers correspond over the Internet before swapping abodes. Obviously, this option takes extensive research and a leap of faith.
Road trip The cost of gas might make some vacationers hit the brakes on a cross-country road trip, but travelers with a trusty set of wheels and wanderlust will attest that the open road offers more than a cramped and costly seat on an airplane, particularly if you are traveling with young children. Short jaunts or lengthy journeys, there are endless options for road trips. Depending on where you live and your interests, you can tailor your vacation to your exact needs, and even visit the occasional family member on the way. If you’re a baseball fan, why not pay homage to the national pastime? A tour of baseball stadiums and a pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame is entirely manageable, especially for East Coast residents. West Coasters can easily enjoy a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. For southern residents, Gulf Cost destinations are only a short drive away and perfect for a long weekend getaway. Families with older children might want to consider mapping out a college visit trip. Foodies can celebrate the locavore culture and plan a tour of wineries, fruit-picking farms, cottage food industries, and restaurants in various parts of the country. Road trippers also save on food because you can stop at grocery stores and pack picnic lunches.
“Staycation” If your idea of the best kind of vacation is to do as little as possible, then a staycation might be the best option for you. Be a tourist in your own town, visit the museums and attractions for which you never had time. Pamper yourself without splurging on a week-long vacation. Spend one night at a hotel, have a spa day, or simply go on vacation from the everyday demands. Refuse to cook or clean for the weekend (within reason) and give the kids a break from chores. Staycations are also a good time to volunteer your time around the city.