My family loves to travel. We find that exploring new places, learning about different cultures, and the special bonding that comes from being outside of our normal routines make travel an area we prioritize. However, we don’t always have a lot of money for travel expenses like lodging, transportation, or entertainment.
Families dealing with the challenges of budgeting for college savings might be feeling squeezed. Perhaps you are wondering how to make the most of spring break. Rest assured, you can still create a memorable spring break experience for your family with a shoestring budget. Perhaps you’ll even provide unique inspiration for your child’s college essay! Here are a few ways you can create those family travel experiences for very low cost:
Explore Your City/Town
Often the yen for travel is about discovering something new, but that doesn’t always mean you have to leave home. The so-called “staycation” is the perfect way to capture the joy of travel over spring break without having to spend on lodging or much on transport. Are there any local spots you haven’t tried? Pretend you are a tourist and check out your county’s visitor center or look up the local tourist spots in your town online.
Sometimes even visiting the library branch across town, a new local shop, or biking to a different park provides a great deal of variety. If you have a little money to spend, you could try an experience coupon service like Groupon for some local ideas.
Your staycation need not be just focused on your own city or town. If you have a car and a bit of money for gas, but don’t want to pay for lodging, consider any destinations within a 1-2 hour drive (possibly longer for older children and/or more adventurous parents!) for a road trip in one day. The most frugal way to do this is to pack your own food and find a destination with no (or a nominal) entrance fee.
Special note for families with college in the very near future: You could visit a college campus for both fun and education (tours for prospective families are often free). Younger siblings and parents can enjoy these trips as much as the future grad! For families with inexperienced drivers, long road trips can also be a great way to give them a lot of practice.
Camping can be a great frugal alternative to traditional lodging over spring break. We’ve found state parks often have the best family amenities for the price, but there are a great range of options--from free camping to all-inclusive resorts. If you haven’t been camping before, equipment costs can add up quickly, but consider borrowing unused equipment from a friend. If camping sounds fun but intimidating, try building a fire to cook out in your backyard, going stargazing in an area with less light pollution, or sleeping on the porch for some awesome camping experiences without the investment!
Bonus Tip: Make Spring Break Planning a Family Game
For maximum family fun, share some of the responsibilities for planning your spring break entertainment with all members of the family. Assign each member of the family a day and a budget to plan out the itinerary. Everyone gets to pick what they do for at least one day, making it a true family experience. Even very young children can make reasonable plans with some guidance and support. For tweens and teens, this can be a great lesson in budgeting and can improve their enjoyment of the activities. You could even allow your kids to invite a friend for their special adventure day or let them keep whatever money they don’t use.
Whatever adventures you embark on this spring break--frugal or otherwise--don’t forget to have fun and connect as a family. We’ve had years we couldn’t do anything but take a couple days off work to go on walks and play board games. However, the attitude of adventure and spirit of fun helped it feel as great as a five-star vacation cruise.
Photograph of Diana Sung
Diana Sung is a career educator and personal finance enthusiast. She blogs about family life, frugal living, and values-driven finances at Free Fun Family.