Merry Christmas

Happy Hanuchristmakwanzivus.

Family and travel. No posts today.

Make the most of the holiday.

No comments yet

10 Things to do on a Cheap Vacation.

This summer, my family  took a six-day cheap vacation.  Technically, it was a “stay-cation”, but I hate that word.  Our goal was a fun time, on a budget, for 3 kids–one, two, and nine–without driving the adults nuts.   Obviously, if you’re not herding small children, some of these choices may not be for you.

  1. Zoo.  In St. Paul, there is a free zoo that is more fun than the paid zoo in the area.  There’s a small amusement park, a playground,  lots of picnic benches, and even animals.  We packed a cooler full of food and drinks and hauled the kids to Como Zoo for a day.  If there isn’t a free zoo near you, find a local petting zoo.  They are good for a few hours.
  2. Go Antiquing. Make sure you stay on a budget.  It can be more fun to feel the history in antique stores than to feel the fleeting thrill of an off-budget purchase.  This isn’t much fun for small children.
  3. Children’s Museums. We have access to a “Museum Adventure Pass“.   We used one to go to The Works Museum, which is a hands-on science exhibit not far from our home.  It wasn’t busy and the kids had a blast.  Most metropolitan areas have a wide variety of childre-friendly museums.
  4. Municipal Pool. We spent an afternoon at the city pool.  Aside from gas, this was one of the most expensive events for our vacation.   Residents get a discount, but it was still $30.   I discovered that my two-year-old loves big waterslides.  She comes out of them with a death-grip on the inner tube and a huge smile on her face.  It was a double tube and she sat in my lap.
  5. Game Day. Spend a day with the TV off and games on the table.  Make some snacks and prepare for some of the best quality time you can have as a family.
  6. Picnic. Pack a lunch and go somewhere quiet.   Go to the park.  Go to the country.  Grab a bench on a sidewalk somewhere.  Just have a leisurely lunch and take the opportunity to connect with your family.
  7. Hike. Find a trail somewhere and just walk.  I’ve found that it easy to have deep or sometimes even awkward conversations while walking.  You may find out things you never would have guessed.
  8. Visit Family. Hotel on the go?  My parents live more than 2 hours away, so they are always thrilled to have us visit with the grandchildren.   Be nice, bring some food to help out.
  9. Bike. The final day of our vacation, my wife and I left the kids in daycare and kept the day to ourselves.  We had breakfast in a nice little cafe.  We went antiquing.  Then we went out to the park where we were married, had a picnic lunch and went for a bike ride together.  It was our anniversary.
  10. Apple Orchard.  Around here, they are everywhere.  Pick-you-own apples, a petting zoo, pony rides.  If you go in the fall, there is usually a corn maze.  You can by real apple cider and any number of baked goods.
  11. University Exhibits.  Check your local colleges, especially the public universities.  Most of them have a PR program to maintain public interest and funding.  Even the private schools will usually have fund-raisers for some programs.  We recently attended the raptor show at the University of Minnesota for free with our Adventure Pass.

Vacations don’t have to be expensive to be fun.  Counting gas, food, and the occasional souvenir, we took a 6 day cheap vacation packed with activities for well under $400, possibly even under $300.

How do you save money on a vacation?

Update: This post has been included in the Money Hacks Carnivals XCV.


The Luxury of Vacation

This was a guest post I wrote last year to answer the question posed by the Yakezie blog swap, “Name a time you splurged and were glad you did.”

There are so many things that I’ve wanted to spend my money on, and quite a few that I have.  Just this week, we went a little nuts when we found out that the owner of the game store near us was retiring and had his entire stock 40% off.  Another time, we splurged long-term and bought smartphones, more than doubling our monthly cell phone bill.

This isn’t about those extravagances.  This is about a time I splurged and was glad I did.   Sure, I enjoy using my cell phone and I will definitely get a lot of use out of our new games, but they aren’t enough to make me really happy.

The splurge that makes me happiest is the vacation we took last year.

Vacations are clearly a luxury.  Nonessential.  Unnecessary.  A splurge.

When we were just a year into our debt repayment, we realized that, not only is debt burnout a problem, but our kids’ childhoods weren’t conveniently pausing themselves while we cut every possible extra expense to get out of debt.  No matter how we begged, they insisted on continuing to grow.

Nothing we will do will ever bring back their childhoods once they grow up or—more importantly—their childhood memories.  They’ll only be children for eighteen years.  That sounds like a long time, but that time flies by so quickly.

We decided it was necessary to reduce our debt repayment and start saving for family vacations.

Last summer, we spent a week in a city a few hours away.  This was a week with no internet access, no playdates, no work, and no chores.  We hit a number of museums, which went surprisingly well for our small children.  Our kids got to climb high over a waterfall and hike miles through the forest.  We spent time every day teaching them to swim and play games.   Six months later, my two year old still talks about the scenic train ride and my eleven year old still plays poker with us.

We spent a week together, with no distractions and nothing to do but enjoy each other’s company.  And we did.   The week cost us several extra months of remaining in debt, but it was worth every cent.   Memories like we made can’t be bought or faked and can, in fact, be treasured forever.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Cheap Vacations

Hotel Bristol w Warszawie
Image via Wikipedia

Last month, we went on vacation for a week.  It was our first debt-free vacation, ever!  We had a busy week, full of fun activities and it didn’t break the bank.  We saved money on everything we could.


We save a lot of money by staying at a casino/hotel that was a 20 minute trip away from our vacation city.   This won’t save money if you have a problem with gambling.  The only time we went to the casino was to get to the connected restaurant.

We made the hotel even cheaper by arriving on a Sunday and leaving on a Friday, avoiding the weekend rates.  That gave us a full 6 day vacation with no rush to pack and 2 days to recover and relax when we were done.  We just didn’t see the point of checking out on Saturday, just to head home, when we could check out on Friday, spend the day seeing the sights, then leave late.


I like good food, but feeding a family of five for a week costs far too much.  So we compromised.

We brought milk and cereal to the hotel.  Instead of rushing to get out of the hotel for breakfast, we had a leisurely breakfast in our jammies and took our time getting moving.  No stress.  For our daytrips, we packed sandwiches, juice, and snacks; avoiding the need for lunchtime restaurants.  Dinner was our extravagance.  Every night, we ate someplace nice.   Not fancy, but nice.  Our food budget was about $30 for the week, not counting dinner.


I had  a plan to keep every day fun, without resorting to using an agenda.  We were far to flexible to call it an agenda.  They just don’t make vacations fun for me.   We had one thing planned each morning, one each afternoon, and one each evening.  Every day, one of those things was spending a couple of hours in the hotel pool.  No stress.

The first thing I did was hit the city’s tourism website for coupons.  Yay us!

We tried to group our activities geographically to save on parking.  For example, one day we went on a sight-seeing boat tour, then walked over the a retired-ore-freighter-turned-museum and only paid one parking fee, which was actually reimbursed by the tour company.

We also hit a lot of state parks, which was mostly free, except for the daily parking permits.

Some of the museums had gotten together to offer a “3 attractions for the price of 2” deal.  This was available to us, but I didn’t find out about it until the end of the week.  Luckily, it only cost us a few dollars more to use the other coupons.

When we had some spare time, we did other things, like bowling or catching a matinee.   They were just some cheap  time-fillers, but still good times.

All in all, we had a great time.  Nobody was bored and we didn’t end up broke.  A good time was had by all, and I got to teach my son how to play poker.

How do you save money on vacation?

Enhanced by Zemanta