Summer vacations embody the American way of life. Oftentimes, we spend the whole year going, going, going just to take seven whole days each summer to spend time with our friends and family. Making the most of those seven days is important, especially if they’re the only vacation you get each year!
Unfortunately, not all of us can jet off to Bali; we have to take our budgets into consideration when planning for this annual vacation. How do you even start with the vacation planning process? Do you create a budget first and then see what will fit? Does your family keep a vacation bucket list and try to mark a destination off each year?
If you aren’t sure where to start, we recommend having some conversations with your family to find out what they’re interested in and what they want out of a summer vacation. For mom and dad, maybe they want some type of relaxation or some time by themselves without the kids. Do the kids want adventure, entertainment, exploration, history? Trying to take everyone’s wants into consideration can be overwhelming, but it’s not impossible.
Still not sure where to start? Here are some great ideas for budget-friendly family vacation spots:
- Float trips on slow, shallow rivers around the country can be relaxing, fun, and inexpensive. If you’re looking for adventure, some float trips can be broken up into 2 days and your family can camp overnight as part of the trip. If you’re just looking for a relaxing afternoon experience, some float trips only last a couple of hours. If you choose this option, make sure you bring lifejackets for everyone and pack plenty of safety items – lots of water, a first aid kit, etc.
- For military families, look into military discounts at theme parks around the country. For those of us around Fort Leonard Wood, Silver Dollar City offers a great value for military and Veteran families. They offer discounted adult tickets and all military children ages 4-11 receive a free 2-day ticket when they’re accompanied by their military parent purchasing a 2-day ticket or when they present an active duty military ID in their own name and are accompanied by a paying adult or season pass holder. There are many other amusement parks, like Disney, that offer military discounts. Check with the park directly or contact your local ITR office for more information.
- If you’re headed to a big city, check out websites that let you rent apartments or houses for the week. Going this route allows you a comfortable place to come home to each day and allows you to prepare most meals yourself. Preparing meals is a little extra work, but can cut your costs immensely. If you’re traveling with small children, you’ll likely have access to a washer and dryer, be able to prepare and store kid-friendly food, and you won’t have to worry as much about loud hotel noise or other people complaining about a baby that doesn’t feel like sleeping at 2 a.m. We also highly suggest that military families should look into staying on military installations, if space is available.
- If you’re able to take a whole week for summer vacation, plan some of your adventures that might be most popular for the middle of the week to avoid long lines and big crowds. This is especially true at a place like Disney where some families just come in for long weekends and head straight for the most popular park: Magic Kingdom. If you’re headed to Disney and want to check out all of the parks, visit the most popular ones during the middle of the week and save the less poplar parks for weekends or the ends of the week (Monday and Friday).
- Our U.S. National Parks are an often over-looked vacation destinations. These parks offer exploration, adventure, and a chance to get kids outside their comfort zones. If you’re looking for a way to reconnect and interact more with your family, our National Parks are the way to go. As a bonus, military families are able to get into National Parks for free and they also offer significant senior citizen discounts for annual passes. These parks often get very crowded during the summer, so plan ahead (6-12 months) and consider checking out some of the less popular parks during the summer months.
We hope this helps your family prepare for a great summer vacation and if you'll be headed out this summer, we hope to see you at the airport as you start your trip!