Vacation Values

by : Cheryl Johnson



In today's fast paced society a vacation just isn't a vacation unless its costing you a small fortune to get to, and stay at, some exotic venue that usually offers no excitement without dishing out more money. I suggest we put on the brakes and get back to basics. You surely won't have a better opportunity to do so than on the family vacation.

Let's not forget that the "family" extends beyond our home life. Most of us have family that we rarely get to spend time with either because of distance or time issues. But, one should always make time for family. Right? I knew you would agree! Not trying to make you feel guilty here but, we do have a way of letting life rush us through the years. I call it "non-intentional neglect" and most of us are guilty of it at some point in our lives. So, let's re-invent the family vacation to include some real quality time that reinforces the value of our families.

Would you consider a visit to grandparents, distant uncles, or a friend's home a vacation? When I was growing up, the family vacation usually meant visiting family members who lived some distance away. Coming from a family of limited finances, this tradition was budget friendly yet, was sufficient to satisfy our need to escape the norms of home life.

Of course, as the teen age years approached, it became harder and harder for my mom to convince us that "we would have a good time" visiting the relatives. Some of which we had already spent several vacations visiting and had, I guess, lost their uniqueness to us as teenagers. That said, if any of you can figure out what makes a teenager happy, except socializing with their own peers, then congrats! Let me know your secret. All kidding aside, I believe that they still enjoy the family outings but have a strong resistance to acknowledging that they are actually having fun. In other words, they are having fun and just refuse to admit it!

I was a single parent for many years and just didn't have the money for family vacations requiring hotel stays and admission fees. I guess I followed in my mother's footsteps in hoping that a visit out of town would suffice. And it did. For many years, the family vacation consisted of a visit to a dear friend or family member's home who was willing to put up with four kids for a week. These are truly "beloved friends and family!"

I am fortunate to have a good friend for life who has two children within the same age group as my kids. Since we didn't get to visit often throughout the year, these visits were exciting for both my kids and hers who had become good friends.

So, by all means plan to visit a family member's, or friend's, home for a week. Young children especially enjoy these trips. They make new friends and the family ties are strengthened. This is an excellent way to reinforce family values and the importance of keeping in touch with family members that may live some distance from your home.

Do a little research before you go. Find out if there are any museums, historical sites, low cost attractions, or state parks within driving distance from where you'll be staying and plan to visit. Remember to ask the family member or friend you are visiting if they have any suggestions. Since they live in the area, they will most likely be aware of popular spots. Ask about bowling, roller skating, or special movie nights in the area and plan accordingly. You can even plan some game or craft activities to keep everyone busy and having fun.

For those of you who have worn out your welcome or simply don't have family within a reasonable distance, finding vacation spots that will provide a memorable experience for everyone in the family can be a challenge. Especially on a tight budget. Don't be discouraged, it is not impossible. Plan for your vacation and include it in your budget. This is the easiest way to prepare for a vacation expense and take the stress out of planning.

Since the goal here is to get the most fun for your money, let's talk about some low cost vacation ideas that could be right for your family.

  • Camping is a great low cost option for families that enjoy the outdoors. Don't worry, you don't have to sleep in a tent. There are lots of state parks that rent cabins for a very reasonable fee.

    I can highly recommend the Finger Lakes area of New York if it's a convenient distance for you. About a five hour drive for us, it turned out to be one of our most memorable vacations.

    I'll warn you, these cabins are booked full up to a year in advance. So, plan early. Tent spaces aren't as difficult to book. The park sports an amazing gorge trail with thundering waterfalls, scheduled nature learning activities, and a large play ground. The activity I think the kids enjoyed the most was the natural swimming area, with diving boards, at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall.

    As an added bonus, when you are registered at a state park, you gain free entrance into all state parks. This area is loaded with beautiful parks full of gorge trails, lake views, and camping facilities. And, if you find the time, you can visit the Corning Glass Museum not far from this campground.

    This is a tourist area you will definitely find yourself wanting to revisit. We did not get to see all we had wanted to see in a weeks time. You are likely to find an area of such natural beauty convenient to you as well. Just do a little research, you never know what you'll find!

  • If you want to beach it, be sure to check out all your options for lodging. Sometimes a large family can do better by renting a condo or home for the week rather than staying at a hotel. Remember, you can save a tremendous amount of money if you can prepare your own meals while on vacation. A good portion of a families vacation budget can be literally "eaten up"! Even a little kitchenette in a suite can save you big bucks.

    If you're campers, you can almost always find a campground near popular beach areas and get maximum savings on lodging.

    Don't forget your best resources, friends and family. Ask around to see if anyone has visited an area you plan to go. You may get lucky and have a "friend that has a friend" who maybe has a vacation spot they wouldn't mind renting to you for a lesser fee. Sometimes people won't rent out their vacation spots for various reasons, but don't mind doing so if the tenant is a trusted acquaintance of a friend or family member.

  • When travel and lodging are cost prohibitive, you can still have a vacation right at home. Yes, in your own backyard. Many of us live within reasonable distance to museums, campgrounds, historic sites, and beautiful state parks. You might be surprised at what you find in your own local area.

    Do some research in your area to find free or low cost activities and sites to visit. Schedule something for each day of the week, even if it's just a park visit for a picnic. Some areas have local public beaches. Plan an outing at a local public beach. Visit historical sites. Many of these are free, educational, and fun for parents and kids.


    • You can even plan activities at home just as if you were at an exotic vacation spot. Have a different theme for each day. For example:

    • A beach day (sun tanning, volley ball, make some fancy icy drinks to sip on in the sun, have a picnic)
    • A camp day (stay in a tent or sleeping bags under the stars, build a little fire if allowed in your area, roast marshmallows, make smores, sing campfire songs)
    • Have a backyard fair (create booths with games like ring toss or balloon popping to win little prizes)
    • A colonial day (dress, and live in another era!). This is great fun. I thought of this one purely by accident when the electricity went out one day. The kids expressed how "neat' it was to live like they did in the "old days." No lighting except candles and lanterns, no T.V. or radio, no video games or computer. Sounds boring, but believe it or not, they had fun coming up with ideas to keep occupied. A good teaching tool too!
      Shhhhhhhh….. don't tell the kids.

    These "theme days" at home will take some imagination and a little work, but will be loads of fun for everyone. Half the fun will be in the creation, so let everyone pitch in. You may even have more fun than actually being there!

    Whatever you decide to do, if you're traveling a great distance be sure to check all your travel options. With today's soaring gas prices it's not unlikely that you may be able to get there faster, and cheaper, in the air. Hey, maybe there's a conspiracy here?

    If all this just doesn't fall into your category of "fun", and you just have to have that exotic resort vacation, then at least be sensible about it. There are many great deals on vacation packages and off season rentals. And oodles of travel agencies just waiting to tell you about them. This is one area where do-it-yourself isn't the most practical advice. Travel agencies are privy to a lot of travel information, especially seasonal discounts, that you and I don't have knowledge of. Do Your Research at least for goodness sake. You won't be kicking yourself later when you come across that great deal you missed out on!

    Check out your local travel agencies, as well as some of the many online agencies. Don't forget, if you're an AAA member you’re eligible for travel discounts. Before finalizing any plans, be sure to know your rights. What happens if you have to cancel? What is the deadline to cancel? Will you loose your deposit or is it refundable? Know your options.

    Wherever you go, whatever you do, don't lose sight of the value of a family vacation. Be sure to schedule quality time together no matter what your destination. Be safe and enjoy!