Times are a bit different than when I was a kid. Things are more expensive, kids are busier…parents are busier. There are divorced and single families, families with two jobs for each adult. Teenagers who work. We’re swamped. When I was a kid, I was pretty much guaranteed a winter vacation in Florida, visiting my family and going to Disney World and Sea World, Cypress Gardens and the Fountain of Youth. We never flew anywhere, so my parents would pull us out of school a day early, maybe even bring us back a day late and we’d leave at four in the morning and drive all day. We’d spend the night near South of the Border usually, once we stayed in Georgia, but there were brush fires and that put Georgia off for my parents after that.
Two days of driving, staying in a motel where you parked in front of the door. I don’t know how we survived those first floor, open windows, doors that led to the parking lot motor inns. We were sent to the office for ice, tourist information. At some point one of two of us were sent outside (to separate us from the other one) and we were expected to sit in the fresh air on the plastic lawn chairs that were paired under the big picture window that my mother always insisted we draw the drapes. Free roaming even near the swimming pool.
Now that I’m an adult with kids, we’ve spent a lot of our time visiting the kids’ grandparents, who lived far away, taking care of them and seeing them when they could no longer come to see us.
Our last family vacation was in 2008 when we took our three kids to Gettysburg for a long weekend length mid-week stay. (It’s cheaper to stay during the week.) We had planned on going to Canada the next year but we had car trouble and we’ve never recovered from that. We’re thinking we might be able to go away next year, but that is a far off thought.
What we’ve done since, and what many families have done since 2001 (9/11) and then again in 2008 with the economic downturn is to have a stay-cation. Stay at home, eat at home, and explore the local places that people come to on their vacations. We all have local places, big or small that we pass or read about in the newspaper but often never visit because we’re so busy working and then going away on our holidays.
Just like any vacation, a stay-cation takes planning. Do your research. Start by using the memberships you already have. Most of us have AAA, and if you don’t, you should look into becoming a member. Get the tour book from your home state. It’s free with membership. Check out the AAA office’s pamphlets. See what they’re advertising locally. AAA also gets you discounts on admissions, food, and other things. I know I talk about AAA a lot, but I’ve been a member since 1990, and my parents for forever before that. It is well worth it. So check out the tour book. We live in upstate New York. We’re about thirty minutes from Vermont and an hour or so from Massachusetts, close enough for day trips and saving the money for a hotel and using the tips I suggested last week for bringing breakfast and snacks, limiting eating out to one meal.
Check out the local restaurants that have kids’ freebie or discounted nights. TGIFriday’s used to have kids eat free every Tuesday. They don’t anymore, but many places still do. Check online for coupons. Maybe eat out once or twice during the week for a special vacation treat. You’ll save all the money by not eating out twice a day, every day.
Obviously, spend most days eating at home. Instead of buying Lunchables, buy the deli meat and cheese and a box of crackers, a box of Oreos and a gallon of Juicy Juice.
For admissions, many museums and art galleries have buy one, get one free deals. Always ask. Don’t forget to ask about discounts – AAA, military, student, teacher, etc. Pull out all the things. The savings really add up. Our state museum in the capital is a donation admission. I’ve often gone for free, although I try to put something in for our family.
Check out the discovery sections or kids sections of museums that are often hands-on. If you have young children, children’s museums are an excellent choice. We have three within a three-hour roundtrip, super for a day out.
Souvenirs can be had in the gift shops of the main place you visit or in local visitors’ centers, and highway rest stops. I love postcards and pins, and my kids love t-shirts and pens. (Although try to avoid buying food at a highway rest area – ridiculously expensive. Gas too.)
Plan a day around a movie and popcorn. You can get the same movie candy at Wal-Mart or Target for $1. You can also rent movies from Redbox for $1. Those of you with Amazon Prime or Netflix can watch movies for free. As part of your plans, check out both sites and get a list together of some choices for the whole family. The next movie on my list is black and white with Kevin Costner, free on Netflix and The Boondock Saints on Amazon (although that one’s not free, there are plenty of Prime movies that are.)
Each one of your kids can plan a day. They’ll love the responsibility. Use your computer to make a mini-journal for them to plan in. Don’t forget unlined pages for drawing or sketching. What will we do? What will we eat? How much money is budgeted? Can we do it all for free?
At home, there’s indoor fort building, hide and seek, nature walks and scavenger hunts. Even in a normal February, it’s almost always possible to spend at least fifteen minutes out of doors.If the roads are not icy, a quick bike ride wouldn’t be out of the question.
Spend one day in the kitchen. Cook together. Make macaroni and cheese. Bake cookies.
Clean out the clothes drawers. Wait, wait, don’t throw anything. Look through those clothes, try them on again, dress up, enjoy something before you get rid of the ones that are too small. T-shirts that mean something can be turned into pillows. They can be stretched and framed to hang on a bedroom wall. My daughter has even had the idea of sewing the bottoms closed, and using the sleeves as handles for a new purse or tote bag. She also turns too small dresses into t-shirts and frilly skirts into tops. Pretty sure she’s going to be a fashion designer when she gets older.
Sometimes, all you need is that one poke and then realize that home isn’t so bad. It can actually be fun. My kids are home this week, so at the end of it, I’ll let you know how we did.