By Debra McDuffee
Everything is expensive nowadays, and let's face it -- a summer vacation just may not be in your budget this year. You don't have to sacrifice family fun just because you can't get away, though; instead, follow my tips for a frugal staycation filled with old favorites and new adventures!
Come on in -- the water's fine!
No staycation would be complete without a day at the beach or pool, and you've got lots of cheap options.
-Got a friend with a pool? Bum a visit, and bring burgers and hot dogs for everyone. You've done your share -- and
gotten a free day of swimming.
-Find a state park (here's a list of all U.S. state parks
) with a lake and beach. They are usually only about US $5 per car; they often have BBQ pits so you can cook your own meals, and you could even rent a canoe.
-If you live in the mountains, you can probably pull over to the side of the road and frolic in the rocky river for the day, like we do when we visit New Hampshire. That's free, folks!
-Living near the ocean is quite a perk, and can cost anywhere from free to about US $20 per car. If you are coastal, you've got to take advantage!
Take a hike!
Enjoying the outdoors is a big part of a staycation. Again, you've got lots of free or cheap options; some make hiking a little more interesting to those in need of technological stimulation (or, at the very least, a mysterious adventure).
-Grab your handheld GPS and go Geocaching
. Using your GPS, follow the signal to a hidden cache, where you leave a trinket and take a trinket. Our family has enjoyed so many new hiking trails we never would have seen otherwise.
. If you've got a rubber stamp and a sense of adventure, follow clues to a secret treasure box, and leave your mark. There are thousands of these hidden throughout the United States, mostly in hiking areas.
-Visit your local Audubon society
. They not only have sanctuaries where you can simply enjoy the trails, but there will be educational programs and activities. It was a little tricky to find what I needed on the national website, so be sure to visit your state's site for all of the sanctuaries in your area.
It's movie night, and the feelin's right...
You can choose your level of expense for this staycation must, too.
-Check a movie out of the library, pop some popcorn, and curl up on the couch. It's free!
-Another free option: a movie from the free section of the on-demand cable, if you subscribe.
-Try renting a 99-cent movie from one of those movie vending machines
at the supermarket.
-Choose a bargain matinee at a local theatre, or splurge for the evening show.
-If you've got one locally, a drive-in movie is a summer must, and if you've got a big family, it's a frugal alternative. And really, who doesn't love curling up in the back of the minivan in pajamas, falling asleep to a Disney flick?
Camping in your own backyard...
Literally. Maggie wrote all about her son's backyard camping adventures
, Bethany taught us how to make a fake campfire
, and Francesca described how to make microwave s'mores
-- you may even be adventurous enough to try building Anna's mini s'mores grill
Some other ways to spice up a backyard camp-out?
-Get a telescope and do a little stargazing.
-Tell ghost stories... boo! -Buy the kids new sleeping bags, stylin' jammies, or a special pillowcase for the big night. -Get a bag of 99-cent glowsticks. Play hide-and-seek or tag with them.
Culture is staycation-y, too
A break from all of the outdoor fun may be in order, to make the most of a rainy day, or just to stay cool. Why not head to a local museum? Oftentimes, we take our local attractions for granted; I bet you are overdue for a visit!
-Have you explored any museums on your local college campus? There are often art or natural history museums that are worth seeing, and are less expensive than more publicized museums.
-Plan an activity for after dinner that compliments your museum visit: a family art project like the Jackson Pollock you saw at the art museum, or a backyard rocket like the one at the science center. - Check your town's library for museum passes and coupons to make your visit affordable.
Dinner's on... you!
What's your favorite meal that just says "summertime?" Perhaps you have a family tradition of German potato salad, barbequed pork, and sauteed greens... or is traditional burgers and dogs more your style?
How about a regional favorite? Here in New England, it's the clambake: steamers, fresh lobster, corn-on-the-cob, and a salad straight from the garden.
Whatever you choose, plan on a night to cook in -- and relish the flavors of summertime.
Dinner's out this time
Nearly as important as the cook-in meal is the go-out-to-dinner night. You've saved a lot of money this week, so splurge on dinner. Visit a favorite restaurant, or try a new one you've been hearing rave reviews about. It might even be fun to dress up a little and go fancy....
Kids in charge?
Yep, you'll want to do this for at least one of your staycations days. Why? It will be more memorable for them, you know they'll be happy for the day, and it will probably be an easier day then you would have planned.
I know my three-year-old would choose a morning at a local playspace, and then swimming at Grandmum's pool for the afternoon. Dinner? Grandpa's potatoes, of course, unless there is corn-on-the-cob!
A staycation doesn't have to feel second-best to a get-away. With a little planning, your frugal week could be everyone's favorite "trip."