Summer is just around the corner making this a great time to start thinking about family vacations. You may have already decided on “the big one,” which could be anything from a trip to Yellowstone to a week on Maui. But you don’t have to confine yourself to that one summer vacation. If you do a little research, you’ll probably find there are a bunch of mini-vacations near you throughout the summer that your family would enjoy and without leaving town and that will cost practically nothing. The suggestions you will find listed below are best to be done on weekends. However, if your family’s summer schedule is flexible enough there’s no reason why you couldn’t do some of them midweek.
What are cheap mini-vacations?
We define this as something you can do over the course of a day or two away from home, doing it out of doors in a new location. And of course, it has to be very inexpensive. Most of the ones listed here cost only the gas you need to get there and back and maybe a small cost to rent a spot to camp for a day or two. And camping can be a really inexpensive way to vacation – assuming you already have the requisite camping gear. If not, you will need to lay down a good amount of cash to get equipped. However, a good way to look at this cost is to amortize it over the cost of, say, 5 camping trips, after which it’s not really costing you anything.
A day at an arts festival
If you don’t live in a city that has a summer arts festival, don’t despair. You probably live near a city that does have one. For example, where we live the town of Steamboat Springs has an
arts and Crafts Festival in June and there is also one in Denver. In July the town of Aspen is hosting its 14th Annual Downtown Aspen Art Festival, and in August Crested Butte is staging its 44th Annual Crested Butte Arts Festival. Google the name of your state and the term “arts festival” and the odds are you’ll find several near where you live. Or if you find one you’d like to attend that isn’t close by you could always make a two-day camping trip out of it.
Hit the trails
This means spending the weekend camping in a state park that has a wide array of interesting trails for hiking. Just look through your state’s park service website and see what’s available at each of your parks. The state of Iowa, which is certainly not one that would come immediately to mind when thinking about hiking, actually has at least 20 state parks that offer some great trails. You could make the hiking even more fun by taking lots and lots of photos and then using them for collages in your family photo albums. Hiking these trails is also a good way to identify birds and trees and share the information with your kids. We’re not talking steep mountain trails, either. You should find it easy to restrict yourself to simpler trails and hike at an easy pace, where you would have time to examine anything you find that looks interesting.
Do some geocaching
If you’re not familiar with geocaching it’s where you go to a site such as geocaching.com and download coordinates into your GPS device or smart phone. These coordinates function sort of like an old-fashioned treasure map where X marks the spot where you’ll find a “treasure”. And, of course, the challenge is to find it. Spoiler alert – the “treasure” is usually something very minor such as a book you would sign or maybe a trinket or two where you would follow the rule of “if you take something, leave something”. You might also pare geocaching with a weekend camping trip or you might find a number of geocaches right in the town where you live. Geocaching can be a great way to keep kids involved in the day’s hike because it offers the thrill of the hunt – of finding that little treasure.
Spend a day at a museum
Just as almost every state has arts festivals so do they have museums. While you may have to pay an admission fee it’s likely that it will be very small. Where we live there is an Art Museum, a Museum of Contemporary Art, the Buena Vista Heritage Center, a Children’s Museum, a Railroad Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and many, many others. It should be easy for you to find museums near where you live by searching Google. Check out each museum’s website and you should find days when it offers discounted or even free admission. then plan a day trip for one of those days. Our Denver Museum of Nature & Science actually offers free admission all the time unless you want to visit its planetarium, which costs $19.95 for adults and $6.00 for children (up to age 18).
Attend a community festival
Most states are rich with community festivals during the summer. And admission is usually free. They are also often linked deeply to the town’s cultural and ethnic history. Nebraska has its Czech Festival, Iowa hosts a Nordic Fest, South Dakota has Wild Bill Days, Utah has a Tulips Festival and Lanesboro, Minnesota hosts an annual Lanesboro Rhubarb Festival. You should be able to easily find one or more of these festivals that’s within a two-or three-hour drive from where you live. You could get up early, spend the day at the festival and then be home that night. You should be able to find these festivals by searching on a term such as “best (name of your state) community festivals”. While they are almost always free you may find yours has some side attractions that charge small fees. So, you might want to take $20 or $30 with you.
Of course, not all of these cheap mini-vacations are for everyone. And camping trips won’t be cheap unless you already own the requisite equipment. The important thing is to think about those things your family would enjoy that cost very little and then make a list. You may not want to have a mini-vacation every weekend but with a little research you should be able to schedule at least six of them during the summer that would be both cheap and fun for your whole family