The Brave New World of Family Travel

Saving Your Pennies
By Nancy L. Prichard
CA Monterey Bay Aquarium
LIKE THE LOCALS: Trips to spots like the Monterey Bay Aquarium takes you a little off the beaten tourist path (Courtesy, Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium)

Family vacations aren't cheap. With gas, plane tickets, hotels, and meals, expenses quickly add up. But having fun doesn't always have to cost top dollar. A little pre-planning and on-the-road savvy can go a long way in saving dollars and increasing fun.

First off, don't assume that vacations always have to be far from home. Most towns cater to tourists—just because you live somewhere doesn't mean you have to go elsewhere for fun. Like the New Yorker who's never visited the Empire State building, more than likely, there's a close-to-home destination that you've overlooked. Pull out a local map and draw circles at 50-, 100-, and 150-mile radii. Or stop in a local motel and scan the brochures at the front desk that advertise local tourist attractions.

Most communities you'll travel through have a local infrastructure that includes a community swimming pool and recreation center. Supported by tax dollars, new community rec centers often sport elaborate waterslides, toddler pools, and state-of-the art work-out equipment. Unlike a private club, you pay a nominal fee for walk-in use. Most community rec centers have child care programs with drop-in options with a well-accredited staff. If you are staying in a particular place for a week or longer, check for parks and rec programs; you might pay a small surcharge for not being local, but it's a good way to sign your children up for morning art, horseback riding, rock climbing, tennis, or golf lessons at an affordable price.

Bring a game box to keep kids entertained. Road trips are a terrific opportunity to work on flash cards for math and vocabulary. If you bring along a DVD player, save movies for night driving, when there's no scenery to watch. Pack CDs you like—but ones that the kids can sing along to. "Oldies but goodies" like Elvis, Frank, Box Car Willie, and Johnny Cash are easier to tolerate than Raffi and Sesame Street. Bring a blank journal for each kid, and a couple of disposable cameras. With some tape, crayons, or markers, kids can keep scrapbooks. Rent some classic children's' Books on Tape from your local library, as well as guides to the geography and history of your destination. Before you leave home, make a trip to your local "dollar" store. Children equate "new" with "fun" and a backpack full of surprises to dole out when things get rough can make the difference between frustration and good times.

A good way to explore a town or city is to take advantage of the things locals do every day. Museums and art galleries are fun, but why not take in a movie at the local theatre, go bowling, or play a few holes of miniature golf? Many historical sites have self-guided walking tours you can download in advance (, then listen to at your own convenience—check the specific museum or tourism office for ideas. Free fun is to be had at local festivals, like Telluride's Fourth of July celebration, the Lowell Folk Festival in Massachusetts (the largest free folk festival in the world), or the month-long Vermont Festival of Art in Mad River Valley. When you pick your destination, search the Internet for festivals. You'll find events with great music, regional food, and maybe the biggest kid-pleaser of them all, fireworks!

Published: 22 May 2007 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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