Sometimes you just need to take a step back and take a break. That’s where we are right now. Though we’ve taken several trips to visit family (including Seattle in October and Indiana in December), Tony and I haven’t gotten away together, just the two of us, since our honeymoon 9 months ago.
In November, I found a great deal on a hotel room in Washington DC at HotelClub (about $60 a night for a room in a fantastic location). I knew that after spending almost two weeks on the road and visiting family then heading right back into our routine, we’d probably need some time away around this time. A frugal mini-vacation is the perfect solution.
Here are some tips for saving money if you want to plan a family-friendly mini-vacation of your own:
Choose somewhere close.
Choosing a destination close enough to drive reduces the cost of your trip significantly. It’s much cheaper to drive than fly (especially if you’re traveling with a family). Closer destinations also mean lower gas costs and the ability to stay for just a night or two instead of a whole week, which means more affordable lodging.
Choose a destination with historical significance.
Historical cities are the most frugal places to visit. National and state historic sites and museums rarely charge for admission, and when they’re state or federally funded they’re usually better than independent tourist attractions.
We’re lucky to live within driving distance of Washington DC. It’s one of my favorite frugal vacation destinations. With tons of free museums and historical sites, there’s a lot to do that costs very little or nothing at all.
These destinations exist in every state, though. When I was a kid, my family lived in Michigan. We held a season pass to Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Those weekend trips remain some of my favorite vacation memories (even more than a huge trip to Disney that probably cost my parents a couple thousand dollars).
When Tony and I lived in the Midwest, we took a similar trip to Springfield, Illinois. We visited a ton of Lincoln sites, toured the state Capitol, and had a fantastic time for cheap. Be creative. Whether it’s a state capital or historical city near you, these cities are fun, frugal, and educational for kids.
Travel during the “shoulder season.”
Historic cities and state capitals offer a lot of free and cheap attractions, but the trade-off is often high prices for hotels during the busy tourist season (especially summers and vacations when kids are out of school). Part of the reason we got such a great deal on our DC hotel room is because we planned the trip for February. Just two weeks later, the price would have been $25 more per night. If we had planned our trip for April, we would have paid $50 more per night. If you plan a weekend trip between January and mid-March, you’ll find the best deals on lodging. An added bonus is that museums are a lot more enjoyable when they’re not overcrowded.
Pack a lunch.
Museum cafeterias often overcharge for food that isn’t that great. They usually don’t mind if you bring your own food, though. Save some money by packing some sandwiches and drinks. If the museum doesn’t allow it, then plan for a mid-afternoon break to head back to the hotel for lunch. Even if you end up at a restaurant off site, you’ll probably spend less for better food than you would get at the museum.
Keep it fun for everyone.
I was a nerdy kid. I loved museums and learning. I still do. Two of my sisters didn’t share my enthusiasm for field-trip-like vacations. Even the most educational museums usually cater to children of all personality types with hands-on activities that keep everyone happy. If your kids aren’t into musems, blend educational activities with other frugal things they’ll enjoy (maybe a baseball game or an afternoon playing outside at a park).