Budget-Friendly Family Trips

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Budget-Friendly Family Trips

By Lisa Scarbrough

It’s springtime again (well, for most of us), which means time for spring break travel! But not all families can afford a trip to Disney, so here are some great tips that will help you create just as many memories without emptying the bank.

1. Make friends with your local and state parks.
I can’t say enough about how awesome state and county parks can be for family adventures. The first thing I do every year is renew our state parks pass, which gets our whole family free admission, a couple of nights free camping, and other discounts. If you don’t have an annual pass, most admissions are very inexpensive, under $5, or sometimes, even free.

This is Caw Caw, a county park in Charleston County, SC, that only charges $1 for daily admission per person.

2. Pack your snacks (and lunch).
How much money do you spend when you eat out on the road? Make a grocery trip with your local store, use your coupons, and plan ahead. Use reusable bags for snacks, pack a cooler with water bottles you can refill, and don’t forget a trash bag to properly dispose your waste. 

3. Pick a campsite instead of a hotel.
Have tent, will travel. Tent camping, and even RVing, can save lots of costs on lodging. Think about how much time you’ll spend actually in a hotel/motel. Is it worth the costs? Many state parks have amazing rates, between $15 and $40 a night, for your whole family to camp. You can still have amenities such as electric and water at your site, and full washrooms for showers. If you absolutely have to have a hotel room, try calling the venue directly for rates before you book online; you might get a better deal.


4. Plan your route to watch your gas.
Prices at the pumps can really be a party pooper when you’re trying to enjoy a family vacation. So plan your route to keep from back tracking and reducing your stops. For extra savings, watch the lead foot: set your cruise control for the speed limit.

5. Avoid holiday weekends.
Rates are always higher, and traffic can be a nightmare. Oftentimes, in the off-season, you can get a special rate. Back in February, we were able to rent a cabin at a state park for 45% off. However, with school-aged children, this may not be an option. If you plan to travel on a holiday weekend, book far in advance and recognize there probably won’t be many discounts to be had.


6. Don’t be afraid to explore.
One of our favorite things to do when we travel is to look for the brown signs that indicate a park, recreational area, or historic site. Since we usually aren’t in a real hurry, there’s plenty of time for a quick exploration. If it’s a place we like, we make a mental note to come back again. We also make a point to stop at local visitors/welcome centers, where you can get much more information than just from your GPS.

7. Day trips can be just as much fun as a full weekend or week.
No one said you had to be gone overnight to have a memorable vacation. Make a plan to get up with the sun and set out and stay out past sunset. You’ll be surprised at how much you can pack into a day, and how good you’ll sleep when you return home that night!


No matter how you decide to spend your family vacation, remember it’s about the quality time. My parents took me to Disney once in my life, when I was 8. I have very few memories of that trip, but I can remember all the parks and lakes we visited on the weekends, and many of those are places I’m taking my son to see now.

For more inspiration on places to visit, check out my family travel blog at DoodlesOutdoors.us.

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Reader Comments:


I just wanted to say I Love you Paula. I'm a faithful fan. God Bless you and your family always. Team Dean all the way. Love the entire Dean family, you all rock!! wink

By Samantha on June 11, 2014


Great tips, as always!

By Tanya on March 27, 2014

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