6 Kid-friendly Family Vacation Ideas on the Cheap

kid-friendly vacation
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This morning, my daughter asked very sweetly, “Mommy, can we go to Disney World?”

“Sure, honey. Save your pennies, because Disney’s really expensive,” I replied. Never one for trying to deny my kids all of the possible opportunities I can provide for them, I immediately jumped online and looked into it.

And promptly just about fainted from the unbelievable shock of how much it costs.

We’re going to need to save a lot of pennies. I can’t wait to tell my husband that we’re going to need to start a Disney vacation fund.

I really do want to take my kids to Disney World someday (when their ages will dictate exactly how much fun we’ll actually have). I did have to patiently explain to my daughter that her brother is not quite old enough to appreciate it-the last thing I’d want to do is take a one-year-old to Disney, but that’s just my personal take on it.

At any rate, let’s chat about some budget-friendly getaways (I wouldn’t call Disney budget-friendly), family vacation ideas for you to try out on your youngsters:

Go camping

Kids love to camp, plus, there’s something about spending time outdoors that makes kiddos very, very tired. Bedtime comes quickly under the setting sun! Plus, camping is cheap-it’s one of the most affordable outdoor vacation options.

My family and I are actually going camping this summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and it’s only costing us $18 per night for a fantastic under-the-stars adventure.

We’re tent people, but you may not be. Campers (rvshare.com) and cabins (at many state and national parks) can also be affordable options.

Try a staycation at a local hotel

Even if staying in your own town for a weekend doesn’t thrill you to death, your kids will really get a kick out of it. And remember, you can check into just about any hotel in the entire United States (even if it’s just across town)-as long as it has a pool. Guaranteed, your kids will have a blast. Kids + a pool = endless entertainment for them.

Stay at an all-inclusive

Granted, this may not wind up being cheap at all, but it may be worth it for you to trade cheap for convenience. Imagine trying to corral kids to a different restaurant three times a day. At an all-inclusive, the food’s there for the taking. I truly don’t think there’s anything more kid-friendly vacation than that, and sometimes, it actually is cheaper!

Visit a local beach

Another great family vacation idea is instead of traveling for a beach vacation, why not vacation at beaches closer to home? We have a large lake close to us, and again, Kids + water = endless happiness and entertainment.

When July hits and it’s unbearable outside, you can bet I don’t care what the water looks like as long as it’s cooling me off, and I know my kids will feel the same way.

Be a local tourist

How many times have we said, “I really need to go check out that museum/attraction right in my town!” and have never actually done it?

If you’re from Chicagoland, have you actually checked out the Lincoln Park Zoo or do you find yourself going to the Brookfield Zoo exclusively? (The Lincoln Park Zoo is free!) Branch out, look around you and you’ll be amazed at what you and your kids will be able to do locally.

Stay with friends or family who live in great places

Have an aunt in San Diego? A cousin in Seattle? Staying with people you know and cherish is a great way to save money and also allows your kids to get to know friends or relatives they don’t see very often.

We’ve spent time in Pittsburgh with my husband’s aunt for Thanksgiving, my aunt, and uncle in Chicago during spring break, and those have been memorable vacations.

Luckily, all of those family members live in locations where there are tons and tons to do.

kid family vacation ideas

Other things to consider when planning your kid-friendly family vacation:

  • Make sure your vacation plans are age-appropriate. As I mentioned before in my story about four-year-old wanting to go to Disney, her brother is only 13 months old. I’d be much more willing to stomach a week at Disney with kids who will.
  • Walk around on their own (I refuse to drag a stroller around)
  • Not need a nap in the middle of the day. We’re going to need to wait for a couple of years!
  • Take your time. Easy does it-go at a kid pace, and allow them to soak up the wonder of their first time exploring a new place.
  • Adopt the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. And be prepared for anything. Extra clothes, extra wipes, extra diapers, and by golly, extra snacks. Have it all, and have it all with you so you’re ready for anything.
  • Think about investing in a child locator. I know this sounds crazy, but for little kids, that could be the best idea in the world. Your kiddo wears a small unit, strapped to them, and you keep the transmitter. Also, putting your phone number on your kid (somewhere) is also a great idea. I’ve actually purchased a “special” bracelet before, and my daughter absolutely loved it.
  • Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve actually forgotten that stuff before, on vacation in Minnesota. The mosquitoes in Minnesota are the size of small birds, and I forgot the bug spray. My poor child had welts for a week.
  • Make sure to take activities in case there is some waiting involved. Make sure to have a coloring book handy or a small game to combat boredom while you’re waiting in line, or waiting to get food at a restaurant, etc.

Finally, don’t forget the camera or nowadays your cellphones. No matter where you go-whether in your own backyard or actually to Disney World, your family vacation won’t be complete without those awesome memories!

Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

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