Summer vacation can be a stressful topic for working moms. Schedules, budgets, and locations to consider. It may be time to reconsider your definition of vacation.
This is a guest post by Frugal Babe.
Now that school is out for the summer, are you excited about taking a vacation with your family? Or do the words “family vacation” trigger worries about how you’ll pay for it? Some parents feel guilty about not being able to afford to take their kids on the “perfect” family vacation, so they spend beyond their budget and end up paying off the credit card bills for the next several months.
What if you could create awesome memories with your kids, have a great time as a family, avoid the stress of a high-cost vacation, and end up feeling rejuvenated and ready to return to work instead of feeling like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation? Maybe all you need is to change the way you think about vacation and focus on what would actually make your family happy rather than what tourism boards and marketing executives want you to do.
“Staycations” have been gaining popularity over the last several years due to the less-than-stellar economy and job market. But instead of looking at a staycation as something that you have to do because money is tight, think about it as something that you get to do: Quality time with your family, little or no traveling stress, no worries about overspending at tourist traps, no need to pay for lodging or rent a car or navigate an airport with tired kiddos. When you look at all the upsides, it starts to sound like a pretty good idea. The trick is to focus on all of that. Don’t worry about where your friends or neighbors are going. For all you know, they might be putting their trip to Disney (day passes are now around $100!) on a credit card and then worrying about how to pay for it when they get home. Just as with everything else in life, don’t try to keep up with the Jonses when it comes to vacation. You’ll maintain your budget and your sanity and thank yourself later.
So you’ve got a week off from work and you want to plan a summer vacation for your family that doesn’t involve a lot of traveling or pricey tourist destinations. Where do you start? The library and internet are a wealth of information, and you might find that your friends also have lots of ideas. Tag local friends in a status on Facebook asking them to share their favorite off-the-beaten-path destinations that are close to home and inexpensive. There are also lots of books available that are all about things to do with kids in your state. Your library probably already has a copy of one that covers your area, so use it to get ideas.
You might want to incorporate one tourist-style day into your vacation week, if it’s something that your family would really enjoy (be sure that it’s not just something that you think you’re supposed to enjoy thanks to marketing efforts, but that would actually leave you all feeling cranky and tired by the end of the day). A water park or zoo or museum in your city might be a great destination that can fit into your budget since you’re not spending money on travel and lodging in a far-off destination for the week. If you pack a picnic lunch to eat in the car right before you go in, and take plenty of water with you, you’ll be able to avoid high-priced junk food at concession stands. Talk to your kids in advance about how the trip itself is the vacation, and that there’s no need for over-priced trinkets or t-shirts while you’re there. Having conversations like that is much easier when you’re not standing right in front of the display of $20 stuffed animals and baseball caps.
Remember that you don’t have to go somewhere every day of your vacation. Your whole family might appreciate a day that doesn’t have any plans at all. Especially if you’re used to going in three directions at once and having your days scheduled from start to finish, a day of just hanging out in the backyard might be a welcome change. Spread a blanket in the grass and have a picnic out there. Play catch with your kids. Set up the tent in the backyard and camp out for the night. If you live in an apartment, “camp” in your living room by draping sheets over chairs to make a tent. Fire up your grill and make s’mores on the porch or balcony. Ask your kids what they would most like to do for the day, letting them know that you’re available to do it with them. They’ll be thrilled to get uninterrupted one-on-one time with their parents, and you’ll likely come up with some great vacation ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
Whatever you do, make it a positive, happy time. Don’t lament the lack of funds and the fact that you can’t afford a “real” vacation. A vacation at home can be even better than a far-flung destination, simply because you’re less worried about money and less exhausted when the vacation is over. Try to look at the vacation through your kids’ eyes: Chances are, they just want to spend time with you and do things that are a little different from the normal routine (camping in the living room falls into that category just as much as a trip to the amusement park). And most kids would also prefer to not have to spend long hours in a car seat on any given day.
Enjoy your summer vacation! Make this the year that you start creating new family traditions that don’t have anything to do with mass-marketed tourism, but are instead about creating memories and having fun together, without worrying about blowing a whole month’s budget on a one-week vacation.
Frugal Babe is a mid-30s American wife and mama who has been careful with money since childhood and loves the flexibility that her frugality has given her. She is the face behind the Frugal Babe website and a contributor to the CareOne Debt Relief Services blog, a community that provides debt consolidation and money-saving advice.