Warm nights, backyard cookouts, and Fourth of July fireworks signal that summer is finally underway.

With children done another year of school and many people saving up their holidays at work, it’s the perfect season for enjoying a much-needed summer vacation with your loved ones.

Here are some family-friendly summer travel ideas that are easy, entertaining, and best of all, won’t break the bank.

Planning Your Family Trip

What does your family enjoy doing together?

Your family’s interests will be the deciding factor on what you choose to do together. Other factors that will impact your trip are how long you have to take off, as well as how much money you have to spend.

Ask yourself the following questions to help get ideas for a family trip and to begin putting together a plan for your family’s summer schedule.

  • What is your budget?
  • How much time do you or your spouse have off? A weekend, a long weekend, a week, longer?
  • Do you prefer the outdoors or the indoors? Would you consider your family adventurous or do you prefer more laid-back activities? (e.g. rock climbing vs. museum)
  • Can your family comfortably ride in a car, train, or bus for an extended period of time?
  • Do you want a relaxing, educational, fun, or fast-paced trip? Or a mix of everything?
  • Do you have pets? Can you travel with them?
  • How old are your children?

Determining a vacation budget is a good place to start. If you are thrifty, there are plenty of fun vacations that won’t spread you thin. Also, knowing your family’s needs and ideas of a good time will point you in the direction of what trip will be the most enjoyable for everyone.

Trips on a Dime

You can structure your vacation however you like, but there are some ways to frugally enjoy your time off. Here are some trip ideas to inspire wanderlust, or give you that much needed time with your family.

4 Low Cost Vacation Ideas

Staycation: The most simple and least expensive vacation is on your own stomping grounds. Because you are staying at home, your accommodations are covered. Plus, there are lots of options for relaxation and fun in your own region if you use a little creativity.

Is your family looking for something low maintenance, yet fun? Have a barbeque or a movie night!

Is your family into entertaining? Host a dinner party with friends!

Does your family like to DIY? Plan a crafty day, where you make your own art, games, and dinner!

Day Trip:
A day trip can consist of visiting relatives in a neighboring city or town, or checking out a local attraction you’ve always been meaning to see. Some other day trip ideas are a picnic in a park or a hike on some nearby trails.

Day trips are best for families with small children who don’t want to spend a night away from home but still want to get out of the house. Not sure what to do? Check local event or municipal websites for festivals, fairs, concerts, activities, or entertainment deals that are close to home. If the zoo has a discount day, make it your mission to spend a day with the animals.

Camping: While camping is not for everyone, it is one of the least expensive options for a vacation and it is the perfect summertime adventure. You can camp for very little cost and still have a blast. Invest in some supplies if you don’t have any already because you can reuse them again and again.

Camping Saving Tips:

  • If you are buying equipment, purchase used or secondhand supplies.
  • Borrow chairs, a tent, or coolers from friends or family.
  • Camp with others and share the cost of a campsite.
  • Hot dogs, hamburgers, and s’mores are relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and are a hit with the kids.

Road Trip: A road trip is perfect for those who want to hit the open road, soak up the surroundings, and look for an adventure. If you are road-tripping with kids, be sure to pack lots of books, games, and activities to keep them entertained while in the car. Map out a route to take, with some ideas for inexpensive accommodations, such as staying at a bed and breakfast one night, camping another, and staying with relatives the next. The key to a successful road trip is to be flexible and go with the flow.

Road trip tip: Pack a cooler full of food, and take reusable water bottles to refill rather than purchasing beverages on the road.

How to Reduce Travel Costs

There are some easy ways to save cash while traveling without sacrificing any fun. Here are the two biggest costs associated with traveling, and all the options to consider when planning a trip:


By Car: This may be the least expensive form of travel, but requires that you have a reliable vehicle. Pros: You get to control when and how often you stop, and you can take as much supplies as you need.

By Bus: There are plenty of bus travel options, from the Greyhound to MegaBus and more. Buses will take you pretty much anywhere you need to go for a reasonable price, depending on how far you are going.

By Train: The train is a scenic way to travel across the US, with routes taking you through most of the major cities. Depending where you are going, the train ride can take anywhere between a few days to a week to arrive at your destination. Cost depends on two factors: the distance and the type of train car you want.

By Plane: Flying is the quickest form of travel, if you don’t encounter delays. It may also be the most expensive, though if you don’t have too much time to spare, it can be the most efficient. Typically, red eye flights or those that have connections can help you save money, as well as booking in advance on a cost comparison site, such as Google Flights/ITA Matrix.

Getting there is one thing, but don’t forget to budget for travel once you have arrived. If you are planning on traveling to another city, how will you get around once you are there?

Some of the most common options include:

  • Transit; bus, rail, subway, or streetcar
  • Walking or renting bikes
  • Uber
  • Borrowing a car if you are staying with family
  • Car rentals or cabs (the most expensive options for transportation)


There are more overnight accommodation options than there were years ago. Your family’s needs will direct your choice, but here are some of your options:

Relatives: if you have relatives you can stay with, there is little to no cost.

Tent/Camper: other than the price of a tenting or camping spot, there is also little to no cost with this option.

Hostel: a hostel is a less expensive alternative to a hotel, in exchange for some of your regular amenities. However, if you plan on staying only one night, there are some very inexpensive hostels and you can get private rooms for less than a regular hotel room.

Hotel/Motel/B&B: If you and your family want a night in a hotel room, look for online deals and book ahead. You are more likely to get a deal on a hotel by booking in advance, rather than checking in same day. Try to find a hotel that offers a continental breakfast to save on food costs.

Rental accommodations: Sites like Airbnb.com allow you to rent out someone’s home for a night, a weekend, or longer. Depending on your budget and the number of guests, you might be able to rent the entire place, or just a room from the owner. There are also private or commercially-owned vacation properties, such as cottages or cabins, available for summer rental.

Make Memories This Summer

A summer vacation will give you a chance to spend some time with your family outside of work, school, and activity schedules. Whether it’s a day, a night, or a week, there are ways to break up your routine no matter what your budget may be.

Don’t be afraid to take a trip, and savor the sunshine with your loved ones. You’re bound to make memories even if it’s in your own backyard. Who knows, your family’s vacation might even rival The Griswolds.

What do you do to save while on vacation? Share your tips below!

Posted by Kristy DeSmit

Kristy is a blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.