If there’s one thing big families have in common, it’s budget. We all have one. We generally go over it. And we basically wrestle with it all the time.
How’s a big, on a budget family going to keep up with all of our globe-trotting friends? We all see the pictures on Facebook of our friends at the beach, sipping fancy drinks at a resort lodge, or posing with a Disney princess. Vacations are, without a doubt, a luxury. But they are also an amazing learning experience for everyone in the family. Sometimes, what you learn is problem solving and remaining calm when things go wrong! But other times you learn culture, geography, history, and an appreciation for the world beyond your own doors.
And there are ways to get away, see the world, and come home refreshed all without busting your bank account to smithereens. We spent two weeks traveling the country earlier this month and learned a ton! Here are the Seven Tips for Traveling with a Big Family on a Small Budget.
Skip the resort, skip the big mouse, and get outside. Our most memorable trips have always involved nature, hiking, and the great outdoors. We love hiking and, no matter where we go, tend to seek out the local trails. It’s usually relatively inexpensive to gain entrance to state parks and a pass is definitely worth the money in your own state.
Free National Park pass. Did you know that every fourth grader can get a free pass to all of the National Parks for his entire family? (And I also just learned that, until the end of the month, seniors can get a lifetime pass for only $10!) This was huge for our trip this summer. We were able to hit five different National Parks – beauty, education, and adventure! We learned a ton on our own, but we also were really impressed with the National Park systems Junior Ranger program. The kids got badges from each other the parks we visited and the program makes it easier for you to delve deeper and learn more at each park. We attended talks we may have otherwise skipped as part of the program. And we were never sorry. The talks we excellent and the rangers were always so informative. Junior Ranger programs are free!
Hit the open road. There’s no money for airfare! What’s better than a road trip?? Not much! Pile the family in the van, grab a coffee, and hit the open road. You don’t have to go all the way across the country to find adventure. We love our state parks for hiking, nature, and wild life siting. Roadtrips give you access to so much you’d miss if you fly. Even with all of the repairs we’ve had to do to our van (ahem), we are still money ahead of airfare and car rental.
Pack food or cook your own Eating out with a crew is prohibitively expensive. When we were traveling this summer, we darkened the doors of a sit down restaurant only a few times – when we were desperate and exhausted and once on Avila’s birthday. Other than that, we hit up grocery stores for sandwich fixings or ingredients to make amazing meals over the fire.
CAMP! Hotels can make a major dent in any vacation budget. And when you’re families over a certain number, you may need to have two rooms. That can add up quickly! The other issue with hotel rooms is that, obviously, they’re full of other people. Who want to sleep. And you waltz in with your crazy zoo of kids who have just spent hours in a car or who are exhausted and cranky from hiking. It’s not a combo for a relaxing evening. We found camping to be the perfect solution – kids could blow off steam without worrying about bothering other hotel patrons. But, camping can get a little pricey. Some campsites actually charge per person and with eight people that adds up quickly.
Federal Land camping And so, we discovered camping on Federal Lands. We found that we really enjoyed camping for FREE on federal lands more than campsites or hotels. These areas were beautiful and far more sparsely populated, so the kids could be kids. (There’s a post coming, detailing Federal Land camping!) With the exception of the times we weren’t able to get to a federal land site, due to car issues, we only paid for camping – $18 – one time.
Pack what you need and don’t forget stuff! Ok, this one is important. And we kind of failed at it. It really stinks when you have to swing into a local Wal-Mart for all that stuff you have at home, but somehow forgot to pack. Like pillows. Or shoes for the toddler. It’s a major budget buster!
Travel takes money, any way you shake it, but there are definitely ways to save and have fun without breaking the bank. I would argue that you’ll end up enjoying yourself even more. Hit the road, pitch a tent, relax, and have fun with you family!
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