So the kids are bugging you for the seventeenth time how they never go anywhere and everyone else goes on great family trips… but your wallet is squeezed dry and you have no money for an expensive amusement park adventure. What's a loving parent to do?

Here's where I'll let you in on a little secret: Kids don't care how much you spend, they care about having a good time. There are dozens of places not far from your home where you can spend an enjoyable few hours with your children without spending a dime. Here are a few ideas:

  • Visit an Airport. The sheer size and complexity of a large airport is enough to excite most kids. You can watch the planes take off and land, explore the shops, visit the luggage retrieval area and car rental desks, and take a ride on the airport train. Even sitting down for a few minutes and people-watching can provide for some interesting entertainment.
  • Visit a Recycling Plant. Most communities have a recycling plant which processes paper, aluminum, glass, or other garbage, and most plants allow visitors to come and observe the recycling process for free. This can be a very educational visit, while being interesting enough to meet with your kids' approval.
  • Visit a You-Pick Farm. Many local farms allow visitors to come by and pick their own produce directly from the ground. There is something delightful and really appealing about walking up and down rows of ripe produce and choosing tomatoes, peppers, squash or what-have-you that will later grace your dinner table. While technically not a free trip – you do pay the cost of the produce – the entertainment aspect of the trip is free. Alternatively, you could visit the farm and enjoy touring all of the different growing areas without actually picking any produce, which will keep the trip 100% free.
  • Take a Ride on Mass Transportation. In some cities, some of the mass transportation available is free. Taking a ferry or subway ride is a great free trip for kids who don't live in the city and may never have ridden the ferry or subway before.
  • Visit a Factory. Many factories offer free walking tours at designated hours. Visitors can observe the process of manufacturing that goes on, and sometimes receive a free sample of the food or other item that was just manufactured. Kids are usually very interested and find a factory visit very enjoyable.
  • Visit a National Landmark. If you are fortunate to live near a national landmark, you can usually visit there for free.
  • Visit a Government Building. Your local government buildings may include a courthouse, police station, jail, various municipal offices, etc. A visit to any one or more of these provides your child with a fascinating peek into the business of government.

Try any one of these ideas and you'll have a great time. Believe me, your kids – and your pocketbook – will thank you.