We are now in year three of the recession and while the newspapers are telling us the bottom of the cusp has been hit and we are building back up, there are an awful lot of unemployed people in my neighborhood. As they end their unemployment benefits many fall off of the statistics even though they are not back to work. They have a lot of free time though, and would like to go on vacation this summer. What are the choices? It's definitely good for our economy as a whole to get out and spend money. That's ultimately the only thing that will pull us back into the black. People need services, and services require workers, and workers who are paid have money to spend in other outlets.
If you haven't got the money to go anywhere, some media analyst has made up the word "staycation." It means you stay home and take advantage of what is around you. If you have never taken your kids to the public library, its free, fun, and generally air conditioned. A lot of libraries have story hour for kids and some have contests with prizes. At the very least there are lots of books and movies you can check out and sometimes even a give away section with older books. Kids love to get stuff they can call their very own.
If you live in a city other inexpensive things you can do are visit local zoos or museums. Take a guided tour. Some cities have walking tours for a nominal price. Most cities have at least one historical building. Look it up on Wikipedia and tell your kids the story. It will make a warm family memory. Take a walk in your neighborhood and look at a architecture. Or spend an afternoon at the movies in the air conditioning. Or go to an ethnic neighborhood and try the food you have never tried before.
If you have slightly more money to spend, stay in a nice bed and breakfast in your town. What you save on travel costs you can splurge on the niceness of the hotel. Or go the opposite direction and take your kids up the highway to a cheap motel 6 just for the fun of it. Bring your dog! Most motel 6's accept pets, and some even have swimming pools! Take your kids camping with tents or RV's, or if you don't like sleeping outside yourself, let them do it in your back yard. Show up at midnight in a sheet for a fun scare. Kids love that stuff. Believe it or not, what your kids want most, is your time.
If you want to get to know each other again, consider taking the train or a car vacation. It's much less stressful than traveling by airplane is these days. No one gives you a hard time about your baggage, and traveling by train enables you to get up and walk around while you are moving. Visit some of America's beautiful natural parks. Your tax dollars are paying for them! Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawai'I is one of the most fascinating places on earth. Where else can you view an active volcano? Hike around on dry lava flow, view sea turtles and see amazing stars. The sky is so clear you will see more stars that are usually visible in other places.
Oahu and Maui are famous for beaches. Kauai is slightly more dry and yet still has some very nice resorts. The wonder of Hawai'I is that everyone speaks English and you don't need a passport to get there. Visit the places President Obama grew up. It's a beautiful area, and the people are friendly. Don't forget to wear sunscreen! The glass bottom boat tours are exciting for kids, deep sea fishing is cool and whale watching a must.
If you live on the East Coast, getting to Hawai'I costs a bit more than it does if you are leaving from Los Angeles or San Francisco. For what's it's worth you might as well go the other direction and check out Europe. You can make a European vacation relatively cheap if you buy a Eurrail pass before hand, and make the most of it. One trick I learned for saving money is stopping at the train stop just one before the place you want to see. For example get off in the relatively unknown town of Taracscon in the south of France, ten minutes away from the more famous destination, Arles, former home of Vincent Van Gogh. The hotels are cheaper in the less well known towns and the countryside less spoiled, more charming. You will notice as soon as you get off in the tourist spots how much marketing is geared toward local and foreign tourists alike.
You can also save money by staying in youth hostels or the ever increasing elder hostels, and meet some interesting people along the way. If you are traveling with kids, consider saving money by spending at least one night in a sleeper car as you make your way across Europe. Pick destinations that are eight hours or more apart. It's fun, and if you have a paid for pass, you're getting more for your money by traveling more. Alternate eating out with buying stuff at the market. European markets are full of fresh and interesting food.
If you live in the Midwest, you might be kind of far from either Hawai'I or Europe. Consider renting a cabin in the pristine and beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan. It is very cold and snowy over the winter, but in the summer you can hike, fish, and camp all over. It's fun to look for fossils or Petosky stones. The fruit stands in the summer are full to overflowing with the best cherries, plums, peaches and plums you've ever had.
Another way to keep costs down on vacation is to consider house swapping with another family. Look on Craig's list, in newspapers, and on the internet for other families interested in going where you live.