When we think of a summer family vacation we usually get a picture in our head of something like an exotic palm-tree-lined tropical beach, where the kids build sand castles and look for crabs, hubby gets buried in the sand up to his shoulders and scares the kids, and mom is making sure everyone has sun screen on every inch of their body. But you could probably have just as much fun at a nearby lake for the day, doing very similar things, and you can sleep in your own bed at night, too. Or a motel for one night should not break the bank. Just remember to ask if they have family discounts when you make your reservations.

Or the picture that pops into your head might include art museums and fancy restaurants in a foreign country, but if you are trying to go cheap, there are probably fun museums near where you live that you have never been to. One day at the lake and one day at the local candy museum, car show, or antique fair would provide lots of interesting stuff to look at and do, on stay-at-home cheap summer vacations. And you can look up a fancy local restaurant – don't forget to ask if they have any special discounts that might be available for the family, or if kids can eat free.

The picture that pops into your head might include climbing a mountain or camping under a redwood tree. Camping is camping, and climbing is climbing, and you can do it anywhere! A local hill to climb can be a challenge. A family vacation is not really about where you go, it should be about spending quality time with the ones you love, in an unusual or unfamiliar setting where you all get to know or do something new, together.

So the point is that your summer vacation destinations don't have to be thousands of miles away – they could be forty miles away and you could save lots of travel time and money, too, by planning to use your own local resources. Your mini van does not charge "per person" to go anywhere and you could plan two days visiting nearby attractions or even family and friends, then come back and plan some other fun stuff on the other days in the week, right in your own "back yard." You just have to plan it!