When money is tight, vacations are usually one of the first “luxuries” to get reduced budget if not totally eliminated for the average family. The last couple of years have created economic challenges for everyone with rising costs and reduced stability of personal income and assets. It has gotten so bad that even a simple car ride to grandma’s house only a few hours away many be out of the budget because of the cost of gasoline. How can any reasonable adult consider spending their essential funds on a vacation when their primary responsibility to feed and house their children might be at risk?

Today’s children have become accustomed to our commercial world of being entertained instead of having to entertain their selves. Again, tight economic times have restricted the number of “toys” a parent can buy to satisfy this growing need or want of their children. With the children out of school for the summer, no money for toys, no money for a vacation, and an economic environment that is recovering very slowly if at all, stress levels are bound to rise to an explosive level in many households. To avoid a family melt down, I suggest it is time to get creative with your summer activities and give the family a break.

When my son was only 6 years, I had just moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and was starting my career. I could not afford the time away from my job or the cost of hotel rooms and transportation for a vacation. Money was very tight. My family lived over a thousand miles away. During the school year, there were great after school programs and community sports that kept my active son busy and entertained. Summer was approaching and I could not afford summer camp. A vacation would have given my son something to look forward to and minimize the “summer blues” created by the lack of activities for three months, but I could not afford one. I was getting more stressed out about this every day and beginning to have nightmares about what could happen.

The day of kindergarten graduation, I woke up from one of the most inspirational dreams I ever had. I dreamed about the year that my father gave our family the Christmas gift of a trip to Florida leaving on December 26th. We stayed with family and had the time of our life in the warm Florida winter away from snowy, cold Virginia where we lived. The lights went on in my head. People spend money to vacation in Florida – especially in South Florida where we lived! As residents of the area, we avoided all the “tourist traps” and just lived our day-to-day lives which included cleaning, cooking, and all the other mundane day-to-day chores. We did not appreciate all the reasons that others paid to vacation in sunny Florida. I realized what a great opportunity this could be to teach my son how to be resourceful and economical at the same time. I proceeded to make the plans to vacation at home.

It takes time to plan and prepare for a vacation. The first thing to realize about a vacation at home is that your neighbors, family and work associates will not treat you the same as if you were out of the area. Make sure you take yourself “off the grid”, so to speak, or those who see you are still around will treat you like any normal day. In other words, while on vacation at home, have your mail held at the post office and let the answering machine take messages.

The second element of a vacation that is easily overlooked is that every day chores such as cooking and making the bed are taken care of by someone else. To make it truly a vacation, you must plan on not doing your normal household duties while on vacation. Since money was tight, I prepared extra meals when I cooked for our regular times leading up to our vacation that I froze for easy access while on vacation. For example, when we grilled hamburgers, I cooked extra patties, put them in buns, and wrapped them in foil. While on vacation, I would take out the wrapped hamburgers and let them thaw in the fridge. When we were hungry, all I had to do was put them in the toaster oven to heat. I had lettuce and tomato prepared in the fridge for the week, along with all the condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. One thing I did splurge on was paper plates and plastic silverware, no dishes to wash! I figured I saved money on the water bill.

One of the most important parts of any vacation is going to all the “tourist traps” to make sure you really see what is thought to be the attractions in any given place. Early in the planning stages of this vacation at home, I collected all the touristy brochures about the area I could find. We looked at them all as if we were going to another state for the first time. It is amazing how many places you can go and do things for free – or almost free. Since money was so tight, this is where we concentrated the majority of our efforts. I did not realize how much relaxation you can get out of taking the bus to the beach instead of driving your car, finding a parking place, and then cleaning all the sand out of the car once you get home. In addition, you can look at all the wonderful landmarks you don’t really see when you are driving past them every day. Once we really got into the vacation mode, the week went very quickly full of fun and exciting things we definitely would never have done in our regular lives.

Vacations at home became our family tradition because of our wonderful week. Sometimes, we would just have a long week-end vacation at home to remind us how great our home was. Since we have moved many times since that first vacation, we have enjoyed exploring our new homes with the same intensity as the first one. It does not matter if you live in a major tourist destination or a small country town, there are places to explore where ever you live – a beach, a lake, a ranch, a farm, a county fair, a field, a wooded path, a mountain trail, and the list goes on. Explore and enjoy. Your family will relax. You will make memories that will last you a lifetime from your vacation at home.