Go against the flow. It’s fun, it’s budget friendly and you’ll have unique tales to tell when you get home. You’ll also make friends of like-minded strangers.
Rules of the Road
- Three- or four-day getaways – The pause that refreshes when you get away to chill instead of micromanaging your vacation Griswold style.
- Drive, don’t fly – If you’d rather stick needles in your eyes than fly, drive to a spot close to home. You’ll save money, and you’ll have transportation at your destination.
- Avoid peak travel times – What’s the difference between the week before “a holiday weekend” and a normal weekend? Price! If you leave Thursday night and return Monday night, you avoid peak travel times on the road as well. Can you say “hassle-free”? The week before and after the Fourth of July are the worst in both price and crowds.
- Avoid hotels – Find an apartment or home rental (including beach rentals) for the less than the cost of a hotel room on TripAdvisorVR, AirBnb or HomeAway. Check reviews before reserving accommodations. If you’re off the beaten path, look for small inns and B&Bs along your route.
- Eat where the locals eat –Bring food from home or drop into a grocery store to save up to $50 a day on breakfast. If you’re in a city, find the best food trucks for lunch, but check with the locals because food trucks come and go. Check out TVFoodMaps and click the Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives board to find extraordinary food—served with a side of hospitality and local charm—at ordinary prices. We call that “manna from heaven.”
- Vacation allowance – The kids will rob you blind on vacation given half a chance. Dish out a daily allowance for meals and snacks, and let them keep whatever is left. Hat tip to Reader’s Digest for this Nobel Prize-worthy vacation tip. Download their Insider Secrets for an Amazing Vacation.
- Go retro – Give the kids a taste of pre-Internet life. Find a drive-in theater, and stop by a soda shop—one that serves real Coke floats and milkshakes. The kids will probably curse you under their breath as you enter, but they’ll thank you after they have a taste.
Summer Destinations for Families, Couples and Singles
- Key West – Where Jimmy Buffett’s “Mother Ocean” intersects with Hemmingway. Summer is the season of deals in Key West, and you can catch the annual Hemmingway Days celebration in July.
- Coastal Maine – The land of lighthouses boasts more than 60 lighthouses dotting the rocky coast along Maine’s Route 1. Maine has no shortage of festivals during the summer: Windjammer Days, Great Falls Balloon Festival, and The American Folk Festival, all with free admission.
- Newport, Rhode Island – Two worlds collide in Newport in the summer—the famed Newport Summer Festival (Friday general admission tickets run $15) and the summer cottages of the early Robber Barons that rival the Palace of Versailles and Highclere Castle, featured in Downton Abbey.
- Nashville, Tennessee – You don’t have to visit Nashville during the annual CMA Country Music Festival (formerly Fan Fair). You’ll find live music all across the city and in the neighboring city of Franklin. Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, is 3.5 hours east of Nashville; trust me, you’ll want to hit the Smokies during the week for exhilarating, outdoor scenery.
- Festivals and events – Spend a day or several at a festival—hot air balloons, music, garlic, arts and crafts, blues, jazz, Shakespeare and beach festivals. Some offer free admission, and all serve up food, fun and entertainment. Start your search at Fest300 and filter by location, type, etc.
- Scenic All-American Roads and Byways – Get off the Interstate to explore hidden jewels and make it a journey with no destination in mind. Even .gov gets it, “America’s Byways are gateways to adventures where no two experiences are the same.” Explore America’s scenic roads or byways, including historic Route 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway that winds through North Carolina and Virginia, the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway and its sister road on the other coast A1A and many more.
- Wineries – St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine.” You’ll find wineries in all 50 states, and most are kid-friendly, offering food, picnic sites, entertainment and often artisan food products grown at the vineyard along with tours and wine sampling. Search by state.
The key to a memorable, budget-friendly vacation is spontaneity. Leave your cares at home, and fly by the seat of your pants. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked. Who knew saving money could be so much fun.