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18 best staycation ideas for frugal families

 

If you’d rather not spend school breaks or time off work spending lots of money, why not stay in your city instead of jetting off to an exotic location? A staycation is your chance to visit fun attractions in your own area, or to do all the activities you never have time to do during the work week. You’ll have a great time bonding with your spouse or kids, and you can keep costs low.

Try these 18 fun, inexpensive staycation ideas to keep your family entertained on your days off.

Editor’s note: Many indoor attractions may be closed or have additional visitor restrictions this year for safety reasons. Always call ahead before you go to find out about open hours and advance ticket purchase requirements.

1. Create a “travel itinerary.”

To get the most out of your staycation, use a calendar to plan out your daily fun. Pencil in free events (museum on a free entry day, farmers markets, etc.), so you can take advantage of all the no- or low-cost activities in your area. Include meal plans because you probably don’t want to cook every night of your holiday. Does your favorite restaurant have a time when kids eat free, or offer a free dessert on a certain day? Fill the time with fun, but leave time for naps and last-minute changes.

2. Stay at a home-tel.

You don’t need to go anywhere to take a vacation. Turn your house into a hotel for the night by making simple changes. Clear off the bathroom counter and arrange small soaps and tiny hand lotion bottles. Rent a movie and stay up late watching it. Then give the kids turn-down service in their rooms, complete with chocolates on their pillows. To really make their day, create a room service menu and leave it under their doors. Let them check boxes on it to order their breakfast in the morning.

3. Dance it out.

Your kids are too young to remember dances like the Electric Slide and the Typewriter – throw on an old CD or fire up an oldies station on Pandora and impress them with your retro rug-cutting skills. Then, put on their favorite music and let them show you their stuff. At the very least, you can provide a little comic relief for their afternoon. YouTube has several how-to-dance videos, if you all want to try some new steps!

4. Have a hot-chocolate party.

Set out warm milk, chocolate syrup, marshmallows and other essentials and supervise your kids as they make their own steaming mugs of cocoa. To make things extra-delicious, include lots of extra “goodies” like white chocolate chips, whipped cream and peppermint sticks for stirring. Or teach them the art of tea-making, with an assortment of caffeine-free teas and that tea set you never use.

5. Pretend that it’s summer (if it’s not).

Reverse the “winter in July” idea by having a beach-themed shindig right in your living room. Crank up the heat, dig out the kids’ bathing suits and sunglasses, and enjoy ice-cold lemonade or snow cones. If you’re brave, you can even take them “swimming” in the bathtub. Or pull out the beach chairs and towels, grab a book and a sun hat, and play some summer tunes.

6. Spend a day at the museum.

Museums are a fun outing for kids and adults, and sneak some education into your staycation entertainment plan. Visit your local natural history museum, a children’s museum or even an aquarium. You can often score cheaper admissions on weekdays, or look for museums that don’t charge admission at all. You can also find discounted tickets online or free passes at your local library to make the outing even more affordable. (This year, you’ll need to check whether museums are open, and if they require timed-entry tickets and advance reservations.)

7. Go out and jump.

Most towns have an indoor facility with inflatable bounce houses and slides. Find out when its “open jump” hours are, and bring your kiddos in for some climate-controlled fun, while you relax with a book or your smartphone. (Extra savings tip: Daily-deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial often run discounts for places like these.)

8. Have a pool party.

Can’t make it to the beach? Make your own indoor water fun at a local county recreation center. These facilities usually boast fantastic indoor pools with water slides, play features, kids’ wading areas and more. Some also offer rock climbing and fitness or art classes. If you don’t have a membership, pay a day pass fee, or pay just for the pool, which is usually $3 to $5 for admission.

9. Go to the library.

Your public library may offer more than you think.  Local libraries have books-on-tape, educational DVDs, audiobooks, and more. Also some libraries host story times, performances, workshops and cultural activities. Check with your local library for special events or classes.

10. Take a field trip.

Think beyond the typical field trips. Ask a local artist if you can visit the studio. If you have a car enthusiast in the family, visit an auto dealership. Ask a local air field if your child can visit a pilot in the hangar. The possibilities are limitless: Mechanics, woodworkers, researchers and musicians all might be willing to spend some time with an interested child, and the “field trip” probably won’t cost a dime. Government services like water treatment plants, fire stations and recycling centers often offer tours.

11. Adventure outdoors.

Enjoy the time off outside with your family, and go for a hike or a bike ride. Geocaching and disc golf can add some extra zing to your park outing. If it’s cold, bundle up or strap on a pair of snowshoes. Sledding, snowball fights and a snowman-building contest are other fun winter weather options. If it’s wet, pull on the galoshes for “mud-dle jumping.” Have a no-electronics policy while enjoying nature, and insist that your kids leave their gadgets at home. 

12. Learn to cook.

Try a new recipe, or pull out an old favorite. Get everyone involved. Cooking and baknig are great activities for all ages. Kids in elementary school can take over measuring ingredients, and older family members can cut and prepare vegetables or fruit. Even smaller children are able to stir and taste. Experiment with baking bread or making ice cream without a machine. Bake a batch of cookies and freeze lunch-sized portions, so the kids can show off their skills at school.

You can find kid-friendly recipes and tips on cooking with kids on these websites approved by Living on the Cheap editors.

13. Or don’t cook at all.

Stock the freezer or fridge with easy-to-reheat foods you pre-made or purchased before your staycation. Dine out on “kids eat free” nights, BOGO or half-price specials. Make it a sandwich week, and glam it up by using bagels, pita or wraps instead of bread.

14. Have a movie marathon.

Have everyone pick out a movie, and have a movie-thon. Watch back-to-back films or TV series, make popcorn and veg out on the couch. Or create a themed day based on an old favorite. For instance, dress up in costume to watch “Downton Abbey” or munch on fish-shaped snacks and candy while watching “Jaws.”

15. Go on a scavenger hunt.

Make a list of hard-to-find items around the house and let the kids hunt them down while you time them. Hand out small trinkets as prizes for completing the list. Ideas for scavenger hunt items could be “something that smells like lemons,” “something fuzzy” and “something with today’s date on it.” Adjust the list’s length and difficulty for each competitor’s age.

16. Create a home spa.

Everyone loves a spa day! Start with relaxing baths with all the bubbles, bath salts and bath bombs you’ve got socked away for a rainy day. Give each other manicures and pedicures (yes, even the guys) with crazy colors. Get the whole family involved in a back rub chain with strict no tickling rules, and then lie around in your fluffiest bathrobes with moisturizing masks on your faces and cucumbers on your eyes. To add to the ambience, light candles and play meditative music on your smart speaker.

17. Play tourist.

Do you live near a national park, historic battlefield, iconic tower or other attraction that’s frequented by tourists but rarely by locals. It’s time you checked it out. Find a guidebook or look online to find the top tourist destinations in your area, and visit them. Or head to the nearest big city, and stroll the neighborhoods, looking for urban art, window shopping in fun boutiques and reading all the historic plaques. Look up the annual local business awards for your city or area, and make a point to try the best pizza, ice cream, donuts or tacos in town, and have everyone rate the business and share their opinions.

18. Visit a farm or zoo.

Take the wild animals in your home to visit some actual animals at a local farm or zoo. You’ll be able to sneak in outdoor exercise while your family runs from the chicken coop to the cow pasture, or from the reptile house to the elephant paddock. Wineries are farms, too, you know, and many have fields for kids to play in while the adults try an affordable wine sampler. Many even let you bring your own picnic, so you’re not forced to purchase pricey charcuterie platters.

What are your best “staycation” ideas, either from childhood memories or experiences you’ve enjoyed with your children?

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