March 6, 2017

A Budget Bucket List Guide for a Family Summer Vacation.

As a single mother of two young children, I wasn’t sure if any sort of vacation would be on the horizon.

If I could figure out how to afford it, how could I manage on my own when I am outnumbered by my children? In the first few months of single parenting, I pondered this problem, tentatively exploring my options.

The Budget

Even though I’m a single parent and I work part-time, I am great with a budget. I knew that finding the funds would be the least of my concerns. I am capable of sticking to a budget, making cutbacks where I can, and saving anything extra that comes my way.

It’s as simple as shopping consignment rather than buying everything brand new, or even hunting down sales rather than paying full price. When traveling is a priority, we learn that the $4 cup of coffee or $5 fast food meal is a luxury, and that money could instead go toward travel. So, we learn to sacrifice a little here and there in order to make our plans a reality. The real issue was trying to figure out how to manage two young children on my own in a way that would allow us all to enjoy traveling together.

Small Steps to Big Travel

First, I tentatively stepped out of my comfort zone with day trips to play centers with the kids. I worked up to a weekend beach trip, and a few months after that, I took my children on a cruise for a week. No, it wasn’t a Disney cruise. I did each of these things by myself and began to get more comfortable traveling with them. When we want to travel, we can start with small steps to build up to the kinds of trips we dream of taking.

The Budget-Friendly Bucket List

While travel is a priority, having shelter and electricity are pretty important, too. Like most families, I can’t afford to take mine on big, expensive trips regularly. But that doesn’t mean that travel opportunities are out of reach. In fact, I’m raising my children to look at everything as an adventure. Even short trips can be made adventurous, depending on the spirit one has when we embark on them. I find that making time to get offline and outside, away from television, movies, and video games, can help us touch base with our families and truly get back to mindful living.

So here’s my budget-friendly bucket list for mindful families:

Local day trips:

Take a map of where you live and plot everything in a two-to-three hour radius. Inside that circle, research places to go and things to do that suit your family. I live near Athens, Georgia, and a two-to-three hour radius can take me to any number of interesting places. And don’t just go for the tourist traps. Ask friends and family for their advice on interesting places to see. Watch travel programs on your local public broadcasting station for ideas.

Your day trip can focus on outdoor fun (hiking, fishing, zip-lining, sailing), cultural endeavors (museums, DIY art classes, historic sites), culinary adventures (foodie destinations, cooking classes, agritourism), or it can focus on simple exploration, where you just sight-see in whatever place you end up. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Day trips don’t require a hotel stay, and you can always pack a picnic lunch if dining out stretches your resources too thin.


If you don’t own camping supplies, you can acquire them fairly cheaply. You can also rent or borrow them. However you choose to outfit your camping adventure, camping is a great choice for family fun.

You can rent an inexpensive camp site at most parks, and you can pack meals to cook on an open fire, which can save on dining expenses. If you’re not quite up to full camping, you can always choose the “glamping” version, where you stay in a cabin, yurt, or an RV for more comfort. Even if you go for the luxurious version of camping, try to make it screen-free. Camping is a great way to spend quality time. Try your hand at telling stories or creating a fun scavenger hunt.

Family camps:

Like camping, family camps are a fun way to create memories with your family on a budget. Just like camps for kids, family camps offer a variety of activities for all ages. A week’s stay includes all meals and most activities and offers the opportunity for children and adults to meet new people.


There are a variety of affordable cruises available, particularly if you don’t have the expense of a flight to get to the nearest port.

Cruises offer the opportunity to travel as a family without having to worry about meal-planning or activities—everything is included! They can be a great way to take a break from everyday routine and to create family memories. Though most cruises now offer Wi-Fi, it’s also a great time to disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect with the people you love. Most cruises also offer childcare, which is great for families with young children who could use a break from time to time.

Weekend Trips:

If a week’s vacation just isn’t in the cards, take out a map again and chart all of the locations in a four-to-five hour radius from your home. This is another way to have a budget-friendly vacation within your family’s time constraints.

Again, think outside of the box. Don’t worry about filling every moment of time with a structured activity. Pick a destination and allow for a leisurely route, making time for stops when something interesting catches your eye. Look for something unusual to do or something that appeals to your family’s particular interests. Visit a historic site or a place of natural beauty.

I fill my life with adventure. Even the simplest day trip can be full of joy and excitement.

In order to truly begin, we have to first make sure we have a traveler’s heart. We need to be open to adventure, and also understand that sometimes, adventures come with frustrations—like losing our way or discovering that a particular stop didn’t live up to our expectations. But if we greet each destination with a sense of adventure, we’ll find that even the things we would normally find frustrating simply become part of the grand adventure, even if it’s a picnic at a park or a trip out to a local zoo.

Whether big or small, we can find the time and the room in our budgets to give ourselves the little breaks we need, as we need them. Sometimes we just have to get creative, map a travel radius, and start exploring!


Author: Crystal Jackson

Image: Anja/Unsplash

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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