Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tips for Planning an Inexpensive Family Vacation

The Art of the CFV (Cheap Family Vacation)

Rather than boring you with all the steps and tips of how to plan a CFV, take a look at how I roll with my family of five, without taking out a HELOC.

I have been lauded by the woman whose opinion matters most (my wife, not Oprah) as the cheapest man on the planet. I have a few grown-up toys, but have mysteriously survived without a boat, a pickup, or an ATV. I am not an impulse buyer, unless something purchased with between three and six months of thought is considered an impulse.

For this reason, I am the vacation planner. She decides where we would go (since otherwise we would never go anywhere), and it becomes my job to plan it. I do occasionally throw a few ideas her way, but I don’t even have veto power once she has made up her mind.

So, after much deliberation, I purchased a family-sized tent, one that could easily be set up in the dark, for just over $75. It came with two extra sleeping bags, a couple of canvas chairs, and some miscellaneous camping stuff. I spent a few hours net-surfing, and e-mailing some old military friends.

The next day we loaded ourselves into the car – me and all the women in my life. Three daughters, 13, 9, and 7, crammed into the family sedan with a full tank of gas. I headed north, with my wife reading the map, mostly so I could drive her bananas when I try to read it and drive at the same time. We made a beeline for central Missouri, where an old friend was expecting us. He didn’t have the room to board us, but this was deliberate. We set up the tent in his front yard. My wife got some video of my friend and I trying to set it up while the girls watched. We all laughed until our sides hurt.

After a less than restful night, we headed down an intentional detour to a place called Tightwad, MO. There isn’t much of anything there other than a city limit sign, which happens to be chained and welded to the pole to prevent theft. Okay, other than its symbolic value, that’s pretty boring. But over the next thirteen days, we forged our way through five more states, finding all sorts of cheap stuff to do.

Here’s some of what we saw:
The Bridges of Madison County, IA ($3 for parking)
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD (a few dollars for all of us)
Badlands National Park ($20) (It’s a huge bunch of rocks that you can climb on)
1880 Town ($26) (a reconstructed old west town, we spent all afternoon there)
Mt. Rushmore ($20)
Panning for gold near Rushmore ($20, and it was so cold it wasn’t that fun)
Crazy Horse Mountain ($20)
Devil’s Tower (Free if you don’t get too close)
Yellowstone Park ($25)
Garden of the Gods in Co. Springs (Free)
The Oz Museum in Wamego, KS ($28)

Over the next thirteen days, between the campgrounds and two nights at friends’, we spent only six of those nights in a motel, and if the weather had held out, we would have done less. Meals were sandwiches packed in a cooler (we stopped for groceries a few times), and one real meal a day was eaten at an all-day breakfast joint. At the time of the trip, the average price of gasoline was $3.19.

You may start to see a pattern emerging here. Not a one of these attractions cost more than $30, and many of them much less. Almost everything we saw involved getting the kids out of the car, and letting them run until they dropped. We connected with several old friends along the way, and each night, we planned a few activities for the following day, but left time open for wandering.

We spent a total of $1800, and that included the tent, which we still have. All three children got to make some choices, and this year, they are helping to plan the stops, and trying to figure out how to do more for less. They are, in fact, competing to see who can come up with the neatest “free” thing to do, and learning important life lessons in the process. The most important thing, though, is we proceeded at a pace that was quite relaxed. We did what we wanted to do, and stayed within our budget. That’s what a vacation is all about.

Labels: Tips for Planning an Inexpensive Family Vacation

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