The $100 Week-Long Vacation


As the end of school approaches, my wife and I have started planning for the summer.  Having already taken a big trip, we aren’t really planning on any trips other than a couple of family reunions in the area.  None the less, we have some vacation time to use.  So what to do, what to do?  As we both look at taking vacation the week of July 4th, I think I have a week of vacation traveling planned for a mere $100. 

The summer can be the second most dreaded time of year for families, second only to Christmas (at least from a financial perspective).  Schedules change, childcare costs go up, and everyone is expecting it to be a true vacation filled with adventures and memories.  After all, I have great memories of hitting the road for two weeks at a time with my family when I was a child.  We traveled to northeast Minnesota, made a couple of trips to my uncle’s home near Spokane, WA, and even went all the way down to Arizona and back in that motorhome.

I would love to provide those experiences for my kids.  Unfortunately, our finances don’t allow us a motorhome and two weeks of camping, sightseeing, and such.  That does not mean we can’t have adventures and make memories with our kids.  I decided to get a little creative and see what I could come up with.

Here’s the plan:

I am always touting the quality of parks that we have in our area, so we are going family in parkto truly take advantage of them.  Since my wife really isn’t into camping and the kids will still have evening activities that week, we will actually be home every night.  Each day will be a trip to a different state park in the area.

We can sleep in each morning (for my kids, that will probably be about 8:00), pack a lunch, and then hit the road.  We can purchase the annual park pass for $30 and then largely entertain ourselves once we get there although some parks do have planned activities if you schedule things right.  We can picnic, play on the playgrounds, hike the trails, do some fishing, and take along the ball gloves, bocce ball, or other lawn games.  We can even take the dog along on this trip.

The other benefit is that each day brings a new park and so different surroundings and options for activities.  While some, like Newton Hills State Park, offer a lot of hiking, our time at the Lake Vermillion Recreation Area will almost definitely include some fishing.

For the sake of illustrating my point here, I’ve calculated all of the costs from park admission to gas for the van and so on.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Annual Park Sticker          $30
Gasoline                           $30
Food for picnics                $40

Grand Total                    $100


If we do fish, we may need to splurge a little and spend $5 on bait.  Granted, this whole thing doesn’t include fishing licenses, but we would already have those anyway, so I didn’t include them in the cost.  If you are wondering, an annual resident fishing license in South Dakota is $30, but my argument is to go fishing as much as possible so that there is much less per-trip cost for the license.  If that argument won’t work, you can also get a 1-day license for $10.

So what’s my point?

If you are looking to make memories with friends or family this summer, you don’t have to break the bank to do it.  Be creative.  Research what is available in your area.  Don’t fall into the rut of keeping up with the Jones’ (although you may make enough good memories that they end up trying to keep up with you!).

Here is a bit of an inspiration list to get you started:

  • State/National Parks – Every state has them.  Check out what is in your area and you may be surprised.  Even growing up here in Sioux Falls, I’ve never been to the Big Sioux Recreation Area and it’s a mere 9 miles from my house!
  • City Park System – Not only do they offer space, many city parks departments offer activities like theater, music performances, and family events (think games, inflatables, prizes, and stuff Jazz Festfor kids too).
  • Festivals – Often music oriented, they may also be centered around theater, hot air balloons, kites, pets, and more.
  • Museums – Depending on the museum prices can vary quite a bit.  Look around and you can find some very cheap to free.  In my travels, I’ve found some pretty interesting museums that were completely free in some of the smallest towns.
  • Parades – A traditional staple of American summers, a quick search on the internet can quickly give you dates, times, and even route maps.  Look to some of the smaller towns around you as well.
  • Libraries – No longer the home of mean, shushing, old ladies, many libraries provide a wide variety of events from children’s story time to presentations or workshops by poets, writers, and other artists.
  • Gardens – While most of us may think of the sculptured public gardens, some garden clubs also offer tours of different private gardens.
  • Car/Motorcycle Shows – Here’s your chance to live vicariously. The cars may only be a part of the show as the events often also include great food, music, and people-watching.
  • Art/Craft Shows – Be careful of this slippery slope!  While walking and looking at all of the different arts and crafts, it may be easy to get sucked into spending.  While looking is usually free, you may also set a specific budget if you don’t want to get a little something.  Just stick to the budget.
  • Cultural Events – As I type, we are quickly approaching our city’s Cinco de Mayo event.  Held at a city park, it is an opportunity to get out, eat some food, hear music, and immerse yourself in a culture that may be different than your own.
  • Your Own Garage – Do a little digging and see what you can find.  Perhaps there is a long-lost yard game or some forgotten hobby.  If you are like my wife, just the fact that the garage is cleaner will make your day.

While there may be many more options out there for you, my point is to get out there and find them.  Be creative with your planning.  If you have kids, remember that most of them can be entertained for hours with a simple cardboard box.

Perhaps even more important is to set priorities.  Why are you taking time off?  There may be a lot of reasons, be what is the most important?  For most of us, it is to spend quality time with those we love.  You don’t usually have to go far to do that.

Enjoy your summer.


written by Breck Miller
family image courtesy
concert image courtesy






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