6 family vacations under $1,000

Traditional vacations are expensive -- gas and airfare are high, and hotspots like Disney World are raising prices. Here's how to save and still have a memorable getaway.

By Stacy Johnson Jun 17, 2011 11:13AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


As destinations like Disney World bump up their prices for summer, some families may be worried about the vacation budget -- especially if they haven't made plans or booked flights yet.


If you're in that group, don't worry: Affordable options abound. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson comes up with five vacation ideas for under $1,000. Check it out, then read on for details and more ideas.

As Stacy says in the video above, one of the best ways to save on vacations -- or anything else -- is to substitute imagination for money. Now for some details:


Camping. Who needs a hotel room when you can sleep under the stars? Many campsites don't charge anything, while others can cost up to $20 a night. (Bringing a boat or camper may add fees.) Before turning to private campgrounds, look up state and national parks and national forests, and waters or lands managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


The most expensive part of camping is the gear. First, check with friends and family to see what they'll loan it to you. You might also try for free gear at sites like Freecycle. If that doesn't pan out, try buying cheap at local thrift stores, yard sales, used sporting good stores like Play It Again Sports, and online at sites Craigslist and eBay. You can also rent camping gear: REI is one national bricks-and-mortar chain that offers rentals. You can also find online sources: Just do a search for "rent camping gear."


Finally, good stores for buying new camping gear include REI, Cabela's Bargain Cave, and Amazon Outdoor Recreation, where you can often find gear at up to 50% off retail.


National parks. While many national parks have great camping, they offer a lot more. They're a great place to learn about history, wildlife, and the environment, and have fun activities like hiking, biking, boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, climbing or riding. And if you're not the camping type, many offer low-priced cabins.


The best part? Many are free to get in year-round. (There are fees for reservations, concessions, and that sort of thing.) Only about a quarter of national parks charge entrance fees and even those are free on certain days: June 21 and Sept. 24 are the next free days. 


House swap. One of the biggest expenses in vacationing is the hotel room cost. If you own a home and you're a little adventurous, you might like the idea of paying $0 a night to have a whole house to vacation in. That means plenty of extra space and amenities, including everything you need to cook your own meals, another money saver. Once you have a destination in mind, see if one of these sites lists someone willing to trade with you:
  • HomeExchange.com lets you view listings for free, but posting your own or contacting owners means a $10-a-month membership fee.
  • Craigslist has a free house swap section, but when I checked it out, it seemed that more people were looking to rent than swap.
  • Digsville.com is $45 a year but will give another year free if you don't get a swap.
  • HomeLink.org charges $119 a year.

Vacation homes. Have friends or family with a time share or vacation home? Try to rent it cheap. Also, there are websites that can hook you up with people looking to rent out a house, a room, or even just a couch in a desirable destination. Sites to scope out include  HomeAway.com, iStopOver.com, VRBO.com, CouchSurfing.org, and TripAdvisor. There are plenty more.


Visit family. If your budget is particularly tight, you could combine your vacation with a trip to visit family or friends. The perks: visiting someone who will (hopefully) enjoy playing host, providing a place to stay, and serving as a great local travel guide. You might be on the hook for food, but visiting family can definitely save money and give you some quality time together. A tool like BeFrugal.com's fly-or-drive calculator can even figure out the cheapest way to get you there.


Staycations. On the other hand, you could play tour guide yourself by hosting family or friends, or just explore your own area. There are probably some restaurants you've been wanting to try or nearby sites you'd like to see.


Local gardens, museums and other cultural spots often partner to offer discounted rates for people who want to visit more than one attraction, and many have lower rates for residents. If not, grab a coupon book from a tourist center to make sure you get the savings visitors do. Also check with your local chamber of commerce.


While staying local may sound boring, think of the advantages. Few hotel rooms offer the amenities your house does, and you're never far from home if you forget something. The key to the successful staycation is to treat it like a vacation: no work, no chores, no phone, no computer.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:  


Jun 17, 2011 9:11PM
as so often happens, the title was intriguing but the content failed to deliver.
Jun 17, 2011 11:26PM
oh get real, just a sign the article was written by rich folks.
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