Using the CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium
Using CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium

Two things often hold families back from traveling together: time and money.  Vacation time from work, for the typical family breadwinner, is infrequent and precious.  Escaping over an extended weekend gives the entire family opportunity to connect without having to dip into the “time off” pool.  Once a long weekend presents itself, a limited budget may still be a concern.  Consider the following three suggestions for making your ‘great escape’ affordable.


Take a day trip

Eileen Gunn, Founder and Editor at Families, Go! , recommends TripAdvisor’s Tank of Gas Tool.  It suggests places that are ¼, ½ or a full tank of gas from home, as well as attractions, restaurants and hotels in the area.  You might be surprised that some places are closer than you expect.

For example, the beach at Hilton Head, SC is less than a tank of gas from the heart of land-locked Atlanta (237 miles and $38.)  A half-tank of gas (144 miles and $25) will take you into the Smokey Mountains. Knowing this makes both options possible; simply select the distance that best fits your budget.  From many locations, especially on the coast, you don’t have to drive far to experience a dramatic change in your environment.

Consider that a ‘half-tank’ gas trip is 100 – 150 miles from home, about a two-hour drive.  That means you don’t have to leave the night before in order to enjoy a full weekend, which saves on hotel expenditure.  Leave early on Saturday morning and arrive at your destination before lunch. You can enjoy your stay until lunch on Monday, then head home in time to unwind before dinner and ‘back to the grind’ preparations.


Experience a ‘staycation’

What about exploring in your own backyard?  Between balancing multiple kids, scouts, choir practice, ballet and dinner, it is often difficult to embrace the family attractions that your own city provides.  Use your long weekend to wander the art museum or roam among the dinosaurs at the natural history center, right in your hometown.

Use a city discount card, typically marketed to tourists, to save on familiar attractions. CityPASS  and Smart Destinations bundle passes to attractions in multiple cities around the country, providing savings of up to 55%.   With your passes pre-purchased, you can usually skip ticket lines. Also, look for perks with your package. For example, CityPASS ticket books include coupons to local restaurants and the option to upgrade to behind-the-scenes VIP tours for a reduced price.

To make a staycation feel more like a true vacation, consider using the money saved on attractions and gas or plane tickets to stay at a hotel in your hometown.  Being away from the laundry and yard work will ensure you spend quality time together for the duration of the weekend.  Staying in the heart of the city can be an exciting adventure for rural or suburban-raised children; the sights, sounds and smells are new and unique.

When your book your hotel, be sure to tell them you are a resident of the area, and that you are taking a staycation.  There are often discounted rates for families embarking on this new trend.  Consider a room with a kitchenette; although priced a little higher, it will bring an overall savings when you consider the cost of dining out for every meal. Finally, don’t forget your swimsuit – the pool is the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing.


Camp under the stars

Camping can be as luxurious or as affordable as you want to make it. If you are on a budget, research the overnight rates at various locations.  The state park is an option, but it might not be the best one. In California camping in a state park is as low as $8 per night whereas state park camping in Georgia will cost you a nightly fee of $28.  If the state park rates are too costly then scout private campgrounds.

Cut costs by bringing your own food rather than eating out.  Sandwiches work well, or try a bucket of mom’s fried chicken, which can be delicious without a microwave to warm it.  Morning eggs can be cooked over a campfire or hard-boiled before leaving the house. Speaking of the campfire, bringing your own wood can also save you money.  Campfire wood sold on site is usually 2-3 times more expensive than what you will find at a convenience store closer to home. Another idea for the more adventurous family: catch your food!  Find a campsite near a stocked lake and plan your fishing activities right before dinner.

If camping is new to you, then the initial cost of camping equipment might feel daunting.  Consider scouring the thrift stores, Goodwill and Craigslist for the basics.  When other families are looking to upgrade their equipment, you can benefit.  Ask friends and family about their camping supplies; many people are eager to loan you their butane stove or portable chairs.  Who knows, maybe they’ll even join you on your adventure!  Additionally, places like Mountain Side Gear Rental will loan you the equipment. For example, a Eureka Assault 4 person tent retails for about $350, but a weekend rental with Mountain Side is under $50.


Whether you head to the city to take-in your own backyard, wander in the wilderness to escape the crowds, or explore a new city that is close to home, you can easily leverage a long weekend for affordable family fun.


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