Stop Wasting Money on Your Summer Vacation, Do This Instead

by Jeff Cooper

Ah, summer. A season most of us look forward to for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the long days, the weather, or lack of school. What most people look forward to the most is the crown jewel of wasteful spending and the sworn enemy of the frugal life-style……summer vacation. It feels that summer vacations have become somewhat of a social status symbol. A trip to a beach resort with fancy pools, cruises, an expensive getaway, or a family vacation to Walt Disney World have become all the rage, but I see no reason for it. Spending a month or two’s salary on a week away from home isn’t my idea of the best summer fun.

On top of the spending, it can be stressful to simply plan and to book your family vacations. Booking Hotels, finding cheap flights, and rental cars, can all be a pain to coordinate. The last thing I want is to be stressed out during my hard earned vacation time. With the amount of spending done, there is almost a feeling of “forced fun” and needing to get my money’s worth during these vacation days. It’s time to let go of all this stress once and for all.

I get that everyone needs to relax with some well deserved time-off every now and then, and the summer months are a great time to do it, but there is no reason it needs to break the bank. During the summertime, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to popular destinations like Disney and the likes thereof. Paying hundreds of dollars in airfare and lodging, then hundreds more to get into an amusement park where I’ll have the joy of standing in line for rides about 65% of the time unless you pay extra of course, doesn’t sound like a good time to me. With the rise of sites like Airbnb, we can easily find the best deals and have just as much if not more fun

Another option is to not go on vacation at all, but rather a staycation or home vacation. For those of you not in the know, a staycation is like a vacation, only you save money by staying at home and doing vacation like activities. Believe it or not, there are plenty of fun, family friendly summer activities that can be done at home or in your own backyard during your annual summer break. I’m here to help you nail your next staycation or maybe even your first staycation.

Summer Staycation Ideas: Daytime Family Activities

Take a Hike

Hiking is not only a great way to have some fun during a staycation but some great exercise too. There are likely many different places to have your outdoor adventure, like state parks or national parks, you can have a hiking adventure near you. Hopefully, the hiking trails are only a short drive from home, but it’s worth making it a fun day trip to a state park if you need to travel a bit. You don’t have to stroll around aimlessly on a trail, although there is nothing wrong with that, but find a trail that has a payoff. It could be a cliff overlooking a waterfall or a breathtaking view at the top of a mountain, but having something to look forward to at the end gives will give your hikes a bit of extra satisfaction and your hikers a bit more motivation. Don’t be afraid to get a bit adventurous!

If you have little ones of any age with you, try to have something water related on the hike. My kids can spend hours throwing rocks and sticks into a river or lake. Many parks will have rentals available for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and boating. Really anything with a paddle can be fun activities for kids of all ages. Not only is it fun for them, but it can be very relaxing. If you do bring the kids, don’t forget to pack lots of snacks!

Going on a Bike Ride

Next on the itinerary, similar to the hiking excursion, going on a long bike ride can be a great family outing during any staycation. Again, you might need to travel a bit, but you can certainly find a place where you can spend the day biking around. If not, taking a trip around town can be fun too. It might be harder to find that big payoff like the hike, but biking around a lake or on a riverside can provide a sense of being away from home on vacation too.

Have a Picnic

Now that you’re tired out from all the hiking and biking, it’s time for some rest and relaxation. Having a picnic is a great way to spend the day relaxing and different from your regular routine. You can go to your favorite park or if you want to make it feel more vacation like, head somewhere you’ve never been before, find a nice spot in the sun and have some fun. Bring a bat and ball, frisbee, whatever, doesn’t have to be complicated, just a simple good time doing outdoor activities. To make it even more vacation like, make a special lunch that you wouldn’t normally have or keep it simple and fire up the grill for some burgers and dogs.

Gone Fishin’

For those of you that have the equipment already, fishing can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors and relax with the family. If your fishing skills are anything like mine, you won’t catch anything but some algae, but hey, it’s quality time that counts. This activity can be an add-on to any of the previously mentioned sections here making them full day experiences.

Beach Day Fun

Just because it’s a staycation doesn’t mean you can’t go to the beach! For those of us lucky enough to be within driving distance of a few beautiful beaches, a day at the beach can be a great and inexpensive day trip for some family fun. Many of the beaches in the great state of New Jersey are public and will have a relatively low day pass cost. If you live in more of a lake state, there are plenty of beach options available for a family trip.

Similar to the picnic, you can pack up a lunch and a few activities to keep yourself entertained. With this, you’ll have the perfect day in front of you. Relax, soak up some rays, work on your tan and enjoy the sunshine.

Minor Leagues Can Be Major Fun

Nothing beats a good baseball game, but going to the big league parks can be more trouble than it’s worth and quite expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to go to my next Mets game, but tickets for the whole family will run you into the hundreds of dollars, not exactly frugal. Luckily, there are plenty of minor league teams around to entertain you with very cheap tickets. The whole day might cost you $50 if you really splurge on lunch. Many of these team will have fun themed days to attract more crowds. Find the closest team to you and say you watched the next big league star play before anyone else knew who he was!

Summer Staycation Ideas: Night Time Family Activities

There’s more to a staycation than the day, you’ll need things to do to have fun filled nights too. Below are some of my top summer staycation ideas on how to fill up your nights.

Movie Night

Who doesn’t love a good movie? Pile everyone up in your best view location, make some popcorn, fire up the Netflix and watch a good flick. You can even make it a double feature so there is less arguing over what to watch. You can watch a family favorite or try something new. No matter what you decide to watch, you’ll be able to enjoy any night of your staycation right in your own living room.

Board Game Night

Another great family activity can be a board game night. Take turns choosing the games and let the good times roll. If your kids are old enough, maybe teach them a few card games too. Charades can also be a great way too. Along those lines, one of my favorite games in recent years is Fishbowl. It’s Catchphrase (a great game in itself), meets password, meets Charades and it’s a ton of fun.


Along the same lines as the board games, puzzles can be a great relaxing family activity together. Put on some light music in the background and you’re good to go. Depending on if you have kids and their age, you can scale the difficultly. Try challenging yourself and see if you can complete a difficult puzzle within the week. You can obviously work on this during the day, but I’m putting this as a night activity as it’s a nice way to unwind after all the daytime fun you’ve been having.

Video Game Night

I love my video games as much as the next guy and I wouldn’t normally say sitting in front of a screen playing video games for hours on end is a great idea, but you’re on vacation….I mean staycation! There are lots of games families can play together at the same time to get everyone involved. If you don’t have these games, you can make a competition out of one or two player games too. Get creative and have some fun!

Go Camping

This is one of my favorite fun things to do at home. Little known fact, there is no rule saying you can’t camp out in your own backyard! It’s true, make your backyard into a campground by setting up a tent or tents in the great outdoors of your own backyard and have some good old fashion summertime fun right there. This makes for a good time on so many levels. For one, no packing up the car is needed. No need to worry about the bathroom as you can quickly run inside. Want that toy or game to play with, it’s right here with you. It’s very kid friendly summer fun.

Hopefully, you have a firepit or something you can cook your dinner on, hotdogs on a stick anyone? Add in roasting marshmallows or the camping staple of smores and you’re on your way to a great staycation night. No fire pit, no problem, just go out for ice cream!


Don’t fall into the trap that a more expensive vacation means it’s better or more fun. If there is anything you can learn from this site is that is rarely the case and there are better ways to use your money. During the summer is when most of us take advantage of the warm weather and travel to our favorite vacation spots, but you don’t need to. Some of the best memories can come from your own neighborhood or right in your backyard. These are just a few summer staycation ideas of how you can spend your days and nights. Hope you have a fun summer!

Have other fun activities for a great summer staycation? What are your favorite staycation activities? Leave it in the comments!


Previously Published on Have Your Dollars Make Sense


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