Family vacations were not a regular part of my childhood. I grew up in a working-class family, and we only took a handful of vacations over the years. There was a trip to the World’s Fair in Knoxville one year, financed by my grandparents, and a weekend at Daytona Beach to celebrate my mom’s birthday another year. I didn't experience many vacations at all, so the idea of an affordable family vacation was foreign to me.
When I was in middle school, we went to Disney for a weekend and I even got to bring a friend. Other than those trips, though, we spent our time off visiting my grandparents. There wasn’t a lot of money, and it wasn’t like my dad got a lot of vacation days.
My ex-husband grew up on the opposite end of the spectrum. His family was well-off, and they took a planned family vacation every single year. When we got married, it was important to him that we take a trip every year, as well. I can’t say it mattered much to me either way.
But we quickly discovered that living on a single income meant that those yearly trips were a little farther out of reach than we had hoped.
Still, we found a way to make it happen – we came up with an affordable Family Vacation plan and vacationed with friends.
Some of our friends from church started going to St. George Island on the Florida panhandle for a week or two every year. Beach homes are available to rent on a weekly and monthly basis on the island. We found that if you rented in the off-season (starting the week after Labor Day), rates were greatly reduced.
By sharing a house with another family – or even two or three – the price went way down! We even did most of the cooking ourselves and saved money that way, too. Most of the homes had multiple master suites, so privacy wasn't a huge concern.
Other years, we would all head up to Hickory Knob for a week in the mountains. It’s a beautiful state park with RV and tent camping as well as cabins.
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For no extra charge, we could go hiking, play tennis, swim, learn archery, fish, and even go golfing at a nearby golf course. We could all watch a movie in the gathering room every night. The cabins were clean and comfortable and had full kitchens.
The added beauty of this arrangement for me as a young mom? The workload was greatly reduced. You know what I mean. Who wants to cook all week when you’re supposed to be on vacation? This wasn’t a problem, though, because my friends and I took turns cooking.
If there were three other families, I might only cook one or two days. I loved it!
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The other benefit was having friends along for my kids to play with. They could build sandcastles together, fish, go swimming, play flashlight tag, and generally have a wonderful time. I could sit on the beach under an umbrella and keep a watchful eye on everyone when I had kid duty. And when I didn't have kid duty? I could do what I wanted and enjoy myself.
Of course, there are a lot of people who don’t want to vacation with anyone, and I totally get that. At the same time, there was no way we could afford to rent a beach house or mountain cabin for a week on our own, so going with friends was a whole lot better than not going at all.
Sometimes, planning for an affordable family vacation can open up opportunities that you hadn't considered in the beginning. In the end, it was more fun for the adults because our children had friends to keep them busy.
If you can't afford to vacation on your own, try going with friends. If you don't like it, you never have to do it again!