To match our lifestyle, none of our vacations (besides our honeymoon) involved buying airline tickets. A few different styles of vacations follow with a few tips we learned along the way.
Take a closer look at your own community and the attractions that others might travel long distances to visit right where you are. When you take a day trip to a museum, historic site, or amusement park that is close by, you can save on travel costs. You could even take a different form of transit than your car or minivan. Some local outings are within walking or biking distance. If you live in a city, public transit (bus or train) could be part of the day trip adventure.
Consider hiking or bike trails as a worthy day trip. When you pack your own lunch, you can enjoy a picnic along the way. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks, bug spray and sunscreen. Set the length of your hike or bike ride according to the age and stamina of the children. If possible, locate playgrounds or parks that are a short distance from the trail, where you could pull out a frisbee or ball as a little break. Prior to the trip, have your children help you generate a list of things you might see on your adventure and then check them off as you go along.
Our longest road trip took us from Southwestern Ontario to Banff/Jasper, Alberta. Our destination was close to relatives, so we could stay with them for a few days as well. We allowed about eight days of travel each way (about 500 km of driving per day, with a little less on Sundays). When we planned the route, we looked for one attraction each day so that we would not simply drive through every town and city on our way to "the destination." Each day would be a destination in its own right that the children would enjoy and remember.
During the drive times, we spent time listening to music, audio books that appealed to a range of ages (Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Hoot by Carl Hiaason still stand out), the Bible dramatized, and Adventures in Odyssey. We also played the alphabet game, twenty questions and other games that used our imaginations and enhanced our time together.
To save money on accommodations, we stayed at camp grounds each night. Depending on the family budget, you could also plan to camp most nights and splurge on a hotel once or twice, or only if the weather is unsuitable for camping.
The meals we had on our road trip were fairly simple. We did not eat out at restaurants at all. We left home with two tray-like cardboard boxes with no tops that could slide under one row of seats in the back. In it were all kinds of staples that would be OK without refrigeration. We called it our "vantry." When we stopped in various towns to pick up supplies, we shopped at supermarkets. Our large cooler received a fresh pack of ice each day; we bought perishable things the day we planned to eat them. We prepared breakfast at our campsite, ate lunch on the road (we added toppings to bread, buns and bagels as we drove) and stopped at the camp ground by dinner time to prepare a hot meal on the camp stove.
When choosing a destination for camping, we liked to stay at the same park for at least three nights. In that way we would not have to spend so much time setting up and taking down our tents. We would have time to explore what the park had to offer and possibly take a trip to a nearby town. One memorable trip to a town nearby Charleston Lake Provincial Park included seeing murals painted on various buildings and browsing through a second hand store.
Taking bicycles along on a camping trip is a good idea. That way you can park your vehicle and get exercise. If you do not have a bike rack, perhaps you can borrow one from a friend or neighbour. My husband, the master packer, removed wheels of bigger bikes for transport and then reattached them once we arrived at the park.
We brought games to play and books to read so that we would have many options of activities in addition to swimming, hiking trails, nature centres and canoe rental.