6 Family Vacations Under $1,000

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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, although they don’t involve Mickey Mouse. 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 a little detail…

1. 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. (Although bringing a boat or camper may add fees.) Before turning to private campgrounds, look up state and national parks and 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 you: A lot of people have gear sitting around. 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 percent off retail.

2. National parks

While many national parks offer great camping, they offer a lot more. They’re a great place to learn about history, wildlife, and the environment, as well as fun stuff like hiking, biking, boating, fishing, hunting, swimming, snorkeling, skiing, 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 still 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 September 24 are the next free days. National Park Week was in April.

3. 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/month membership fee.
  • Craigslist.org has a free house swap section, but when I checked it out, it seemed more people were looking to rent than swap.
  • Digsville.com is $45/year but will give another year free if you don’t get a swap.
  • HomeLink.org claims to be the original house-swap organization but charges the most: $119/year.

If you can’t decide where to go on vacation, this could be a great way to decide. Simply list your house and see who responds and where they are. Who knows? You might find yourself in Omaha, but you might end up in Paris!

4. Vacation homes

A similar idea: Have friends or family with a timeshare or vacation home? Try to rent it cheap. And like vacation homes, there are websites that can hook you up with people looking to rent a house, a room, or even just a couch at a desirable destination. Sites to scope out include HomeAway.com, iStopOver.com, VRBO.com, CouchSurfing.org, and TripAdvisor.com. But there are plenty more.

5. 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, a place to stay, and 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.

6. 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 that you’d like to see.

Local gardens, museums, and other cultural hotspots often partner to offer discounted rates for people who 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 they do. No tourist center? 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 – just fun!

But if it turns out you’re dead set on the traditional vacation, here’s some advice you’ll need:

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