5 Ways to Take a Memorable Family Vacation for Less Than $1,000

On a tight budget? No problem. Pack up and hit the road with these affordable approaches to family trips.

If you can come up with $1,000, you can definitely treat your family to a nice vacation this year.

We’ve pulled together a list of five ways to have fun on a tight travel budget.

Of course, how far you travel is a major factor, and one of your biggest expenses may be the cost of getting to your destination. That’s one reason Hawaii will likely never be an affordable vacation destination — unless you already live there.

So, look for a travel spot that has cheap flights or is within driving distance and then try one of these options.

1. Camp (or glamp) across the country

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Camping seems to stir mixed feelings. For some people, it makes them think of dirt, sunburns and awkward summer camp experiences. Others equate camping with adventure, tranquility and an opportunity to unplug.

If you fall into the first category, don’t rule out camping altogether.

Today, you can stay in modern cabins at national parks or in RVs at private campgrounds that are outfitted with resort-like amenities. This form of luxury camping, aka “glamping,” will cost more than pitching a tent, but it can still be an affordable way to vacation.

Some destinations to consider:

2. Explore the Midwest

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If you want a big-city vacation, skip the coasts and look to the Midwest instead. The cost of living is typically lower in this region, so your money will go further than it would in New York City or Los Angeles.

Chicago, of course, is the biggest city in the Midwest, and it’s also among the most expensive. So, instead of following the crowd, look for a midsized city that combines a vibrant downtown scene along with a mix of arts and cultural events.

Midwest towns may have the reputation of being a bit vanilla, but don’t let the stereotype fool you. Depending on which state and city you visit, the region has award-winning chefs, countless craft breweries, art museums, zoos, long sandy beaches and more.

Some destinations to consider:

3. Do a house swap

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After getting there, your next biggest expense while vacationing is likely staying there — wherever “there” may be.

You can save money by finding a place to stay for free. You could try mooching some free accommodations from a friend, but a house swap may be a better way to keep both your finances and friendships intact.

You could arrange a house swap on your own through Craigslist or a travel message board, but a house swapping website or club may offer you additional protection. These sites may vet users and provide reviews of potential swap partners.

Using a website or club is more expensive than arranging a swap on your own, but the peace of mind is likely worth the annual or monthly fee. Still, do your research before deciding on a home swap vacation, and tuck away your valuables if strangers will be staying in your house.

If house swapping isn’t for you, check out “10 Ways to Score Free Lodging for Your Next Vacation.”

Some websites to try:

4. Take a low-cost cruise

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Just because some cruises are expensive doesn’t mean all cruises are expensive.

If you’re flexible and don’t mind booking at the last minute, you can get some deep, deep discounts. On the flip side, if you want to be able to get your choice of cabin at a decent price, booking well in advance might be advisable.

Once you find a cheap cruise, keep your vacation affordable by understanding how much you will have to pay for on-ship amenities. Limit paid beverages, skip high-priced excursion options and focus on the free or low-cost entertainment found on the boat or on the shore.

Some websites to try:

5. Go almost anywhere in the off-season or “shoulder season”

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You can get a deal at countless destinations if you’re willing to travel in the off-season.

However, the off-season might not be ideal for you. Maybe the weather at your destination is more likely to be unsatisfactory or maybe the off-season conflicts with your kids’ school schedule. In that case, look to book a vacation during a “shoulder season” — the month before or after the peak travel season for the destination.

The discounts won’t be as deep as you’d get in the off-season, but you’ll still pay less for lodging, have fewer crowds to fight and probably get decent weather.

Some destinations to consider:

Where do you go for a cheap vacation? Leave a comment below or head to our Facebook page to share your favorite affordable destination.

Maryalene LaPonsie
Maryalene LaPonsie
After 13 years as a staffer for a Michigan legislator, I decided it was time to quit the commute and work from home instead. For the past three years, I’ve been penning ... More

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