It doesn’t matter if your fun budget is large or small. It doesn’t take money to enjoy life’s banquet when you see every day as an opportunity to try something new or spend time with people you love.
People who travel often on a small budget follow the deals. Don’t pick a destination and then look for good prices for that one place.
Wherever you live, it’s a unique place with fun things you can do with little more than a picnic lunch and a tank full of fuel. Where do tourists go when they visit your hometown? When was the last time you visited those places? What great places have the tourists not found yet. When you’re local, it’s easy to take advantage of last-minute opportunities, locals-only pricing and off-season deals. Just keep your eyes open for them.
Pack a picnic
You have to eat whether you’re at home or traveling, so food is a travel expense that you can almost eliminate if you eat the way you would at home. Pack picnics on day trips. Most zoos, theme parks and other outdoor destinations don’t mind if you bring your own food and drinks in a day pack or stroller.
Consider an annual pass
Do you have a favorite zoo, museum, garden, national park, state park or theme park near your home? An annual family pass or membership is usually the cost of 2-3 visits. You can visit a favorite destination all you want for a year. Then renew it, or choose a new destination the next year. Buy an annual pass to your favorite place for Christmas or a birthday gift. It’s an idea you can give to grandparents or others who purchase gifts for your family. Check for reciprocal benefits on your annual pass. You may be able to get free or discounted admission to partner destinations in your area, or nationwide
Check community calendars
You can quickly fill your free time with all of the free and cheap special events happening in and around your city. Visit websites for your city, school, library, local colleges, high schools, convention centers, bookstores, museums, churches, historical societies, arts council, astronomical society… They will all have calendars of upcoming events. Many of these events will be open to the public and most will be free or inexpensive.
You can do the same thing when you travel outside your hometown. We love filling our itinerary with free and cheap local festivals, farmers markets, city parks, pools and more when we travel. It’s a great way to break away from the tourist traps and see the real community at its best.
Get into nature
Natural destinations are nearly always cheap or free. We have many free trails and picnic areas in the mountains near our home that cost nothing. State park day passes usually cost around $10 per car. The most expensive national parks currently cost around $35 per car for a full week. Many national parks cost less, or nothing at all. Nature is so good for kids and adults in so many ways, and many of us are not getting enough of it.
Fairs and festivals
Most communities host at least one festival or celebration each year. Small towns and cultural groups seem to do this especially well and you don’t have to live there to attend. Summer is a popular season for festivals, but they can be found at all times of year.
Free admission days
Many museums, zoos, gardens and national parks offer at least one free admission day every month or year. It’s usually a requirement for organizations that receive public funding. Check the website to find out when free days and hours are scheduled. Word gets out about free days, so expect them to be crowded. Arrive before opening time or late in the day to avoid peak crowds.
Do you have a theater or other non-profit destination near your home? Find out if they need volunteers. Venues mostly need adults and older teens as volunteers, but the theater welcomed our 10-year-old as an usher once they got to know us.
Just show up
Good things happen when you leave your house and open yourself to opportunity. We find unexpected festivals, parades, celebrity photo ops and other free activities just because we’re in the right place at the right time. Free tickets and other happy surprises don’t land in our laps every week, but it happens often enough. When you’re the kind of person who sees life as a banquet, people notice and the world helps you out.
I will always work and save for the next big trip to some amazing place. It’s what I love. However, who you are with matters more than where you are. My memories from Disneyland are really not that much happier than my memories of the free Beatles tribute concert at the city park last summer with my family and friends.
All kinds of memories make families stronger, smarter and happier. As a large family, we take a lot of road trips because finding plane tickets for seven of us is so expensive. But we live across the country from our grandparents so at least once a year, we just need to fly. After years of searching for the best deals on airline tickets, here are my best tips to help you find cheap airline tickets.