Wondering how to enjoy both a cheap vacation and a family reunion that's much better than a staycation? Here are our 10 Tips for turning family events into real vacations.
You Be the Party Planner
Above all, it's essential that you be the one who knows what's doing in your relatives' neighborhood. (They may be slugs who never leave the house.) Visiting relatives or in-laws may sound disappointing when planning a precious summer or winter holiday, but they could live in a fascinating place that other families are paying good money to see.
- Before you set off, yet again, to relive boring times, bad eating habits, and the usual squabbles, contact the tourism office or chamber of commerce in your intended region, and ask for a free packet of tourist information.
Another Road Trip, Ugh
Don't let high fuel prices dampen your enthusiasm for a family roadtrip, usually the most economical option for visiting relatives. Make getting there as much fun as being there.
- Take your time, and let children use maps to help plan out rest stops. Remember that en route, your food and lodging expenses can add up quickly.
- Keep it thrifty by packing a cooler of snacks and giving every passenger a refillable water bottle. Shop for picnics and look for scenic road stops at mid-day, or keep bathing suits close at hand and visit a local lake.
- To find affordable digs for the night, bypass the main interstates and show your family the backroads of America, where small motels offer better rates and a pool to splash in at day's end. Or research the local youth hostel, where for under $20 per person you can find a comfortable family room with bunk beds. Your kids are bound to make lots of friends, too.
- Lastly, don't forget to mind the speed limit; you'll save a lot in fuel efficiency and get to savor some beautiful countryside.
Getting the Family Out to Sightsee
Once you arrive, begin your planning. There's no doubt you'll find a myriad of sights to make your stay fun, and don't forget to involve those couch-potato relatives. No matter how many times they have climbed to the top of the church tower, toured the local historic house, or strolled through the neighborhood park, doing it with visitors will be a new experience.
- Call the organization responsible for those free "what to do with kids" newspapers — Parenting Media Association (310/364-0193). They can steer you to a local parenting paper to be ordered by mail. Special events such as a museum or zoo sleepover may be perfect to entertain the kids.
- An online resource that's great for planning upcoming events is the Nickelodeon website called Parents Connect, which features activities, fun places to play, restaurants and all sorts of things that local parents would want to know in various US cities.
- A great way to figure what to do right now, right here, is MomMaps, an app for iPhone or Android supported by the Kids Play Guide website that's chock full of fun local stuff to do.
- Did you realize that for as little as $50 per night per child including meals (parents are often free), you can sleep with the fishes at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, or at the New England Aquarium in Boston, among many others? Families may stay overnight at the San Francisco Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and dozens of other fun and educational institutions.
While staying with relatives who aren't always aware of what's available in their area, you might even read about a special ballet recital, tennis clinic, or a daily soccer camp run by the local church.
Don't Forget the Thanks!
- Relatives — they're always there for you, but don't take advantage of that. Remember to show some appreciation to your extended family by helping out with chores, packing special picnics for outings, renting DVDs or Netflix for a movie night at home, and encouraging the children to make thank-you cards after their visit.
You want this visit (and every one) to be a cherished memory, not a nightmare.
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