Note: I originally wrote these ideas for an article on Huffington Post Canada and then did a few radio hits featuring the same ideas. The response has been so great I decided to repost and share it here too.
Summer, for many families is like the Amazing Race Family Edition — without the grand prize, financial reward or cheering squad, of course: just go, go, go!
To help get you through the rest of summer, here are some wacky ideas that result in creative fun, without a steep price tag.
(1) House Swap!
I say what? Yes, I said it: House swap. We all want to get away in the summer and take a break from our everyday lives — even if it’s only for a night or two. But, many families don’t have a travel budget. So, go through that little black book (or smart phone contact list) and find a family who lives in a different city or town. Pick a weekend; offer to swap homes; tidy up your house a bit, and away you go. It’s a great way to get the feel of a vacation rental (like airbnb or vrbo.com) without having to pay for your stay.
(2) Stargaze or Play Pilot
If your kids are restless in the evenings, try stargazing from somewhere different. Climb onto your rooftop (disclaimer: obviously do so safely and not on too high a roof and with age-appropriate children), trampoline or car-hood and let the kids feel like little rebels and astronomers all in one.
We’ve also tracked down dead-end streets near airports, parked the car and watched from the car hood as planes roared above us. It’s romantic for the parents and exciting for the kids.
(3) Visit National Parks for Free
If you’re into bears, coyotes, wildlife and the backcountry,then take advantage of the FREE Parks Canada Discovery Pass. These passes also work at national historic sites and conversation areas. You can check out the complete list to see what’s available in your area or if you’re planning a road trip, do your research in advance. You can even print off a free outdoor scavenger hunt and let the kids run wild.
(4) Play ‘Survivor’ Reward-Point Style
Most families collect reward points whether it’s in the form of specific store loyalty programs or collecting credit card points; And, many families enjoying camping. So why not combine the two concepts? Here’s how we do it: we’ve got multiple cards like Shoppers Optimum, PC Plus and the PCF World Elite Mastercard (which collects up to 10 x the points for everyday purchases without any banking fees). So far, we’ve saved almost $150 this summer alone. Tally up your rewards, plan a trip and use only your points to pay for the items you bring. We’ve bought our camping essentials (batteries, supplies etc) and groceries at Loblaws/PC Home without spending money.
We know families who do this annually and now cash in their points for everything including Esso gas, toiletries, food and President’s Choice outdoor gear!
(5) Drive-in without Driving Anywhere
David Letterman said this years ago and there’s still a lot of truth to it: forget watching the TV inside during the summer, drag it outside. But, we’re taking that concept even further. Set up a viewing screen (take the TV outside, use a projector, or set up a computer screen) in your yard. Create mini, individual cars using cardboard boxes and pillows. Kids can get creative and decorate their own vehicle. Then, when it’s dark, head outside, hit play on a favourite movie and settle into your box.
(6) Theme week!
Plan out a theme week where each day of the week focuses on a different culture, tradition or experience. For example, we’ve done birthday party day (when no one actually has a birthday but all we do is play games and eat party food), Italian day (where we play Scopa, sweep the front deck in our robe and eat pasta/pizza) and others. Each day, a different family member can take charge of planning out their day and choosing a theme.
(7) Have a Yard Sale
You’d be surprised at how excited school-aged kids get when planning for a big event. Our oldest regularly goes through his belongings right before school starts to get his room ready for back-to-school. He’ll make piles for selling and donating. Let the kids take charge, sell their own belongings and keep the cash. If you don’t have the yard space, try using popular, reputable websites like Kijiji.
(8) Camp in the Neighbourhood
Get other families on the street involved in a camping experience. Someone provides the backyard, another family supplies BBQ foods, another takes charge of the campfire/smores, and you’re set. All of the kids can get together and sleep “under the stars” without having to go anywhere or spend money on a camp site.
(9) Plan a Staycation at a Resort-Like Hotel
If there’s a bit of room in your budget for a hotel-stay, do your research and choose an option that makes your dollar meet your specific family needs. To reduce costs, stay between Monday-Wednesday night and look at family-focused hotels Holiday Inn, where kids eat free, they have large, suite style rooms (so you can fit a lot of people comfortably into one room), spacious pools, water-slides and even kids’ suites (with video games and bunk beds) all for the room rate. You’ll end up getting that resort-like feel for a fraction of the price. Choose a hotel in your city to cut transportation costs and, if you’ve only got one or two free nights, you don’t waste any of it traveling.
(10) Make the “Everyday” feel Extraordinary
Take your standard family-fun and give it all a little twist. For example, take your twister game outside using eco-friendly, grass-safe paint to create the circles on your entire yard; or, using little scraps of paper and a bowl, write down various food choices, board games and activities and then draw your daily movements. Basically, think like a child, get creative and have good ol’ fashioned fun!
For more fun, family ideas, please check out our family travel blog: www.familytravelguide.ca