5 cheap family vacation ideas

SUMMER BRINGS LOTS OF beautiful weather. For many families, that means the kids are at home. If you haven't thought about a family vacation, it's likely on your radar. What can you do to get away from it all on a limited budget?

Here are five great ideas for inexpensive family vacation destinations that won't break the bank.

  • Camping in a national park such as Yellowstone, Yosemite or Acadia.
  • The District of Columbia.
  • Outer Banks, North Carolina.
  • San Diego, California.
  • A staycation.

Read on for more information about each cheap family vacation.

Camping in a National Park Such as Yellowstone, Yosemite or Acadia

The national parks in the United States provide access to some of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world and manage to do so at an incredibly affordable price. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Acadia and many other national parks are true treasures to behold. It's inexpensive to camp at a national park, too, and if you need camping gear, you can likely borrow a tent and some sleeping bags from a friend or relative. A night of camping at a national park can range from $15 to $70 depending on location and amenities.

The national park gets even cheaper if you have a fourth grader in your family. The National Park Service offers the Every Kid in a Park program, which enables the families of American fourth graders to receive a free annual pass to the nation's parks. This makes a vacation to a national park, or involving one, incredibly cheap.

RELATED: Take a look at the best and worst U.S. states for retirement: 

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Best and worst states for retirement 2018
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Best and worst states for retirement 2018
1. Florida – You knew it had to be high on the list, didn't you? In terms of affordability, Florida topped the list while it placed fifth in terms of quality of life, overcoming its 20th-ranked healthcare rating.

2. Colorado – Ranked second in healthcare while quality of life came in 8th place, Colorado is constrained by its 23rd-place ranking in affordability.

3. South Dakota – The home of Mount Rushmore is the second most affordable state and ranked sixth when it came to healthcare, but can't break the top half in quality of life (ranked 32nd).
4. Iowa – Not typically thought of as a retirement destination, Iowa has decent rankings across the board (9th in healthcare, 11th in quality of life and 26th in affordability).

5. Virginia – Quality of life ranks well in Virginia (9th) while affordability and healthcare rankings are above average (18th and 21st respectively).

The next five desirable retirement states after Virginia are, in order, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.

What about the five states with the worst rankings? In descending order, they are:

46. Arkansas – Dead last in quality of life and 45th in healthcare, Arkansas is pulled up by its 20th-place showing in affordability.

47. Mississippi – The same principle applies to Mississippi, but even more so. The state is 49thin quality of life and last in healthcare, but it ranks 10th in affordability.
48. Rhode Island – Healthcare is above average (22nd), but quality of life and affordability are poor at 46th and 48th place, respectively.
49. New Jersey – The least affordable state in the union also has below average rankings in quality of life (28th) and healthcare (33rd).
50. Kentucky – Kentucky ranks 47th in both quality of life and healthcare and only 38th in affordability, earning the Bluegrass State WalletHub's least desirable retirement state ranking for 2018.
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[SEE: 8 Big Budgeting Blunders – and How to Fix Them. ]

The District of Columbia 

While the District of Columbia might not strike you as an inexpensive town, the advantage is that most of the attractions you'd want to enjoy are free. Free attractions include touring the White House, Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, National Gallery of Art and other sites. The District of Columbia also offers an inexpensive and visitor-friendly metro system that makes it easy to get around the city at a low cost, meaning you won't need to rent a car or drive around trying to find parking.

While housing might be expensive in the city itself, there are many outer areas that are still part of the metro system with inexpensive hotels, such as Bethesda, Maryland and Alexandria, Virginia. That means you're just a short ride into the city and from the sites you'll want to visit.

Outer Banks, North Carolina 

The Outer Banks region of North Carolina offers hundreds of miles of free beaches that are often uncrowded and less hot in the peak of summer than Florida beaches. The area also features a number of low-cost points of interest such as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which is always free for kids and for the whole family with the free National Parks pass discussed earlier, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is completely free, and Jockey's Ridge State Park. Lodging is inexpensive, with an enormous range of vacation rentals and hotels starting in the $70 per night range depending on location.

While the Outer Banks area does have many golf courses and other pricey tourist attractions, there are plenty of places to get away from the tourists and find many days' worth of inexpensive and free family activities.

San Diego, California

If you're able to postpone your family vacation until fall, San Diego is a cheap family vacation destination in October, when the city runs its annual Kids Free San Diego promotion, which allows kids free entry to most of the city's major attractions and offers tons of discounts at restaurants and hotels. For a family with multiple children, a vacation to San Diego in October becomes a surprisingly cheap getaway.

Consider wrapping such a vacation around Columbus Day weekend in October, during which your kids will likely have a three-day weekend.

A Staycation

This might be the best vacation idea of all. Rather than going to a destination, take a week or two off and spend it at home with your kids doing things together that you never have time to do during the year. Build a giant fort in your living room, go skateboarding all afternoon at a nearby park or finally visit that place that's an hour or two away from home. Pack a big picnic lunch and explore a state park that's nearby. Paint a mural on your daughter's bedroom wall with her.

The thing to remember is that it's about what you do with your family, but that you spend real quality time with them. And a staycation maximizes that time together. Don't make it about catching up on undone tasks or errands. Make it about a week of fun at home together.

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