This summer we vacations in Arcadia Valley and Mark Twain National Forest, both are located in the South East part of Missouri. Here are 10 money saving things we did when planning/enjoying this summers vacation:
- We chose a location that was a 1 day or less drive from out home so that we could minimize fuel cost and avoid having to pay for transitional lodging. FYI: Driving typically remains a more cost effective choice for families even when airlines are running promos.
- When choosing our location, I did some Internet research to see what was available for family entertainment. This year I choose this location because it was centrally located between 4 national parks, less than an hour from a river for rafting, and also a historic flour mill for touring on a "non-ideal weather" day. Since admission to national parks in Missouri is FREE and there were so many in the area, this gave us lots of stuff to do for no cost except fuel to get there.
- We did pay to rent a raft mainly for children safety reasons. Our kids are young enough we didn't want to take a chance of getting separated, them flipping a canoe etc. Before we rented, I did my research and found one that was listed with the chamber of commerce (this tells me they are a legit business and likely have the required insurance/safety measures in place). By calling ahead I paid $65 for a raft instead of $120 at one of the more prominent places listed. We just did without some of the office frills, which didn't bother us and saved us about $55 dollars. They all float on the same river and had similar equipment/time frames. We did pack our own life vests, but if you don't have some, make sure you ask about it when doing cost comparisons on this type of rental.
- We purchased most of our food ahead of time and packed it with us. This gave me the opportunity to shop while items were on sale, and use coupons to get the most for my money. I did not pack whole bottles of some items such as mayo, instead i recycled some small jars and simply packed what we would used in them and threw it in our cooler. If these items got left in the hotel fridge, nobody is gonna cry over leaving 10cents of mayo in a recycled jar....instead of a $3 bottle offered at most local touristy markets. Items that are easily squished such as bread, I normally buy on site unless we have extra room and I can pack them in a hard sided box out of the sun and protected.
- We own a super insulated cooler that actually will keep items cold on hot summer days and easily fits into the back of our vehicle. Although the cooler initially cost us more out of pocket, we can use it for years and years, plus now spend way less on ice, plus also save the time and fuel of running to pick it up. An added bonus of this cooler is that having a cooler that works this well, means that you also have less chance of food spoiling because it got to warm, saving your money.
- We choose a hotel that had a small refrigerator and microwave. This allowed us more variety of items to eat in our room, and the opportunity to save any leftovers from eating out. Most of the items we packed to eat were breakfast and lunch focused. Our goal was to eat breakfast in the room, pack a picnic lunch and then eat supper out. After all, we are on vacation and mom should get at least 1 meal off a day.
- Once we arrived and emptied our regular food items into the hotel fridge, we then filled our cooler with all the cans and bottles etc of drinks we would use for the week and left it in the back of the vehicle. Being able to pull out a drink for each of us when we got thirsty saved us a ton of "where did my cash go" mysteries. At rates of $1.69+ tax for a 20oz bottle of pop (or other convenience store type beverage) x4 family members x 3 stops daily = about $21 per day on drink stops....ridiculous!
- We packed special snacks for each person. This helped us avoid any trips inside uber expensive grocery or gas station stores to grab them. My kids get sorta excited about picking out a snack we normally don't have before we leave. It's actually kinda funny how excited they get over something as simple as a bag of beef jerky or trail mixes. We try and keep non-melting snacks in the car just in case one of the kids gets hungry between meal times. If you can focus on snacks that have nutritional content it will help fight that hunger better than simple refined carbs (such as chips).
- I cooked ahead so we had "real" food. Although my kids would be happy with about anything, my husband is not. He wants at least some meat and eggs for breakfast. To make sure that everyone stayed happy, I cooked ahead some breakfast sandwiches with meat, egg & cheese on an English muffins. I wrapped each individual one in plastic wrap, then put them in a gallon sized freezer bag and froze them (the freezer bag helps keep water out if the ice in the cooler melts). When it was time to pack the cooler, these little "ice cube" sandwiches helped keep the rest of the food cold, and I didn't have to worry much about them getting too warm for food safety reasons. You can do many more meals like this that can be easily fixed using just a microwave including tons of casseroles (pre-bake), breakfast burritos, sloppy-joe filling (buy buns after arrival), taco meat and more. Just think out of the box, and freeze anything you can.
- Pack your own travel sized games, not for the car but for the hotel room. If you have a rainy day and are limited on what you can get out and do, enjoy some family time in the room. Many rooms have movies on TV, why not whip up some popcorn, watch a movie & play some games as a family. After all, isn't the whole goal of this vacation spending time together anyway?
I hope these tips help you create your own family memories!