Budget-Friendly Summer Family Travel
By Melanie Monroe Rosen
Daytrips are a great way to spend some family time and take a mini-vacay without racking up a big bill!
Summer Festivals & Fairs: With warm weather and freedom from the school schedule, summer is a great time to take advantage of festivals and fairs that will entertain the whole family. Check out your local newspaper or the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (CVB) for news on family-friendly festivals and fairs. Here are just a few of the season’s highlights around the US and Canada:
• State fairs like those in Minnesota, Iowa, and California offer something for all ages, from big-name entertainment and thrill-tastic rides to parades, games, petting zoos, and enticing local cuisine. Because the fairs often run for several days, you can be more flexible with deciding when to visit (and take advantage of special days offering discounted admission prices!).
• We can’t think of a kid who wouldn’t be impressed by the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec, Canada (August 8-16, 2009) which offers activities including awe-inspiring twice-daily hot air balloon rides ($$), entertainment, and family-friendly accommodations like a breastfeeding room, changing tables, and a stroller lending service.
• Pirate enthusiasts will enjoy the NorCal Pirate Festival in the San Francisco Bay Area (June 20-21, 2009), which features pirate re-enactors, swordfighters, live music, and cannon battles. To really get into the spirit, go in costume as a pirate family!
• Mischief-makers will delight in attending the Curious George Cottage Family Festival in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire (August 7-9, 2009). Activities include a banana pancake breakfast, family nature walk, Fireman’s BBQ lunch, photo opportunities with Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat, as well as a traveling barnyard, live music, face painting, games for kids, and a Curious George story hour and movie viewing.
• If your kids can’t get enough of summer’s sweet harvests, find a local fruit festival through PickYourOwn.org. Among some of our top picks? Blueberry festivals, blackberry festivals, strawberry festivals, and peach festivals.
• Even sweeter than a fruit festival – the Austin Ice Cream Festival! Taking place in Austin, Texas on August 15, 2009, activities include live music shows, an ice cream making contest, a popsicle stick building contest, a banana split relay race, and an ice cream eating contest. Yum!
Factory Tours: A behind-the-scenes look at some of kids’ favorite products can be an entertaining and educational daytrip for the whole family, suggests Suzanne Kelleher, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel planning website. Some of our favorite kid-friendly factory tours include:
• The Crayola Factory tour in Easton, Pennsylvania where kids can learn about the manufacturing process behind crayons and markers as well as participate in a variety of arts and crafts.
• The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Louisville, Kentucky where kids can hold actual baseball bats used by baseball legends like Mickey Mantle, go on a treasure hunt to discover important baseball memorabilia, and see Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger bat notched with every homerun he hit with it. They can also swing replica bats of baseball greats like Ted Williams and Derek Jeter, and learn how Louisville Sluggers are made.
• The Jelly Belly Factory and Wisconsin Warehouse Tour in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin where kids can learn how jelly beans, candy corn, taffy, gummies, and more sweet treats are made. Did we mention that you can sample the final product?
• The Hershey’s Chocolate World experience in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where kids can learn about the chocolate-making process through a ride in a cocoa bean-shaped car and sample Hershey’s chocolate.
• The Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Waterbury, Vermont where visitors learn about the ice cream production process and the history of the company, as well as sample yummy flavors of the day.
Culinary Trails: If you don’t have super-picky eaters on your hands, a great way to spend the day as a family and check out the local cuisine is by following a culinary trail (or at least a fraction of one), suggests Beth Blair, co-founder of Traveling Mamas, a website run by four moms covering family travel, solo trips, romantic escapes, and girlfriend getaways. Culinary trails are popping up all over the country through local tourism boards, offering suggestions to visitors for the best spots to sample local cuisine. For example, Louisiana now offers seven culinary trails, ranging from the Creole Fusion trail and Bayou Bounty Trail, to the Delta Delights Trail and the Red River Riches Trail. Suggested stops along the way include restaurants, farmer’s markets, diners, shops, museums, and more. Other popular culinary trails in the US include the Salsa Trail in Southeastern Arizona along the scenic Old West Highway featuring restaurants, a tortilla factory and a salsa factory, and the Pennsylvania Dutch Country’s five culinary trails, including the Sweet n’ Salty Trail, the Dairy Trail, and the Market Basket Trail.
The Great Outdoors: A super-cheap, fun, and healthy way to spend family time together is by hitting the trails. Blair, who resides in Arizona, recommends hitting a state or national park where often the only fee required is for your car and may be as little as five dollars for the day. Jamie Pearson, founder of Travel Savvy Mom offers this creative idea: “Find out when the peak wildflower times are for your region, and go hiking in search of them. If you do a little homework, you can give your kids a list with pictures, and turn it into a treasure hunt.” Additionally, Kelleher notes that Junior Ranger programs at state and national parks offer a great way to get kids interested in nature. Check out what Junior Ranger programs are available near you on the National Park Service website.
Get Active: An inexpensive way to have fun and get healthy as a family is to find a fun way to exercise together. No, we’re not talking about family step aerobics under the summer sun! Grab some bikes and hit some local trails or check out nearby opportunities for white water rafting or tubing, or even some relaxing pedal boating.
Walking Tours: “Walking tours can be a lot of fun, and inexpensive if families are willing to pack a picnic,” suggests Pearson. “We live near San Francisco, and have spent many happy hours (and, I'll freely admit, some whiny ones), exploring Chinatown, Pacific Heights, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill. Some of these neighborhoods are big shopping districts, but it doesn't cost anything to look.” To create your own family walking tour, research some local walk-able destinations, pack a lunch and transportation for the kids (if they’re at an age where they’ll need a stroller when they tire), and head on out to see the sights!