Friday, March 8, 2024

Staycation for the memory books: Anatomy of a budget friendly day trip

By Michelle Cote
The Rookie Mama  

We keep calm and march on through this month sandwiched between school vacations of epic proportions.

Perhaps, my friends, that’s why we call it March.

And forward, we go.

Our family is coming off the marathon high of back-to-back day trips we took throughout our children’s February break, and so we pause, take five, and gear back up for April’s go-round of staycation adventures.

We have our collectively frugal mindset to credit for a successful tour of outings, which could not have taken place without our being intentionally fiscally mindful.

It was a Presidential birthday bash week to remember, and I cannot tell a lie.

But despite Washington’s commemorative day, we were the ones celebrating how little we used the currency upon which he is a cover model.

Life is expensive, unapologetically so for larger families, rendering us no choice but to work our innovative muscles sometimes.

Every family escapade we plan must accommodate six humans – therefore include six prices of admission, food, other incidentals for all the incidents ­– so we find ways to do this creatively and economically when possible.

And those were our precedents as we planned the birthday week of presidents.

After all, memories are measured in moments, little joys and wonders and snack breaks and dad jokes knit together into core experiences that transpire just as easily without breaking the bank.

Our crew of littles range in age from 3 to 12, and so we began by narrowing down what experiences are suitable for all. Sometimes that alone is most challenging.

To plan February break’s week of escapades, we headed straight to our favorite magical world of everything – our local public library.

I didn’t need the Dewey Decimal system to discover a year ago that our library membership granted us access to opportunities chock-full of free and heavily discounted programming, in addition to unlimited free books, movies, music, armloads which we borrow weekly.

Thanks to public libraries, we’ve been to the zoo, botanical gardens, other places at significantly reduced prices where we would have otherwise paid a mint. I’d rather put the cash toward another mint garden bed.

This past break, we were able to use library benefits to attend a classic movie screening at our local historic theater, spend a day at the Children’s Museum, and visit a large aquarium – all at reduced or no cost.

We spent other adventuring days exploring trails and granite quarries deep in the woods, scooting around solid ice at two separate lakes, discovering animal prints, using long sticks to create large-scale mazes in fresh layers of snow.

We perused our collection of gift cards to treat ourselves for takeout.

We even took our boys to the mall – a place they’ve never been because my husband and I haven’t even been since we shopped at the Gap and cut through the corner Godiva toward the food court to sample free teriyaki chicken bites.

Many things had changed – Some hadn’t.

It was a hoot for the kiddos, because it was new and different.

We also got our steps in.

On our longer stretches of day travel, my husband and I pre-packed a giant thermos of coffee ahead so we could enjoy it on the road home after a full day’s escapade – This has become a time-honored tradition we truly savor, and not only because it’s hazelnut.

Core memories. Joys. Wonders. Snacks. Dad jokes.

No broken banks.

And the options for day tripping on a budget don’t stop there.

There’s joy to be found in walking beaches, hiking new trails, studying up on other local programs that may be free or discounted for your whole gang.

I can’t underscore enough that there is great value in proactively saving up for an excursion, especially if it’s something you know will have unavoidable associated costs out of your regular spending range.

Cost of gas, lodging, passports for longer travels – There are expenditures that can’t be avoided, no matter how exemplary you may be at pre-packing a cooler of snacks or cleverly finding validated parking.

Include a designated adventure ‘bucket’ among your checking account funds to which you pitch in monthly for other expenses such as heating oil or car repairs.

Contribute what you can throughout the year in the lead-up so expenses for your adventures are preloaded, rather than take the credit card hit afterward.

Remember – Big or small, these ventures will be cherished by your family, because they are moments, not things.

Time spent with your loved ones as you wander new places together doesn’t need to come at luxury cost.

Whether you travel far or near, you’ll forever own the experience.

I cannot tell a lie.<

­­– Michelle Cote lives in southern Maine with her husband and four sons, and enjoys camping, distance running, biking, gardening, road trips to new regions, arts and crafts, soccer, and singing to musical showtunes – often several or more at the same time!

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