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Make summer break memories without breaking the bank

Apr. 30, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

School bells, signaling the end of another school year, will soon be ringing around the Tri-State. These peals will welcome the summer travel season for many families.

However, given the current economy and job market, families may wonder whether they can afford to travel, especially with fluctuating gas prices and the high cost of feeding a family. Yet, with a little creativity and planning, it is possible for families to afford a vacation, especially if families are willing to think outside the box of the traditional seven-day-stay-at-the-beach mentality.

Recently, I read a poll about frequently cited regrets of those nearing the end of life. The top three regrets included not spending enough time with family; not traveling; and not spending enough time with friends. So, rather than viewing the family vacation as a luxury, why not view it as a valuable enhancement to life? By recognizing the precious value of the family vacation, you may begin to look for ways to achieve time away without breaking the family budget.

One way families can reduce travel costs is invest in reusable camping equipment, such as tents, campers or RVs. Yes, you do have the initial investment cost of the camper or tent, but once you have it paid off, it is yours until you sell it. No more paying for a hotel room or vacation home rental. While campgrounds do charge a fee per campsite, this cost is nominal when compared to the nightly cost of hotels and vacation home rentals. Plus, camping allows families the freedom to travel at any time of the year, for any length.

Additionally, most campgrounds are near scenic, natural wonders for families to explore, and many campgrounds offer family friendly activities like hiking, fishing, swimming, a variety of boating experiences, bicycling, campfires and more.

Just remember, camping generally requires cooking your own food. However, with a little organization, this further reduces the cost of your vacation experience. Not to mention, camping trips allow families to easily plan and include extended family and friends.

If camping does not appeal to your family's sense of adventure, consider renting a house. You can even split the cost with friends or extended family. Vacation home rental Websites abound. While vacation home rentals can seem expensive, if you can split the cost two or three ways or more, renting a home can be a cost-effective way to spend time with family and friends. Additionally, if you want to further reduce your cost, look for homes closer to home. Use travel web sites such as VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners) or Flipkey, to find not-so-far-away places that will still give your family the feeling of "getting away from it all."

Again, just like camping, renting homes and condos allows you the freedom of cooking if desired, which can reduce vacation food costs. If renting with extended family or friends, consider using this rule of thumb: Each party buys and prepares its own breakfast and lunch items. Then, each party plans to buy and prepare a certain number of dinners, depending upon the number of nights of your vacation, to feed the entire group. This shares the burden of cooking and cost of food. If you have a party member who doesn't want to cook, then put that person on kitchen clean up after meals, or have them contribute more to the cost of meals.

Who says you have to travel long distances to have a fun family vacation? Another way to save money is to stay closer to home. This will especially save money on gasoline. After all, what is the purpose of a vacation? Answer: Spend time away from the day-to-day routine and reconnect with loved ones.

Whether your family lives in Ohio, Kentucky or West Virginia, you do not have to travel far for an out-of-the-ordinary vacation. From large-scale amusement parks, to scenic rolling hills or mountains, to big-city exploration, our three-state region has much to offer vacationing families. Again, if you plan ahead and pack food before leaving home, you will further reduce your vacation budget.

Finally, whether camping, renting a house or staying in a hotel, consider traveling mid-week, if possible. Between Mondays and Thursdays, most campgrounds, hotels, vacation home rentals, and entertainment facilities offer less expensive rates. An added bonus to this mid-week method of travel is that it may allow your family to take more than one vacation per summer. Why not enjoy two or three mini-vacations this summer, instead of one long one?

The family vacation is a sacred part of family life. Memories are made, and there is a unique type of bonding that only seems to occur on a family vacation that children will remember for a lifetime.

Don't let budget concerns keep your family from a once-in-a lifetime experience. There are numerous ways to effectively reduce the cost of a family vacation and make memories for a lifetime. As the local commercial says, "Cause the prices are going to go up, and the kids are going to grow up."

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.