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Wondering what to do when you can’t afford a family vacation? These ideas are affordable, but a ton of fun for the whole family!

While stuck in line at the grocery store, you decide to do a quick Facebook scroll.

There’s a cute baby picture or two.  Some people debating the latest news story.

But the next line?

Another beach photo.

It feels like all of your friends and family are taking fun trips.  But you know it’s so far out of the budget this year, there’s no way you can afford it.

You wonder if your family will regret not getting away together.  What will the kids tell the teacher when she asks what they did over the break?

Well, families can spend great quality time together without going away on an expensive trip.

You can even make fantastic memories that no one else can compare to!

Let’s talk about some fun (but affordable) things to do when you can’t afford a family vacation.

When You Can’t Afford to Travel

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Get Ready…

Before you head out for some fun, here’s how we keep everything as affordable as possible.

Get a Cooler

We always have a cooler like this on hand with plenty of drinks.  Going out on a hot summer day is going to make everyone beg to stop at a concession stand or convenience store for drinks.

You’ll save a ton of money by grabbing a $2.50 pack of water.  And even more if you refill water bottles at home!

These are our favorite water bottles, because they don’t leak and can withstand being dropped on hard floors.  (Mom of 6, believe me, I know!)

Keep It Handy

There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination only to realize you forgot sunblock.

So you have to buy yet another tube, even though you already have 4 tubes at home (because you keep forgetting it!).

Keep a bag of important things close to the door where you’ll see it.

You might even put a post it note on your steering wheel so you don’t forget!

Inside that bag, include…

  • sunblock
  • bug spray
  • medicine (if necessary)
  • chargers
  • easy snacks for trips
  • an umbrella (good for sun or rain!)

Got a Baby?

It’s tough to enjoy summer while keeping your baby out of the sun.

It’s not recommended to use sunblock on babies under 6 months old.  And most of them don’t want anything to do with heat and humidity!

This portable fan is perfect for keeping baby cool in the summertime! You'll love that it's rechargeable and super easy to take anywhere.

This little fan has made all the difference for our little girl.  When she feels the wind in her hair, everything is better.

And it’s rechargeable via usb, so I never feel guilty about using it!

An umbrella with a clip is simple to attach to a stroller or car seat when you need a little more coverage for your little one.

Diving Deep on Family Fun

A staycation is an obvious choice when you want to have some fun without the expense.

But finding fun local activities that you haven’t already done 100 times can be challenging.

I’ve found that going deep on one idea can make you really seek out things you wouldn’t have known were right around the corner from your house!

Let me give you some examples.

Ice Cream Trail

Did you know that “trails” have become a big thing?  Many states now have a variety of them, including ice cream trails, donut trails…Kentucky even has a bourbon trail!

Believe it or not, we took our kids to tour Maker’s Mark once.  It was actually a lot of fun for them!  It’s such a beautiful place with so much to see.  Samples were only for Dad, though.  😉

Choose something you know your family will enjoy.

Ice cream is usually a hit for all ages!

We’ve visited as many different ice cream spots as we could this summer.  So far, within an hour of our home, we’ve eaten ice cream that looked like artwork.

Ice cream that looks like art is affordable family fun!

Had cones the size of our heads inside an old barbershop.

Having ice cream instead of taking a family vacation

And tried a few local dairy bars.

Try hitting as many different ice cream shops as you can for a fun family activity

We had never eaten at any of these places before, even though they are local to us.  And now it’s fun to seek out ice cream near the baseball fields or errands we’re running to anyway.

Get ideas by Googling “ice cream near me” whenever you’re out and about.

Or do a search for “ice cream trails in [your state]”.

Feel free to switch out ice cream for donuts, craft beer (if you prefer a couples trip), hot tamales, chili, or whatever local foods or drinks you enjoy.


Check out every local park you can find...you're sure to find some you didn't even know existed! Family fun ideas

Your local, state, and national parks are usually free (tax funded anyway) or pretty cheap.  Many places offer a season pass at a reasonable rate.

You’d probably be surprised at how many tucked away parks are near you that you didn’t even know existed!

Take the kids to try a new one each week.

We’ve been surprised to find a free water park on a hot day.

Some parks offer free classes on wildlife that the kids enjoy.

Most of them have trails you’ve never explored.  Playgrounds with something new to try.  You can find free (or cheap) Frisbee golf, putt putt, fitness programs, concerts, movies, and more!


Hitting local festivals can be an affordable way for your family to spend quality time

Sometimes festivals have a high cost to park and enter.

Other times, they’re completely free.

You just have to look a little harder.

In the more rural areas near our home, throughout the year you can find festivals that celebrate banana splits, corn, the Old West, and tons of church festivals (just to name a few).

There’s also county and state fairs to attend.

Be aware that events like these can tend to nickel and dime you to death.  

That’s why we always check Groupon for deals on local events before heading out.

Let everyone know that they’ll be allowed to do whatever works with your budget.

Maybe you’ll let them ride X number of rides.  Or try $5 worth of food each.

Soon you’ll know which local festivals are worth attending!

Free Movies

More and more movie theaters are offering free movies throughout the summer.

Every Wednesday morning, we head out to see a second run movie.

We don’t see a lot of movies in the theater, so often these movies are new to us or we’ve only seen them at home.

It’s a fun way to get out of the house without spending a lot of money.

Also check your local parks!  Sometimes they show movies outdoors on a big screen for free.


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Factory tours can be super fun and interesting.  Many are free.

And sometimes, you’ll even get free samples!

Check out Factory Tours USA to find all the tours near you.  You might be surprised to see all the options you have!

We’ve done a tour of the Louisville Slugger Factory.  It was perfect for our family of baseball lovers!

Our kids have taken a tour of a whistle factory (thanks for the samples, Grammy……)  😉

Check out all the options near you!

Now you have a list of what to do when you can’t afford a family vacation!

The kids will have to choose which part of their summer was the most fun thing to tell the class about.

And you’re own Facebook feed will be full of exciting new pictures others will want to try!

You’ll also want to check out this list of 101 Free or Super Cheap Fun Things To Do With Kids.

What sounds like the most fun for your family?

Looking for family staycation ideas? If you need to have vacation at home this year, here are some ways you can enjoy it in your area. Fun things to do when you can't afford a vacation. Fun things for families to do on staycation.