Frugal, Fun Vacations Fact Sheet

It’s summer and time to getaway. This is a shortlist of several of the ways we’ve taken great debt-free, fantastically fun, and memorable vacations. Give these ideas a try or add your own to the bottom of the page!
A gray mini van rushing past many highway directional signs.


Spend what you have—no debt. If you need extra cash, sell stuff on CraigsList, eBay or have a vacation garage sale. If you only spend the cash that you have, you’ll find creative ways to make the most of your vacation dollars. We never encourage using credit cards or debt to fund a vacation.


If funds are tight or your kids are younger and don’t travel well, try staying home for a week and seeing all of the sites that the tourists see in your city. Visit your visitors and convention bureau for info. Roast marshmallows over a fire pit, sleep in your backyard in a tent, do some crazy things. But most of all relax, have fun and don’t check email or do any house projects.


Think Different. Hotels aren’t the only place to stay for vacations. Consider:

  • College Dorm Rooms or Private Schools (sure they may be small, but is where you sleep the ultimate focus or is your goal family togetherness and site seeing?) It will take some research, but the rewards can be great. American University in Washington, DC rented dorm rooms during the summer of 2005 for $40 per night. Years ago we stayed at Point Loma Nazarene University for $5 per night (don’t know if they still rent out rooms, but it’s worth a try). Here’s a website that lists every college and university in the U.S. There’s even a great deal in Hawaii (Oahu for $55 per night), but you’ll have to read the Vacation chapter our book America‘s Cheapest Family Gets You Right On The Money to find out about that one, or subscribe to our website ($20) and read it here.
  • Camps During the off-season check out Boy Scout, YMCA, and other summer camps for rental of their cabins.
  • KOA, State or National Forest Campgrounds are relatively inexpensive and some have hot and cold running water.
  • Discount Hotels at Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, or with an Entertainment Book
  • Discount Cruises  We haven’t done it yet, but some friends of ours took a  Repositioning Cruise. Cruise lines sell discount accommodations when they move a ship to another port. The only problem is it’s a one-way trip and you’ll have to fly home from a different city. But the price can be fantastic. Do your research.
  • Airbnb. This is an excellent option if you or your family is traveling for business or pleasure. Rentals accommodations vary from couches, tree houses, apartments, a room or two in a home, or the entire home or apartment. We’ve even seen people renting out sailboats and 1950s travel trailers.
    Check out the options as we have . . . and if you decide to try Airbnb as a guest, use our link here and you’ll receive a $20 credit toward your stay. Sign up for Airbnb here.


  • We buy an Entertainment Book for the city we’re visiting. We’ll have a list of restaurants in the area and coupons to boot! You’ll often find discount admissions for local attractions and . . . this is the best thing . . . Entertainment books are usually steeply discounted during the summer — like 50% off! When you’re heading home, give the Entertainment Book to someone who lives in the city you visited. They’ll love it.
  • Crock Pot We either bring or buy a slow cooker and cook dinner each day in our hotel room. You can usually find them really inexpensively at local thrift stores (we do this when we fly so we don’t have to try to fit it in our luggage).
  • Grocery Service Deli   Remember that grocery stores sell cooked meals and they can be a real money saver when compared with restaurant fare. We always try to eat healthy, non-fast foods, but on vacation, it’s sometimes unavoidable—but it’s only one week and we try not to overdo it.


We try to find fun, educational, inspirational and inexpensive or free activities. When we find an activity with a pricey entrance fee, we always look for discount coupons or ask if they give an AAA, AARP (we know, we’re getting old) or another discount. Here are some great places that we have visited:

Visit this tips page for other fun and frugal activities. Includes a list, an NBC video interview, and a radio interview.

We know that we’ve only listed a few of the many great sites to visit around the country—help us out and add your favorites on the bottom of this page.


Bring activities to occupy your kids as you travel. We always loaded up a backpack for each of our kids containing many of the following items:

  • Books
  • Audio Books
  • Travel Games
  • Coloring books
  • Sticker Books
  • Snack foods

With some advanced planning and lots of creativity, you can have a fantastically frugal, fun and fully memorable vacation!