10 Fun and cheap staycation ideas

If a trip out of town is financially out of reach this summer your family can still enjoy a wonderful vacation week doing things at home or around the city in which you live. The following are just a few staycation ideas that can bring the entire family together.

Camp out

Pull out the tent that’s gathering dust in the garage and find the perfect location in your own backyard. After pitching the tent let your kids bring out their pillows and sleeping bags. Then play some outdoor games. As evening approaches, gather up your flashlights and fire up the grill. If local laws allow it, build a campfire for toasting marshmallows. End the night by sharing age appropriate stories around the campfire or glowing flashlights.

Camp in

If you don’t own a tent or the weather isn’t cooperating, let your kids build their own tent city indoors by spreading blankets over small tables and chairs situated to provide some sleeping space underneath. Kids love to build their own hideouts and it is a great catalyst for imaginative play. Have an indoor picnic with easy to prepare foods before tucking them in with a great story read by the glow of a flashlight.

Theme day

Theme night can be based on anything from a child’s favorite book to a parent’s idea of tropical paradise. Enlist everyone’s help to planl this day. Let your children pick out movies, books, games and food that represent the theme. Decorate the house and wear theme appropriate clothes or costumes. When my girls were in grade school they planned a Harry Potter party for their friends. Each room in the house had activities planned based on a class at Hogwarts. They made cloaks out of black fabric and wands out of sticks, paint, yarn, feathers and sequins. We ended the day with appropriately named food and glasses of butterbeer. 

Scavenger hunt

Savenger hunts can be as low tech or as high tech as you want. Rural and suburban neighborhoods are great for traditional scavenger hunts where kids run around with a list of items they need to find and then rush back to base when their list is complete. If this isn’t an option, plan a more high tech version and invite friends from anywhere in the city. Surprise your kids by setting home base as a great park or indoor play place. Your scavenger hunt list will be made of places found in any city – a firestation, post office, burger joint, fire hydrant, bill board, etc. Jump in the car armed with a digital camera or camera phone and let your child take pictures of the list items as you head to your surprise destination. You don’t need a group to make this scavenger hunt a success.

Museum crawl

For young children a museum crawl may include one museum – the local children’s museum. For older kids you can introduce them to history, science and art found in small and large museums throughout your city or region. Before setting your crawl schedule, check their hours. Many small museums close on a weekday or close early. Check each museums hours and fees. Many offer free admission to students or have a day during the week or month when admission is free for local citizens. Break up the crawl with stops for meals and end your day with a showing of Night at the Museum.

Build something

This can be as simple as letting your children stack and decorate cardboard boxes to build an indoor playhouse or supervising building a car for the soap box derby. Build a small raised bed garden and let them toss in the seeds or put together birdhouses and birdfeeders for your yard. What you build isn’t as important as the fact you are doing it together.

Game night

Don’t just plan any old game night. Teach your kids checkers using vanilla and chocolate cookies for playing pieces. Grab some of their favorite board games, but also check the Internet for educational math and strategy games. It is also a good idea to plan day time action games like hide and seek or have hoola hoop, jumprope or hop scotch contests.

Explore your city, county or state

There are plenty of places to visit that won’t cost a bundle and will be fun for the entire family. If you live in an urban area, visit a local farm that offers tours and special activities. Go to the state zoo or visit your state’s capital. Research local history and make a tour of historic markers found in your community. If your children are old enough, make a list of different activities and let them help plan the day. Pack a picnic to save on eating out. Once the day is over let your children draw pictures or create photo albums to commemorate the day.

Go to an amusement park

Plan a trip to the local amusement park. Check to see if the park allows you to leave and re-enter. If so, plan a picnic to save a lot of money on park food. Saving on meals will allow you to splurge on a sweet treat or a souvenir. Most parks also have discount programs that can be as simple as bringing an empty soda can to the front gate when you purchase your tickets.


Share the joy of lending a helping hand with your kids. Choose age appropriate activities. Even young children can help make cards for elderly nursing home patients or servicemembers living overseas. Older kids can participate in cleanup efforts at a local park or you can schedule your vacation around a project like building a home with Habitat for Humanity.
After a week of family fun, arrange for your children to stay with grandparents or friends and take a night to unwind and enjoy some down time alone, with your spouse or a group of friends. After a busy week of staycation activities you’ll be happy to get back to work.