The Day Trip Vacation

by Olivia Fox

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Only have gas money and need to get away? All is not lost. You're not stuck visiting old Aunt Tillie. Do the day trip thing, drive two hours in any direction, and see your home turf through a tourist's eyes. Gather brochures at visitor's centers, or turnpike rest stops. Write your local Chamber of Commerce. Check out for links to each state's tourist web site. Scan local papers. Lay the options on the table and let the kids choose. Great vacations incorporate everyone's input. Any free factory tours? Pay-what-you-want museums, outdoor concerts or movies, or yearly festivals? Try things you wouldn't normally do. Visit working farms, flea markets, swap meets, farmer's markets, or outdoorsy places like beaches, hiking trails, birdwatching areas, or auction houses (in shorter doses for the children's sake). Stay for some of the action though. It's fun to hear the spiel. Large pet stores are almost small zoos to real little ones. Go a couple of towns over. Change of neighborhood makes a difference in skate parks, baseball fields, basketball courts, or kids' "castles." Take the crew to an ethnic grocery and create a meal from your finds. Barbecue or picnic in a park. If you can't bear the thought of going back home at night, "camp out" in your own backyard or living room. Any change of venue will do.

Hit the change jar and find you're a little more flush? Game for a longer vacation? State parks dot our nation (visit Some offer cabins, but book early. Find listings by state. Areas managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service have a range of low cost options ( Borrow a friend's equipment the first time to see if camping is for you. Free overnight stays are available for RVers in many Wal-Mart, Kmart and Costco parking lots ( It's recommended to check for posted signs and ask the manager to be sure. On the higher end, but unique, are farm stays. New England and Pennsylvania especially promote these as a means to support family farms and expose the rest of us to rural life. Check out private cabin rentals and camp grounds as well. They're still less than hotel prices.

For food on the road, purchase a hot pot and plug it in at rest stops for coffee, tea, cocoa or instant oatmeal. We even whipped up a couple Ramen dinners that way. (Just don't immerse it to clean it.) Supplement with fruit, veggies, and sandwich fixings in a cooler. Refill plastic bottles with water. Eating out? Use your fast food coupons, kid's discounts, or free birthday meals. If traveling close to home, yearly Entertainment Books are heavily discounted by March or April.

How to keep littler ones occupied in the car? Well-acted books on tape geared towards kids, or old time radio programs worked for ours. Some folks like sing-alongs. Travelers with more technological leanings purchase an electrical adapter to use with a portable DVD player or gaming system. Borrow tapes, CDs and DVDs from your local public library or friends. Remember low-tech travel games? Find every state license plate. Scope out words on signs, buildings or trucks starting with A, then B, then C, etc. The first one to finish their alphabet wins. Paper and pencil games like Dots, Tic Tack Toe, and Hangman are great. Check online at for printable options. Consider magnetic checkers or chess. Bring non-messy snacks like animal crackers, apple slices, raisons and carrot sticks. All of these will keep down the chant, "Are we there yet?"

When you finally get there, enjoy! You haven't broken the bank to have a good time.

Olivia Fox is a stay-at-home mom who loves cheap fun.

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