We Did it Again - Another FREE Family Vacation!

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Last summer, we had a newly-turned one-year-old, a tight budget, and a big desire to get away for a family vacation.  After considering our options, we hit upon an idea that turned out to fulfill pretty much all our wishes.  

This year, we decided to repeat the experience, but for an even longer period of time.

Now we're back from our mountain jaunt - and not only was this year's getaway a success, but we again spent nearly nothing to take it.

You can read all about last year's campout here, but this post will fill you in on how we were able to take what we learned from our previous trip and make improvements.


Once again, we headed back up to the same free camping area as last year, but this time, we did it more intelligently.  

Last year, we'd arrived on a Friday evening at dusk and drove around busy forest roads for a couple of hours before finally finding a site that was available.  The site worked fine, but was littered with shards of broken glass, piles of rusty nails, and was located next to the parking area for a popular trailhead.  There were always lots of people in the vicinity - not exactly something you're looking for when you head into the woods for a peaceful getaway.

This year, we arrived on a Monday afternoon and pretty much had our pick of sites in the area.  We had plenty of time to drive around and inspect the various options - this was going to be our home for the next month, after all - before finding the perfect location and getting set up, well before dark.

An earlier site arrangement - we went through four configurations before being satisfied with the layout


I again made lots of snack-type items (like sweet potato crackers, chia crackershomemade granola and protein bites) to have on-hand so that we wouldn't be tempted to buy a bunch of junk - or even healthy snacks - that would break the bank.  That's all we brought up with us, though.  Since we spent so much time last year investigating the grocery and farmer's market options in the area, we knew we'd be able to find everything else we needed without hauling it up and having it commandeer valuable car space.  Also, last year we signed up for discount shopper cards at all the locations, so we just needed to pull those out again and we were all set to save.

We don't consider the food we buy while camping to be a separate vacation cost - because we'd have to buy groceries at home anyway - and so we just stay within our normal food budget for the month.

But, we eat a lot different than at home - in many ways, I think better (as in, more fun!)  Sure, lentils and quinoa continue to to make appearances on a regular basis, but campfire cooking also means we eat meat as a treat (we don't usually buy it at home).  Besides the meat and splurging on lots of yummy cheese, we seem to also consume especially large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables - whatever's in season is just so much cheaper up there, where people seem to appreciate the whole slow food movement more than at home.

And like last year, we enjoyed a few eating-out excursions, as well.  This year we signed up to receive Groupons for the area - and that meant getting to eat at two of our favorite farm-to-table restaurants, a round of local BBQ, and several trips to our favorite ice cream and gelato spots.

Crab-Stuffed Avocado
The first of many ice cream splurges


Once again, we pretty much stayed within our normal budget range for this (remember, one car was sitting at home in the garage, so that alone was a huge savings) even though we had a long drive up and back and all sorts of gas-guzzling treks along the way through winding mountain passes.  But we didn't go out every day, and coordinated our away-from-camp sightseeing with trips to town to restock the cooler ice, and since we knew the area so well from last year, we didn't have to do a lot of driving around to investigate things, so our road trip excursions were purely for entertainment purposes.


We didn't spend a single thing on this - which is easy to do when you're smack dab in the middle of nature's playground - yet still returned home with a long bucket list to save for next time.  

Besides having all sorts of fun around the campsite, we spent most of our time hiking to beautiful spots like this:

And this:

And playing in all the free water parks in the area:

But not all of our excitement was of the primitive sort.  We also had a great time taking part in all sorts of authentic fun that only a small town provides, like some great museums (which can often be free, if you dig around a little bit):

And small town festivals:

And mountain music jams at the senior center:

And quirky rubber duck races down a college stream:

Before we left home, we again turned off our water and unplugged everything except the refrigerators, saving us over $100 on utilities and giving us a cushion for things like food and gas (& allowing us to have a few splurgy treats - like the ice cream runs!)

I realize this type of trip isn't for everyone (the exclusion of indoor plumbing is a pretty big deterrent, I'm sure!), but if you're not afraid to get a little dirty, do a little work, and think outside of the box a bit, then this idea might just be perfect for you!

Have you ever really wanted to to take a family vacation when money is tight, but didn't know what to do?  Try applying some of these ideas to your own getaway preferences - and  then let me know what you come up with, because I'd love to hear all about it!  Leave a comment here or email me at lisahealy (at) outlook (dot) com.  

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