Looking for ways to have a great affordable family vacation? Over the year, we’ve taken a lot of trips and some of our best vacations are the ones where we camp, either taking our own equipment or renting an RV when we arrive. Those trips have also been some of the boys’ best memories, from seeing elk walk through our campsite to splashing in the creek next to the camper to having hot chocolate inside the RV after a very wet and chilly hike in the rainforest (where the youngest one fell in the creek).

What makes it so affordable? It’s a combination of things:

  1. Hotels in many areas have a legal maximum of 4 people per room or do not have rollaway cot options, which means for a family of 5 or more, you’re looking at paying for 2 rooms. The average price of a hotel room is now $100, and that’s not in the peak seasons or in the national parks. In the popular areas like Jackson, Wyoming, even the least expensive hotel in the summer can be over $150 per room.
  2. Then there’s a rental vehicle cost, which can run you up to $75-$80 per day for a minivan that can hold your family plus all your bags.
  3. Meal costs can be very expensive as well. The lodges within the national parks have several dining options, but they are all costly. Even if you plan on taking a cooler and eating lunch out in a picnic area or on the trail, you’ll still need to have dinner and some sort of breakfast at the hotel. Dinner entrees in the park lodges’ dining rooms can start at $20, with very limited choices for kids. Kids are almost always hungry and when you start having to buy those in-between meal snacks, drinks, etc., these costs definitely start to add up per day. Prices outside the park in the adjacent communities are high too. The quality of food can vary wildly as well. We like to eat out on our trips a few times, and we don’t mind paying for good food, but it’s hard to pay high prices to mediocre food day in and day out.
  4. Entertainment costs can sneak up on you. If you go to a theme park like Disney, you can spend up to $90 per person per day just for admission fees. Even with the multi-day tickets, it’s still a heck of a lot of money. For as little as $20, you can get a multi-day pass to a national park, where there are multitudes of things to do. Take a hike, have a swim, climb around on some rocks, take part in a ranger program, soak in a hot spring, build sandcastles, watch for wildlife, build a campfire and roast marshmallows. They’re all free once you get inside the park and you can do them all over the course of a few days. You can also sign up for guided activities like rafting, horseback riding or bicycling, but you’re not committed to doing something every day, over the course of a week you still haven’t spent that much on entertainment.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about some recent outdoors experiences and give you more tips on saving money while have a great time with your family.