Even when you rent an RV, we’ve found it to be more economical and affordable than renting a car and paying for hotel rooms and all those meals out. On a recent trip to Florida, 2 nights hotel, transportation, and one day at a theme park including all those meals out, cost us over $700. After we picked up our rental RV, our costs dropped to less than $250 per day, including transportation, a place to sleep, food and gas. It left money over to do really cool things like take a surfing lesson, visit a hospital for rescued sea turtles and go snorkeling. The kids remember these activities and talk about them more than their day at the theme park.

If you’re willing to rough it more, and rent some tenting equipment, it gets even more affordable, but you’ll want to go in the best weather months. Many outdoor sporting goods stores like REI and MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) offer gear rentals, as do many Outdoor Programs in universities. If you own some of the gear, you can ship your equipment via UPS to meet you in your gateway city. (You’ll need to have a very clean camp stove and don’t even think about shipping the gas for it.)

More tips to save money?

  1. Try traveling in the early season to a summer destination park, before summer peak travel and prices hit. You’ll have fewer crowds, but you might have to put up with some inclement weather. Or go over the winter break to places like Death Valley or Joshua Tree National Parks. It’s prime season there, but demand for RVs is lower, and so are the prices.
  2. Don’t plan on driving, and driving, and driving. Pick a couple of key parks and stick to those, spending multiple days in each. You’ll really get a feel for the park and it will allow you to take in the ranger programs, films, campfire talks, etc, and just hang out fishing or playing in the creek or ocean for a day.
  3. Pick a couple of exceptional activities to do, ones that will really be highlights. Our boys still talk about the whitewater trip from 2 years ago, where we dropped into the Big Kahuna wave, with Gabe (then 4) hanging “face” in the front of the raft. What fun!
  4. Even visiting out of the way places can be memorable. The date farm outside of Death Valley is a good example – almost 3 years later, the $4 date milkshakes are still a topic of discussion, and the boys wonder when we can go back there, along with the hot springs soaking in Yellowstone (which was free).
  5. Let’s face it, when you live in a city, there are plenty of great places to eat out, so why spend your money and your time in line, waiting for food that isn’t that great while you’re on your vacation. Try a campfire cookout instead. It’s inexpensive, a great way to spend time with your kids in a positive way (rather than trying to corral them into table manners in a hotel dining room), and fun. From starting the fire together, to sticking a hot dog or marshmallow on a stick, to burning the paper plates in the fire, there’s something everyone in the family can do.

So the bottom line, getting your family outdoors for that summer vacation can be fun, educational and reasonably priced. And all of these things matter considering all the pressures we’re all under today. We say, ‘Get Outdoors!’ and you’ll see what we’re talking about!