I love being on vacation. It doesn’t matter if I’m at home or away (even though we go away a lot), it’s nice to relax from time to time. JR and I have 3 weeks of vacation every year, counting our week off after Christmas, and very rarely, if ever, have we been able to afford to go away every time. The only time we have been able to is if lodging has been offered to us for substantially less, or even free. For those times that we don’t have this option, we choose to vacation locally or even do a staycation. Here are some tips on how to do this where you live!
*Set a budget. First things first. Even going to the pool is going to cost money so decide up front exactly how much you can afford. Whether it be $20 or $150, you need to have it written down and budgeted into your plan. We’ve learned that we are able to plan better, too, when we know what we have to work with in advance.
*Check your connections. Everybody knows somebody. Your somebody may be able to get you somewhere to stay for free or discounted, free tickets to a location/event, or be able to go with you to help cut costs. The options here are endless. Another connection you may have that you don’t even notice is your child. Yes, I said your child. We play the Emma card regularly and usually get some deals from her. She’s so cute and polite and when she says “thank you”, it’s the icing on the cake. It may be something as small as a few extra sides with our meal, but every bit counts. Thanks Emma!
*Make a list. Come up with a list of anything and everything you may want to do locally. Is there a store you’ve wanted to visit? I know a popular destination around here is the Mast General Store and there are several to choose from depending on the area you want to travel. It could be that you want to be outdoors a lot and hiking and swimming falls onto your list. Whatever it may be, make a list to start. If you don’t know where you want to do your activity, that’s ok, too.
*Ask around. Ask your parents, friends, co-workers, and more where they recommend. Let’s be honest here- you’re going to get some bad ideas. The good news is you’re also going to get some good ideas. Cling tight to those. Once you hear people list a place more than once you usually know it’s worth considering. Make a mental note of that one, or even better, write it down.
*Once you make your final decision(s) on what you’re doing, find out what you need to do next. If you’re going somewhere that you need tickets/reservations, start planning that now. Some places you can show up the day of but others you need to make reservations or buy tickets prior to arrival. Nothing is worse than showing up somewhere unprepared. Also, while you’re planning, look for deals and coupons. For example, there are certain times a year that National Parks are free. There are also certain times a year that different websites offer coupons/deals on their locations. Even though some areas have “prime time” during the summer months, it doesn’t mean they don’t offer deals.
Before we part ways, I want to share some ideas for the locals around here. Here are some places JR and I like to visit and we’ve proud Emma to all of them so we know kids can go, too! Enjoy planning your vacation, even the staycations!
Local (less than 1 hour away)
Virginia Creeper Trail (several start points- Abingdon, Damascus, White Top, etc)- you can walk, hike, or bike this trail
Grayson Highlands Park– we love to go here. It’s a great place to bring your food and picnic. There are several times throughout the year that entrance is free but even when it’s not, it’s less than $10. It’s also great to see the wild ponies!
Hungry Mother Park– we have always been big fans of Hungry Mother Park. From the swimming, to the trails, to the kayaking, and more, it’s a great place to go. My grandparents use to date there regularly so a lot of special history is there. It’s also where my brother and sister in law got married. I highly recommend it for all!
Bays Mountain-we took Emma here for her 1st birthday and she absolutely loved the wild animals, including the deer walking through the parking lot. We had a coupon for free parking and didn’t spend any additional money, so this trip was free for us other than gas.
Backbone Rock– I’ve actually only been once or twice but hope to go this year with Emma. It’s a few miles from Damascus and would be a great place to picnic and just hang out for the day. The falls are just across the way from the rock itself.
Semi-Local (1-2 hours away)
Knoxville, Tennessee– there is a lot to do in Knoxville for free or cheap. We like to go down and walk along the river in front of UT, too. It’s a wonderful place to go on a nice fall day, especially if you decide to go to a game (or get free tickets)!
Boone, North Carolina– the founding Mast General Store can be found here. We like to go to Boone and right next door to Blowing Rock. They have great outlets, little stores, and local restaurants galore.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee– the home of Dollywood and the newest addition, Splash Country. We got season passes to Splash Country this year and love it (we went once last year). There are many things you can do in Gatlinburg for less money, it just depends on how much you want to spend. There are also contests all the time online and in stores for free cabin rentals. Take a chance!