Summer is quickly approaching us here in Santa Clarita. With it, the kids will be out of school and family vacation time will be at hand.
But much has changed since last summer. The economy is down, unemployment is up, and in many cases the money for a big family vacation just may not be there this time around.
There are two basic ways you can still manage to have some fun even while cutting back.
First, you can reevaluate what a vacation is. Smaller trips or closer trips can help make a vacation possible, while nixing souvenirs and eating out can further trim budgets.
Second, you can pounce on some tremendous deals. The economy isn't just affecting you. Hotels, airlines and cities are hurting too, and they'll run some pretty spectacular deals this summer.
Here's five vacation ideas that can help you escape on the cheap.
Keep it Cheap
From Santa Clarita, we're in a good position to find deals, because so much runs through Los Angeles. Travel agents and online travel sites always have deals, and those have gotten better and better as desperate hotels and airlines scramble to cope with the decline in tourism. Make a daily habit of checking your favorites travel sites, along with sites like Travelzoo.com, which simply provides links to all travel deals occurring at present.
Flexibility and determination can result in some serious savings, so keep that in mind when you're planning. Sometimes, changing a date range can save tons of money. Other times, deals are on a first-come, first-serve basis and only the regular deal hunters will get to partake. If you are really flexible, most travel sites also have last minute deals for travel in the immediate future. These are where the best deals can be found.
A quick search on Monday morning netted these results for travel during the summer months:
- Round trip flight to Seattle - $118 per person. Hotels in downtown run between $72 and $102 per night. Beautiful during the summer months, Seattle has plenty to see and do for couples or families. The city also serves as the gateway to Vancouver, Canada.
- Roundtrip flight to Austin, Texas - $142 per person. Hotels (middle of the road hotels) run from $77 to $87 per night during the same date range. Austin is the gem in the Texas crown, offering more personality than most U.S. cities. Catch a good deal on a flight, like this one from Northwest and you're set; the hotels are usually reasonable.
- Other flights from Los Angeles or Long Beach: $138 roundtrip to Denver (Frontier) and $200 roundtrip to Chicago (Jet blue).
Keep It Simple
Camping always was, and always will be one of the best values around. While most families usually bypass the outdoors for the creature comforts of a hotel, it's hard to find a more relaxing family vacation for the price.
Even despite the fact that camping rates have nearly doubled in the last few years, the going rate per night for a tent spot is still only about $25.
There are dozens of campgrounds all within driving distance of Santa Clarita. Beach sites are always popular during the summer, but desert, mountain and river campgrounds are all nearby.
If you have a tent, sleeping bag and a few portable cooking supplies, a camping trip can provide lodging and food for an entire family for about $60 per day. Plus, hanging out at the beach or taking a hike are just a few of the free activities that accommodate campers. Nightly fun around the fire pit or games on a picnic table accentuate a good camping trip, which is great for families, especially once the kids are out of diapers.
Keep It Cruising
Cruises can offer a long vacation, free of worry for families. Often, an inside cabin can be obtained for less than $100 per day, per person or less. Add in free meals, children's activities and a host of different locations for sightseeing, and the trip becomes quite affordable.
Many sailings to Mexico begin and end in southern California, although some Vancouver and Alaska cruises might require a one way or roundtrip flight.
Keep it Close
San Diego, Las Vegas, and San Francisco are roughly three, four and five hours away by car respectively. Each offer a different set of fun activities and hotels deals are hot in these areas right now.
Take San Francisco, for example. A medium-sized SUV or minivan will get there using one tank of gas, or about $45 each way. In the city there are many upscale hotels running specials, like the four-diamond Le Meridien ($139 per night) and International Mark Hopkins ($109 per night). Once there, use public transportation to see all the sights and a family of four can tour through the halls of Alcatraz for about the same money as movie and popcorn ($26 per person).
Las Vegas is also cutting prices. Sure, $260 rooms still dot the map, but older hotels in prime locations offer the most bang for your buck. Try to book in the middle of the week for the best nightly rates, like $29 (Stratosphere), $27 (Circus Circus), $34 (Sahara), $36 (Excalibur) and $45 (Tropicana).
Keep it Really Close
Who says you have to physically leave Santa Clarita to go on vacation? Try planning a mental vacation where you clear the books for your entire family for 4-5 days. Then, plan events for each day and night, just as if you were really out of town.
Half-price tickets to Magic Mountain are widely available. Hit the theme park one day and Hurricane Harbor the next. Then spend a day at a local miniature golf course, followed by a trip to the beach, the La Brea Tar Pits, Science Center or Aquarium. Have the kids pick a favorite place to eat out each evening and plan themed events for the nighttime too, like movie and game nights.
You'll still have to purchase admission tickets to all the fun places, but you're not buying plane tickets or paying for a hotel, so you're saving in that area.