Cheap Family Weekend Getaways: Keep the Tykes Happy, and Your Wallet Full

Filed Under: Budget, Family, United States

We all need a change of scenery to break up the family routine, and sometimes a weekend escape is just enough to do the trick -- it’s even better when we can make it happen without all the time and money required for a longer vacation. And who’s to say that a low-cost weekend getaway with the kids can’t give you that sense of travel’s freedom and exploration -- just in a more condensed and budget-friendly variety? Here are a few economical ways to grab the kids and get away for the weekend. 

If you find the right one, summer vacation rentals can feel a lot like a second home, only in this case someone else has to worry about the repairs, the yard work, the mortgage -- you just get to come and play. 

family summer rentals
If you put a little legwork, or in this case mouse-work, into perusing the numerous online house-finding sources like VRBO, Airbnb or HomeAway, a pleasing little getaway home can be yours for the weekend. Share it with another family, and voila -- the price goes way down, plus your kids get the built-in entertainment of other playmates. 

Through Airbnb, we recently rented a historic home on the main street of Crested Butte, CO, appropriately named The Sunny Side, and all were happy; in this cozy mountain town we could all walk to hiking trails, parks and restaurants, so the less-than-relaxing parental duties of buckling kids into car seats and reading maps was a non-issue. 

Where to Go: Find a house within a short drive from home to minimize travel time and maximize fun time!  

Sure, there’s a bit of irony in paying someone else for the experience of performing farm chores, but there is far more fun to be had at a low-cost, family-friendly farm than just milking the cows -- and besides, this particular chore is actually quite a hoot, especially if your kid thinks milk just came from stores. 

family farm trip
East Hill Farm in Troy, NH, lets you wake up and milk cows, and then pet the bunnies, make cheese, tie-dye a pillowcase, paint faces, water-ski, play capture the flag … phew, farm life is hard! Thankfully, every day at 5:30 p.m. East Hill Farm hosts a cocktail party and talent show on the farm’s green lawn, a welcome bit of relaxation for Mom and Dad. This traditional New England farm is all-inclusive, with 3 meals a day and comfortable accommodations that include amenities such as refrigerators, air conditioning, hair dryers, ceiling fans, TVs and, in some units, fireplaces. 

Where to Go: Farms across the country that offer affordable family weekend getaways include Montesino Ranch in Wimberley, TX; Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, and Orland, CA; the Liberty Hill Farm Inn in Rochester, VT. 

Although it is only a mere 30 minutes from our hometown of Austin, TX, my family had never been to the piney woods of Bastrop State Park. So at the suggestion of a budget-savvy friend, we booked a cabin there for my husband’s birthday. Despite the recommendation, I was nervous: Could this state-owned cabin actually be pleasant enough for a comfy, a low-stress weekend with our 1- and 5-year-old kiddos? Indeed it could, we found. 

state park family vacation
We loved waking up within the walls of this bare bones but charming stone cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s; with its ferns spreading over the doorway and a picnic table amid the loblolly pines outside, it was our hideaway in the woods. The nearby hiking trails were easy for our little ones and gave them a sampling of what the pine forest can offer: big lizards, wren and cardinal sightings, and the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker overhead. Without much fuss, we savored the simple joys of nature and got a much-needed reprieve from our busy life back in Austin. 

Where to Go: Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina, and a multitude of state parks in Minnesota all have rustic but appealing cabins for rent. Check out what your state’s parks have to offer.

So no excuses, break up the family routine and see and do something new with the wee ones, even if just for the weekend.

About the Author

Clayton Maxwell is a travel, culture and lifestyle writer whose work can be found in publications such as Dwell, Conde Nast Traveler and BBC’s Olive magazine. For the last 9 years, she has been a regional editor for the international photography magazine Eyemazing. During a 4-year stint in Madrid, she was the proud author of a monthly column on Spanish etiquette for Spain Magazine as well as co-author of the Time Out Madrid guide. She now is happy to call Austin home.

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