Katie Katie Parsons is the creator of Mumbling Mommy and is a freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. She works from her home office on the east coast of Florida. Most often she writes about life in a combined family of five children and what it's like being a full time work-from-home parent. Feel free to pitch guest post ideas or just drop her a line at katie@mumblingmommy.com.

We just returned from a whirlwind summer road trip that clocked just over 3,000 miles on our rented minivan over the course of 13 days. In the past, my husband and I have flown with our four kids to my hometown to spend a week or so with my parents, brothers, nieces and other family and friends.  This year, though, we wanted to make some cheap family vacations and visit a few other spots on our way back south to Florida. So we rented a minivan, loaded it up and set off for an American adventure with no strict time table on where to arrive or when.

Big and little sis, enjoying a free museum

Our Cheap Family Vacations

On paper, our cheap family vacations trip probably appeared boring (and crazily ambitious, considering our oldest is only 7 and I’m six months pregnant too). We didn’t have any amusement or water parks, or hiking excursions, or anything marketed as “kid friendly” on our agenda. All we knew was that we wanted to visit family, and take in some of the scenic highway along the way. The most expensive thing we did (behind renting the van) was splurge on a Holiday Inn Express one night with an indoor pool.

Even the day that we spent in Chicago was pretty low key — we didn’t pay for any museums, opting instead to let our kids splash for free in the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park and then wandering to other sites along Michigan Avenue. We didn’t even dish out the cash for a deep-dish (or as the locals say, “stuffed crust”) slice of pizza. My sister-in-law invited us over and treated us to dinner in her backyard instead. It was delicious and the kids had a blast with their young cousin and some other friends.

My husband sneaks a hug from my littlest in downtown Chicago

The day we visited D.C. we were dropped off on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History by my husband’s uncle, who later picked us up on the National Mall, and we spent nothing on parking or taking in the sites that our nation’s capital has to offer. Uncle Bud and Aunt Sharon even packed us a lunch to enjoy in the shady, breezy grass of the Mall. That night, we ate dinner with my husband’s cousin and his young family, and all the kids (who had never met before) ran around together like old friends.

Did we spend money on our trip? Yes. More than we would have if we had just stayed home for those two weeks. But as far as vacations go, it was inexpensive and everyone came home smiling. Some cheap family vacations is just as good!

The two oldest debate the President’s whereabouts,
during a lunch break on the National Mall

I know there will be years when we plan something a little more extravagant for our family vacations, but there is a lot to be gleaned from a trip that involves sleeping on pull-out sofa beds, but being seconds away from family members, and eating homemade meals around a relative’s kitchen table instead of visiting the latest, greatest foodie haunt. I came home feeling rested, and well-loved. Though there were mountains of laundry to wash and dozens of work-related tasks to tackle, I didn’t feel like I needed to “recover” from my family vacation. The trip itself was restful enough.

Family vacations don’t have to be about filling every moment of every day with activity, or spending a fortune to ensure that our kids have a great time. Just taking a break together from the normal routine and filling all the moments with each other’s company is more than enough. The same is true of non-vacation time too. When everything else is stripped away in life, just agreeing to buckle up and enjoy life’s journeys together is the basic foundation for a happy family.

Happy to be on the train to Chicago

I was reminded on this trip to just sit and listen sometimes to my kids interact with each other, and to reach over and squeeze my husband’s hand for no reason at all, and to carve out time to just sit and talk about my joys and struggles with the people who love me (and to hear about theirs too). I didn’t need a vacation that was filled with distractions; I needed a vacation that took me away from my everyday distractions and gave me time with my family.

How did you spend your summer vacation? Any cheap family vacations on your upcoming list?

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: combined family