Free is my favorite word, especially when it comes to vacations. Sometimes you can’t avoid shelling out big bucks if you want to do a big family trip like a cruise or if you want to travel to another continent with the kids in tow. But for a weekend getaway, there are a slew of smart ways to avoid spending lots of money while still making awesome family memories.
The key is to think outside of the wallet and plan your trip ahead of time. Study the area you’re visiting and choose a hotel with great walkability and lots of amenities. There is a whole great big world out there, ready to be explored…for free! Next time you’re planning a weekend getaway, consider these ideas and save yourself a lot of money (and headache):
- Avoid booking two rooms. There’s no need to cram your whole family into one tiny room, nor is there any reason to waste money on booking two separate hotel rooms for yourself and your kids. Choose a hotel like Embassy Suites, that provides two-room suites with a separate bedroom and living area (and a door that you can close between the two at any time). Your kids will love the freedom of having their own space, and you’ll love shutting the door to unwind after a long day.
- Seek out stellar hotel amenities. Obviously, take advantage of whatever amenities your hotel has to offer! Seek out hotels with things you don’t usually get at home, like swimming pools, a fitness center, or TV channels you don’t subscribe to at home. Embassy Suites offer TVs in each room, so kids and parents don’t have to fight over watching Caillou (please…I can’t take another minute!) vs catching up on Empire.
- Don’t pay for breakfast. Make sure your hotel offers a robust free breakfast—one that has options that satisfy all of your family members. We all know a stale danish and coffee isn’t going to cut it, and will just lead to you grabbing a big, costly lunch when you’re out on the go. Embassy Suites offers a free, cooked-to-order breakfast (think omelets, fruit, oatmeal, bacon, and pastries) that rivals any brunch you’d pay for.
- Grab a newspaper to figure out what’s happening locally. Remember newspapers? It’s how everyone got their news before Facebook. Some hotels will have complimentary newspapers available in the lobby. I find it really interesting to thumb through a newspaper and learn a little bit about the local culture. Newspapers are also a great resource for learning about local happenings, such as street fairs or festivals.
- Hit up local parks. Ask your hotel concierge or front desk staff if they know of any great local parks in the area. Most hotels should be able to provide a map of the area to help you get around. Parks can be a great place to have a picnic, or somewhere to simply let the kids run around to burn off some energy.
- Historical places. Many big cities have historical landmarks, state parks, monuments, and other free and educational experiences just waiting to be explored. Check the National Park Service website to find state parks and historical landmarks near you.
- Museums and zoos. Most museums and zoos have entrance fees, but some are donation-based or have special deals on certain days. For example, the Bronx Zoo in New York has free (donation requested) admission on Wednesdays, and the Museum of Modern Art offers free admission on Friday afternoons. Also, if you have a museum or zoo membership in your own city, check and see if your membership allows you free entry into museums or zoos in other cities. A lot of zoos have “sister locations” where your membership will get you free or discounted admission.
- Explore outdoor malls. I know malls usually lend themselves to spending money, but sometimes outdoor malls have gorgeous architecture to admire, refreshing fountains to sit by (bring a book for yourself and coloring books to keep the kids occupied), and options to get an inexpensive snack like cinnamon rolls or frozen yogurt. Unlike local restaurants, you won’t be judged for hanging out for a few hours to catch your breath, or just to duck in for some air conditioning on a hot day.
- Take a hike. Hiking doesn’t have to be difficult—you can simply go for a walk and explore a new place! Check maps of the area or ask hotel staff to see if there are any local areas that would be good for a safe hike or walk, keeping in mind your child’s ages and physical limitations. You can also check the website Free Tours by Foot for free guided walking tours of several cities.
- Seek out evening snacks. Ask your hotel staff if there are any complimentary snacks or drinks throughout the day. Some hotels offer coffee, fruit-infused water, or cookies in the lobby. Embassy Suites hosts an “evening reception” every night for guests of all ages, with complimentary appetizers and beverages. Get free snacks for the kids while starting off your evening with a glass of wine.*
- Plan a movie or game night. Take full advantage of your hotel room and stay in at night! Find a movie on TV, bring your own popcorn to heat up in the microwave, and enjoy spending time as a family without the usual distractions of home. If you’re the type of family that tries to minimize electronics while on vacation (kudos to you), bring a couple board games from home and have a family game night.
*Service of alcohol subject to state and local laws. Must be of legal drinking age.
Featured image: Getty/Tony Anderson
This post was sponsored by Hilton