Every summer, since I have gotten divorced, I have taken my two children on a summer vacation. We always try to go the last week of June, because it happens to be in between all 3 of our birthdays. Therefore, we call it our Summer Birthday trip. This may sound extravagant, but I have always done it on the cheap, since I didn’t have much money for years.
If you have read any of my past stories, then you know that I was completely broke for a few years after my divorce. By that, I mean that there were weeks that I didn’t even have enough money to put gas in my car. Because of that, you can imagine that I didn’t have any money to take my kids on a summer vacation.
The first year I was divorced, I had a close friend who was going to take her children to visit her parents in Virginia Beach. She knew what I was going through and was thoughtful enough to ask if my children and I wanted to accompany them. Plus, she offered to drive! I brought food for my kids and I to eat, but as a bonus, her mom made us some wonderful dishes while we were there. The only money that I spent on that trip was to go out with my friend for a drink after all of the kids were asleep.
Family Beach Trip
Luckily for us, one of my brothers and his family live a couple of hours away at the beach. We don’t see them as much as we would like to, so our second summer vacation was to spend a week with them. I brought a bunch of food for us to eat for the week, so that helped make it more cost effective. I paid for the gas to and from and that was pretty much it for that trip. This was one of our cheapest summer vacations ever and the kids had a blast at the beach with their cousins.
We ended up repeating this trip for the next 2 years, which was great for some cousin bonding time!
As you can see, these trips were pretty darn cheap so far, which was the only way that I could make a summer vacation work. Our trip to Alabama was no different. I had a great friend from my high school days that had moved down to Alabama so that her husband to go to Grad school and she wanted us to visit. I thought this was a great idea because we could stay with them at their house and I had never been to Alabama before. This was a LONG drive through Tennessee, which was a beautiful drive, at least. The gas ended up being the most expensive part of this trip, just like the previous year.
We did go visit the Air and Space Museum in Huntsville, which was free since we have an ASTC membership through our local Science Museum. If you haven’t heard about this program before, you simply MUST check it out! Overall, we spent most of our days playing at the parks and splash pads and checking out the area, as well as the house they had just purchased. This was a pretty great trip overall, but a lot of driving.
By this point, I had a little bit more money because I had started to come out of a lot of the financial blow back from my divorce. I told my kids that we could go somewhere within driving distance and asked for their input. I also told them that it needed to be a place where we could use our ASTC membership. After some deliberation, they chose Atlanta, because they wanted to check out the Aquarium there.
The driving for this trip was significantly less than the previous year, which I was grateful for. I found a hotel in the surrounding area near the Aquarium so that we could walk everywhere. That hotel I found on Hotels.com, which has been one of my go to’s for years now for cheaper hotel stays.
On this trip, we went to the ASTC museum and the Aquarium. We also hit Legoland on our way out of town. But the majority of the time, we just wandered around to see what we could find. We got lucky and found a splashpad in the Centennial Park and got to ride the MARTA rail line that was free for some reason that summer. The kids thought it was pretty cool because it was similar to a NY Subway ride, crazy screaming lady included. We did spend a lot of time in the hotel pool also, so that was a bonus.
This trip was definitely more expensive than all of the previous trips, but we brought a lot of our own food and I only bought us dinner each night since the breakfast was free at the hotel.
My kids had been begging me for years to take them abroad, but I didn’t have the money and they didn’t have passports. My ex husband and I agreed to get them passports so that I could take them to Aruba. I am sure that sounds like a random choice, but a couple of girlfriends of mine and I had gone to Aruba the year before for a mini break and I loved it!
I can tell you that the trip that I took with my girlfriends ended up being MUCH cheaper than it was with my kids. We also stayed on a completely different part of the island that just happened to be more expensive, plus there were two more mouths to feed.
I did pick a hotel where kids ate free with each adult, so I chose my son to be the one to eat free; for obvious reasons. This hotel was a Divi Resort and I purchased the deal right after Thanksgiving, so I got almost 50% off. The flights for all 3 of us were actually more expensive than the hotel and the whole rest of our trip, unfortunately. But, the kids had a blast and were so trilled to use their passports!
New York/Niagara Falls/Baltimore
Since I took the kids abroad the previous year, they were itching to use their passports again. Even though I was more financially sound that year, I was working really hard on changing my budget and rebuilding. That being said, I told them that we weren’t going anywhere on a plane so we would be driving instead. They chose Niagara Falls in Canada so that they could use their passports. I was fine with that because I had been there years and years before and I thought that it would be a great experience for them.
But, there aren’t a ton of things to do there besides see the Falls and hang out in the hotel, which I didn’t want to spend the entire vacation doing. Plus, it is an EXTREMELY long drive up there. After some deliberation, we chose to hit New York City on the way up and then Baltimore on the way back so that we could see that Aquarium.
This trip was a complete blast and if you want to read more about how it went, then please check it out here.
Summer vacation this year
As you can see, the evolution of our summer vacations has been pretty great, but still fairly inexpensive. This year, I have a lot of business travel and we are still working on sticking within our budget, so the international travel was off the table.
The kids just couldn’t decide where they wanted to go so there was a lot of thinking on this one. They ultimately decided that they wanted to take a road trip through the Smokey Mountains. Which was all great and wonderful, but the Smokey Mountains are fairly vast, so I needed them to narrow it down for me.
My son wanted to go back to Williamsburg, Va (where we went for his 5th grade class graduation field trip) and my daughter wanted to go to a ghost town that she heard about in class somewhere in the Smokey Mountains. The long and short of this one is that we decided to hit Williamsburg first and then head down towards Alabama, which is where my daughter claims this ghost town is, and then back up through Atlanta to stay with some friends who live there now.
They decided that they wanted to go through Knoxville, TN on the way from VA to AL and I thought that was a great idea because I haven’t been there in years. Once we mapped out the trip, I had to work on where to stay. Since we get to stay in Atlanta for free, that helped with one night. I realized that I had a free hotel stay accrued on my Hotels.com account and another free night on my IHG account (which is for Holiday Inn and Hilton hotels).
Therefore, I got another 2 free nights and only ended up having to pay for 2 nights total for this trip. Bonus! We are planning to pack a lot of food again, all of the hotels have free breakfast and kids eat free with adults, so that will help with the costs. We are also planning to use our ASTC membership again, so my hope is that this trip will end up being a lot cheaper than the last 2 years have been.