Before staycations were called staycations, we called in “Camp Dad” around our house. That was the summer when my kids were little, I was working on a full-time project, and my husband had the summer off from his teaching duties. Rather than pay for expensive camps, we created “Camp Dad” during which my husband found free and cheap ways to keep our kids entertained and happy–and our budget stable. Some of our “Camp Dad” activities morphed into weekend staycations, when I was able to join the family for this free and frugal fun.
If you’re looking for free and cheap ways to have fun this summer, here are 5 local places to target for a staycation of “Camp Dad.”
- Behind-the-scenes tours. Formal tours are available at company museums and factories, as well as at fire stations and police stations. But if parents ask nicely, they might also be able to get their kids a tour of a movie theater projection room, the pinsetters at a bowling alley, or other places kids are curious about. Television stations, radio stations, and newspaper production facilities also offer tours. Oftentimes behind-the-scenes tours come with freebies, such as the free potato chips my family enjoyed when they toured the Herr Potato Chip factory during the summer of “Camp Dad.”
- Museums, observatories, and planetariums. Most families probably don’t have to drive too far to find a museum, a terrific location to keep the kids occupied for a few hours–and museums are air conditioned, too. From a budget perspective many museums have free admission for kids with a paying adult. During the summer of “Camp Dad,” my husband found a nearby museum that the kids really seemed to love, so we got a family membership that more than paid for itself with the multiple visits we took that summer. Don’t forget: if you’re a Bank of America customer, you can get free admission on the first weekend of each month, thanks to the “Museums on Us” program.
- Scenic train rides. Some train lines have discounts on weekdays. Or visit your town or county’s Chamber of Commerce to see if coupons are available.
- Water parks and water fun. They’re easier to find now than they used to be, because many cities have built them as part of their recreation centers or community swimming pools . I know that our local Y recently added a waterpark to its indoor pool. If you’re not a member, see if you can get a free pass for the day to try out the facilities. Additionally, some states offer free fishing days for kids.
- Zoos and aquariums. Young kids love the zoo, of course, and there are some very good aquariums around the country. Many zoos also offer behind-the-scenes “VIP” tours and have special camp programs for kids for a fee. See if your zoo has a free admission day, or if you arrive late in the day, if admission is discounted.