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As wonderful as parenthood is, there are two undeniable realities associated with it...for one it’s expensive, and secondly, it can be exhausting. So, while you may desperately need a little (or a LOT) of R&R, you may not be able to afford it. Or at least not the luxury getaways you had prior to having kids. So, here, I've compiled a list of four great (and cheap) ideas for vacations for families with young kids, like mine.

1. Go Camping

This summer, for our family vacation we’re going camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park, north of Kingston, Ont. It’s a beautiful spot with a nice beach and hiking trails that my wife and I have been to in the years before we had kids.

Granted, we do have to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a larger tent and some family-friendly camping gear but, once we have it, that’s something we’ll be able to reuse for years.

Booking a site at a provincial park in Ontario is less than $40 a night. If you don’t want to invest in camping gear – or the thought of sleeping just inches above the ground strikes fear in your heart – another option is to buy, borrow, or rent a pop-up trailer. Two years ago, when our youngest daughter was only a few months old, we rented a trailer from a company based just outside Ontario’s Sandbanks Provincial Park. For a $75 nightly rental fee, they set up the trailer on our site before we got there, and packed it up after we left.

2. A Day At the Beach

Canadians from coast to coast are blessed with access to an abundance of clean, clear ocean-front and freshwater lakes. The cost of a trip to the beach is often nothing more than the gas it takes to get there and back.

But to save yourself some money on the jacked-up prices at beachside stalls, visit your nearest dollar store before you got to pick up enough shovels, buckets, beach balls, and other toys to keep the kids entertained when they get bored of splashing around in the water. (See also “Pack a Picnic” below.)

3. Plan a Day Trip

There’s no reason your kids can’t have the time of their young lives during a week-long, low-cost “staycation.” Just plan a mix of short day trips to intersperse with the days at home spent in the yard or at nearby playgrounds. Here are several low-cost options. Remember to search the web on sites like RedFlagDeals.ca or visit your local tourism office for discount coupons for attractions:

  • Museums: Visit a local museum or heritage site. This summer many sites will be holding commemorative events to mark the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812.
  • Parks: If your kids are into the outdoors, most provincial parks and local conservation authorities offer the public day access for free or nominal admission fees, where they can hike, swim, and/or go on nature excursions.
  • Libraries: Most public libraries offer free children’s activities, ranging from book readings to sing-alongs and arts-and-crafts.
  • New Experiences: Drive to experience another lifestyle. If your kids are city slickers, take them out to the country to visit a farm and see cows up-close. If you’re from a rural area, head to the nearest big city and take them for a ride on the subway or even just up a high-rise elevator.
  • Water Park: Cap off the week by splurging on a water park or amusement park.

4. Pack a Picnic

Oftentimes, the biggest expense on any day trip is the cost of (typically substandard) meals once you’re part of a captive audience inside an amusement park or other attraction. The day before you head out, enlist the kids’ help in devising a menu for their big outing. If they get to pick their favourite treats and sandwich toppings, they’re less likely to balk when you stroll past the dodgy burger truck. You may still want to pack a few bucks for the ice cream truck though. Kids will be kids after all.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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