Most grandparents would enjoy a family resort vacation, but resorts can be pricey. For families who would love a multi-generational resort trip but who don’t want to pay the freight, here’s the next best thing: a do-it-yourself family resort vacation. Basically you’ll be choosing a single destination as your home base rather than opting for the family road trip. On a DIY vacation, you can still enjoy fantastic destinations, stay in cool lodging, eat scrumptious food and see amazing sights. You won’t spend lots of money or wear yourself out on the road. This type of travel is probably best suited for groups of four to twelve.
Choose your destination. Resorts give you a lot to do in a small area. For this to work in our DIY vacation, you must choose your destination wisely. For those who are primarily interested in tourist attractions, somewhere like Orlando would be a good choice. Those who want an outdoor adventure might choose Yellowstone. And those who want some of both would do well to choose Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or Estes Park, Colorado. If traveling with teens, you may want to choose one of these exciting cities. Think of your primary location as the hub of a wheel with spokes leading to minor destinations.
Find suitable lodging. Here you’ll have more choices than are usually available in a resort. A two-bedroom condo is perfect for smaller groups; the grandkids can bunk on a pull-out sofa or inflatable mattress if necessary. For larger groups, investigate renting a house, but be aware that most of the time houses require a minimum of one week rental. If some members of the group would like more privacy, two condos can still be an economical choice. If you are planning to stay in a rustic area, cottages or cabins may be available. Any of these options should save you money over staying in a conventional hotel or motel, as long as you don’t opt for the most luxurious digs. Do respect the occupancy limits set by the owners. If you have a kid or two over the limit, talk to the owners or the rental agency and see if they will accommodate you.
Arrange transportation. Use public transportation if it is available, and you’ll probably save money, considering the cost of renting a vehicle, filling it with gas and paying for parking. Besides that, riding public transportation can be an experience in itself for suburban grandkids who are accustomed to being driven everywhere. If you need to rent a car, don’t automatically go for the largest vehicle you can rent. It may be cheaper to rent two smaller vehicles, and you’ll have more flexibility on those occasions when everyone doesn’t want to do the same thing.
Enjoy tasty meals. On a DIY vacation, you can reap the greatest savings in the area of food. If you really want to save money, you’ll avoid restaurants in favor of doing your own cooking or picking up easy meals at the supermarket. As long as you are near a decent supermarket, you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to eat well. Some families like to rotate responsibility for meals; others have a cooking team and a clean-up team.
Eat in the great outdoors. The first time you stop at the supermarket, pick up an inexpensive ice chest. When you take off sightseeing, pack drinks and a simple picnic lunch. A combination of fruit, cheese and crackers is usually a hit with all generations. You’ll be able to eat in the beautiful outdoors and avoid high restaurant prices.
Look for low-cost options for entertainment. It’s okay to indulge the grandkids with an occasional trip to a wax museum or theme park, but look for entertainment that is free or nearly so. State and municipal parks, local beaches and swimming pools, museums and exhibits are all good choices. The grandchildren will also benefit from unstructured play, especially if they are traveling with cousins that they don’t see often. They’ll need time to get to know each other, and the sandbox or playground is a great place for this to happen.
- Make financial decisions ahead of time. If the grandparents are picking up the tab for everyone, they need to be specific about exactly what they will pay for. If housing and food expenses are to be shared, you’ll need to keep good records and settle up on the last day of the trip. What works for some families is for expenses to be divided evenly, but for the grandparents to pay for an occasional outing or restaurant meal for everyone.
- Buy good guidebooks, or research on the Internet before you go. On true resort vacations, your options are laid out for you. On a DIY resort vacation, you’ll have to explore possibilities on your own.
- If you are going to have a WiFi connection, take your laptop to check last minute details that you might have forgotten. Don’t plan to do all your research on the trip, however, or you’ll lose valuable time.
- Try to avoid having adults sleep on sofas that convert to beds. They are rarely comfortable for a full-sized person, and a bad night’s sleep can ruin the next day’s sightseeing. Take other measures to avoid fatigue as well.
- Divide the chores. Most condos, houses and cottages provide minimal housekeeping, so volunteers will be needed to take out the trash, wash the towels and pick up. Typically there is a lot of laughter and bonding that takes place during the chores, so they don’t seem onerous.
- Involve older grandchildren in planning the trip, developing menus and doing chores. This is a great teaching opportunity for children to learn about travel, how much it costs and how to save money on the road.
- Plan for bad weather. It’s a good idea to have a good-weather option and a bad-weather option for most days.
- Hang loose. A relaxed and flexible attitude on everyone's part will go a long way toward making your DIY family resort vacation a hit in everyone's book!