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5 Fun and Frugal Summer Trips to Take With Kids

Holly Johnson

When you ask most people about their favorite memories from childhood, they'll likely tell stories of late night ballgames, street carnivals or time spent with loved ones who have passed. Most people also recount some of the trips they took with parents or loved ones growing up, including vivid memories of things they did and the fun times they had.

Unfortunately, the trips we take our kids on today are a far stretch from the fun-loving weekend getaways of the past. Instead of focusing on quality time, we try to keep up with the Joneses and drag our kids to huge theme parks and attractions we hear about from others. And in our quest to expose our kids to the best in life, we sometimes forget to show them the simple things.

Fortunately, it's not too late to take a step back and plan some fun and frugal trips your kids will remember for a lifetime. Sure, it may not be flashy, but a creative mind can come up with a way to have fun no matter where you go. Here are five fun and frugal trip ideas for kids:

-- Go camping. Camping is a fun and frugal way to get away from modern life for a few days and reconnect with nature and each other. And fortunately, there's no right or wrong way to do it. You can usually rent a fairly inexpensive cabin big enough for the whole family, or you can even borrow a tent and do it the old-fashioned way. Pack a cooler of food and drinks and some kindling to make a fire, and you're good to go. Just don't forget the bug spray.

-- Head to the Black Hills. Badlands National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota are legendary for their rugged terrain, scenic byways and view of Mount Rushmore. They're also known for their many low-cost or free attractions for children and families, and their many places to camp and stay along the way. So pack your family in the car, and take them on an adventure they'll never forget. You'll not only see Mount Rushmore, but you'll also see Devil's Tower National Monument, Jewel Cave and perhaps the Crazy Horse Memorial that was started in 1948 and is still being carved into the Black Hills granite today.

-- Show your kids the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a fun and frugal place the entire family will enjoy. Experience the thrill of seeing one of the nation's most beautiful sites firsthand. Take the kids hiking, see the famous Skywalk or explore Havasu Falls. There are plenty of frugal places to stay within the park or nearby as well, making a trip to the Grand Canyon a must-do for parents who want to introduce their children to the great outdoors.

-- Rent a place at the beach. The ocean is bigger than most kids can imagine and can be magical for children who love to play and explore. It can also be a great place for mom and dad to relax, with the calming waves and laid-back atmosphere of beach towns. The good news is a beach vacation might be far more frugal than you think if you go about it the right away. Consider renting a vacation condo directly from the owner through sites like VRBO.com or Airbnb.com, then go to the grocery store and make your own meals. The beach itself will provide days of entertainment for your entire family, especially if they love to swim and play in the waves.

-- Take the family on a cruise. If you're willing to be flexible, there are a ton of cheap cruising options from almost any port and through several cruise lines. VacationsToGo.com offers low-cost cruising options, and even last-minute deals for those spur of the moment trips. The price of a cruise has come down considerably over the years and is now affordable for families who can share a cabin. Another bonus is that meals and entertainment are generally included in the price of your cabin -- a perk which cannot be undervalued when you have children in tow. Cruising is also an excellent way to introduce your kids to different parts of the world with very little planning required on your part. All you have to do is board the ship and relax. It's all taken care of for you.

The world kids know today is quite different from the world we once knew as children. The attractions are bigger and the pressure to follow the herd is greater than it has ever been. On the other hand, all that nature has to offer is still right where it's been all along. All you have to do is decide what kind of memories you want to make with your family, and take the steps to make them happen.

Holly Johnson is the founder of personal finance website, Club Thrifty, which provides tips for frugal living, budgeting, and more. Holly also writes about frugality and travel at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and her other website, Travel Blue Book.

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