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Everyday Cheapskate: You can feel good about vacationing

So, how are those summer vacation plans coming?

If things aren’t looking so good for you to get away from home this year, it’s probably not because you don’t have the time. According to a survey by Harris Interactive Inc., the American worker left an average of 9.2 days of vacation unused in 2012. That’s up from 6.2 unused days in 2011.

More likely, you keep pushing a vacation to the back burner because you just don’t have the money. After all, a vacation can be very expensive. These days, you’ll spend a small fortune for a family trip to Disney World — plus airfare if you don’t happen to live in Orlando, Fla.

Of course, there are any number of ways to cut the cost of a vacation, but could you get that cost down as low as $150 per adult? You just might be able to pull it off if you change your expectations a bit and adopt a new kind of vacation attitude.

Volunteer vacations are not new, but they’ve received more attention since Americans are no longer flushed with a lot of discretionary income.

For the cost of getting there, and a reasonable amount to cover the cost of your food — like $150 to $300 for a week — you throw your sleeping bag in the car, drive to a nearby park, and for as little as $150, spend a week in the wilderness rebuilding trails with other nature-lovers.

Don’t know where to look? Go to, which has an impressive database of opportunities and groups that have been vetted to make sure they comply with U.S. tax and charity laws.

The site lists not just the well-heeled agencies, but also small organizations that are doing really interesting, innovative work but might not have the funds to advertise. Doug Cutchins, author of “Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others,” notes in an interview with Forbes Magazine the changing demographics for those taking volunteer vacations:

“The stereotype (for volunteer vacations) used to be people right out of college or people who were retired. But we’re seeing a lot of mid-career people. This is a way for people to go on vacation and also feel really good about it.”

Working in a national park is one of the cheapest and most rewarding volunteer vacations you can find, according to Cutchins. He recommends trips organized by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Colorado Trail Foundation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation in Montana, among others.

Families see the money-saving and stress-reducing benefits of going on this type of vacation.

If you can’t afford a trip this year, save up for next year. Although most trips within the United States are on the cheaper side, those wishing to go abroad may need more time to save, as the trips tend to range anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 and up. This year, volunteer. It’ll do you and others, a lot of good!

Mary Hunt is founder of, a personal finance member website.

You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.

To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at


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