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Everyday Cheapskate: Guarantee a fabulous family vacation

When I was a kid, vacation meant four kids crammed into the back seat of a sedan, poking and elbowing one another while counting the miles between rest stops.

Things have changed dramatically since then. But even with onboard DVDs, spacious minivans, air travel, cruises and theme parks, family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous. It all depends on the care you devote to research and planning.

Time and money. Quality is more important than quantity. Instead of trying to stretch your available cash over the time you can be away, consider the money you have to spend first. Then divide by a reasonable daily budget to determine how many days you can be gone.

Involve the kids. One reader allowed her teenage daughter to plan their vacation with the money they had to spend over the cost of overnight accommodations. “Our spendthrift daughter became Ms. Frugality because she wanted to parasail,” the reader recalls. “She had us fix meals in our room and watched the expenses like a hawk. And we parasailed! It was the best vacation ever. As a bonus, we went home with cash in our pockets and the priceless accomplishment of teaching our child the value of money.”

Theme-park strategy. Set on a visit to an amusement park? You can find deals and discounts on the Internet, says Robert Niles, editor and founder of ThemeParkInsider.com. Birnbaum Guides Walt Disney World for Kids 2013 (Disney Editions 2012) gets rave reviews from readers of this column. “We visit several times a year for what many people spend on a single trip, and we do it with four kids!” reports one family.

Camping. If you’re careful, camping can be nearly as affordable as staying at home, provided you have the equipment or can borrow it. Visit the National Park Service website, NPS.gov, to search affordable destinations within the National Park Service. Many campgrounds now require reservations, so don’t wait until the last minute. Expect to pay about $20 on average per night for a campsite.

Living history museums. There are at least 2,000 living-history museums around the country where the past seems as real as the present. Start with a virtual visit where you can “tour” many of these wonderful attractions online. Go to ALHFAM.org, the site of The Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums. Jamestown Settlement and Washington County History Society (historyisfun.com), Henry Ford Museum (hfmgv.org) and Conner Prairie (connerprairie.org) are just a few of the living history museums that make learning fun for visitors of any age.

Group travel. Vacationing with another family can cut the costs on rentals, food and transportation. This is an especially good choice for single-parent families who agree to pool their energy and resources. Make sure you discuss expectations and budgets ahead of time.

To this day, my favorite childhood memories revolve around family vacations. Just being together was so much fun it made all the poking and elbowing that went on in the backseat worth it. Now that I have my own family, I’m more convinced than ever: There’s just nothing like a family vacation!

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

You can email her at mary@everyday

cheapskate.com, 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 www.creators.com.

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