I admit it – I was bitten by the travel bug at a very young age, and now, there are very few things I love as much as traveling. Throughout the years, my wife and I took our family to some pretty amazing places. But there was one huge difference between our travels and those of many vacationers; we didn’t have excessive amounts of cash to spend when we went on vacation, so we learned how to travel cheap, while still enjoying a great time doing it.
Right from the start, I want you know that I have no intention of detailing all the places you need to go on your next vacation, but rather, I am going to show you HOW to do your next vacation inexpensively. If you are a Disney-only fan, then you might as well quit reading this article right now, because when you consider the high admission and food cost inside the park, there is no way to do it cheaply. However, if you aren’t locked-in to expensive BIG NAME Florida theme parks, then I can give you some great options.
Our journey begins in my family’s favorite destination of all: Gatlinburg, TN – home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. East Tennessee is a very family friendly vacation destination, offers a lot of choices for budget-conscious travelers, and can be enjoyed for way-less than most people think.
Not only that, but all the cost-cutting vacation ideas I am going to share with you, can be applied to many of your family-favorite vacation spots, as well.
1. Don’t spend big bucks on fancy hotel rooms. You can save a lot of money by renting a log cabin. Cabins cost about the same per night, as hotel rooms, but they are a more affordable option. Why? You can do one or more meals there, every day, and you can usually find cabin rentals with third or fourth night free offers. Want to save even more money? Ask another family to vacation with you – then you can split the cost of the cabin, and your meals-in-common.
2. Eat breakfast, lunch or supper at your cabin. Doesn’t sound very cool? Oh, but it is. Many of the cabins in the Gatlinburg area offer fantastic mountain views, or they are nestled alongside of a creek. If you are looking for a place to get away from it all, and spend some time relaxing – even a couple hours a day – then a log cabin is just right for you. Even if you don’t want to do any cooking, you can save money by stocking up on a few basic groceries, and doing breakfast at the cabin, or eating a rotisserie chicken and potato salad for supper, instead of spending much more money at a restaurant.
3. Spend a day in the National Park. Its shocking to read the statistics of how many people come to the Gatlinburg, and never step foot inside the national park. And that’s a shame. Personally speaking, some of our most enjoyable times, as a family, were spent tubing, wading, or picnicking along one of the streams in the park. Not sure where to go? That’s an easy fix. Drive to the Sugarlands Nature Center (Just outside town), and ask a Ranger. They are very knowledgeable, and will get you on your way safely and quickly.
4. Take a hike! Literally. With almost 900 miles of trails, dozens of waterfalls, hundreds of scenic overlooks, and natural areas available, the Smokies offer something for nearly every outdoor enthusiast. And best of all: the trails are rated by degree of difficulty and length. So whether you are a novice or an expert hiker, you can find a trail that’s just right for you. Are the trails kid safe? Many of the trails and outdoor sites are rated as being family friendly. Need help? Once again, just ask a Ranger.
5. Go to Dollywood. I told you I had good news for theme park addicts. Dollywood is a great park, family friendly, filled with great rides, features a water park, musical performances in multiple locations, all day, and to top it all off: the park offers very affordable food and drinks. Tired of spending thousands of dollars on theme parks – then go see Dolly. Dollywood will introduce you to affordable vacation options. Helpful hint: If you plan on spending several days in the park, which we have done, consider purchasing season passes. They are very affordable, and they will save you a bundle in the long run. Who to ask? Call Dollywood, or ask one of their helpful sales people. They’ll steer you in the right direction, and do it with a smile.
6. Hang out on Main Street. But before you do, be sure to set a spending limit. If you don’t predetermine your spending limit, you can break your bank in a hurry along Gatlinburg’s Main Street. But here are some fun options: Instead of buying full meals for the family, at some of the more expensive restaurants in town, treat the kids to an Ogle Dog, or after supper, buy them some Donut Friar baked goods, hang out at some shops, or enjoy a round of Mountain Mini-Golf.
7. Take the kids early school shopping and save a bundle! Never thought you could actually save money on vacation, did you? Well, in Gatlinburg (Pigeon Forge), you actually can. How? Take a day and go shopping at the Belz or Tangers Outlet Malls. You’ll find some amazing deals on name-brand clothing, shoes and back-to-school items at hundreds of stores.
8. Rainy day? Not a problem in Gatlinburg. Throw the kids in the car, and drive to one of the malls in Knoxville. They are less than an hour away, and offer some great indoor fun for everyone. Don’t want to drive that far? Then stop at Smoky Mountain Knife Works or Bass Pro Shop. Both are huge stores, and will provide you with hours of entertainment.
9. Fishing trips make memories. Bring your rod and reel, grab some bait, and go soak a line in a mountain stream, or nearby lake. Fishing licenses can be obtained locally, along with all the free advice you’ll need for a great time, in the great outdoors. What fish are available? Mountain trout is my favorite, but the area offers some great bass and crappy fishing, too.
10. Wildlife viewing is an amazing, affordable option. Grab a picnic lunch, throw the fam in the van, and head on over to Cataloochie to see some elk, Cades Cove for deer, and Roaring Fork for bear. Don’t forget to bring your camera and binoculars, too, cuz everyone likes to get a close-up look at the wildlife. But just remember – wild critters are best viewed from the safety of your vehicle: this is not a petting zoo. So bring the binocs, and get some safe views, without endangering the animals or your family.
I can’t believe we got to ten so quickly. Seems like I just scratched the surface. Which, I guess, I did. But, at least you get the idea. Now that I’ve jumpstarted the thought-process for you, I’m sure you will be able to come up with many more money-saving ideas of your very own.
Great vacations can come cheap – if you do them the right way! But remember; if you really want to make great memories, then you need to spend quality time together. For when its all said and done, the kids won’t remember another restaurant meal, but they will never forget the great times you had together swimming in a Smoky Mountain stream, watching elk graze in a mountain meadow, or catching a nine inch trout in icy water, in the middle of July.
Tom Cannon is an author, and lives in Tennessee. He has written several books, which include; Two Faces in the Mirror, Mountain Empire, We Speak to Nations, Servants of the King, and Changing Natures.
To buy books, or read more blogs, come visit: [http://tomcannon.org] or [http://RockyTopTreasures.com]