Summer Family Vacation on a Tight Budget

Family on vacation

Your budget is tight but you still want to take the family on a fun vacation this summer. I can help you with that. This has been the story of my family’s summer every year, and we have found a lot of ways to save money on family trips.

The biggest expenses on the family vacation are transportation, lodging, food, and souvenirs, so I have a few thought how you can cut one or all of these costs to give your family a memorable vacation without a high price tag.

Lower Transportation Costs

The easiest way to cut your vacation costs is to stay closer to home. Do you live near a place others visit on vacation? Travel close to home and see the place like visitors see it.

If you want to travel away from home, go off-season. In the summer, go to an area known for winter vacations; in the winter, go to an area known for summer vacations. Sure, you will deal with weather, but that’s just fun.

Lower Lodging Costs

The biggest range of costs for your vacation is in where you stay. Even if you stay in a hotel or motel, you can often pull the costs down by checking discount websites or using a discount (CAA/AAA or military, for example).

The best way to save money on lodging costs on your summer vacation is to camp. Even if you don’t want to pitch a tent, a lot of campgrounds offer cabins. Cabins cost more per night than a spot to park a camper or put up a tent, but they cost less than a motel, and you don’t need to buy the extra camping equipment. You do need to be prepared with cooking (pots & pans) and sleeping equipment (sleeping bags or blankets), but cabins can save you money if you already have all of this.

Where to go? Why not just start big with the national parks of Canada. You can find spectacular beauty and sites of historic significance across the country.

Is camping a mystery to you? If you’ve never been camping and don’t quite know how, you can even find camping instructions on the Parks Canada site. They even have an app with recipes, checklists, and tips.

Lower Food Costs

One of the biggest expenses of traveling with the family is food. Feeding a family of four three meals a day can cost more than a hotel room.

Find a local grocery store and make your own meals. Even if you don’t have access to cooking equipment, you can have great uncooked meals. More than once my family has quietly rolled our cooler into a hotel.

Not only does making your own simple food save you a lot of money, you can choose high quality, whole foods rather than accepting the quality you get in an inexpensive restaurant.

Lower Souvenir Costs

Really, you don’t need souvenirs at all, but you will almost certainly hear the cries of “Mom, can I have this?” My strategy is to start out with a distraction that creates its own keepsakes. Rather than taking home stuff from the trip, we remember by taking photos.

When my kids were little, I bought them simple cameras so they could document the trip from their own point of view. The follow up at home was important. We would create albums or frame photos on their walls. I like how this gives my children freedom to frame their own experience, and it helps me see what they find significant. In the era of smart phones and tablets, you have a lot of options for equipment, but I still think it’s important to put the equipment wholly in your child’s hands.

Another idea for souvenirs is to collect small mementos of specific experiences. If you are heading to national parks or national historic sites, check out the Xplorer programs for children. When you arrive, you check in and get a booklet or equipment that leads children on activities designed to help their understand what that park has to offer. U.S. national parks have a similar program for Junior Rangers. We did a variety of activities from an hour to several days. When they returned with completed activity books, the park ranger held a little ceremony to award them patches. My kids collected those patches from their junior ranger activities and sewed them onto their backpacks. They still talk about the activities as they point out the patches.

Go Slowly

Make sure that you leave enough space in any vacation or staycation to enjoy your time together and unwind from the relentless pace of your normal life.

I’ve found that the activity that left my kids the happiest on most vacations was swimming in a motel pool. Simple, but it works wonders. Whatever you do, leave enough space that the kids can play and you can chill out. You don’t have to leave first thing every morning. A vacation shouldn’t feel like work.

The Really Cheap Summer Vacation

If you just don’t even have the option to travel because of the costs, you can still create that vacation feeling and fun summer memories. There is no requirement that you leave home each summer. Sure, it’s fun, but that pressure to do right by your kids can be stressful when you just don’t have the money to spare. You can make this a summer of fun without staying away from home.

Day trips. Take day trips to all of the tourist spots within a few hours drive. Even if you have seen the historic houses and scenic views around your region, for your children, a lot of this will be new. Help them see their own home for the first time.

Backyard camping. Have a weekly campout in the back yard. Cook your dinner over a fire and tell silly stories. Everyone will remember these nights more than random evenings spend in a crumbling motel.

Indoor camping. If you are more of the indoor type, you can still have a campout with the family. My family loves doing this. We pull the cushions from every couch in the house and cover the floor. Everyone brings their bedding, and we make one big nest. Then, we play board games, read aloud, watch a movie, or have a picnic. Anything you can do sitting on the furniture, you can do lounging on the floor. Difference makes the fun. It will seem completely silly to little kids, and they will love it.

Make Your Own Fun!

You don’t need to spend money to have fun with your family. You have a lot of choices to bring down costs and create beautiful summer memories for your children. Have fun!

Photo Family Enjoying View on Vacation – © Eric1513 | Dreamstime.com

Natural First Aid

Preparation of comfrey

The need for natural first aid will come up as you spend more time outside in the summer—hiking, camping, and adventuring. Start with a few basic plants and ingredients for natural first aid.

Kitchen First Aid

Before you go out into the garden, start in your kitchen. If you know your food and what it does for your body, you can use common basic ingredients to aid in health and healing every day. These are just a few of my favorite essentials.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Internally, add to water and drink or use on food to avoid heartburn or indigestion. Gargle to soothe a sore throat. Kids might be reluctant to just take vinegar because it is a very strong taste.

If you just want to get your kids to take apple cider vinegar regularly, slice up cucumbers and onions, cover in apple cider vinegar and water, leave for a day, and you have quick pickles. My kids love these. We always have pickled cucumbers and beets in our fridge.

Externally, pour on a cloth and dab on the skin to take the sting and color out of sunburn. This is one of my family’s most common uses of apple cider vinegar. My childhood memories of summer include smelling like fish and chips, but it works, and I’ve continued to use it on my own children.

Also, use a cloth soaked in apple cider vinegar to neutralize the alkaline venom of wasps or hornets.

Baking Soda

While we are healing stings, take a paste with water and apply on bee stings to neutralize their acidic venom.

Peppermint and Ginger

For nausea or upset stomach, peppermint and ginger are my first choice. This is another food that I have used as long as I can remember. My mother often picked mint from around our house to boil for a drink when I was feeling nauseated.

There is a reason we have after dinner mints or ginger sweets to follow a meal. They help digestion. These are easy foods to give a child.

Cayenne

We eat a lot of spicy foods, so I get a regular does of cayenne internally. This can increase blood flow. You can also use cayenne powder externally to stop bleeding.

Manuka Honey

We have family in New Zealand, where we learned about the healing properties of manuka honey—honey produced by bees that pollinate manuka (which is similiar to tea tree). When manuka honey contains high concentrations of methylglyoxal (MG), it can be used medically. In my family, we use it for wound care or for a food additive when we are ill.

The honey, especially medical-grade honey, is expensive, so we use this sparingly. If we were in New Zealand and could get it less expensively, it would be at the top of my list.

Plant a Healing Garden

If you want to heal your family naturally, start by planting a few essential healing plants in your own garden.

Echinacea

These beautiful pink-purple flowers are easy to grow. Echinacea is often used internally, usually in tea, as an immunity builder or as a cold remedy. It reduces inflammation and is antibacterial and antibiotic.

Arnica

Arnica is commonly used externally (though not on open wounds) for bruises, muscle soreness, and other aches and pains. Most natural first aid kits will include arnica.

Arnica Spray

Arnica Spray for bruises

Mom’s Kisses Topical Arnica Spray is an easy way to keep arnica in your first aid kit. It comes in travel size, also.

Comfrey

Comfrey is another common natural healing plant best used externally, though you can use it on open wounds that aren’t too deep. Comfrey encourages healing of skin and tissues. Very common ingredient in homemade salves.

Yarrow

Yarrow flowers act as a styptic, stopping bleeding when used on wounds. Yarrow flowers or ointment made with yarrow are an important addition to your kit.

Aloe Vera

My mother always had an aloe vera plant growing in our house. When I had bites or rashes, she would trim the plant and squeeze the gel onto my skin. Plus, the plant looks great indoors. Every house should have an aloe vera plant to be used to soothe skin.

Anointment Skin Soothing Ointment

Anointment Skin Soothing Ointment

Anointment Skin Soothing Ointment contains many of these basic natural first aid plants listed above: comfrey, burdock, plaintain, and other soothing and healing ingredients. You don’t necessarily need to make your own ointments, but it does help to understand what herbs do and which herbs work for which purposes, so you can choose wisely when you buy prepared healing potions.

Wildcrafting

Learn the plants of your area, and your hiking adventures can yield wild foods (like nettles, red clover, dandelion, burdock, and other common plants) and wild healing (like plaintain, arnica, yarrow, mullein, and other plants specific to your region).

The best way to learn about local plants is to join a local herbalist or visit a local botanical garden for a walk specifically designed to teach you about local plant resources.

As preparation, you could play Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game, a cooperative board game I play with my kids. This is a great way to learn and reinforce learning about herbs for healing.

Essential Oils

I do worry about the ways I see some essential oils being used. Someone who has been warning against essential oil misuse for years is renowned herbalist Susun Weed.

An essential oil is a highly concentrated, drug-like substance which can cause severe side effects if used incorrectly. It concerns me that essential oils, which have killed several adults and children when taken internally, have been presented to the American public as a safe, warm-fuzzy, natural remedy. Out of respect for the plants and the many tons of them it takes to produce a little essential oil, I rarely use essential oils. Also, I prefer the safety and pleasure of using the plants themselves with their effective and amazing volatile oils.

From Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal Ezine v 7, no 12 (December 2007).

If you are going to use essential oils, please be sure that you start with the guidance of someone who has been trained, not just someone who wants to sell you a product they just learned about themselves.

Recipes? No.

I am not trained in natural first aid or herbal medicine. I have taken classes, read books, and helped my family when I can, but I do not have the background to share recipes with you.

I trust few natural healers. Among those I do trust are Demetria Clark and Susun Weed.

If you are looking for recipes, please choose wisely from those who have long-term experience and dedication to natural health. There are many great herbalists. Just look into the background of the person you want to work with or the person whose recipes you want to try before you experiment on your family.

Be the Herbalist

Yes, there is so much more. You could spend a lifetime learning about all of the natural ways to keep your family healthy and to heal them when they are injured or ill.

I think it is best to go slowly and deeply into that knowledge rather than dabbling with broad, shallow knowledge and taking risks.

You don’t need to become an herbalist in order to help your family naturally, though, why not? A friend and colleague of mine, Demetria Clark, runs Heart of Herbs School. In addition to intensive programs that lead toward master certification and diplomas in herbal medicine or aromatherapy, she offers short programs you can complete at your own pace.

Closer to home, find a local herbalist who is giving an all-day workshop or nature walk on herbal remedies. Just one day will help you identify basics that can become part of the naturally foundation for your family’s health.

Learn about herbal basics, safe herbs, and use them. Compare your experience with what you hear from your teachers. Then, add new herbs and natural remedies as you become more knowledgeable.

Pregnant?

My constant companion through pregnancy was Susun Weed’s Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (1985). If you are pregnant, you need to consult an herbal expert before using remedies. A few of them are unsafe, while most of them will be fine. Just learn the difference.

Natural First Aid Resources

Be sure to read our article on natural bug sprays and the sad state of repelling bugs naturally in Canada.

Image Preparation of comfrey © Teamarbeit | Dreamstime.com

Natural Bug Spray Options

Take a Hike Outdoor Joose

 

You want to play outside all summer, but how do you avoid mosquito- and tick-bourne disease? You need to deter those bugs somehow.

Don’t Breed Bugs

Start with the cause: the fact that the bugs breed in numbers. Don’t give them fertile ground—or water.

Do not leave standing water in your yard. After rain, empty plant saucers, shake out pool covers, clean the bird bath, and keep your yard either free from water that can breed mosquitos or keep any water in your yard clean.

Create a Physical Barrier

In order to bite you, the bugs need to get to you. So, create barriers. When you are inside with open windows, make sure the window screens have no holes. When you are outside, wear long sleeves and long pants. Keep your shirt tucked.

Even ankle to wrist coverage outside won’t keep the bugs away completely. You will still need some kind of insect repellent to stay bug free.

That is where the trouble begins.

Health Canada and Natural Bug Sprays

If you look at Health Canada’s recommendations for insect repellents, you will notice that there are none of the familiar brands of natural bug sprays.

And, here is where you find the sad tale of how Health Canada killed DEET-free, natural bug sprays like we have been using and selling for years.

Adria Vasil, author of the Ecoholic books available at bynature.ca, explained what was essentially a ban on natural bug spray last year. It is still possible to get approval for some ingredients, but few manufacturers can afford the testing. The fact that they have no testing doesn’t mean the products are unsafe, but it does mean they can’t sell anything they call “insect repellent” or “bug spray” or “outdoor spray.” For the full story, read her TorontoNow column “Black Bug Down: How Health Canada Buzzed Natural Insect Repellents off the Shelves.”

Amusing in a very discouraging kind of way is the fact that the ingredients that will deter bugs naturally are still fine to include in many other cosmetics. So, you could search in other cosmetics for those ingredients known to deter bugs, if you can get anyone reliable to tell you what the ingredients are.

Doesn’t that seem like an ineffective way to keep your kids bug free? Yeah. I thought so, too.

Sure, there are still plenty of bug sprays in the stores that include synthetic neurotoxins like DEET, but we find that most eco-aware parents avoid these.

Your new options are:

  1. put DEET insect repellents on clothes only;
  2. make your own bug spray or lotion; or
  3. buy one of the few natural bug sprays left, if you can find any.

I don’t think #1 is a good option, since you are still exposing your child to DEET.

I wouldn’t recommend #2 either, since there is too much misinformation surrounding essential oils. It’s confusing to non-professionals to hear self-appointed professionals giving contradictory advice. Don’t make your own unless you start with a trusted source—a professional herbalist with more than just a degree in Google search or a one-day multi-level-marketing sales pitch.

So, we’re left with buying whatever natural insect repellent you can find.

Take a Hike! Outdoor Joose

At bynature.ca, we usually have several options. Our favorite that is still on the market is Take a Hike Outdoor Joose. This is the bug spray Naturemom and her family use when they go back country camping and canoeing. It comes family size (250ml) and travel size (125ml).

  • Handmade by herbalists.
  • Safe for daily use.
  • Safe to re-apply throughout the day.
  • Essential oils recognized by Health Canada as safe alternatives to DEET.
  • Not sticky! 25% aloe vera mix in a witch hazel base.

Ingredients: Witch hazel extract, Distilled water, Aloe vera juice, Essential oils of Cedarwood, Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Pine, Lemongrass & Lemon Eucalyptus.

All bug sprays have cautions. We like that these cautions are few and easy to follow.

  • Avoid eyes.
  • For babies under 12 months, spray on clothing or carrier.
  • Spray on your dog’s coat, but avoid face and eyes.

Maybe next year we will have more options for you. For now, we are happy to give you the natural bug spray that we love.

Made in Canada Favourites

Anointment Skin Care Gift Set

 

Feeling all Canadian this weekend? Think about this: when we buy Made in Canada products from local stores, we are making sure that our money works harder for us. We are supporting local jobs in manufacturing and retail. We’re boosting local value for ourselves as well as for those who make and sell what we buy.

At bynature.ca we are careful about every product we stock. We always look close to home first, so we have found a lot of great parenting products Made in Canada. These are a few of our favourites that you might consider next time you are shopping.

Anointment
Handmade Natural Skin Care

Anointment Natural Skin Care Baby Balm

Range: herbal soaps, new mom & baby, beard & skin care for men, lip balm
Home: Sackville, New Brunswick
Cool Fact: The owner lives in a 150-year old farmhouse, where she grows many of the herbs used in Anointment products.

Naked Tank
Nursing Tank that covers your mid-section

Naked Tank breastfeeding tank

Range: Cotton or Bamboo Nursing Tanks
Home: Guelph, Ontario
Cool Fact: One of the co-owners cut up her own tank top to find a comfortable solution that would work with any bra. When that top sagged, she asked her mother to help her make a shirt that worked. Now, that is the Naked Tank.

Co-operative Games
Family Pastimes makes 100+ games

Cooperative Games Yard Sale

Range: Games by age group, multi-age, and game books
Home: Perth, Ontario
Cool Fact: Founded in 1972 because the founder wanted games for his own children that reinforced sharing attitudes. They still use the shop they built for the business in 1984.

Colibri / Sling Sisters
Organic baby products

Colibri Organic Cotton Wrap

Range: Wrap-style baby carriers, wet bags, snack bags
Home: St Adolphe, Manitoba
Cool Fact: These sisters (actual sisters) design and make all of their products in their own facility in Manitoba.

See these and more Made in Canada products in the bynature.ca store in Orillia, Ontario. Until then, Happy Canada Day.

 

5 Ways to Enjoy and Document Your Pregnancy

Pregnancy photo shoot

Pregnancy, especially your first pregnancy, is such an amazing time. To see your body transform can be shocking and exciting. You will want to remember how you looked, how you felt, and what you dreamed about your new little one on the way.

Before you begin your documentation project, think it through. That doesn’t take a long time. Just consider your goal.

  • Is what you are doing all about expression of the moment, or are you creating a keepsake? If you are just expressing yourself in the moment of all of that beautiful pregnancy energy, go for it! No limits.
  • If you are creating a keepsake, who will keep it? Is it for you or for your baby?

I don’t want to discourage you from documenting your pregnancy—not at all. I just want you to think now about how you you will use this later because that might help you create even better documentation while you still have a lot of choices.

#1 Baby Bump Photos

Photos showing your physical transformation are The Classic pregnancy documentation. If you’ve ever seen a pregnancy board on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen a photo montage showing belly growth. I love these because they grab the visual person and tell them exactly what you want them to know—I’m growing!

HOW: Keep the background the same and mark where you stand so your body is the only thing that changes. Or, add a chalkboard, t-shirt or some other prop that changes with you to show the number of weeks. It is also fun to put your collection of photos together as a video.

#2 Professional Photo Shoot

Your family is about to change a lot, whether you are going from just you to parent and child, a couple to a three-person family, or a family with children to a family with another child. A professional photographer can capture the essence of who you are now just before your baby arrives on the scene.

HOW: Decide whether the photos will be of just you or of the whole family. Will they be in color or do you like striking black and white photos? Set your appointment before your 37th week of pregnancy. You want to show the biggest belly possible, but you don’t want to schedule so late that you miss your pregnancy altogether if the baby comes early. If that does happen, though, you now have a photo shoot with your new family. You make the best of it!

#3 Belly Cast

A belly cast is made by covering your belly with a layer of plastic wrap then dipping gauze in plaster and covering your belly (or belly and breasts) layer by layer to create a lasting, 3D keepsake of your shape. Once the plaster dries, you can paint your belly cast. I loved doing this with both of my babies, but now I wonder what to do with it. How will you use the cast? It will become more stuff you have to haul around with you.

HOW: As with the photo shoot, you want to document the biggest belly possible without missing your pregnancy entirely. Aim for 37-38 weeks. Depending whether you mind sharing your naked self with friends, this can be a fun project to do with a group of girlfriends, or just do this as a couple. It does help to have at least one other person present.

#4 Journal

First ask who you are writing for. If you are writing only for yourself, let it all pour out. If you are writing for your baby, at what age? What would your child want to know about the pregnancy? For example, I used to play footsie with my first baby. She would press her foot against the edge of my ribs, and I would touch back. Push, touch, push, touch. That play was so precious to me, and I love to tell her about it now. That kind of story could be appropriate for a child of any age. Another thing my kids remain interested in are the names I considered for each of them. For them, these are potential lives they didn’t live—lives that have names. They are fascinated by naming ideas, and you future children might be as well. It’s all about how much you want to share when, so keep your audience in mind when you write your pregnancy journal.

The Pregnancy Journal

HOW: A paper pregnancy journal is easy to use and easy to keep for the future. It’s also private. You might want to keep a public pregnancy journal as a blog or a microblog (like Tumblr). Decide who you are journalling for and choose the format that will reach your intended audience.

#5 Make a Recording

Recording your voice for your future child is another way to document the sensory experience of pregnancy. Your voice recording could be another way to create a journal, or you could make it different. Sing songs, record yourself reading a (soon-to-be) favorite story, or record an older sibling talking to the baby. My almost-three-year old made talking to the baby bump part of her nightly routine. She would tell the baby what she did that day. She would read (or recite) stories. She would talk about what fun they would have once the baby was born. I didn’t record that; now, I wish I had.

HOW: Most phones can record voice, but remember to download and backup your recording so it isn’t one of those bits of data forgotten when you switch phones. Do a test in different rooms to find the best quality. For example, a bedroom will probably absorb sound while an office might echo. You could make these recordings video rather than just audio.

Document your pregnancy. This is such a time between times, a time of great energy. Don’t get so caught up in the documentation, though, that you miss the experience of every moment. Have fun, and ride that wave.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com