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

The Latest Baby Swim Gear

Bummis baby swim gear

Heading to the beach? Every year, we comb through the latest baby swim gear to choose the best environmental and social choices for hip swimming babies.

Because babies need more sun protection than older children and adults, and because most babies still need diapers, we need to treat them a bit differently than the rest of the family. Babies need sun hats and swim diapers. For extended periods in the sun, some parents find it easier to use swim shirts and sun suits for complete coverage.

Baby Sun Hats

Sun hats offer better coverage than sunscreen for the skin that is most often in the sun when you go to the beach with baby. This year we have four different sun hats in stock.

Solid Color Adjustable Sun Hats

Adjustable sun protection hats

  • Wide brim
  • Lightweight and crushable
  • Adjustable elastic around head
  • Solid colors
  • Nylon
  • SFP 50+
  • Made in Canada

Swim Baby Reversible Hats

Reversible baby sun hat

 

  • Lightweight and crushable
  • Reversible
  • Ties for windy days
  • Solid one side, print other side
  • Lightweight nylon
  • UPF 30+

Reversible Sun Protection Hat

Sun protection hats for baby

  • Lightweight and crushable
  • Reversible
  • Adjustable with hook & loop
  • Prints or solid
  • Lightweight polyester
  • SPF 50+

Bummis Swimmi Sun Caps

Bummis sun cap for baby

  • Wide brim in Floppy (one-piece) or Flap (baseball cap) styles
  • Long back to protect the neck
  • Lightweight and crushable
  • Prints match Swimmi Swim Diapers
  • SPF 50+
  • Materials sourced in North America
  • Made in Canada

Reusable Baby Swim Diapers

Swim diapers aren’t a substitute for an absorbent diaper, but they are designed to keep a baby’s mess out of the pool if an accident happens. Many swim diapers come with matching sun gear, like the sun hats above and the sun shirts below.

Mother-ease Swim Diaper

Mother-ease Swim Diaper

  • Stretchy swimsuit material
  • Adjustable snaps
  • Mesh inner layer catches poop
  • Wear alone or under swimsuit
  • Solid color or print
  • Made in Canada

AppleCheeks Swim Diaper

Apple Cheeks swim diaper

  • Fine knit outside
  • Adjustable snaps
  • Polyester mesh layer inside
  • Solid colors
  • Made in Canada

Bummis Swimmi Swim Diaper

Bummis Swimmi swim diaper

  • Our favorite! Perfection in a swim diaper
  • Cotton laminate layer outside
  • Mesh layer inside
  • Adjustable hook & loop
  • Prints
  • Matching sun hats and co-ordinated swim shirts
  • Made in Canada

Sun Shirts & Sun Suits

When you want more coverage without slathering on the sunscreen, a swim shirt, tankini, or a whole body sun suit will give your baby consistent protection that doesn’t wash or wear off while they play in the sun.

Bummis Swimmi Tankini Swim Suit Top

Bummis Swimmi Tankini

  • Pictured on baby at top of post
  • Made with durable, swimsuit-quality Supplex
  • Adjustable halter top
  • Coordinates with Swimmi sun hats & swim diapers
  • Made in Canada

Bummis Swimmi UV-Tee Swim Shirt

Bummis Swimmi UVT Swim Shirt

  • Made with durable, swimsuit-quality Supplex
  • Coordinates with Swimmi sun hats & swim diapers
  • UPF 30
  • Made in Canada

NoZone Sun Protection Suit

Baby Sun Suit

  • Protection of body, upper arms, and upper legs
  • 100% polyester quick-drying material
  • Flat seams for comfort
  • UPF 50+
  • Made in Canada

Drop by our store to talk to us about your needs, and we will help you choose the best sun solution for your baby or child.

Next week, we’ll do our annual review of the best children’s sunscreens for this year. Check back before you buy!

5 Outdoor Fun Accessories to Keep Baby Safe & Organized

Beachfront Baby water wrap

As summer creeps up on us and the cottagers and campers start visiting our store, we have seen a lot of interest in sun and fun accessories for babies and children. These are our most popular outdoor items this year.

Rosk Sun Cover

Rosk sun cover for babiesWhen your baby is too young for sunscreen, under 6 months old, we have the perfect non-toxic solution: a lightweight cotton sun protection cover. The cover is versatile. Two sets of ties work with soft baby carrier, car seat, or stroller. Lab-tested to block 98% of UVA & UVB rays. Infant to four years. Made in China.

Water Resistant Outdoor Blankets

Make a soft, dry place to sit against damp grass, beach sand, or a dusty campsite. We have beach and park blankets in two styles this year.

Beach blanket

Water Resistant Blanket. The cool cotton striped top side of this outdoor blanket comes in two colors. Lightly padded for comfort. Rugged nylon backing.

Outdoor blanket easy carry

 

Attached carry handles and storage pockets make it easy to fold then keep both blanket and child in hand. Water resistant. Total space: 31 sq ft. Made responsibly in China

Waterproof Picnic Blanket

Spring Park Blanket. If you know it’s going to be really wet, even after a rainstorm, this 100% waterproof polyester fabric will keep your family dry. Folds into a carrying bag. Easy to clean, just wipe or machine wash. Available in two solid color combos. Waterproof. Total space: 23 sq ft. Made in Canada

JuJuBe Super Be Beach Bag

JuJuBe Super Be beach bag

When you are traveling with children, you need a lot of odds and ends. The best beach bag around is the JuJuBe Super Be. Generous size, lightweight, with inner and outer pockets that are easy to see into, and a zip top to keep everything from spilling out.

JuJuBe Beach Bag pockets

Choose from a range of patterns from subtle adult to wild beach style. Easy care by machine wash and air dry. 18″ x 15″ x 5.5″. Made responsibly in China

Non-toxic Sun Protection Suits

Kids Sun Protection Suit

If you are avoiding sunscreen, you don’t need to avoid the sun. This lightweight, stretchy sunsuit gives your child freedom to play in the sun without worry. Especially for children who are sensitive to sunscreen or who just wipe it off before it does its job. UPF rated to 50+, blocks 98% of harmful UV rays. (You will still need to use some sunscreen on arms, legs, and face.) Made in Canada

Beachfront Baby Water Wrap

Baby beach wrap baby carrier

What do you do about a slippery baby at the pool? Hold your baby tight with this stretchy, comfortable water baby carrier. Keep your hands free to play with older children while you wear your baby, even in the water. There is even just enough stretch to wash yourself and baby in the shower. Light, airy, and quick to dry. One size fits most. Water use to 30lbs; land use to 20lbs. Made in USA.

When you are heading to the beach, be sure to stop by to see all of the summer fun accessories we have for you at bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario.

Questing and Geocaching with Kids

Child outdoors searching

Treasure hunting, orienteering, puzzle solving, and building community. That’s questing. What a great way to create engaging and educational summer activities for children.

As I’ve been looking for summer activities that can spark a child’s imagination and turn into a child-lead summer project, my model has been the wonderful children’s summer activity book Weslandia.

Mapmaking close to home is great for 3-6 year olds since it focuses on what they know.

Elementary age children, 6-11 years old, may be ready for activities with more planning, investigating, solving, and reporting. Depending on their age and interest, they may even be ready to try such activities on their own.


The Quest Tradition

Questing is a North American version of the British activity Letterboxing, which started in the 19th century. The steps are easy: put a weather-proof box in a public place then spread clues to potential finders. The box usually includes at least a notebook and a stamp. Finders will stamp their own notebooks and leave their personal stamp in the box notebook. It’s a fun way to create a subtle connection with others in or passing through a community.

Letterboxing itself has come to North America and the rest of the world, as have similar activities of geo-caching (using GPS) and questing.

Questing as it has developed is more about a community and sense of place education. The Valley Quest program in Vermont is a beautiful example of community-building and education through this long tradition of hunting for clues and connections. Over two decades, they have built a program that connects history, environment, education, and citizen engagement. It takes a long time and a lot of people to build questing into a community the way they have, but everyone starts small.

Everyone starts questing or letterboxing with a first treasure hunt.


The First Quest

You as the parent may have to set up the first quest or treasure hunt in order to give your child the experience of being the finder, or your child might enjoy creating a quest for others. It may help to have a group of neighbors, a play group, or a circle of friends who are interested in questing with you so you can try out one another’s quests.

Valley Quest have very easy to follow instructions for making a quest, making a simple quest journal (one for the quest box and one for each finder), and making a stamp (one for the box and one for the finder).

If you are ready to embrace questing, one book stands above all other resources: Questing: A Guide to Creating Community Treasure Hunts by Delia Clark and Steven Glazer. The foreword is written by David Sobel, whose Mapmaking with Children I’ve suggested often. Sobel writes about his own ten-year-old son exploring then returning to say:

I’m a good explorer because I really look at all the details, all the little places you can go, all the crannies you can find. I don’t just look at it and go, I spend a lot of time on it, make forts and stuff and traps.

Quests, he writes, are about getting into those crannies.

If your child becomes interested in questing, this could become a local movement. Questing can be a way to build a sense of place and draw closer to local history, environment, and people. Elements of mystery and suspense add to the fun for children, but I think adults appreciate building a community of curious children who love to get outdoors and explore.

Image © Pro777 | Dreamstime.com

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Early Harvest

My wild garden at the beginning of August

Late summer brings an early harvest. Suddenly our little garden is growing out of control, giving us small, daily gifts of salad and berries.

August Garden Protecting the Harvest

I’m not the only one who notices raspberries in my garden. The robins seem to find one in ten berries, and I’m fine with that ratio.

I’m not, however, fine with the snails eating my lettuce and kale. Most of my time this past month has been spent on snail patrol.

Because I really am not much of a cultivator, I assumed my garden would go wild. This month is the proof that neglect can still result in an explosion of green. This is why I am convinced that you can grow a garden, too. Other than putting a couple of plants and seeds into the ground, I haven’t done much. Nevertheless, look what abundant my garden brings.

Garden wall of grapes and hops

I love the architectural feel of our garden. The hops are the pillars; the grapes and berries are the canopy; and the tomatoes are the overwhelmingly dominant presence at ground level. They all frame the lettuce and kale, which we are eating regularly.

Harvest so far has given:

  • about 2 dozen raspberries
  • kale for dinner twice
  • 4 big salads

Coming up I see:

  • more raspberries
  • many blackberries starting to develop
  • grape leaves for dolmathes (though, sadly, no grapes again this year)
  • more kale
  • more lettuce, if I can fight off the snails
  • a few dozen tomatoes
  • possibly a few chili peppers

Out of the photo in another very small patch we also have cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash that are all growing well.

Tomatoes are taking over. They are so heavy that they are pulling down their wire frames. If I were a better gardener, I would probably be keeping them under control, but I’m curious to see what they do on their own. Under that mass of tomato growth I am finally seeing fruit. Tomatoes won’t grow in extreme heat, and much of the past month has been over 100 degree Fahrenheit for us. Our recent cooler weather (80s and 90s) gives the tomatoes the signal to set fruit.

Most important, since this garden is supposed to be about hops, we have little hop flowers. It does look like my husband will have hops this year.

Supports. If you built physical supports for the heaviest of your plants, they may still need more support this month. We’ve continued to guide grapes and hops along the wires we set up for structure.
Goal: adjust to the changing needs of your plants

Pests. Check for pests. I have snails. Rather than leaving snail traps (beer in lids works well, but I don’t want to deal with a beer swimming pool full of dead snails), I just pick them off and toss them far away. Depending on what you find, you can probably find a non-chemical way to either rid your garden of pests or share your garden with them (as I’ve decided to do with the robins).
Goal: find your own balance in sharing the garden space

Total Cost So Far

  • String – $0 (on hand)
  • Tomato cages – $3 for 2
  • Total for August – $0 (nada!)
  • Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
  • Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
  • Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
  • Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
  • Total for the year – $71.50

Total Time So Far

Obviously, gardening takes a lot more time up front than it does during the height of the summer. Right now, the plants are doing all of the work

  • Pest patrol – 20 minutes
  • Building supports – 10 minutes
  • Shopping – 1 hour
  • Digging & planting – 30 minutes
  • Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
  • Total so far = 11 hours

I cruise my garden daily, but it doesn’t need me much at this point. Most of my garden time is spent on pest control, but your garden may need different care—water, stronger supports, more vigorous pest control. You can probably still get away with a lot less than 30 minutes in the garden this month.

  • Pest control – 20 minutes
  • Harvest – 5 minutes
  • Gaze – 5 minutes

The Tomato Takeover

This is meant to be a hop garden, but the tomatoes are asserting themselves. The tomatoes were added at the last-minute when one of the hops didn’t grow this year. Next year we will have a third hop plant where the tomatoes are now.

Garden growth month by month