Happy couple camping out in a field.

8 fun and affordable vacation ideas.

It’s finally vacation season. Time to get away for a bit and recharge. But traveling internationally or staying at an expensive resort may not be in the cards this summer. That’s okay, though. Vacation isn’t about where you go; it’s about what you do and who you spend it with. There are plenty of ways to plan a fun trip for a day, weekend or longer – and on a reasonable budget. Here are some ideas for trips you can take alone, with friends or with your family without spending too much money.

Be a tourist in the Midwest.
The U.S. has many enticing destination cities, and several of them are right here in the Midwest. Cities in the Midwest each have their own interesting museums, cultural and historical attractions and events to check out. They also have some of the best restaurants.

According to Travel and Leisure, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis and St. Louis are all among the best cities for affordable getaways. See what cities may be near you that you haven’t explored yet. Somewhere within a 3-5 hour drive from you could make for a perfect weekend road trip.

People visiting Chicago at dusk.

Pick a theme to build a trip around.
Do you love baseball? Barbecue? Mid-century modern architecture? Whatever your passion, you could organize a trip around it.

Do some research to identify key destinations. Plan a road trip out of it and visit several sites, or pick one that you’re especially excited about. For instance, if you love baseball, go to a game in another city.

Children watching a baseball game.

Explore your local outdoors.
Did you know Missouri has its own canyon? And that there’s a national forest in Southern Illinois? Getting out into nature can be a great way to vacation, and you don’t have to travel across the country to do it. Look for outdoor attractions within a few hours of you and take a day trip to hike or swim. You could also pack your camping gear and make a longer trip of it.

Find parks in your state at each of the following links:
Mother and daughter with dog by the lake

Visit an unusual tourist attraction.
There are all kinds of unique, exciting and quirky things to explore both close to home and all over the country. To shake things up a bit, consider planning a trip to an unexpected destination. You could visit Popeye the Sailor Man’s hometown in Chester, Illinois; peek in at the Wichita Troll in Wichita; or stroll along a version of Stonehenge built out of boats just outside of Columbia, Missouri. The website Atlas Obscura maintains an interactive map with over 13,000 places to visit.

Popeye Museum

Book a staycation.
For the full experience, stay anywhere but your house. Reserve a fancy room at a hotel or look for deals online or on a house sharing site. Stay in a neighborhood or area of the city that you love, and spend the day exploring it. Be a tourist in your own city: Eat at restaurants you’ve always wanted to try, go to that museum you’ve been meaning to visit and check out new shops. Look for events happening locally.

People ordering food on the street

Visit a national park.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery, a national park can be a great, affordable destination. You can browse parks by state, activity or topic. Take a road trip and camp in one of the many national parks that have camp sites available.

There are over 250 park sites that don’t charge an entry fee. And for the rest, the fees are reasonable. For instance, a Grand Canyon National Park permit for one car is $35. If you’re a frequent national park visitor, you might consider investing in a yearly pass to get unlimited access to parks.

Two hikers enjoy the view.

Volunteer with a local organization.
Are you always saying you’d like to volunteer but never have the time? Whether it’s for one day or several days, you could take a break to help others. Pick a cause that’s close to your heart and look for an organization you’d like to work with. Reach out and ask if they could use a hand and set some dates.

Group of people plant a tree together outdoors

Go for a long bike ride.
There are many beautiful biking trails in our area. You could pack a picnic and head out for a day trip. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, turn it into a bike camping trip.

Find trails near you on TrailLink. Do your research ahead of time, especially if you’ll be camping, to make sure you have the supplies you need. If it’s been a few months since you rode your bike, consider getting it serviced at a local bike shop and make sure the tires are full.

a male cyclist at MKT tunnel on Katy Trail.

Tips for saving on travel.

  • Book flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when fares are usually lower.
  • Look for opportunities to volunteer at big events, like music festivals, for reduced or free ticket price.
  • Bring a cooler and ice on road trips, and pack groceries to eat on the road instead of stopping for meals in restaurants.
  • See if regional airports have deals on flights.
  • Travel with a friend or significant other and split the price for housing and gas.
  • Look for discounts on outings, meals and more online.
  • Pack lightly to save on baggage fees if you fly.
  • Set up SecretFlying alerts to be notified of deals on flights.
  • Use public transportation when in a different city.
  • Look up free nights and events at museums and other attractions.
  • Use a prepaid debit card to limit your spending while on vacation and help prevent going over budget.
The key to any fulfilling vacation is that you have time to relax and spend time with those you love, doing what you love. Whatever that looks like, consider if you can do it locally, at a nearby city or somewhere more affordable. Find creative ways to make a simple trip interesting. Utilize nature to catch a break from your normal routine. And, most importantly, have fun!