Creative Vacationing for Single Parents on a Budget
The countdown to Winter Holiday Break has begun!
Two weeks of no school for kids and a week off for parents spending time with the kids heading into that last stretch before the New Year.
This year is My Week Before ChristmasYear, so the kids started dropping ski trip hints last summer. My kids have been skiing since they could walk and love the snow, so when the weather reports looked bleak this ski season, I knew it was time to consider possible options for Plan B.
With a 14 and 16-year-old, finding a destination minus snow where everyone can enjoy multiple options seemed challenging, given my budget of whatever the IRS planned to return this year. I googled “inexpensive vacations with teenagers” and found several great options. Since mountains were out, I decided on the beach.
I hate the beach.
I am the lone idiot at the beach wrapped like an abandoned body in the sand because I am freezing and can’t stand when the sand finds its way into my swimsuit. I looked into US beaches and international ones. I read about nearby towns or cities and other things to do in the vicinity besides watch Spring Breakers drink too much and flex their muscles at each other, because who wants to take their 14-year-old son to see that?
In the end, I landed on Southern California, and the kids were thrilled. As we started planning and dreaming about the perfect beach vacation, I realized this trip could get very expensive very quickly. Time to get creative…
Airfares to SoCal are not cheap, but fares vary significantly if you’re willing to fly on off days or into airports that require a bit of a trek. We found great fares leaving on Monday, which saved me about $500. If you travel enough to have accumulated miles enough to cash in, by all means, fly free! If not, be sure to get the mileage credit for these flights as those rack up over time and you might cash them in later for that ski trip.
I now know what a minor coronary event feels like. Hotel prices are insane! Again, points are your friend, so use the ones you’ve got or rack them up for the future. I couldn’t stomach the well over $250 per night before taxes and fees, so I hit the internet looking for options. VRBO and Airbnb provided multiple options for consideration. I found a yacht we could rent, several lofts in chic high-rises, beach homes, and quirky redone carriages houses. In the end, I decided on a carriage house because it was within walking distance of multiple parts of town we wanted to explore, near the transit line, provided a way to cook meals in a small kitchen and outdoor grilling area, and offered a bit more privacy. This way, we get an idea of what it’s like to live in a beach town and skip some of the tourist trappiness of hotels on Spring Break. The owner offered to provide bikes, beach towels and chairs, COFFEE, and to stock the fridge with healthy breakfast and snack options. We also benefit from getting the local’s scoop on where to eat, the best hikes, best beaches, and directions to the Farmer’s Market. Score.
Also known as planning but not overplanning…. I have never been to Southern California. I know. So I did what I always do–I asked people who love it, have spent time there, and have insider knowledge I can’t find on the internet. After reaching out to three people for their suggestions, we had free passes for two major attractions, lunch scheduled with a local conservationist to learn about conservation efforts and see their work firsthand, and a list of all great options. I also received the if it were me, I’d skip… list, which is equally helpful. If you’re shelling out clams in a beach town, might as well invest wisely in those memory-making adventures. Paragliding it is. On vacation, activities can get expensive quickly, so I’m considering activities that are informative and fun. For example, there’s a smartphone scavenger hunt for $15 that forces players to explore older historic parts of the city and provides some background and historical relevance. So dorky informative educational stuff for me, and we get to find our way around. This seems like much more fun than just getting lost–which I will.
Eating out is not cheap. Eating out three meals a day on vacation is equivalent to two months of grocery shopping for me, so we are going to get creative with the meal planning. I mentioned our score with breakfast as part of our lodging deal, so that takes care of that. We will most likely eat out as part of exploring of a place or just because we found a place we want to try. My kids have completely opposite preferences in food–one eats pizza, cheeseburgers, and hotdogs while the other is a vegetarian. Yipee. My solution here is to pack some lunches for the beach and cook out on the extremely cool outdoor grill something yummy we find at the Farmer’s Market. Instead of lunch out, we might spring for ice cream. Regardless, we are not going to starve.
Souvenirs and Shopping.
Sixteen-year-old daughter goes to Southern California. Yeah, she will want a new wardrobe and every stuffed sea creature or shell piece of jewelry. My son will want a T-shirt that is marginally inappropriate and a magic trick that he will break or lose before the end of Day One. We are not doing souvenirs. We can take pictures or find things that remind us of our trip, like ONE sand dollar. My plan for breaking this news includes buying them something they actually need or will use more than once when we return home. A baseball cap, reusable water bottle, item they can wear more than twice, then I’m good. Everyone gets a budget, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Since we are traveling with just the three of us, this vacation provides a rare opportunity to just be us. So often we are running from activity to activity or have lots of other people around (which is great!), but I realize the time we have to spend chunks of time together is dwindling quickly. Before I know it, they will be in college and headed on Spring Break trips with their friends, not their mom. I want that reality to stay in the forefront of my mind as we spend the week together. These days provide the potential to become memories that will last us a lifetime. Here’s to beach sunsets, kids who are old enough to carry their own stuff, lots of laughter and very few cares.
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