How to Plan a Family Staycation on a Limited Budget

You can make any staycation memorable with some creativity and a few key items. Here's how.
large backyard at dusk
Photo by Shaun Montero on Unsplash

Whether you’re saving up for bigger family vacation ideas in the future, a trip to some of the best family vacation spots in the country, or just want to inspire vacation vibes at home, you can make any staycation memorable with some creativity and a few key items. A staycation is a great way to have a good time on a limited budget. Mix your backyard adventure time at home with with day trips to local museums, local restaurants, and local attractions. It’s still a real vacation, even without the hotel room.

Creating the perfect staycation for your backyard will guarantee the kids will have a good time and want to be repeat guests each summer. Backyard games, s’mores, and sleeping bags give your family the tools you need to reconnect while camping out on your next backyard staycation.

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Turn Your Home Into a Vacation Destination

All great summer vacation ideas start with accommodations. Creating the best staycation accommodation requires a little more creativity. Pop a tent right in the backyard. A tent with a skylight in the ceiling panel that can fit the whole family is more of an investment, but it’s a great way to set the stage for stargazing. Or, if it’s primarily for day-use, try a kid-sized tent to give space to little ones craving independence.

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Fill the tent with sleeping bags (sized for kids or adults), air mattresses, pillows and blankets, battery-operated lanterns, flashlights and books for before bedtime reading. Make sure your kids’ favorite stuffed animals or comfort items are also inside to ensure a good outdoor sleep for all. And though it’s not something you’d think of right away, if noise is a concern in your backyard, consider setting up a battery-operated white-noise machine—perhaps one that plays nature sounds.

Things to Do on a Staycation

kids in front of kiddie pool
You don’t need much to make a staycation special (Photo: Bailey Torres on Unsplash)

After setting up your tent for your staycation, it’s time for the family to explore the backyard. Create a field day in your backyard filled with fun outdoor activities for kids. An outdoor scavenger hunt will have kids working together to find a treasure. Backyard games like corn hole, giant Jenga, ladder ball toss, lawn bowling, volleyball, water balloon tosses and three-legged races are a great way to get the whole family involved in the outdoor play.

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Cool down with a slip and slide, inflatable toddler splash or if you want to take your staycation to the next level, transform your backyard into a mini water park with an inflatable swimming pool.

Feeding the Family on a Staycation

roasting marshmallow over a grill
Adding something new to your daily routine is a good way to start a staycation (Photo: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

Good food can make or break any vacation. Grilling on the BBQ for your staycation is fun for the grill master in the family and also means easier clean up. Or consider a Takibi if you want a single, portable grill and fire pit. Add some delicious treats to your staycation too. S’mores kits, popcorn, or an ice cream sundae bar make for great after-dinner treats before starting your evening entertainment.

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Planning Activities After Dark

backyard lights
It’s okay to relax the kids’ bedtimes on a staycation (Photo: Nick de Partee on Unsplash)

Once treats are in hands, turn on the string lights to create that magical backyard feeling and have a good time watching a movie under the stars at home. Hang a sheet or cast a movie directly onto the side of the house with an outdoor projector; or take your movie viewing to the next level and invest in an inflatable outdoor projector screen.

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If your family prefers to keep your staycation screen free, play a game of flashlight tag or make shadow puppets inside the tent. Or spend time around a fire pit roasting marshmallows, telling stories and reconnecting as a family. Evening is also the perfect time to grab a board game from the house and play it al fresco under the string lights.

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Courtney Elko
Courtney Elko has been a writer, traveler, former editor at Tripadvisor’s FamilyVacationCritic website, and a journalist in both print and digital media for more than 15 years. She's had a passion for travel since she roadtripped the California coast with her family at a young age. Courtney has hiked the Faroe Islands, climbed Machu Picchu, skied in Switzerland, gone dogsledding in Alaska, and spent many summers jumping waves with her young nephews on the Jersey Shore. Her travel expertise has been featured in USA Today, SmarterTravel, and What To Pack. Courtney lives outside of Philadelphia and enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and puggle, Shelby. Email Courtney with story ideas at courtney.elko [at] gmail [dot] com, and follow her on Instagram @goliveyourstory for travel inspiration and advice.