Summer is Here – Where We Going?
Down South where I stay, the first day of summer begins at 4 p.m. on the day before Memorial Day. It’s already over 90°F, the neighborhood and community pools are open, and the kids are out of school.
Time to play!
Let’s talk travel. But not Instagram travel, which clearly requires seven-figure bank accounts or corporate sponsors. I’m talking equal opportunity travel, where there’s something for everyone.
Level One: Make Waves
Nothing says vacation like being on, in or around large bodies of water. Just this week my sister and her friends went tubing down the Chattahoochee River with beer and bikinis. On Saturday, my girl and I are heading to a booze cruise on a lake just up the road. Nothing says relaxation more than babbling water, unbridled laughs, and a little inebriation. You’ll feel brand new.
Pro tip: Bring sunscreen.
Level Two: The Staycation
Look. Don’t knock the staycation. Some of my best trips have been less than 20 miles from home.
My first real staycation as an adult was shortly after my first son was born. My mom came down to babysit and hubby and I got a hotel near downtown Atlanta. Each day we did some corny tourist attraction and each evening we made reservations at local restaurants. By the end, we’d learned more about our city and also didn’t have the hassle of travel schedules, cramped quarters, different time zones or weird climates.
By the end of the long weekend, we both declared that if we didn’t live in Atlanta, our staycation would convince us we needed to move here… stat.
Pro tip: Even if you live in a smaller town, you can explore local mom and pop shops you rarely frequent, try a new international food or have a potluck with people you’ve never invited over. Staycations don’t have rules!
Level Three: Hit the Road
My family is the master of the road trip. If the destination is 6 hours away or less, and offers fun things to do, chances are we’ve done it or at least thought about it.
For the cost of a couple of gallons of gas you could change your life. From Atlanta, we’ve seen gator swamps in Savannah, listened to live blues in Nashville, discovered the sugar sand beaches of Alabama, explored the largest freshwater aquarium in Chattanooga, and many more. For those in more remote locations, you may want to drop some coins on hiking boots or camping equipment and let nature guide you.
Last Fall, my sons and I joined family on a camping trip to a remote location in the Georgia mountains. It was terrifying and I was convinced our campsite would be attacked by bears. It wasn’t. We didn’t even get so much as a mosquito bite.
What we experienced instead was a wonderful weekend without electronics, where the kids ran free and our day was scheduled by the sun instead of meaningless digital timers. I swore off camping after a disastrous trip in college, but I truly didn’t know what I was missing. My stress levels dissipated before the sun went down and my son – the one I previously mentioned struggles with ADHD – was the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time. Camping is now in the official road trip rotation, and after buying tents, sleeping bags and cooking equipment there’s barely any cost at all.
Pro tip: Do your research – hitting the road requires careful research and planning for maximum safety.
Level 4: Champagne Taste, Beer Budget
As much as I like to rough it, keep it local and save coins, every now and then I need to go ham with my vacations. But that doesn’t mean breaking the bank.
I once did Disney for a family of four for 4 days on less than $1,500, including flights and meals. That required cashing in some flight miles, taking advantage of the “kids 2 and under are free” policy (my youngest was 2 years, 11 months!) and staying in an off campus timeshare resort while also skipping out on the high-pressure timeshare presentation. That trip was gobs of fun and while it did require some savings, we weren’t deprived at all. I like to call it our Poor Man’s Disney Trip, but the kids were none the wiser.
We’ve also rented 5-bedroom penthouse apartments on the beach from AirBNB and then split the costs between all the adults. We spent a fraction of the cost and live in luxury for a week. I’ve also found last-minute cruises for half the cost and buy two nights get one night free in mountain cabins. There are so many ways to experience the high life without a Black Card – but it takes a little patience and creativity!
Level 5: Travel Phd
Level 5 is graduate-level vacationing. I aspire to this level. I have a girlfriend who regularly takes 10-day trips to the most exotic places in the world, and she has a friend who joins her as often as possible. This level of travel is the most luxurious and the most discussed in travel blogs, Instagram posts and celebrity “special episodes” of reality shows.
Most of us would have to wait until bonus time, tax return season or retirement to afford these types of vacations, but it may not be as out of reach as you think. If you really want to bring your travel experiences to the next level, I recommend Gate 1 Travel, Travelzoo and Scott’s Cheap Flights for safe bookings that make the most of your abundant dollars. I have a particular island in Belize on my mind as I daydream about Level 5.
Where are you going next?
What are your favorite travel tips? Where do you plan to go this summer? Our readers would love to know the best resources for experiencing the world!