5 Creative, Frugal Summer Staycation Ideas for the Family

Enjoy time off with the family without leaving home or breaking your budget.

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Summer is the time to get away, but many consumers are tightening their belts – and an expensive family vacation may not be in the budget this year.

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Casey Bond
While opting for a "staycation" can be a great way to save some money, for many people, the idea conjures up emotions of disappointment and regret. But don't worry: If the thought of another boring summer staycation makes you cringe, there are plenty of unique ideas for enjoying time off with the family without leaving home or breaking your budget.

1. Go on a mini cruise. Nothing says "summer vacation" like hanging out on a boat. However, cruises can cost a hefty sum. Based on recent rates, a seven-day Carnival cruise to the Caribbean, for example, can run more than $1,200 per person.

Luckily, you can enjoy the atmosphere of a cruise while staying close to home by going on a day-long boat tour of a marina, lake or other nearby body of water.

The price of a mini cruise or boat tour can vary by location and company, but it will be a fraction of the cost of taking a “real” cruise. For instance, a tour of the San Antonio River runs just $8.25 for general admission, while a 2.5-hour yacht cruise around Marina del Rey in Southern California costs upwards of $80 per person. Either way, you can save thousands of dollars with this staycation idea, plus you'll have the luxury of heading home when the kids get cranky.

2. Organize a block party. Block parties are an excellent way to relax and have fun in the summer while getting to know your neighbors better. It's also a great way to share the cost of food, drinks and entertainment with other families. By having the neighbors bring their favorite homemade dishes and chip in for a water balloons, crafts or whatever you buy to keep the kids entertained, a summer staycation doesn't have to cost much money at all.

In fact, the most difficult part of putting on a block party tends to be organizing the event. If you're feeling overwhelmed, consider asking your neighbors to help with the preparations, and make sure to check whether your city requires any permits for the event. Nothing would be worse than throwing the best block party ever, only to have it shut down.

3. Turn your backyard into a water park. Though water parks are a popular staycation activity, they can be pricey when you factor in the costs of tickets, meals and souvenirs. But that doesn't mean you have to give up fun in the water, since you can easily transform your own backyard into a water park for less than $50. Head to the store for a slip and slide (Walmart sells them starting at $16) and a few water guns, turn on the hose, invite your kids' friends over and you're done – just don't forget the sunscreen.

4. Rediscover your city. Sometimes living in a place for a long time can make you forget tourists travel to your city for entertainment. Whether you live in a major metropolitan area or a small suburban community, there are bound to be local sights, landmarks and activities your family can enjoy. State parks are a good place to go if you're looking to hike, bike or simply enjoy an afternoon picnic. You can visit your local tourism office for ideas on cheap, family fun.

5. Go geocaching. Most kids agree treasure hunts are pretty cool. However, treasure hunting has become more than childhood make-believe with the advent of "geocaching," an outdoor game in which participants use a global positioning system to locate a set of coordinates and discover the "geocache" hidden there. You can go to Geocaching.com for all the details.

Fellow GoBankingRates editor Jennifer Calonia is a geocaching enthusiast, and recommends the game to families who are looking for an inexpensive but entertaining summer staycation activity. "It promotes teamwork, not to mention the thrill of the find,” she says. “Plus, you can walk away with some cool swag like a $5 bill or a geocoin that's been around the world."

Casey Bond writes for www.GoBankingRates.com, your source for the best auto loan rates, CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.