Nearly Free Vacation

by Pamela Parks

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It's time to start planning for your big summer vacation! Want to go someplace exciting that you have never been to before? Might I suggest a charming little Bed and Breakfast, which looks remarkably like your own home?

When I was a foreign exchange student in Japan, I learned a phrase, edokko. It means "Tokyo Native." (Edo is the former name for Tokyo, much like Istanbul was Constantinople.) Edokko is kind of the joking way you refer to someone who has lived all his life in Tokyo, and yet has never seen a Kabuki play or the Imperial Palace or even gone to Tokyo Disneyland. Are you an edokko in your own town?

Start your vacation planning with your own Chamber of Commerce. Also, on your next errand out, stop by the largest hotel you know of and pick up one of each brochure they have at the counter. Make a list of everything you've been meaning to go to. Include the things you had heard about somewhere but weren't really sure what they were. Add in the stuff that you didn't know you had in your town.

How about all those museums you've heard of but never investigated? I don't mean just art museums. Look for natural history museums, boating museums, farming museums, etc. If you live in a university town, you're in even better luck. Some museums have free days. By and large, museums are not terribly expensive when compared to amusement parks.

County fairs are a staple of summertime, and probably within a short drive of where you are. Pack your own picnic and fill up your water bottles at the drinking fountain. Most fairs offer unlimited ride wristbands at a discount if you purchase them at "participating retailers" a week or two before the fair. Not only do county fairs have rides, but they also have animal shows, rock concerts, and a kind of mini "home show" with vendor tables selling things like jewelry, hair products, home repair tools, toys, bumper stickers, gardening tools, storage sheds, etc. The most popular vendor is always the one who is demonstrating massage chairs to all the people with tired feet.

Do you have small kids? How about randomly choosing a different neighborhood's playground and going there for an afternoon? I have found that even a small playground that is unfamiliar is sometimes more exciting than one the kids are used to.

As you peruse your brochures, you will find that there are seasonal events you never heard of going on annually. Ever been to a renaissance faire? A Viking celebration? Cherry blossom festival? A vegetarian food-sampling event? A Civil War reenactment? A model train show? Many parks have free summer concerts. Some even have movies in the park. If you live near a university, every choir, orchestra, and band class is gearing up for its final performance. Since this is for the students' grade, they rarely charge admission.

Is there a store you've never been to or rarely go to? I know that this sounds like spending money, so you have to have discipline. But consider how interesting it would be to walk around a musical instrument store that really truly carries everything, such as lutes and steel drums. Or a retro toy store? How about test-driving that expensive car you honestly will never buy? One of my favorite places to go is a water garden supply store. The store itself is a tiny mobile office, and there are acres of ponds, each set up to look different from the others.

There are also the basics of fun. Since you are saving money by not traveling, you can do all the standard things you have neglected in this economy, like bowling, ice skating or roller skating and miniature golfing. Maybe you haven't done these things in a while. (I know I haven't!)

Let's turn our attention to the Bed and Breakfast part. Since this is your vacation, start planning your menus now. You probably won't want to walk the beach all day and then come home and cook. Now is the time to check out a "once-a-month cooking" cook book, and freeze the meals you will want. I have found that it is easier to take cranky kids home and wait 30 minutes for a lasagna to cook than to wait 30 minutes in a restaurant for your food to come to the table. And I am more relaxed because I didn't spend my week's grocery budget on just one measly meal!

Make this the summer vacation to remember! No waiting in line at the airport, no tired legs from a long drive, and a budget completely in control.

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