Beach Vacation on a Shoestring

It has been somewhat difficult for me to compose this post, because our situation is unique and I can’t tell you to just do what we do.  So this is not a “How-To,” but a “How We Do It” type of thing.  So let me tell you how our large, low-budget family is able to take 4 vacations a year to America’s Oldest City.

I am writing to you from St. Augustine, Florida, where we are currently taking a brief vacation while my husband has a week off between semesters.  I love this place.  There is little housework because we pack very light, and there is always so much to do, even if we don’t have the cash to “play tourist” (I say “play” because my husband and I have both been vacationing here regularly since we were toddlers, so it’s kind of home-away-from-home).

So, first.  We are fortunate enough to have a condo that we are able to stay in for free.  My in-laws own 2 fully-furnished condos that they rent out, so they let us stay in our favorite one (the one we honeymooned in) whenever it is available and our schedules allow.  Generally we go for Spring Break (March), Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day — usually for a 3-day weekend, but sometimes longer if we are able (this March we stayed for a whole week!).  So there go the lodging fees.  We do pay $75 for a cleaning fee when we leave, or if we are seriously broke, we can do all of the cleaning ourselves instead (I have not done that in years, though, since the addition of children #4 and 5 — it’s too much!).

Because of the nature of the condo (being the owners’ family), we are able to keep a stash of personal items in a locked closet.  We have a full set of toiletries, some activities for the children, beach toys, and a supply of non-perishable food.  There is enough food to get us through one dinner and one breakfast, so if we arrive late at night (as we did this time), we don’t have to worry about rushing to the grocery store or finding the nearest drive-thru.  So, we only have to pack clothing and whatever personal items we need (like current library books and knitting ;)).

Next, we don’t eat out (much — sometimes we’ll take a celebratory trip to O’Steen’s, where we eat the best fried shrimp ON EARTH; caught that morning).  We go to the grocery store when we get here, and get enough food for the whole stay.  I actually seem to get more home-cooking done here, because of the lack of distractions (like chores!).  Today for breakfast we had fresh cantaloupe, bacon, and a spinach fritatta (which my youngest son called a “piñata,” and then my husband called a “fruitista” within minutes of each other, hahaha).  Then we had a picnic lunch while we were out being touristy, and had salad, green beans, and grilled steak for dinner.  (Incidentally, we are on a starch fast while we are here, to help detox from sugar.  So none of our meals have had any starches.)

So as for touristy stuff, we have some advantages there, too.  Because of the museum-related consulting work that my mother-in-law does here, we have free access to certain museums, like the Government House Museum (local archeology) and the relatively new Pirate Museum.  We are fortunate that our children love museums, and it’s all part of homeschooling!  🙂

We also have a Florida State Park annual pass, which we used here for the first time this trip.  We visited Fort Mose, which was a refuge for escaped slaves back when Florida still belonged to Spain.  They have a little museum and nature trails.  That’s where we had our picnic today.  Since we have a pass, we got in free.

Another wonderful thing we have at our disposal is a military discount.  My husband served 10 years in the USMC, and is a veteran.  St. Augustine is a very military-friendly town.  They offer deep discounts all over the place.  For example, we are able to tour the St. Augustine Lighthouse for free with our military IDs.  And just today, we did the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum (again) for $5/person age 6+, as opposed to $15/person!  I think Potter’s Wax Museum was also free — we did that last year.

So, that’s about all there is to say about it.  I am so thankful that we are able to get away every now and then and just enjoy nature and each other.  So funny, though — when we come to the beach, you’d think we’d be spending a lot of time on the beach, right??  Hmmm, nope.  This is what they always want to do instead:

But I took the baby down to the beach this afternoon so she could do some exploring, since she was not happy at the pool.  I didn’t have a baby carrier on me, so I did a make-shift Kanga carry with a beach towel (not my first time doing this, either!).

So I guess if I were to give advice on how to have a budget vacation, it would be pretty basic stuff.  Go where you can stay for free (with friends/family), avoid eating out and buy groceries and cook instead, and find the cheap and/or free entertainment.  Genius!  😀

~ Michelle

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