As a mother to a toddler, I will admit escaping for a family vacation tends to fall to the bottom of my list. The constant need for house chores, errands, non-overlapping work schedules, plus limited finances are just a few of the constraints our family faces. We seem to be bound to the stay-cation. Recently, my family traveled out of state for a funeral and I was reminded of the importance of a true vacation. The reason for travel was unfortunate and left us little time to explore, empty pockets, but a yearning to find a way to enjoy a vacation before summer concludes. But how?

Here are 7 tips to finally affording that family vacation you deserve.

1. Stay local

Do you ever consider exploring your own area? In Minnesota, we are extremely fortunate to have unlimited access to great destinations right here in our own backyard. That means no airfare, easy weekend trips, and affordability. Win-win-win. On a muggy summer afternoon the four of us (myself, hubby, kiddo and pug) chose to turn the truck North and drove straight to Lutsen. About two hours northeast of Duluth, the commute was easy enough to require zero potty stops – woohoo – and scenic to keep you occupied.

2. Make the most of your road trip

If you have not yet ventured up the North Shore along Lake Superior, add this to your bucket list. There are plenty of towns to explore along your drive and exceptional scenery that will leave you breathless. Split Rock Lighthouse. Gooseberry Falls. Scenic 61. Local flea markets and farmers markets. Misty fog on the lake and stony beaches to pull over and take it all in. Enjoying the roadtrip will not only extend the feel of your vacation, but also make for a more memorable experience.

3. Search for adventure

Fact: Finding a location with adventure opportunities does not require experience. Believe you me, I am not an advanced hiker. However, the reason we chose Lutsen, not only because it was close, but because it has tons of opportunity for outdoor adventure. Its reputation is as a winter ski destination; during the summer, this means hiking galore, scenic overlooks, and other activities that maintain your bottom line. In other words, cheap.

Caribou Highlands outdoor pool
Lutsen alpine slide

4.  Amenities, amenities, amenities

On our Lutsen vacation, we stayed at Caribou Highlands Lodge, a northwoods resort offering tons of amenities and room options to accommodate every budget. Everywhere we turned was something new for kiddo to explore. Honestly, the best part of the entire weekend was finding endless options for activities that required very little additional expense. And that was one invaluable benefit to staying at Caribou. The many amenities allowed us keep our rare family vacation affordable AND exciting.

Our townhome was immediately across the parking lot from a playground, which the kiddo noticed instantly. Dog bags were placed strategically throughout the resort. Another playground was discovered outside the main hotel. A fenced, heated, outdoor pool was a popular spot this weekend. Fire pit with s’mores. Hot tub. Even lawn games were hosted by the GM. Need I say more? Plus, the townhome had a few children’s movies, books, board games and a bucket of Duplos. A+ from my little builder.

5. Find lodging with a kitchen or outdoor grills

This tip never would have occurred to me without experiencing it first hand. Spending money for every single meal for every family member adds up quickly. Eating at restaurants is one expense I dread when planning a vacation. The townhome in which we stayed at Caribou boasted full size kitchens stocked with pots and pans begging to be used. Plus, a GRILL on a beautiful deck overlooking the woods. Genius! Even if your accommodations do not have a kitchen, many places will have outdoor grills for use. Grab yourself some hot dogs, buns and Pop Tarts at the local store, your family will eat for the weekend on very little money.

6. Ask the front desk

Have you ever heard the phrase “Minnesota Nice”? This is no exception up North. The front desk staff were instrumental at helping guide our vacation to our goals. Just ask. They will tell you where to go, what to see, what costs money and what does not. Family friendly adventures, pet friendly adventures, daily activities, local eateries, must-sees, even the weather forecast to plan ahead. You will be loaded with pamphlets and tourist information oozing out of your ears. Just ask.

7. Keep it short

A weekend trip is plenty of time to recharge on vacation. Forget the idea that a trip requires a week or two to really adventure. While sure, those longer stays have their time and place, it’s not necessary to getting the most out of a vacation. Remember – quality, not quantity.

(Truth be told, you’ll probably be itching to get back into your own bed and finish the laundry left in the washing machine back home.)


If somehow in the universe of crazy work schedules and tight budget my family was able to execute and afford a quality family vacation, I trust it is possible for anyone. A local destination with tons of amenities, adventure, and a great front desk staff is how you can make the most of a quick weekend trip.  Another six weeks remains before Labor Day leaving plenty of time to plan that summer vacation you deserve.