After months of skimping, saving and planning, the annual family vacation is finally here. You head out for your much anticipated time away, but come back not only needing a time of recuperation from the hectic schedule, but also an exhaustive overall on the family budget.
What do your family vacations look like? Do you ever come home and think, “Next year, we’re doing something different?”
There is a time for that dream vacation, but there is also a time to ponder doing something unique and unexpected.
We began a new family tradition this year with my extended family; radically different family vacation on a budget.
Not just any budget, a “no spend” budget.
With three brothers that are entrepreneurs and an unemployed husband, we decided that if we wanted to make this vacation a reality, it would have to be a “no spend any money at all” vacation.
And by “no spend,” I mean that no spending took place on this vacation besides buying a few additional groceries, and an item at Goodwill (of course).
Our Pigeon Forge lodging was at a beautiful property that we’d already paid for, so the only other out of pocket expense consisted of our gas.
We all brought cooler/meals with us, but then made a few runs to Walmart once we arrived. (Read a detailed account of saving money on food during vacation with many options.)
With five children, we can’t afford to eat out often, but we typically splurge on a few meals during vacation.
For the first time ever, not one bite of food came from a restaurant because we cooked all the meals in the condo . It was pretty funny to see the kids reactions the first two days.
At one time or another, every son, daughter, niece and nephew pestered, “When are we going out to eat?”
“What do you mean, we’re not? Not today?”
“Not at all. We are not going out to eat at all this week.”
Once they finally realized that we were not bluffing, everything was just fine. (I tell you honestly, this was hard for me to stick to as well. 🙂
So was this a boring week?
Hardly. We got to engage a creative side that we wouldn’t have typically explored.
Now, I understand that since we had such a large group for our family reunion, this might be a bit like comparing apples to tomatoes if there are only four in your family. It typically takes the first few days of vacation just to unwind. If we realize that just spending time together and relaxing is the goal, that can happen with 4 or 44.
It’s easy to forget, especially on vacation, that the very best things in life are free.
Frugal vacations are my specialty, but I will save the “tips” for another post. (Check out an exhaustive list of ideas for saving money on food during vacation).
This is just an inside look at a few things that we did throughout the week to get your creative juices going.
Each morning after breakfast, someone led devotions with the kids.
The teens were all situated on the floor and depending on how late they stayed up the night before, they may or may not have been overly participatory. 🙂 The “kids” ranged in age from 5 through college age.
My eldest niece is an officially married women and they had their first baby in tow. She was excused from this family time…hee hee.
The first two days we never even left the condo property. Most of the time on vacations, kids think they have to go, go, go, and we fall into the trap of their continual pestering. Setting the advance expectation that this vacation was going to be about family time, and cherishing the family relationship, set the tone for a great week.
The older boys hung out in the parking lot playing b-ball (without a hoop),
While the middle schoolers realized that playing on a playground can be “cool,” especially when it involves some aspect of danger while your picture is being taken.
There was lots and lots of “chilling” time, as the teens explained.
Never underestimate the power of exploration with your little ones!
You wouldn’t believe how much excitement came from these Three Musketeers just from checking out the “hot ride.” They examined, dreamed and role played for 30 minutes. 🙂
That 30 minutes occurred minutes before heading to the hotel lobby where someone was giving a Parrot demonstration. Parrot Mountain in Pigeon Forge brought some of their birds to show. It was a delightful hour, one in which I would have skipped had we not been searching for fun things to do on the property. Pigeon Forge has something for families of all ages and all budgets and this was the perfect spot for a reunion. Check out your options here.
By the third day, we girls were itching to go shopping! So where else would the relatives of the Frugal Fashionista go? Goodwill thrifting, of course.
We were on the hunt for a “mother of the bride” dress. We came awfully close, but we were worried that this beauty might show up her daughter. 🙂
(Yes, I am bragging on my hot nieces, but you can look that good and still love to shop at GW.)
Now I must add that these prices were a bit higher than I am used to. Good thing my “elderly” mother was along for her Senior Citizen discount because we all saved an additional 25%.
(May I look that fabulous when I am that old…70…shh, can you believe it?)
Yes, that is the only shopping we did for the week.
On the third day, my dad had scoped out this unbelievable community park.
The guys went early and it was old guys vs. the young guys for a war to end all wars.
Yes, we tend to get the testosterone going on our family reunions. See the picture on the left? Everyone playing was from our family, except one guy that was begging to get in on the action.
While the big boys played ball, the younger ones had a blast on the huge swing set.
Only my 18 year old niece would challenge some native Mexicans to a soccer game. This is a prime example of thinking outside the box on a “no spend” vacation. It was so much fun to watch them, and this was a highlight of their week.
As dinner approached, we all unpacked the picnic suppers that we had brought. Each family brought their own, and the smorgasbord included everything from fried chicken and burritos, to good old fashioned sandwiches.
It was such a beautiful evening, but we had to wrap it up in time to head back for the finales of American Idol. I think we got a few complaints that night from the loud screaming that came from the 4th floor when Kris Allen was declared the winner. ( I was actually alone in my room when the winner was announced…what was I thinking? I had to scream all by my lonesome.)
I had to go back one day early to speak at a conference. I missed the best part of the week, but was able to share in it through my son’s photography. The family hike solidifies the essence of what a “no spend” vacation is all about.
There was definitely no silence on this walk.
In fact, the irony of this picture is that the sign says,
“DANGER – falling deaths have occurred. Closely control children.
High Vertical Drop off.”Good thing we begin our child training early.
Did I forget to mention that from the four siblings in my family (me, and my three brothers) there are 29 children? I’ll let you ponder that math for a minute before I close. 🙂
The American “microwave society” screams that we must have everything quick.
Patience is no longer a virtue. We must spend money to have fun, and if we don’t schedule, schedule, schedule, it’s just plain BORING!
I encourage you to throw out that lie, and replace it with the truth.
If there’s ever a time where a picture speaks truth, it’s this one. This is what it is all about.
Quality relationships. Teenage sister, brother and little cousin enjoying life together.
No Game Boys, no X box, no cell phone, no Facebook…just LIFE!
We’ve already scheduled next years “no spend” vacation…and I can’t wait!
But maybe we’ll splurge on just one meal out, okay, I’d be up for two…. 😉
That was very inspirational! Really impressive!! Who needs big attractions when you have all that built-in entertainment?! Great post.
Jen that looks like such a great vacation!
I can't wait until my siblings get married and my boys have cousins to play with and we can do those types of vacations! (my siblings are all still living at home in high school or college.)
Your son takes great pictures!! His pictures from the hike were really nice.
Jen, this was a wonderful post with some great pictures! I don't think we've taken a vacation as a family. 🙁 T doesn't take off work, like, ever, so it's kind of difficult. I'm hoping to do some day trips this summer/early Fall since we live close enough to DC to make it there and back easily. 🙂
awesome! My kind of vacation!
Great post! Sometimes I feel that, with two small children at home, EVERY day is a "no pay" vacation :o) I'm so glad everyone had a good time!
Jen, that vacation was amazing. When I first read y'all didn't eat out AT ALL I was like, "Oh, no, not me! I gotta eat out on vacation!" But the more I read, the more I "got it". You inspire me to do "no spend" things around HERE! We just got a free trial membership to the Pink Palace Museum system here in Memphis and one of the areas that is included is the Lichterman nature center. Now I can't WAIT to go! : )
By the way…they are doing 80% off at Restaurant.com again this week!
What a wonderful family vacation! Thank you for sharing it with us. You have a beautiful extended family and I'm so glad you got to enjoy each other in a "no spend" way. I love that!
Blessings to you, Jen… Jennifer
Loved your inspiring post! No spend vacation…no eating out! It couldn't get much better than your picture protrays!
29 kiddos…nope can't figure it out! Foster kids??
I cannot get over the young boys abs!! I was just telling my 8 year old that when he talks I could see his ab muscles…he had to go check it out in the mirror. I thought my son had nice abs…oh my goodness…curious if he is doing situps or what!
Thanks for sharing!!
LOVE YOUR BLOG!!
Incredible and inspiring! I would love my family to all get together and take a vacation, especially a no spend vacation! Thanks So Much for sharing and the pictures are awesome!!
What a great vacation. You have a wonderful family…. and what great memories you are making with them.
looks like a lot of fun and having grown up going to this part of TN 3-4 times per year, my only comment would be take advantage of the beautiful Smokey Mountains more! You could have done a lot of hiking, nature, photography sessions, etc. and that is always free.
Such a great post, Jen!! Loved seeing you with that parrot on your shoulder :)!! Sounds like a wonderful family fun time was had by all. Listen, I could really use your prayers — we got an offer on our house tonight (!) and are praying that everything will go smoothly with negotiations and it won't fall through! Thanks :), I'm so glad to have friends who I know I can ask to pray for me :)!!
I am impressed you got that many people…including teenagers and little ones to do such a vacation! This is absolutely amazing and so encouraging!
So much fun! My mom was the third of 10 children. There are 34 of us grandkids. Oh, the childhood memories. 🙂
I think it's absolutely incredible that your family takes the time to do this. Wow.
That was beautiful. I love how your family all seem to be in agreement on so many levels. Your kids are going to have the best memories! If you had ran, ran, ran and spent, spent, spent you would have sacrificed on the awesome memories built with their cousins.
Very, very, very cool! I like it a lot! Thanks for sharing! Kelly
Looks like you guys had a awesome time! 🙂
Amazing and a great idea. Now lets see… 4 goes into 29 7 times with one left over…
Holy Fertility, Batman!
Looks like you guys had an awesome vacation!
A no spend vacation. That's something we SHOULD do. Not this year though…we're going back to my homestate (AK) after being away for 8 years and we've got plans! Fortunately, we've also carefully chosen what we want and researched and are paying what we can in advance.
We've been on some camping trips where all we spent on was food (and a tiny bit for camping fees). Mind you- we ate out- but it was so much fun! We're going to do that again this year.
The thing that really has helped us is researching-in advance of departure- where you're going to get the most out of it.
By the way, I made a strawberry pie the other day that was similar to yours (I used cornstarch and I added lemon juice & butter to the cooked berry mixture) and it was declared the best pie! My girls now want it as their birthday cakes!
looks like a great time!
Thank you for sharing your amazing vacation. The photos are a great depiction of a close family. Just think, 10 years from now…….the "kids" will still be talking about this one. Good job!
I'm quite impressed that you could visit Pigeon Forge and NOT spend money. How do you not eat at The Mill? I might make it a day or two, but would probably give in to the temptations. Good job on all that family time.
That sounds like a wonderful vacation! My husband and I just returned from camping, and we pretty much did the same thing. We camped(in a tent) at a state park on the beach. We cooked food in advance for meals, took in some simple sight seeing. Sat and walked on the beach a lot and when we went in to Charleston and he offered for us to eat @ Bubba Gumps I turned it down(we had sandwich fixings and snacks in the car. We sat by a lake fixed our sandwiches and it was great because we did not spend a small fortune on a meal out. We saw lots of families at the campground and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. It was definitely refreshing, and he let me stop at any thrift store in Charleston that I wanted to. I came away with a few good books at a tremendous bargain. The other thrift shopping was a little too pricey for me. It is possible to have a great time without spending loads. Thanks for the encouragement. Jackie
Enjoyed this post so much. In 10 days we are planning on starting a 9 day staycation. The only thing we have planned to spend money on is a day trip to the zoo. That's to celebrate the baby's 1st birthday. The rest of the time to being devoted to home improvements and my spray painting furniture. Eating out will be done on the patio. Am dying to try out some of Pioneer Woman's recipes on the grill. So those recipes are going to provide the "new things to try while on vacation".
I need to have the kids/grandkids math spelled out for me. lol
Looks like you had a great time!!
Wow, that sounds like you all had a wonderful vacation. The pictures are awesome.
Looks like a wonderful vacation, Jen!
I can't imagine either side of our family submitting to a no spend vacation or having family devotions while on vacation, but for our little four I'll definitely keep your inspiration in mind.
You were in my old stomping grounds! Looks like it was a great time!
I'm so jealous! I come from a pretty small family, I'm an only child and my closest cousin in 10 years younger. My husband only has 1 sibling, a sister who just got married. We've decided we'll just have to have lots of kids to make our own family.
We would love to do something like your vacation here. What fun!
Family time is better than anything money can buy. Lots of people in my family think that you HAVE to eat out on vacation.
When my family went to Six Flags, we brought coolers of food and saved so much money. It was $6 for a burger a few years ago! I'm sure it's went up now.
I'm also curious about the young boy's abs. He's a little young to be working out, so how does he do it?
Even though 4 goes in 29 with one left over, I know you don't have 7 kids, you have 5. This means I should divide 24 by 3, which means your brothers have 8 kids each.
No matter what way you look at it, that's a lotta kids! 🙂
That is so cool. And I bet it will be a time the kids never forget. You should be on Oprah!
This will be the first year in 7 or more years (?) that we have not taken a "real" vacation. We've had some good trips over the past several years. Disney World, Six Flags, Destin, FL, etc., etc. But this year, the money is just not there. So, we told the kids that this year, it's just camping. And you know what? They are completely okay with that. They are good, in fact. Last year we got a goooood deal on a used camper, so this year the camper is our "hotel" and nature will be our "amusement park". I think it's good for them, too. I think it's good for them to see that they've been blessed with the trips they've gotten to take, and that it takes real money to do that stuff. Ya know?
I love this post. So wonderful to see it can be done and enjoyed by all. I find your blog to be among the most inspirational on the Internet, Jen! I am so glad you visited me once long ago and I was able to connect to you.
I live in a town with lots of Goodwills so I'm not sure what one I should be hitting up. Should I do the one closest to my house or should I go to the nicest area of town and go to that one? I just figured since you're the Goodwill guru you'd have a suggestion 🙂
I LOVE the family vacation, what a wonderful vacation, that is actually relaxing!
Beautiful! Just beautiful! People, writing, the whole thing! Love it! Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful! Just beautiful! People, writing, the whole thing! Love it! Thanks for sharing! I have to link this, Twitter, etc.!
You inspire me – thank you for sharing your "29 kids in tow" vacation. I can't wait to let my family read your post – this should have been on tv!
You can see the love of family in how you write and the fun pics – thanks for showing Christ in all you do:)
Jen, I love this! So glad your family got together and did this. We grew up going to NC mountains on vacation & pretty much didn't spend a lot either, so I know it can be done. Looks like a great family time. 29 kids!! Wowza! And your mom is beautiful (like mother, like daughter). I see where you get it from. 😉
That is awesome! You don't have to spend money to have a great vacation. 😀 SO many times you go on vacation and it is do this or do that and then you get home and are so tired you need a vacation from your vacation.
We use Wyndham too! We're going to Pigeon Forge next month & Daytona in August. 🙂 SO neat! Our fav (besides Fairfield Pagosa-Pagosa Springs CO) was Edisto Island, SC! Well and then there's Bonnet Creek (Disney World) LOL I love Wyndham!
Hey Jen – sounds like a great time with awesome memory building. We always take vacations that way – bring own food or buy in the store, very little eating out. When we went to Palm Springs in March I left my VISA at home. Not on purpose, but it was the best. Anything I bought, Paul had to be with me! LOL!
Love all the pix. Happy Summer! Love, S
I had tears in my eyes by the end of that post. Thanks so much for sharing!
Looks like you had a great time! We did a family vacation last summer with my sister-n-law and her family. It was so much fun! I really liked how you guys all had devotions each morning!
Hey Jen! I know you were on a family bonding vacation, but I wish you had let me know you were coming. You were literally 20 minutes from me! We could have met up!
Sweet, sweet memories! How blessed you are to have the ability to gather all your family close. Ours is in CA, AZ, and CO… we are in NC. I have always wanted a trip like that. My hubby has 3 siblings with kids, and I always thought it would be so fun to rent a house together.
This year… Saturday, in fact, we are taking a one-week, "no spend vacation" and I am very excited! My mom gave us her timeshare points and we are staying a Sugar Mountain near Banner Elk. I am trying to find every free thing possible to explore. My hubby will only be there on the weekend, so it will the kids and I out and about. I am looking forward to seeing more of NC! Suggestions? Blessings!
I love your ideas, but have to admit I love stopping to eat on vacations. I am worst than a kid. It's actually one of my favorite parts.
I have even tried to convince my husband to go on a road trip… ha!
Off to check out Kids Love Travel.
i was so touched in the small moment to click a peek at someone's life while juggling my own, how blessed you are and now my heart too. Thank you… Great post .
Thank you for this inspirational post. I am planning a weekend vacation with all of my husband's family at my house and we need to add devotions for the kids in the morning. What a great idea.
This looks like such a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
I've been reading your blog for some time, although I've only recently left a few comments. This post, though, I just MUST comment upon.
This is wonderful. What a magnificent testimonial about how much fun we can have just by being together and being creative. And what a wonderful testimony to the goodness of God.
On top of that, you've inspired and challenged us. I believe you were inspired when you wrote this, and I thank you for being faithful to share it.
You have brothers. You don't need a sister, do you? 🙂
A "no spend" family vacation?? What a fabulous idea!!!! My husband is unemployed as well and we have trying so hard to figure out how to still enjoy some time off with the kids this summer. A "no spend" vacation sounds just like the perfect thing! I know I read somewhere that the National Parks were offering free entry on certain days this summer also.
Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing it with Tuesdays Unwrapped.
hey girl! your trip looks fabulous. i laughed out loud several times while reading…and i absolutely loved the "no spend" rule. how great for all your kids to be reaping the benefits of togetherness!!!
Wow, what a fabulous vacation. It looks like a blast.
Great reminder that just spending time together is fun!
We're all about frugal vacations, but you have given me even more inspiration. Thanks.
I'm finding this post late (followed you here from Bible Money Matters link this morning), but so enjoyed you post! We are trying to think outside the box with vacation this year too. We have a staycation in mind, but in the meantime have entered a contest to try to win a week's free RV rental by blogging about our travels. I know it's a long-shot, but I'm having fun learning about RV travel and putting together the blog. Feel free to drop by and read the earliest post to see how we are looking to be creative in vacationing as well. I'm enjoying not only all your great family stories (wow, 29 kids between 4 siblings!) but also the links you posted on budget vacationing as well. 🙂
I think it’s extremely important to do this type of vacation no matter what financial bracket you are in! I was just writing a post today on our simple week of fun in California! We did eat out once though. Darn! We are heading across the USA by RV starting June 1 for at least 7 months to do a lot of this sort of family bonding! Maybe we’ll see you when we come through NC!
AMY!!! What? A 7 month RV trip? That is a family dream trip for us. We always wanted to do that. PLEASE put our neck of the woods on your visit. I’d LOVE to see you. 🙂
WOW, you really cut some corners on this trip! Great post, great advice and some really great images here! I love how you shared all this information and it’s a great idea for anyone regardless of their income level. Thanks for sharing this!
Here’s a resource your readers may find useful (and maybe you as well). Real Family Trips lets users share their experiences with other families to help plan a family vacation a little easier. Pass it along if you find it helpful. Thanks! 🙂
This is so awesome, These vacations will always be remembered and cherished by everyone!
Isn’t that our real goal?