Military families have a great opportunity to explore many places. What better time than in the summer when you're on leave and the kids are out of school? But while travel to an exotic destination may not be in your budget, staycations will work for everyone.
Adults and kids alike can enjoy these fun, budget-friendly activities no matter where in the world they might be. Best of all, for many of these activities, you can use what you already have instead of making more purchases.
Create a Scavenger Hunt
Even if you have been living in one place for a while, scavenger hunts are a fun way for families to explore an area together. For instance, you and your family can create your own scavenger and look for unusual features of your area. Things to look for might include landmarks, native plants and animals, unique features of a neighborhood, favorite restaurants and foods, colorful things, historically or culturally significant sights. You could even create tasks to accomplish for the scavenger hunt, such as taking photos or interacting with folks in the area. Go wild—your only limit is time! Use this handy template to make your own hunt.
Scrapbook Your Neighborhood
Your memories are what you'll take with you when you leave your current posting. Before you go, commit some of those memories to paper and create a scrapbook that you'll be able to look at and share for years to come. You and your kids could take photographs of your favorite neighborhood spots, write about your own most memorable experiences, and interview neighbors and friends for their insights. Creating the scrapbook itself will be a memory that you and your family will be talking about every time you bring it out to share with others.
Hit the Water
Hot summer afternoons and cool waters are a match made in heaven. Research what kind of water-related resources are available in your area. Are you near a beach or lake? Even if you aren't, many neighborhoods will also have community pools perfect for cooling off on hot days. Bring along your water gear and enjoy a day splashing about. Don't forget to pack the sunscreen with your summer gear—you'll need it!
Visit a Museum
Museums have a reputation for being stuffy and boring, but they are actually ideal places for families to spend an afternoon. Museums often make family outreach an important part of their mission with activities for children and adults. In particular, natural history and science and technology museums excel at creating events specifically for families and work hard to bring in that wow factor to engage and educate children. For a military spin, check to see if you can visit an aircraft carrier or submarine retired from service. What's more, many museums have discounts for military families to make an outing particularly budget-friendly.
Take A Walking Tour
To delve deep into the history of your area, consider taking a walking tour. Even the most remote areas often have fascinating histories behind them, especially if you're stationed overseas. In many places, free walking tours are available and given by knowledgeable locals who love to share their insider information. If your area doesn't have guided walking tours, you may be able to find other resources, either from books or researching the Internet.
Do you know what that odd insect might be, or identify all the flowers on base? You and your family could be stationed in the middle of a desert, and you'd still be in a unique ecosystem with hidden secrets. Learn to identify the flora and fauna of your area and what their unique qualities are, especially across seasons. At night, look up for an even better sight—the moon, stars, and constellations also lend themselves well to navigation lessons. You and your family could keep a nature diary of your findings across postings, a perfect way to compare and contrast the new environments you'll find yourselves living in.
Since most military families will make multiple moves, these activities are also designed to help families feel more settled in their postings and get to know their communities. These activities are well suited to long summer days, but many of them can be used any time of the year for busy military families who want to spend more quality time together without spending a lot of money. If you're currently working to pay down debt - whether it be credit card debt, or student loan debt or some other type of debt - saving money this summer will be key. And with the ideas above, you can focus on what's truly important—friends, family, and community—instead of worrying about breaking the bank.
Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.