Summer Activities for Families on a Budget

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Military families are always looking for fun things to do, especially during the summer months when the kids are out of school and the weather is too nice to be cooped up at home watching television. But we’re also on a tight budget, which means we’re on the lookout for affordable summer activities that the whole family will enjoy.

So how can we keep ourselves entertained this summer without breaking the bank? Here are some tips to point you in the right direction:

MWR

Don’t know where to start? Head over to your local installation’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) office, specifically the Information, Ticket and Tours Office. (Depending on the service, it may also be called the Leisure Travel Office or Information, Ticket and Recreation.) 

There you’ll find the latest information on local events like concerts and athletic games, as well as discounted tickets for hot spots like Disney World and Sea World. Many MWR locations also rent outdoor equipment, including campers, boats, kayaks, bikes and grills. Go to your local military installation to purchase your tickets.

Need a way to occupy the kids during down time at home? MWR is also encouraging children to keep their brains active with their summer reading program called “Have Book, Will Travel. Visit your local MWR library to sign up, which will also make your kids eligible for prizes. 

National Parks

Enjoy the great outdoors by venturing out to a state or national park for a family hike and picnic. The National Parks Service offers the free America the Beautiful pass to military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as most members of the US Reserves and National Guard. This annual pass allows you access to National Parks Service parks, Fish and Wildlife Service parks, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation sites. 

Blue Star Museums

For those days when the heat is too much to bear, a museum is the perfect combination of education and fun. Thanks to Blue Star Museums, all active duty military, National Guard, reservists, and their families can get free admission to over 2,000 museums, art centers and exhibits for military from Memorial Day (Monday, May 27th) to Labor Day (Monday, September 2nd). 

Camp

There’s one part of summer that no kid can resist: summer camp. There are lots of opportunities for military children to attend a camp that’s affordable while also allowing them to bond with each other over their similar experiences.

The DoD’s Office of Family Policy offers Teen Adventure Camps for military teenagers aged 14 to 18. These camps are free (transportation costs are even covered), and there are more than 40 camps across the U.S. Your teen will love participating in adventures like kayaking through the Florida Keys and caving, rappelling and rock climbing expeditions in Kentucky.

Operation: Military Kids focuses on military youth dealing with deployment. The camps revolve around fun, but they also provide children with skills to cope with every stage of the deployment cycle, whether they have a parent who is currently deployed, about to deploy, or recently returned from deployment.

Camp Corral is a week-long camp for children of injured or fallen servicemembers. Kids ages 8 to 15 gather to go boating, swimming, hiking and all sorts of other outdoor activities. These camps, which are sponsored by the Golden Corral restaurants, are available throughout the country.

Many military installations also offer summer activities just for kids. So contact your local installation's youth programs to see how they can help.

Vacations

Who doesn’t want to head out of town and relax on a summer vacation? Unfortunately, after factoring in airfare, hotels, souvenirs and meals on the go, the expense of a vacation can really add up. That’s why you need to make sure to ask for military discounts wherever you plan to go.

One great military discount to take advantage of is Disney’s Armed Forces Salute Program. Disney gives a discount to all military members, including Guard, Reserve, retired, and spouses on tickets as well as rooms at their resorts. The discount is good for the Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, and Disney Cruise Line.

The Waves of Honor program is another way to hit the theme parks at a discounted rate. Any active duty, activated or drilling reservist, or National Guardsman can get one free admission per year to either SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, Water Country USA or Sesame Place with as many as three dependants. 

Finally, don’t forget to use the military benefits you already have. The Armed Forces Recreation Centers are full-service resort hotels located in beautiful vacation destinations, including Shades of Green in Florida, which is located minutes away from Disney attractions. In addition to finding hotels that offer military discounts, you can also get deals on lodging by staying on-base. Prefer the great outdoors to hotels? There are military campgrounds throughout the country so check those out and plan your next camping trip.

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