There are lots of ways to make a family vacation more affordable. You can save money on food by renting a condo with a kitchen and stopping at the grocery store on your way into town. You can drive instead of fly. You can stay at the Motel 6 rather than the Ritz.
But nothing is more affordable than free. So when you plan your next family vacation, find at least one free thing to do every day. Here's where to look:
1. Call the local Chamber of Commerce or town hall.
Wherever you're visiting, there is a business organization or a central government agency. Chances are good whoever answers the phone there is a mom. And no one knows more about entertaining kids for free than other moms. If the person who answers the phone isn't a parent or doesn't know what's cool and free, ask to be transferred to someone else who does. People love talking about their hometown and sharing their favorite things to do. While you're chatting, ask for tips on what not to miss with your family, even if means paying admission.
2. Cruise the web.
Virtually everyone uses the web to plan a family vacation, but not everyone thinks about Googling "free things to do in (name of destination)." Be sure to check the convention and tourism bureau for the locale as well. Most list free things to do under their family section. Some cities, such as Raleigh, N.C., and St. Louis, have tons of free things to do, including major attractions such as the zoo and big museums. But all cities have parks, free programs at the library, park district offerings and other free events staged primarily for local residents, but open to anyone.
3. Ask a mom.
If you haven't figured out the free things to do before you arrive, plan a stop at the local playground on your first day in town. Go during prime playtime and hit up the moms of kids similar in age to yours. They are almost always happy to share their secrets for entertaining kids. (See point No. 1 above).
Cindy Richards is the mom of two who gets her muse from traveling the world, usually with kids in tow. She also writes for TravelingMom.com, where she also serves as editor.
See more of Cindy's stories here.