You’ve spent months planning the perfect vacation, and it’s finally here. Your bags are picked, the kids are bouncing off the walls, and you’ve finished up loose ends at work. Once you make a final trip through the house, you can pretty much lock up and go.
Unfortunately, bad news is on the way in the form of inclement weather. Upon checking the forecast, you find out there’s a good chance of rain for much of your trip.
I’ve been there – you’ve been there – we’ve all been there: Dreams of sun, sand, and surf washed out by pouring rain. But what do you do? Pack up the car and head back home? Or, do you forge ahead and have fun anyway?
Obviously, most of us would choose the latter. After all, imperfect weather can’t take away from the fact that you’re away from work and spending time with the ones you love.
The best anyone can do is find some fun and frugal ways to kill time and have a blast until the weather cooperates. This can be a little tricky, though, when you’re away from home – and your go-to rainy day activities, like art supplies and video games. Here are some of my family’s strategies for having fun on vacation, regardless of what’s going on outside.
#1: Visit the public library.
Believe it or not, you can find public libraries away from your hometown. Nearly every place you’d visit in the U.S. has one, including coastal resort destinations, big metropolitan cities, and rural areas.
While you can’t check out books without a library card, you can browse what’s available, find a cozy nook and read, or even watch movies at some libraries. Better yet, most libraries have free Wi-Fi, and many have free audio books.
Check out the local library website to see what’s going on, including special activities for kids, film screenings, or even concerts or speaker sessions. While you may not want to spend your entire vacation at the library, many locations offer enough interesting activities to keep everyone occupied for a few hours at a time.
#2: Swim indoors.
Does your hotel have an indoor pool? If your kids are like mine, they are more than happy to kill a few days swimming and playing water games with each other or with new friends.
If your hotel or condo doesn’t have a pool, you can also look to see if there are any water parks or public swimming pools nearby. If you can find an affordable water park or pool that’s indoors, you’ll have no trouble keeping the kids busy and entertained.
But what about the adults? You can swim, read a book, or sit back and watch the kids have fun.
#3: Visit a local museum or aquarium.
Most major tourist areas offer a handful of museums and aquariums. If the weather isn’t great, either of these options can offer a fun way to spend the day.
While museums can introduce your children to science and nature, different types of art, parts of our history, or local culture, aquariums can also be educational and awe-inspiring. Better yet, both of these options can be affordable, depending on where you are.
If you’re a member of a museum or aquarium back home, check to see if the one you’re visiting has a reciprocal arrangement with your hometown institution before you pay full price. For example, members of the Museum of Science in Boston can get free or discounted admission at more than 400 other science centers, aquariums, and zoos across the country by flashing their membership card.
#4: Visit an arcade.
Arcades can help you kill time for sure, but they may not be cheap. Depending on where you’re at, it’s fairly easy to spend $20 or more per kid on tokens or tickets for games.
When we wind up in an arcade for a few hours, I try to turn it into a miniature money lesson. I usually give the kids $5 to $10 apiece to spend on games, while imparting the idea that, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Since different games can cost different amounts to play, the kids can learn to stretch their budgets to play games longer. Or, they can blow through their stash of coins right away. Trust me, both of those things have happened!
The rest of the lesson comes when they go to redeem their tickets for those cheap prices I can’t stand. Once again, the kids have the opportunity to stretch their tickets to try to get the best “prize” they can.
While visiting an arcade isn’t the world’s most frugal activity, it can sure salvage an otherwise bummer of a rainy day in a touristy vacation spot. Set spending limits before you go, and you should be okay.
#5: Take the family rollerskating.
A few years ago, we took our kids to a skating rink during the rainiest day of our beach vacation. While it took my husband and me a while to figure out how to skate without hurting ourselves, the entire experience was a blast!
It was also inexpensive, even though we bought drinks and snacks while we were there. If your vacation destination has an old-fashioned roller rink, you should definitely give it a try.
#6: Go to the movies!
Whenever it rains on vacation, the local movie theater is usually our go-to activity. There’s something especially fun about seeing a movie on vacation – when there’s no work or chores waiting at home. The best part is, this is an activity the whole family can do together.
To make it more affordable, avoid the pricey snacks at the theater and bring your own instead.
#7: Play cards.
A deck of cards is small and lightweight – easy to pack on any trip – but holds everything you need to play literally hundreds of different games, from simple, kid-friendly classics like Go Fish or Slapjack to Rummy, Hearts, or Bridge. Care to make it interesting? Play poker with pennies, or bet with little snacks like Goldfish or Skittles. UNO, which uses its own deck, is another great card game for families with young kids.
#8: Go out to eat.
Going out to dinner is a time-honored tradition on most vacations, but it’s also a good way to kill time when the weather isn’t great. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend an evening eating up food and time, try a restaurant with an especially lengthy dinner presentation. For example, look for a hibachi restaurant where your food is cooked live in front of the table. Or, try to find a dinner theatre where you can see a show and enjoy a meal at the same time.
#9: Go bowling.
I always ask my husband why we don’t go bowling more often. Not only is it fun, but it’s cheap, too! We’ve gone bowling on several different trips, both because the weather was bad and because the kids love it so much.
The best part about bowling is that it’s usually inexpensive. Plus, everyone can play regardless of their skill or ability.
Here’s a final activity that’s therapeutic, good for the soul, and free. For once in your life, sit back and relax. Watch movies or television with the kids, or sit back with a cup of coffee and do nothing at all. While this might sound boring, name the last time you just sat around with your children for an entire day. If you’re like most busy parents, it’s probably been a long time!
So, sit back and do a bunch of nothing. You’ve got your entire life to run errands and do housework and chores, but your vacation time is ticking away.
Instead of feeling compelled to fill every day of vacation with a new activity, set aside a few rainy hours to play a board game or sit around and talk with the kids.
Chances are, spending time with your family was the main goal of vacation anyway.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.
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How does your family kill time on vacation when it rains? What would you add to this list?