Five Frugal Vacation Ideas for Military Families

Planning an Inexpensive Summer Vacation

Frugal VacationsWith the kids out of school and the weather warming up, summer offers the perfect opportunity to break away from regular routines, pack up, and take off on an adventure. While it would certainly be nice to travel the world and explore exotic new places, while being pampered in luxurious locales, it’s not always realistic to expect that from every vacation – especially if you’re on a tight budget.

Luckily, you don’t have to go broke to plan and execute a fun summer vacation. With a little creativity, even a frugal, modest vacation can be memorable and special for the whole family. And being in the military has its perks, with lots of attractions and events offering free or discounted prices for service members and their families. So today we’ll explore some ways you can enjoy a nice summer vacation without breaking the bank.

National Parks

Did you know military families can get free annual passes to 58 national parks and over 2,000 federally-owned recreation sites? Every branch is covered, and if you’re out on deployment, your dependents can still enjoy the same benefit even in your absence.

To obtain an annual pass, you’ll need to visit a federal recreation site in person and present proper military ID (either CAC Card or DoD Form 1173). You will have to do this every year, but if you plan to travel and want to explore national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, or dozens of others, it’s worth the effort.

To find out more information, check out the U.S. Geological Survey’s FAQ page for military passes. 


Okay, so this one is only really frugal if you already have the gear you need. Borrowing from a friend or family members works too! All you really need is a tent and some sleeping bags. And what better way to save on vacation costs than by sleeping outside, right? Coupled with one of the thousands of parks and recreation spots available for free to service members, camping can be an ideal activity for the frugal vacationer.

And spending time in the great outdoors is a unique way to bring the family together and get a much-needed break from the daily grind. If you’d like to meet some like-minded folks, there are lots of military-specific camping spots close to installations around the country.

I found this quick list of hidden gems when it comes to military lodges and camp grounds. Whether you’re looking for spot to pull up the RV, a rustic campsite, or a cozy place with a view, don’t forget to think outside the box.

Amusement Parks

The list of theme parks that offer discounts for military families is significant. Disney is probably the most well-known, but it’s not the only place. Other options include Six Flags, Sea World, Universal Studios, LEGOLAND, and many more.

Some discounts may be modest (in the range of 10%) but other times, you can get some great deals and really save a bundle. And sometimes it’s worth spending a little more anyway. When I was a kid, we didn’t have much money, so visiting a theme park was basically a dream come true. I have so many fond memories running around Universal and Sea World with my family that I’ll cherish forever. If you get a chance, take advantage of the benefits available to you and check one out.

For a comprehensive list, with details and links to each individual offer, check out this article on


There are a ton of museums that offer free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And I mean tons! Starting to notice a pattern?

Honestly, I loved going to museums when I was a kid. Maybe it was just the way I was raised, but I enjoyed having the chance to explore other cultures and learn about some of the coolest times and events in history.

The National Endowment for the Arts offers a fantastic tool called Blue Star Museums that lets you find these kinds of places sorted by state and city. Wherever you plan to go on your vacation, free museum visits are a great way to stretch your dollar.

Free Event Tickets

I wanted to take a minute here to highlight a group I’m very fond of personally. It’s called the Veteran Tickets Foundation, which offers free tickets to events all around the country to military, veterans, and family members of those KIA.

Their goal is to reduce stress for military families by offering positive life experiences through fun and entertaining events that they may not otherwise be able to attend. To date, they’ve given out over 1.4 million event tickets in all 50 states. Once again, you’re able to sort by your location on their website, and get more information on each individual event, so be sure to think of them if you’re planning a frugal summer vacation.

And if you’d like to go the extra mile and give back to other families like yours, you can also become a sponsor through their website.

Drive, Fly, or Stay

Whether you plan to board a plane, drive across the country, or visit a place nearby, be sure to consider all your options when planning a frugal vacation. And if all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with a nice staycation either. The most important thing is to get the rest and relaxation you deserve, and to spend some quality time with your family. So as long as you have a positive attitude, your budget can never bring you down.

Jake Butler

About the author: Jake Butler

Jake Butler is a staff writer at Pioneer Services who understands the challenges facing modern military families. He writes informative and entertaining pieces about military life, financial education and everything in between. Follow Jake on Google+.

Contact: Jake Butler


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