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Five Cheap Vacations That Go Off The Grid

Just because the economy is lousy doesn't mean you have to vacation in the backyard this summer. Here's what to do.
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If you're worried about losing your job, you could set up the kid's pool, fire up the grill and


in the backyard this summer.

Or you could take an out-of-the-ordinary, yet still reasonably priced,


. Here are some suggestions.

1. Get back to nature:

Throw in a bit of education. For instance, the

North Cascades Institute

in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, north of Seattle, offers a variety of three- and four-day family getaways and backpacking adventures that will give your family a chance to check out some of the most spectacular scenery in the country while learning about the natural and cultural history of the area. Getaways are priced from about $225 per adult and $155 per child, which includes lodging, meals and activities.

Alaska Airlines

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Horizon Air

, which use Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as a hub, are offering inexpensive summer fares on some flights into and out of the city.

2. Rent a yurt:

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For something completely different, rent a yurt at your favorite campground or vacation destination. Yurts -- round, peaked-roof, tent-like structures used by Central Asian nomads for centuries -- are popping up all over the country as eco-friendly, alternative vacation accommodations. The

Lova Lava Land Eco-Resort

on the Big Island of Hawaii, for instance, offers furnished yurt rentals for $60 a night and $245 a week. At the

Wagon Trail Campground

in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, you can rent a yurt that will sleep five people for $79 to $85 a night. For a complete list of yurt vacation rentals across the country, visit the

Pacific Yurts

Web site.

Yurts are becoming popular as eco-friendly, alternative vacation accommodations.

3. Go the volunteer route:

You don't have to stick to tried-and-true vacation destinations this summer to save money. You can go off the beaten path, still stay within budget and give something back as well. One option is to take a volunteer vacation. For example, the

American Hiking Society

is looking for volunteers for a wide range of trail-building projects in such places as Hell's Canyon, Oregon; Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia; and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California. A registration fee of $275 covers a week-long working vacation, plus meals and accommodations, which can be primitive. You'll have to pay our own way there and bring your own gear, but you'll leave behind something positive at the end of the week.

4. Hop on a freighter:

If you're yearning for some time on the seven seas but a typical cruise is out of your reach, consider a freighter cruise. Not only can you can set sail at reduced rates, but you'll also avoid the crowds and enjoy a more relaxed, casual atmosphere. For a cost of about $90 to $130 a day per person, including meals (as opposed to $175 to $300 per day for a typical cruise), you can see the world, hobnob with the crew and explore life aboard a working ship. Sites like

Freighter World

offer everything from Mediterranean, Northern European and South Pacific cruises to transatlantic and even around-the-world adventures.

5. Rediscover yourself:

Finally, for something completely different, head to the mountaintop -- the

Zen Mountain Monastery

, that is. During the summer, this monastic training center in New York's Catskill Mountains offers programs and retreats for both beginner and advanced Buddhism practitioners. Introductory week-long Zen training retreats are scheduled for the first weeks in June, July and August at a cost of $250, which includes accommodations in small dorms and vegetarian meals. Advanced sessions, as well as programs for teens and families, art, music and archery, are also available.

Bob Feeman is a former editor of Robb Report and Smart HomeOwner magazines, and now writes full time about a variety of subjects. He's based in Maine.