NEW YORK (MainStreet) 89% of Americans feel stressed about planning a family vacation this year, according to a recent study from Mastercard. And the biggest stressor? Choosing a destinationespecially one that can provide fun and unique experiences for all.
If that sounds familiar, here's a solution you might want to consider: heading to a national park.
Pick a Park
You've probably heard of Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon, but did you know there are more than 400 national parks across the United States? Fun and unique experiences are easily accessible. And even bettermost of them are free.
To find a national park for your next vacation, check out Recreation.gov and search by state and activity. National Geographic also has a beautiful national park app that will help you plan your trip from start to finish.
Stick to Your Budget
A family of four can spend a week at a national park for under $1,000, less than a third of the cost of going to Disney World. Camping is a great way to save even more while you're thereand you can cut costs further by renting gear instead of buying it. Big outdoor retailers like REI have rental programs, as do online sites like OutdoorsGeek.com. You can rent a two-room family-size tent at REI for $24 a weekend. If you wanted to buy the same ten, you'd pay nearly $400. Not to mention having to store it once you get back.
Use Apps to Explore While Staying Safe
One of the joys of the great outdoors is getting away from technology, but there are a few apps that are worth downloading before you hit the road. Select an assortment of Audobon field guides so you can identify everything you see, from plants to critters to insects. Sky Guide allows you to discover the stars just by pointing your phone in the right direction. And to stay safe on any excursions, use the Bugle app to keep loved ones posted on your whereabouts, as well as the Bear Essentials app for all the survival info you could ever need.
National Parks in Other Countries
And one last tip, if you're planning a trip abroad this year, don't forget to look into the national parks wherever you're going. While traveling in South Africa [maybe include a picture of your trip if you have/want to], I saved thousands of dollars by foregoing an expensive private safari and instead visiting one of the country's 19 national parks. The experience was just as good, if not better, and for a fraction of the cost.
--Written by Lauren Lyons Cole for MainStreet