Got Vacation Days? Explore These Budget-Friendly Excursions

Here are some inexpensive ways to use vacation time
Sliding Rock900x600creditvisitncdotcom
Photo courtesy of VisitNC,com
Each summer, visitors head to mountains near Brevard, NC, for a refreshing trip down Sliding Rock.

Have you planned a family vacation for this year? Perhaps you haven’t yet because you’re worried about affording a trip or about getting behind on your work. You’re not alone. According to new research from Project Timeoff, more than half of American workers (55 percent) left vacation time unused in 2015, which, taken together, amounts to 658 million unused vacation days.

What a waste. Yet I admit to being among those who did not take all of my vacation time last year. What are we waiting for? Wondering if we parents should seize the day and plan a vacation? All we have to do is ask our children, “Would you like to go the beach, the mountains or explore a fun, new place?”

My guess is we will get a very vocal, “Yes, yes and yes!

Photo courtesy of N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The clichés that “children grow up too quickly” and “summers pass quickly” are, unfortunately, true, so why not create family memories of good times starting this summer? If you’re worried that you’ll have too much work when you get back, or that you can’t afford to stay in a hotel, check out these resources for staycations, day trips and homespun adventures, all in North Carolina.

1. Browse our roundup of 17 Places to See With Children in North Carolina.
Think you know North Carolina? I’ve been living here more than two decades and still haven’t seen everything. This bucket list by Editor Myra Wright at our sister publication, Piedmont Parent, inspired me to head to the mountains last summer, and my family had a blast. My husband and I got to revisit places we’d been before we had kids, but this time, when we returned with them, it was even better. Thinking of heading to the beach? Check out this quick questionnaire to see which North Carolina beach best suits your family.

Photo courtesy of

Considering a cool mountain retreat? How about heading to the inaugural Mile High Fourth of July celebration, July 1-4 in the Blue Ridge Mountains? The resort towns of Banner Elk and Beech Mountain have teamed up to offer family fun that stretches over four days, including a parade and party, outdoor concerts, fireworks, theater and more.

Photo of Banner Elk July Fourth Parade courtesy of Todd Bush

2. Save With a $5 Kids Ride Deal.
NC By Train and Amtrak are offering summer savings for kids ages 2-12. They can ride for $5 to any destination in North Carolina on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (blackouts may apply) through the “Kids Fare $5” offer that runs through Aug. 31. If your children love to play with trains, this could be a fun new experience for them.


3. Plan a Day Trip.
Worried about a mountain of work when you return from vacation? Plan a series of shorter getaways. My family does this every summer. Check out our Day Trips + Family Travel Directory for lots of ideas for things to do and places to see within a short drive of the Triangle. You cou head down the coast to the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, a perfect place to see sea turtles, albino alligator and sharks. This summer, the aquarium's special exhibits include "Dinosaurs" exhibit (free with admission) and “Butterfly Bungalow," where visitors interact free-flying beauties for a small additional price.


4. Enjoy a One-Day Staycation in the Triangle.
If you still can't imagine traveling away from work for a day, check out this list of free (or $5) fun things to do right here the Triangle. You can take one vacation day and still have fun!

Duke Homestead in Durham courtesy Virgina Reel/N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

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