Free Advice about Free Vacations

Memorial Day is less than a week away. That means vacation season is upon us. I don’t know about you, but for me with the cost of everything so much higher than it was at this time last year I am looking for ways to spend a little less on our family trip. That doesn’t mean we have to have less fun however. Instead, we simply will have to be a little more creative in where we go, and what we choose to do. I thought this week I would share some ideas I have for spending less on your vacation while still having an amazing time.

One of the things that often costs the most on any vacation is the airfare to get there. Since our overall goal is to spend less, I will only be discussing locations within a reasonable driving distance from the metro.

First on my list is probably the destination that provides the most diverse, and highest quality free attractions in the nation, St. Louis. Obviously, when you think of St. Louis the first thing that comes to mind is the Arch. While there is a cost to take the elevators to the top, just seeing it from the ground is itself quite awe inspiring. Add to that, the free Lewis and Clark Museum, Basilica of Saint Louis, and the Old Courthouse, all within walking distance of it and you can easily spend a full day sightseeing at the Arch without spending a dime.

If animals are more your thing, both the St. Louis Zoo and Grant’s Farm are amazing attractions that charge nothing to enter. Other free attractions near the zoo are the St Louis Art Museum (, Missouri History Museum (, and the Science Center. Wrap up your week with an interesting tour of the Anheuser-Bush Brewery ( which also includes free beer, and you have yourself a full week of fun without paying a single admission fee.

Another great location that can be easy on the wallet is the state of Colorado. During Covid most tourist attractions were closed to the public, but parks weren’t. Not only were they open. They were generally free to visit. My kids adored hitting the trails and discovering everything from lakes covered in Lilypad’s, to waterfalls taller than buildings. We even got to participate in a snowball fight in the middle of summer.

If beautiful scenery and cool weather is your idea of a vacation, consider making the drive to the Rockies. The Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak and Estes Park are three of the most scenic places on earth and none charge a thing to visit. Wrap up the trip by touring The Denver Mint, Coors Brewery, and the Air Force Academy, and you once again can do a lot for very little.

A third option to consider is the state of South Dakota. Obviously, no trip to SD cannot include seeing the majesty of Mt. Rushmore. While technically it is free to enter Mt Rushmore National Park ( To get out and walk around will cost you $10 to park. (Unless you are a senior or a veteran.) But hey, in the inflationary world we live in $10 is basically free right? Speaking of monuments, while there you will probably want to check out the Crazy Horse Monument as well. While this tribute to our Native American past is still under construction, when completed it will be the largest carved monument in the world.

Much like Colorado, nature is in the spotlight in South Dakota. National Parks in the Badlands and Black Hills are totally free as is Falls Park ( just north of Downtown Sioux Falls.

If you, or your kids are, fans of dinosaurs Dinosaur Park gives you the chance to see life sized replicas of dinosaurs as they once were. Then you can swing over to the Museum of Geology and see what their actual remains look like today.

Appeal to your sense of adventure at the Air and Space Museum, or a high noon shootout reenactment in the city of Deadwood. Then appeal to your sense of humor by visiting the famous Corn Palace and Wall drug store before heading home.

While these three locations offer enormous amount of entertainment at no cost to you, they are far from the only places that do so. Remember, you don’t have to spend a ton to have tons of fun. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box.

(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)