It's almost Memorial Day – gateway to summer. Surveys show most people still want to vacation, even with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon. The Internet can help you find creative options to relax and recharge without going broke in the process.
If you are planning to hit the road, figure out how much the trip will set you back. GasBuddy.com's Trip Cost Calculator factors in your route and vehicle and suggests the cheapest fueling stops along the way. Fuel-saving tips and a phone app also are available.
One family trip I still remember was visiting a really odd house that had been pictured in our local paper. We still have a picture taken with the owner. You can add a dash of the unexpected on your route with Roadside America.com and YourHometown.org . Both sites list unusual attractions.
Many cities' convention and visitors bureau and tourism websites provide a calendar of events and contact information. Word&Way (wordandway.org/calendar ) and newspaper sites also have event calendars you can investigate.
If you want to try something different in lodging, check CouchSurfing.org. More than a million members provide hospitality for one another in over 230 countries.
Travel sites also suggest going to a business destination where room prices may be lower.
Of course, there is always the option of staycations — "vacationing" at home. Staycationidea.com is a website dedicated to this concept.
Fox Business has several strategic suggestions (tinyurl.com/staycation1) to make sure that a vacation at home is not a lost week. Investopedia has money-saving ideas, too (tinyurl.com/cheapvacations1).
Looking for distractions? There are always movies. Although I like the idea of a dark theater and a nice tub of popcorn, look at how much three hours at the movies can cost!
Avoid clunkers through compiled reviews (including several Christian publications) at a site such as RottenTomatoes.com. Develop a customized list of reviewers for your tastes.
Find ticket discounts through attending matinees, using group rates, point cards and other suggestions (tinyurl.com/cheapmovies1).
And save money at the concession stand (tinyurl.com/cheapmovies2) by buying the kiddie packs or even by bringing in food. (C'mon, you know you've done it.)
One option is rental or pay-per-view. Satellite and cable give you immediacy; a service like Netflix.com provides unlimited rentals for less than $8 a month.
Too much? Redbox.com has 27,000 kiosks offering DVDs for a $1 a night; Blu-Ray and video games are also available. Plus, Redbox often gives away free coupons on grocery receipts, or codes can be found at InsideRedbox.com and its free phone app.
Internet sites allow you to watch and download movies and TV. FreeCheapMovieDownloads.com links to several (legal) sites with subscription plans.
GalTime lists their favorite best online TV and movie sites at tinyurl.com/cheapTV1.
Or see the world through your computer screen. Options include GoogleArtProject.com, a list at eHow (tinyurl.com/cheaptours1) and high-resolution panoramas (panoramas.dk, photosynth.net or gigapan.org). Or see the world through live webcams (earthcam.com), such as the Decorah bald eagles' 24/7 feed (tinyurl.com/SeeEagles1).
Then there is experiencing the world through books, visuals and cuisine. You can find these and other creative ideas at tinyurl.com/cheapworld1.
Why limit these ideas to your family? Your church could use these ideas to concoct creative events that would appeal to members and the community who are trying to save money: movie nights, foreign cuisine, home swaps or bus tours to creative spots.
A little creativity can take you a long way, even if you don't go too far to reach your destination.
Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.