How to Have a Free End-of-Summer 'Staycation'


Summer is quickly winding down, but there's still time to take a last-minute getaway with the family. And we're not talking about a pricey overnight trip. It's the hot new trend for American families this summer: staycations.

"Good Morning America" special correspondent Cameron Mathison went out and found several free things to do with his wife and kids that made for a fun-filled staycation everyone seemed to enjoy.

Over the past year, Mathison says he's had a lot of fun finding new ways to enjoy the great American vacation at home with his family.

Last summer, they hit a water park and just last month, they pitched a tent and camped out in their backyard.

VIDEO: Family Fun for Free

But this month, "GMA" gave him the ultimate challenge: to put together a fun-filled staycation adventure completely free of charge.

Step One: Getting There Is Half the Fun

After loading up his children Lucas, six, and Leyla, three, in the car, Mathison and wife Vanessa decided to drive into New York City -- and to make the most of that hour-long drive. Who says that car games are just for long road trips?

The Mathisons played "Guess That Animal" and "I Spy" to pass the time.

Step Two: Put Away the Gadgets

When they arrived at their first destination, Mathison's wife took away his cell phone and access to e-mail -- an important step parents sometimes forget about in planning an afternoon out with the kids.

The kids, Lucas and Leyla, couldn't have been happier.

Step Three: Explore Free Transportation

One great idea for staycations: take advantage of public transportation. Trains, buses, trolleys and ferries all offer the opportunity for adventure at low or even no cost. In New York City, the Staten Island Ferry is absolutely free. And you can't beat the view of the New York skyline.

The ferry shuttles a whopping 20 million people a year from Manhattan to the New York borough of Staten Island and back again, year-round, seven days a week.

But the residents of Staten Island aren't the only ones who can ride the ferry; so can anyone interested in spending some time out on the water and enjoying some breathtaking views. The ferry offered the Mathison family stunning views of the New York skyline, as well as up-close looks at historic Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

"There she is! This is the closest I've ever been to the Statue of Liberty!" Mathison exclaimed, as the ferry whizzed past the iconic statue. Although he's lived in the New York area for a dozen years, Mathison confessed he'd never before gotten such a close-up view.

The roundtrip journey took just over an hour and provided a great chance to enjoy a free adventure at sea.

Budget-Friendly Family Activities

Step Four: Create Your Own Tours

Who says family tours have to cost money? If your little one likes to bowl, ask the local bowling alley manager for a behind-the-scenes tour. If you have a young thespian or dancer in your midst, call your local performing arts center and inquire about a private tour.

In the case of the Mathisons, Lucas and Leyla Mathison love fire trucks, but had never seen one up close. After the ferry adventure, the Mathisons arranged for an afternoon tour of Engine Company #40 and Ladder Company #35, located in the heart of Manhattan.

Fire stations throughout the nation provide similar free tours. Just call in advance. The best part of the tour was getting to meet some real-life heroes up close.

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