Calling All Military Families! 9 Summer Activities on a Budget

Written by Jeanine Rickman


A lot of military families understand the need to stretch every dollar. Thankfully, there are many opportunities for service members to find discounts and free summer activities for the entire family. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) knows that military families are feeling the impact of inflation, and they want to help find ways to make summer fun and affordable. Here are nine ideas you and your military family can do on a budget!


1. Act Like Tourist

Frequent moves can present a great opportunity for exploring a new place, but even if a family has settled for a while, there are always new ways to take in the local scenery.

Starting at the ticket office on base is an excellent way for families to see what discount tickets and events are available in their area. Another idea is to check with your local ASYMCA and other organizations supporting military families for event tickets. Generous sponsors often donate limited tickets to events to be distributed among military families. With so many options, families are sure to find summer activities for any budget.

Families with older children might even try having a “YES DAY” or making a game of it by planning a scavenger hunt. These are some of my favorite military family day ideas to make plans even more unique:

  • Personalize it: Take a trip down memory lane or pick something special for each family member.
  • Get competitive: Make it a game with challenge questions and a prize at the end.
  • Be in the moment: Don’t make too many plans; just see where the day takes you!


2. Museums, Botanical Gardens, and Zoos, Oh My!

Whether families stay local and become tourists for a day or explore a new city while on vacation, the Blue Star Museums program makes it easy to find free summer activities for military families.

This wonderful program is offered through ASYMCA’s strategic partner, Blue Star Families, and allows active-duty service members and their family members (up to six people) to attend museums and botanical gardens for free during the summer. Additionally, many museums, botanical gardens, and zoos offer military discounts or even free admission, so it’s always a good idea to check what local deals are available.

The best part of all of these? They provide a quiet location and interesting topics for families to engage in great conversations and make memories that’ll last a lifetime.


3. Cool Crafting

Some days families need to escape the heat and enjoy something less active. Going to a crafting event is a fantastic way to engage the whole family when they want to slow down.

Libraries are a favorite place of mine for free crafting events — including the libraries on military bases. Some military installations even have maker stations with craft supplies and 3D printers. We love that this summer activity on a budget includes a handmade keepsake for us to take home. Plus, families can take some books home for a little extra quiet time.

It’s also a great idea to watch out for local events through organizations like the ASYMCA or similar military supports. Many of these organizations offer fun craft classes for adults and children.


4. Find Your Inner Child

One of our favorite free activities for military families with younger kids is parent-participation classes like Operation Little Learners. It’s one of the most enriching ways for military parents to play, learn and connect with their small children. These classes, offered through the ASYMCA, include fun, games, and music for little ones under age five. Some even have summer field trips!


5. Explore the Great Outdoors

Taking time to experience the beauty of nature is one of the most relaxing activities families can do together. America the Beautiful passes allow military families to visit national parks for free. Another budget-friendly outdoor vacation option is camping on a military installation. Amazing campsites in forests, lakes, and beaches are available to military families.


6. While the Kids Are Away, Everyone Can Play!

Summer camps are an iconic part of summer vacation that provides entertainment for children, and give parents some much-needed time to themselves. For families with older children, the ASYMCA’s Operation Camp offers a variety of budget-friendly summer school options at many of their branch locations — from science camps to a horse ranch! Even better, these camps always have a curriculum specific to military families, which is great for building resiliency and bonds with other military kids.

For parents with children who are not yet able to attend camp, free and low-cost child care services are provided at many ASYMCA locations, so parents can have time to do some relaxing summer activities on a budget alone.


7. Dive-in Movies

While many military families know about the free and low-cost movie theaters available on military bases, they may be less familiar with the new trend of dive-in movies. Several military installations are making a splash with movie viewing events at their pools, where military families can enjoy inexpensive shows while lounging in a pool. This may be the coolest new summer activity on a budget your family can enjoy!

If nearby bases don’t have any of these events, consider checking local public pools or even hotels for day passes to try out this cool movie experience.


8. Awesome Aquatics

Beaches and pools are probably some of the first things that come to mind when thinking of summer, but there are even more exciting ways to cool down. For example, some military installations offer aquatic centers that include elaborate splash pads and even waterslides.

If older children are looking for something extra special, consider inflatable water parks. These islands of floating bouncy fun have slides and often include elaborate obstacle courses, which are great for working together as a team or for a little friendly competition. In addition, many of these parks offer military discounts that make this a great summer activity on a budget, so families are sure to have fun and create epic memories while they stay cool.


9. Amusement Parks

Summer is also a great time to take advantage of exploring amusement parks. Sea World’s Waves of Honor program offers four complimentary passes for service members and their families per year. Amusement parks are a great military family day idea because there is usually something for every age group.


Happy Summer, Military Families

The ASYMCA is proud to offer a variety of low-cost and free activities for military families to help enhance military families’ summer vacations. Please give today to help ensure that the Armed Services YMCA can continue to provide vital programs and military family support 365 days a year.


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