How to save on outings with the kids

It's that time of the year again - Chol Hamoed , Chanukah, or the end of August when summer camp is over, the neighborhood pool is getting boring and the whole family needs a change of scenery and some quality time together. So you pack your family into the car, stop for gas and get cash at the Caspomat, hoping you'll still have some of it (gas and cash) by the time you get home.

While there's no way not to spend *any* money if you want to go anywhere beyond walking distance, there are ways to mitigate the expense:

  • Pack your own lunch. For some people this is probably a "duh" piece of advice, but you'd be surprised how many people don't take their own food on trips, especially when they're traveling to another city (as opposed to the wilderness), as they figure they can always find food at a local store or restaurant. Thing is, you probably don't know where the cheap supermarkets are in an unfamiliar place, so you end up paying more. Invest in a good cooler and bring along lots of nutritious food. Buy the kids an ice cream as a special treat when you get to your destination if you wish.
  • Go take a hike. We have a beautiful country blessed with many hiking trails for all ages and levels of physical conditioning. Many are completely free, so why not take advantage of that? You can find many resources online with ideas where to hike, how best to get there and an estimate of how much time to allot each course - one of my favorites is Tiuli .  Another is the excellent LoveLoveIsrael site.
 However, some of the best hiking and camping spots are maintained by the Israel Nature & Parks Authority and require an entrance fee. For these, getting a yearly membership card, called Matmon, is very worthwhile.While you can get it on the Parks Authority website, you can often get it elsewhere at a significant discount. For example, if you have a Leumicard credit card, a Matmon family membership for a couple and 3 or more children will cost you NIS 379 instead of NIS 446. Or you could make good use of a Groupon site and buy it for a mere NIS 357 at Group-E . Search around - sometimes there are even better Groupon deals (one year we got our card for a full 50% off at one of them). With the card, most national parks are free of charge, a minority are half-price. If you only visit 2-3 parks that year, you'll easily recoup the price of the card.

  • Aim for free or reduced admission tickets. If you or your kids are not the hiking type, or even if you are but want a change of pace, there are quite a few methods of snagging reduced-price or even free tickets to many attractions. Here are a few of my favorite places to look: 
  1. Bank Hapoalim underwrites the entrance costs of 40 sites around the country on Chol Hamoed so they're entirely free for the general public Here is the updated list for Pesach 2016 (in Hebrew) - included are many museums, the zoo in Haifa and other sites normally for pay. Keep in mind that these sites will be jam-packed, so if you're going, come early to beat the crowds.
  2. You can sometimes find discounted tickets at the attraction's own website. Not often, but it's worth a look, under מבצעים.
  3. Groupons, of course. This is also a great way to discover new, off-the-beaten-path attractions you might never hear of otherwise. You can also try Googling your desired destination or show + "קופון" and see what comes up.
  4. Credit card sites have 1+1 deals for various popular attractions -  here's Leumicard's site, here's CAL's and here's Isracard's
  5. If you work for the government, the army or a large company, you can often purchase discounted tickets through the Vaad Ovdim at your company or labor union. Gov't employees, for example, can do so via the TOV website.
  6. And lastly, the Anglo angle - for NIS 99 + NIS 10 shipping you can purchase a card from the LoveLoveIsrael site that provides discounts at the more popular (and hence more expensive) amusement parks.
  • Fill up gas at the cheapest stations in the area - you can find out where they are with the Fulltank app.
Have a happy (and cheaper) vacation!

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