NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - The summer travel season officially begins Memorial Day weekend but rising gas prices are already threatening vacation plans.
To save money, many families are once again checking out the value of "staycations," or smaller vacations closer to home.
The American Automobile Association told CBN News it's still too early to predict if this year's summer vacation season will see an increase or decrease in travel.
But if history is an indicator, American consumers haven't seen average gas prices rise this close to the $4 mark since 2008 -- the year some travel experts called "Staycation Summer."
Acker Family Vacation
The dream Spring Break at Disney World was not in the Acker family's budget. Plane tickets, baggage fees, and hotel rooms were too expensive.
CBN News caught up with the family of four at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, a few miles from their home in Newport News, Va.
"[My husband] was laid off from the shipyard in Newport News in November," Susan Smigielski Acker said. "It was a big surprise. We did not see it coming at all."
The Acker family is proof that a tight budget doesn't have to mean a boring spring break.
"My mother was raised during the Depression so I know how to make fun out of nothing," Susan said. "There is fun in mud."
Spring Break for Less Than $100
The fun began on a Sunday at a free farm and petting zoo.
Monday, the Ackers took a trip to the zoo using their membership, which only cost $45. A gift from grandparents covered the remaining balance of the membership fee. They also had lunch at a fast food restaurant for only $11 with a coupon.
Tuesday, the family visited the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum for $30 using their AAA discount.
Wednesday, the family visited a state park.
Thursday, mom hosted a play date at home and took the kids to $10 movie at the science center.
And on Friday, Spring Break ended with a home dance party. The entire week cost the family only $96.
"To make sure it was economical, you kind of have to balance, 'We're spending money here that day. But we are not spending money that day,'" Susan explained.
Susan is more than a busy mom balancing her own family's tight budget. She is a bit of a "staycation" expert.
She shows thousands of moms how to do more with less as a writer for Tidewater Parent magazine. She is also an editor of a parenting blog.
"I think we are missing what we already pay for, like the state parks [and] the libraries," Susan said. "Stay away from the malls. Stay away from the commercialism. Look to see what's for free."
"You have got to take the lemons and make lemonade," she added. "That is definitely true."
The Acker family's trips were never more than 20 miles from home, but every fun journey was a reminder of what's really important.
"I am desperately in love with my husband. That is a big aspect," Susan added. "And we are very blessed. We have healthy children, smart, and we thank God for that every day."
*Original broadcast April 19, 2011.