I’ll admit it, our family gets bored of the same routine. We love adventures and are always looking for ways to take a family vacation. This can be tough in many ways, including time off work, the spending that occurs on trips, and travel and lodging. Family vacations don’t have to be daunting, though. We do mini-vacations and long weekends whenever we can and that works to break up the monotony of the day-to-day. Here’s how we frugally vacation and spend intentional time together outside of our home:

1. We plan! We look forward to vacations, so we plan them at the beginning of each year (and sometimes years in advance.) My husband and I have a Wish List of places we’d like to visit. On our Wish List are places near and far; some require a passport, some are a car-ride away. We know we can’t do a “Wish List” vacation every year, but we look for ways some of them can be checked off and we work toward those goals. Luckily, our 15th wedding anniversary and 40th birthdays happen next year, so chances are, it will be an opportunity to mark off a “Wish List” vacation.

2. We save! We know vacations will cost more than if we were staying at home and eating meals in. We look at our vacations and estimate what we can spend on each one and we save over time for these trips. Sometimes it works the other way around. There are trips we plan based on what we can save. Either way, we make sure the funds are available to take a trip. There’s no benefit to putting a vacation on credit and resenting the financial burden later.

3. We are sensible! Some people even call it “cheap.” We use every opportunity we can to pack our lunches or buy groceries and cook meals onsite when we travel. Sometimes, the small cost of a room with a kitchen is worth the savings of not dining out each night while vacationing. We don’t buy souvenirs or unnecessary gifts on our trip. Our kids are very familiar with hearing the word “no” from us when we’re in a gift shop or at an amusement park. They bring their own money for any purchases they choose to make, which makes their purchases very minimal. We look for discount coupons, Groupons, passes, or free admissions to parks, zoos, and other attractions. We usually do this in advance so we have an idea of what we’ll spend.

4. We savor the moments! Sometimes our Family Vacations aren’t about where we’re going, it’s about quality family time. We may be in our home state, staying in a hotel for the night just so we can swim in the winter. We may be camping in the rain 5 minutes from our house because it feels like a vacation and we can tell scary ghost stories. We may visit friends or family we don’t often see. Or we may be playing at the beach for 5 days straight because it doesn’t cost a thing. All of these special times together are snapshots we can save and the memories made on family vacations are really important to us.

5. We reconnect! The burden of everyday life can really wear us down, but when we’re on vacation we are able to really live in the moment. We leave our computers at home, we don’t feel compelled to check email on our phones, we let our calls go to voicemail and we… TALK! Just like in the olden times. We play silly games in the car, like “Would You Rather” or License Plate Bingo or we make some up.

6. We go on adventures! We choose activities we don’t do at home and savor our vacation destination. We’ve seen bears in Alaska, we’ve kayaked in estuaries in Florida, we’ve climbed rocks in Kentucky, we’ve hiked rainforests in Washington, we’ve searched for sand dollars in South Carolina. We also try to incorporate this adventurous spirit close to home. We’ve taken geocaching days with the kids near our home. It’s like a treasure hunt and the kids love it. We take nature hikes and see views we’d never see from our car or anywhere else. We go to local festivals, farms, and events. These are the mini-vacations that cost very little, but have a huge impact on our family.

Spending time as a family is incredibly important to me and going on vacations and mini-vacations has become one way we connect and enjoy time together. What are some vacations you’ve taken as a family? I’d love to hear about trips you’ve taken or stay-cations that have strengthened your family bond. Please share your ideas and comments below.

Images are everywhere. We see them in print, on websites, social media, television, billboards. They communicate messages words cannot. They capture emotions differently than any other form of communication. They’re important! Very important. They can also be very expensive. Even the “free” ones.

So what can you do? You want to use an image, you don’t want to pay for it, or if you do, you don’t want to blow your entire advertising budget on one Facebook graphic. I get it, but there’s a lot to consider. 

You have a few options:
1.    Stock images
2.    Personal images
3.    Fair use images
4.    “Free” images

1. Stock images
Stock images break down into two main types: royalty-free and rights-managed.

Royalty-free images can be used in virtually any application, for as long as you choose, in as many different projects you choose, as long as you comply with the terms of the license agreement. You also get almost unlimited use. You may not use these images for free, but once a license fee is paid, you may use them without any additional fees. The initial license is necessary to protect you and your clients. Once you purchase the license to use that image, you may use it and no additional royalty fees are necessary.

With rights-managed images, you have restricted rights to an image. You have limitations on things such as the duration of use, where you use them geographically, what industry you’ll be using the image for, etc. These are established by your license agreement.

2. Personal images
Images you have photographed personally are your images. You own them. Whether they were taken with fancy, expensive, professional equipment or on your iPhone, they are YOUR images. According to several attorneys, you can own the copyright of your photos without registration, although, if you want to protect them from unauthorized use, you need to register them with the Copyright Office before you publish them. And when I say publish, I mean post on any form of Social Media, use in any sort of marketing, and generally put them in the public eye. Unfortunately, this will really only help you if you are willing to legally protest the use of your personal images. Although several social media sites claim that you must own the content you are posting. They do not take responsibility for unlawful use of your content, including images.

3. Fair use images
Fair use is not the same as free use. Fair use is a legal exception to the exclusive rights an owner has for his or her copyrighted work. According to Wikipedia, these are the factors to be considered when determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use:
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors. (Wikipedia)

4. “Free” images
Several websites claim to offer “free” images for your use, personal mostly, but sometimes even commercial. These claims tend to be a little misleading. Sites like: stock.xchng and morguefile still come with a disclaimer like this one, from morguefile: “You are still responsible for the legal content of the images including model releases and property releases. These images are provided with free usage rights, it is similar to taking the image yourself, but you can not claim ownership of the image.” Some of these “free” image sites, like Pixabay state things like: “Pixabay cannot be held responsible for any copyright violations, and cannot guarantee the legality of the Images stored in its system. If you want to make sure, always contact the photographers. You use the site and the photos at your own risk!”

“At your own risk” still seems a little “risky” to me.

My suggestion: Pay for your images! The artists who have taken the time, energy, and professional steps to create wonderful, royalty-free images for commercial and non-commercial use deserve to be paid for their work. I prefer to use http://www.istockphoto.com/ and purchase credits for the images I use and plan according to a client's budget. I use images in blog articles, client websites, client marketing materials, books, etc. I feel confident about the photos I'm using and choosing for my clients. I read the licensing agreements and make sure I adhere to the rules stated clearly. That is the way I can absolutely, without a doubt, use images that are meant for me to use legally and fairly.

Do you have image sites you use frequently? Do you know without a doubt the images you use are legally attained and fairly used? Leave me a comment below and I’ll help steer you in the right direction so you don’t have to doubt that you’re using the perfect image.