Charleston, South Carolina — Family Vacation for Under $500!


Charleston, South Carolina—Family Vacation for Under $500!

by Mel OBrien

Hi there, Williamsburg friends! My name is Mel, and I’m a fellow BFF of Tripbound and a busy working mama of three kids.  I have an eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old twins—one boy and one girl.

From the outside, I probably look like I totally have this whole mom thing under control. On the inside, however, I’m in pure survival mode.

Sound familiar?

I’m feeding my kids ice cream for breakfast and cereal for dinner. I’m paranoid I’m going to forget a kid on the soccer field or at swim practice in my haste to get them all shuffled from one activity to the next. And, I lay in bed at night replaying the day and feeling guilty for what I did (or didn’t do) so well.

breakfast for cereal

Flashback to this past winter break, and that mom guilt got me GOOD. My daughter came home from school saying how sad she was because all her friends had gone on vacation and she was the only one of them at school that day. She explained, “Mom, so and so is in Mexico, and so and so went to Disney, and so and so went skiing.” The “so and so’s” went on and on.

And, it was at that very moment I knew I was going to have to face my fear of traveling with my kids head on. We were set on road tripping, so where would we get away to as a family of five?

To none other than Charleston, South Carolina for this past spring break!


  1. Road Trippin’

The part I was the most anxious about was the car ride—no lie. Like, oh my goodness, how many stops are we going to have to make? Will we EVER actually get to Charleston? How many times am I going to have to answer, “Are we there yet?”

Well, this is how we rolled, and this will be my greatest tip to any of you out there reading this!

I packed my kids’ Planet Box lunch boxes, filled up their Contigo water bottles, charged their Kindles, and made sure they each had a pair of working headphones. Each mini-me was also given their own food, water, Dot-to-Dot book, a box of crayons, pillow, and blanket. The kids were told they could eat and drink as they wished. But, the water and food they were given needed to last them the entire ride. To our amazement, they took this challenge very seriously!

The GPS estimated the trip would take us six hours and 35 minutes, and it ended up taking us seven hours. SEVEN. That’s it! We only stopped twice going there and back. Other than that, it was smooth sailing. I could NOT believe it (I still can’t).

where to stay residence-inn-charleston-downtown

  1. The Deets on Where to Stay

During our stay in Charleston, we found our home away from home at Residence Inn Charleston Downtown. The cost? It was FREE, thanks to our Marriott Rewards points.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mel, that’s great and all. But, what about food for the fam? That’ll cost you!”

pack your kids lunch

Good news. The continental breakfast at the hotel? Yes, it’s FREE, too. As for lunchtime prep, however, we grabbed a few extra bananas, apples, and peanut butter packets from breakfast to snack on during the day. I also packed the kids’ lunches most days.

If your kids are anything like mine, they don’t SIT and eat. Instead, they graze all day long. By packing our own lunches, the kids were able to eat when they were hungry, and I didn’t feel like I was wasting money on food that, I knew, they weren’t actually going to devour.

verde sc
Verde, Charleston SC

When dinner time rolled around, the hotel had a heated pool, and in the evenings, all the kids wanted to do was swim. So, what would we do? We’d grab them something on the way back to the hotel—think pizza, chicken, and salad. Then, we’d feed them at the pool while they swam with the kids they met that week at our accommodations.

My husband would usually run out to a restaurant and grab something nicer for us parents. We would sit outside and eat, just the two of us, while the kids splashed around inside. I know this might not be ideal for some. But, for us, it’s what worked best and saved us from having to make the kids sit at a restaurant after a long day packed with activities.

beard cats charleston
BeardCats Sweet Shop, Charleston SC

The cost? Around $30-$50. Two of our favorite restaurants we ate from were Verde and Triangle Char + Bar. Their burgers are AMAZING. Now, what about dessert, you ask? I say YES, of course. Every day! I mean it is vacation. To help you out, our favorite sweet spots included BeardCats, Ye Ole Fashioned Ice Cream and Sandwich Cafe, and Sugar Bakeshop. YUM!


  1. The Deets on What to Do as a Family

Charleston is filled with quite a long list of inexpensive, family-friendly activities. To take the stress and time of planning off your shoulders, check out my family’s itinerary below!

pineapple fountain charleston
Pineapple Fountain


Head to Downtown Charleston to explore any of the following:

Charles Towne Landing State Park


Catch some fresh air and let the kids burn off their energy at any of the following hotspots:

  • Charles Towne Landing State Park—the original site of the first permanent English settlement in Carolina; Cost: adults – $10, kids over 5 – $6, kids 5 and under – FREE.
    • Fun fact: The park has a natural habitat zoo that contains species of animals that the first settlers in 1670 would have encountered in the Colony of Carolina. These animals are wild animals and are kept in fenced, safe enclosures. We also rented bikes for $5/hour and rode around the gorgeous park’s 1.5-mile loop! The kids really enjoyed this activity.

This photo of James Island County Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor

  • James Island County Park—it’s complete with grassy open meadows, crabbing, a spray play fountain (the kids loved this!), playground, seasonal Splash Zone Waterpark, trails, and more. We brought the kids’ skateboards and soccer balls with us, and they played for hours. We also rented a pedal boat for $13, which the mini-mes were fans of. But, my quads were not. Cost: $2/person.
Morris Lighthouse SC
Morris Island Lighthouse, SC
  • Folly Beach & Hike to Morris Island Lighthouse—our family really enjoyed reading the sidewalk art along the hike to the beach where you can see the lighthouse. This activity is perfect to capture some beach pictures! Cost: FREE.
  • Hotel Pool—again, top off a fun, adventure-filled day at your hotel’s pool; Cost: FREE.



Soak up some sun and savor some relaxing activities like:

  • Beach It Up at Isle of Palms County Park and Beach—think of this as a small, family-friendly park in the sand. Parking is $10, and it offers clean bathrooms, and showers and rinse stations for easy clean up. The weather was perfect during our visit, so we stayed ALL DAY.
  • Ice Cream & Drive Through Sullivan’s Island—we love us some beach town driving!
  • Hotel pool—splash around your hotel’s pool one last time; Cost: FREE.
Sullivan’s Lighthouse, SC

I cannot say enough wonderful things about the sweet, magical town of Charleston and all the family-friendly activities it offers. I am so glad we decided to take on this adventure! The trip (and the kids) were absolutely amazing, and it was a getaway I know my family will remember for years and years to come.

Not to mention, it proved to my husband and I that we can do this. A vacation without breaking the bank is possible, and we will have a blast no matter what! I can’t wait to see where we decide to go next.

We are excited to bring you articles written for us from Frugal Travel Mama at Tripbound. Unfortunately, Tripbound was forced to close its doors as a result of COVID-19’s effects. We hope their legacy will continue through your travel adventures, they wrote many articles for us here at to help you plan memorable family getaways!


  • Olivia Bada

    Marketing, communications, sales, writing, and web management all come together when working on published pieces for Localourist, The Burg Weekender, The Burg Weekly and Williamsburg Families.

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