Vacation alternatives aren't, generally speaking, for the faint of heart. If you want something more than a typical vacation or if the sit-and-lounge concept makes you itchy, then one of these alternative ideas might be just the catalyst you need to pull the luggage out and start packing. (There is an alternative to letting your cottage sit empty all year, but turning a profit won't be easy. Check out Vacation Home Or Income-Producing Investment?)

TUTORIAL: A Tour through Retirement Plans

1. Bond with Family
For many, family time is high on the list of priorities for vacation time. For something that's less sleep-inducing than the "name that cousin" type of family reunion you remember, but still gets you quality time with extended family, consider the new family reunion/vacation alternative being called "Togethering." The concept is simple; rather than planning your own vacation and then stealing a few days (or hours) of additional vacation time to visit the old homestead and catch up with Uncle Billy, you invite the whole gang on a sort of group vacation. You can get group rates on everything from airfare to hotel rooms to transportation and meals, plus you'll get to enjoy new surroundings and catch quality time together.

2. Swap Your Job
Maybe time off to do nothing but vegetate on a beach isn't your thing; or maybe you need an extended change of scenery and situation that isn't financially possible without the income rolling in. Consider the job swap, a once far-fetched concept that is becoming more possible in many jobs. Some job swaps can last up to a year, giving you a completely new perspective on your work and allowing you to experience a new corporate culture, meet new people, and build new skills, as well as find out how well your old skills transfer to a new work environment.

3. Stay and Play
Staycations are becoming more popular as alternatives to the traditional pack-and-travel-to-far-away-destination vacation ideal of yore. Both economic and environmental reasons have made staycations more popular; finding some fun things to do in your own area saves money on transportation and lodging costs, as well as helping you make your environmental impact smaller. To make a genuine vacation experience of it, you need to research all your area has to offer as if coming to visit for the first time. Plan an itinerary, get tickets, visit new restaurants and don't settle into a normal routine, but still enjoy the comfort of your own bed at night. Not a bad idea at all.

4. Volunteer
What do you get when you combine vacation time, exotic destinations and life-impacting hard work? Something we commonly call volunteering. If you're interested in making more of a contribution to the world during your time off work, consider a volunteer vacation. Some elements are the same; you'll be responsible for paying your own way, in most cases, and you'll travel to a new destination. Once there, however, everything changes; rather than lounging on a beach, you might be helping out in an orphanage, teaching kids, assisting a farmer, and more. Volunteer vacations range in both duration and cost, so you can find an option that suits your time frame and budget. Of course, you can also merge the staycation and volunteer options, and dedicate your time to a local organization that could benefit from your hands-on help. (Find out how to have a fun and budget-friendly summer adventure. Refer to 7 Ways To Save On Summer Getaways.)

5. Light Up the Sea
If the lore of the lighthouse fills you with a yearning to walk the coast line amidst the salty sea spray, here's your chance: Volunteer to take on a week of work as a lighthouse keeper, and spend your vacation doing the real work of running a lighthouse. From landscaping work to guiding tourists, you'll get a chance to spend your days in a genuine lighthouse and, once the tourists go home, enjoy the solitude of the sea.

6. Swap Your House
Seen one hotel, seen 'em all? If that's the way you feel, but you still want to get out into a new part of the world, sign up for one of the many home swapping services and, literally, swap your house for a week or two. The benefits are savings on lodging, of course, plus you get to enjoy the comforts of home, albeit someone else's. And that someone else is enjoying the comfort of your home at the same time, so two parties get the vacation experience with minimal cost and a much more family-friendly environment.

7. Surf Couches
Organizations such as CouchSurfing describe the concept as a hospitality exchange between members. Basically, you agree to receive house guests, and you can also be a house guest of someone you've never met. In return, you get to meet new people, dive into a new culture rather than stay on the fringe like a tourist, and travel to more places for a lowered cost since lodging is free. It's a neat idea - one that continues to grow in popularity - and the many organizations such as CouchSurfing make it much easier to find workable options than just showing up in a strange town and randomly knocking on doors. (Getting to and around your travel destination doesn't need to break the bank. See Save On Planes, Trains And Automobiles.)

The Bottom Line
Anybody can hike a trail or get a sunburn; but only the truly adventurous can create a unique, life-enriching experience out of a vacation alternative. Why not jump into something new, break out of that typical vacation mold, and come home with photos of something besides a sunset? Your slide-show audience will thank you.

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