Top Ten Budget-Friendly Vacations for Families

Money is always an issue when it comes to plotting that annual outing for you and your brood. But these ten locales rank high on adventure and affordability.
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Top10 Family Cheap Vacations
SHALLOW WATERS: Your next family vacation need not force you to dig deep  (Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty)

I traveled the world as a writer and climber before I had children, never realizing how inexpensive it was going solo. Now, with a family of five, even the thought of taking everyone out for dinner makes me cringe. Contemplating airfare and several nights of lodging? Forget about it! But, as my children frequently remind me, family vacations are important. There's the quality time spent together away from offices, phones, email, and daily chores; the wonderful memories; and, of course, the laughter and fun.

To help you connect with those all-important familial things, we profile ten locations for family vacations that won't break the bank. A priority is age-appropriate activities that aren't mind-numbing for adults or boring for kids, and we also try to mix in a blend of physical activity, education, and sightseeing opportunities. National parks like Yellowstone are always good choices, but don't ignore urban areas with eye-opening sights and stimulating museums. Affordable accommodations are important, as is accessibility. Australia is wonderful, but plane tickets are generally not cheap. And of course, safety is key—even families who desire something exotic don't need the added stress of an impending coup or temperamental volcano.

A few ways to stretch your vacation dollar:
Although rising gas and airfare prices make everything more expensive, there are still deals on transportation. Some hubs, like Miami, Los Angeles, and Seattle, always seem to attract sale-priced tickets. And sometimes you can get deals on local attractions and lodging with airline promotions. Flying alternative routes, having a flexible schedule, or adding a stopover can keep ticket prices down.

Getting the most bang for your buck can be as simple as a close-to-home destination, which will reduce a significant portion of your travel expenses. Driving can be cheaper than flying—even at today's prices, as the minivan doesn't charge by passenger.

When you make reservations for restaurants and lodging, always say, "I'm looking for budget-conscious deals for a family vacation—do you offer group discounts?" Families are an important demographic in the tourism industry, and more organizations realize that being family-friendly pays. And when booking reservations, don't forget discounts provided by membership organizations (AAA and AARP are obvious, but many other groups, from bike clubs to schools to small-business organizations often qualify for discounted rates).

Also be sure to look for lodging where kids stay free. Many tour companies offer per-person discounts if you share your room with kids. Some hotels charge a nominal fee for a folding cot, but you can buy lightweight, highly packable sleeping bags for a fraction of the cost of a second room and put kids on the floor. To cut down on food costs, seek restaurants with kid's menus. Some restaurants, especially those in family-friendly resorts, let young children eat for free. Get a room with a refrigerator—by preparing some meals yourself, restaurant tabs won't be so high. And hotels with free breakfast buffets offer no-cost access to the most important meal of the day.

When you reach your destination, consider transportation options. Good mass transit can save big dollars on rental car costs. Consider renting bikes, mopeds, or even golf carts (local traffic permitting). And don't rule out boats, trains, or even walking!

Published: 23 May 2012 | Last Updated: 21 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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