20 Cheap Family Vacations You Haven’t Thought of Before
Planning a great family holiday can feel like a challenge, especially if you are working within a specific budget. Instead of doing the same old thing (or just giving up and going to Disney World again), it’s possible to come up with a creative idea that doesn’t require flying around the world or spending a ton of cash. Here are 20 cheap family vacations for your next trip with the whole squad.
1. Explore the U.S. Capital
The main draw of Washington, D.C. is the National Mall, where all of the museums offer free entry to visitors. Most of the national monuments are also free to explore and the National Zoo welcomes guests for no charge every day of the year. To keep the cost low, consider booking a hotel in Maryland or Virginia instead of in the heart of the city, and take advantage of the D.C. Metro instead of renting a car.
2. Drive to Canada
Those on the East Coast can easily pack up the car and head north to Montreal, a vibrant city filled with museums and parks, while those on the West Coast should drive up to the harbor city of Vancouver. Leaving the States can make it feels like a serious vacation, but crossing the border by car leaves the hassle of airports behind. There’s a lot to see in Canada, including Toronto and Niagara Falls, and it’s a good option for families who want to keep things close-ish to home.
3. Book a Local All-Inclusive
Don’t worry about all the add-on costs during a vacation by booking into an all-inclusive resort. These are especially popular in Mexico and around the Caribbean, but you don’t have to go that far to find a good deal. Tyler Place Family Resort in Vermont offers all-inclusive family holidays for reasonable rates during the summer months, while Sirata Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach, Florida, gives you a great beach vacation for one all-encompassing rate.
4. Take a Train Journey
Throw back to the good old days by embarking on a train trip. Whether you want to keep things close to home with a journey on Amtrak in the U.S. or find a budget flight to Europe to hop around countries like France, Germany and Italy on a train pass, there’s a great train itinerary for every type of traveler. Try Amtrak’s Empire Builder route for glimpses of Montana’s Glacier National Park and the Columbia River Gorge. Another amazing trip is the train between Vienna and Graz, in Austria, where you can spot actual castles from the windows. Kids will like the whimsy of it and you’ll appreciate the bar car.
5. Stay at YMCA of the Rockies
Located in Estes Park, Colorado, the YMCA of the Rockies has everything you could want for a lively family vacation. Rent a cabin or book a few rooms in the main lodge, and enjoy activities like swimming, mini golf, horseback riding and archery. The nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is great for hiking, fishing or spotting wildlife, and it’s close enough to Denver to give you a bonus day in the city. Come in the summer to take advantage of the camp’s free Summerfest Concert Series.
6. Go to MLB Spring Training
No childhood is complete without a few trips to the ballpark, especially during spring training, which takes place in Arizona and Florida. Watch the Major League Baseball teams get ready for the new season in games that are more low-key (and less pricey) than the usual season. Spring training usually takes place in February, March and April, with the dates varying by year, so it’s easy to find a few days to head to see the Grapefruit League (Gulf Coast and Tampa, Florida) or the Cactus League (Phoenix, Arizona). Look for nearby hotels and resorts that offer special deals for the spring training dates when booking.
7. Sleep in a Wigwam
The Wigwam Village Motel, located in San Bernardino, California, on Route 66, offered families a chance to sleep in an actual wigwam. There’s a swimming pool and BBQ facilities, and each of the 19 wigwams has electricity and bathrooms, so it’s much more comfortable than camping. Bonus: The Cozy Cone Motel in Pixar’s Cars was based on the Wigwam Village Motel, so the kids will feel like they’re right at home.
8. Hike in Yellowstone
The second-best thing about nature is that it’s free (the first is that it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring). Some amazing and family-friendly hikes can be found in Yellowstone National Park. Follow a trail to Old Faithful or explore the route to Mammoth Hot Springs. It’s best for a summer or fall visit and no permits are required to hike in the park. You can elect to camp or bunk up in one of the park’s nine lodges, making it easy to head out on the trails first thing in the morning.
9. Stay in a Treehouse
You could make a little bed in your backyard treehouse, or you could opt for something more unique at Missouri Treehouse Cabins. The elevated, rustic cabins are perfect for family getaways since they include full kitchens and access to tons of fun outdoor activities. The cabins, each of which has a unique layout and feel, are open all year, so look for seasonal deals that can save you a few bucks.
10. Head to a Dude Ranch
Some Dude Ranch vacations can break the bank, but Rancho Los Baños, in Sonora, Mexico, is a great opportunity for families to learn the ropes at a working ranch without overspending. Go horseback riding or hiking or head out on a Jeep ecotour of the area. This is a solid option for parents who want to decrease their kids’ screen time—the ranch is an off-the-grid experience that encourages a complete digital detox for guests (plus, there’s no Wi-Fi anyway).
11. Take a Mini Road Trip
If spending hours upon hours in the car with screaming kids isn’t your cup of tea, plan a shorter version of the all-American road trip. Pick a few nearby cities or interesting attractions and go for a weekend journey by car, making sure to stop frequently enough to keep the peace. Roadside motel chains, like Motel 6 or Super 8, are inexpensive places to stay along the way (look for ones with a swimming pool) and it can be fun to find local diners or cafés for budget-friendly meals.
12. Visit Hershey, Pennsylvania
Known as the “Sweetest Place on Earth,” Hershey is a great family destination for those who want to experience a theme park without the sky-high prices. The town is home to Hersheypark and ZooAmerica, as well as The Hershey Story Museum and Hershey Gardens. Hotel deals are easy to find, too, making it fun for both the kids and your wallet.
13. Create Your Own Staycation
Booking flights and a hotel can be expensive, but you can also make your own holiday fun in the comfort of your own home. Whether it’s pitching a tent in the backyard or dressing up the guest room like a themed hotel suite, there are plenty of opportunities to recreate the fun of an exotic vacation without ever leaving the house. Pro tip: Ordering in food goes a long way toward finding that relaxed feeling you usually get in a resort.
14. Rent a Houseboat
Lake Powell, which spans between Utah and Arizona, is known for its houseboats, which visitors can rent (and pilot) for a few days. It’s a great way to get away from it all without too much hassle—he boats have full kitchens and working bathrooms. Head during the off-season for cheaper rates and opt for an economy model to keep the price down. There’s also plenty of nearby hiking, fishing, horseback riding and water sports, as well as shopping for those who need a break from all the beautiful nature.
15. Go to Space
Sure, you can’t actually take your kids to the moon. But visiting Florida’s Space Coast or heading to NASA’s Space Center Houston can get you pretty close. Space Center Houston has tons of exhibits and visitor programs, while the Space Coast includes the Kennedy Space Center. Both areas are great for other types of activities as well and finding inexpensive hotels or vacation rentals shouldn’t be an issue.
16. Visit the Wisconsin Dells
Wisconsin Dells is a hub of family entertainment, including Noah's Ark Water Park and the Mt. Olympus amusement park. The nearby Mirror Lake State Park also offers opportunities for camping, hiking and fishing, in case you get your fill of crowded theme parks. Look for vacation packages and deals when booking a vacation, as many of the parks and hotels offer discounts or free nights.
17. Go on Safari
You don’t have to fly to Africa to experience giraffes in the wild. Safari West Animal Park, in Sonoma Valley, California, is home to 800 wild animals, which roam across a wildlife preserve. You can take a tour of the preserve in a Jeep or stay overnight in one of the luxury tents, which are available between March and December. The tents offer a glamping experience and kids under two are free. Book into one of the “King with Double Bunk” rooms when traveling with young ones.
18. Head to Ocean City
A beach vacation doesn’t have to include a five-star resort. Ocean City, Maryland, is a great place to experience the best of the shore, from a lively boardwalk to seaside vacation rentals, and it also offers access to Assateague Island National Park, where the wild ponies run free. Look for a house to rent instead of a hotel, and if you visit in the summer the city shows free movies on the beach. Don’t miss Trimper's Amusements on the boardwalk, which features rides and games.
19. Dig for Dinosaurs
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, in Thermopolis, gives visitors a chance to “Dig for a Day” around its active dinosaur excavation sites. The day-long experience will be memorable for both kids and parents, and it’s open to all ages. If you’re on the East Coast, Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, has a great array of Jurassic fossil tracks to explore. Follow two miles of trails to spot all the tracks with your young ones.
20. Plan a Surprise Vacation
There are travel companies that will plan a mystery vacation for you, but it’s also possible to surprise your family yourself. Pick somewhere unexpected, like a glamping resort in a national park or a lesser-known beach town, and give everyone a helpful packing list based on the destination. If you’d rather be surprised as well, consider using a company like Surprise Me! Trips, which will take your budget into consideration when planning.