Our family loves to travel. We’ve been traveling Europe for the past few years, since we live there, but we’re just as excited to get back to the States and continue our travels. There’s just too many amazing things to see in the world.
We have a lot of experience traveling with a large family. We know the difficulties, and we also know how fun it is. It’s a challenge worth accepting.
We came up with some things we’ve done, and some things in our future plans. The goal was to bring up affordable vacation options many people haven’t considered. Maybe you have considered some of these. If that’s the case, sorry about the title. Article headlines don’t leave much room for exceptions.
Also, I didn’t want to give an exhaustive list of everything there is to do in each place. I wanted to give a brief summary to help you find the place, and then you can go find the thousands of articles about that place specifically.
Related: How to Budget for a Family Vacation
Now let’s get to why you’re here. 25 vacation ideas you need to consider…
See the Sights
The first part of this list is dedicated to all-around great family vacation spots. All within the USA. I tried to spread out the locations through the list to cover most regions, and this is what I came up with…
1. Branson, MO
You’ll see Branson on a lot of lists. I had to include it, because we go there all the time. We love spending Christmas in Branson, and seeing all the lights. The summers are awesome, with all the lakes and scenery, but it gets really busy during summertime. If you don’t deal well with traffic and congestion, I’d suggest trying a winter vacation in Branson.
Silver Dollar City is an affordable amusement park with all kinds of attractions. Branson also has more shows than Vegas, I’ve heard. That’s probably true. It really doesn’t matter who has more, but Branson has a lot. And it’s a family-oriented scene. It’s also quite a Christian town, and the people are great.
The Branson Landing, their big shopping area, is complete with all the food and shopping you could ask for, as well as an on-the-hour, automated water and fire show for the kids.
2. Washington DC
The cost of living isn’t the cheapest here, but it’s made up for with free museums! I guess they’re not really free — we pay for them with tax dollars, but it’s nice to explore the things you’re already paying for. All of the monuments, the museums, the zoo… it will take a few days to see everything, and that’s if you’re rushing.
The food is as diverse as the people and the neighborhoods. If you want history and culture, in a family-oriented setting, Washington DC makes for a great vacation spot. Many people don’t realize that all of the government, public attractions in DC are free. If you didn’t know, now you do.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The Grand Canyon doesn’t need much of a description, but have you considered it for an entire vacation? With Flagstaff, AZ and Las Vegas, NV in close proximity, you can make a nice vacation out of it. Go see the Hoover Dam while you’re at it.
If you plan a week full of hiking, seeing the canyon, and visiting the nearby cities and attractions, there will be more to do than you can fit. The Grand Canyon is in a great location to see all kinds of things.
4. Niagara Falls, NY
We loved our trip to Niagara Falls. You may be thinking New York is expensive, but when you’re out of the city, it’s not so bad. There are plenty of full-day tours for under $100 when you get to Niagara Falls. You can see it all, and even take a boat right up to the falls.
For the rest of your vacation, there is plenty to do in the city there, but it gets into tourist prices, so it’s best to explore the rest of the area. If you like outdoors activities, there’s hiking and sightseeing. If you prefer a city, Buffalo isn’t far.
5. Williamstown, KY
This may be the first destination on the list that you’re totally thrown off by. The main site to see here is the Ark Encounter. It’s a to-scale recreation of Noah’s Ark. At more than seven stories tall, and 450 feet long, it’s an amazing creation. The encounter is complete with the Ark tour, a petting zoo, science exhibits, and zip lines.
There are some other sites around, such as the William Arnold Log House. Their hours are a little weird, so call to make sure they’re open. Your vacation doesn’t have to end there. Plan it around the cities in the area. Williamstown is less than an hour from Cincinnati and Lexington. It’s about 1.5 hours to Louisville.
6. New Orleans, LA
You may be thinking “Mardi Gras” and “family vacation” don’t go together, and you’re right about that. So probably don’t go during Mardi Gras (at least not to Bourbon Street), but any other time, it makes a great getaway.
You can’t pass up the music, culture, history and food of New Orleans. This is great for your kids to see. It’s such a huge part of American history in general. There are countless parks, museums, attractions, and tours for families — you won’t be disappointed. Whether it’s a weekend trip or a week or two, there’s enough to fill the time.
7. Nashville, TN
The city of music, history, and music history. See some shows, walk the downtown district, enjoy the scenery, and teach your kids some things about American history throughout the town. There are plenty of free things to do, and all kinds of cheap things.
Nashville is one of my favorite cities. I love the abundance of music and the Southern hospitality. Before you leave, plan a trip to Dave Ramsey’s studio to scream “we’re debt free!” or to just stop in and say “hello.”
8. Mount Hood National Forest, OR
This is one of the most beautiful parks in the world. If you’re looking for an outdoors trip, for camping, and for lots of hiking, you’ve got it. With all the peaks, views and falls, you can’t see it all in a week. It would take a while, but you can see much of it.
If you live in the northwest, this is a great spot for you. It could still be a great spot for those willing to make the beautiful drive to Oregon, and it is a beautiful drive. Whether you’re camping, fishing, hiking, or paddling, you want to make sure you go during open hours.
9. Yellowstone National Park
Spanning Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Yellowstone is a huge national park. The hardest part of planning an outdoors vacation in Yellowstone is figuring out where to go. You have so many options. You’ve got to see “Old Faithful” erupt thousands of gallons of water in a minute. The Grand Prismatic Spring is another amazing site to see.
If you’re planning a purely hiking trip, these are the best trails for kids:1
- Mammoth Hot Springs terrace – at Mammoth Springs
- Uncle Tom’s Trail – at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
- Upper Geyser Basin Trail – at the Old Faithful
- Storm Point Hike – North of Yellowstone Lake
- West Thumb Geyser Basin – West of Yellowstone Lake
- Tower Fall – trailhead behind the Tower Fall general store
- Porcelain Basin – at Norris Geyser Basin
- Trout Lake Trail – East of Lamar Valley
- Wraith Falls – between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs
- Undine Falls – between Mammoth and Tower Junction
- Ice Lake – between Norris and Canyon Village
- Harlequin Lake Trail – between Madison and West Entrance
- Geyser Hill Loop Trail — Old Faithful area
- Black Sand and Biscuit Basin Trails – West of Old faithful
- Mystic Falls Trail – back of the Biscuit Basin boardwalk
Regardless of what you’re planning to do, there are so many free and cheap options for vacationing to Yellowstone.
10. Yosemite National Park, CA
Another one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Though it’s in California, the cost isn’t too high, if you’re planning an outdoors vacation. Take your kids to see the Giant Sequoaias, the largest trees in the world. The hiking trails are plentiful, but even if you’re not looking to hike, you can drive to some great spots with amazing views.
Get your kids sworn in as a Jr. Park Ranger while you’re there. If you’re looking for the peaks and views, Glacier Point is kid-friendly — it feels like you can see the whole park. Try to see as many waterfalls as you can, but they are plentiful, so you may not see them all.
11. Hot Springs, AR
If you’re looking for a family-friendly town full of nature, hiking, lakes, shopping, history, and a historic downtown area, you’re welcome, because this is it. Check out the world-famous, affordable spas downtown. Or get scuba diving lessons in Lake Ouachita, one of the cleanest lakes in the world.
The food alone is worth the trip. From a mixture of BBQ taken from all the surrounding regions, to authentic Mexican food and taco trucks, you can always find what you’re hungry for. Even though a lot of people haven’t heard of Hot Springs, or have never been, it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. Besides, I couldn’t leave my home town off the list.
Beaches make great family-friendly and wallet-friendly destinations, as long as you stay away from the most popular, tourist-trap beaches. These are some great beaches you may not know about…
12. Myrtle Beach, SC
This is probably one of the more known beaches on this list. There’s a good chance you know someone with a Myrtle Beach t-shirt. But it’s a cost-effective beach, and it’s great for families. The area isn’t near as expensive as most beach towns.
There are all kinds of attractions here, so plan based on your budget. If you want to skip the fancy resorts, book an AirBNB months ahead, and you can get some spots that you may enjoy even more. Myrtle Beach’s official website gives you everything you need to know for planning a family vacation there.
13. Seaside Beach, OR
Seaside Beach is known as the most kid-friendly beach in Oregon. There’s plenty to do on the beach, and the town is pretty cool on its own. The Seaside Aquarium is nearby to add something different to the trip.
If you want to turn it into a full-on outdoors vacation, the area is surrounded by state parks… and other beaches of course. If Seaside isn’t a big enough town for you, and you’re looking for the city life, it’s only 1.5 hours back to Portland.
14. Lake Tahoe, CA
If you want an all-in-one town, Lake Tahoe is your spot. The beaches are great, and usually free. The mountains are free to explore, and offer an abundance of great hiking options. And the town itself is worth exploring.
You can get a little of everything here, without the typical Californian prices. They do have plenty of casinos and adult entertainment in the southern part of Lake Tahoe, but it’s also quite family friendly. It’s easy to find lodging close to the lake, without the lake prices.
15. Cape May, NJ
One spot that’s becoming more popular is Cape May. It seems like its secret got out over the last decade, and while it’s not as much of a hidden gem as it used to be, it’s still more affordable, and just as nice, as the commercialized beaches.
The old Victorian homes make for an interesting twist. It’s not like most beach towns. You get the scenery and the history here. From the historic downtown area, to the lighthouse built in the 1800s, there’s a variety of sights to see. You can spend time in Cape May’s old town area to see some amazing restored homes, or head to the uptown area with all the newer shops.
16. Naples, FL
A place to relax and get away, but also a place to see wildlife, spend time on the beach, and do some shopping if you want. There are several options for seeing the animals here, from zoos to parks to simply being outside. If you like to golf, they have that too, but not many families go on golf vacations.
The pier is a must. It’s what Naples is known for. It’s a beautiful pier that jets out 1,000 feet into the Gulf. Naples doesn’t come with the prices of Miami or the Key West. The town has a more relaxed feel, and the water is just as nice.
17. Gulf Shores, AL
Just down the beach from the Florida Panhandle, you’ve got Gulf Shores. The first time our family went here, we were expecting it to be like a discount version of the panhandle. And while the prices were definitely discounted, the views and the beaches were practically the same.
We loved it here, and we’d go back any time we have the chance. The resorts and other beach accommodations are really nice and really inexpensive. Gulf Shores is also a neat little town, with lots of amazing food, great people, and fun shopping.
18. Destin, FL
Honestly, this one could be Destin, Fort Walton, or Pensacola. Any of the smaller, panhandle towns are going to be a great alternative to an expensive Miami or Tampa beach in Florida. Personally, I prefer the Gulf to the Atlantic,—mostly because of water temperature—but it depends on what you’re looking for.
With young kids, the Gulf is great, because you don’t have to worry about a huge wave coming in and taking them with it. This entire area of Florida has great food, awesome beaches, and all kinds of inexpensive attractions. I’m slightly partial to the beaches in Fort Walton, but Destin seems to be a little less pricey, and less busy.
Explore the World
Now it’s time for some places you may have never thought you could afford, but hear me out. I used to be skeptical about traveling outside of the States, but since we started exploring the world, we’ve found some places that anyone can afford. Trust me.
This section is also to make some of you reach outside your comfort zone, and realize how small the world really is. I have a few tips we’ve learned about traveling internationally (mostly European tips), and then we’ll check out the places to go.
Tips for Traveling Internationally
- The John F. Kennedy Airport (New York) is almost always the cheapest airport to fly out of, if you’re headed to Europe. It’s also one of the busiest airports.
- The Copenhagen Airport (Denmark) is almost always the cheapest airport to fly into in Europe.
- Once you’re in Europe, flights are dirt cheap, but travel light, and book your flights before you go.
- AirBNB is almost always the cheapest and best option for families when traveling Europe.
- Some form of public transportation is going to be the cheapest, and easiest, in each country, but every country is different. Look it up ahead of time to see if it’s best to take the train, bus, metro, cabs, water taxis, Uber, or something else, for the location you’re going to.
- Look into whatever type of “city pass” each city offers. Check ahead online to see if it’s worth it. Some cities have great passes, while others are rip-offs.
Now let’s travel the world…
19. Lisbon, Portugal
Talk about a stunning city without a staggering budget. Portugal is affordable in general, but if you get to Lisbon towards the end of the school year, everything will be open, and there won’t be a lot of crowds. Lisbon offers some of the nicest beaches, with a beautiful city.
Experience the culture and the food of the Portuguese in a place where almost everyone speaks English. Take your kids to the old neighborhoods, and all of the historic sites, like castles and palaces. Public transportation won’t cost you more than a few bucks for the entire day.
20. Transylvania, Romania
This isn’t a city; it’s more of a region in Romania. If you think of vampires immediately upon hearing “Transylvania,” don’t. Because Romanians don’t. Dracula’s Castle is in the region, but it’s literally the only place anyone even brings up vampires, and even then it’s only for tourism.
I’m partial to Cluj-Napoca, which is the largest city in Transylvania, because I lived there for four months. Practically everyone there speaks some English. You’ll find almost as many Hungarians in Cluj as you will Romanians (not literally, but there are a lot), so it’s normal for English to be the common language.
This entire region of Romania is beautiful. Not only can you get extremely cheap flights into Romania from European hubs, but the lodging and food prices will blow your mind. You could entertain a family of five, for a day, for less than $20/person, and that’s if you’re eating and seeing everything you can. Need a cab? A 15-minute cab ride will cost about five bucks.
Eastern Europe is the one of the most budget-friendly places in the world. That’s why you’ll see a lot of Brits stretching their pounds there. Your dollar will stretch almost as far, especially since the ratio is around 1:4 right now. One USD gets you four Romanian Leu.
21. Vienna, Austria
Austria may be my favorite country in Europe. The cities all have a welcoming feel, and the mountains seem endless. The beautiful Austrian towns of Innsbruck, Hallstatt, and Salzburg are all worth seeing… and so is the rest of Austria. But if you can only go to one, I’d stick with Vienna.
The downtown area will keep you busy for a few days, and that’s just the walking around part. With the architecture and history, walking around is an adventure on its own. The AirBNBs we’ve stayed in were reasonably priced. For even cheaper lodging, stay in Slovakia and take the train in. Vienna is only an hour from Bratislava by train, and it’s not an expensive train ticket.
Like many European towns, the government buildings, cathedrals, and gardens are enough to keep you busy, without spending more than a few euros. There are also plenty of other attractions, if you want to spend a little money, such as the historic Vienna State Opera, a plethora of museums, Prater Amusement Park, the observation tower, or the Tiergarten Schonbrunn (the zoo).
22. Varna, Bulgaria
Varna is located on the Black Sea. While I’ve noticed some Americans are cautious of Bulgaria, this is a totally safe town. Trust me, Bulgarians are more worried about visiting the US, than we are about visiting Bulgaria — mostly because they’re afraid they’re going to get shot (they’ve heard everyone in America carries a gun). The only dangerous thing about Bulgaria is driving in the big cities, and even that isn’t as scary as many other places I’ve been in Eastern Europe.
Bulgaria is another one of my favorite countries, especially when you want beautiful landscape for half the price. The prices in Bulgaria are extremely cheap. Whether you’re in Varna, Burgas (another water town), Plovdiv (oldest city in Europe), or the capital, Sofia, the prices will blow your mind.
You may have to foot a hefty bill for the plane tickets over, but once you get there, expect to pay less than $20-$30 for dinner, and that’s for a family of five. Most of the family-sized AirBNBs are also in that $30 range, per night. There will be a little “tourist tax,” depending on where you go, but overall it makes for a super cheap, once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
23. Nassau, Bahamas
I don’t know if Bulgaria worried you, but if anywhere on this list should worry you, it’s the Bahamas. There is a high murder rate when you get out of the tourist areas of the Bahamas in general. I know.. I’m really not selling this one.
That being said, as weird as it sounds, it’s actually pretty safe if you stay where you’re supposed to. However, if you worry at all, you may want to leave the kids at home and make this a getaway for you and your spouse.
Nassau is a short flight (under one hour) from Miami. That means the plane ticket to get there won’t cost near the price of a European vacation. There are also plenty of cruise ships and boats that will take you there. Whether you decide to go with just the two of you, or take the kids, there are plenty of resort packages that make Nassau affordable.
Since you’re in the Bahamas, or on an island in general, most of the trip would be filled with beach activities, but there are some other things to do on the island. If you’re looking for a cheap vacation, take a quick flight and stay near the beach for a week. It actually won’t cost near what you may have thought.
24. Toronto, Canada
If you have the desire to leave the US, but you don’t want to leave your car, or maybe you’re just looking for a shorter plane ride, check out Toronto. The dollar actually stretches pretty far here. Of course, you’ll be close enough to Niagara Falls to check that out too, so you could combine this with #4.
Yet again, AirBNB wins most affordable family lodging. Toronto is packed with AirBNB homes and apartments. You can walk around the city, check out the parks, head to the zoo, and try the fusion food for fairly cheap. While the people are really nice, don’t expect them to apologize for everything.
25. San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is a great “test trip,” to see how you like traveling to another country, especially with your kids. There are plenty of direct flights to San Juan from most major airports in the States. Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, you don’t even need your passports. You don’t have to worry about converting money either.
English is spoken by most Puerto Ricans — especially the younger generations. If you’re looking for an easy transition vacation to start getting out of the US, San Juan may be your best bet. It’s not that expensive to get to, and the prices are reasonable once you’re there. Enjoy the beautiful beaches, amazing food, and great people and culture of Puerto Rico.
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Last Updated: September 27, 2020
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- Thanks to Full Suitcase for creating this list!