Where to stay: The YMCA of the Rockies is one of the best-kept family vacation secrets in the country; you can get a fabulously clean and spacious 2-bedroom log cabin with mountain views starting at just $109 per night. And the sky’s the limit for activities for families here, including hikes into neighboring RMNP, horseback rides, archery, roller skating, and arts and crafts (some activities have a fee).
What to do? Hike! How else are you going to get close enough to touch an actual glacier? The Going-to-the-Sun Road (one of the most scenic in the world) is also fun to bike, but it's best ridden early or late in the season when car traffic is minimal. The popular, open-top Glacier Park red bus tours allow kids to see wildlife from a safe distance and you to photograph without worrying about pulling over and parking. If you want to get out on the park's many glacial lakes, rent canoes or kayaks or book a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Co.
Budapest, Hungary: Another affordable European destination for this summer is Budapest. Here, you’ll get two cities for the price of one — Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. With new routes from American Airlines launching this summer to/from Philadelphia, competition is driving airfare prices down. Andrey Danilovich, Getty Images/iStockphoto
Akumal is a snorkeling and diving haven with numerous lagoons and natural parks. Mayans referred to this spot as the "Place of the Turtle" and today it draws droves of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of these creatures in their natural habitat. Like the rest of the Riviera Maya, Akumal features a slew of affordable hotels, motels and all-inclusive resorts. (Getty Images)
New Hampshire’s White Mountains are considered the crown jewel of the state, home to the highest peak in the Northeast, and filled with pristine lakes and dense forest. By staying at the American Mountain Club’s rustic Highland Center lodge, you’ll have access to all types of activities, from guided scenic hikes to spots like the gorgeous Presidential peaks while learning about the area’s geology, nature and picking up some outdoor skills. You can also enjoy splashing around in the pools underneath Arethusa or Ripley Falls, and even rock climbing on the nearby Frankenstein Cliffs. The lodge itself serves hearty home-cooked meals to fuel those adventures, with all meals included in room rates.
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Why you’ll love it: The New York Times named the Big Easy the best place to visit in 2018, and even though it may seem like a grown-up getaway, it’s actually the perfect spot for a family vacation. In addition to eating beignets around the clock and watching the free outdoor performances at Jackson Square, you can take a cruise on the Paddleboarder Creole Queen, watch for gators on the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours; get up close with nature at the Audubon Nature Institute (including the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium), the Aquarium, or the Zoo; and deep dive into history at the National WWII Museum, featuring a 4D cinema experience narrated by Tom Hanks. Plus there’s Carousel Gardens where you can enjoy more than a dozen rides for kids including a roller coaster and a historic carousel.
Why you should go: Because nature and mild danger make you feel alive. Victoria Falls has a bungee jump, one of the world’s most high-octane whitewater runs, and the Devil’s Pool, a natural rock pool at the literal edge of the falls. Forget TLC’s admonitions: Inching your body out over the precipice and looking down into one of the seven natural wonders of the world is one of the most unforgettable things you’ll ever do. - Sarah Theeboom, Thrillist contributor
Looking for a flight on one of Europe's new set of long-haul low-cost carriers? Scroll through for a complete list of routes flown by those airlines (as of May 2018). Routes are organized by U.S. airport, with a list of each budget airline and its routes from that airport in parenthesis. Remember, some routes are seasonal. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
Price/Availability: Price is per person, based on double occupancy, and includes hotel rates, hotel taxes, roundtrip airfare, and gov't taxes/fees applicable to airfare based on specified departure city. Price shown is sample price found 6/21/18 on jetblue.com/vacations for travel departing New York (JFK) between 9/17/18 and 9/20/18 and may not represent current savings. Package/price subject to availability; may change without notice; valid for new bookings only; capacity controlled; may not be available on all dates or with all flights; and may be restricted to certain hotel room categories.
Take those vacation days and get ready to stay at home! There are plenty of ways to be creative (and thrifty) without losing the fun factor. Plan out what nights of the week you want to take your family out to eat or explore downtown. And don’t forget to meal plan for the night’s you’ll be eating at home too. Try sprucing up your backyard and tossing some burgers on the grill!
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
What to do: Sleep under the stars in the national park named for Theodore Roosevelt who once lived here. Let the kids’ imaginations run wild amidst these dramatic badlands (home to the Painted Canyon) and have a contest to see who can spot the most bison or elk. Laugh out loud at the prairie dog towns where the barking is audible and the little critters are as entertaining as they are mischievous. Just outside of the park, explore downtown Medora — an Old West cow town where horses are still a form of transportation.