Ancona may be a popular place to board a cruise ship bound for Croatia or Greece, but it's also a beautiful beach destination in its own right. The Beach of the Two Sisters, or Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle, located about 12 miles south of Ancona, offers white sands and clear waters with a protected shore and towering cliffs above. What's more, hotel rates in the city start around $65 a night. (Getty Images)
Why you’ll love it: Travelers on the hunt for an upscale family vacation ideas filled with rich local culture at bargain prices should visit Panama, one of Latin America’s most thriving, cosmopolitan destinations—and with no currency exchange and easy direct flights from many major U.S. cities, traveling there is a breeze. Nearby natural areas offer the opportunity to see everything from swinging sloths to tiny tree frogs in their natural habitats.
What to do: First, try to visit during the spring (usually mid-March through mid-April) for the city’s famous Cherry Blossom festival. The National Mall is where most of the action and colors are. Depending on your kids’ ages and interests, spend hours everywhere from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There are also several art museums — ideal for older kids — and just a few blocks away, kids of all ages will have a blast at the International Spy Museum. Don’t forget to visit all the memorials too.
Why you’ll love it: Playful Pismo Beach and nearby Shell Beach offer the quintessential southern California beach vacation, from swimming and hiking to kayaking and surfing—it’s all outdoor fun all the time. Energize your vacation with an ATV drive on 5.5 miles of beaches open to off-road vehicle use in Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach. If actual horsepower is more your thing, enjoy a horseback ride instead. Pismo Beach Pier is the place to go to throw a line in the water and wait for a tug, while Pismo Beach’s award-winning boardwalk is rife with delicious treats and colorful boutique shops.
Just how cheap is it? Dirtbag backpackers can get by on less than $30 per day, easy. Dorms in La Paz, the sprawling capital, are as low as $5 a night. Lunches cost $3, and including rice, a main (usually meat), and soup. Buy some llama print sweaters to take home at $10 each, and spend $20 to cram onto a bus to the next city. A three-day tour in the damn Amazon jungle will set you back just $200 (bring a headlamp and expect to lounge in hammocks next to baby tarantulas).
Why: Kuala Lumpur is a gem most people have not found out about, which is to your benefit. Kuala Lumpur has a mix of different cultures, from Asian to Indian, which makes the food really great. While there, I was able to grab food in Little India and ate amazing chicken tikka masala, then I headed to China Town and ate the most delicious noodles. The mix of cultures even shows with the attractions. I was able to explore a Chinese temple (Thean Hou), the Bantu Caves and a mosque (the National Mosque) all in one city. Kuala Lumpur is also known for its sky bars (rooftop bars). The one to check out is Sky Bar, which has a pool and overlooks the Petronas Towers. Hotels are mega cheap, as well: You can get a five-star hotel with an infinity pool on the rooftop for only $42 a night. Check out D'Majestic Place by Swiss-Garden. Kuala Lumpur is also the hub for cheap flights throughout Southeast Asia. You can get a roundtrip flight from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand for $24.
What to do: See Old Faithful, which shoots steam sky-high every 90 minutes, and then move on to the other geysers, stinky mud pots and multi-colored hot springs within walking distance (check out the flower-shaped Morning Glory Pool). Yellowstone is also a great place to spot wildlife: Bison, elk, bears, wolves and Bighorn sheep all hang out here. If you visit in the winter (when it’s easiest to spot wildlife) take the kids on their very first snowcoach tour. For summer fun, fly high at West Yellowstone’s Zipline Adventure Park.
Chosen By: Michaela Guzy, an American media executive, entrepreneur and on-air show host. She is the executive producer for two online television shows, Michaela’s Map and OhThePeopleYouMeet. Based in New York City, she is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, where she teaches a course called "Travel Storytelling: Creating Video Content."
Just how cheap is it? The aftershock of the debt crisis can still be felt at plenty of Greece’s tavernas, restaurants, and supermarkets (though not so much in touristy areas). On a popular island such as Mykonos, you’re likely to spend at least €25 or more on a lush evening meal -- but you can also get a bottle of godly nectar and cook at your Airbnb or hotel kitchenette for a sliver of that. On smaller, less touristy islands and in some parts of Athens you’ll feel less of a wallet pinch, especially when it comes to accommodation.
Yellowstone is a massive, nearly 4,000-square-mile park that hosts more geothermal features, including hot springs, mud spots and geysers, than anywhere else on Earth. Here you can be mesmerized by most famous, Old Faithful, which shoots steam as high as 185 feet into the sky every 90 minutes, along with many other lesser-known geysers, mud pots and brilliant multi-colored hot springs like Grand Prismatic Spring, named for its striking array of colors that match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism of orange, yellow, red, green and blue. The park is also famous for its wildlife, with an abundance of bison, elk and Bighorn sheep, along with wolves and bears. By staying just outside the park, you’ll find multiple budget-friendly options, like Kelly Inn West Yellowstone.

Why you’ll love it: If you think Houston is only a business city, you’re in for a surprise when you visit with your family. Start your visit at Discovery Green, an urban park designed for kids, with everything from $5 kayak rides on gentle Kinder Lake to special toddler play-group hours. The Children’s Museum of Houston is one of the best in the country, with indoor and outdoor spaces where they can have hands-on fun.
Yelapa: Yelapa is “Mexico’s last authentic beach town,” says Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, “and is definitely under the radar. [Expect] great seafood, great beaches, nice hotels and none of the inflated prices.” Note that it’s in one of the State Department’s orange zones, while nearby Puerto Vallarta is exempted — so you’ll want to do a bit more research before choosing this part of Jalisco. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Just how cheap is it? The aftershock of the debt crisis can still be felt at plenty of Greece’s tavernas, restaurants, and supermarkets (though not so much in touristy areas). On a popular island such as Mykonos, you’re likely to spend at least €25 or more on a lush evening meal -- but you can also get a bottle of godly nectar and cook at your Airbnb or hotel kitchenette for a sliver of that. On smaller, less touristy islands and in some parts of Athens you’ll feel less of a wallet pinch, especially when it comes to accommodation.
What to do: Watch your kids awaken their inner superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk their way through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. For nostalgia, visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution. Expect to spend at least four hours at The Strong National Museum of Play.
What to do? Immediately head to Siam Park — voted the best water park in Europe (it has nearly 25,000 reviews on TripAdvisor). Check out the water slide that travels through a shark tank or relax at the world’s biggest wave pool. Rent a car and drive across the island to paddle board, kayak and snorkel with Teno Activo at Los Gigantes (where coral reefs meet towering cliffs). Also, don’t forget to check out Loro Parque — voted best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor — and visit the volcano in Teide National Park. It’s Spain’s highest point and the third tallest volcano in the world!
Where to stay: The Westin Playa Bonita is just minutes from the bustling downtown on a mile-long stretch of golden sand surrounded by lush tropical rainforests, and rooms start at just $120 a night. The resort’s Kids Club offers destination-focused experiences including native songs and dances, talent shows, and treasure hunts. Families can also book the Sand, Sloths, & Skyscrapers package, complete with a visit to the area’s new sloth sanctuary, and a walking tour of Casco Viejo. These are family vacation destinations even picky teenagers love.
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