Northern California also has many riches and wonders to offer. Nothing beats the morning mist swathing the Golden Gate Bridge during a San Francisco vacation. Be sure to hike at Batteries to Bluffs Trail and take in the expansive ocean views. If you’re craving sparkling pools, shimmering night skies, and majestic mountain scenery, instead of bay views, spending your vacations in Palm Springs is the way to go. Hollywood’s Waiting Room for Heaven is the ultimate desert playground for people-watching and wandering through art galleries.

Why you’ll love it: Ruminate on the Revolution on Beantown’s historic streets while following the (free) Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that winds past 16 historically significant sites dating back to the American Revolution. Don’t miss taking a spin on the swan boats in the lake at the Boston Public Gardens in Boston Common, and plan a stop at the New England Aquarium and Museum of Science too.
Everything you need in order to plan your Gatlinburg vacation is right here in the Free Vacation Guide! Complete listings of our special events, mileage charts, and an alternate route map that can save you at least an hour in traffic coming and going! Plus, you'll find a listing of virtually every shopping, restaurant, lodging, attraction, and retail business. With all there is to see and do in Gatlinburg, you'll be thankful to have this informative guide to help make your Gatlinburg vacation better than ever!
Does your family thrive on challenges? Multiple escape rooms now pepper Charlotte, and near the intersection of the city’s two interstates, you’ll find Escape Kings. This family-friendly attraction lets those over 10 years of age test their collective wits by escaping from Aztec Ruins and Kings Quest rooms. The puzzle clues are for all ages, and escape is neither too hard for kids nor too easy for adults. To avoid disappointed faces, pick up tickets for escape rooms, Segway tours and other family-friendly activities in advance.
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
What to do: Stroll through the mile-long Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a mossy jungle of sky-high sequoias — some of them 2,000 years old (kids can crawl through the hollow ones). See if Roosevelt elk are grazing in Elk Meadow, then pick up the path to Trillium Falls and be on the lookout for yellow banana slugs along the way. There are coastal trails too: Take guided tide pool walks to discover anemones and sea stars. Note: your best chance of spotting whales is from December through April.
Barbados may be known for luxury, but that doesn't mean it's not affordable. Inexpensive hotel options can be found all over the island, but especially if you're willing to stay somewhere other than the famous Platinum Coast. Barbados is also an up-and-coming foodie spot, making it the perfect place if you want to book a cheap hotel and spend your travel funds on amazing cuisine. (Getty Images)
Boracay may be popular among local beach enthusiasts, but it's still vastly undiscovered by most international tourists. This island in the Philippines is known for its rugged scenery, turquoise waters, picturesque palm trees and exquisite beaches, including the popular White Beach. Once you get there, hotels can cost as little as $20 per night. (Getty Images)
A Chincoteague Island escape offers the chance to enjoy relaxing on this small, serene island off the Virginia coast that’s home to wild ponies, foxes and more than 320 species of birds. If you can be here on the last Wednesday of July, you can watch the wild horses swim across the channel during the annual Pony Swim. The Waterside Inn is an ideal place to base your stay, with cheap room rates and a family atmosphere. It hosts its own pier for fishing an crabbing, a marina and a seasonal outdoor heated pool that overlooks Chincoteague Channel.
Tulum: As Playa del Carmen has been the site of some troubling violence of late, the coastal town of Tulum to the south may be a safer alternative at present. It is also less touristy than other resort towns on the Yucatan Peninsula, offering well-preserved ruins of the former Mayan city walls and other historic structures right in town. The State Department has explicitly stated there are no restrictions on travel to Tulum or to Chichen Itza, the magnificent archaeological site just an hour up the road. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Just how cheap is it? If you get yourself to Isla Grande -- part of the Islas del Rosario just off the country’s north coast -- it’s a tropical paradise for as cheap as you care to make it. Although there are fancier resorts available, at eco-hotels such as La Cocotera, Las Palmeras, or El Hamaquero, you can sleep in a beachside hammock for just $10 a night. For $20, you’ll also get you three meals, including a freshly caught and grilled fish dinner. Or, pro tip: A local can bring you freshly caught lobsters on request from anywhere between $10 to $30 a day. Sneak into the upmarket Hotel Majagua and grab a piña colada for $5, or go to the inland village for cut-price cervezas. (If you want more privacy, lodging starts at around $30 per room, and goes up to between $90 to $250.)

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.

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Why: This small island nation is easy on the wallet and big on experiences. I came here on a three-week tour expecting to be a beach bum, but instead, found so much more: delicious (albeit spicy) food, stunning ancient rock formations in Sigiriya, surfing at Arugam Bay, and some of the most physically rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Climbing to the top of Adam’s Peak and (barely) surviving the 5,500 steep stairs that make up this pilgrimage, with the help of a friend and a monk, taught me some inner lessons about strength and power. Don’t miss a chance to visit Ella, a small mountain town with a laid-back hippy vibe, accessible via a scenic train ride from Kandy that will cost you less than $10 and bring you past stunning tea plantations. The real magic of the country is outside of Colombo, but since your flight will always begin/end here, I strongly recommend starting your trip with a stay at Penthouse Above Sea ($100 a night). The amazing woman who runs this property can help you plan your time in the country.

Nighttime is perfect for The Island in Pigeon Forge, an entertainment hub with lighted water shows. Pleasant evenings also draw families to the area’s multiple mini-golf courses, including one in nearby Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is also home to a surprisingly wonderful aquarium given its mountain location; penguins typically steal the show at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
Why: Okay, you may be thinking, “Isn’t Saint Martin/Sint Maarten destroyed?” Yes, this unique Caribbean island, which is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten), was devastated by Hurricane Irma. But now it’s on the mend. Saint Martin’s famed Princess Juliana International Airport has been open since late October 2017. The majority of the island’s electricity has been restored, and many beaches, bars, restaurants and businesses have reopened their doors. Because tourists are still wary, many hotels have discounted rates (like Hotel Mercure for $169 night) as well as gorgeous Airbnb properties starting at $50 a night. It’s a win-win. Not only will you save money, but your money will be spent on businesses and people who really need our help.

Where to stay: One Ski Hill Place, a Rock Resort, is located right at the base of Peak 8 and offers multi-room suites that function like a private condo with full kitchens and living rooms, perfect for families to spread out, plus there are two indoor pools and a private two-lane bowling alley in the hotel, and free shuttle service to area restaurants.
When is the best time to go? You will be less limited with a baby or a toddler because they don’t yet go to school, allowing you to plan a trip in September or early May when places are less crowded and room rates are lower. If you have older children that are in school, you will need to get away during their school holidays like spring break and summer. During the summer season, most beach destinations are quite crowded while cities tent to be emptier and a good choice as vacations for kids. If you have a teenager who is learning about the U.S. history, take her to Washington D.C. and spend a few days at the Smithsonian Museums.

Why you’ll love it: Known as the base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park is only 90 minutes from Denver International Airport, but has an authentic Colorado mountain village feeling with plenty of outdoor activities to fit any member of the family. Families can try hiking in the national park on their own, booking a mountain bike ride, learn fly-fishing, or try rafting experiences—to name a few. There’s also a number of unique festivals throughout the summer.
Just how cheap is it? The food and accommodation aren’t fabulous bargains -- but, oh, the shopping is. In the tourist town of Victoria Falls, a hostel bed or a hired tent will cost you $15 to $20 per night, but I scored a carved stone necklace from a street vendor for the sandals I was wearing. Bartering is common at flea markets and on the streets, where second-hand clothes -- shoes, baseball caps, and sportswear (think basketball or soccer shirts) -- have real buying power. Fill your suitcase with gently used gear and exchange it for jewelry, handmade crafts, and souvenirs like devalued trillion dollar notes.
Why:  For an epic adventure that won't break your travel piggy bank, head to the Komodo Islands , named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Most of the islands in Indonesia are incredibly undermined because of how popular Bali is, but Komodo and its surrounding islands are definitely worth a visit. As the name implies, Komodo is the native home of the terrifying mini-Godzillas known as Komodo Dragons. To see them, you go on an incredible boat tour that takes you to a tri-color beach island and swimming with wild manta rays. Getting to Komodo from Bali costs about $40 by boat or $200 for a flight, and accommodation and food is super cheap because, well, it's Indonesia after all.
Your most difficult task will be choosing which of the dozens of family attractions to try, from a wax museum to a world records hall to dinner theaters, roller coasters and even “Goats on the Roof.” Nature will also be luring you to Smoky Mountain trails and overlooks, so no matter how many days you can spend in Pigeon Forge, they will all be full.

St. Augustine’s picturesque and historic center appeals to all sorts of visitors. Many families come here for the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, a fabulous swashbuckling resource offering interactive exhibits, treasure hunting, and more. For some outdoor fun, you could see the town on one of Ripley’s Red Trains, hit the play areas at Davenport Park or Project Swing Park, or turn towards the beach for a kids’ surf session. And for a truly unforgettable introduction to the locality, there’s always a helicopter tour over St. Augustine and Fort Matanzas.
Why: Oaxaca de Juarez is one of the most beautiful destinations to travel to in Mexico. Colorful markets, charming architecture, cobblestone streets, fun festivals and delicious food are just part of the attraction. Stroll through Oaxaca’s main square, the Zócalo, and relax at a café, people watch and be entertained by dancers and singers in the evenings. Just a few minutes walk from the square is the Mercado Benito Juárez, where you’ll find embroidered goods and straw baskets. Continue walking the pedestrian street called Calle Macedonio, where you’ll find art galleries, cafes, shops and boutique hotels. Visit the Santo Domingo de Guzmán church and monastery that dates back to 1555. Don’t Miss the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, where you can see the treasures found on Mont Alban — the skull covered in turquoise, carved jaguar bones, gold jewelry and ornaments for a nominal fee. Hungry? Stop by at the food market 20 de Noviembre, where you’ll find piles of fried grasshoppers (chapulines) and Oaxaca cheeses, tamales, meat-filled tortillas, tlayudas, chocolates, coffees and seven types of mole. Get a taste of local dishes at food stalls for under $5 or free Mezcal tastings at Mezcaloteca. It’s easy to find your way around this town, but if you prefer to join a guided walking tour, contact Enjoy Oaxaca — they offer several tours from city tours to day trips to see Mont Alban, Mitla Ruins, Hierve el Agua bubbling springs and the petrified waterfall, as well as cooking classes and many festival tours including the Day of the Dead. Where to Stay? There are several boutique hotels and quaint B&B’s in town. You can reserve a room at Parador San Miguel Oaxaca for as low as $86 per night.
Why: Did you know that Lake Tahoe is one of the oldest, tallest, largest, deepest and purest lakes in the world? The southern shore of the lake, known as South Tahoe, straddles two states and is known to be the livelier shore. There is a booming craft beer scene, and they even have a beer map for visitors. Some standouts are locally owned Lake Tahoe Ale Worx and the Cold Water Brewery. Not too sure what’s in the water out there, but the southern shores of Lake Tahoe also produces world-renowned athletes. South Tahoe is home to a couple of Winter Olympian Gold Medalists and several 2018 Olympic hopefuls. (Check out my interview with Hannah Tetter, Maddie Bowman and Kyle Smaine, who all train on Sierra, the “locals” mountain.) In October 2017, an 11-foot bronze sculpture by artist, Gareth Curtiss, was unveiled at Champions Plaza called the “Spirit of Competition," inspired by local Olympic athletes. Heavenly is a mountain that's great for families. The resort has a village with shops and outdoor fire pits. Check out dinner and magic show at The Loft, and for the best sunset views (and steaks) in South Tahoe, go to Friday’s Station. Stay at the Lake Tahoe Resort at Heavenly, where rates start at just $109 and its location in the middle of the village means you can walk right to the gondola — nice when lugging skis or a snowboard. But South Tahoe isn’t all about the powder; in fact over two-thirds of tourist arrivals are in the spring and summer months for hiking, biking and golf. Wildlife lovers won't want to miss a visit to meet Emma, an American bald eagle rescued by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.
Where to stay: Tanque Verde Ranch is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and they’re offering a special $150-per-night family stays for the entire summer. The family-owned property provides an authentic wild west experience with horseback riding and much more, through Arizona’s most breathtaking desert landscapes of the Rincon Mountains. The $150 for the 150th special includes breakfast and free use of the pool and general facilities. A kids camp, great for ages 4 to 12, is available for an extra fee, as is horseback riding, biking, and guided hikes.
Where to stay: If you don’t want to bother with a rental car, stay at Stonebridge Inn, A Destination Hotel where everything Snowmass-related is within walking distance and you have a heated pool to look forward to returning to in the evenings. If you prefer to stay where Aspen’s action is, reserve a room at the town’s only ski-in, ski-out property, The Little Nell. Sometimes you can get two complimentary ski passes for each night you stay!
Charlotte’s Carowinds, a combination amusement park and waterpark, is a big hit with families. Weekdays offer shorter lines than weekends, and themed events are scheduled near year’s end. Young park-goers will discover mini-rides just for them, while teens will be thrilled with the likes of Intimidator and Fury 325. The park offers free water at multiple stations, but parents consistently recommend purchasing cups with free refills for the day. Count on $20 for parking, and budget extra for food, or consider at least one combo ticket, which includes food throughout the day.
An added benefit? These top family vacation spots boast plenty of local rentals from TripAdvisor. Choose an entire house or apartment where you can all be together (while still having your own space). Swap the hotel mini-bar for a fully stocked kitchen and the communal lobby for a family living area—and maybe even a garden. Imagine an evening barbecue on the outdoor patio, a family movie night in the theater room, or a morning swim in your own private pool.

Budget tips: Visitors can go on a free self-guided walking tour of historic downtown Providence, which dives into the making of the now “Creative Capital.” Stop by the brand new Free Play Bar & Arcade that includes over 130 classic video games plus pinball, skeeball, and air hockey, all for free. Then, attend a free WaterFire event this summer, where as many as 80 small bonfires are set ablaze along Providence’s three rivers for the annual summer events, creating a free, one-of-a-kind light show that lasts from just after sunset until about 12:30 a.m. The events are often accompanied by outdoor concerts, street dancing, and other entertainment.


Why you’ll love it: If you have baseball fans in the family, you’ll want to focus on Cooperstown, home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where they honor some of America’s athletic heroes. You can also visit The Fenimore Art Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of American Indian and folk art, or step back in time at The Farmers’ Museum where American history comes to life with real-life experience on a working Farmstead. Then taste your way through over 40 specialty food products at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, including cider that’s been made for over 150 years in a water-powered mill.

Once on the ground, U.S. travelers will find a favorable exchange rate to the Hungarian forint; drinks are especially cheap (think a few dollars for beer and wine). European travelers can save as well: Budapest earns the third spot on the list of most affordable city breaks for Londoners by London Luton Airport this year. For the most savings on accommodations, stay in Buda, rather than Pest. You won’t be in the city center, but still are close to nearby attractions via walking or the tram.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is only one mile from the popular South Rim entrance. You’ll love the luxury (it’s quite nice for a national park accommodation) and the kids will love the indoor pool. If staying at the bottom of the canyon is on your bucket list, or you want the kids to experience a time machine, check into a cabin at the historic Phantom Ranch.
If you’re looking to save money when going to Orlando’s amusement parks, look to travel in September during midweek and stay at a non-affiliated park hotel or one of the area’s campgrounds. Other money-saving tips for the parks include budgeting in a non-park day and instead relaxing at your hotel’s pool. If you’re a AAA member, you may also be entitled to hotel discounts and special packages with Universal Studios.
Why you’ll love it: This cosmopolitan Canadian city is just a 90-minute trip from 60 percent of the United States, so it’s easy to reach. Once you’re there, kids will have memorable time catching a baseball game right under the CN Tower (you should take a trip up to the top of the tower for the amazing views, too) and riding a moving sidewalk through a shark tank at the neighboring aquarium. Hop on a ferry to explore Toronto’s islands; one is an amusement park! There are also free beaches downtown to catch some summer rays.
Teens who like golf will love hanging out at Topgolf. Fun music adds to the excitement of golfing with a variety of provided clubs on a three-level driving range. Servers keep the food and drinks coming, while you rack up the points and have a few laughs. Charlotte—a major metroplex—has no shortage of other family-friendly restaurants at all price points.
Merida and Valladolid: Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, recommends these two towns as great alternatives to other nearby tourist hot spots. “A lot of people go to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but on the Yucatan Peninsula there are these two beautiful colonial cities that are so welcoming, colorful, and full of traditions that travelers won’t regret visiting them,” he says. Getty Images/iStockphoto
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).

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Summer is arguably the best time for a European vacation because of the great weather and easy accessibility, but popular cities are crowded and expensive. Check out Albania as an alternative to pricey Mediterranean destinations. While direct airline routes are hard to come by from the U.S., Tirana (the country’s main international airport) recently opened up routes with Wizz Air, and has affordable fares from London-area airports for under $200 round-trip.
Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and fitness facilities that include a pool and exercise room. It’s conveniently located just minutes away from Bowling Green’s local attractions such as Lost River Cave, Beech Bend Raceway And Park, Mammoth Cave, and the National Corvette Museum nearby. Rates start at $105 per night. Find out tips to make an affordable family vacation happen.
Travel Auctions. There are two kinds of travel auction sites. One allows you to enter your preferred travel dates, destination, and class of service (such as economy or business class), and travel companies compete to offer the lowest-priced trip that meets your criteria. Flightfox is one site that operates this way: It charges a per-trip fee, and while the exact price depends on the trip itself, you can expect to shell out around $30. The other type of travel auction operates the opposite way: Companies offer flights, hotels, or packages, and users can bid on the trips. When the auction closes, the top bid wins. SkyAuction.com operates using this model. It’s free to bid – though you should be aware that additional taxes and fees are unlikely to be included in your bid price, so you will end up paying more than your bid if you win.
St. Augustine’s picturesque and historic center appeals to all sorts of visitors. Many families come here for the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, a fabulous swashbuckling resource offering interactive exhibits, treasure hunting, and more. For some outdoor fun, you could see the town on one of Ripley’s Red Trains, hit the play areas at Davenport Park or Project Swing Park, or turn towards the beach for a kids’ surf session. And for a truly unforgettable introduction to the locality, there’s always a helicopter tour over St. Augustine and Fort Matanzas.

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