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.
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 should go: Not only is it arguably the greatest swinging-around-a-stage-in-purple-sequined-zebra-print-pants anthem of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, it’s a slinky, skinny swatch of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Smaller than South Carolina, it boasts 1,800 miles of ocean coastline and 5 million acres of national parks on the inside. For those who enjoy stylishly restored ruins, Panama City’s old quarter, Casco Viejo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1600s and is now filled with hipstery shit, because of course it is. This cobblestoned city center is surrounded by the ultra-sleek, modern, quasi-futuristic skyscrapers of Panama City, which kind of looks like Rio without the smog and soon-to-be decaying Olympic infrastructure. - Nicole Rupersburg, Thrillist contributor
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.
Weekend getaways – leaving Friday and returning Sunday – are awfully convenient if you work a Monday through Friday job, but you can expect to pay handsomely. According to Expedia, which releases an annual Travel Trends White Paper, you’re likely to pay 20% less for a flight that departs on Thursday and returns on Monday than one that departs on Friday and returns Sunday.
Where to stay: Panama Jacks Resort Playa del Carmen is located on prime beachfront real estate (steps away from the shop-lined Fifth Avenue) and home to the Camp Jack kids club, so it gets our vote. Outside of town, Barcelo is the brand to look for with everything from its impressive Barcelo Maya Grand Resort (five family-friendly hotels in one) to its more intimate Allegro Playacar where babysitting is always available. Finally, if you want to overnight in Cozumel, Allegro Cozumel has a Pirate’s-themed water park on site.
Budget tips: There’s plenty to do for free in Rapid City: Visitors can participate in a free, interactive walking guide of the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks. A slight detour leads into Art Alley, a stunning expression of Rapid City’s creative community. After a day of exploring, cap off the day with a stroll through Main Street Square, a community hub featuring year-round free events for travelers to enjoy, as well as public art such as The Sculpture Project.
The 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort complex, set on the widest strip of beach in Waikiki, is a family-entertainment mecca. You can swim, surf, snorkel and paddleboard right from the hotel. Ideal for little ones is its beachfront lagoon, which lets them experience salt water without the big waves. Four nights of the week, the hotel stages Waikiki's only outdoor luau, with traditional food, Polynesian dancing and music, and fire dancers. The resort's Spirit of Aloha snorkel tours include a visit to Turtle Canyon. Sea turtles come to a spot where fish "clean" them before the turtles push off, making way for the next ones in line. If you don't want to get wet while experiencing the ocean, descend 100 feet in an Atlantis Submarine to see reefs, sunken boats and planes, along with fish, sharks and turtles. — Todd Pitock
Branson has gained a name for itself as a quintessential family vacation destination. Nestled within the Ozarks in Missouri, this town offers a 19th-century themed amusement park, a water park and a life-size replica of the Titanic. What's more, activities like swimming in Table Rock Lake and touring the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery are free. Read More »
Zanzibar: If Tanzania’s Zanzibar is on your bucket list, don’t wait to book this summer vacation at an affordable rate. For the most savings, fly into Dar es Salaam via a stopover in Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, Abu Dhabi with Etihad, or Dubai with Emirates. This way, you can get two vacations for the price of one flight.(Photo: Moiz Husein, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
What to do: Rent a car and head for the crater! After hiking around La Soufriere Volcano’s hot springs, let the kids throw mud at each other in a mud bath. (You can relax in the mineral waters beneath a waterfall.) Of course, you can’t visit St. Lucia without spending time on the water. Joys Adventure Excursion & Coastal Cruises has a highly coveted 5-star TripAdvisor rating and offers kids the chance to swim at Lover’s Rock as seen in Disney’s "Pirates of the Caribbean."
What are the best luxury vacation ideas for families? If you are looking to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a family vacation, you can be as picky as you like (although that will not buy you a first class airline ticket). Luxury resort rooms and suites start at $350 per night, and can go as high as $900 per night for a villa in an exotic destination like Fiji. Some of the best luxury beach destinations for families include plush resorts in Barbados, Paradise Island in the Bahamas and beach resorts in Maui. Look for all inclusive rates at Sandals resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos where you will have access to many fun activities for kids of all ages. Families have access to a wide selection of room and suite layouts, letting you balance cost and just the right layout. On your luxury family vacation, look for activities that will be fun for adults as well as kids, such as golf, spas and fun dining options. If you have a baby, Club Med’s Ixtapa resort in Mexico offers the Baby Med program which includes a crib, bottle warmers and diapers in your room.
Why: With its East-meets-West charm, this remnant of the Ottoman Empire in the heart of Europe embodies a truly authentic experience. If you are looking to get away from all things commercial and eat some organic/non-GMO (and delicious) foods, you’ve come to the right place. The stunning old town is made of winding streets paved with cobblestones and is known for its medieval arched bridge (Star Most) that towers across the crystal cool waters of the Neretva River.
Surfers flock to the fantastically consistent waves of Playa Guiones, on the country's Pacific coast, but you don't need to be Laird Hamilton to experience Nosara's excellent surf. Safari Surf School caters to all levels, even those who've never been on a board, and the gentle white water makes it ideal for beginners. Packages include two lessons per day over six days, plus accommodations, most meals and all equipment.
No. 2. Siesta Beach, Siesta Key, Fla. Just south of Sarasota, Siesta Beach on Siesta Key is renowned for its eight mile stretch of sugar-fine, quartz-white sand. It’s also a great spot for kids to collect seashells and sand dollars. “It is a very large beach that accommodates lots of people — it has lots of parking, picnic tables, BBQ, there is also a snack shop. It gets very crowded so timing is important,” added a TripAdvisor reviewer. • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Tropical Beach Resorts, from $295 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $238 round-trip from EWR (Newark) to SRQ (Sarasota) aiisha5, Getty Images/iStockphoto
Of course, “top-notch guest services” is subjective. You could stay at a five-star hotel where the concierge is snooty and there’s constant construction, whereas you could find a gem of a two-star hotel where you’re treated like royalty by a warm, welcoming staff. That’s why it’s so important to value guest reviews over star ratings. Guest reviews give you an indication of what it’s actually like to stay at the hotel.
Why: Slovenia is in the heart of Europe and borders the alps and the Mediterranean Coast. It’s a country that has a little bit of everything — mountains, beaches, pristine lakes, 11,000 karst caves, castles, a Pannonian Salt Plain, healthy water springs and city life in Ljubljana, European’s Green Capital. No wonder it’s been called the New Zealand of Europe. One of my favorite towns to visit is Piran, located on Slovenian’s Istria on the Adriatic Sea. Explore this coastal town — a little Venice — and savor a fresh seafood meal for under $10. It’s the perfect place to visit on foot. Meander through the alleyways and visit the market. Climb up to the city walls and to the top of the bell tower for spectacular views. Or rent a bike and cycle through the countryside. It’s an easy day trip from Ljubljana, but if you plan to stay the night, check into a luxury four-star hotel like Hotel Piran for just $80 a night. How to get around? Visit GoOpti for airport transfers as low as $9. If you want to carpool from Slovenia to Italy or Croatia, check their site for great deals. For example, you can carpool from Ljubljana to Venice for as low as $18. Round About Slovenia offers deals for tours around the country and even Croatia (how about a $45 half-day tour to Lake Bled?).
An inexpensive way to visit the Caribbean can be aboard a cruise ship. The cruise industry is constantly coming up with bigger ships packed with activities for vacationers of all ages. You can cruise Bermuda and the Bahamas with Regent Seven Seas, take a Nickelodeon-themed family cruise or pick one of the many affordable itineraries offered by the Royal Caribbean.
With its jaw-dropping landscapes (larger-than-life glaciers) and abundant sea and wildlife (humpback whales, sea lions and polar bears), Alaska is a must-see bucket-list destination for all ages. Opting for a cruise is a no-brainer: The mix of family-friendly onboard activities will keep all generations entertained, and water- and land-based tours make exploring the Final Frontier a cinch.
Why you’ll love it: For tweens and teens, this getaway is a perfect fit; it’s 35 miles east of Los Angeles, but without all the traffic and commotion, so they can explore on their own without parents worrying. Claremont Village is home to over 150 shops and restaurants (don’t miss the I Like Pie Bakeshop or the frozen treats at 21 Choices) and where you’ll want to spend your evening. The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and Folk Music Center are local favorites to visit, and there are events going on every week throughout the summer.
Denver: With mild weather and plenty of museums to explore, Denver is a family-friendly and affordable summer vacation this year. According to WalletHub’s Best Places to Visit in Summer, Denver ranks sixth, earning a spot for its low travel costs and minimal hassles. KAYAK’s 2018 Travel Hacker guide also lists median airfare to Denver under $250 round-trip from the U.S. and Canada for the summer months, and median hotel nightly rates around $150. Getty Images/iStockphoto
The most obvious pull for children in sunny Anaheim is the mighty Disneyland Park—and who could blame them for begging to come here? Rides for all ages, well-known characters to meet, and all the color and excitement you’d expect from a larger-than-life Disney experience. If you’re looking for something on a smaller scale, book a pass to Adventure City. With rides, shows, and a mini train, it’s especially suited to younger children.
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: Santa Fe is a creative vortex that thrives at 7,200 feet, at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, attracting artists and healers from around the world. It’s an ideal getaway for nature lovers, art enthusiasts and spa seekers. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city’s roots go deep with a Native American, Hispanic and Anglo heritage. This year, the city is 407 years old and is the oldest capital city in the United States. It's home to 250 restaurants, more than 300 art galleries, at least a hundred boutique shops and a dozen festivals and fairs. Some of the highlights include strolling along Canyon Road and visiting a mile of art galleries. Visit the oldest house in the U.S. and attend mass at the oldest church in the U.S. — the San Miguel Chapel. See over 130,000 folk art objects from more than 100 countries at the Museum of International Folk Art for $12 admission. Check the Santa Fe Tourism Office Calendar for events and festivals, as well as historic walking tours (only $14), cooking classes and more. Don't miss the pulled pork sandwiches at Whole Hog Café (from $3.99) and be sure to sample their six signature sauces. On Saturdays, stop by the Farmer’s Market and try local dishes at food stands. Find winter promo rates at La Posada de Santa Fe, a luxury hotel starting at $99 per night. Fly into Albuquerque and rent a car to drive to Santa Fe (Hertz has deals as low as $13.99 per day), so you can take day trips to Taos and Chimayo or go hiking at Bandelier National Park.
With daily flights from many cities across North America, affordable hotels and resorts, and activities that range from scuba diving to horseback riding and caving, Belize has become a popular destination for tourists from around the world. You can find Belize accommodations for less than $100 per night, and fill your days with cheap food and outdoor fun. (Getty Images)
What to do: Get your bearings on the free park shuttle around Yosemite Valley — home to famous sights like the Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls; hopping on and off as you please. Feeling adventurous? Set aside a half day to hike the Mist Trail alongside majestic Vernal Falls, climbing 600 granite steps to the top. (Pack a waterproof poncho because you will get wet!) To ride the whitewater, go tubing with Zephyr Whitewater.
No. 7. Saint Pete Beach, Fla. Saint Pete Beach is famous for its golden-white sand and aquatic activities, such as parasailing, stand-up paddle boarding and windsurfing. This gorgeous, laid-back beach is also known for glorious sunsets. “The sand is soft and easy to walk on. The water was gentle and clean. The place is well-groomed and offers a huge expanse of play area,” commented a TripAdvisor reviewer. • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Postcard Inn on the Beach, from $264 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $193 round-trip from LAX (Los Angeles) to TPA (Tampa) TripAdvisor
Why: When people think of beach getaways, they never consider Egypt. Tourism in Egypt is down, due to the unstable government, shaky economy and terrorism. Despite this, you shouldn't fear going to Egypt. In my experience, I have found it to be completely safe. Plus, it's remarkably cheap. During the low season (spring), you can catch flights from the U.S. to Egypt for around $400-$600 then get a flight to Hurghada for around $50 or so roundtrip, depending on the date. Hurghada has coral reefs and beautiful deserts. A desert tour can cost you about $30. What's remarkable: The five-star luxury hotels are so cheap. I stayed at the Marriot Hurghada right on the beach for $50 a night. Literally as soon as you step outside the hotel you're on the beach. Most of the rooms right now in Hurghada are going for under $100. Your money goes a long way in Egypt because the dollar is worth more and not many people are going, due to fear.
Chosen By: Alyssa Ramos, founder of My Life's a Movie and a solo female travel blogger, content creator, entrepreneur and social media influencer who travels the world full time and seeks to showcase unique destinations through her unique photography style and honest, detailed travel tips. Her motto is "Dreams Don't Work Unless You Do." Read about how Ramos went from broke to traveling full-time here.
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.