Washington, DC is a vibrant city with dozens of free attractions and events that make it an ideal destination for a family vacation. Once you’re near the Mall, major landmarks and iconic government buildings are everywhere you look: the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and many more. Have your kids pull out their coins and dollar bills to see replicas of the very buildings they’re standing in front of. Book a line-skipping VIP tour and check them all off your list.
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.

Why you’ll love it: It’s a city with a sandy beach right downtown! How fun is that? Plus there are scenic riverboat rides, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of science, Lincoln Park and the zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Oh, and pizza, lots and lots of cheesy, stringy, deep-dish pies perfect for family dining.
Why: The Central Coast runs roughly from Santa Barbara to Monterey and the string of small towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach is an unexpected surprise for many California coast road trippers. This is where SoCal surf town meets fishing village, and otters and elephant seals share the spotlight with European masterpieces at the Hearst Castle. Veer away from the coast and in a few minutes you'll find yourself at the wineries of Paso Robles, with tastings that are half the price of Napa and Sonoma. Adelaida is open daily; for a special hilltop tasting, try their Vineyard Tour, Taste and Tailgate. An emphasis on eating local and fresh creates foodie-worthy dining options throughout the region. Pismo Beach and quaint Moonstone Beach in Cambria offer the largest selection of lodging with the best value outside of the holidays and summer. Guests at Cambria Shores Inn relax each evening in Adirondack chairs positioned perfectly to take in the sunset. Afterwards, take a five-minute stroll to Sea Chest Restaurant for local seafood or drive to the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach where the Deadliest Catch crew dined and all things crab are on the menu.
Why you should go: Sofia is one of Europe’s coolest overlooked capitals, with ancient ruins and salmagundi architecture in Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments. In the past few years, its streets have proliferated with graffiti art, skateboarder girls, and shabby-chic bars where you can while away days and evenings. A city trip is easily paired with a few more days at the Black Sea on the Bulgarian Riviera. You’ll find a gorgeous seaside that rivals plenty of more-lauded Mediterranean stretches -- again but for a sweet fraction of the cost.
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 6/21/17 on jetblue.com/vacations for travel departing New York (JFK) between 9/24/18 and 9/27/18 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.
NORWEGIAN AIR: By far the biggest of the new European low-cost carriers, Norwegian flies a staggering 53 routes to Europe from 14 U.S. airports that range in size from Newburgh, N.Y., to Los Angeles. With a mix of Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Boeing 737s, Norwegian has the most diverse set of options for U.S. fliers. It offers some point-to-point routes (like Newburgh-Bergen) as well as connections through bigger airports like London Stansted, Oslo and Paris. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
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.
Thailand has it all: good food, friendly people and a fascinating culture. Start a Thailand Family Holiday in Bangkok, where you can ride through the city’s famous canals and see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  In Kanchanaburi, stop for the night where two rivers converge (they were featured in the film, Bridge on the River Kwai). Head north to Chiang Mai to visit a temple (you may hear Buddhist monks chanting at the end of the day). Kids will like the Northern Thai Doll Museum, where over 400 handmade dolls represent Thai culture and dress. Later, tour one of the biggest aquariums in Southeast Asia, Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, and shop in Bangkok for everything from Jimmy Choo shoes to flower garlands and live crabs. 
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
Where to stay: Located opposite the Royal Mews, The Rubens at The Palace could be to London what the Plaza Hotel was for Eloise. The property even has an official Director of Fun! The Nadler Victoria also gets points for its prime location just steps from Buckingham Palace. There’s a mini kitchen in every room, but the property also partners with local restaurants to offer guests exclusive dining discounts.
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:  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.
Albania: 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. Getty Images/iStockphoto
When planning your family holiday, remember that one template will not fit all. A template that worked one year for one family may not work again the next: as families grow, so do their interests and abilities. Whether you are looking to travel with young infants or toddlers, high-energy elementary schoolers, angst-ridden teens, or an extended family group, the perfect family vacation is out there, just waiting for you to find it.
What to do: There's lots of free PG-rated fun in festive Jackson Square, where magicians, jugglers, mimes and jazz bands make the street their stage. Take in the lively scene from an outside table at Café du Monde, famous for its yummy beignets (warm French doughnuts smothered with powdered sugar). A quick stroll along the Mississippi River leads to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (little ones will love the touch pools) and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (creepy crawly thrills include bug tasting). Hop the St. Charles streetcar to the lovely Garden District and the Audubon Zoo where the kids can check feeding giraffes off their bucket lists.
Why: Colombia isn’t usually thought of as a value destination, but due to the strong U.S. dollar, it has become one of the most compelling destinations in the world for those willing to venture off the beaten track. Travelers in the know are loving Barichara, one of the most beautiful small colonial villages in the Andes. Stay at Casa Barichara for under $200 a night and dine at El Carambolo, a quaint B&B rich with personality and the perfect fit for those searching for authentic, Colombian hospitality. Though not a typical tourist destination, Barichara is perfect for adventure travelers who enjoy activities like paragliding. A trip to Barichara can be paired with the town of Salamina, where travelers will find quirky architecture and a renowned coffee production, and/or the vibrant city of Medellin, which boasts music, museums, nightlife and friendly people.
When you're looking for the best family vacations in the Caribbean, there's no place better than Beaches, where our all-inclusive family vacations offer something for everyone, from unlimited land and water sports to gourmet dining choices for every palate. Grown-ups will enjoy up to 13 bars serving premium brand liquors and varietals Mondavi wine. Kids and teens will get a variety of fun activities, with sprawling water parks, Xbox Play Lounge and the Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street®. Best of all, everything is included at our family all-inclusive resorts.
What to do: Climb the dunes, of course! But, don't expect kids to walk. Running (or rolling) down these majestic sand mountains is part of the fun. Cool off with a swim at Esch Road Beach where you'll find the pristine Lake Michigan water is brisk but refreshing. There's great kayaking and tubing on the warmer Platte River (gear up with Riverside Canoe Trips). Or, sign the kids up for their first freshwater surf lesson. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak hosts daily lessons by the lighthouse.
Todos Santos: This surf town in Baja California Sur features world-class waves and lots of natural beauty — and it’s just far enough north of touristy Cabo San Lucas to offer respite from the crowds. Todos Santos is slowly being discovered, but its stone streets and uncrowded beaches have earned it the official Pueblo Magico designation. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Affordable and wholesome Pigeon Forge is adjacent to American’s favorite national park, Great Smoky Mountains. Most known for the Dollywood theme park, Pigeon Forge now also gets rave reviews for its Titanic Museum, an interactive walk through the doomed cruise ship. Teens will like assuming the persona of a historic passenger, only to find out their fate after visiting the eye-popping captain’s bridge.
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.
Where to stay: With its private beach, private farm (where the kids can learn how to milk cows and make corn tortillas) and resident monkeys and sloth, there’s no place on earth quite like Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge. Jicaro Island Ecolodge Granada is another unique property where you feel like you have the island to yourself — until the birds wake you up in the morning.
CheapCaribbean offers an All-Inclusive Sunscape Bavaro Beach Punta Cana 4-Night Flight and Hotel Vacation for two in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with prices starting from $1,060.06. That's the lowest price we could find for this package by at least $26. This price is based on departure from Miami, FL, (MIA) on November 26; other departure cities are available for an additional cost. Book this travel deal by December 13 for stays through December 22.
Set in the Northern Catskills, where there’s lots of fresh air and space to run around, Durham makes a top family vacation base. Show your brood the best of the rural life on a tour with Farmer Frank of Hull-O Farms, where you’ll meet all sorts of friendly animals, including bunnies, piglets, and chicks. For something completely different, book day tickets for the Zoom Flume Water Park, where you can rent a cabana and spend the day crashing into the water via various high-speed slides.
Why: Manaus in the north of Brazil is a short flight from Miami and provides multiple economical options in one. It is a top destination for adventure travel or a sedate wildlife and photography sojourn or a serious eco-tour. Although it's a city of 1 million inhabitants, Manaus is mainly famous as the gateway to the Amazon rain forest. Comfortable, modern hotels like the Caesar Business Hotel start at $63 year round. Aside from visits upriver in the rainforest, Manaus offers sites ranging from the local Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro and the fabled Renaissance-style Manaus Opera House/Amazon Theatre. For an up-close look at wildlife, including endangered species, there is a free, small zoo at the Hotel Tropical. A biologist heads up this state-certified rescue center that has elusive deep-rainforest species, from jaguars to the lovable 120-pound capybaras. The Bosque da Ciencia (Science Center) is a popular open-air wildlife park just outside the city of Manaus. Local species roam freely in front of strolling tourists. Day-trip options include short visits to the rain forest as well as the Presidente Figueiredo Waterfalls and Gruta do Refugio do Maroaga, a cave filled with marine life and bats. Traveling in the rainy season provides an even better value, and the weather is no hindrance to boating and spotting a wide array of tropical birds, pink dolphins and a feisty piranha or two.

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In La Fortuna, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, you'll find a variety of lodging options; many boast hot springs and natural pools on the property. Hotel Los Lagos offers villa rentals that can sleep up to nine and feature a full kitchen, dining room and volcano views. Arenal Kioro has spacious family suites with two queen beds and a daybed that can sleep a small child, as well as options for connecting or adjoining rooms and free cribs on request.
If you’re tempted to make a vacation-related purchase but are a little put off by the price tag, add the item to your electronic cart – but don’t go all the way through with the purchase. Before doing this, be very careful to make sure that it’s not a one-click purchase or a website where your payment details are stored, or anything else that will rope you into a purchase that you’re not ready to make.
Why: A genuine bucket list trip for many, a visit to Australia and New Zealand can be super-pricey. Cities are spread out, way out, which means a lot of hopping on planes to get from one place to another. And for top level accommodations, not to mention simple daily necessities like a flat white, you’ll shell out big bucks. What’s good about a cruise itinerary that includes visits to both countries is that the big expenses are included in fares – onboard meals, accommodations, entertainment and transportation from place to place. On Oceania Cruises, which offers a New Zealand/Australia itinerary, for instance, the per diem is $350 a night, but you pretty much don’t have to whip out a credit card beyond that (do note that it’s priced at per-person, based on two sharing a cabin). Consider that in super-expensive cities like Auckland and Sydney, a hotel stay at a four-star place like the Hilton and Westin respectively will run you $350 or so. And that’s for the room only — you’ll pay out of pocket for food, entertainment and bars. One tip: Look for a cruise line that arranges its itineraries to spend maximum time in port, whether it’s long days or plenty of overnights, so you can have as much time to explore as possible. As well, you’re better off, in most cases, avoiding cruise-line shore excursions, which can be overpriced and epitomize group cattle travel, and engage a travel agency specialist in the region to plan private tours for your days in port. Bottom line, though, is when experiencing Australia and New Zealand by cruise ship, especially on your first visit to the region, the biggest plus is not just the convenience of unpacking once and keeping short-hop plane trips to a minimum. It’s also that, depending on the itinerary you choose, you can visit some pretty special somewhat off-the-grid places in between marquee stops at Auckland and Sydney. New Zealand’s Akaroa, Dunedin and Wellington, and Australia’s Eden, Burnie and Melbourne, might otherwise be missed — and shouldn’t be.
Why you’ll love it: Known for its natural beauty, sustainability, and outdoor activities, Portland is a favorite option for affordable family vacations. It’s a great destination for teens who will enjoy biking around the city like a local or taking in the sites on the great public transportation system, including a cool funicular (and a pass is only $5). There are hip vintage spots and multiple food truck parks where they can try food from around the globe without high restaurant prices. Take in the views of the city and the 500 plant varieties at the International Rose Test Garden.
Set in the Northern Catskills, where there’s lots of fresh air and space to run around, Durham makes a top family vacation base. Show your brood the best of the rural life on a tour with Farmer Frank of Hull-O Farms, where you’ll meet all sorts of friendly animals, including bunnies, piglets, and chicks. For something completely different, book day tickets for the Zoom Flume Water Park, where you can rent a cabana and spend the day crashing into the water via various high-speed slides.
Carolina Beach offers an old-style boardwalk, a laid-back atmosphere and absolutely tons of activities for families to enjoy together. Take advantage of the water sports and seaside amusement rides (and grab some donuts from Britt’s). A few minutes down the coastline is Kure Beach, where you’ll find Ocean Front Park, with its boardwalk, gardens and beach—there’s even a giant pirate ship to play on. Continue down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which has some interactive exhibits and even an albino alligator.
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.
Where to stay: The Anaheim Marriott is offering a can’t miss deal for families this summer: A double room, free shuttle to the park, and a $100 gift card to Disney for every night you stay for only $269. (Make sure you enter promotional code THM). Ask for a high floor facing the park (which is just a few blocks away) and you’ll be able to watch the nightly fireworks from your room, too. Here are 14 more ways to save on your next trip to the Magic Kingdom.

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.
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