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.
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.
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.
For accommodations, look to save by staying in a Tahitian Guesthouse, or pension. These family-operated lodgings provide a more authentic glimpse into Tahitian culture without an expensive price tag. Many prepare meals in the house kitchen and offer excursions, like pearl diving with a local guide. With only a few rooms or bungalows onsite, you get a more intimate (and less expensive) experience than you’ll find at larger resorts.
Hotwire’s “Hot Deals.” Much like Priceline, Hotwire is able to offer discounts if you’re willing to book a hotel, flight, or car without knowing the brand name. Unlike Priceline, Hotwire publishes the prices up front instead of allowing you to name your own price. So, for example, you’ll know that you’re booking a three-star hotel in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles that costs $120 per night, but you won’t know the name of the hotel until after you book.
Some popular resorts in Florida include The Breakers which has many family-friendly facilities and programs, Doral with its pool complex and famous golf courses, and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island with its Ritz Kids program. Ginn Hammock Beach Resort has a year-round water park, a 9-hole putting course and a program for guests ages 4-12. While kids are busy with their own activities, parents can treat themselves to relaxing massages at the spa, fitness and a selection of outdoor activities.
Guanajuato: Why visit Guanajuato? Think old mines, a mummy museum and streets so narrow that one is called the Alley of the Kiss because couples can smooch one another from opposite sides. You can visit Guanajuato as a day trip from nearby San Miguel de Allende or use it as a home base in itself. Visitors to the area are mostly native Mexicans, so you can immerse yourself in the culture fairly well; try a miner’s enchilada if you get a chance. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Why you’ll love it: A dynamic city with Old West charm, Denver has a vast array of kid-friendly attractions here, including an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, art museum with a fabulous hands-on projects space, and the fascinating History Colorado museum—all perfect for family vacations. Coors Field is right downtown, which makes it easy to catch a family-fun Rockies baseball game. And a free tramcar traverses 16th Street, so you can leave your car behind while you try out all the great dining and shopping that lines the long pedestrian-friendly zone.
Why you’ll love it: Want to feel like you’ve jetted across the Atlantic for the weekend and still make it back home for work on Monday? Then add Francophile Montreal to your getaway plans. The city is steeped in French language, cuisine, and culture. Kids will love strolling the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and munching on classic croissants and crepes, not to mention visiting more modern sights such as the Biodome to see penguins and learn about natural science.
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Boston has it all—the culture, the fantastic city parks, and a relaxed pace you might not expect in a city of its size. Baseball fanatics, young and not so young, will love Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. You can take a guided tour, watch a game, and soak up some sporting history. Also check out the giant ocean tank at the New England Aquarium and board a Boston Duck Tour to be transported around this beautiful city on land and water.
“From looking at the outside of this vacation home, you would never believe what we found inside. We had eight adults and 12 children. It was amazing! Ample room for everyone, very well equipped, and beautiful. Pool table, foosball, and the theater room kept the younger children well occupied. The nearby Dells water parks, shows, and shopping kept everyone busy during the day.” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Couchsurfing connects would-be travelers with hosts around the world who are willing to offer up a modest amount of space in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). As a matter of policy, Couchsurfing does not allow hosts to charge visitors money. However, it is common for visitors to thank their hosts by reimbursing the cost of groceries, or perhaps buying a gift equivalent to the extent to which they cleaned out their hosts’s wine cabinet.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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!
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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.
What to do: Get there first thing in the morning because you’ll want to make the most of every second. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first: Muggles meet Dumbledore, join a Quidditch match, and encounter a Whomping Willow. Next, conquer the ultra-fast Dragon Challenge coaster and the tamer Flight of the Hippogriff; then go wand shopping at Ollivanders (if you're lucky, the wand will choose you).
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.
“We wanted to spend time at the Grand Canyon so I looked for a place that could accommodate all 9 of us (this included some children). Rather than rent numerous hotel rooms I decided it might be fun to all stay together in a house. The description of this house made it sound interesting and close to town so we chose it. Best decision ever!” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
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.
Larounis’ top tip: Know the next available flight to your destination. “All 180 people on your plane will try to get on the next flight. As soon as you know of a delay or cancellation, feed your info to an agent,” said Larounis. Sign up ahead of time for Expertflyer.com’s Pro Plan ($99 a year) and you’ll be told if a seat has opened up on one of the next flights. “Even if one seat opens, you can grab it,” Larounis said.
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.