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.
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TripAdvisor has named its 2018 Travelers' Choice award winners for world's best beaches. Here's a countdown of the top 25 in the USA and the World. No. 1 in the USA is Clearwater Beach, Fla. About a forty minute drive west of Tampa, Clearwater Beach dazzles with two and a half miles of sugar-white sand, crystal-clear waters and tranquil Gulf breezes. Perched on a barrier island, the beach offers calm, shallow water, making it an ideal playground for families. “GREAT white sand beach ... very long, so if you are a beach walker, you will be happy. There is nothing like FL white, silky, sand! I love it!” shared a TripAdvisor traveler. • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Pier House 60 Marina Hotel, from $293 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $71 round-trip from ORD (Chicago) to TPA (Tampa) TripAdvisor
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.)
Why: When it comes to cheap destinations, you can not beat Thailand. Phuket is a beautiful beach spot that is famously known for nice people, affordable hotels and amazing food. Low season is in the spring and winter. (Don't go during summer because it will rain everyday.) Once in Phuket, head to Patong beach at night: The nightlife is something to see, with loud music and constant entertainment. The next day you should head to Phuket Town. With its colorful buildings, Phuket Town looks like you stepped into Portugal. Stay at Andakira Hotel Patong for under $50 a night. Before you leave Phuket, make sure you take a ferry for around $30 roundtrip to the Phi Phi islands: It's a two-hour boat ride, but so worth it.
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Chosen By: Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder and CEO of Ciao Bambino. After having her son, Amie searched extensively for credible resources to provide family-focused advice, direction and useful accommodation information. She quickly realized that there were no relevant resources available, particularly for a discerning traveler, so she decided to help solve this problem and started Ciao Bambino.
The key to D.C.'s family appeal is the National Mall, which is surrounded by free, kid-friendly museums and renowned monuments. Beyond the mall, a stop at the National Zoo is also a must. To cut down on vacation costs, consider booking a hotel in a nearby suburb, such as Arlington or Alexandria in Virginia, and relying on public transportation. Read More »
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.
A trip to Europe is for families who enjoy exploring historic sites, sampling local cuisine and learning about a different culture. Visit Florence, Italy, which is an easy historic city to explore with children. Another great city to visit with kids is New York. Younger children can explore a huge variety of playgrounds, climb on giant statues representing characters from children's books, visit a zoo, ride on a carousel, visit a planetarium and watch a show at the Marionette Theater.
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. Moiz Husein, Getty Images/iStockphoto
On an eight-day trip with Un-Cruise, adventures include touching anemones in tide pools and looking at plankton kids have collected under the microscope. Movie nights and dance parties keep the group camaraderie going on board. Book the Inner Reaches Eastern Coves itinerary for access to harbor seals in Endicott Arm, humpbacks in Stephens Passage, and lessons in Tlingit and Haida culture.

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.
Why you’ll love it: Start your Music City visit with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium to explore the origins of country music and even step on the stage where The Grand Ole Opry started (then head to its new home for a fabulous all-ages show). A highlight of the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Taylor Swift Education Center where kids can learn to strum a ukulele or create a take-home art project. Be sure to indulge in some home cooking at a meat-and-three or Nashville Fried Chicken spots.
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Virginia’s Historic Triangle extends to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, where innovative exhibits and educational experiences depict America’s first permanent English colony and guide visitors through the battlefield where American independence was won – advance 7-day passes are available, so you can return with the family to explore time and time again. Merchants Square, an 18th-century-style village, includes more than 40 shops and restaurants ranging from family-style to fine dining.


For example, a writer for The New York Times searched for a long weekend getaway in Washington, D.C. and found a vacation package that looked like a tremendous deal. However, the hotel was 22 miles away from Washington. In other scenarios, the hotel might be fantastic, but your flight might have two stops and a 12-hour layover in Topeka. The bottom line is that it’s worth exploring package options, but be sure to scrutinize the individual components of the package to make sure you’re not compromising too much.
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.
Steeped in Civil War history, the picturesque town of Gettysburg makes a pleasant and educational base for families. Tour the Gettysburg Battlefield, the National Military Park, and the Shriver House Museum at your leisure, or hop on a guided bus tour of the town to get the expert lowdown on all the key sights. From historical re-enactments to ghostly tours, there’s so much here to keep the whole family entertained.
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.
*All advertised pricing is per person, based on double occupancy, does not include airfare unless otherwise noted and is valid at time of printing. Prices, dates, itineraries and inclusions are subject to change without notice. Exclusive AAA Member Benefits and AAA Vacations Amenities are available on select sailings or departures and may not be combinable. Amenities and travel escort on Explorations departures may require minimum passenger counts to be guaranteed. Terms and conditions apply to partner special offers. Government fees and taxes are not included. Cruise lines reserve the right to impose a fuel surcharge. Go to AAA.com/ VacationGuide for full details or ask a AAA Travel Agent. AAA Club Alliance is not responsible for errors or omissions.
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.

Why: For an affordable and sun-soaked vacation, southern Portugal’s Algarve region should be hot on your radar. The city of Albufeira boasts a beautiful climate, fabulous beaches, inexpensive apartment-style hotels and a central location within the Algarve. There are over 100 different restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and Albufeira even has a charming Old Town with traditional Portuguese streets and plazas within the city center. The prices for both food and wine are extremely reasonable; be sure to sample the wines of Portugal. While summer remains the busiest and most popular time to visit, I love visiting in late spring — the weather is pleasant and sunny, there are fewer tourists and hotel rates are very affordable. Albufeira also offers easy access to nearby towns such as Loulé, with its famous market and an authentic slice of Portuguese culture. Rent a car to see the church of São Lourenço in Almancil, famous for its exquisite blue tile. Head north of Lagos to see Ponta da Piedade, with its towering red rock formations against the sea. Play a round of golf in one of the many beautiful courses in the Algarve. The place to stay: the Epic Sana Algarve overlooking Praia da Falésia, where you can bask in the sun at one of its five outdoor pools and indulge at the beautiful spa.
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