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.

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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.
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).
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.
Just about every adventurous activity imaginable can be found in Costa Rica: kayaking, zip-lining and surfing, to name a few. Plus, there's the opportunity to see fascinating wildlife — monkeys, sloths, hundreds of bird species — right outside your door. Bonus: This exotic destination won't bust your budget. Zip-lining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting: that's just some of the GoPro-worthy action you'll find at Sky Adventures Arenal Park. Too extreme? Try the three-hour walk across hanging bridges high in the canopies, or glide 3,200 feet above the rainforest in the Sky Tram. Take a break from the hot Central American sun with a day pass to the water slides and pools at Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort & Spa.
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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: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.
Yellowstone's geysers are sure to inspire young children and teenagers, while geothermic wonders like Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs will captivate visitors of all ages. Hotel rates are at their highest during the peak summer season, but you won't have to worry about shelling out a pretty penny for a room if you bring your own tent or RV. Read More »
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Just how cheap is it? Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is the girls’ getaway paradise you never knew existed, where full-body waxes run about $20 and the full-meal deal of manis, pedis, and haircuts are much cheaper (because Bulgarian women like looking on fleek). A three-course dinner plus vino also shouldn’t cost more than $20 (and the local cuisine here is known to be hearty). Despite its post-Communist exterior, Sofia is also incredibly modern, and you’ll be able to find international bites from tapas to sushi.
There is another way that the practice of almost purchasing can pay off. You’ve probably already noticed that, after conducting a web search for a specific item, the advertisements on the Internet pages you visit are chock full of that very item. Those ads might annoy you, but they also might contain tailor-made discounts on the exact hotel, cruise, or vacation package you were looking for. It’s worth a second glance.
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 do we go on the East Coast? During the summer months, visit the scenic coast of Maine, stay at a family resort in Vermont, take a trip to New Hampshire, relax on the beach in Cape Cod and enjoy other family vacation spots. Visit the museums of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, dine a family-friendly restaurants, and watch outdoor theater performances with older children. In the winter, plan a ski trip that will let your kids learn how to downhill ski, cross-country ski or snowboards at a New England mountain resort such as Stowe, Killington or Sugarbush.
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San Miguel de Allende: San Miguel de Allende is one of the safest places in Mexico, as evidenced by its popularity with expats. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated almost right in the middle of Mexico and offers cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial churches and plenty of great restaurants. The nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco, less than 10 miles away, is also a World Heritage Site and an important pilgrimage site for penitent Mexicans and tourists alike. Getty Images
Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.

JetBlue TrueBlue. U.S. News & World Report ranked JetBlue TrueBlue as number one on its list of Best Airline Rewards Programs. JetBlue primarily flies out of the East Coast and Florida, but if you live in either region and tend to travel domestically, this is one program to consider. Points can also be earned by traveling on its partner airlines, Emirates and Hawaiian Airlines. You can also earn points with hotel stays, car rentals, and “purchases with retail partners” – so you can rack up a whole bunch of points on a single trip.

Why you’ll love it: Naples-area beaches are regularly ranked among the best in the world, landing on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for the Top 25 Beaches in the U.S. Families can learn to skimboard on Naples Beach; then take a stroll to the iconic Naples Pier, where fishermen hang their lines in hopes of a bite. For a peaceful beach scene, head to Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island.


Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.
In 2014, CheapAir.com also analyzed nearly 2 million international trips covering 3,184 markets. International flights usually open for booking slightly less than a year in advance. CheapAir.com found that prices “stay fairly flat for a few months” after flights open for booking – but, of course, not all of us are ready to lock down travel plans nine months in advance. After the initial flat period, prices “start to creep up slowly, until about 90 days before departure when the pace of increase starts to accelerate.”
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.
What to do: Visit Panda Trek first or last in the day, when crowds are lightest, to see the zoo’s black and white superstars, as well as red pandas. Don’t miss: Elephant Odyssey, where the pachyderms often have pool parties; and Northern Frontier, to watch polar bears swimming underwater and see playful arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.) that opened in 2017.
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.

Why you should go: London is always a winner, but venture north to the Yorkshire Dales to experience the majestic, windswept hills of the Brontë sisters, or take a train south west to the Jurassic cliffs of seaside town West Bay, Dorset (you may recognize them from Broadchurch). Both of these options, much more budget friendly than the capital, offer England at its most beautiful. - Ruthie Darling, Thrillist contributor


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