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: 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.
Why you’ll love it: Devastated by a double hit of Mother Nature in 2017, Puerto Rico is recovering from the storms and is focused on welcoming families for summer vacation. From Miami, flights to the historical city of San Juan start at just $99 round trip on Frontier Air. Since you don’t need a passport to visit the Spanish-speaking island (it’s a U.S. commonwealth), it’s a great easy first cultural trip for elementary school-aged kids.
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.
Families will find many ways to occupy their time while vacationing in the Catskills. In addition to offering farms with animals to feed, this spot in southeast New York features bumper boating in the summer and skiing and sledding in the winter. All-inclusive, family-oriented resorts are also available, but for extra savings, try roughing it at a local campground.
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)
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
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.
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: Canada, eh? The good news is, our neighbor to the north(west) has a favorable exchange rate of .80 cents to the U.S. dollar. So luxury hotels like the Fairmont Pacific Rim in the naturally stunning city of Vancouver are super affordable. The city is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada: 52% of its residents have a first language other than English. “Van” is literally set within a rainforest, so nature enthusiasts will love walking along the waterfronts with views of the nearby mountaintops. For the culturally curious, I suggest weaving your way through the cobbled streets and shops in the historic Gastown neighborhood. Don't miss Kimprints, a shop supporting underprivileged street artists, or the Ok Boot Corral, a local bootmaker who has been in business since 1833. For an unexpected insider experience, get your sea legs on to go fishing for what’s in-season with sustainable seafood supplier, Organic Ocean. Afterward, you can bring your fresh catch to the kitchen of the Fairmont Pacific Rim to make fresh sushi. And let’s be real: What’s sushi without homemade sake? Check out Masa Shiroki, an artisan sake maker on Granville Island, for his locally made bubbly sake. Watch Oh the People You Meet's video for more insider tips on Vancouver.
Cleveland: For art lovers, Cleveland is a delight. This modern, vibrant city has more than its fair share of world-class museums, galleries and theatres. Cleveland Museum of Art, located in Fine Arts Garden north of the Wade Lagoon, has more than 30,000 priceless art pieces. Cleveland Cultural Gardens, created by University of Cleveland students, features living, blooming exhibitions of world cultures and history. Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art showcases modern local artists in a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. Check the program of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned institutions of its kind. There is always something going on at Playhouse Square, among the country’s biggest and best performing arts centers. There is also The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is dedicated to archiving the history of music and those artists who have influenced it. If all this art becomes a bit too heavy, sit on the bench in the University Circle, a green square mile in the center of Cleveland, where everything that happens in the city intersects. It is the beating heart of Cleveland.
The small volcanic island of Milos features white sand beaches, its own thermal springs and a plethora of diving options for scuba enthusiasts. Archaeological ruins are also abundant, making this island an enviable option for those interested in Greek history and culture. Travelers will enjoy the mouthwatering and affordable Greek fare and inexpensive guest house accommodations on this island. (Getty Images)
Once you figure out when you want to go on vacation, budget out what a reasonable amount of money to save looks like for your family. The amount you’re able to put aside will determine where you go and how long you can stay. You may need to sell things and make temporary lifestyle sacrifices. But don’t worry! There are plenty of ways you can save up cash quickly.
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!
Break up a day at the beach with an outing to the Cayman Islands National Museum. The colonial-era building depicts the island's natural and cultural history in 3-D displays, murals and videos. Or spy colorful blue iguanas at the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, located in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. A 90-minute guided tour is suitable for the entire family, and if grandma doesn't share the kids' fascination for lizards, she can always enjoy the native flora in the park instead.
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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.
Why you’ll love it: As the hot air balloon capital of the world, the skies of Albuquerque are always filled with colorful inspiration for kids with a love for things that fly. Kids will really enjoy a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—North America’s longest double-reversible aerial tramway—that travels to the top of the 10,378-foot Sandia Peak. (Kids under 5 are free; be sure to print out the $5 coupon from the website for you.) And exploring the ABQ BioPark, a unique environmental museum comprised of an aquarium, botanic garden, and zoo is always a hit too, as is the free fishing lakes at Tingley Beach.
Budget tips: Visitors can go on a free self-guided walking tour of historic downtown Providence, which dives into the making of the now “Creative Capital.” Stop by the brand new Free Play Bar & Arcade that includes over 130 classic video games plus pinball, skeeball, and air hockey, all for free. Then, attend a free WaterFire event this summer, where as many as 80 small bonfires are set ablaze along Providence’s three rivers for the annual summer events, creating a free, one-of-a-kind light show that lasts from just after sunset until about 12:30 a.m. The events are often accompanied by outdoor concerts, street dancing, and other entertainment.
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.
Where to stay: Book a stateroom on the luxurious, all-inclusive Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony, depending on your voyage. If you decide to extend your trip and check out Denali National Park where you can see Mt. McKinley, consider Motel Nord Haven/Aurora Denali Lodge. It’s the highest-rated Denali-area property on TripAdvisor and the staff have been known to help guests spot the Northern Lights!
What to do: Since they’re open year-round, the indoor water parks can be enjoyed any month. Get a day pass for Noah's Ark water park (America's largest) and race each other down 2018’s newest ride, the Raja, which ends in the mouth of a king cobra. Or book one of the wet and wild resorts, like the African-themed Kalahari (the Sahara Sidewinders looping slides literally drop you through the roof) or Mt. Olympus (the Lost City of Atlantis water fortress has slides, geysers and monster dump buckets).
The East Coast has it all: beautiful beaches, stunning vistas, historical importance, and some of the most famous cities in the world. First stop on your Eastern Seaboard getaway: the “Big Apple.” A trip to New York City means you get to see the sights that are talked about all over the world, like Lady Liberty, Broadway, and Central Park. If you want to delve into U.S. history, a Washington D.C. vacation filled with monuments, museums, and galleries is for you. Speaking of history, the American Revolution got its start in a city a few hours to the north. Your Boston vacation will bring you to one of the most popular spots on the East Coast. Indulge in some of the best clam chowder in the world, then walk back in time on the Freedom Trail, which hosts 16 sites that played a huge role in the founding of the nation.