Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...
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.
Although this Playa del Carmen hotel includes “liquor drips” with free tequila right in your hotel room, it’s not a destination for spring breakers as no parties are allowed in rooms, and no wild partying can happen on the property either. It does, however, offer a good time at a budget price, surrounded by tropical palms on a beautiful powdery white sand beach. The buffet restaurant serves up a wide variety of dishes, and there are also themed international restaurants and live cooking shows, included in the all-inclusive packages. Guests can also enjoy swimming in the freshwater pool set right next to the sea, and indulging in a variety of treatments and massage at the Renova Spa. Entertainment is offered daily and includes dancing, live music and shows.
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.
Travelocity can help you craft a truly memorable vacation “South of the Border.” We have excellent deals on Cabo San Lucas vacations, putting the area’s sun, surf, and extraordinary history within easy reach. If you’re looking for another destination in Mexico, we also have Cancun vacation packages, Playa del Carmen all-inclusive vacations, Punta Cana vacations, and Cozumel vacations.
Why you’ll love it: The Lake Cumberland State Resort Park is located on one of the ten largest man-made lakes in the country, and it’s one of the top vacation destinations in the eastern United States. But, it’s still affordable, with elementary school-aged activities such as horseback riding ($18), miniature golf ($4), and a boating adventure to Cumberland Falls ($9), all within easy budget reach.
Hotel Tonight. While Hotel Tonight is an app that bypasses direct communication with travel companies, it can still be a great source for good, last-minute deals. Hotel Tonight takes advantage of hotel owners’ desire to fill empty rooms by enabling last-minute bookings at up to 70% off standard rates. It’s available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

The toughest part about being a pint-size tourist in Costa Rica is that many of the activities are often — literally — out of reach, with size, weight or age restrictions. Instead, peg your adventure to nature. Manuel Antonio National Park, which stretches from the Pacific coast up into the mountainous rainforest, is brimming with wildlife: Hundreds of species of mammals and birds live within its 1,700 acres. (If you don't spot a few white-headed capuchin monkeys, you aren't looking.) Visitor numbers are capped, so start early, and take the flat, easy main trail. Pack a swimsuit for this family vacation: Off the trail is the famous Playa Manuel Antonio, with warm blue waters and a crescent-shaped ivory-sand beach. (Note: The park is closed on Mondays.)
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.
Why you should go: Don’t let the name fool you; Isla Grande is an intimate, gorgeous Caribbean island just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena, full of exceedingly friendly locals and all the hallmarks of a tiny paradise. You’ve got your idyllic beaches, your lagoons of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water bright blue, your fresh seafood and multiple options for diving and canoeing. The chance to visit such a place is probably why you bother to earn money in the first place. - Daniel Cole, Thrillist contributor
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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!
Does your family thrive on challenges? Multiple escape rooms now pepper Charlotte, and near the intersection of the city’s two interstates, you’ll find Escape Kings. This family-friendly attraction lets those over 10 years of age test their collective wits by escaping from Aztec Ruins and Kings Quest rooms. The puzzle clues are for all ages, and escape is neither too hard for kids nor too easy for adults. To avoid disappointed faces, pick up tickets for escape rooms, Segway tours and other family-friendly activities in advance.
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.
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.
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 6/21/18 on jetblue.com/vacations for travel departing New York (JFK) between 9/17/18 and 9/20/18 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.
Active Getaways: It’s amazing how many things kids are interested in if you sit down and talk to them about it. A 12-year-old may want to take a cooking class and learn how to prepare meals using farm-fresh ingredients with the hotel chef. A 5-year-old may want to see a polar bear swimming in a pool in a local zoo. A 3-year-old may be extremely interested in building various machines from blocks and legos so his ultimate dream vacation may be a morning spent at Legoland. Getaways with a touch of adventure create fun memories. In California, visit Safari West and watch unique wildlife in a natural setting. Take a cruise aboard Disney Fantasy, a mega ship that offers many things to do and comfortable staterooms with an extra half bath. At Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado, kids can go horseback riding and learn about the inns and outs of a working dude ranch. Lake Villarrica in Chile is a stunning lakeside getaway with a view of a volcano. Explore the natural wonders of the Pikes Peak region of Colorado, go horseback riding and visit a zoo. Other cheap family vacations include Yellowstone and Jackson Hole where you will be surrounded by the spectacular Tetons.
Why you’ll love it: Sometimes the kids only want to go to Disneyland; never fear, we’ve found a way to visit Mickey without breaking the bank. The Disney experts at UnderCover Tourist offer discounted tickets and additional money-saving tips at their site as well as calendars about when to visit when it’s least crowded. And of course Disney magic is always a hit with kids of all ages.
Why you’ll love it: You can explore more than 300 miles of shoreline jetting out into Lake Michigan and Green Bay in Door County all dotted by charming communities and a Midwestern friendliness that will make you feel like you stepped back in time. Younger kids will enjoy peering through the periscope at Door County Maritime Museum with views of Sturgeon Bay and active shipyards; teens will enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking along the Mink River Estuary. Everyone will love the classic Skyway Drive-In and the creamy treats served up at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Wilson ice Cream Parlor.
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 6/21/18 on jetblue.com/vacations for travel departing New York (JFK) between 9/17/18 and 9/20/18 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.

Just how cheap is it? Here $20 can last a day or even two if you’re feeling tapped. Your dream beach vacay awaits for lunch-money prices: In Goa, comfy waterfront bungalows go for around $30, but if you forgo housekeeping and some space, basic huts can be had for $15 (often, with breakfast). If you don’t mind skewing rustic, the beach town Gokarna, a two-hour train ride away, is even more budget-friendly. Rooms go for around $5 (a little run-down but clean), and you can shop flowy pants, dresses, and trinkets for $3 a pop, assuming your haggling is on-point.
What to do: First, try to visit during the spring (usually mid-March through mid-April) for the city’s famous Cherry Blossom festival. The National Mall is where most of the action and colors are. Depending on your kids’ ages and interests, spend hours everywhere from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There are also several art museums — ideal for older kids — and just a few blocks away, kids of all ages will have a blast at the International Spy Museum. Don’t forget to visit all the memorials too.
Merida and Valladolid: Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, recommends these two towns as great alternatives to other nearby tourist hot spots. “A lot of people go to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but on the Yucatan Peninsula there are these two beautiful colonial cities that are so welcoming, colorful, and full of traditions that travelers won’t regret visiting them,” he says. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...

Hotel Tonight. While Hotel Tonight is an app that bypasses direct communication with travel companies, it can still be a great source for good, last-minute deals. Hotel Tonight takes advantage of hotel owners’ desire to fill empty rooms by enabling last-minute bookings at up to 70% off standard rates. It’s available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.
Why you’ll love it: Known as the base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park is only 90 minutes from Denver International Airport, but has an authentic Colorado mountain village feeling with plenty of outdoor activities to fit any member of the family. Families can try hiking in the national park on their own, booking a mountain bike ride, learn fly-fishing, or try rafting experiences—to name a few. There’s also a number of unique festivals throughout the summer.

Indy’s a pretty hospitable place. And if you’re visiting with children, there’s no better starting point than the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis—the largest of its kind in the world. We challenge anyone to be bored in this place, where kids are encouraged to explore arts and culture through exhibits, workshops, and live performances—there’s even a steam engine. You might also like to see the animals and plant life at Indianapolis Zoo.


Another affordable European destination for this summer is Budapest. Here, you’ll get two cities for the price of one — Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. With new routes from American Airlines launching this summer to/from Philadelphia, competition is driving airfare prices down. Average airfare from New York and Boston for the summer is under $700 round-trip; I also found deals under $600 round-trip from Chicago.
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Patras has its own stretch of beach, but this town offers plenty of history and culture as well. Hotels are affordable, and you can relax the day away near the water, roam the ancient Old City or visit the Medieval Castle, which was built during the second half of sixth century A.D. Travelers will find several other beaches nearby as well, including Kalogria and Rodini. (Getty Images)


Where to stay: The YMCA of the Rockies is one of the best-kept family vacation secrets in the country; you can get a fabulously clean and spacious 2-bedroom log cabin with mountain views starting at just $109 per night. And the sky’s the limit for activities for families here, including hikes into neighboring RMNP, horseback rides, archery, roller skating, and arts and crafts (some activities have a fee).
Alabama’s Coastal Birding Trail offers bird enthusiasts an opportunity to view and enjoy the high diversity of bird species represented in our region. The trail book guides visitors along six distinct birding loops which span Baldwin and Mobile counties. It includes parking and facilities information about each stop along the trail, and lists the species found there.
Where to stay: Tanque Verde Ranch is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and they’re offering a special $150-per-night family stays for the entire summer. The family-owned property provides an authentic wild west experience with horseback riding and much more, through Arizona’s most breathtaking desert landscapes of the Rincon Mountains. The $150 for the 150th special includes breakfast and free use of the pool and general facilities. A kids camp, great for ages 4 to 12, is available for an extra fee, as is horseback riding, biking, and guided hikes.
Yelapa: Yelapa is “Mexico’s last authentic beach town,” says Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, “and is definitely under the radar. [Expect] great seafood, great beaches, nice hotels and none of the inflated prices.” Note that it’s in one of the State Department’s orange zones, while nearby Puerto Vallarta is exempted — so you’ll want to do a bit more research before choosing this part of Jalisco. Getty Images/iStockphoto
*Savings based on all vacation package bookings with Flight + Hotel on Expedia.com from January through December 2017, as compared to price of the same components booked separately. Savings will vary based on origin/destination, length of trip, stay dates and selected travel supplier(s). Savings not available on all packages. For Free Flight or 100% Off Flight deals, package savings is greater than or equal to the current cost of one component, when both are priced separately.
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