Climb a sand dune to watch a fiery sunset on a Family Adventure in Southern Africa. And Botswana, in southern Africa. Tours leave from Windhoek, once a German colonial city and now the capital of Namibia. The land looks other-worldly, with its shimmering sand dunes and dried lakebeds, but this is a great place for kids (and adults) to learn about desert ecology and the region’s history. Guides lead interactive walks into the bush and explain the tracking skills and survival methods used by the San tribe, inhabitants of this area for over 30,000 years. You’ll pass hippos and elephants as you paddle canoes through the Okavango Delta, one of the best places in the country to spot animals and birds. The journey ends at Victoria Falls, known as the world’s largest waterfall, in Zimbabwe.
Parents and kids can enjoy an abundance of free and low-cost attractions during a San Diego vacation. Visit Balboa Park (where the San Diego Zoo is located), get a hands-on view of history at the USS Midway Museum or pick one of the many beaches to play in the sand. Book your hotel or resort a few months in advance to secure the best rates. Read More »
Just how cheap is it? The food and accommodation aren’t fabulous bargains -- but, oh, the shopping is. In the tourist town of Victoria Falls, a hostel bed or a hired tent will cost you $15 to $20 per night, but I scored a carved stone necklace from a street vendor for the sandals I was wearing. Bartering is common at flea markets and on the streets, where second-hand clothes -- shoes, baseball caps, and sportswear (think basketball or soccer shirts) -- have real buying power. Fill your suitcase with gently used gear and exchange it for jewelry, handmade crafts, and souvenirs like devalued trillion dollar notes.
What to do: First, get your bearings from a ride in an open cockpit biplane at the Military Aviation Museum — TripAdvisor’s top-rated attraction in all of Virginia Beach. Then, hit the beach and Neptune’s Castle where the kids can even compete in a sandcastle building contest if your timing is right. Finally, take a quick drive to Fredericksburg to walk in the footsteps of our country’s first president at his boyhood home, Ferry Farm. George Washington lived there from the age of 6 to 22, and it’s a true testament to what colonial life was like.
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)
Your child may be on his or her way to being a master builder—or not—but either way, few Florida destinations are as child-friendly as Winter Haven. That’s because of the incredible LEGOLAND, where single- or multi-day passes are available to purchase. This child-centric haven is practically overflowing with Lego bricks. What’s more, every room is themed—from pirates to knights to adventurers.
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.
What to do: First, sign up for the Very Important Kids Snowmass program to see the resort’s daily child-friendly programming and packages. Then, drop the younger ones (2-4) off at The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center for their lessons and then head to Camp Aspen with the older kids and pre-teens for their programs. In the afternoon, meet up to ski together, go tubing or take a free naturalist tour. End the day by enjoying a Snowcat dinner or a family Chuckwagon Dinner hosted at a remote cabin showcasing a quieter side of the mountain.
Why you’ll love it: For families who love to explore museums and cultural sites, Atlanta is ideal. Middle schoolers will love seeing the massive whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium (the largest in the country), visiting the Heisman Trophy at the College Football Hall of Fame, and sampling soda to their heart’s content at World of Coca-Cola. Teens will also appreciate the more mature tone of the Center for Civil and Human rights as well. (Atlanta CityPASS offers a reduced price package that includes all of these must-visit spots.)
Yellowstone is a massive, nearly 4,000-square-mile park that hosts more geothermal features, including hot springs, mud spots and geysers, than anywhere else on Earth. Here you can be mesmerized by most famous, Old Faithful, which shoots steam as high as 185 feet into the sky every 90 minutes, along with many other lesser-known geysers, mud pots and brilliant multi-colored hot springs like Grand Prismatic Spring, named for its striking array of colors that match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism of orange, yellow, red, green and blue. The park is also famous for its wildlife, with an abundance of bison, elk and Bighorn sheep, along with wolves and bears. By staying just outside the park, you’ll find multiple budget-friendly options, like Kelly Inn West Yellowstone.
What to do? Immediately head to Siam Park — voted the best water park in Europe (it has nearly 25,000 reviews on TripAdvisor). Check out the water slide that travels through a shark tank or relax at the world’s biggest wave pool. Rent a car and drive across the island to paddle board, kayak and snorkel with Teno Activo at Los Gigantes (where coral reefs meet towering cliffs). Also, don’t forget to check out Loro Parque — voted best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor — and visit the volcano in Teide National Park. It’s Spain’s highest point and the third tallest volcano in the world!
Why you’ll love it: Ruminate on the Revolution on Beantown’s historic streets while following the (free) Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that winds past 16 historically significant sites dating back to the American Revolution. Don’t miss taking a spin on the swan boats in the lake at the Boston Public Gardens in Boston Common, and plan a stop at the New England Aquarium and Museum of Science too.
Where to stay: Panama Jacks Resort Playa del Carmen is located on prime beachfront real estate (steps away from the shop-lined Fifth Avenue) and home to the Camp Jack kids club, so it gets our vote. Outside of town, Barcelo is the brand to look for with everything from its impressive Barcelo Maya Grand Resort (five family-friendly hotels in one) to its more intimate Allegro Playacar where babysitting is always available. Finally, if you want to overnight in Cozumel, Allegro Cozumel has a Pirate’s-themed water park on site.
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.
Washington, D.C., metro area: D.C. is WalletHub’s top destination for summer travel this year, and with average domestic airfare at $300 to DCA for the season, you can travel to the city cheaply from almost any U.S. city, with the least expensive month for airfare in September. An abundance of free attractions — including all of the Smithsonian museums and the zoo — keep costs low without sacrificing fun. Getty Images/iStockphoto
What to do? Spend half your time on water attractions like The Count's Splash Castle, Big Bird's Rambling River and the Teeny Tiny Tidal Wave pool. Then dry off and do the rest: Climb Cookie Mountain, ride Flyin' Fish and Peek-a-Bug (in Elmo's World) and explore Sesame Neighborhood (for character greetings and hands on fun) via the brand new Oscar’s Wacky Taxi. End the day by rocking out at the Neighborhood Street Party Parade.
Cozumel is considered one of the Western Hemisphere’s top diving destinations, and for those who want to explore this spectacular underwater world without shelling out an arm and a leg, El Cozumeleno, facing the Caribbean Sea directly on a white sand beach, is an affordable all-inclusive resort that can help make that a reality. The rooms are no-frills, but you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the water, diving, swimming and snorkeling. There are five swimming pools too, including one with the swim-up bar.
Menorca is an oceanfront paradise with a prime setting along the Mediterranean Sea. Here, you'll find lower prices on food and lodging (as well as fewer tourists) compared to other nearby Spanish islands. Simply put, Menorca is perfect for frugal travelers who want to avoid the party scene of Ibiza and the tourists of Mallorca, and worship the sun in peace. (Getty Images)
Puebla: Once considered a nice day trip from Mexico City (it’s two hours away by car), Puebla is emerging as a primary destination in its own right. After all, it’s not a small village; Puebla is Mexico’s fourth-largest city, with some of the country’s best examples of Spanish colonial architecture. Additionally, at 7,200 feet above sea level, Puebla never gets too hot, and it’s considered one of the safest places in Mexico. Getty Images/iStockphoto
With new babies, booking a one-way flight is essential. Think about renting a vacation house or apartment for maximum space and flexibility. Or go the all-inclusive route: resorts and cruises handle the meals and sometimes also the child care too. Some luxury hotels have amenities jut for babies, such as chic cribs or infant-only toiletries. With school-aged children, consider traveling with another family whose kids are your children’s age. Companionship goes a long way towards engaging—and delighting—young ones. (Pools go a long way in this department, too.) Disney World and Disneyland are big players at this age, as is camping. The National Park System is probably the best bang for your vacation buck anywhere in the world, being consistently stunning and always affordable. Kid-friendly resorts can provide a variety of on-site activities, such as pizza-making or baby shark feeding or mini science camps, all while giving parents a break.
An added benefit? These top family vacation spots boast plenty of local rentals from TripAdvisor. Choose an entire house or apartment where you can all be together (while still having your own space). Swap the hotel mini-bar for a fully stocked kitchen and the communal lobby for a family living area—and maybe even a garden. Imagine an evening barbecue on the outdoor patio, a family movie night in the theater room, or a morning swim in your own private pool.
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.