It’s official: Americans have the travel bug. According to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), Americans logged 1.7 billion “person trips” for the primary purpose of leisure in 2014. The USTA defines a person trip as “one person on a trip away from home overnight in paid accommodations, or on a day or overnight trip to places 50 miles or more [one way] away from home.” That works out to 5.33 leisure-focused trips for every single man, woman, cash-strapped college student, sulky teenager, wiggly child, and brand new baby in the country.
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.
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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Finding a destination that has multigenerational attractions and dining and hotel options that can accommodate groups can be difficult. Finding a vacation spot that won't destroy your wallet can be even tougher. Based on traveler feedback, editor analysis and factors like sights and accessibility, U.S. News compiled a list of the best affordable, kid-friendly locales that won't break the bank. Use these rankings to start devising travel plans for a trip – but first, vote for your favorite family vacation destinations below.
Why: The Greek Island of Karpathos offers much of the same allure as chic Santorini and Mykonos, but with the advantage of lower prices. Karpathos is the second largest of the Dodecanese Island chain, which includes better-known Rhodes. Karpathos dates back to the 5th century BC, offering history buffs a way to have two trips in one, combining sun and sand with a step back in time. Ancient ruins can still be seen at Aghia Anastasia, while the island’s history can be studied in more detail in the Archaeological Museum. Beyond lounging on white-sand beaches, active travelers can choose from a selection of sports: fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing. Away from the well-worn tourist path, Karpathos has hillsides covered in vibrant wild flowers and small villages like Arkasas to explore. The island’s capital, Pighadia, is a modern city, but in small towns like Olympos, traditional dress is still worn day-to-day and life has the authentic feel of the past. Karpathos has many apartments and studios to rent, resulting in real savings. There are plenty of budget hotels under $100. Multiple restaurants and tavernas dot the countryside, where you can savor traditional Greek dishes at low prices.
Where to stay: Not many hotels can boast their own marina, but Marigot Bay Resort and Marina isn’t like most hotels. It also has a kid’s activity program, and a seven-night stay comes with four hours of free babysitting! At the other end of the price spectrum, Harmony Suites ranks pretty high with families who appreciate the boutique atmosphere with big hotel amenities like on-site dining.
Tahiti: If you’re located on the West Coast, this year is one of the most affordable times to head to Tahiti. Why? This May, French budget airline Frenchbee launched non-stop service from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT). Searches for summer airfare yield results well under $1,000 round-trip, which is unheard of for this exotic destination. Travel in August to take advantage of fares under $750 round-trip. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Why: Oaxaca de Juarez is one of the most beautiful destinations to travel to in Mexico. Colorful markets, charming architecture, cobblestone streets, fun festivals and delicious food are just part of the attraction. Stroll through Oaxaca’s main square, the Zócalo, and relax at a café, people watch and be entertained by dancers and singers in the evenings. Just a few minutes walk from the square is the Mercado Benito Juárez, where you’ll find embroidered goods and straw baskets. Continue walking the pedestrian street called Calle Macedonio, where you’ll find art galleries, cafes, shops and boutique hotels. Visit the Santo Domingo de Guzmán church and monastery that dates back to 1555. Don’t Miss the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, where you can see the treasures found on Mont Alban — the skull covered in turquoise, carved jaguar bones, gold jewelry and ornaments for a nominal fee. Hungry? Stop by at the food market 20 de Noviembre, where you’ll find piles of fried grasshoppers (chapulines) and Oaxaca cheeses, tamales, meat-filled tortillas, tlayudas, chocolates, coffees and seven types of mole. Get a taste of local dishes at food stalls for under $5 or free Mezcal tastings at Mezcaloteca. It’s easy to find your way around this town, but if you prefer to join a guided walking tour, contact Enjoy Oaxaca — they offer several tours from city tours to day trips to see Mont Alban, Mitla Ruins, Hierve el Agua bubbling springs and the petrified waterfall, as well as cooking classes and many festival tours including the Day of the Dead. Where to Stay? There are several boutique hotels and quaint B&B’s in town. You can reserve a room at Parador San Miguel Oaxaca for as low as $86 per night.
What are the best affordable family destinations? The biggest vacation cost is usually the airfare, so the closer to home you can find a destination that will please the whole family, the cheaper the trip. Take a look at our weekend getaways section which lists ideas from major U.S. cities, family vacations on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, the South and Southwest. If you are on a budget, stay in a cabin or a campground in a national park, or look for cheap vacation rentals online that will let you stay for under $100 per night. If you have access to the kitchen, you can prepare some of your own meals which will save you a lot of money. For best value, look for destinations where you will have access to many free activities, whether that’s hiking along a scenic trail, outdoor pool, games, or a kids’ club. Take a look at our family packages section for some of the best packages hand-picked by our editors.
Where to stay: Located opposite the Royal Mews, The Rubens at The Palace could be to London what the Plaza Hotel was for Eloise. The property even has an official Director of Fun! The Nadler Victoria also gets points for its prime location just steps from Buckingham Palace. There’s a mini kitchen in every room, but the property also partners with local restaurants to offer guests exclusive dining discounts.
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
WOW AIR: WOW Air as grown at a staggering rate since it first began flying from the USA in 2015. It now flies from 13 U.S. airports, including just-launched service from airports in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis. All of WOW’s U.S. flights are to its hub near Reykjavik, where connections are available to more than 20 European destinations. Flights from Iceland to India will provide a new option starting in December 2018. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
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.
What to do: After learning all about the game America loves, take the younger kids to The Farmers’ Museum and Tractor Land at Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Then, practice those swings at Barnyard Swing Miniature Golf. For some relaxing sightseeing, climb aboard the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad or cruise Otsego Lake on the Glimmerglass Queen.
Boracay may be popular among local beach enthusiasts, but it's still vastly undiscovered by most international tourists. This island in the Philippines is known for its rugged scenery, turquoise waters, picturesque palm trees and exquisite beaches, including the popular White Beach. Once you get there, hotels can cost as little as $20 per night. (Getty Images)
Ancona may be a popular place to board a cruise ship bound for Croatia or Greece, but it's also a beautiful beach destination in its own right. The Beach of the Two Sisters, or Spiaggia delle Due Sorelle, located about 12 miles south of Ancona, offers white sands and clear waters with a protected shore and towering cliffs above. What's more, hotel rates in the city start around $65 a night. (Getty Images)
Where to stay: HALCYON, a hotel in Cherry Creek, located in the charming walking-friendly neighborhood, has a rooftop pool, a free gear garage with bikes and longboards, and complimentary muffins and scones in the morning, plus snacks, coffee drinks, and even wine and beer for mom and dad from 4 to 9 p.m. at its “kitchen counter” check-in desk, from $179 a night. It’s also right around the corner from a Whole Foods and one of the city’s most-beloved burger spots, The Cherry Cricket. Be sure to check out these awesome spring break getaways for families too.
Why you’ll love it: Playful Pismo Beach and nearby Shell Beach offer the quintessential southern California beach vacation, from swimming and hiking to kayaking and surfing—it’s all outdoor fun all the time. Energize your vacation with an ATV drive on 5.5 miles of beaches open to off-road vehicle use in Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach. If actual horsepower is more your thing, enjoy a horseback ride instead. Pismo Beach Pier is the place to go to throw a line in the water and wait for a tug, while Pismo Beach’s award-winning boardwalk is rife with delicious treats and colorful boutique shops.