6 of the Most Affordable Family Vacations

in Financial Planning by

KEY POINTS
  • Get rewarded for planning a budget-friendly vacation.
  • Don’t charge your vacation to your credit card unless you have rewards.
  • Select an affordable vacation that allows you to pay in cash.

According to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, more than 70 percent of Americans were eagerly planning a vacation this year. Among respondents that gave a positive response, 55 percent were planning a domestic trip, and 28 percent were planning an international affair.

Breaking those numbers down even further, 47 percent of those planning a vacation wanted an epic road trip, while another 45 percent hoped for a relaxing beach vacation instead. As an aside, another 25 percent of respondents planned to take a cruise in addition to, or in place of, their existing travel plans.

While all of that travel sounds fun, 26 percent of respondents noted they would charge their vacation to their credit card this year. By and large, charging a vacation on credit is one of the world’s worst ideas – unless, of course, your plan involves earning credit card rewards and paying off your balance right away. {Related: 6 Best Credit Cards for Travel Rewards}

Six Cheap Family Vacation Options to Consider This Year

Still, the vast majority of people would be better off sticking with a cheap and fun family getaway, paying in cash, and stashing their credit cards away for safekeeping. While many families plan to pay off debt right away, plans can change on a dime. And if you run into some hardship or run short on funds, that “temporary vacation debt” can easily turn into an albatross around your neck.

If you’re looking for a way to pay for your vacation with cash, it helps to pick a trip that’s affordable and family-friendly to begin with. Here are six options that fit the bill:

1. Any Theme Park Other Than Disney World

Family-oriented, affordable theme parks and water parks are dotted all across America, offering families the chance to get the park experience without being extorted by everything Disney. Sure, you won’t find Mickey or Donald Duck wading through the crowds, but you’ll save money and have a great time nonetheless.

In my home state of Indiana, for example, we have Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari – a theme park with its own waterpark that offers free sunscreen, free drinks, and ticket prices that start at around $40. That’s a far cry from the $100 plus per person families pay to spend a day at the Magic Kingdom or Animal Planet, and it’s a boatload of fun, too.

By choosing a local theme park, you may also be able to drive instead of fly, saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars by not paying for airfare or a rental car.

Disney does have its own unique set of perks, but local theme parks can be just as good – and a whole lot cheaper in more ways than one. {Related: Top Ten Trips to Save On Travel with Kids}

2. Visit a Family Camp

If your family loves the great outdoors – or you want to experiment to find out, family camps offer an excellent introduction to nature without making you “rough it” too much.

Yosemite Conservancy, for example, offers fun family camping adventures where the meals are cooked, dishes are done, and activities are organized all day long. All you’re charged with is showing up and enjoying nature as you see fit. All-inclusive pricing starts at $399 per adult and $179 for kids.

Meanwhile, Berkeley Tuolumne Camp in Groveland, California offers all kinds of activities from yoga to woodworking, and even stained-glass making. Families sleep together in shared cabins and enjoy three meals a day, planned activities, and even an adult’s social on Sundays.

There are plenty of family camps dotted across the US, and maybe even one if your area. If you find something nearby, you have the potential to save money on transportation and save travel time. Now, that’s a good deal worth considering.

3. An Affordable All-Inclusive Resort in the Caribbean

While the Caribbean might seem out of reach, this tropical stretch of islands and water can actually be an affordable vacation spot if you pick the right type of resort – and if you go at the right time. Fortunately, summertime is off-peak season for most Caribbean islands, bringing both low room rates and affordable airfare into the picture. And if you time it right, you can easily get a weeklong vacation for a family of four for a few thousand dollars – tops.

The island nation of Jamaica is known for offering family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts that are downright cheap during summer. At the Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay, for example, summer room rates start at just $190 per night and kids under the age of 12 stay free. When you consider the fact that your $200 room rate includes three meals a day for up to a family of four, unlimited drinks, on-site childcare, a beautiful beachfront and two pools, and a slew of activities, it’s easy to see how this is a good bargain – even if you have to fly.

4. A Dude Ranch

The concept of dude ranches might seem like a funny idea out of the 70’s, but they are growing in popularity among families seeking new, affordable vacation options. Each ranch offers its own take on accommodations, plus comes with an array of outdoor activities that can include everything from horseback riding to fishing, kayaking, bonfires, and marshmallow roasts.

At the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland, New York, guests have access to unlimited horseback riding, trail rides, hay rides, and all sorts of outdoor activities. Add in the fact that the property boasts indoor and outdoor pools, an indoor water park, mini golf, beach volleyball, and a game room, and you’ll see why nobody ever gets bored at this property.

The fact that everything – even food – is included makes Rocking Horse Ranch Resort an even better value. During summer, rates start at around $200 per adult per night (and less for children). During late summer or early fall, on the other hand, there are weeks when kids stay free and adults cost as little as $199 per night.

A wide array of dude ranches offers similar packages across the US. And depending on where you live, you might even find a few within driving distance. But you’ll never know unless you look, right?

5. Take a Cruise

Cruises are notoriously inexpensive if you can keep away from the booze and opt out of pricey shore excursions. For a seven-night Carnival cruise around the Caribbean, for example, rates start at just $439 per person. You’ll have to tack on the extra costs of taxes and port fees for sure, but you’ll at least get your room, three meals a day, and on-board activities included in your rate.

VacationstoGo.com is a great place to start your search if you’re hoping to save on last-minute summer travel. With the website’s 90-day ticker, you can find the best deals on last minute cruises from all of the major cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, and others.

If you want to cruise as cheaply as possible, three and four-day cruises are often your best bets. And since major cruise ports exist in all corners of the United States from New York to Seattle, Los Angeles, Texas, and Florida, it’s likely you’re within driving distance of at least a few fun cruising options that would work for your family.

6. Cross-Country Road Trip

Can’t settle on just one place to take the kids? Work up a cross country road map with activities, sightseeing, and camping or cheap hotel stays all along your route. From the Black Hills of South Dakota to Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Redwood National Park, there are numerous driving destinations that will leave your family in awe of the natural beauty this country has to offer.

The government portal, Recreation.gov can help you plan your trip, with information on camping, local hotels, hiking opportunities, and historical sites all gathered in one place. With their “Build a Trip” feature, you can even price out and plan your own family road trip with a broad view of what is actually available in and around areas you hope to visit.

The best part about a cross-country road trip is that your trip’s details will only be limited by your imagination. Whether you want to simply drive for a while, set up camp in an infamous and breathtaking natural environment, or see some of our country’s historic landmarks, you can build your road trip however you want.

The Bottom Line

Yearning for a family vacation this summer is absolutely normal, but you’ll be much better off if you pick a destination or trip that you can actually afford. By picking a cheap, family getaway instead of a luxurious and over-the-top affair, you can hopefully get the same or better experience, but without the sting of debt when you arrive home.

What is your favorite type of family vacation? What vacation options would you add to this list?

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Holly Johnson

Holly Johnson is a financial expert and award-winning writer whose obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel plays a central role in her work. In addition to serving as Contributing Editor for The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for inspiring publications such as U.S. News and World Report Travel, Personal Capital, Lending Tree, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns two websites of her own - Club Thrifty and Travel Blue Book. You can follow her on Twitter or Pinterest @ClubThrifty.

2 comments

  1. Punsri Abeywickrema

    Not only is it important to make family vacations economical, but also the travel adventure enjoyable. Too often many people try to cut back too much to save a few dollars, but in the end it makes for a lot more work – find the balance and think planning through.

    Reply
  2. hotels near bristol

    Greetings! This is my first visit to your blog!
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