Planning a memorable family vacation doesn't have to include updating your passports. There are plenty of great family vacation destinations to visit right here in the U.S. But if you're itching to get farther away, traveling abroad can also be affordable.
If you can't figure out where to go, start by imagining your perfect trip. Is your crew more adventurous and looking for a one-of-a-kind experience? Or would they rather relax on the beach?
Whatever you choose, there are affordable family vacations that will fit your budget and vibe.
How to plan ideal family getaways
Rebecca Alesia, SmartFlyer travel advisor, tells TODAY.com that when clients come to her, she starts by having them close their eyes and envision their perfect vacation day.
She recommends families looking to book a vacation ask themselves:
- What does it look like?
- What is everyone doing — is the family all together in the ocean or pool?
- Are you in a kitchen with a chef learning how to make pasta from scratch?
- Are you getting chills together as you watch giraffes amble by?
"Getting to the core of what people want to experience together as a family — and what memories and feelings they’d love to take away from their trips — is essential to the process of planning the right type of family vacation," Alesia tells TODAY.com.
Alesia also recommended taking age range, as well as length of time the family has for the trip, into account while planning.
"Younger children really require more experiential touring versus teens and young adults who can appreciate historical and cultural context," she said.
More family vacation tips!
Affordable family vacations
Alesia has travel recommendations for every kind of vacationer.
For the beach bum
For families seeking a relaxing beach trip on a budget, Alesia suggests looking into destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.
Popular destinations for beach vacations include Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cancun. According to Alesia, summer is a great time to visit these area, since prices usually peak from December through March.
"There are definitely deals to be had, and so much fun family entertainment," she says.
For the cruise enthusiast
Alesia emphasizes that cruises provide great value for seafaring families.
“Cruise lines are heaven for families," she says. "There’s nothing that gives you as much value as taking your family on a cruise, especially if you can find one that departs within driving distance from your home.”
Cruises also include plenty of pre-planned, family-friendly entertainment.
"They have everything from waterslides to magic acts and comedians at night, and programming all day. And then of course, there’s different ports that they go to, and adventures you can have there together," she says.
Additionally, cruise prices are usually settled ahead of the trip, helping prevent sticker shock at the end of vacation.
"It allows you to really front load all of your food, beverages and entertainment into one cost.”
She notes that Caribbean, Norwegian, Bermudan and Alaskan cruises are consistent favorites.
For the road tripper
“It doesn’t get much more classic family Americana than a road trip," Alesia says.
She especially recommends taking a trip through California, which features a range of landscapes and tourist attractions.
Alesia's ideal California family road trip starts in San Francisco to soak in the historical sights, including Alcatraz and Hearst Castle. Then, she recommends driving to Monterey to see the seals and enjoying the views from the Pacific Coast Highway. San Diego and Los Angeles are both great stopping points for the trip — and of course, Disneyland is right there in Anaheim.
“To me, that's a great way to fill a couple of weeks and have that classic road trip experience as a family.”
It's a little late in the summer to get a great deal on accommodations, Alesia says, but road trips to national parks are a great way to explore nature.
Next summer, she recommends looking into Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton National Park. Families can even drive down to Jackson, Wyoming, for a rodeo experience.
See you in the E.U.?
Vacations to Europe can be a little pricier, but Alesia says that many families are now prioritizing overseas trips due to loosening pandemic restrictions.
"Europe is something that is on a lot of people's lists right now," she says.
Portugal is a popular family vacation spot due to its food, culture, and beaches.
"It's a fantastic vacation destination for families as well."
Keeping your cool
Above all, Alesia advises vacationers to prepare themselves for the summer travel rush.
"The biggest advice we can give to people this summer is to pack your patience," she says. "Everyone’s excited that travel is back, everyone’s getting out there. The airlines are at capacity. They’re doing their best to manage a lot of people trying to get to a lot of places."
She reminds travelers that hospitality workers play a crucial role in making your treasured family vacation memories.
"Whether you’re flying or driving, whether you’re going to Florida or Europe — everyone in hospitality is doing their best to make sure you have a great vacation. And part of that is managing your expectations and being friendly and polite to the people that you come into contact with."