Before you had kiddos, you might have gallivanted across the globe, hopping country to country with just a backpack and blind ambition. But now that traveling means packing strollers, coloring books and at least three changes of clothes, closing your eyes and pointing at a map is out of the question. And when you consider you’re now shelling out for several plane tickets, your budget can go from $1 meals on a beach in Thailand to $30 for meals for three fast. But that doesn't mean you can't share your passion for travel with your children — just that figuring out how to do it on a budget is key. Luckily for you, travel agents and experts know how to find the best deals while still making lifelong memories with your mini passport-holders.
Here, they spill the secrets on the most cost-effective destinations to take your kids on vacation this summer.
Have visions of a National Lampoon’s cult classic in your mind when you think about road-tripping with children? While we’re sure your trip will be just as entertaining, it won’t have as many kinks as the film, and it’ll give your kids a glimpse into the great west. As Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of Family Vacation Critic, says, national parks offer plenty of nature and adventure, but won’t require you dip into your savings for your carload. She explains that an annual pass of $80 will include everyone who can fit into your car (or SUV or van or truck) and allows you access to Arches, Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park and more. "Not only can you hike, bike, swim and explore our national landscape, the parks offer free programing and a junior rangers program with activities specially designed for various ages and activity levels," she notes.
And you can stay on the land itself, just make sure to pack some gear to get you by. “Camping is often an option inside and just outside the parks to help save even more on accommodations," says Poirot. "KOA campgrounds even offers cabins with kitchens and beds, along with swimming pools for those who don’t want to rough it.”
If you’re an East Coast family who wants to get away without going too far away from home base, Poirot says a getaway to a Southern surf-and-sea town might be your best bet. Not only can you book a home that’s a hop and a skip away from the beach, but with the added kitchen in most rentals, you can save money on dining out. Another perk? If you have enough to plan in your everyday life and you want a break from scheduling and booking activities, a beach will engage your kids without much effort on your part.
"Beach vacations are generally pretty low-key in that there’s not a ton you have to plan for — no airfare or expensive park admission and not a completely filled itinerary of must-see attractions," says Poirot. "Kids are thrilled to play on the beach or in the hotel pool, and if your beach has a boardwalk, you have plenty of low-cost entertainment to enjoy in the evenings."
OK, bear with us here. When you start thinking about making your kids’ dreams come true with a trip to Disney World, you probably start seeing dollar signs. But according to Disney travel expert Greg Antonelle, a vacation to the most beloved theme park of all can be as expensive or cheap as you make it. The trick is to pick and choose your adventures and to look out for special deals or work with a professional.
"If you go during value season when it is less crowded and stay at a value resort, you can save a lot of money," says Antonelle. "Additionally, if you are lucky enough to get free dining or another promotion, you can save even more money. Incredibly, it is possible to go to Walt Disney World with your family and not break the bank. Utilizing a travel agent that specializes in Disney destinations can assist you with getting the lowest possible price for your vacation."
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