Maybe pre-children you were lucky enough to choose a vacation spot simply by spinning a globe and pointing — but traveling with kids requires a bit more forethought. And if you’re being mindful of your finances, selecting a destination that’s exciting and affordable can lead you down a dark hole of endless late-night Google searching. So quit while you’re ahead: Shut down those browsers and turn your attention to the spring break trip ideas ahead, which are guaranteed to make that budgeting spreadsheet smile. From hidden gems in the Midwest to all-inclusive options across the border, here are five options that are high in entertainment and low in cost.
Athens County, Ohio
Estimated weeklong cost: $400
Never heard of this place? No worries. We hadn’t either. But in the rolling hills of southeastern Appalachia in Ohio, this little-known destination is overflowing with adventurous pursuits — not expenses. It’s estimated by the tourism board that a weeklong vacation for a family of four (including a hotel stay, meals and entertainment) only comes out to a cool $400. To keep kids occupied in Athens County, consider renting bikes and exploring the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, which takes you past the community center and Ohio University all the way to the wooded area of the Hocking River, where cherry blossom trees will be in their prime during spring.
Since you might need to refresh and recharge — you’re on vacay too, remember — make a pit stop at some of the several craft-beer breweries along the trail. Best of all, many of them are kid-friendly, so you can have a bit of booze while your kids get their pick of age-appropriate refreshments. For a chill day, hang by the beach area in Strouds Run State Park or rent kayaks. Depending on your budget, you can stay at a hotel, rent a cabin or nestle into a bed-and-breakfast.
Estimated hotel cost for six nights: $960
Finally, you can surprise your Frozen– and Cars-obsessed kiddos with a trip to the happiest place on Earth. While Walt Disney World doesn’t run cheap, you can cut back on the overall trip cost by staying at a hotel that’s not too far away from the resort and offers affordable amenities. One smart solution is Embassy Suites by Hilton Lake Buena Vista South, only a 10-minute commute from Disney with nightly rates starting at $160. Sure, that’s not the cheapest hotel rate ever, but hang on: You can skip on paying for the parking at Mickey’s playground by taking the hotel’s $8 per person round-trip shuttle. Each stay also comes with a free made-to-order breakfast and a complimentary “bites and beverages reception” in the evening so you spend less on overpriced park food. And while you’re there, why not cut back on the card bill by enjoying a non-Disney day at the hotel by the outdoor pool?
Estes Park, Colorado
Estimated cost for a weeklong cabin rental: $828
Want to take a great Wild West road trip with your kids? Definitely make a stop along the famous mountain ranges that define this part of the United States. Did you know that one of the most affordable options for a family to experience the serenity and the adventure of the Rockies is by staying at the YMCA located right at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park?
Here, you can rent a rustic cabin with two bedrooms for $118 a night and make it your home away from home. Buy groceries to cook in the fully equipped kitchen and enjoy the YMCA’s complimentary yoga, wildlife ecology classes, guided hikes and sand volleyball.
Plus, the YMCA can also help you book arts and crafts classes — from silk painting to basket weaving — as well as archery and fly-fishing lessons. Throughout the property, you’ll find zip-lining paths, bikes to borrow, a disc golf course… the list goes on. One thing’s for sure: Everyone in the fam will come back thoroughly exhausted and with plenty of memories to share in class (or in the conference room).
Estimated hotel cost for six nights: $1,290
Close to San Diego, Carlsbad, California, is known for its famous Tamarack Surf Beach — as well as being home to Legoland and the Sea Life Aquarium. Here, you might stumble across wild peacocks that roam through the local historic park located in (wait for it) a canyon. Ideal for families looking for equal parts relaxation, exploration and entertainment, Carlsbad is far more affordable than most other towns off Highway 1.
Though the Cape Rey Resort is a tad more expensive at $215 a night, it’s well worth the price hike since it offers a ton of free or low-cost activities for families who book in advance. For example, the resort can arrange for kids to become official California State Park junior rangers. Bike rentals for exploration are also a fun addition, as are inexpensive surfing lessons (including instruction, surfboard rental and a GoPro camera to record your attempts at hanging 10). Many stays also include the Stay, Play & Save discount, which gives you up to 15 percent off at nearby restaurants and theme parks.
Quintana Roo, Mexico
All-inclusive stay for six nights: $652
For a spring break that doesn’t just get you out of town but out of the country, consider booking a beachy getaway to Quintana Roo, Mexico. On the Caribbean coast and just northwest of Cancun, there are plenty of affordable all-inclusive offers that remove much of the headache (and expense) of family vacation planning. One recommended option is the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, where a family of four can stay for six — fun- and food-filled — nights with all meals and drinks included for less than $700.
In addition to several pools, Jacuzzis and, of course, a beautiful beach, the resort also knows how important it is to keep your most prized carry-on items — your kids — entertained so you can relax. Here, you can take everything from Spanish classes to snorkeling lessons.
Whether you’re in the market for a cabin in the mountains under starry skies or a sunny beach retreat, there’s an (actually) affordable spring break destination option for you and your kids. So the only question that remains is: Where are you off to?