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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to take your family on adventures all over the world without having to worry about the cost? This probably sounds like just a daydream, especially if you have a large family! Good news! Affordable family vacations are in your future if you know how to pick the right travel destination!
Here’s a list of my top 10 affordable family vacation destinations! Remember, I have a family of 7, so I’m looking at places with lots of free or inexpensive activities to entertain kids of all ages as well as affordable places to stay that allow accommodations for your entire crew! That means no double booking hotel rooms!
For the Sand Lover!
1. Myrtle Beach
For a beach town, Myrtle Beach is relatively inexpensive! With dozens of free activities, there’s plenty of variety you can throw into your day. Aside from the beach, you’ll find amusement parks, Ripley’s aquarium, the children’s museum (Wonderworks), and the Sky Wheel to name a few. Tripster allows you to bundle your hotel stay with a variety of fun activities to give you the best bang for your buck!
Even with a big family, finding a reasonably priced hotel room for your crew is doable. And there are several on or near the ocean!
If you’re driving into the city and have a family who loves camping…I’d consider staying at the KOA campground. It’s a resort! Which means it also provides a number of activities and amenities with your stay. Including a free shuttle service to the beach! There’s also a pool and playground on the campsite! You can stay in a cabin (During peak season you can find one for around $230 per night. This price is for a reservation in July (during peak season) and for a cabin that sleeps 8 people. Your cabin comes with a full kitchen and bathroom with a shower! So, you’ll be glamping for sure if you go for the cabin!
If you’re really looking for a way to save, stay in a tent site at KOA campground and you’re looking at only about $45 to $50 per night plus tax. Plus all the other fun amenities that come with the resort! **This option is best if you’re driving since it might be hard to check all your camping gear at baggage claim.** 🙂
2. San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is an affordable getaway as far as tropical beaches go. The best part…no passport required! (If you’re a US citizen 🙂 ). Temperatures are relatively warm all year long! December through Mid-May is considered peak season because it is also the dry season. Most tourists travel during this time, so prices will be higher and you’ll need to be sure to make reservations well in advance.
The off-season happens to be the rainy season and is when hurricanes typically happen. While hurricane season technically runs from May through November, most hurricanes will occur July through September. If you’d like to be there when it’s a little less crowded and are okay with a little rain in the afternoon, May or June might be for you! Lodging and flights will also be less expensive!
While you’re there, take a day to step away from the beach to see Old Town San Juan. Wear comfortable shoes (no flip flops!) since most of the streets are cobblestone. Don’t forget to take a family picture on Umbrella street! While you’re strolling through the city, stop and take a look inside San Juan catedral, the oldest cathedral in America dating back to the 16th century. Another stop you’ll want to make is El Morro, a stone fortress also from the 16th century. There’s plenty of history to learn about in this city! Museo de las Americas is a great place to learn about Puerto Rico’s rich history!
If your family loves a good hike, do not pass up El Yunque National Forest! There are plenty of trails to choose from that lead to a natural pool, observation points, to the El Yunque mountain peak, and…my favorite…La Mina Falls! Be sure to check the National Forest’s site for updates since they are undergoing hurricane recovery operations in various areas of the forest. As of December 2019, the trail to La Mina Falls is scheduled to reopen in 2020!
3. Destin, Florida
Are you looking for Miles of white, sandy beaches? Check out Destin, FL in the Northwest panhandle of Florida. With so much to do that is either free or very affordable, this is the perfect vacation spot for a large family on a budget!
Here’s a quick list of some of the fun things to do in Destin!
Don’t miss Harborwalk Village! It’s a great place to go simply for the view! It’s a great place to catch a sunrise or a sunset. And there’s no shortage of activities ranging from shopping, restaurants, and adventure!
P.S. If you’re hoping to visit Crab Island, this is the place to rent a kayak, jet ski, or even a pontoon boat!
Village of Baytowne Wharf
Sometimes the kids just need a fun place to run and get all that energy out! Take them to Adventure Land Playground and let them play their hearts out on their nautical-themed playground. There’s plenty to do for the whole family, but I won’t lie to you…there are several activities here that do cost $$. However, if you’ve saved your vacation money hitting up all the other free activities, this might be the place where it’s okay to spend a little more. You’ll find zip lines, climbing walls, a carousel, arcade and laser maze, and plenty of live entertainment in the evenings. If you are going off-season you’ll probably get to do some ice skating as well!
Henderson Beach State Park
Henderson Beach State Park is another gem. Vehicle entry into the park is only $6 (for up to 8 passengers) and you could easily spend the whole day there. Aside from the beach, plan on doing the nature trail, a picnic, and you could even camp there for $30 per night!
Jolee Island Nature Park
This nature park is small, but a fun place for a family adventure. Bring your swimsuits and plenty of water and snacks and make an adventure. Take an afternoon exploring, splash in the “unofficial” beach area with your kids, and play on the pirate-themed playground. You can even rent a kayak or canoe from the marina as a fun way to get to the island!
Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park
I love mixing education with fun! And this is the perfect place to do it! Especially if you want to get your dolphin and gator fix…I mean, come on! You are in Florida after all! Here’s a link so you can see current admission prices.
If you’re planning on staying a while in Florida to see more of the state, take a look at the rest of their state parks!
Quick Money Saving Tips for Destin, FL
If you want to save money on lodging, Airbnb is a good bet for large families. There seems to be a lot of hotels that accommodate families of 6-8, but I would book well in advance and definitely try to come during the off-season when hotel or lodging costs are lower. Bonus* The beach is less crowded, too!
Must-See National Parks
If you’re planning on seeing several national parks, it might be better to get an annual National Park Pass for $80. If you’re military or have a 4th grader in the family, you can actually get a pass for free for your family!
Join the Junior Ranger Programs where you can!
4. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 wonders of the world and is practically right in our backyard! If it’s not already, you’ll want to put a trip to the Grand Canyon on your “Family Vacation Bucket List”. Amazing views, plenty of hiking trails, a shuttle bus that stops at nine different viewpoints, and a variety of ranger programs to attend are just a short list of activities to fill your days at the Grand Canyon. And I LOVE that it’s educational, too! Check out more activities you can do with the kids during your visit here.
Check out the National Park Service site for tips on parking and how to avoid the crowds
The South Rim entrance is Free and is easier to get to than the North Rim. There is a $35 parking fee and you must have a valid pass even if you’re just planning on riding the shuttle into the Grand Canyon.
Camping is a great way to cut down on vacation costs, and it is SO fun! I won’t lie, it’s a lot of work, but if you’re shooting for fun memories with the kids then camping is the way to go! Not to mention…clear night skies and stargazing at the Grand Canyon! Just wow! am I right?
I was surprised to find that the campsites within and just outside the park are relatively inexpensive! I like to play things safe and have my reservation secured. So be sure to book well in advance since the sites do fill up quickly.
Couple this vacation with Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend and/or Historic Route 66.
5. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Antelope Canyon is located in Page, AZ on Navajo territory. This will take a bit more planning since you cannot enter without a tour guide. Make sure you book your tour well in advance since they do fill up quickly and it would be so sad to come all this way and not be allowed in!
The canyon is divided into upper and lower sections. The lower section is less expensive and less busy; however, the Upper section is also more scenic and family-friendly. It’s entirely at ground level which I strongly recommended if you’re traveling with littles (preschool age or younger). The upper canyon is also well known for light beams since it has direct access to the sunlight!
Click here to check out the variety of tours offered and to book your tour!
Note: If you have a child that isn’t ambulatory…be prepared to carry your child the entire time since back carriers and strollers are not allowed.
Horseshoe bend is only 7 miles away located in Glen Canyon. The current rate is $10 to park.
5. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone became our nation’s First National Park on March 1, 1872. It’s well known for its geothermal activity as it sits on top of a volcanic hotspot.
The park is huge…so what are the highlights? Check out the park’s site for a detailed list of Things to Do and Places to Go. There are plenty of geysers (Old Faithful is the most famous), geothermal pools, and waterfalls as well as hiking trails and wildlife. And did you know that Yellowstone has a Grand Canyon of its own?!
Check out the top 10 favorite activities from Crazy Family Adventure.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re camping or planning on staying in a hotel, you’ll want to make reservations well in advance. Hotels will be expensive, so camping is definitely the most budget-friendly option.
If you’re planning on camping, make your reservation the very hour reservations are open for booking! Be ready beforehand with the dates you want to visit and have an idea or two which site you’d like to book for camping. Yes, they fill up that quickly!
Only 5 of the 12 campsites allow for reservations. The rest are first come first serve. So if you don’t have a reservation, arrive early in the morning (no later than 7 am) to make sure you’re able to secure a campsite. Campsites range from $15 to $30 depending on the amenities offered. (i.e. Flush toilets…I’d pay the extra $15 for that! ).
**One of the campsites you can reserve is near Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon!
6. Arches National Park and Canyonlands
Moab, Utah! There’s so much to do here, especially if your family loves to hike!
You are in the desert so be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks to keep you and your family hydrated. Nothing ruins family time like being hangry and thirsty! Know that temperatures can get pretty hot (100 degrees) in the summer. It’ll definitely be cooler in Spring (April and May) or Fall (September/October) so keep that in mind while you’re planning your itinerary!
I know you’re probably sick of hearing me say this…but the best bang for your buck is going to be — Camping. You can stay at a hotel in Moab but expect to pay between $150-$250 per night. Campsites and hotels book up fast, so once again…make your reservations early (like 6 months in advance).
Camping at Devils Garden Campground is relatively inexpensive at $25 per night for up to 10 campers. Like all national parks, you have to purchase your own firewood since collecting fallen wood is not allowed.
Plan to spend some time in Moab —Moab Giants is a must-see especially if you’re traveling with kids. We’re especially excited about the dinosaur trail filled with life-size dinosaurs! It does cost $, but I’d say it’s well worth the price!
Canyonlands is only about 30 minutes away from Arches National Park, so don’t miss out! There’s so much to see! Pick one or two hikes and be sure to pack lunch, snacks, and plenty of water! Plan on driving a bit between hikes within the park since there can be quite a bit of distance between each hike. For a great review of visiting Canyonlands with kids check out this site!
7. Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park
There are 4 main viewpoints to the Bryce amphitheater and a free shuttle service to all the viewpoints. Bryce Canyon is well known for its “hoodoo” rock formations. You’ll want to stay for at least a day and be sure to catch either a sunrise or sunset.
There are two campsites available within the park (Sunset and North). Only Sunset accepts reservations and North is first come first served. I love camping! Can you tell?
Tent sites run for only $20 per night! You’ll need to purchase a Recreational Use pass for $35 per car, but it is valid for 7 days.
Sign up for some Horseback riding! Check here for pricing and more details!
**Bryce Canyon is a perfect stop to make if you are hoping to visit as many of the mountain ranges as possible. Zion National Park is only about 60 miles away. So, for example, if you’re starting in Utah you could begin with Arches and Canyonlands, then Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Antelope, then end with the Grand Canyon. Your total drive time beginning at Arches and ending at the South Rim of Grand Canyon would be just over 10 hours.
To say my kids LOVED Zion is an understatement. We visited Zion Summer of 2018 and my oldest keeps asking when we’re going again! We met the rest of my family in St. George, UT for our family reunion. It was SO hot. We were only about 45 minutes away from Zion and even though it was just a bit further North, it was so much cooler in the Park! We were only there for a day, but I wished we could have spent more time there to soak it all in. Some people recommend 7 days there! I would do at least two maybe three days with kids (since you won’t be doing the harder, all-day hikes with them in tow.)
What are the Best Hikes for Kids?
Zion is well known for some of its more difficult hikes, but there are plenty of kid-friendly hikes that are beautiful, too! Take advantage of the free shuttle that will take you everywhere!
Some of the best hikes to do with kids are:
- Riverside Walk — We got separated from our group on this one and decided to play in the river while we waited for them. So much fun!
- Pa’rus trail
- Emerald Pool (There are 3 pools total, but my advice would be to just start out and go for as long as your kids are having fun! It does get a bit more challenging after the second pool, so know that you can turn around whenever you want on this one.)
- If you want a short hike that’s more of an incline, then try Weeping Rock Trail and Archeology Trail…both under half a mile with great views!
- We spotted a number of lizards and my daughter was promised a milkshake if she caught one. Lol! Don’t worry, she did Not catch one!
There are hotels in Springdale (closest to Zion), but you’ll probably get a more affordable hotel room if you go a bit further away. Hurricane, UT is only about 16 miles away. In my opinion, hotels with breakfast and swimming pools are life-saving for vacations with kids!
For the History Buff!
8. Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. as our nation’s capital is naturally rich in history! Wear comfortable shoes and make sure you see it all!
Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss!
- Jefferson Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Washington Monument
- WWII and Vietnam Memorials
- The White House
- Arboretum –Especially beautiful in the Spring (Hello Cherry Blossoms!) and Fall
- Georgetown is the oldest part of our nation’s capital and has buildings dating from the 18th century!
- Smithsonian Museums (There are 19…and all FREE!)
- National Zoo (Elephants, pandas, and sea lions…oh, my!) Sorry, that was cheesy, but I couldn’t resist! ALSO FREE!
**Wherever you decide to stay (Airbnb or hotel), be sure to look for a place that is near the metro so you can easily get around the city on your own. A lot of hotels will likely have a shuttle that can take you to one of the metro stations.
9. Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is a must! Save by ordering tickets on Tripster. Tripster allows you to book your entire vacation as a package and saves you about 35% off! Along with the historical sites, you can add in Busch Gardens (a fun theme park with rollercoasters!) and your hotel. Tripster really makes trip planning hassle-free! Check out America’s Historic Triangle bundle. This last one is the most expensive, but it gives you unlimited admission to Colonial Williamsburg, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, Yorktown Battlefield, and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. This experience is a must if you want to truly time travel and experience what life was like in the 18th century.
There’s quite a bit to see and do, but some people say they were able to pack everything they wanted to see within one day. I have younger kids, so personally I’d probably take it slow and spread out the fun over a few days. How long you’re planning to stay could impact how many days you want to spend with the historical sites.
Plan to spend a good chunk of your day at Freedom Park. The park is packed with history and has miles of multiuse trails, including 20 miles of biking trails. Mountain biking is a fun way to experience the historical sites in the park and the scenery is beautiful! You’ll ride through forests and meadows and along creeks. If you’re really looking for some adventure then be sure to check out GoApe located right in the park! GoApe is your go-to if you’re into Tarzan swings and zip lines! You do have to purchase tickets, but this will be an unforgettable experience for the adventurous! Freedom Park is also home to Williamsburg Botanical Garden…and it is FREE!
You could also spend a day at the beach! The hardest part about the beach… is picking which one to go to! I’d recommend going with North End Beaches or Ocean View Beach Park.
10. San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio! This is another great educational destination that is well worth the visit! It’s the perfect mix of history and fun for all ages! To make the most out of your visit I would study up on the history of the city before your arrival. It will make the historic sites you see so much more meaningful!
So what IS so great about San Antonio? Here’s your Don’t Miss List!
- The Alamo…of course! It’s FREE and not a complete trip without a visit to the Alamo.
- Another San Antonio favorite…The Riverwalk! Walking alongside the river surrounded by shops and restaurants and music playing! It’s a fun place to be and a great place to go for lunch or dinner. It does cost money, but if you’re new to the area I’d recommend doing a Boat Cruise. You’ll learn a bit of history and it’s a fun way to see everything along the Riverwalk. Plus now that you have a better idea where everything is, you can take a walk along and go to the places that stood out to you.
- Brackenridge Park is found along the Riverwalk and is home to multiple playgrounds, the Japanese Tea Gardens, Koi pond, AND the San Antonio Zoo!
- Hemisfair Park is a great place to go for some fun, especially if you’re traveling with the adventurous! You’ll find play structures for all ages, a Splash Pad, and chickens! Yep, chickens! Tower of the Americas is also located in Hemisfair Park if you’re looking for a great panoramic view of the city. It isn’t free but the 750-foot tower has an observation deck where you can see the entire city and learn about the city’s history while you’re there. Note: Your ticket also includes a 4D theatre ride, Skies Over Texas.
More Free Activities in San Antonio
Check out another great post from The Traveling Mom on 20 Free Things to do in San Antonio with kids! So much fun! I went as a teenager with my family and loved it and can’t wait to take my own crew! My parents live in Texas now, so I see a trip in the near future! That means you can look forward to some updates and more pictures of the city!
**Here’s a city map with several tourist attractions to help you plan your visit!
Tips for a More Affordable Family Vacation
- Plan on camping when possible.
- Sometimes a hotel with a swimming pool and free breakfast is worth the extra cost (and good nights sleep!) Stay a bit further out from your destination for a better price.
- Airbnb (A great tool to use and a lot easier to find a place where your whole family can stay…but don’t forget to include the cost for the cleaning fee and service fee in addition to the taxes.)
- Membership with hotel chain (free and you can accumulate points which equals free stays, etc.)
- The further you book in advance, usually the better the price.
- You can bundle your hotel with various activities you know you’d like to do and SAVE using Tripster!
- Two words…Road. Trip.
- If flying, do your research on credit cards that offer travel rewards to earn free flights, hotels, or rental cars. Play the game!
- For booking (you can use Groupon for major travel sites like Expedia when booking flights, rental cars, or hotels)
- Attractions and activities around your destination
- A lot of cities will have a city pass you can purchase that heavily discounts admission to major attractions in their city.
- Book a hotel that includes free breakfast, fridge/microwave, or, better yet, a kitchenette so you can prepare your own meals. Find a grocery store and purchase snacks/sandwich items, etc. (cheaper than eating out every meal)
- Bring snacks to have while out site-seeing.
- Pack a cooler in the car if you’re driving. Gas station snacks/drinks will add up quickly!
Hit the Road!
I hope this post inspires some fun adventures for you and your family! Many families miss out on traveling simply because of cost. Don’t let that happen to you! Get out there and make some memories!
And help another family out by sharing this post! Bon Voyage!