Planning a Cheap Family Vacation: Your Essential Guide

by Dana Meltzer Zepeda

Planning a Cheap Family Vacation: Your Essential Guide

Planning a cost-effective family vacation can be a formidable task. Although they say “money can’t buy happiness,” it’s hard not to wonder if that’s really true when you’re trying to arrange a fun-filled getaway on a no-frills budget. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a small fortune to make your family feel like a million bucks. There are plenty of simple ways to save big without cashing in your kids’ college funds first. Here, we share all of our insider tips and tricks for savvy travel planning on a shoestring budget, plus some of our favorite cheap family vacation destinations.


  • Ways to Save Money When Planning a Family Vacation
  • Ways to Save Money While on Your Trip
  • 15 Destinations for Cheap Family Vacations


Ways to Save Money When Planning a Family Vacation



A lot of different factors can affect how much you pay for your family vacation. Luckily, many of these factors are within your control. With careful planning and strategic thinking, the tally for your trip might not be so scary. When you’re planning, you’ll want to think about:



Some cities have better economies than others, so one easy way to save is to consider visiting a destination where the cost of living is lower than where you live. For example, if you live in New York City, try looking at beach vacations in Wildwood, New Jersey, where a night in your average hotel room is less than the cost of dinner out in the city.



Another great way to save is to choose a family vacation destination that is within driving distance from your home. Cutting out the cost of airfare can significantly decrease the price of your overall trip, leaving more money left over to enjoy meals out and local attractions once you’ve arrived at your destination.



They say timing is everything and, in the case of planning a cheap, fun-filled family vacation this is unequivocally true. Booking your vacation during the “off” season, when resorts are less busy, can reap big rewards. Rates are lower, the pool is less crowded, and you may even be able to take advantage of special promotions.


Historical deals

If you pay close attention, you’ll start to notice some hotels and airlines offer the same special offers year after year. So, if you saw a Valentine’s Day special to save half off at Club Med last February, chances are they’ll run the same promotion this year. You can also do a Google search to see what deals were offered in the past and make a handy spreadsheet to keep track of them.


Loyalty programs

Most hotels and airlines offer rewards points to repeat customers. So, if your husband travels for work a lot, ask him to stay in the same hotel chain and fly the same airline every time he leaves town. All of those work trips will eventually pay off when you cash in his rewards points for free airline tickets and hotel rooms for your own family.



One great way to save is to book an all-inclusive hotel or one that comes with plenty of family-friendly amenities. These can include everything from free breakfast to cable TV to free WiFi. If you can avoid paying a premium for all of these extras, it’s easier to budget for big-ticket items like day trips and excursions.


Flash sales

Plenty of airlines and hotels run flash sales, which can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Keep track of these special deals by signing up to join their company newsletter or becoming a Facebook follower.


Travel sites

Planning an affordable family vacation has never been easier, thanks to travel sites like Expedia,, Orbitz and These popular websites provide competitive rates, customer reviews and extensive photo galleries, giving time-pressed parents the ability to book a vacation package at their own leisure without ever even having to leave home.


Ways to Save Money While on Your Trip

It’s not just flights and hotels that cost quite a bit of money — meals, activities and airline fees can really add up. Here’s how to keep those extra expenses under control.



One easy way to save money on vacation is to pack your own snacks, book a room with a kitchen or microwave and DIY a few meals. If you’re traveling to Hawaii and don’t want to spend a lot, stock up on fresh pineapple from the local farmer’s market, sashimi-grade tuna from the grocery store and individual cereal boxes from home.



One of the biggest money traps on vacation is checked baggage fees. Avoid paying extra for them by giving each kid their own carry-on, packing light and filling car seats — which can be checked for free — with diapers and baby wipes to save space in your luggage. Genius, right?


Activities and excursions

Booking activities, excursions and day trips ahead of time is one easy way to stretch your budget. Travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity offer great deals if you book in advance.


15 Destinations for Cheap Family Vacations


OK, now that you’re armed with money-saving travel tips, are you ready to get away from it all? Here are our top 15 affordable family vacation ideas to get you started.

Image Credits: Pine Knoll Lodge & Cabins

Pine Knoll Lodge & Cabins, Adirondacks, New York

Cabins on Lake at Pine Knoll Lodge & Cabins in the Adirondacks


The rustic Pine Knoll Lodge & Cabins is right in the heart of Old Forge, a small town located about four-and-a-half hours away from New York City in the Adirondack Mountains. Your kids will love swimming in the lake, hiking up Bald Mountain and picnicking at the Enchanted Forest, a local amusement park perfect for both young kids and teenagers, thanks to its wide array of rides, games and attractions. You’ll also enjoy taking advantage of amenities at Pine Knoll like boating, fishing, free WiFi and daily housekeeping. Each cabin also has a full kitchenette, so you can cook your own meals to save money. Rate: Rooms start at just $79 per night and are close to local attractions and restaurants.

Image Credits: Embassy Suites by Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview

Embassy Suites by Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada


Embassy Suites has a long-standing reputation as a family-friendly hotel. But this hotel in particular offers a breathtaking view of Niagara Falls. It’s centrally located so you can walk to local restaurants and stores. But, more importantly, you can make your entire family’s jaws drop in unison the moment you enter this well-maintained property’s lobby, where you’ll immediately catch an up-close glimpse of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions. Rate: Rooms start as low as $100 a night, with a slightly higher rate for fallsview accommodations.

Image Credits: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, Yosemite National Park, California


Do yourself a favor and book a room at Tenaya Lodge if you’re even considering taking a family vacation to Yosemite National Park this year. This Four-Diamond luxury resort is a hidden gem, with newly renovated rooms, easy access to Yosemite, a children’s pool, arcade and a game room. There’s also an 80-foot ice skating rink, indoor rock-climbing wall and full-service kid’s club if you and your partner are in dire need of some alone time after a long day of hiking with the family. Rate: Rates start at just under $200 per night.

Image Credits: VRBO

#408 Oceanside Home, Corolla, Outer Banks, North Carolina


The Outer Banks are a chain of barrier islands just off the coast of North Carolina. This budget-friendly beach resort consists of several small towns, all within walking or driving distance to the water. Your kids will have a blast fishing, swimming, climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and going sea glass hunting. Meanwhile, you’ll enjoy kicking back in the sand with a good book, visiting the Elizabethan Gardens or hosting a beachfront clambake at sunset. Rate: Vacation homes are plentiful in this area so get comfortable and stay awhile by booking an entire house. Rates start as low as $200 per night on VRBO, depending on how much room you need for your family.

Image Credits: Hampton Inn & Suites, Myrtle Beach

Hampton Inn & Suites, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina


Myrtle Beach is one of the top cheap family vacation destinations in the country. And it’s no wonder, considering the warm climate, kid-friendly attractions and plethora of inexpensive restaurants. This summer hotspot boasts beautiful, pet-friendly beaches, an action-packed boardwalk and free summer concerts on the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. Rate: Rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites start at $129 per night and include free toiletries, free WiFi, a free airport shuttle and a microwave and refrigerator.

Image Credits: Westin Desert Willow Villas

Westin Desert Willow Villas, Palm Springs, California


Palm Springs is a great place to unwind with the entire family, thanks to its warm climate, bustling downtown area and sprawling swimming pools. The city has many family-friendly attractions but one of the most popular is the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, where your kids can get up-close-and-personal with over 400 species including wolves, bobcats and mountain lions. There’s also plenty of free activities including trolley rides, self-guided architecture tours and hiking nearby. Rate: Book a suite at the Westin Desert Willow with a full kitchen, free WiFi, kid’s pool and game room starting at $209 per night.

Image Credits: Hard Rock Hotel Cancun

Dharma Home Suites at Novia, Hoboken, New Jersey


Cancun may have a reputation for being popular with spring breakers, but visit during the off season and you’ll be surprised to discover it’s the perfect all-inclusive cheap family vacation. The rock ‘n roll-themed Hard Rock Hotel Cancun offers meals, drinks, a kid’s club, a gorgeous view, swimming pools and free WiFi. Tax and gratuity are both included in the upfront price so you’ll never have to wonder how much you’re spending while you’re on vacation either. Rate: Book a room for just over $200 per person per night at this picturesque hotel.

Coconut Court Beach Hotel, Hastings, Barbados

Image Credits: Coconut Court Beach Hotel

Coconut Court Beach Hotel, Hastings, Barbados


The Coconut Court Beach Hotel is situated right on the beach, giving guests a picturesque view of swaying palm trees and crystal-clear blue waters. Frolic with your family on the sprawling white sand beach, play with the kids in the dedicated children’s pool or visit the numerous shops, restaurants and historic sites nearby. Rate: Rooms start at just $265 a night and come with fully equipped kitchens, free WiFi and daily housekeeping.

Image Credits: Four Points by Sheraton Eastham Cape Cod

Four Points by Sheraton Eastham Cape Cod, Eastham, Massachusetts


If you’ve ever watched the movie Splash, you’ve probably fantasized about escaping to this iconic East Coast destination. Cape Cod is a beachfront haven for tourists in summer months. Your entire family will have a blast exploring the island’s lighthouses, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and picnicking on local hikes. Book during the off-season and nab the centrally located Four Points by Sheraton Eastham Cape Cod hotel — which is surrounded by beaches, salt marshes and bike trails — for a steal. Rate: Rates start at $121 per night and include free parking, free WiFi and a hotel swimming pool.

Image Credits: Kingsmill Resort

Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, Virginia


Are you or your kids big history buffs? If the answer is a resounding yes, book an inexpensive family vacation in Williamsburg, This revolutionary city provides ample opportunity for your family to step back in time to learn about America’s early days with reenactments, walking tours and hands-on activities. Take advantage of everything Williamsburg has to offer, including a trip to Busch Gardens amusement park, by booking a room at Kingsmill Resort, which offers championship golf for mom and dad and a kid’s camp, bike rentals and a junior tennis academy for aspiring Serena Williams wannabes. Rate: Rooms start at $149 per night.

Image Credits: Courtyard by Marriott LAX

Courtyard by Marriott LAX, Los Angeles


A vacation in Los Angeles is by no means cheap. But booking a room close to the airport is a great way to save big bucks without sacrificing a central location. The Courtyard by Marriott is a family-friendly hotel chain with locations all over the country. This one is no exception so, even though you may not have view of the Hollywood sign, you can still rent a car to check out the Hollywood Walk of Fame, explore Venice Beach and visit Rodeo Drive without breaking the bank. Rate: Book a room with two queen beds for as little as $200 per night.

Image Credits: Best Western Lake Buena Vista

Best Western Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Florida


If you want to book a Disney World vacation on the cheap, try staying at a property a few miles away from the theme parks. The Best Western Lake Buena Vista is in close proximity to Disney Springs but doesn’t actually have a view of Walt Disney World. It does, however, offer guests free parking, a breakfast buffet and on-site swimming pool. Rate: Rates start at $126 per night.

Image Credits: Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, Maui, Hawaii


Maui may be expensive, but book a room at this beachfront resort and you’ll be surprised how affordable a Hawaiian family vacation can actually be! The budget-friendly Ka’anapali Beach Hotel boasts a whale-shaped swimming pool, miles of sandy beaches, a complimentary kid’s club and a free souvenir for every kid who stays at the hotel. Rate: Rooms start at $243 per night and kids under 17 stay free!

Image Credits: Best Western Cooperstown Inn & Suites

Best Western Cooperstown Inn & Suites, Cooperstown, New York


Anyone who loves baseball will love Cooperstown. This upstate New York town is home to the legendary Baseball Hall of Fame, which holds some of the sport’s most prized memorabilia and possessions. This important piece of American history is a great place to plan a cheap family vacation for anybody who has ever wanted to be taken out to the ballgame. Rate: Rooms at the Best Western Cooperstown Inn & Suites start as low as $127 per night and include free tea and coffee as well as a complimentary breakfast buffet.