Family vacations can have a positive impact on your family. Spending time on vacation together not only creates memories, but it can help to nurture and tighten relationships. Plus vacations are actually good for your health!
A vacation can reduce stress, decrease burnout, and boost happiness for your entire family. That being said, the thought of funding a vacation may have you a bit overwhelmed. The great news is you can absolutely have the best family vacations on a budget!
And when I say "on a budget", that's actually a really good thing. By budgeting for your vacation, you can save money, which in turn means you can travel more often and see more destinations with your loved ones. Now, how about that?
Top 15 Budget-Friendly Family Vacations
Disney World is always at the top of many lists, but there are so many other great places! Here is our list of top destinations for the best family vacations on a budget! You can spend some time looking into each one as you decide where next to go. Road trip anyone?!
1. Assateague Island, Virginia
There’s nothing more majestic than watching wild ponies run the beaches. Viewing the wild ponies is just one of the amazing activities the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge offers. You can ride horses on the beach, go bird watching, and view the wildlife. You can even climb the Assateague Lighthouse for free!
Depending on your budget, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes and hit the water. There are beautiful beaches you can enjoy and have some family fun for free. If you’re adventurous, you can opt to camp out at one of the campgrounds and save money on a motel. Assateague Island is one of the most unique and best family vacations on a budget.
2. Clearwater Beach, Florida
Florida is one of the dream destinations for many families but can get pricey if you’re hitting the big theme parks. However, you can have one of the best family vacations on a budget in Florida without hitting the top tourist spots. Over the years, Clearwater has been named the best beach town in Florida due to its gorgeous white sandy beaches and shallow clear water.
There are tons of things to do in Clearwater, such as dolphin site-seeing, nature parks, and marinas. You can visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for under $30 a ticket. Take in a beautiful sunset on the pier, or maybe enjoy a delicious dinner cruise. If you’re looking to take the kids out for some epic fun, check out the Celebration Station for a fantastic night of laser tag, bumper boats, mini-golf, and more! Clearwater is jam-packed with fun, sun, and relaxation!
3. Boone, North Carolina
There’s no place like Boone, especially if you’re a Wizard of Oz fan. This gorgeous town features the historic Land of Oz Park that only opens twice a year for unforgettable fun. Tickets for Autumn at Oz typically run under $50 each. There are many low-cost things to do and places to visit, such as gardens, museums, and parks.
If you’ve ever wanted to pan for gems, then you should take the family to Foggy Mountain Gem Mine. You get to pan through buckets of dirt to search for gemstones and rocks, and you keep what you find. The adrenaline-seeking families should check out High Gravity Adventure Park for thrilling zip-lining and more. Boone is filled with fun and adventure, making it one of the best family vacations on a budget.
4. Outer Banks, North Carolina
There’s just something charming and wonderful about a small beach town, and you get that and more at Outer Banks, North Carolina. Pack a picnic and head to the beach to enjoy some free fun in the sun. Be sure to visit Jennette’s Pier for beautiful exhibits and a stroll over the ocean waves.
The North Carolina Roanoke Island Aquarium is an epic place to visit. Tickets are inexpensive, and they have amazing conservation programs too. You can tour the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation area and see the sweet turtles they are helping to heal. There are many gardens, parks, and outdoor watersports to enjoy as well. The Outer Banks is one of the most enjoyable and best family vacations on a budget.
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
There is never a dull moment when you vacation in Myrtle Beach. Tons of fun in the sun and plenty of budget-friendly attractions to enjoy. If your family loves mini-golf, then this is the destination for you. Myrtle Beach is named the world’s mini-golf capital, with over 35-themed miniature golf courses to play at.
Go beachcombing for beautiful shells at Myrtle Beach State Park and view the serene undeveloped side of the beach. You can have some massive fun at Family Kingdom Amusement Park. You will have everything wrapped in one fabulous vacation at Myrtle Beach.
6. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
One of the most serene places you can visit is Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A popular bucket list adventure is to partake in one of the famous Whale watching tours. You will set out on the deep blue ocean and witness these magnificent creatures up close. Don’t miss a visit to Lighthouse Beach for a gorgeous stroll next to the ocean and maybe even enjoy some kite flying.
Take a trip to the Heritage Museum & Gardens for beautiful blooming flowers and take a ride on the vintage carousel. If you are a seafood lover, then trying the clam chowder while visiting Cape Cod is an absolute must. Cape Cod offers beautiful natural sites, delicious food, and fun activities.
7. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
If you are searching for lush landscapes, love animals and nature, then Yellowstone National Park is for you. To keep from spending too much on lodging, you can visit when it’s warmer and camp instead. Most venture to Yellowstone to witness the awe-inspiring “Old Faithful” geyser that erupts up to 20 times per day.
However, this gorgeous park is also adorned with rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. You can admire the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River, which runs about 20 miles long. Watching wildlife is breathtaking, and you can see everything from grizzly bears to moose. This is one of the most mesmerizing vacations you will experience.
8. San Diego, California
Head out to San Diego for a fun-filled family vacation. Although California is known for its luxurious status, there are many terrific low-budget and free things to do in this city. One of the must-see places is called the Children’s Pool. Its original purpose was for a place for kids to swim, but now it’s an amazing spot to watch seals.
Of course, there are many beautiful beaches to spend your sunny days and parks to visit. You can rent a pedal boat and cruise up and down the bay. You can also take a fun and affordable harbor cruise that passes Coronado Bridge and possibly encounter some sea lions. San Diego can be one of the best family vacations on a budget.
9. Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is one of the best family vacations on a budget. The Smithsonian Museums are free to tour, and there are quite a few to visit. Some of the favorite museums to tour are the National Museum of Natural History, National Air & Space Museum, and the National Museum of American History. If you’re an animal lover, then you and your family will love the Washington D.C. Zoo, and admission is FREE!
You can schedule a tour of the White House, visit the Congress Library, and even go see where money is printed at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing. There is even a beautiful Botanic Garden to surround yourself with gorgeous plants and flowers. Washington, D.C. is packed with tons of entertainment, history, and sites.
10. South Padre Island, Texas
Are you craving some fun in the sun on a gorgeous island? Then South Padre Island is your family's next destination! Beautiful beaches, nature trails, and parks are a few things you can enjoy at this wonderful vacation spot. South Padre Island is also the home of America’s largest outdoor sandcastle! Don’t forget to stop at Sea Turtle, Inc. to visit the adorable Sea Turtle Exhibit.
Take the kids and have a blast at Beach Park. Ride the water coaster for a thrilling experience or give body-boarding a shot on the surf rider. If you need a break from the sun, then check out the Museums of Port Isabel. The sites include the Treasures of the Gulf Museum, the Port Isabel Lighthouse, and the Port Isabel Historical Museum. There’s no denying that South Padre Island is an unforgettable vacation experience.
11. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland, then Steamboat Springs is the perfect vacation. Relax in the soothing hot springs after a fun day of horseback riding, skiing, and tubing. You can zoom down the mountain on the thrilling Mountain Coaster. You can also slow down with a serene scenic Gondola ride up the mountain. One of the most magical experiences available is the horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Steamboat Springs even offers great activities for Summer vacationers. You can spend the day at one of the Burgess Creek Beaches and soak up some sun. Take an afternoon and enjoy wildflower viewing, hiking, and biking. You can finish up your day with a round of mini-golf too. Steamboat Springs is a wonderland waiting for you to explore.
12. Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
One of the best vacations to escape everyday life’s hustle and bustle is Blackwater Falls, State Park. No matter what season you head to Blackwater Falls, you will find many fun-filled activities to enjoy. Camping, whitewater rafting, hiking, and horseback riding are all available to partake in. You can explore the mountains via a Steam-Locomotive and view the wildlife like you never have before.
Experience a view like no other with one of the amazing Aerial Tours. There’s also zip-lining and Winter sports such as tubing and skiing too! Blackwater Falls State Park is sure to be a memorable family vacation.
13. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
There is so much to do in Gatlinburg you and your family may have trouble deciding where to start. One of the most raved about attractions is the famous Titanic Museum. This one of a kind self-guided tour features over 400 artifacts directly from the ship and passengers, and they are valued at a whopping $4.5 million. You will also see a replica of the Grand Staircase, touch a real iceberg, and shovel coal in the boiler room.
There are many low-cost activities to relish in, such as feeding the ducks at The Old Mill, catching a flick at Forge Cinemas, and taking in the views at the Friendly Falls. Gatlinburg is definitely one of the best family vacations on a budget.
14. Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City offers a ton of free things to do for the whole family! After a great day at the beach, you can catch a free movie at one of their movie on the beach events. You can even strap on some roller skates and hit the free skate bash for some retro fun. Take a relaxing evening stroll down the infamous boardwalk and check out the sites.
If your yearning for some thrills, then head to Jolly Roger Amusements for great rides with an ocean view! Are you looking to add some strange and odd entertainment to your vacation? Then head to Ripley’s Believe It or Not 2-story museum for a fun but bizarre evening. Ocean City is a perfect choice for a budget-friendly family vacation.
15. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
A visit to Grand Canyon National Park will take your breath away. You will experience beautiful hiking on various trails for wonderful views of the canyon. You can enjoy a smooth water rafting down the Colorado River and experience the canyon from a different view. The lure of Havasu Falls majestic beauty requires a 10-mile hike and an overnight camping trip, but travelers rave that it is one of the most beautiful sights at Grand Canyon.
One of the most unique experiences is the Grand Canyon Skywalk. This semi-circle bridge extends 70 feet out over the canyon and is equipped with glass floors, allowing you to view the canyon from 4,000 feet above! You will need to budget for this venture because tickets are a little pricey starting from $60 a person. The Grand Canyon National Park is full of adventure for the whole family.
Budget savvy vacationing tips
You can save a bundle of money on vacation by traveling frugally. You should be mindful of your budget while vacationing, and these tips and tricks will make it easier to stick to your budget but still have fun.
1. Travel during the “off-season”
You wouldn’t believe the amount of money you can save by adjusting what season you take your family vacation. Hotels, airlines, and resorts will give major discounts during their off-season to try to get travelers to book vacations to fill these spots. You can also find deals on tickets to amusement parks and various attractions at discounted rates too. Check out sites such as booking.com to find great deals on your next vacation.
2. Find low-cost & free things to do
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find low-cost & free things to do on vacation. Simply google free things to do or budget-friendly things to do and input the city you are staying in, and you will find an array of wonderful activities to enjoy and sites to see.
3. Cook your meals & hit the dollar menu
Eating out can get expensive and blow your vacation budget fast. Although it may cost more, try to find a discounted room with a small kitchen so you can cook your meals rather than dining out the whole time. When you do eat out, opt to order from the dollar menu from fast-food chains rather than ordering meals. This can save a bit of money, and you can enjoy a dinner out instead of all three meals.
4. Save for your vacation
The last thing you want to do is rack up a ton of credit card debt taking a vacation. You may have to reserve rooms, airline tickets, or car rentals with a credit card but be sure to pay off the balance, so you don’t pay high interest on your purchases.
To set yourself up for financial success and avoid debt, you should save for all purchases rather than charging them on your credit cards. You can make saving money fun with one of these awesome money-saving challenges to help you save for your dream vacation!
You can have a fabulous family vacation on a budget
By learning how to budget for your family vacations, you'll be able to have an incredible family travel experience! Just because something is budget-friendly or free doesn’t mean it isn’t fun and exciting. Sometimes the best things in life are free so revel in your newfound money-saving journey. Plus, you'll get to enjoy it with the ones you love most!
If you're searching to take more vacations, free yourself from debt, and be financially successful, check out our free personal finance courses and resources! Have a blast on your next best family vacation on a budget!