5 Family-Friendly Summer Vacations That Won't Break The Bank

Travel is beckoning this summer, and hotels and flights are booking fast. Here's how to have a fun, relaxing family vacation without shelling out too much money.

An image of a family packing for vacation.
Photo: Getty Images.

Sunny days, warm nights, new adventures, family bonding, and memories that last a lifetime. That's the recipe for a truly special summer vacation. Many families look forward to—and save for—these special summertime trips all year long, and this year will be no different. "I think people will be looking for fun things to do," says Jennifer Spatz founder and CEO of Global Family Travels, a Seattle-based travel planning company.

Here's a big tip: Whether you're going on a family road trip or flying to your destination, make sure to book your trip and activities well in advance. "There is significant pent-up demand for travel based on our current booking pace," says Bruce Rosenberg, COO of hotel booking service Hotel Planner. But advance planning can save you money.

Best of all, there are many great, budget-friendly destinations to choose from that are sure to delight every member of your family. From hitting a tropical island to exploring national parks and museums, here are some of the best kid-friendly—and affordable—places to consider for your family's summer travel.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando is one of Rosenberg's top recommendations for a tourist-friendly and affordable family vacation. There's a variety of things to do in Orlando that the whole family might enjoy. "There's plenty of activities to do besides theme parks and casinos that can keep everyone very busy," says Rosenberg. However, Orlando's proximity to a range of amusement parks is certainly a big draw for kids big and small. Plus, many family-friendly Florida beaches are within an hour or two drive.

Yulia Saf, founder of the travel site Miss Tourist suggests a stay at a resort with fun activities and amenities like Universal's Cabana Beach Resort in Orlando. Inspired by Florida resorts from the 1950s and 60s, the hotel offers guests a number of pools (including a lazy river), sand volleyball, ping pong, and a 10-lane bowling alley. Rates start at under $200 per night (with even better rates for Florida residents), and the hotel allows up to three kids to share a room with their parents for free.


Heavenly beaches, warm ocean water for swimming, snorkeling, surfing, or wading, tropical flowers, and an abundance of Aloha Spirit make Hawaii the dream vacation for many families. So, it's no wonder that, according to a report by Destination Analysts, Hawaii is at the top of the list of places U.S. tourists want to visit. The best part is that, even on a budget, your family can have an awesome Hawaiian adventure.

Saf recommends the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel in Lahaina, Maui. The island is home to some of the best beaches in the world, and Ka'anapali Beach is no exception. The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is just steps away from the famed beach of the same name and offers budget-friendly rooms starting at $293. The hotel also allows kids under 17 to stay for free.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts in Waikiki Beach offers rates starting at $354 per night at its locations. Outrigger offers guests surf lessons, a free hula class on Sundays, and free admission to the Honolulu Museum of Art. Oahu has tons of amazing outdoor activities for families—take a sunrise hike up Diamond Head for an incredible view of the island, or go on a snorkeling adventure in Hanauma Bay.

Another great option in Waikiki is the Alohilani Resort, which has rooms starting at $214 per night. This gorgeous, sleek hotel is located right on Waikiki's bustling main strip and across the street from the world-renowned beach and pier, including a protected swimming and snorkeling cove. The hotel also features a stunning rooftop pool overlooking the ocean. The poolside restaurant serves kid-friendly food that will keep everyone in the family happy.

National Parks

Take a road trip to tour national parks near or far. "I think the national parks will be well-visited again," says Spatz. So, try some off-the-beaten-path parks or aim to visit more popular ones mid-week. Spatz suggests Yellowstone as a great option for families. "There's so much to do there, so much history, learning about all the geology, about all the different places you can visit in the park," adds Spatz. "And certainly there are a lot of affordable places to stay." Camping is also an affordable option.

A few hidden gem national parks to consider include Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, Glacier National Park in Montana, Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Do some research though, as you might have a great national or state park near you that offers wonderful adventures without steep travel costs.

You could also plan a trip to America's most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains National park in East Tennessee. Make sure to also check out the nearby mountain town Gatlinburg, which was rated 2021's #1 trending travel destination in the U.S. by TripAdvisor. East Tennessee has scenic views, quaint towns, restaurants, and tons of affordable accommodation options, with rates starting at $99 a night.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

This resort city 50 minutes from Milwaukee has scenic views of shimmering Lake Geneva and is full of exciting options for your whole family. There are tons of tourist attractions, shopping, restaurants, and museums as well as outdoor activities like zip-lining, hot air balloon rides, and safari. Be sure not to miss Big Foot Beach State Park, which features a swimming beach, family campgrounds, hiking trails, and a playground.

You can also visit or stay at the Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, which has been named one of the top 10 waterparks in the country. Rates start at $190 this summer for a one-bedroom suite that includes a full kitchen. The resort has giant waterslides, mini golf, three-person rafts, and poolside cocktails for the grownups.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, also known as St. Pete, is a beautiful city on Florida's Gulf Coast that boasts a variety of fun activities for you and the kids. Soak up the sun on the sprawling white sand beaches, or see if you can spot some local wildlife including dolphins, manatees, or sea turtles. You can also check out downtown St. Pete for museums like The Dali (where kids ages 6-10 can get in for $10, free if they're under 5) or the Museum of Fine Arts. You can also take a tour of all the colorful murals lining the streets of St. Pete—tours start at just $11 for kids.

The Bottom Line

Amazing summer vacations don't have to break the bank. You can find many affordable, kid-friendly destinations to visit with your family that will satisfy your travel bug without overspending. Just make sure to book early and compare prices for the best deals. Consider drivable destinations to remove the cost of flights or rental cars. Also, do a little digging to see if you have any special offers available to you, such as through your credit card or clubs like the American Automobile Association (AAA). Safe travels!

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