Hulas, glaciers, a certain amusement park. Parents readers told us the places you’d most like to take the family on vacation, and we’re going to help you get there (on a budget!).
Make It Happen For: $6,500-7,000 for a week (The exchange rate for the euro and the pound is the best it’s been in more than 10 years, making your trip at least 15 percent cheaper.)
Set aside $2,400-$3,000 for airfare. Ireland is one of the lowest-cost European destinations to fly to—it’s common to find flights from the East Coast under $600 per ticket even in the summer. Consider a European carrier, such as British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, because seats for kids ages 2 to 11 are typically 75 percent of the adult fare, saving you $150 on a $600 flight. Fares to London, Paris, and Rome can drop to less than $750 per ticket in the fall, if you’re flexible on dates.
Plan on at least $2,000 for accomodations that will sleep a family of four for a week. Get details about family-friendly hotels that fit in this price range. But also consider staying in an apartment or home within a resort complex since they’re often a better value, offering more amenities than a stand-alone rental, says Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder of CiaoBambino.com, a website specializing in international travel. “If you want to vacation in Italy, spend a week at a resort in Tuscany—some places have use of a pool and offer kids’ cooking classes—and then take the train to Rome for a few nights. A family of four could do this starting at about $4,000 before airfare.”
Allow $500 for transportation. Use public transportation to get around the city—kids ride free or at a reduced rate in most of Europe. Figure on $100 each way to get from the airport (reserve transportation in advance rather than hopping in a taxi) and another $200 or so for day trips outside the city.
Stay under $1,500 for food and attractions. Museum cafeterias, street markets, food trucks, and supermarkets (go for prepared foods if you don’t have a kitchen) are good bets for reasonably priced eats. Space out paid attractions with visits to parks and museums, and check out our list of free things to do in European cities.
Make It Happen For: $4,250-$5,500 for five nights
Allow $1,600-$2,800 for airfare. The biggest hurdle between your family and a trip to Hawaii is flight cost, says Gabe Saglie, Travelzoo’s senior editor and dad of three. Check for deals daily. “You used to get the lowest prices on flights Tuesday into Wednesday, but sales have become much more fluid,” he says. “Thursday and Sunday are also big discount days.” He also suggests following airlines on social media so you get wind of deals ASAP. “Sales are getting shorter—we’ve seen eight-hour deals recently—and the number of discounted seats has decreased, so it’s important to find out fast,” he says. What’s a good price? $700 or less round-trip from the East Coast, $600 from the Midwest, and $400 from the West Coast.
Score a rental car for $300 or less. Rentals in Hawaii typically cost more than in other destinations. Book at least two months ahead for the best price and reserve a full-size car (rather than an economy or compact) to make sure all your luggage plus the car seats will fit. Otherwise, you’ll shell out extra cash at the rental facility for an upgrade.
Budget $600 for food. That won’t get you breakfast buffets or fancy dinners, but you will eat well. Swing by the supermarket to stock your room with beverages as well as breakfast and lunch staples. That way, you’ll just need to buy dinner and maybe a couple of lunches if you’re out exploring. “We stopped at roadside stands and bought gift cards from Restaurant .com to save money on meals,” says Katie Bodell, an editor for Trekaroo .com who took her family to Oahu.
Cap activities at $250. You can do so much for free or just a few dollars—hike to a waterfall, visit Volcanoes National Park, run around on a black-sand beach. But for a bucket- list trip, splurge on one activity—whether it’s a lesson on stand-up paddleboarding, a luau, or going underwater on a submarine.
Make It Happen For: $3,600 for a seven-night cruise if you can drive to your cruise port; $5,000 if you're flying
Consider setting sail. "Your least expensive way to see Alaska is on a cruise,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of CruiseCritic.com, which has a page dedicated to Alaskan cruise deals plus reviews. “There are a lot more ships than there used to be, and that’s driven down prices.” Other advantages to hitting the water: "You can’t drive into some of the magnificent places that the ships take you to, and if you utilized the state’s ferry system you’d constantly be packing and unpacking.” A cruise also lets you cross off three bucket-list activities: watching whales, seeing glaciers, and fishing for salmon, says Erin Kirland, author of Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th State With Children.
Choose a cruise line. Spencer Brown says to start shopping for a cruise in late December or early January, when the lines have sales and tend to throw in perks, such as free shore excursions. Depending on what cruise line you choose, prices range from about $3,000 to around $5,000, including taxes and port fees, for a family with two adults and two children under age 12 sharing a stateroom. Compare cruises on Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Disney, and Norwegian in terms of price, departure options, on-board activities, supervised children’s programs, and port excursions.
Find deals on flights to cruise ports. Cruises generally begin in Seattle, San Francisco, or Vancouver. Reasonable prices to Vancouver are $400 round-trip from the East Coast and Midwest, and $250 from the West Coast. Subtract about $100 for flights to Seattle or San Francisco.
Make It Happen For: Less than $3,000 per family for a week
Get in free. From August 25 to 28, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees. Go to nps.gov for a list of other free times to visit.
Widen your airport search. It’s common to fly into Jackson Hole for a trip to Yellowstone, but you might get a better deal heading to Billings or Bozeman, Montana, or Cody, Wyoming. For the Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Flagstaff are options. Click the “include nearby” button on Kayak.com’s flight search to streamline the process.
Score a rental-car deal. Book your reservation at AutoSlash.com, and it will hunt for better rates and coupon codes to apply. Plus, it will automatically rebook you at the lowest available rate until the day you pick up your rental.
Keep lodging costs low. Both parks offer options for less than $100 per night. Stay at the Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Lodge or Yellowstone’s Roosevelt Lodge Cabins.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World
Make It Happen For: $3,000 for two adults and two kids under 10 staying four nights; $2,250 without airfare
Book a package. From now until August 31, Disney is offering discounted packages for trips through November 5. Two adults and two kids ages 3 to 9 could stay at
the All-Star Resort for four nights and get a four-day pass to the parks that lets you visit one park per day for $1,850 including tax. The tickets alone would cost $1,340 if you bought them without the package. But before you reserve, see if there’s an even better package available and get options for discounts on Disney villas and nearby hotels such as the Hilton Orlando and Four Seasons. “For the last few years, Disney has offered packages in the fall that include free dining,” notes Don Munsil, co-owner of MouseSavers.com, a site that focuses on Disney discounts.
Spend $750 or less on airfare. Orlando is one of the least-expensive airports to fly into because of competition among airlines. Try to find airfare from the East Coast, South, and Midwest for $175 per ticket—and you may even get a better deal if you’re flexible about your departure airport. “We paid $350 for round-trip airfare for the four of us to fly from Dallas recently,” says Ileaa Swift, who drove five hours from Little Rock, Arkansas.
Plan on $500 for food. Order $100 worth of breakfast fare, snacks, and drinks from GardenGrocer.com. You can have it delivered to your hotel room (it’ll have a fridge). Eat before you head to the park and pack snacks and drinks—they’re allowed as long as they’re not in a cooler. Then opt for counter-service lunch and dinner, sticking to a $100 daily budget. Delish picks: Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom, Flame Tree Barbeque in Animal Kingdom, Katsura Grill in Epcot, and ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios.