Vacations can be a strain on the family budget, but with smart planning, you can have a great time without declaring bankruptcy. Here are five destinations your whole family is likely to enjoy at a low cost that will please you even more.
- Yellowstone/Yosemite – Either one of these historic National Parks offers incredible scenery, famous features such as Old Faithful, wildlife, and nature/hiking trails. You can buy local passes for either park (Yellowstone includes Grand Teton National Park) or you can purchase a relatively inexpensive National Parks Pass for the year that you can use at any National Park.
By camping and bringing/preparing most of your own food, you can save significant money over the local hotels and restaurants. Make sure you acquire any necessary permits and reserve your campground in advance.
If possible, visit in the off-season when kids are back in school and before snow limits the access and amenities. If you prefer a hotel, check then for off-season rates or other discounts.
- Washington, D.C. –The many free historical sites, museums, and other attractions make Washington D.C. a relative bargain. The Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo alone can take multiple days to explore fully, not to mention monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial. You may be able to get a free tour of the Capitol if you schedule it with your Congressional representatives.
The public transit system is reasonable, and many attractions are within walking distance of each other. Lodging and food can be more expensive, but bargains are available.
- Las Vegas – Las Vegas offers many inexpensive amenities, such as discounted hotel rooms, inexpensive all-you-can-eat buffets, and spectacular themed casinos with their own pools, amenities and attractions – all designed to get you to gamble and pay for all these items.
If you can resist the temptation to gamble (and granted, that is a big if), Las Vegas can be an unusually inexpensive place to stay. If you can't avoid gaming, at least set yourself a small budget you can afford and stick to it. Have your spouse hold on to your remaining cash and credit/debit cards if necessary. Meanwhile, check out all the interesting theme-based hotel/casinos along the Strip. It's always free to look. Better still, the futuristic monorail takes you all around the Strip and is a blast to ride -- while providing an amazing transportation bargain at $10 for a 24-hour pass.
- New Orleans – In the summer months when there are no major events going on, New Orleans can be an economical choice, as long as you don't stay in the French Quarter. Stay elsewhere in the city and visit the French Quarter, including Bourbon Street, as well as other locations for wonderful food and outstanding music. You can find plenty of free activities such as touring the Garden District and St. Louis Cathedral.
- Nashville – Relatively low hotel prices, great food and a vibrant music scene make Nashville a top stop for a reasonably priced vacation. The local tourism bureau offers links to vacation packages and a variety of useful coupons. Parks and art galleries are available as free destinations, and for a relatively low price (approximately $50), you can buy a Music City Total Access Pass good for any four attractions of your choice.
Don't like any of those choices? There are many other areas with similar attributes, such as Savannah, GA; Austin TX; Myrtle Beach, SC; and Seattle, WA. If you do your own research on specific areas, you can usually find bargains if you have flexibility on travel times and lodging choices. The main downside could be transportation cost, so we hope that one of these places is reasonably close to your home. Now get out there and have some inexpensive vacation fun!