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9 Affordable Family Vacation Destinations You Must Visit

My family of 5 loves to go on vacation, but vacations can get expensive! So I decided to look into some affordable family vacation destinations.

Our list of affordable family vacation destinations includes Washington DC, San Antonio, Costa Rica, Charleston, and Nashville, TN. Those cities have extensive activities for families at much lower prices than other comparable destinations.

These are long on fun, beauty, and relaxation, but short on being costly.

So today, we’re looking at all the best tips on vacation planning for the budget-conscious. We’ll not only explore the best times to plan, the best sites to book travel through and the average travel expenses people are paying.

But specifically, we’re looking at the best and most affordable family vacation destinations for you to consider.

That way you can put aside budget concerns and just get about the business of having fun!

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

tropical beach with palm tree and blue ocean water affordable family vacation destinations Middle Class Dad

What are good inexpensive family vacations?

Wanting a great inexpensive family vacation is something MANY families want. Before we dive in fully, let’s look at some recent family vacation statistics:

  • 40% of families are planning to go on vacation this year (according to a recent AAA travel survey)
  • 68% of those families will do a summer vacation
  • 53% of those families will be road-tripping versus flying (to keep costs down)
  • Gas prices affect 33% of family vacationer’s decision to fly or drive

On average, a family of 4 in the US spends $4,580 total per vacation according to a recent travel survey by American Express. That amounts to $1,145 per person.

Now let’s look at the cost breakdown by category for your family vacation:

  • FOOD – $132/day (for a family of 4 eating all meals at restaurants)
  • LODGING – $116/night (according to
  • AIRFARE– $224/each (domestic flights originating in the US, based on the Consumer Expenditure Survey )
  • TAXES & FEES – These vary, but often in the hundreds of dollars

Where you go makes a big difference, so in this article, we’ll be looking specifically at affordable family vacation destinations that come in below the averages, in some cases, significantly lower.

I have covered other aspects of vacationing on a tight budget before, so you may want to also check out my post about great ways you can have a Great Vacation on a Budget (click to read on my site).

Campbell family at Cars Land in Disneyland affordable family vacation destinations Middle Class Dad

How can I plan a family vacation for cheap?

I know.  As much as we want to plan 6 months or more ahead of time, all too often we wait till the last minute.

Earlier, I posted specifically about the importance of planning ahead for summer vacations, so I highly recommend you check that post about the crucial Steps to Plan a Vacation (click to read my article).

Whether you’re looking for cheap vacation destinations or not, it can still help with your planning this year.  AND if you bookmark it, it can help with next year too!

Here are the best steps to plan a cheap family vacation:

  1. Get online fare alerts (most airlines offer this free service)
  2. Book airfare on Tuesdays at 3 pm (the insider tip for when most airlines discount flights)
  3. Go to off-season locations (Vail, Colorado is beautiful during summer)
  4. Stay at hotels with free parking, breakfast & wifi
  5. Carry on luggage only (to avoid checked baggage fees)
  6. Stock up on snacks (at your destination, hit a grocery store and stock up on snacks and drinks to cut down on eating out)

But even if you are planning at the last minute doesn’t mean that affordable family vacation destinations don’t exist or are all booked up.

It just changes how we go about looking and booking them.  Many places don’t fill up and the closer it gets to go time, the more likely they will be to offer some great deals!

Does it cost more to vacation during the holidays?

The short answer is yes.

My wife is a teacher so she pretty well gets the whole summer off as do our kids.  However, where I work, we only close the week of 4th of July.  Thus, if I want to take any large amount of time off, it has to happen during that week.

Guess who else goes on vacation around the 4th of July?

That’s right; most of the rest of the world!  Now I’ve done Disneyland during that week and we had a blast.  But it’s not cheap and it is crowded.  So if we are looking for affordable family vacation destinations and that is the week we can go, we have to get creative!

I actually checked the costs for hotel, flight, and rental car for the same specifics (family of 4 for a 1-week vacation) during fall, during the 4th of July, and during the Christmas holiday season. I used the same to and from cities for flights and the exact same hotels.

Here are the changes I saw:

  • Doing a vacation during the 4th of July week was 92% MORE expensive
  • Vacationing during the Christmas season in mid-December was 41% more expensive

So the short answer is, if you want some affordable family vacation destinations, try to avoid going there during major holidays.

We have to take the road less traveled, to paraphrase Robert Frost.

In other words, we have to think outside the box and look for places that might not be on everyone else’s radar.  Little known gems that aren’t highly sought after and thus not going to break the bank.

empty beach with the sun overhead and the remnants of an old dock on the sand affordable family vacation destinations Middle Class Dad

How do supply and demand affect travel costs?

Pricing on all aspects of a vacation; airfare, hotel, family auto rental, and gas are all based on 2 things.  Supply and demand.

When supply is low (like a hotel that is 95% booked up) and demand is high (like everyone wants to go to Disneyland), you can bet that destination is going to be expensive.

So while Disney tickets are in high demand and low supply, there are lots of other options that will be more in your favor.

Think about off-season places. Perhaps choose a mountain destination instead of a beach?  Maybe camping at a state park instead of the highly sought after Yellowstone and Yosemite destinations?

Every year, American Express releases its GLOBAL BUSINESS TRAVEL FORECAST.

In that report, they take a look at air, hotel, and rental car and make projections world-wide about supply, demand, and pricing for the coming year.  In the most recent report (linked above) you can see some current takeaways like:

  1. Car rental rates are expected to stay flat in the US (so renting a car might make more sense than flying when money is tight)
  2. Airfares across Europe & Asia are also expected to stay flat
  3. Hotel prices are expected to remain flat except in Latin America where they will drop

Which is the cheapest country in Europe for family vacations?

For many families, a European vacation seems out of reach. After all, prices in places like London or Paris can get a little crazy for us average Middle Class Dads and Moms.

But you’d be surprised to learn that there are some European countries that can be very affordable to visit.

It is true that for people traveling from the US, a European vacation is going to cost a little more than staying in the US. So check out these affordable European family vacation destinations and see if some might make sense for your family and budget.

  1. Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park, Spain – A national park, so it does have campsites, but it also boasts hotels, swimming pools, and restaurants. Or book yourself a cabin at the foot of a mountain and just explore
  2. Porec, Croatia – Croatia is becoming popular, but it’s still amazingly affordable too! Once part of the Roman empire, this area is also rich with ancient historical sites to see. Horseback riding and other outdoor activities are everywhere but you can also take a boat to Venice! But before you start your boating journey, make sure to check the marine battery of the boat.
  3. Alvor, Portugal – Beautiful beaches line this amazing fishing village. Walk the cobblestone streets, canoe the rivers, or for a faster pace, head to the theme parks and resorts in nearby Algarve.
  4. Qawra, Malta – An island off the coast of Sicily in Italy, Malta has a lot of ancient history to see. But it’s also home to a few filming locations for Game of Thrones fans too! Boating, fishing, snorkeling, and other island-based activities are everywhere

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

But now let’s get to my list of . . . 

9 Affordable Family Vacation Destinations You Must Visit?

1. Charlottesville, Virginia

Known primarily for Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello as well as what he called the “Academical Village” (the University of Virginia).

However, in recent years, Charlottesville has also become a popular destination for its craft breweries and its historic downtown mall (an outdoor pedestrian mall that rivals any in the nation); feature amazing shopping and restaurants in a historic setting.

2. San Francisco, California

San Francisco may seem expensive, but it can actually be budget friendly if you know where to go. Many of the city’s attractions are free, such as Golden Gate Park and the Painted Ladies. Public transportation is affordable and efficient, and there are plenty of budget-friendly food options to try.

Additionally, for pet owners, San Francisco offers a number of pet-friendly hotels. This means you won’t have to sacrifice quality accommodations just to bring your furry friend along. From boutique hotels to major chains, you’re sure to find a place to stay that welcomes both you and your pet.

3. Salt Lake City, Utah

Float with ease on the salt lake (the salt content makes floating easier) while surrounded by mountains, listen to “America’s Choir”, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, check out their world-class zoo and visit Temple Square; the city’s most popular tourist destination.

The temple is not open to the public but some of the surrounding buildings such as the Family History Library are open to the public.

The Library is free to the public and hosts one of the most extensive genealogical databases anywhere; discover your entire family tree going back hundreds of years!

4. San Antonio, Texas

You’ve got The Alamo (don’t go down to the basement), the River Walk, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Sea World, world-class museums and zoo and so much more!

Outstanding food, shopping & culture and only an hour from Austin if you want to pop over to the Capital City.

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

5. Washington DC

What else do you need?  The United States’ most culturally rich city and our most treasured monuments.

But you’ve also go the world-class Smithsonian Institute (do the exhibits come alive at night?) including my childhood favorite; the Air & Space Museum.

Book yourself a nice room in hotels near Climate Pledge Arena and enjoy your trip to the fullest!

6. Charleston, South Carolina

In Charleston, you have it all!

Culture, great food, excellent shopping and outstanding beaches.  You’re also a short drive from the state Capital in Columbia.

7. Nashville, Tennessee

Austin and Nashville may have to duke it out for the title of music capital of the world, but there’s no denying Nashville’s music scene!

Live music abounds as does a rich music culture and history.  Beyond that, you have delicious food, Opryland and a full-scale replica of Greece’s Parthenon!

For those of you personal finance fans (like me) pop in to watch Dave Ramsey do his radio show live, get a chance to meet him and enjoy all the free hospitality in his waiting area.

8. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Stay in a 2 bedroom house on the beach for a little over $100/night! If you’re a US citizen you don’t even need a passport to travel here since it is a commonwealth territory.

Flamenco beach is considered one of the best beaches in the world!  Plus you’ve got outstanding food, people, culture, and music!

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

9. Las Vegas, Nevada

Once nicknamed “sin city” Vegas these days is both family friendly (in most places) and a culinary mecca for outstanding food!

Entertainment galore and because they hope you’ll spend most of your money gambling, the amenities are surprisingly affordable!

Enjoy almost full-scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower and New York, New York’s NYC skyline replicas.  Amazing water shows, and performances from some of the most popular entertainers in the world!

10. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is my family’s favorite place on Earth!

I’ve been 5 times and my family a total of 4 times.  We’ve mostly been in the state of Guanacaste (the northernmost state on the Pacific side), but we’ve also traveled south some as well.

Outstanding food, amazing beaches, zip-lining through the jungle, friendly people, rain-forests, mountains, and abundant wildlife are just a few of the reasons to visit.

It’s also one of the most ecological countries on the planet and these peace-loving “ticos” abolished their military in the 1940s to just live in harmony with nature and each other.

Want more on amazing Costa Rica?

I love it so much I created the ultimate guide about why you should Visit Guanacaste Costa Rica  That post is well worth checking out for more details.

Final thoughts

In this post, we took a detailed look at the world of family vacations and the best ways to save money and still have an amazing time.

Specifically, we looked at the very best affordable family vacation destinations; places you and your family can go that won’t break the bank and will still leave you with precious memories for years to come.

Check out all my best travel resources and recommendations which can save you time and money on your next vacation!

Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):

Folly Beach by daveoratox is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Condado Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico by Breezy Baldwin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jeff Campbell