Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Now is the perfect time to plan a summer family vacation, but if your budget is tight this year, you might be wondering if you can even pull it off. But trips with the family are a great way to bond, and you don’t necessarily have to spend a ton of money to make it happen. There are lots of budget-friendly destinations, near and far, that just might be affordable enough to make it work.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
You can enjoy a budget-friendly beach escape on Cape Hatteras Island. There are lots of free things to do at this beach getaway, including searching for seashells and enjoying strolls on the stand. Paddleboarding, surfing, diving, and fishing are all popular here too. And, it doesn’t cost much to climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to take in dazzling views from North America’s tallest brick lighthouse.
Denver has been ranked by WalletHub and other sites as one of the best places to visit in the summer at a more budget-friendly price tag. Airfare tends to be inexpensive from many spots throughout the country, plus, there are a ton of free and inexpensive things to do. Pick up a CityPASS which will get you big savings on attractions like the Denver Zoo and Downtown Aquarium, and be sure to put Lakeside Amusement Park on your agenda. The old-school park offers a cheap evening of rides, like an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster, bumper cars, a merry-go-round, all sorts of spinning rides and a miniature steam-engine train.
Most people think about going to the Bahamas in the winter, but if you visit in the summer you’ll find much cheaper airfare because there’s less demand, along with great bargains at beachfront resorts. Plus the water will be warmer so you can jump right into those enticing clear blue seas. While it will be a few degrees warmer than what you’d find in the winter, it doesn’t get unbearably hot with the sea breezes providing natural air conditioning. If you plan your visit earlier in the summer, June or July, the risk of a hurricane will be minimal, most big storms don’t arrive until late August or September.
There are lots of ways to do an inexpensive family vacation in Mexico thanks to favorable exchange rates and a long list of hotels and resorts. But summer is a real bargain, with properties dropping rates significantly due to the warm weather that keeps many tourists away. That also means enjoying Cabo’s most famous sights without the hordes of tourists. There are cheap glass bottom boat tours that will drop you off at Lover’s Beach to snorkel in the Sea of Cortez, known as the “World’s Aquarium” with its incredible biodiversity, supporting more than 800 species of fish. Or, you can always just kick back and take advantage of all the amenities at your resort.
Myrtle Beach is that rare place that’s likely to appeal to every member of the family, and it’s a budget-friendly beach destination too. While the beaches are the top attraction, there are all sorts of other amusements, like the Family Kingdom Amusement Park for spinning on a Ferris wheel while enjoying a spectacular view of the coast or Myrtle Waves Water Park where you can keep cool by splashing in the water and riding down the slides. Golfers will find over 100 golf courses, and there are multiple putt-putt courses where the whole family can get in on the game.
Chincoteague Island offers laid-back vibes and inexpensive inns starting at under $100 a night. The island is famous for its wild ponies, and it’s also home to foxes and over 320 species of birds. If you time your visit right, you can even watch the wild horses swim across the channel during the annual Pony Swim, which typically occurs in late July. Even if you can’t be here then, you’re sure to catch sightings of the animals as you walk, bike or drive around the island. For close encounters, you might want to book the inexpensive Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Bus Tour which is hosted by the Chincoteague National History Association.
Williamsburg offers a fun and educational option with fascinating lessons from American history. Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield are like a living museum. Look forward to stepping back in time, taking part in hands-on activities from the 18th-century and then perhaps mixing things up by visiting Water Country USA or Busch Gardens. There are plenty of value accommodation options in the area too.
Gatlinburg seems perfectly made for a family vacation. It makes the ideal base for exploring nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with three park entrances right downtown. There is no admission fee at this park that offers miles and miles of hiking trails, some of which lead to stunning waterfalls. The town itself offers a host of activities like the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway and Amusement Park which features an alpine slide, chair swings, miniature golf and a maze.
A family vacation in Yellowstone National Park can be a trip of a lifetime, and it can be done in a way that suits your budget. West Yellowstone is home to a number of inexpensive family hotels, or if you camp and cook most of your own meals you can really save big. Just be sure to reserve a spot well in advance with the park campgrounds filling quickly in the summer. It will be worth the wait as you’ll be perfectly situated for enjoying the park’s many breathtaking sights from Old Faithful to Grand Prismatic Springs.
While a trip to Europe may not be workable for all budgets, if that’s what you’ve got your heart set on, consider heading to Lisbon. This magnificent city is much more affordable than most. It’s home to colorful, centuries-old buildings highlighted by the elegant St. George’s Castle – and it also offers magnificent Cascais beaches. There are well-priced vacation rentals, cheap and delicious eats, and inexpensive souvenirs at the historic Feira da Ladra flea market.