Family Vacation On A Budget

Have you ever heard the saying – The more stuff you have, the more problems you’ll have? I certainly hope not as having a lot of stuff can be lots of fun. But… This is especially true when it comes to your car. The more stuff you have in your car, the more problems you could potentially have. Our family has just returned from a vacation and we now have a whole new set of challenges. We decided to share with you our family vacation on a budget story.

Family vacation can be a wonderful and unforgettable experience. Well, here I am to tell you that it doesn’t need to be expensive. There are ways to have your vacation within your budget by planning several months ahead for it. One of the top vacation destinations across the United States is Orlando, Florida. However, most families shy away from planning a family vacation to Orlando because they don’t want to go over their travel budget. Here are some ways that you can plan a family vacation to Orlando at an affordable rate.

You’ve just realized your kids are old enough to travel without you. But where? As you do your research on kid friendly destinations, it dawns on you – You can actually afford a vacation! Where should you go? Do you want to drive or fly? How much time do you have? What will everyone do all day? Press Tab to write more…

Family Vacation On A Budget

By the time you add up transportation, lodging, and meals, the best family vacation spots in the U.S. can get pretty expensive. And if you have a large family, need to fly somewhere with the kids, or rely on restaurants for meals, even modest family vacation ideas can start to feel financially overwhelming. But when you make a good plan and stick to it, cheap family vacations to some of the most popular tourist attractions in the country aren’t just doable—they can actually be among the best family vacations you’ll ever have.

Cheap Family Vacations in the United States

With the right combination of free activities, advance planning, and strategic frugality, cheap family vacations don’t have to mean boring family vacations. Here are this year’s top budget-friendly family vacation destinations that deliver the maximum bang for your vacation buck.

1. Custer State Park, South Dakota

Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park (Photo: @btrimmer43)
Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park (Photo: @btrimmer43)

South Dakota’s first and largest state park, Custer State Park, is a 71,000-acre wildlife preserve known for its free-ranging bison herd, buffalo safari jeep tours, and buffalo round-ups. Built for road trips, it boasts a number of scenic drives where you can take in the Black Hills scenery and additional wildlife like bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats, pronghorns, deer, prairie dogs, and perhaps even a mountain lion. 

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The park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway is a prime viewing route for the wildlife that lives among its pine-covered hills, rolling prairies, and red-walled canyons. Another way to spot animals is taking a two-hour Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour to not only view the wildlife up close in their natural habitat, but also learn about the animals and park history from a guide. 

Other activities include camping, hiking along the numerous trails, swimming in the park’s five lakes, boating, fishing, horseback trail rides, and even performances in the Black Hills Playhouse theatre.

Conveniently, Custer State Park is located just east of the city of Custer, and it’s not far from other budget-friendly family vacation spots like Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park. You can easily explore all three in a single family trip.

Where to Stay Near Custer, South Dakota

The nearly century-old State Game Lodge was the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady for three months in 1927. The State Game Lodge has a variety of national park lodge-like accommodations, from historic guest rooms in the main lodge to more modern hotel rooms and luxury cabins. In addition to accommodations, the State Game Lodge serves as the departure point for the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours.

2. Bowling Green, Kentucky

Entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park (Photo: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock)
Entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park (Photo: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock)

Cheap family vacations don’t get any more all-American than the caves, cars, and pure Americana in the rolling green hills of Kentucky’s Cave Country. Just an hour north of Nashville, the small (and underrated) town of Bowling Green is the closest tourist center to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest known cave system and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. (Mammoth Cave is 40 miles northeast of Bowling Green.)

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There’s no fee to enter Mammoth Cave National Park, and the aboveground activities (nature walks and hikes) are free of charge as well. You will need a ticket for a scheduled tour to enter the cave itself, and it’s recommended that you purchase your tickets ahead of time as they will sell out. Cave tours prices are very inexpensive (they range from $11 to $23) and take anywhere from one to three hours to complete. 

Beyond Mammoth Cave, the gearheads in your family will love the National Corvette Museum and Corvette Assembly Plant where every single Corvette is produced.

Nestled along the Barren River, Beech Bend Park is a classic family-run entertainment complex that includes an amusement park, water park, and drag strip. Its raceway is one of America’s oldest continually operating drag strips. Races take place every weekend between March and November, and many events are nationally recognized car shows. Sometimes you can even drag your own car out on the strip!

Where to Stay Near Bowling Green, Kentucky

Close to shops and restaurants, Hilton Garden Inn offers cooked-to-order breakfast, a heated pool, and a whirlpool. It’s a great (and inexpensive) home base for all of Bowling Green’s family-friendly attractions.  

3. Santa Monica, California

A city within a city, Santa Monica’s location within greater Los Angeles makes it a great home base for SoCal family beach vacations. And while LA can get pricey, beaches are a great budget equalizer when planning cheap family vacations.

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Santa Monica has a popular stretch of beach adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier. This classic amusement pier opened in the early 1900s and has a number of kid-favorite rides, including a roller coaster and the Pacific Wheel. Of course, Southern California is known for its endless summers and beach culture, and it’s easy to check out the other beaches in the Los Angeles area too.

Venice Beach is the place to people watch and always has a number of roller skaters, skate dancers, artists, and body builders on scene. Manhattan Beach’s long strip of sandy shore is anchored by beach volley ball courts and the free nonprofit Roundhouse AquariumHermosa Beach is a two-mile strip connecting Manhattan and Redondo Beaches, and The Strand is a 20-mile paved biking and running path that stretches all the way from Hermosa Beach back north to Santa Monica.

Where to Stay Near Santa Monica, California

You can pay upwards of $500 per night at some Santa Monica hotels, but for the perfect combination of affordability and location, try the Ocean Lodge Santa Monica Beach Hotel. This three-star family-friendly beachfront hotel has rooms in the $200 per night range and is just a five-minute walk from Main Street and Santa Monica Pier.

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