4 Family Vacations That Cost Less Than $5,000

Not sure where to take your next family vacation? Here are some ideas (and how much they cost).
Elizabeth Renter
By Elizabeth Renter 
Edited by Rick VanderKnyff

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Your butt is in your office chair, but your mind is on your next vacation — maybe hitting the open road or lounging on a beach with a tropical drink in your hand. We all know the feeling. Dreaming up and planning a family vacation can be nearly as fun as taking one.

To inspire your daydreaming, we designed these five-night vacation options, all of which come in under $5,000 for a family of four. We started each trip from Denver — a central, populous city with a major airport — but you don’t have to live in the Mile High City to use these as next summer’s vacation fodder.

Open roads and the great outdoors

If your family’s idea of a good time is spending nights under the stars and days hiking through beautiful landscapes, this RV excursion to Yellowstone could be just the thing.

Save: You can prepare most of your meals in the RV, though we did budget for two moderately priced meals out. You’ll also save on activities: Enjoying nature is generally free.

Splurge: We splurged a little on a full-day guided tour including Old Faithful. The biggest expense is the RV rental, but you could slash the price of this vacation by using your own vehicle and camping in a tent.

Sun, surf and sand: Myrtle Beach

For this trip, you'll visit one of the United States' most popular family beach destinations: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Weather permitting, you can spend the bulk of your time on the sand, but this small town is also loaded with attractions.

Save: You can find a nice beachfront hotel with a kitchenette at a reasonable price. Hit the grocery store when you get to town and prepare most of your meals in the room.

Splurge: Flights into the small Myrtle Beach airport can be costly, so prepare to pay more than if you'd flown into a larger hub. You’ll also want to rent a car to get to attractions around town and the airport. Finally, spend a little more on the attractions; we included tickets to the aquarium, an amusement park and a dinner theater performance.

Bright lights, big city: NYC

Maybe your family prefers an urban getaway. Our New York City vacation for four includes staying in a midtown hotel and visiting several of the Big Apple’s iconic attractions.

Save: Use ridesharing over taxis or public transport. It’s convenient and inexpensive when you’re a party of four. See free sights, including Times Square, Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library in Bryant Park, Central Park and Grand Central Terminal.

Splurge: You’ll definitely pay more for food here, as it’s unlikely your hotel room will have a kitchen. Pay for an iconic carriage ride through Central Park, but keep in mind that the rides are even more expensive in winter. We also budgeted for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You could get into the Met without spending a dime, but you’ll skip the line and support the museum by buying tickets ahead of time.

Florida theme parks

Rest up. On this trip, you’ll visit five theme parks. There’s a good chance you’ll need a vacation after this vacation, which takes you to all four of Orlando's Disney theme parks, plus your choice of one of the two Universal Orlando parks (either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure).

Now Orlando is a bit of a tricky place to budget for given the range of lodging and dining options across budgets. If you're staying in high-end hotels and eating at fancy, sit-down restaurants every night, then a family of four could easily spend $15,000 on a 7-night trip. But, a Disney family vacation cost doesn't need to be that high by any means.

Stay at non-Disney hotels in Orlando (as we've noted in our budget below) to save.

Save: You can usually find affordable flights into Orlando. You’ll also save hundreds of dollars if you stay offsite, rather than at one of the parks' hotels. We found several nearby options at reputable chains for around $150 per night, breakfast included. Save even more if your hotel offers a free shuttle service; we budgeted for a rental car, just in case.

And even though our budget is about $4,500, you can often do it for far less. For example, one NerdWallet credit card expert did a 5-day, Disney trip for two people for just $1,600.

Other tricks for budgeting for a family trip to Disney: pack your own food (it's okay to bring outside food to the Disney parks), buy your souvenirs in advance from retailers like Target (the plush Mickey dolls are practically the same, but cost a lot less than what you'll pay in the park), and take advantage of the free or cheap activities outside the Disney parks.

Splurge: Besides hotels, the biggest expenses on a theme park trip are the theme parks themselves. If you want as much activity in your trip as possible, opt for package tickets. We snagged four four-day, four-park passes from Disney — for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom — and still had enough in the budget for a day at Universal Studios. Expect food and souvenirs to set you back, too.

Elizabeth Renter is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @ElizabethRenter.

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