Cheap Spring Break Travel Ideas for Families
Family travel is on the rebound and that has lots of families plotting their next getaway. While we have plenty of picks for budget-friendly day trips and weekend getaways, many families are wondering if there is a way to travel for cheap with kids during spring break? The short answer is...yes!
While some might automatically head to Orlando or even the Caribbean for spring break, airfare for a family of four can quickly add up to waaaay over budget. Families-in-the-know deploy a few tricks to plan a fun spring break vacation for the kids without blowing their mortgage payment, from scoring a secret deal to compromising a bit on the location.
There are plenty of family-friendly cities and destinations that cost a bit less but don’t scrimp on the family attractions, including top museums, eateries, beaches, and even amusement parks.
Read on for some of our favorite hacks in planning a cheap spring break.
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How to Save Money on Spring Break Travel
Road trip. The first way to possibly slice your spring break travel bill right in half is to skip the flight. Opt to drive instead. I know it sounds painful. I didn't want to do it either, but if you really want to save money, a road trip is the best way to go. Take out the map and take a look at how far you're willing to go. Could you actually get to enjoy a couple of cities by adding an overnight stop along the way, possibly staying the night with friends or family? And that's tip No. 2...
Bunk with friends or family! If you can, stay with family or friends even for a night or two. Suddenly, there might be a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket to spend on a nice night out or an extra special attraction. Alternatively, book a hotel with family-friendly amenities, such as a kitchen to save on meals (stock up on staples for breakfast and lunch) or pull-out beds and bunk beds to maximize the space. It might even be possible to split the cost of the room with friends if there are enough beds.
Find a deal. Look for coupons, online savings at sites like Priceline or the HotelTonight app, and scan the deals listed on your targeted location's tourism site. Sign up for the email alerts from a resort or destination you're eyeballing, so you'll be the first to know when prices drop. You can also do this through various travel planning sites. Opt for the cheapest room you can comfortably stay in within the best hotel you can afford, advises one of our travel-happy moms. Some of our editors even recommend stalking your favorite resorts or destinations on social media for special discounts. Once you select your destination, start looking for the ticket deals to the main attractions within the town or area. Reserving tickets online usually knocks a few dollars off the admission price to theme parks and other attractions, and then there are also deals available through services, such as Viator.
Head north. Lastly, if you’re not chasing the sun, you might get a deal in a more northern climate, such as Canada, New England, or the Midwest.
See the giant pandas hanging at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Photo by Skip Brown for the zoo
Best Spring Break Destinations for Those on a Budget
1. Washington, DC
Free museums, monuments, and plenty of public space, not to mention the possibility of those stunning annual cherry blossoms and more signs of spring, make Washington, DC, a popular spring break destination for many families. Even the National Zoo offers FREE admission in DC. It’s also an easy drive or train ride from most Eastern cities, including the Boston area, New York City, or Philadelphia, and points more south.
2. Baltimore, Maryland
If you do choose to head to Washington, DC, you could expand the scope of your travels to include a visit to Baltimore, or you could plan a whole trip here—there's lots to see! Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the place to be. You'll find the Children's Museum, the National Aquarium, and The Maryland Science Center all at your fingertips. While exploring the harbor, a must-see is the USS Constitution, a warship that played an important role in the War of 1812.
Myrtle Beach has beautiful beaches, a boardwalk with rides, and warm spring weather. Photo courtesy of the Myrtle Beach Visitors Bureau
3. South Carolina
Make your way to South Carolina to fully thaw out in fun cities, such as Charleston, or beach-centric spots like Myrtle Beach and the chill Hilton Head. Easy to find Airbnbs and other home rentals abound in beachside condos, as well as plenty of family-friendly hotels with suites. Myrtle Beach has boardwalk rides and games, as well as a zoo and aquarium.
4. Boston, Massachusetts
Journey to Beantown for more than just a glimpse into America's past; a spring break trip here can be packed full of fun, education, and adventure for the whole family. Whether you're in the mood for museums, such as the Museum of Science or the Museum of Fine Arts, or headed for a walk in the Public Garden to see the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture with the little ones, there's an abundance of spring break fun to be had in Boston. Head to the Old North Church and the Old South Meeting House to step back in time and soak up the history of our nation.
Enjoy a night or two at a balmy indoor water park, such as the Great Wolf Lodge. Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
5. Indoor Water Park
Escape to a local-ish indoor water park resort, such as Great Wolf Lodge, where the air and water temperatures are balmy year-round. A night or two is long enough to feel like you’ve gotten away, and the kids will be in absolute heaven with a full day of water park fun tacked onto a spring staycation.
Visit the creatures at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly, the oldest natural history museum in the Americas. Photo by Jeff Fusco for the museum
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philly is a great walking city with tons of family-friendly sights, as well as a great transit system. Check out our list of 100 things to do with kids in the City of Brotherly Love. Definitely save room for family hot spots like the Franklin Institute for all ages or the Please Touch Museum with toddlers and preschoolers, as well as these top picks for first-time visitors. Grab a CityPass or Philadelphia Pass for deals on attraction entry passes. Our Philly editor says Airbnb is very popular and families could really stay in the city or any of the pretty surrounding towns along the Main Line for good restaurants and microbreweries. Most towns have a direct train to Center City. Philly also puts you in good proximity to other road-trip-worthy stops, such as the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, Dutch Wonderland and Lancaster County, or Hersheypark.
Get ready for family fun with blocks and blocks of beachfront amusement at the Jersey Shore. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
7. New Jersey Shore and Boardwalk
It might not be sunbathing (or swimming) season yet, but the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore open up for weekends and holidays come springtime, including spring break. Rides, Easter Egg hunts, and breakfast with the Easter Bunny will be available up and down the Shore. Hotels and home rentals will also be much cheaper than in summer’s prime time. Opt for a stay in pretty Cape May for a quieter holiday. If your kids crave more traditional thrills, the locale is a great jumping-off point for a day trip to one of our favorite New Jersey amusement parks like Six Flags, Diggerland, or Storybook Land.
RELATED: Jersey Shore Family Guide
Take a step back in time at Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum. Photo courtesy of The Vacation Channel
8. Williamsburg, Virginia
Enjoy the open-air historical attraction of Colonial Williamsburg during spring break and you’ll also get to bask in those warm springtime Virginia temperatures. Colonial Williamsburg is a fully immersive museum experience with street theater, costumed actors, and historical buildings and exhibits, but also events, shopping, and great eats. There are plenty of inexpensive hotels nearby, some of which run shuttles straight to the living history museum, as well as the other big attraction here: Busch Gardens. So yes, it’s a vacation that offers kids both a little education and plenty of playtime. If you’re feeling inspired, continue on to Virginia Beach for a night or two. Don’t expect beach weather, but there will be plenty of local attractions already open for family fun. Or, fill up on Americana by tacking on a couple of nights in DC to your Williamsburg trip.
Portland, Maine, is filled with history, culture, natural beauty, and truly great food. Photo courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism
It's known as “vacationland” by many, and it’s not just the summer months that the rocky coast, wooded forests, and charming New England towns inspire family travel. Portland, Maine, is a great destination for families with kids all year round. There’s a terrific children’s museum, train museum, award-winning restaurants, ferry rides, hikes, and plenty more to do in this seaside city. Still hanging on to ski season? Head further north for one last run at Sugarloaf, the state's highest ski mountain and largest resort. Also, the hotels and B&Bs that remain open year-round in the Downeast region of the state will likely offer wicked cheap rates and deals until the season kicks in on Memorial Day weekend. Hint: See Acadia National Park without the crowds! Just pack the kids' long underwear for nighttime and remember that a number of the seasonal attractions will be closed. The whole state is truly welcoming and friendly toward families, so if you're willing to put up with a little lingering winter, Maine might be the perfect spring break getaway.
Get breathtaking views hiking in Acadia National Park during the off-season. Photo courtesy The Maine Office of Tourism
10. National and State Parks
A camping trip to (or staying in the local lodge or hotel) a national or state park, or even a staycation day trip adventure, can make for a memorable spring break. We’ve already named one of our favorite national parks—Acadia — but there are so many from which to choose! We highly recommend the family-friendly hikes at these additional state and national parks, such as Taconic State Park (New York) and the Swallow Falls State Park (Maryland). Parents might also take a look at what’s within driving distance. Plan out a few hikes with the kids, and then look for nearby attractions that offer a few more creature comforts, such as an indoor water park (see above), amusement park, or a great children’s museum or science center. Several national parks waive admission fees on Saturday, April 16 in celebration of National Parks Week, making this an extra budget-friendly option.
11. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
OK, you might not think of Pittsburgh as your first spring break option, but if Jack and the rest of his family on This Is Us have taught us anything, it’s that this city has heart. But also, a ton of things for kids to do! The city of Pittsburgh is loaded with museums, including a children’s museum, science center, natural history museum, sports museum, a cartoon museum, and even the Andy Warhol Museum. There’s also the National Aviary to visit and a zoo and aquarium. Plus, you’ll find plenty of affordable housing through Airbnb and at the local hotels.
The magnificent Niagara Falls inspire all ages. Photo by Rosalba Tarazona
12. Niagara Falls, New York
Though perhaps not the balmy, beach weather one might think of when planning for spring break, Niagara Falls is a must-see bucket list item for families. Why not beat the summer crowd and head there in the spring? With lots of family-friendly hotels and restaurant options, the challenge of booking here for spring break will be narrowing down the choices. Niagara Falls is on the U.S.-Canada border in New York state, about 30 minutes from Buffalo. With all of the breathtaking nature and photograph opportunities, make sure to reserve a ride on the Maid of the Mist. You'll have some memorable photos in one of the famous blue ponchos while getting a close-up experience of the falls, and, albeit, pretty wet!
Check out our Mommy Poppins City Guides for more family-friendly locales that might appeal to your brood, from Boston to Denver to San Francisco, and Vancouver. And if travel isn't in the budget this year, I bet the kids will be just as wowed by a fantastic spring staycation fueled by awesome local events.
This post, originally published in 2017, has been updated.