Planning a trip for a family with a wee one in tow is much different than organizing adventures that a teenager would enjoy. The same is true for broods traveling with multiple children or with extended family. From beach vacations to romps in nature to historically meaty experiences, we’ve got you covered, no matter where your children fall on the growth chart.
Rent a Beach House: Best for Babies
When you have a baby, whether it’s your first or your fifth, travel needs to be easy and accommodating. Babies need naps, eat several times throughout the day, and have a lot of gear that seems to follow them wherever they go. Planning a vacation where you can set up shop in one place, like a gorgeous beach house, will shift the focus from logistics to fun. Rent a beach house through Airbnb, Vrbo, or use an on-site vacation rental company and set your sights on a relaxing retreat.
Pick a cottage in Nantucket, Massachusetts or Kennebunkport, Maine; book a beach house in Seaside or Captiva, Florida; or spend your days watching the sunset from your porch at Myrtle Beach or in Galveston, Texas. The choices are endless.
Bum Around in Bimini, The Bahamas: Best for Toddlers
The best part about a vacation in Bimini, a small island in The Bahamas, is how close you’ll be to the U.S. Traveling with toddlers necessitates a destination that is easy to get to and this island is only 50 miles east of Florida.
Parents can channel their inner Ernest Hemingway, who lived on the island in the mid-1930s, and find a sunny spot on the beach to flip through a novel while the little ones build sandcastles. (Hemingway’s "Old Man and the Sea" is said to have been inspired by his time fishing in Bimini.) Kids will love visiting the quirky and colorful Dolphin House Museum, full of tiled walls and artistic renderings of dolphins, or The Bimini Museum. Since toddlers can never seem to stay in one place, you can take them on a stroll through Fisherman's Village, a marketplace full of shops, and then visit one of the rustic conch stands or bakeries.
For well-located accommodations, stay at Resorts World Bimini, which has a great swimming pool plus multiple restaurants and cafes. Little kids will love seeing all of the boats parked in the marina.
Take the Disney Plunge: Best for Elementary-Aged Kids
Taking your kids on a Disney vacation is a quintessential childhood experience. Parents will also find that the trip illuminates something inside of them as they witness the pure joy in their children’s faces. It’s best to visit when kids are old enough to remember the trip but young enough to really appreciate the characters and magic. Whether you decide to start small with Disneyland in California or head straight for Disney World's four parks in Florida, your family will create indelible memories.
Beyond the parks, families with elementary-aged children will also enjoy the Disney Cruise Line, which includes a visit to Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. From family entertainment to elaborate dining experiences to character appearances, a cruise is a fun way to experience Disney.
Fly Down a Slide in a Waterpark: Best for Middle Schoolers
By the middle school age, kids are ready for a little independence. They want to test their fears, challenge themselves, and seek out adventures. Taking your family to a waterpark, for a weekend getaway, is a great way to let your kids enjoy some kicks, but in a totally safe environment.
Wisconsin Dells is known as “the waterpark capital of the world” and a visit here, no matter what time of year, will bring big thrills to your family. If you stay at the Great Wolf Lodge you’ll have access to over a dozen slides, multiple pools, dry land activities like the interactive MagiQuest game, and plenty of dining and shopping options.
Travel Abroad to Costa Rica: Best for High Schoolers
Travel to Costa Rica in Central America and you’ll see two different coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific, over a dozen volcanoes, several flora and fauna-filled national parks, and plenty of waterfalls. The people here are highly educated and friendly and there’s a drive toward environmental sustainability. Book the Costa Rica Family Adventure with REI Adventures and your guide will take you zip-lining, hiking, rappelling, and tree climbing. Parents will love the cultural interactions, which brings extra meaning to the whole experience. Your family will interact with locals, including farmers, and nosh on local specialties.
Bring the Grandparents to a National Park: Best for Multiple Ages
National Parks are, without a question, America’s best idea. Spending time in nature, with the people who are the most important to us, is always a good idea. Make a plan, discuss your objectives with a park ranger, and bring your extended family to see some of the most beautiful land our country has to offer. Go hiking or camping in the warmer months and snowshoeing or cross country skiing when there’s snow on the ground.
If you plan on visiting multiple parks in one year, consider purchasing an annual pass for $80. An annual pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a vehicle; children under 16 are always free. The seniors in your group, however, can purchase an annual Senior Pass for only $20.
The most popular national parks include Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, and Acadia. If, however, you’d like to experience the great outdoors without the masses of tourists, consider a crowd-free alternative destination like Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park or Mojave National Preserve.