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Spring break trips for families who actually want to enjoy themselves

Want to legitimately enjoy yourself on your family spring break trip? Travel experts offer advice and money-saving tips for spring break 2023.

Spring break trips for families who actually want to enjoy themselves

After COVID left families cooped up at home for what felt like a thousand eternities, many are itching to get back to traveling “normally” again. But, as every parent knows, traveling with kids, which is an art form in and of itself, takes heaps of planning, saving and compromise. So if you haven’t started your spring break travel planning, time’s a-ticking.

“Families are definitely ready to get back out in the world and travel, and I am seeing an uptick in travelers looking for family-friendly destinations this spring break,” says Keri Baugh, founder of Bon Voyage With Kids. “Interests are ranging from road trips to all-inclusives to national parks — but everyone is looking to do it affordably.”

Looking for spring break 2023 ideas that won’t put you in debt? Here, experts share parents’ top must-haves for traveling this year, trip suggestions and tips for saving.

Spring break with kids: what’s important to parents

Unlike the travel-planning days when “on-site spa” or “room with a view” may have topped your must-have list, spring break with kids calls for a different set of requisites. The top three, according to family travel expert Colleen Carswell are: 

  • Affordability.
  • Simplicity (nothing too elaborate or overstimulating).
  • Fun (a small sense of adventure).

Affordability

“The price of food, admissions, accommodations, gas and flights all have been on a steep incline for many, many months, and it feels like there’s no end in sight,” Carswell says. “It’s expensive enough for just one person to travel, but multiplying that by three, five or more can quickly send the budget skyrocketing.”

Because of this, Carswell notes, “affordability is a top priority for many families” right now — and Baugh is seeing the same.

“While families are definitely ready to travel again, traveling on a budget and saving money is definitely one of the recurring themes,” she says.  

“While families are definitely ready to travel again, traveling on a budget and saving money is definitely one of the recurring themes.” 

— COLLEEN CARSWELL, FAMILY TRAVEL EXPERT

Simplicity

“Parents, myself included, are tired of spending all of this time and energy planning elaborate vacations just to return home feeling like they need a vacation from their vacation,” Carswell says, referencing the saying that “parents don’t really go on vacation; they just take care of their kids in a different city.” 

“That said, now more than ever the entire family is in dire need of a true vacation, not just the kids,” she continues. “However, these big, extravagant, themed vacations aren’t hitting the same as they did pre-pandemic. Parents seem to be looking for things that are more simple than overstimulating.”

“… big, extravagant, themed vacations aren’t hitting the same as they did pre-pandemic.”

— COLLEEN CARSWELL, FAMILY TRAVEL EXPERT

Fun

Obviously, no one goes on a vacation with the intention of not having fun. However, according to Carswell, the family definition of “fun” has evolved in the past few years. 

“Families desperately want to get back to having fun traveling experiences, but that looks different now than before,” she says. “I’m seeing a more intentional focus on exploring new places and connecting fully as a family while enjoying unique, enriching experiences instead of overly themed-out extravagance.” 

In other words: think more along the lines of hitting cool hiking trails together as opposed to waiting in line for an hour for a turn on the nation’s best waterslide. 

Family spring break ideas that hit the mark (with money-saving tips)

Looking to tick some (or all) of the above boxes? Here, Carswell and Baugh offer suggestions and advice for spring break family vacations. 

Road trips

According to Baugh, the iconic family road trip is back. In addition to there being an inherent sense of adventure with road tripping, there’s also an undeniable element of convenience (you get in the car and go).

“We love to road trip because it’s an inexpensive way to hit more than one location,” says Michelle Stumbers, a mom of two from Cranford, New Jersey. “We listen to scary story podcasts and get fun snacks. It also is so much easier than dealing with the airport, and we ultimately get a better sense of areas by driving around.” 

For families looking to up the adventure factor with their road trip, Carswell hosts a free “Choose Our Adventure” workshop on her site. “Ultimately, the idea is that parents let friends and family vote in real time on each next destination,” she explains. “This allows the adventure to unfold naturally and encourages an appreciation of the journey rather than a singular focus on the destination.” 

Baugh adds that road trips are a great way to cut costs on a trip, even if a destination is the end game. “Though gas is expensive, it will be less than the cost of the flight — especially if the destination is within a five- to six-hour drive,” she says. “And these days, with airline delays and cancellations, you may get to your destination faster if it is that close.”

“Though gas is expensive, it will be less than the cost of the flight — especially if the destination is within a five- to six-hour drive.”

— KERI BAUGH, BON VOYAGE WITH KIDS FOUNDER

Tips to save:

  • Use apps like GasBuddy. Baugh notes: “This can help you find the cheapest gas station near you, which can save you money on the road.”
  • Book activities and hotels in advance. “When it comes to hotels, say for road trip stops, booking ahead of time will help you find the cheapest option,” she says. “And sometimes you can get a discount if you use a site like Booking.com,” which regularly offers a variety of travel deals and discounts.

National parks

Whether families are camping or staying nearby, Baugh has also seen an uptick in interest in national parks for family vacations. In the U.S., there are 63 national parks to choose from, spanning 31 states and two U.S. territories. To find ones closest to you, check out the National Park Foundation search tool. 

Tips to save:

  • Skip the restaurants. “When it comes to saving money, stay in an Airbnb or a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette,” says Baugh, who suggests Marriott Residence Inns. “This way, you can at least have breakfast in the room. To save more, stop at a grocery store and do multiple meals at ‘home.’ While eating out is part of the fun of traveling, it is an expense!”
  • Use apps like Waze or RoadTrippers. Baugh explains that these apps can help you avoid toll roads to save money and/or provide alternate routes that can save time. 

Disney

While Carswell notes that many are branching out from typical family trips in favor of more simplicity and adventure, Baugh is still seeing an interest in Disney parks with clients.

“Disney remains a very popular destination, as 2023 is a year with a lot of new and exciting things happening across the Disney parks,” she says. “It is also the 100th anniversary of the Disney Company so this is generating a lot of excitement among Disney fans.”

Tips to save:

  • Go with a gift card. “Buy gift cards to be used for travel, such as Disney and restaurants, at places like Costco at a discount,” Baugh says. “You will get the full value of the gift card but pay a percentage less. Also, Target RedCard holders get 5% off of gift cards that can be used for travel. If you buy enough at a 5% discount for your trip, this could end up being a big savings.”
  • Book early. “Book as early as you can to get the best deals on flights and rental cars,” says Baugh. “As we get closer to spring break, flight and rental car prices will only go up. This is the perfect time to book flights to get the best deal and lock in rental car prices.”
  • Use local transportation. “If it’s safe, use trolleys, subways or buses to avoid having to park or pay parking fees and gas,” notes Baugh. 

“As we get closer to spring break, flight and rental car prices will only go up. This is the perfect time to book flights to get the best deal and lock in rental car prices.”

— KERI BAUGH, BON VOYAGE WITH KIDS FOUNDER

All-inclusives

While pricier than a camping trip or budget motel, Baugh has also noticed families gravitating towards all-inclusive hotels, due to their sheer convenience (they went to one recently and it was “at capacity.”). “What makes all-inclusives popular is that they make vacations mindless and simple,” she says. “Once you pay for the vacation, you aren’t worrying about where you will dine or what to do — it’s all included.” (Though there can be a few additional fees for “incidentals or add-ons, like certain excursions.”)

For Jodi Schoenfeld, a mom of three from Brookline, Massachusetts, that was exactly the allure. “This year we decided to do an all-inclusive,” she says. “It’s pricier than our usual trips, but after going away last year and constantly having to work out the logistics of leaving the site for food, entertainment, etc., we decided to save up so we can stay put and enjoy the trip a little more.”

Here are two all-inclusives Baugh recommends:

Beaches. Beaches has three locations — two in Jamaica and one in Turks and Caicos,” Baugh explains, noting that it’s extremely family friendly. “From pools to a water park to plenty of restaurants, Beaches also has a day care called Camp Sesame (they partner with Sesame Street) for kids under 5 and camps for kids 6 up to teens.” 

“Even things like scuba diving are included,” she continues. “Kids can also make cookies with Cookie Monster, hunt for seashells with Big Bird or have a birthday party with Elmo. There are also plenty of kid-friendly menus, family-friendly shows and entertainment.”

Dude ranches. “These are another one of our favorite family all-inclusive experiences,” explains Baugh. “There are several in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado that are very popular with families. We visited one near Yellowstone, where you can be completely unplugged, as there are no TVs and the Wi-Fi and cell service is limited. We enjoyed horseback riding, fly fishing, simple family time, as well as meals with other guests. My kids have called it ‘one of the best vacations they have ever had.’”

Tips to save:

  • Book flights early. “Book your flights as early as possible,” Baugh says. “With Google Flights, you can turn on price alerts so you get an email if the price goes up or down, but do book your flight as early as possible. The closer to your travel dates, the more expensive the flight.”
  • Be flexible. “On Google Flights, you can also check out the price graph and the date grid, which will give some guidance on the cheapest time to fly for your trip dates,” Baugh adds. “If you have flexibility in your dates, you can enter a couple of dates and you will be able to determine the cheapest dates to book your flights out and back.” She also recommends checking multiple airports to see which offers the best price.
  • Pack light. Another tip of Baugh’s: If you fly, try to minimize bags or use carry-ons instead of checking bags to save on bag fees.

Other money-saving travel tips

Regardless of where you’re thinking of heading, consider these three money-saving tips from Baugh:

  1. Travel another time. Do you have to go away on spring break? If not, consider another time. “If you can travel in the off-season — not over major holidays like Presidents Day — it can help,” Baugh says. “Late February through April is busy and may be more expensive. For example, in Massachusetts, many schools have a February break and an April break. Flights during these two weeks from Massachusetts to anywhere are always more expensive.”
  1. Look for what you can get for free. “Look at your credit card reward points and see if they can be cashed in for gift cards to use toward travel, like restaurant gift cards, Hotels.com gift cards or gas station gift cards,” Baugh says. “I use Capital One and all of these are available for cashing in my reward points. Capital One also allows you to book travel using your reward points or to erase travel purchases — I often get hundreds of dollars back this way.”
  1. Research via multiple search engines. “Check out a variety of search engines that can help save money,” she says. “If you have college students, CheapOair and Kayak are good places to start as they offer fares for students, but I always recommend looking at Going [formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights] and Google Flights for fares too just to compare.”

The bottom line

Making travel plans for a family is no small feat, but when you plan ahead, you reap big mental and financial rewards, notes Carswell. “Watching the expenses rack up while vacationing can add to parents’ mental overwhelm at best, and at worst, it can suck all the joy out of the entire vacation experience,” she says. “Thinking about both price and the type of experience families are looking for” beforehand can help make things run more smoothly.

“Our beach house rental last year was affordable,” Schoenfeld adds. “But we didn’t take into account all the shuffling around and packing up we’d have to do each day with three kids. This year, I think we planned better, taking both money and our overall experience into account.”