Help me find a fun/inexpensive vacation for my boys and I!
September 23, 2013 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Mother of two sons here - they are all grown up and we are talking about taking our first out-of-state vacation in years. The problem is that we are vacation-planning inept and don't know where to start. It has to be as cheap as possible, but I'm not sure how to search or how to find deals. This is where you come in handy! We live in Cleveland, Ohio and are looking at somewhere on the west coast (perhaps San Francisco) or even Mexico/South America. (Europe is also an option, but perhaps very expensive?) We want it to be far enough away, and not too chilly (a bit is okay, and temperate is fine as well).

I would love to hear good ways to search for these kinds of travel deals - my friend was telling me about something called groupons? Are those good? Or better yet: Show me good package plans for interesting/, family-friendly places that we can travel to. Our vacation is in your hands, Metafilter!
posted by BuddyBoo to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just as sort of a general background -- what do you 3 like to DO on vacations? Do you want to sit on the beach and not move? Do you want to go on long backwoods hikes? Do you want to see the tourist sites somewhere? Are you really into tasting new foods or do you want to be able to rent a place with a kitchen and grocery store access (or neither, of course)? Something else?

Also -- "family-friendly" implies to me "good with small children" -- do your grown-up kids have families they'll be bringing, or did you just mean like... something you won't be embarrassed about with your adult sons seeing with you?
posted by brainmouse at 3:27 PM on September 23, 2013

What do you mean by "as cheap as possible"? Going from Cleveland to San Francisco and Cleveland to Europe are going to have dramatically different price tags but you've thrown them both out as options. How much are you actually looking to spend?

When you say "family-friendly" are you talking about "family-friendly" for three adults, or for three adults and your sons' families including small children? There are lots of activities that are "family friendly" insofar as you would do them with your mom (i.e., not involving scantily clad dancers) but you would not do them with your young children (i.e., scuba diving). Normally when people say "family friendly" they mean "suited to small children".

When do you want to go? This is going to have a big effect on how chilly it is.

What do you *like* to do? Going to Mexico is mostly about the beaches. Going to San Francisco is not.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2013

Response by poster: Hi there,

Yes, I should have included more information - sorry. We are tentatively budgeting for $2000, but are willing to spend a bit more if necessary. We would like to be moving about and staying out of the hotel room for the most part, maybe as part of a tour or on our own (but a nice place to stay is a plus). Hikes sound nice, but we live in a suburb so a big city could be fun to explore as well. One of my sons loves the outdoors and is clamoring for Brazil, but I would like to hear a host of different (cheap) ideas before we make up our minds. We are really up for anything, would just like to hear some interesting ideas. We went to Atlantis in the Bahamas, that is probably our favorite vacation so far. And forget about Europe, it would probably be too expensive.

Also - we will be going to restaurants - I cook enough at home, thank you very much :) Being pampered for a low cost might be nice. And family-friendly just means no nightclubs or anything, and no place too exciting where I can't keep up. No kids. Sorry, I'm tired now and am fumbling my words!
posted by BuddyBoo at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2013

I have friends who have enjoyed the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. Pampering while you're at the resort, then you can do day trips to nearby jungle sites, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:56 PM on September 23, 2013

Yeah, I don't usually like to recommend all-inclusives, but for a situation like yours (variety of interests, wanting to be pampered), something like that might be just the thing.

You can get good deals in Mexico through, yes, groupon, or living social. They're both deal sites that you sign up for and they send you emails with deals. You can also check out the main travel sites: travelocity, expedia, etc. all have promotions on packages.

The nice thing about going someplace like the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico (where Cancun is, though I'd avoid Cancun itself) is that you can sit on the beach, but also see ruins, caves, go snorkling, kayaking, etc.
posted by lunasol at 4:07 PM on September 23, 2013

How about you all learn to scuba dive at Coco View Resort in Roatan, Honduras? Airfare is marginal, the diving is world-class, it's isolated so there's no 'night-life' to speak of other than the resort bar (it's more like a 'camp' than a resort), and you can still get in some local touring when you're not diving... all for a low price!)

(one of the best vacations I've ever been on... with the exception of Delta losing my luggage and wearing the same clothes for a week. But hey, I was there to dive!
posted by matty at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Taos/Santa Fe have culture, nature, day spas and interesting regional food.
posted by brujita at 6:43 PM on September 23, 2013

My standby for vacation recommendations is a trip to California's central coast. It's not very expensive, there's lots to do that will please many people with varied interests, the scenery is beautiful, and it's very relaxing. The only trouble is that it's a bit of a drive from LA or San Jose, so renting a car and driving may not fit your budget quite so neatly.

I would recommend staying in Pismo Beach, near San Luis Obispo. That's about halfway between LA and San Francisco.

If traveling to LA, Burbank is an excellent airport to fly in to on the north side of the city. Southwest services here. It's a commuter airport that is still very retro and small, so it's very fast to get into and out of, very cheap to rent cars out of, very convenient, etc. Way better than LAX.

In the Pismo area, you could stay right on the beach for a fairly reasonable price- last time I stayed at the Kon Tiki, it was only just a bit over $100 per night. Fantastic views and the beach is just right outside your door. Very relaxing, and it's very highly rated.

On Thursday nights, San Luis Obispo hosts a fantastic farmer's market downtown- maybe the best farmer's market in the whole country. There's all kinds of food, fresh produce, flowers, crafts, entertainment, music, et cetera.

The signature food in this part of the country is grilled tri-tip steak. In Santa Maria and SLO, it's available lots of places... the traditional meal is tri-tip slow-cooked with a garlic and herb rub over oak coals, served up with garlic bread, beans, salsa, and other sides. In some small town areas, you'll see people grilling and selling food on the roadside. Lots of places make fantastic tri-tip sandwiches, too.

San Luis Obispo has a nice walkable downtown with a creek that runs through it. Lots of good places to eat, sit, and relax.

Nearby Morro Bay is a great place for bird watching or renting kayaks... there are lots of otters in the bay! My wife loves to kayak here.

Santa Barbara County's wine country is in the area, too, near Buellton, Solvang, and Santa Ynez. It's far more relaxed than Napa Valley, and sometimes, it has even better wine. If you've ever seen Sideways, that's a pretty nice depiction of the area and what it has to offer. Solvang, by the way, is a hilarious ersatz Danish town, with lots of great places to eat breakfast. It's actually pretty cute.

Anyway, a great part of the country- probably one of the most relaxed parts of the US to visit. On average, the people on the Central Coast are about as mellow as it gets- most people take their time here. No worries, no hurry. Really nice place to vacation.
posted by Old Man McKay at 11:07 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

One of my sons loves the outdoors and is clamoring for Brazil, but I would like to hear a host of different (cheap) ideas before we make up our minds. We are really up for anything, would just like to hear some interesting ideas

Just getting the visas for Brazil will blow your budget. They're $300 a person.

The best way to save money is to not be picky about where you go and when you go and where you stay. You can save hundreds of dollars on plane tickets by flying in the middle of the week, for example, or going somewhere off season (which can vary, depending on the place -- hurricane season is off-season in the carribean and central america, for example).

Look for deals on sites like expedia for hotels and resorts, and then try booking directly through the hotel, a lot of times they can beat the deal on the site because they won't be paying them booking fees.

You should decide if you're going on vacation so you can stay in a nice hotel, or so you can go to a nice location. If you really just want to get pampered at a resort, go to one close to home! That will save you money on travel costs, etc. If you're going to travel far away and exotic, it might make more sense to skimp a little on the hotel, since you're only going there to sleep, anyway. If you're really feeling bold, stay at a hostel for a night or two.

Don't be too ambitious with your travel schedule. If you've got a week, just spend it all in one town or region. Don't do the thing that a lot of vacationers do where you land in one town, spend a day and a half there, drive for 6 hours, stay a day and a half at another place etc. You spend a lot of money on travel costs and spend your whole vacation on the road. Get to town, relax, eat at the local restaurants, people watch, spend a day on the beach, talk to the locals, etc. If you're going to travel to more than one place in short time frame, make sure the trip itself sounds like something you want to do (a long train ride through the andes or driving down the pacific coast highway).

As far as where to go, I'd recommend Costa Rica. Amazing scenery, beaches and wildlife, and not incredibly expensive. There are plenty of hotels in all kinds of price ranges and lots of package tours you can do.
posted by empath at 2:28 AM on September 24, 2013

I can't not add that your search for accommodations anywhere you go should include airbnb! You can save a bundle depending on the kind of place you want. And anything you find there will surely be different than your typical tourist hotels.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:08 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, especially for a long term stay as a family. Your host can give you a lot of advice, etc.
posted by empath at 3:11 AM on September 24, 2013

Cruising is pretty affordable right now, especially depending on the time of year you go. It's like an all-inclusive that takes you different places, which is the best of both worlds. Plenty of cruises from Florida to Mexico, and if you don't want to fly down there are plenty of (safe) places to leave a car while you're sailing.
posted by carolinecrane at 6:46 AM on September 24, 2013

FWIW there are some cruises that leave from Baltimore. Baltimore is ~6 hour drive from Cleveland.
posted by oceano at 9:07 AM on September 24, 2013

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