Budget International Family Destinations for 2019
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When you’re traveling with your family of three or four or five people, following the crowds to traditionally popular destinations can bust a budget, especially if you’re headed out of the US. Instead of Venice or Hong Kong during peak season, we have a list of alternate destinations that may be just what you need to travel more for less. These destinations offer plenty to see and do, are easy to navigate and are extremely affordable.
Thailand has long been popular with family travelers thanks to its beauty, friendliness and wallet-friendly prices. But those prices are rising as more and more tourists crowd its gorgeous islands.
Neighboring Cambodia is a destination in its own right. It’s got must-see attractions, like the one-of-a-kind Angkor Wat and its thousands of surrounding temples. (Take the time to see as many as your family can realistically handle under the strong sun.) Explore charming floating villages by boat and unspoiled jungles and national parks like the lush Bokor. Don’t miss the growing capital city of Phnom Penh and its stunning palace, the pepper plantations of Kampot and the equally gorgeous islands that share the Gulf of Thailand with its more glitzy neighbor. Cambodia is on the rise.
Many new hotels have opened over the last few years, including many from luxury brands that charge a lot less here than they do in other locations. This is the perfect place to try out a five-star brand like Rosewood, Park Hyatt or Belmond (which all start at around $150 per night). For example, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap is just 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night (or use a Cat 1 – 4 certificate from the World of Hyatt Credit Card), while the Park Hyatt New York is 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
It has taken the country a long time to recover from the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, but it is safe and people are extremely friendly, especially to children. Some residents still struggle financially and your tourist dollars are becoming a major source of income for many. Thankfully, you won’t have to spend much to make a difference, and prices for things like food, transportation and accommodations are about a third of what they are in Thailand, which is already a relative deal. The best part? US dollars are the unofficial second currency. (The exchange rate is 4,000 Cambodian Riel (KHR) to 1 USD, if you do want to use it.)
Flight Tip: Fly into Phnom Penh (PNH) or Siem Reap (REP) via a major Asian city like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul or Tokyo (via airlines like Cathay Pacific, Delta, United, ANA, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and China Eastern) and then, to save money, connect with a discount Asian airline like AirAsia.
Where to Stay: As hotels continue to open across the country, there are several points-friendly options in the major cities. There’s a new Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh (from 12,500 points for a room with two double beds and a sofa bed), which joins AccorHotels’ Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra and the Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where you can use Accor Le Club points. If you’re not using points, the Plantation Urban Resort & Spa starts at $59.
Spend your Marriott points in Siem Reap at the Le Meridien Angkor from 17,500 points. Unfortunately, the rooms bookable on points — with a king or two twins — may not work for your family. Consider upgrading to a Deluxe Family One-Bedroom Executive Suite with a king bed, two twins and two bathrooms. Or use your Marriott points at the Courtyard Siem Reap Resort (from 12,500 points for a room with two double beds). If you’ve got World Of Hyatt points, you can book the Park Hyatt Siem Reap (from 12,000 points) but, again, the king bedding situation available for standard redemptions may not work for you. If you’re not using points, check out local mini-chain Shinta Mani or the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa. Finally, hop over to the island of Koh Russey and stay at the beautiful new Alila Villas Koh Russey, with suites starting at $375 and pool villas at $500 — an incredible value for a luxury island property.
This jovial, vibrant island nation, once a Dutch colony, offers more for less than the more popular Caribbean islands like Grand Cayman, Aruba and the Bahamas. Curaçao is home to more than 35 cove-like beaches, stunning European architecture and year-round sunshine.
Curaçao is an affordable escape for families. The off-the-beaten-path island offers a host of photogenic spots, from brightly colored buildings to stunning waterfronts, most of which are free to visit.
Downtown Willemstad — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a great city for strolling. The hiking trails at Shete Boka National Park are easy enough for all ages. Most beaches don’t require an admission fee, so families can bring a picnic and sneak away to a favorite cove for time in the sand and surf.
Other highlights include visiting an ostrich farm, seeing the Hato Caves and checking out the Sea Aquarium. Food is also affordable, at spots like the Seaside Terrace and Plasa Bieu. US dollars are widely accepted on the island, so there’s no need to exchange currency — another way to save while exploring this colorful destination. (If you do exchange money, the current rate is 1 USD to 1.88 Netherlands Antillean guilder.)
Flight Tips: JetBlue flies to CUR from New York-JFK every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and American Airlines flies twice daily from Miami (MIA), and weekly (on Saturdays) from Charlotte (CLT). If you booked the American Airlines operated flights out of Miami using British Airways Avios, you’d pay 11,000 Avios each way, plus taxes/fees.
Where to Stay: Use your Marriott points at the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino (from 35,000 points for a room with two queen beds or use an up to 35k free-night certificate like the one that arrives for your card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card), and come September 2019, the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort will open also as a Category 5 property so you can also use your 35k free-night certificate there. (Note that the Renaissance is undergoing renovations through Dec. 6, 2019.) Non-points family favorites include the all-inclusive Sunscape Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino and Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, which has a kids club, Camp Arawak.
This South American country gets just a fraction of the attention paid to neighboring Peru, Brazil and Chile, but it’s well worth visiting — and avoiding the tourist crowds that can plague those other countries. The country is extremely proud of its indigenous heritage, including the “cholitas” (indigenous women who often wear traditional dress). It’s easy to start a conversation about all the different cultures.
La Paz is a fascinating city with an extremely efficient public transportation system — but instead of a subway, the high-altitude mountain city uses a cable car system that crisscrosses the skies, making for an easy and fun way to see the city. There’s also a new museum in the abandoned train station, plenty of lively markets with alpaca products and beautiful textiles and top-quality coffee shops and restaurants. Among the restaurants, there’s the famous Gustu and a new vegan spot, Ali Pacha, is generating lots of buzz.
Beyond the city limits, it’s worth exploring the incredibly picturesque Uyuni salt flats (the wet season transforms the flats into a massive mirror). Within the amazing landscape there are easy hikes on cactus-filled islands, and you can see 2,000-year-old mummies and visit quinoa and alpaca farms.
Other highlights of the country include flamingo-filled lagoons, the Amazon River, the bustling city of Santa Cruz and the charming Spanish colonial city of Sucre. The current exchange rate is 1 USD to about 7 Bolivian bolivianos.
Flight Tip: There are no direct flights to Bolivia from the US, but connections through Bogota (BOG) on Avianca, or Lima (LIM) on LANTAM make it easy to get to La Paz (LPB). Be prepared for possible altitude sickness in advance and try and take it easy your first day. Here are tips for using miles to fly to South America in style.
Where to Stay: In La Paz, book a room at the art-filled Atix Hotel. In Santa Cruz, you can use Marriott points at the Marriott Santa Cruz de la Sierra Hotel (17,500 points per night for a room with two queen beds or pay 23,500 for the same room with lounge access) or use Hilton Honors points at Hampton by Hilton Santa Cruz/Equipetrol, Bolivia (30,000 points). In Uyuni, stay in a hotel made out of salt bricks (Hotel Palacio de Sal) or splurge on a glamping experience with the recently opened Kachi Lodge, the only property actually on the flats. They will take care of all your meals and activities, offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Montreal is probably the first destination in the French-Canadian province of Quebec that comes to mind, but Quebec City and its surrounding countryside offer European-style charm in spades.
The city is small enough to walk everywhere (but do take time to ride the funicular), and it is filled with kid-friendly attractions like the Musée de la Civilisation, trampoline-filled iSaute, indoor recreation park Mega Parc, Immersion Quebec, Musée du Fort and Aquarium du Quebec. Walk through the Old City, peruse the Petit-Champlain district (especially around the winter holidays) and visit Benjo, a marvelous toy store in the St. Roch district.
Head outside the city to the farms on Ile de Orleans and/or the Charlevoix region (a little over an hour’s drive), where kids will love visiting places like an emu farm (Centre de l’Émeu Charlevoix) and dairy farms Laiterie Charlevoix and Famille Migneron and seeing hairy Scottish Highland cows, plus rabbits, chickens and ducks at Le Germain Hotel & Spa (its farm is open to the public).
Have lunch in Baie-Saint-Paul at Mousse Café, where adults will enjoy the coffee and kids will love the massive play area with games and activities for all ages. There’s also great hiking at various levels around Charlevoix, where you get panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River. The current exchange rate is good, with 1 USD equal to about 1.34 Canadian dollars (CAD).
Flight Tips: United flies to Quebec City (YQB) from Newark (EWR) and Chicago (ORD), and American Airlines flies direct from Philadelphia (PHL). Air Canada, which is part of Star Alliance, also flies there, as well as Canadian airlines WestJet and Porter, usually via Toronto Pearson (YYZ). From closer-in cities, British Airways Avios may again be a good choice for American Airlines operated flights.
Where to Stay: The city’s most iconic property is the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, so if you have AccorHotels points, use them there. The property is also bookable for those with The Platinum Card® from American Express via the Fine Hotels and Resorts program (which will include breakfast, $100 property credit and more).
If you have Marriott points available, there’s the Quebec City Marriott Downtown (from 50,000 points or use a 50k certificate like the one you’ll receive on your card anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card). You can also use 35k Marriott points per night or a 35k free-night certificate at Delta Hotels Quebec and Hotel PUR, Quebec, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel. For a few less points (25k per night), try the Four Points by Sheraton Lévis Convention Center or Courtyard Quebec City.
For Hilton Honors members, there is Hilton Quebec (from 32k–50k points) and Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Beauport Quebec (from 31k–40k points) and Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Quebec City/Saint-Romuald (from 22k–40k points).
If you’re not using points and are up for a splurge, the family-owned Auberge Saint-Antoine, a member of Relais & Châteaux, has large rooms for families and gives kids gifts and activity booklets. One of the daughters in the family even wrote a children’s book that you might find in your room.
Lisbon has the best of both worlds: It’s a gorgeous European city and pristine beach vacation spot all in one. With its rich history, impressive and varied architecture, and tasty local food and wine, Lisbon has it all — without the steep prices of Paris and London. Families will love wandering around the picturesque neighborhoods, exploring ancient castles, grand palaces and taking the funicular up the city’s many hills.
There’s also a well-regarded aquarium (the Lisbon Oceanarium) and science museum (Pavilion of Knowledge) on the waterfront. Buy Lisbon city passes (starting from €19) and get access to museums, palaces, historic monasteries and rides on trams (catch No. 28 for a vintage experience).
When you’re ready for some sand and surf, head to one of these family-friendly beaches: Praia da Conceição, Praia do Tamariz, or Praia de Carcavelos. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can make a day trip to Sintra, Cascais or Mafra Palace, all of which are reachable by public transit. Lisbon is the ideal European city for families looking to save. Portugal is on the euro, the current exchange rate is 1 USD to 0.89 euro.
Flight Tips: Many major airlines fly to Lisbon (LIS), including Delta, American, United, British Airways, Air France, KLM, and of course TAP Air Portugal. Many have nonstop flights. Here are the best ways to use miles to fly to Europe.
Where to Stay: There are a number of properties where you can use your Marriott points. Spend 35k points per night or a 35k free-night certificate at the Lisbon Marriott Hotel or the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa. The Fontecruz Lisboa, Autograph Collection, will set you back 50k Marriott points per night or a 50k free-night certificate.
If you have Hilton Honors points, a stay at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Lisbon–Fontana Park costs from 29k–50k points. IHG points can be used at the brand-new Holiday Inn Express Lisbon-Plaza Saldanha (from 25,000 points), Holiday Inn Lisbon, Holiday Inn Lisbon–Continental, and Holiday Inn Express Lisbon-Av. Liberdade (all from 30,000 points) and InterContinental Lisbon (from 40,000 points). There are also several other cheaper Holiday Inn options farther away from the city center.
If you’re not using points, our top family pick is the Martinhal Chiado, which has full-service apartments with kitchens, starting at around $150 a night. The rate includes use of baby equipment like bottle warmers and strollers, a kids club that runs late so parents can go out for dinner, and breakfast.
Egypt and Jordan
These Middle Eastern countries are great to explore together. Egypt’s popularity as a tourist destination is on the rise and it has become a top spot for families, while Jordan is still a bit more under the radar. Steeped in history, both countries bring your children’s studies to life. Must-dos in Egypt include a camel ride around the pyramids at Giza, heading underground to explore Tutankhamun’s tomb, riding a felucca boat down the Nile River and discovering the artifacts in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
In Jordan, a desert Jeep safari in Wadi Rum with a sleepover in a Bedouin tent is unforgettable, a float in the Dead Sea is a must, and Petra is a stunning dive into Nabatean history. Egyptians and Jordanians love children and are generally happy to cater to them but things like car seats and changing tables will be hard to find. Be sure to protect kids (and adults) from the strong sun. The current exchange rate is 1 USD to about 17 Egyptian pounds (EGP) and 1 USD to .70 Jordanian dinar (JOD).
Flight Tips: Fly into Cairo International Airport (CAI) or Queen Alia International Airport in Amman (AMM), either on EgyptAir (part of Star Alliance), which flies direct from Dulles (IAD), New York-JFK and Toronto Pierson (YYZ); or on Royal Jordanian (part of the Oneworld Alliance) which flies direct from New York (JFK), Montreal (YUL), Detroit (DTW) and Chicago (ORD).
Where to Stay: In Cairo, use Marriott points to book a room at Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyám Casino (from 25,000 points), Le Meridien Heliopolis (from 12,500), JW Marriott Cairo (from 25,000 points) or The Nile Ritz-Carlton, Cairo (from 35,000 points or a 35k free night certificate). The St. Regis Cairo, a Category 5 Marriott (35k points per night) opens in September 2019.
Use Hilton Honors points at the Ramses Hilton (from 20,000), or try the Conrad Cairo (from 30,000 points). For IHG Rewards Club members, the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis and the InterContinental Citystars Cairo start at 25,000 points, while the Holiday Inn Cairo Citystars starts at 20,000 points.
In Amman, stay at the Amman Marriott Hotel (from 17,500 points), the Sheraton Amman Al Nabil Hotel (from 25,000) or the St. Regis Amman (from 50,000 points). For IHG members, there’s the InterContinental Amman (from 25,000 points), the Crowne Plaza Amman (from 20,000 points), and the Holiday Inn Amman (from 15,000 points).
To stay near the the Dead Sea, look at the Holiday Inn Resort Dead Sea and the Crowne Plaza Jordan–Dead Sea Resort & Spa (both from 20,000 points). Hilton also has a Dead Sea resort, which starts at 32,000 points. The Dead Sea Marriott Resort & Spa and the Petra Marriott Hotel in Jordan both start at 25,000 points.
The bustling East Asian capital cities of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul are all incredible — and expensive. A more wallet-friendly and less touristy alternative is delightful Taipei. Family-friendly attractions include the Taipei 101 Tower, the Taipei Zoo, the National Palace Museum and the vibrant night markets. Navigating the city is easy with kids. Outside the city there are lush forests, impressive mountains and sandy beaches. The current exchange rate is 1 USD to about 31 Taiwanese dollars (TWD).
Flight Tips: Major airlines that fly to Taipei (TPE) include United Airlines (which has flights from SFO, LAX and JFK), Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and Emirates. Here are tips for using miles to travel to Asia.
Where to Stay: The Grand Hyatt Taipei (from 15,000 World Of Hyatt points) is one of the largest hotels in the city. If you have Marriott points, the Courtyard by Marriott Taipei Downtown starts at 25,000 points, the Taipei Marriott Hotel starts at 35,000 points and Le Meridien Taipei (with a heated indoor pool) is available from 50,000 points. If you have IHG points, there’s a new Kimpton (Kimpton Da An Hotel) that starts at 50,000 points.
A short flight from most US cities brings you to one of the best cities in the world. Mexico City is overflowing with culture, history, and some of the tastiest yet inexpensive food you’ll ever eat. It also happens to be a very family-friendly destination. There is so much to do in Mexico City that you could spend a week there and barely scratch the surface.
Highlights include the massive Chapultepec Park, which has everything: the Chapultepec Zoo to lakes with paddleboats; the children’s museum Paplote Museo del Niño; the fascinating Museum of Anthropology; the underground aquarium Acuario Inbursa; the Museo Interactivo de Economia (MIDE), and the memorable La Casa Azul, Frida Khalo’s house. It’s also worth trying to catch a soccer game and a lucha libre wrestling match, both sure to entertain. And did we mention tacos? And churros? Here are 10 things you must eat and drink in Mexico City.
Flight tips: All of the major airlines including Delta, American, United, and JetBlue fly there. Aeromexico and low-cost airline VivaAerobus also have multiple flights. Here are tips for using miles to fly to Mexico in a lie-flat seat!
Where to Stay: The all-suite Le Meridien Mexico City is a great value for your Marriott points (from 25,000 points) while St. Regis Mexico City is the perfect splurge (form 50,000 points). For a real bargain, the Courtyard by Marriott Mexico City Revolucion (from 12,500) can’t be beat. For Hilton Honors points, book the Hilton Mexico City Reforma (from 30,000 to 50,000 points). If you have World Of Hyatt points, then Hyatt Regency Mexico City is ideal at 12,000 points. The Holiday Inn Mexico Buenavista has a pool and starts at 20,000 IHG points.
Think beyond tried-and-true destinations across the globe to some of the emerging or second-city destinations where you points and dollars can both go further. There’s no reason your family can’t be on the leading edge of travel trends. Use those miles and points to visit a new and fascinating place and then tell us how you all liked it!
Featured photo of La Paz, Bolivia by Meinzahn / Getty Images.
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