Your best friend just got back from a freaking fantastic (and ridiculously expensive) trip to Disney World with her family. Your neighbor is taking her family on a life-altering trip to Europe. Your parents just planned an incredibly romantic weekend for two in Napa Valley. Your boss is spending a gloriously relaxing spring break with his kids at an all-inclusive resort.
And all you can think about is doing the same. And you totally would, too, except for that annoying bank account. Ugh.
We’ve all been there.
When my husband and I were dreaming about our honeymoon, we pictured ourselves walking down cobblestone streets, learning words in a new language, and feeding each other delicious European pastries.
Just one problem – we were both time and cash poor. As recent college grads who had started our first “real jobs” we had very little time off and even less of a budget. I think we had 5 days total (and that was including Saturday and Sunday.)
A European honeymoon just wasn’t in the cards.
And we were pretty sad about it.
Until we realized that the only thing we needed to have a spectacular honeymoon was each other.
So we found the perfect alternative option that fit snugly within our budgeted time and money.
If you are in the same boat – desperate to take that “trip of lifetime” but just a bit short on money or time – I’m hoping this list of alternatives will help.
Everyone knows that Disney is crazy expensive. Flying with a family is pricey, and the last thing I want to do is spend 16+ hours in a car. With my child. Once you add in the cost of hotels, overpriced food, and theme park tickets….yikes.
Alternative: Hershey Park (Hershey, Pennsylvania)
Located a quick 340 miles from Columbus, this family-friendly theme park is loads of fun.
There are rides for all ages, concerts, shows, and even characters! Admission includes access to their water park and zoo.
Oh, and chocolate. You can’t go wrong with a chocolate theme.
Admission prices are reasonable (a 2-day park admission for an adult is currently $47.50, and even cheaper for kids.)
You can also bundle on a meal plan or purchase meal vouchers (An all-day dining pass is less than $30)
Website: Hershey Park
Alternative: Sesame Place (Langhorne, Pennsylvania- about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia)
This themed amusement park appeals to kids and adults of all ages. Who doesn’t love taking photos with cuddly monsters, riding fun rides, seeing characters perform in the parade and watching interactive shows?
Sesame Place is small enough to get around easily, yet large enough to keep you and your family entertained for hours. If you visit in the summer season the water rides will be open. It’s a great way to cool off in the scorching heat.
Website: Sesame Place
Gorgeous architecture, rich history, and fantastic food. What’s not to love about Europe? The price to fly there and the cost of the hotels, that’s what. Europe can be pretty expensive, but luckily we can experience the European vibe on our own continent.
Alternative: Montreal, Canada
Remember how I was so sad that my husband and I couldn’t afford the European honeymoon of our dreams?
Instead, we drove to Montreal and spent 4 glorious nights feeling like we were transported to France. Driving from Columbus will take about 11-12 hours, and will be the cheapest way to get there.
Another fun experience would be taking an overnight trip on a Greyhound bus! While a bit more costly than driving, it is similar to the “train experience” in Europe and costs about 1/10 of the price of a transatlantic flight.
You’ll find a rich French heritage here, and in fact, Montreal boasts being the second largest French-speaking city outside of Paris. 60% of people in the city speak French at home.
Alternative: Ottawa, Canada
A common thing to do when you visit Europe is to tour a few different countries on the same trip.
Never fear, I have an alternate option for that as well!
A short car ride from Montreal is Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. If Montreal gives off that French vibe, Ottawa is British through and through.
With historic sites like Parliament Hill or Byward market, and street names like Sussex, Somerset and Wellington, you’ll definitely get to experience some British culture. Your kids will love all the signs and menus with British spelling and counting out all the colorful bills.
Gorgeous scenery, fine dining restaurants, and WINE! All the makings of a romantic weekend with your honey, or a fun girls trip. Part of the fun is also exploring bustling nearby San Francisco. Napa Valley makes for a great extended weekend trip. Except, flying can be expensive, and almost all of the hotels in the area are boutique (which means they’re also super-duper expensive). And don’t even get me started on the meal prices (like the popular French Laundry restaurant!?) Fortunately – I have a GREAT affordable alternative for you to consider.
Alternative: Hudson Valley (New York)
Getting to this wine region doesn’t require a flight because it’s located roughly 9 hours by car from Columbus and it’s also 2 hours north of New York City.
Hudson Valley has a rich wine history, starting when the French planted the first grape vines in the 1600’s. Vineyards dot the area and depending on your favorite varietals, you will have lots of options for wine tasting.
As far as lodging, there are many affordable options, ranging from romantic bed and breakfasts to various budget hotel chains.
This area is also known for its amazing restaurants. The famed Culinary Institute of America has a campus nearby, which means there are some fantastic options.
A great alternative to French Laundry, for example, would be Bocuse Restaurant. It’s staffed by the Culinary Institute and has a fantastic prix fixe dinner option for $45. (Just to compare, French Laundry will set you back $310 for it’s prix fixe (yes, that’s per person!) And while you won’t be able to explore San Francisco, nearby New York City has just as much to offer.
Exotic All-Inclusive Beach Vacation
My Facebook feed is full of people taking their families on amazing tropical vacations. There’s something so enticing about an all-inclusive vacation – the sun, the sand, and the all-inclusive final bill! These types of trips can be so much fun for the whole family, and it’s nice to be able to order whatever you feel like for dinner without having the think about the price. Unfortunately, these exotic resorts are never cheap. Flights, resort accommodation, and passports for the whole family can quickly add up. Luckily, I have a cheaper option.
Alternative: 7-day Caribbean Cruise
Cruising is the most relaxing style of vacation I have ever taken.
I never cruised as a child and I was a bit skeptical when my husband nudged me to take a trip with him. I always kind of thought I’d feel trapped on a ship, bored out of my mind. NOT TRUE! Cruises are filled with activities and events for the whole family. Or, if you’d rather take it easy – lots of places to relax by a pool or just lounging around with a fantastic view of the ocean.
Before my first cruise, I always thought cruising seemed expensive, but you can easily find so many bargains. It’s also fun to sample different beaches at all the ports.
Just for fun, I priced out a Carnival Cruise for you.
I picked this cruise because it’s leaving from Baltimore, MD, which is a relatively easy drive from Columbus. (About 6 and half hours). The price listed is for a family of four in an inside cabin and includes meals, snacks, shows/events, and accommodations for 7 nights. Some non-alcoholic beverages are included (like tea/coffee, iced tea, lemonade, and juices at breakfast).
Alcohol is extra, but what we really like about Carnival Cruise lines is that they let you bring a limited amount of wine aboard with you.
Similar to an all-inclusive resort, there will be some extra costs associated with tipping, or booking optional excursions. Even so, this is a pretty awesome price for a 7-day exotic vacation for a family of 4.
You can also save money on your passports as you typically only need a passport card when cruising which is quite a bit cheaper than a standard passport.
To compare, I picked the cheapest flights + all inclusive resort that I could find for the same dates, and the price averaged $800 per person.