Family vacations are definitely a luxury, but those lifelong memories are worth it.  When I vacation with my daughter, it's just the two of us, but I decided to price some trips out based on a family of four (two adults, two kids) for the destinations below.  The prices vary greatly based on the activities you do, but every trip below is possible for under $5,000.

For those who may be wondering if the timing of this is meant to coincide with your chance to win up to $5,000 three times every weekday on Cat Country...yes.  Yes it does.


Pigeon Forge Tennessee

The Old Mill Restaurant In Pigeon Forge Tennessee
credit: Ehrlif, Getty Images

This one might not be on your radar, but when I was a kid this was my happy place.  If you're looking for an outdoor/camping style vacation, the Great Smoky Mountains won't let you down.  Flying with camping gear isn't always possible, but there are plenty of camping gear and cabin rentals available.  Of course, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg aren't just for camping.  There are more things to do than you could cram into a one week vacation.  The price varies greatly depending on your tastes.  My daughter and I did a zipline and whitewater package that took up a whole day and cost about $330 for the two of us.  One warning - if you go in the summer months, be prepared for a level of humidity that might be out of your comfort zone.

Airfare for two adults and two children as of today for peak summer travel time is about $1,900, but if you watch for specials you can likely get it for the 1200-1500 range.

As for the rest of the expenses, as I said, it varies based on what kind of vacation you want to have, but you can easily budget your remaining 3k and have some change left at the end of the day.  There are coupons for just about everything from Dollywood to the Dixie Stampede.  Look online for the deals and you can easily make this an amazing family trip for under $5,000.

The Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast Views
credit: Adam Goldberg, Getty Images/iStockphoto

I used to live on the Oregon Coast and I think it is definitely a piece of our country that is worth a visit.  I am most familiar with the Cannon Beach area in northern Oregon, so that's what I'm focusing on.  They do have a couple of Wyndham resorts there (one on the Washington side), so if you're a timeshare person, you might already have built in accommodations.  Otherwise, there are plenty of hotels ranging from a hippy hostel in Seaside to luxury rooms in Cannon Beach and Astoria.

A family of four could easily get a 4 night stay for under $500.  Current airfare for July is around $1,300, but be advised, that is a flight to Portland.  You'll have to rent a car and drive to the coast which will add another $500 or so to your travel expenses.  We'll round it off to $2,000 for travel expenses leaving your family 3k to spend.  The great thing about the coast is the scenery is the biggest attraction and scenery is included with your travel expenses.

The town of Seaside, Oregon has plenty of kidstuff to do (renting kayaks, pedal cars to ride around town, arcades, etc.) and is very affordably priced.  Some of it is cheesy through the eyes of an adult, but kids love this town.

This is definitely more of an outdoor/nature as opposed to a luxury vacation, but there are plenty of places to affordably feed a family.

The next town a few miles north of Seaside is Warrenton, Oregon which has a national park offering yurts (fancy tents) for rent.  A few miles north of that is Astoria (home of the Goonies and many other films).  Do your research on the towns, but in a nutshell: Cannon Beach is by far the most expensive place to stay, not luxurious, beautiful scenery, full of movie history, affordable for a family of four.

Yellowstone National Park

Castle Geyser erupting in Yellowstone
credit: Riishade,Getty Images/iStockphoto

Yellowstone is an easy road trip from here, but I wanted to price this out for a family that doesn't own an RV.  To rent one large enough to accommodate a family of four for 5 days will cost about $1,000 (that includes fuel charges).  Obviously that price will vary based on the RV you choose and the rental place, but $1,000 seems like a good base to build our budget.  Also, many Montanans will tell me I'm foolish for even suggesting renting an RV when you can have such a great experience in a tent.  I don't disagree with that statement, but I'll leave it up to your individual taste as to whether or not RV rental is worth it.  They do offer greater protection from the elements and much more storage for food and more of the kitchen essentials you're used to at home.  Food is usually one of the major expenses on vacation and prepping all of your meals is one way to minimize that expense.

Yellowstone is another vacation that's obviously more about the scenery, but there are definitely things you'll spend money on.  The park entrance fee, a campsite, maybe a guided tour, a stagecoach ride, souvenirs, and at least two meals at a restaurant.  All of that (including the RV) is still less than $2,500.  If your family likes to "rough it", you could probably get this whole trip under $1,000.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando, Florida Skyline
credit: Sean Pavone,Getty Images/iStockphoto

Of everything I've listed, this one is potentially the most expensive.  As of today, July airfare for a family of four from Billings to Orlando is about $1,700.  If you plan on doing a Disney vacation, you'd better plan on staying outside of the park to keep this under 5k.  The good news is that if you're within the general vicinity, your hotel will have a shuttle to all of the major Orlando parks, so it's not required that you rent a car.  I've found a few hotels that I would feel comfortable staying at and have decent reviews for around $800.  That puts us at the halfway point of $2,500.  From here, it depends on how much park stuff you do, but if you want to spend most of your time at Disney World, you can factor in another $1,250 for park tickets.  I've seen many sites that say you can feed your family of four for around $700, but that seems a little low to me.  If your room has a fridge, buying a few things to make sandwiches with for a few lunches will certainly give you some extra cash to splurge on dinners, but I'm going to assume $1,000 for a food budget.  That eats up $4,750 of your 5k budget leaving you $250 for some mouse ears.  Like I said, this one will be tight, but it is possible to do this family vacation for under $5,000.

If you're reading this, I assume that you have a family and are looking to do something together.  For that reason, I can wholeheartedly say - I hope you win some cash!

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