5 Last-Minute Big Summer Vacations

For a lot of parents, the road from early June to the first day of school is a long one – and one made even longer if you’ve not got a plan to escape.

Maybe you just didn’t have time to plan a vacation this year. Maybe your summer of travel ball is wrapping up earlier than expected. Maybe the massive work project you were facing just chilled way out. Whatever the reason, if you’re now looking at empty weeks of arguing about getting off Fortnite and SnapChat, consider booking a “Big Trip.”

True, lots of popular spots are full way before summer begins. But here are five ideas for epic destinations you can experience in 10-14 days that will be able to accommodate your last-minute booking and save you from a summer of envying other people’s vacation photos on Facebook.

1. Costa Rica – If you’ve not taken the kids to Costa Rica, pack ‘em up and go this summer. There is a reason why every family loves it – there’s loads of jungle and wildlife, a great beach and surf culture, kind people and a well-developed tourist infrastructure so plenty of options for last minute bookings. You can drive yourself or hire a taxi to move around. Book a flight into Liberia and see the sea turtles at the beaches of the north, or aim for San Jose to see the center: the Arenal volcano, nearby hot springs and Cloud Forest areas offer hiking, butterfly gardens, howler monkeys and awesome bugs for your entertainment. We loved Corcovado National Park in the south, near Drake’s Bay (read about our trip here.) Our friends who traveled around Central and South America for almost a year said that the wildlife in Corcovado was the best of their trip.

2. Australia – Our summer is actually the best time to visit Australia (read about our trip to see why.) And with a place almost as big as America, you will absolutely find a tour/room/reason to get yourself there this summer. You can fly a red-eye from the west coast and be in Sydney faster than you can get to the Caribbean. From there, whichever way you go will be awesome: south to Melbourne, koalas, wine country and the coast, west to the Outback, or north to the whitest beaches of the Gold Coast, Cairn’s Great Barrier Reef, Queensland’s tropical rainforest, or – the place we want to go next – the funky outpost of Darwin and the the Northern Territories.

3. Southern South America – Yes, these southern hemisphere areas are also mired in winter – but think, “California winter:” You could ski or you could go to the beach. Argentina offers a vast array of options in Buenos Aires (click here to learn more.) And Chile also has numerous possibilities for adventurous families, from kayaking and other marine adventures, to Patagonia to the eclectic streets of Santiago. Both of these countries are plenty large enough to have room for you at the last minute.

4. Fiji –Fiji is a vast archipelago, with a corresponding mix of islands and price ranges to choose from. You can book a beach stay in any class of hotel from a hostel on the beach to a private bure on a private island. Or, if you have more time than cash, you can explore the Yasawa Islands on your own. Again, your family can fly here on a red-eye from the west coast before you can be in Europe. In fact, it’s easy to book a stop in Fiji on your way to New Zealand – or vice versa – based on new deals from regional air carriers.

5. Southwest Road Trip – If you’re not afraid of a little 100+degree heat, head for the desert in the off-season. The high desert areas of the Eastern Sierras, Palm Springs, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Arizona are ablaze in the summer but incredibly gorgeous. You can take your time driving from roadside motel to roadside motel and take in the best vistas of the American West as you go. Our 2016 road trip in areas surrounding Flagstaff and Sedona included a sneak peak at the uncrowded eastern edge of the Grand Canyon at “Desert View”, a gorgeous night at Lowell Observatory, Meteor Crater, several Navajo and Apache sites, early morning hikes in the Red Rocks, late afternoon dips in the river, and warm evenings wandering around town.


How to Make it Happen: If you’re ready to go, put your dates into Booking.com or TripAdvisor and see what lodging is available before booking a flight. If you’ve got air miles or hotel points, use ‘em up! Another good tactic is to check Travelzoo or Gate 1 Travel for package tour deals. I would also highly recommend emailing Thomson Family Adventures, National Geographic’s G Adventures for families, or maybe International Volunteer HQ and inquiring about tour availabilities for the remainder of the summer – you might find the family escape of your dreams at a discount.

And if a big trip isn’t in the cards for this year, get your passport application/renewals sorted this summer while the kids are out of school and you’ll be set to fly next year!



by Maryann Jones Thompson, updated June 2019

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, big family trips, last minute family vacations, last minute summer vacations, vacation ideas, summer vacation ideas, family vacation ideas


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