9 Noteworthy Websites for Vacation Planning

9 Noteworthy Websites for Vacation Planning

Whenever I plan a family vacation, I always check these 9 noteworthy websites as I map our our itinerary. I do this whether we’ll be driving thousands of miles or staying close to home. Whether we’ll be gone for three days or three weeks. Whether we’ll spend all our time in one place or traveling from city to city.

The majority of these sites are specific to US travel. With our large family, it’s normally more economical for us to drive than to fly. (Unless, of course, we’ve used frequent flyer miles to get free airfare. We’ve earned enough free tickets to Europe — 26 total — to backpack that continent three times already. For tips on doing the same, check out this post: How to Fly Free to Europe)

As homeschoolers, we do most of our traveling during the off-season. Since school is still in session, we gravitate toward activities that are both fun and educational. In that sense, most of our travels are “learning vacations.”

Here’s the process I use to plan unforgettable family trips. Once I’ve chosen our destination, I search the following websites to help plan the stops we’ll make en route and what we’ll do once we arrive.

9 Noteworthy Websites for Vacation Planning

9 Noteworthy Websites for Vacation Planning

  1. Factory Tours USA

    There are lots of reasons our family loves factory tours, not the least of which is the fact they are fun and informative. Over the years, we’ve toured glass factories, pecan groves, chocolate factories, tea plantations, plus dozens of others. Most of which I found through the Factory Tours USA website. Just click on the state you plan to visit to see a listing of all the businesses within its borders that offer factory tours — many of them for free.

    5 Things to Love about Factory Tours

  2. Associations of Zoos and Aquariums

    We normally buy a family membership to our local zoo every year. With a crew as big as ours, it pays for itself within two visits and also gets us discounted admission to zoos all across the country. I keep a printed copy of zoos that participate in the reciprocity program and cross-reference it when vacation planning. It’s worth checking the list, even if you aren’t a zoo member, as it includes a lot of zoos (highlighted in green) that are free to the general public, as well.

    Fort Worth Zoo

  3. Association of Science and Technology Centers

    We also buy an annual membership to our local science museum. This not only gives our family unlimited visits all year long, but membership also grants us free admission to hundreds of science museums across the country. You’ll find a list of currently participating museums here. Almost every trip we take includes a (free) visit to at least one museum on this list. They are all different. And our kids have had a blast and learned a lot exploring the couple dozen we’ve visited so far.

    Rebekah Flanders

  4. National Park Service

    Many of our National Parks offer free admission, in addition to wonderful museums, educational videos, and interactive exhibits in their visitor’s center. Your children may also enjoy completing a short workbook to earn a badge in the Junior Ranger Program (which is often free, as well). Check the National Park Service site to see what parks may be near your next vacation destination (or en route to it)!

    National Parks

  5. American Horticultural Society

    We do not always have an annual membership to a garden listed with the American Horticultural Society, but we’ll occasionally join the Dallas Arboretum or Garvan Woodland Gardens. On years that either of those memberships are current, I check their reciprocity lists when planning vacations, so as to get the most of our membership. Many cities (like ours) have beautiful parks and gardens that are free and open to the public. I’d love to find a state-by-state listing of those places. If you know of one, please send me the link! In the meantime, I’ll keep searching this site, then clicking through to the individual garden’s website to determine admission policies (note that most of the gardens labeled “free admission” on the master list means free reciprocal admission for AHS arboretum members, not necessarily free for everybody).


  6. AAdvantage Dining

    Of course, you have to eat while you’re on vacation. We normally choose hotels that serve breakfast (or stay in places with a kitchen so we can eat cereal in the morning and crockpot meals in the evening), but that still leaves at least one meal per day that we eat out. I make those meals count by finding restaurants that award us with airline miles, as well (typically 5 miles per dollar spent, but we sometimes get double that rate). To check your next vacation destination for participating restaurants, follow this link. If you select “map view” to look at the results of your search, you can easily locate the restaurants closest to your hotel or travel route. For more information on how this program works, read this post.


  7. Restaurant.com

    I also check Restaurant.com to see if any restaurants in the place we’ll be visiting offer discount dining certificates. This is not quite as flexible as Aadvantage Dining and requires an upfront investment, but is well worth it when it helps you save as much as $100 off a $200 tab. Certificates are available in much smaller denominations, but we are normally feeding such a crowd that we go for the bigger discounts. Sometimes we can even find restaurants that accept dining certificates and award aadvantage miles — for a double bingo!


  8. Groupon

    I used to get frustrated with the Groupon site, as it seemed to mainly list offers that were of no interest to me. Then I learned how to use the site’s search bar! Just plug in the city you’re visiting and search for “FUN”. That will sufficiently narrow the results so that you don’t have to wade through pages of stuff you don’t want to find something you do. The couple of minutes it takes to scan the relative offers really pays off! For instance, it saved us 30% off tickets to Kentucky Horse Park and got us half-price admission to WonderWorks last time we were in Myrtle Beach. A substantial savings for our big crew!


  9. US Family Guide

    I also do the same kind of search on the US Family Guide website. Plug your destination city into the search bar, and pull up dozens of coupons to family-friendly attractions in the area. By way of example, I’m currently in the process of planning a road trip to the west coast, and my search yielded the following offers:

    • Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, NV – Discover breathtaking views of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, and the Eldorado Valley, while our eco-tourism guides take you on an interpretive journey over the desert ecosystem. Four separate runs carrying you over 1.5 miles of the Mojave Desert floor at speeds up to 60 mph. Featured on the Travel Channel with Bert the Conqueror, Fantasy Factory and MTV among others. You don’t want to miss this amazing experience. Save $10 Off Each Ticket Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon with this coupon. Must be mentioned when booking. CODE: USFAMGD
    • Battleship IOWA in Los Angeles – The West Coast’s only Battleship open to the public. Your tour will take you on a journey through World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War to experience the life of a sailor on the lead ship of the last class of gunships. My Readers GET $3 OFF Regular Tour Admission on Battleship IOWA – using code SCFG.
    • Vegas Indoor Skydiving – Voted the “Most Unique Family Attraction” in Las Vegas! Experience the thrill of skydiving without an airplane! Vegas Indoor Skydiving is a vertical wind tunnel that simulates the freefall aspect of skydiving. No age limit! No height requirements! 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor! Promo code USFAM17 gets you $15 off every single flight at Vegas Indoor Skydiving.

    US Family Guide

    If you are a blogger and are willing to share reviews of the places you visit with your readers, you may qualify for even bigger discounts to local attractions. Since that describes me, I usually check their current list of blog promotion offers when planning our road trips, as well. For information on registering your own blog with this program, follow this link.

So that’s my routine when it comes to trip planning. I keep these 9 noteworthy websites bookmarked in a file on my menu bar for quick and easy access. Because I want every vacation to be unforgettable — in a good way. What sites do you use to map out or save money on your family vacations? I’d love for you to share them in the comment section below!

Want more tips for memorable family trips? Then get a copy of my book, Pack Up & Leave. It’s full of great advice for planning economical, educational, entertaining vacations for all ages.

Pack Up & Leave: Travel Tips for Fun Family Vacations

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  1. I just checked Sight & Sound out from what information tips you gave and the suggestion Jessica gave. I am going to possibly buy tickets to see David. I’ll probably do the same to see Moses next year haha. Thanks for the tips.

  2. I have a suggestion of somewhere you could visit!!
    It’s a place called Sight & Sound Theatres. There are two locations. One is in Branson, Missouri and the other is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They are musicals, but they are all based on the Bible. They take a certain Bible story and act it all out on stage!! It is awesome!! So take the story of Joseph for example. They take the story, and make huge sets, make costumes, prepare wigs, (yes, I said that right,) and do everything they can to make it seem real. A basic description of it is:
    A place where the Bible comes to life!
    It really does! I’ve been there before (I actually went to the Joseph one they did back in 2012) and it is just…..AWESOME!!! I think your family would love going there!! Their website is http://www.sight-sound.com. Let me know what you think!!

    With love,

    1. Thanks, Jessica. We love the Sight & Sound Theater. We saw their productions of Moses, Sampson, and Jesus there in the past. Had hoped to see Noah when it was there, too, but had to cancel those plans when one of my children got sick just hours before we were scheduled to leave.

      So I will join you in urging my readers to check it out next time any of you are in Branson, MO, or Lancaster, PA. It really does bring the Bible to life!

      1. Have you guys seen the Noah and Joseph one at all? They make several of their productions on dvds that are available on Christian Book (https://www.christianbook.com/joseph-sight-sound-theater-musical/pd/158332


        I have both and my son Joseph just loves the Joseph one! I can’t think of any other place that has clean, wholesome, true, and biblical stories. Which of your kids got sick?

        1. No, we haven’t seen either of those, but would love to. Thanks for the tip about the DVDs. Abby is the one who got sick first. Started throwing up 3 hours before we were scheduled to leave on a 10-day roadtrip, so we stayed home and juggled that same stomach bug for a full two weeks instead. Bummer! But God may have been protecting us from something worse, so we just rolled with it and postponed the trip for another year.

          1. Your welcome!! Both are awesome. Again, I know your family would love both videos. If you haven’t looked at the links yet, they are only 15.99 each, not including tax&shipping. Let me know when you guys watch it by comment! I’d love to know what you all think! What year were you guys going to see the Noah one and in which city were you guys going to go to for it? If it was in 2019 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then the video of Noah would be the one you guys were going to go to! Anyway, yes, I have to agree with you about that. Anytime, God could be protecting us from harm! Thank God for His mercy and protection over/for us!!

          2. No, all of the shows we’ve seen have been at the theater in Branson. We don’t get up to Pennsylvania very often, but will keep that option in mind next time we do.

  3. We went to Alaska two years ago & were able to save a lot by just calling the places we were visiting & asking if they offered any discounts or coupons. The employee at the Alaska Railroad actually told me who to call to order my coupon book, then he went & picked it up so that I could book that same day (coupon needed to be presented when booking). So, talking to a real, live person helps too!

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