Travel journalist Amy Tara Koch with summer vacation ideas

- Here's travel journalist Amy Tara Koch with some Out of the Box Family Summer Vacation Ideas (and Tips/Tricks)

Beach vacations are fun. Mountains too. But why not try something with a little more wow factor?

PLANNING TIPS & TRICKS (As a visual, you can bullet these out)
•    Set airfare alerts on Airfare Watchdog. Fare fluctuations make last minute trips surprisingly affordable
•     Hopper, helps you  predict when the best time is to buy your ticket to proposed destination. It sends notifications when the prices drop
•    Try and use points and miles from loyalty programs and credit cards. Even if you haven't planned a year in advance, you can often find tickets. Taking an unpopular route improves chances for an awards seat. And, people do cancel.
•    If your family is not seated together or in a last row, try setting Seat Alerts on, a website that keeps real-time tabs on airline seating maps. Seats fluctuate frequently. Someone else’s maneuver could improve your situation.

“Glamping," or, glamorous camping,  has spiked in popularity over the last decade. Under Canvas (close to Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, Moab, Glacier) is about airy wood and canvas tents that feel like a boutique hotel: king sized beds, plush linens, animal hide rugs,  leather chairs, a wood-burning potbelly stove and even daily maid service. For families, the basic tent with adjacent tipi is an ideal set up. Parents get the fluffy bed, kids get to sleep in the tipi. The shared bathhouse (an adventure for kids) is modern with hot running water, showers and ceramic sinks. At dusk, staff sparks up the fire pit, a communal hub. There are nightly activities like volleyball,horse shoes, live music and astronomer-led stargazing. Depending upon tent type, rates range from $175-$425 per night. Rates are based on double occupancy per tent. There is a $25 surcharge per night when adding more than two people to any tent.

An all-inclusive dude ranch is a slam dunk for families. Kids can live out their cowboy or cowgirl fantasies. Parents can avoid being wrangled for every nickel and dime.
•    Vee Bar Guest Ranch in Laramie, Wyoming is that authentic, no-frills Western experience — rustic log cabins, horseback riding, mess hall meals, campfires, river tubing, hiking, fishing, hay rides. And, no crowds. There are just nine guest cabins so by the end of the first day, the staff will know everyone’s name and your children’s snack preferences On the final night, there is a campout under the stars (or, you can sleep in a teepee) complete with fiddlers by the campfire and s’mores. Adults $980, kids 6-18 $825, 5 and under $200 (rates slightly higher in July and August) for the 3-night packages (It’s $310 to extend over a Saturday night, for all 4 ppl)
•    At Tanque Verde in Tuscon, guests realize cowboy dreams as they slumber in casitas and spend their days “roping”, team penning, horseback riding (the sunrise gallop includes a pancake breakfast). It’s upscale. But, the all inclusive status plus a Kids Stay Free summer package (two children stay free when booked with two paying adult guests) sweetens the deal. $365/night based on double occupancy)

The Big Easy’s wild brew of culture- rainbow-colored Creole houses of the French Quarter, buskers of Jackson Square,  impromptu trumpet blasts and parades-are catnip to kids.  Don’t miss taking a mule-drawn carriage ride through the historic Garden District, taking a jazz cruise on Steamboat Natchez , doing a bayou swamp tour and experiencing Rock and Bowl, an old school bowling alley with a nightly lineup of zydeco, blues and “swamp pop.

Aspen Backcountry Adventure
Sure, Aspen is glitzy. But there is a way to hike the storied 14,000 foot mountains without breaking the bank. Book one of the bare bones 10th Mountain Division huts (equipped with firewood, kitchen, platform beds with mattresses and pillows outhouse, propane burners) that pepper the remote back woods for $45 a night per person. Need to bring sleeping bag/pillow case, water and food.
Family hut trip details:

AGES 10+
Stay in a Real Castle in the UK—SPLURGE
Castle hotels hold Hogwarts allure for Americans. The notion of resting one’s head where nobles slumbered is part of the attraction. The other is old world ”leisure pursuits” like falconry and archery.
Ashford Castle in Western Ireland is the stuff of medieval dreams, a 13th century Anglo Norman castle with  turrets, a moat, and opulent rooms. But, for kids, the action is outside. On top of  horse riding and kayaking,  this 350 acre sporting estate is home to the oldest falconry school in Ireland.  When birds of prey gobble raw chicken from your child’s glove during a “hawk walk” computers are all but forgotten (about $900/nt)
   •     Falconry
   •     Ziplining
   •     Archery
   •     Boating
   •     Bike riding
   •     Horse-back riding
   •     Movies in the cinema


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