easier than you thought
Have Tax Refund, Will Travel
If the IRS cuts you a check, a vacation may suddenly seem doable. Get inspired by our seven fully itemized, long-weekend itineraries, starting at $895 for a family's complete expenses. That's far less than the average tax refund of about $2,700.
The Audit: 3 nights + a "penny" tour + kid-friendly attractions + meals + transportation = $895 per family*
Shelter: Base your brood at the centrally located, 48-room, art deco–style Alexander Inn. Ask for one of the half-dozen Double Your Pleasure rooms, each of which has a pair of double beds, a seating area, and bay windows. These rooms start at $169 per night in July and include breakfasts.
Fun Right Off: The inn is a short walk from the free attractions of Independence National Historical Park, where actors in period costume often enlist kids in the army, hand them wooden muskets, and march them around (daily; visit the Independence Visitor Center for times). Next, hoof it over to The Franklin Institute, a science museum with a walk-through model of a human heart and other exhibits. One of Galileo's telescopes is on display through September 7 (adults $14.25, kids 4–11 $11.50).
Freebie: Back at Independence Mall, buzz through the United States Mint at Philadelphia, one of only two facilities that produce circulating coins. (The other is in Denver.) On your free, self-guided tour, strut along a glassed-in catwalk overlooking the production floor, where 4.8 billion coins were minted last year. (Your tax money at work!) Kids receive Lincoln blanks, shiny pieces of metal that would have otherwise become pennies (open weekdays).
Get There: Megabus links Philadelphia to New York City, with an average fare of $10 each way. The subway ride from the bus stop to the inn costs about $2 per person. Alternatively, round-trip flights to Philadelphia in July recently started at $244 from Dallas and $299 from Seattle.
*This sample budget is based on a family of four traveling by Megabus from New York City and spending $240 on meals.
The Audit: 3 nights + a zip-line jungle tour + refreshingly cool Pacific waves + meals + transportation = $2,206 per family*
Shelter: Get some R&R at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, where the 404 guest rooms are newly outfitted with vibrant Mexican motifs and the expansive swimming pool looks out on Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre. Opt for the Stay for Breakfast special, which includes full breakfast daily for two adults and two children 12 and under, starting from $169 per night through December 11.
Fun Right Off: Zip from treetop to treetop on 14 cables—including one that's about 1,300 feet long—on a canopy tour of the Los Veranos ecological preserve. The tour costs $79 for adults and $58 for children ages 6 through 12; receive a 15 percent discount if you book online.
Freebie: Troop your family over to Viejo Vallarta's Malecón seawall walkway. Known for its whimsical bronze sculptures, it's also a prime spot for scoping out local artists at work. Sand sculptors on the adjoining beach craft elaborate creatures such as lions and lizards.
Get There: Round-trip flights to Puerto Vallarta in July recently started at $298 from Chicago, $315 from Houston, and $343 from San Francisco. A taxi to and from the airport costs about $16 per family each way.
*This sample budget is based on a family of four traveling from Chicago and spending $240 on meals.
The Audit: 3 nights + beer tastings + rooftop museum café + meals + car rental + airfare = $961 per couple*
Shelter: Inside a mansion from 1889, the family-owned Castle Marne B&B has nine elegant rooms, some with claw-foot bathtubs, four-poster beds, and two-person hot tubs. Afternoon tea is served with chocolate truffles and baked goods. Chill out in the B&B's garden, inspired by the Victorian era (doubles from $115 per night). Once you're energized, hop a 10-minute cab ride downtown.