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This year I have a senior in high school. When I started this blogging journey, it was to help families travel more before their kids’ grow up and move out. And now I’m here. My son is about to embark on his college journey and move out, at least for a little while. Which is why I needed some ideas for a graduation trip he won’t forget.
I promised each of my children to take them on a senior trip. I fully believe travel helps us spend quality time together that we don’t get in our day-to-day lives. Travel removes the responsibilities of home life, school, activities, and obligations.
As a high school senior (who’s also dual-enrolled to earn his Associate’s Degree) there is a lot of stress and pressure of finishing school, choosing a college, moving away from home, meeting new people, and all that those life changes bring. One last hurrah and a trip of a lifetime is not only a way to celebrate this important time in his life, it’s a great way to have family time before his next big step.
The following graduation trip ideas cover everything from a group graduation vacation, travel with a senior class, or epic trips for high school graduates with friends or family.
Graduation Trips on a Budget
High school graduation trips do not have to break the bank. Depending on the kind of trip your teen wants, staying on a small budget can still be a lot of fun.
1. New York City
I fully believe New York City not only is the ultimate travel experience today, but it is also well within a budget vacation option.
Flights to NYC are usually not too expensive, but they do increase as summer approaches. Book a trip immediately after graduation in late May if possible. Check Kayak Explore for rates from your city.
Places such as Times Square, Central Park, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Trinity Church (where the Hamiltons are buried and as seen on National Treasure), The New York Public Library, Washington Square Park, are free to visit. Or in the case of the Lady Liberty, very reasonable cost.
These are places that your teen will know from TV and Movies. We have always had a great time seeing our favorite places in person.
Eating in the big city of New York can also be reasonable as well. Just stay away from the touristy section of Times Square when it comes to dining. Your best option is downtown for Chinatown or Little Italy.
Camping is another excellent choice for traveling on a budget. Your choice of destination is unlimited. If your grad wants to even try out a solo trip, look to one of the state parks near you. That way your teen gets some independence but isn’t too far away for their first time out on their own.
If you don’t want to go all-in on buying new camping gear, you can also consider one of your state parks with cabin accommodations.
3. Rent a Campervan
When my son and I started tossing around ideas for graduation trips, the one we landed on was renting a campervan to explore the National Parks in California.
We are renting with Escape Campervans, out of San Francisco. Drivers do have to be at least 21 years of age with a valid driver’s license, so this is not the kind of trip a high school senior could do. however, we found it’s an amazing way to see a lot at a lower cost. Our van rental costs about $300 more than a car rental for the same time period and includes our sleeping and cooking facilities. The only other thing we are paying for is food (which we would have to do anyway) and campsites.
Escape Campervans have locations in:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New York
- Salt Lake City
- San Francisco
You can rent round trip or between any of those destinations.
4. South Dakota
At first glance, South Dakota’s Badlands National Park and the Black Hills aren’t necessarily places that jump to mind for a graduation trip, but their rugged and untouched beauty will leave your senior in awe. While most national parks require at least a few miles of hiking to reach their greatest points of interest, Badlands National Park gives you stunning views almost immediately—like Castle Rock or Lunch Loop. Feel as if you’re in an Epic Star Wars or Star Trek adventure with some of the landscapes as well.
Ideas for Graduation trips with Family
If your senior is moving away to college in the fall, this may be the last time you get to take whole family vacations for a while. With college breaks not always lining up with younger kids’ school holidays, it’s the perfect time to do one last big hurrah with the whole gang.
If you’re looking for ideas for a graduation trip that gives your senior a chance to bond with his family, then book a cruise. You and your loved ones can enjoy sailing together while you soak up some Vitamin D on deck. Cruise ships also offer a variety of activities and events like spa treatments, scavenger hunts, dancing, and more—so everyone can find something they enjoy.
6. Alaskan Cruise or Road Trip
No matter what time of year, there’s never a bad time to visit Alaska—the northernmost U.S. state. Although it can be expensive to fly to, you’ll be able to experience wildlife, pristine landscapes, and exciting Alaskan festivities. If you go during winter, you’ll get to see spectacular views of snow-covered mountains and frozen lakes that are sure to make your senior feel warm inside (no pun intended).
Consider either an Alaskan cruise as a bucket list to see incredible glaciers, or explore further inland with the National Parks in Alaska.
7. All-Inclusive Resorts
Like a cruise but on land, an all-inclusive resort is a fantastic way to make sure you’re taken care of during your vacation. Instead of paying for each individual part of your trip separately, you pay for it all in one fell swoop. And, with options like room service and on-site dining, you can focus on spending time with your family instead of having to go out into town or eat in your hotel room. This can range from luxury Club Med destinations to horseback riding dude ranches.
Some top choices in the US include:
- The Grand Hotel on historic Mackinac Island in Michigan.
- White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
- Rocking Horse Resort in Highland NY
8. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Young adults who want to get away from their everyday lives for a few days will enjoy exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located on the big island of Hawaii, this popular park offers hiking trails, sightseeing, lava tubes, and much more. Backpacking is allowed at certain sites within park limits. A trip to Kilauea Iki can take visitors through many of these features in one hike, making it one of our favorite graduation trip ideas for young adults.
I would recommend one of the many charming VRBO rentals near the National Park for perfect family seclusion.
Group Graduation Vacation with Friends
If you’re willing to send your teen off with a group of friends, now’s the perfect time to learn some independence and responsibility. Of course, you may want to read my tips for a graduate here. These ideas for graduation trips with friends are full of adventure.
9. Road Trips
Who doesn’t love a road trip? With some careful planning, you can create an unforgettable experience that will be one of your teen’s favorite memories from high school. Whether it’s going to visit colleges or seeing national landmarks, there are so many great graduation trip ideas for teens.
For ideas, look to the miles and miles of ideas in Road Trip USA by Moon guides. Perhaps they want to re-enact the Oregon Trail?
10. National Park Hiking
Take a hike. The nation’s outdoor spaces are vast and beautiful, and they’re within easy reach of most towns. National parks are great places to go for graduation trip ideas. Just because your teen graduated doesn’t mean he or she has to sit inside studying all summer! A hike is a perfect way to get some fresh air and test his or her new sense of responsibility. For bucket list destinations try Yosemite National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
11. White Water Rafting Grand Canyon
The Colorado River is one of America’s greatest rivers and it has a history steeped in both adventure and danger. Paddle through parts of Glen Canyon, designated by John Wesley Powell as the most singularly beautiful landform in North America. You’ll get to see up close stunning views, learn about American history and spend some quality time with your friends. Plus you don’t need any previous experience to participate—professional guides will take care of all that for you! For a guided tour, search here.
12. South Padre Island
Is a beach destination worth considering if your grads want to head to an island? The island is located on South Padre Island along Texas’s Gulf Coast and offers tons of things to do including surfing, swimming, and fishing. These activities are perfect for spending time with their friends while giving them an adventure they won’t forget. There are also plenty of hotels to choose from that offer packages geared toward students, making it easy to plan a fun trip!
13. Music Festivals
For an experience that will bring your teen and her friends closer together, send her off to a music festival. Plus, it’s a great way to stay connected with your child in an age when texting and Snapchat take precedence over phone calls and weekend visits. And because most music festivals take place at different times of year, there’s sure to be one she’ll love no matter what time of year it is.
If a tropical destination is what your grad has in mind, you don’t need to leave the country. Either the island nation of Puerto Rico or the southernmost spot of Key West are great ideas for a graduation trip.
14. Puerto Rico
No passport is required to get to Puerto Rico. Because it’s a US Territory, you can travel here as you would within the United States. College students can take advantage of cheap flights and warm weather in Puerto Rico, an island off of Florida’s east coast.
San Juan is home to several historic sites worth exploring. The city also has tons of restaurants that serve up authentic Latin American cuisine. For example, you can find food from Spain, Cuba, and other countries on one block alone. The city also has plenty of beaches—many with year-round warm water—and they’re often less crowded than those in nearby Florida. You could even go scuba diving or snorkeling while there!
15. Key West
The southernmost city in Florida, Key West is known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and eclectic nightlife. There’s no shortage of fun here; a visit to Mallory Square and Duval Street will provide you with everything from street performers to food vendors and lounges – just be prepared to see some serious sunburns if you plan on spending your time on the beach.
We’re back to Hawaii, this time to Maui for surf’s up. For a graduation trip you’ll never forget, Maui is one of our top picks. With its warm weather, beautiful beaches, and year-round sunsets, it’s one of Hawaii’s most popular destinations. There are plenty of things to do on your trip here including visiting historic sites like Pearl Harbor and snorkeling in Makena. There are also opportunities for surfing, hiking, and exploring rainforests.
For those who want to hit some waves while they’re in town, you can choose from several options when it comes to surfing lessons. At Kahului Beach Park (the birthplace of modern surfing), there are instructors available that will teach you how to ride surfboards as well as stand-up paddleboards.
Bright Lights Big Cities
If you have culture or movie buffs as kids, some of the bigger cities might be just what they want to experience. We’ve already mentioned what a great place New York City is on a budget. If you’re willing to splurge, look to add an On Location Movie Tour. They have TV & Movie Sites, Marvel, and more. Check out the NYC and Boston Tours here.
A trip to Chicago is a must for any comedy fan. Second City, one of comedy’s most famous institutions, is located in downtown Chicago and offers great group discounts for first-time visitors. Their interactive improv courses are also an awesome way to get your grad laughing. After class, you can grab dinner at any of the many restaurants that surround it—from Korean fried chicken to BBQ pizza and artisan cheeses.
And while you’re in Chicago, baseball fans will love checking out Wrigley Field.
And don’t miss such staples as Lou Malnatti’s Deep Dish Pizza, and a Chicago-style dog from Portillos.
18. Los Angeles
No matter what you’re into, Los Angeles has it. The entertainment capital of America, LA is a great choice for your grad trip. Be sure to visit Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, and Malibu (the movie stars’ playground). You might even spot a celebrity or two! One of LA’s top attractions is Universal Studios. It has rides, shows, and a lot more fun to offer. Everyone will be amazed by what they see there. Also, try to attend an NBA game at Staples Center.
19. San Diego
What teen doesn’t dream of an amazing trip to Comic-Con? In San Diego, your soon-to-be grad can bask in geek culture and look forward to a new adventure that his friends will envy—and remember. Make sure you take pictures of him with as many superheroes as possible for bragging rights. If there’s one thing we learned from The Hobbit, it’s that everyone loves Legolas!