There was that big work project that couldn't be postponed. Then your son went to basketball camp. The next week, your daughter was scheduled for tennis lessons. It rained the weekend you planned to go camping. Your in-laws paid an unexpected visit. Suddenly the summer is gone, and you haven't managed to get away with the kids.
The good news is that fall can be a great time to travel--and to find travel bargains. Not only will your vacation bucks stretch further, but you won't be forced to fight the crowds at the newest roller coaster. The weather in many parts of the country is more pleasant in fall than in summer. (Does anyone really want to hike the Grand Canyon in July?)
No wonder fall is becoming an increasingly popular travel time for families, especially those with preschoolers. The Travel Industry Assn. reports that more than one-third of fall travelers are with their kids.
Some resorts, like Smugglers' Notch in northern Vermont, have noticed and are touting packages designed for these families, often including day care and activities. To learn about Smugglers' five-night packages, which run a little more than $1,000, call (800) 451-8752 or visit the Web site http://www.smuggs.com.
Other resorts, like the all-inclusive Allegro Resorts in Mexico, extend summer kids-stay-free deals until just before Christmas. Packages start at $160 per night for a family of four, including meals, drinks and activities. Call (800) 858-2258 or visit http://www.allegroresorts.com.
Club Med has a Family Escape deal for $799 per person, including air fare from Los Angeles. You pick the week; they pick the family village. It also has kids-stay-free deals in Ixtapa, Mexico. Contact (800) CLUB MED (258-2633) or visit http://www.clubmed.com.
Don't forget to check Web sites, including http://www.expedia.com, http://www.cheaptickets.com and http://www.travelocity.com, for more bargain fares, some of them last-minute deals, within the United States and elsewhere.
The San Francisco-based travel agency Rascals in Paradise can send you to locales that are friendly to babies and preschoolers, including places where you'll be able to scuba dive. Some of the vacation options in Mexico are bargain finds. Call (800) U-RASCAL (872-7225) or visit http://www.rascalsinparadise.com.
Dude ranches are less crowded--and cheaper--in the fall, says Dave Wiggins, a spokesman for http://www.gorptravel.com, which sends families to ranches and on other adventures throughout the country. You'll enjoy the autumn weather at the Flying L Guest Ranch 40 miles northwest of San Antonio, where you can ride horses, swim, play tennis, golf or fish for about $90 a day per adult and $40 per kid, including meals. Call (800) 292-5134 or visit http://www.flyingl.com.
Autumn is a fine time to check out the Salt Lake Winter Olympics venues in Utah before the games begin in February. You can stay in an upscale Marriott Vacation Club condo in Park City for $125 a night and enjoy activities for the kids. Call (888) 236-2427 or visit http://www.marriott.com/vacationclub. Snowbird, one of my favorite resorts, has a Mountain Escape package for around $130 a night, including breakfast and tram tickets. Call (800) 453-3000 or visit http://www.snowbird.com.
And don't forget the national parks. The hiking trails will be just as scenic in the fall, but the smaller crowds might mean a chance to stay in one of those historic lodges that are almost always booked months in advance for summer. There are plenty of gentle hiking trails suitable for young children. (Take along some plastic bags to hold their "discoveries.")
You can book a two-room cabin at Coulter Bay Village in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park for about $100 a night; at Bryce Canyon Lodge in Utah, a cabin with fireplace is available for the same price. For reservations at Grand Teton, call (307) 543-3100; for Bryce, call (303) 297-2757; or visit the National Park Service Web site at http://www.nps.gov.
Taking the Kids appears twice a month.