8 Can't-Miss Budget Travel Destinations
Don't let your vacation break the bank. You can have a fantastic trip without spending a fortune by traveling during off-peak seasons, or opting for destinations with free or low-cost attractions. Try these, for starters:
Flagstaff is a gateway city to the Grand Canyon (an entrance is 80 miles away) as well as Red Rock Country, where you'll find beautiful Oak Creek Canyon and recreational opportunities like hiking, swimming and camping. The spring break season, usually around March and April, is a great time to explore the area and the wonders of Grand Canyon National Park. March brings a lot of snow, so watch for good deals on spring skiing at the Arizona Snowbowl, which is usually open until at least the second week of April. It’s easier to find lodgings in Flagstaff than at the Grand Canyon, and the city offers more dining spots and nightlife. Explore the historic buildings in downtown Flagstaff, which date back to the 1890s, and popular breweries and other fun spots in the old Southside District.
The “dog days” of summer, which can run into September in Savannah, may be hot and humid, but they can also give your pocketbook a break. Consider booking your hotel stay from a Sunday through a Thursday; weekends are busier, and prices rise accordingly. Wander along the waterfront on River Street, visit old Bonaventure Cemetery, stroll the cobblestone streets in the historic district, or picnic in lovely Forsyth Park. In the fall, hit the beach on Tybee Island. The locals call autumn call their "second season," because the air and water temperatures usually stay warm enough to enjoy even after the kids go back to school.
Even if the skies are cloudy over Music City, winter is a good time to visit. Except for the holidays—when spectacular Christmas lights go up at places like the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center—hotel rates and airline ticket prices tend to drop between November and March. You can find free, live concerts in Nashvllle year-round, and there's fun for the family at Centennial Park and Gardens, where you'll find a lake, walking and exercise trails, an arts activity center, historic monuments and other sights.
While lodgings can be pricey in the nation’s capital, you’ll find plenty of free attractions and events that won’t drain your bank account. Freebies include the Smithsonian National Zoo and Museums, as well as numerous monuments and memorials. Catch a live concert or show on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, or discover “100 Free and Almost Free Things to Do in DC” here. To avoid the lines and summer heat, plan your trip between September and November or March to May. A late March to early April bonus: hundreds of pink and white cherry trees burst into bloom as visitors celebrate the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.
When autumn arrives in San Francisco, the crowds thin out and the weather improves. Visitors from September to November can still hit the beach (although you may want to snuggle into a jacket when winds pick up over the bay). Take in a free public concert at the Golden Gate Bridge, or watch the people and ships go by at Fisherman's Wharf. Cable cars are iconic here, of course, so make time to pop into the Cable Car Museum, which offers free admission.
Plan your trip to Chicago between April and May, or September through October; spring and fall offer lots of festivals and fun, and there are always great museums and restaurants to try. Just be aware that end-of-year temperatures can plummet. Still, off-season visitors will find the German/European Christkindlmarket around the holidays, where you don't have to purchase anything to enjoy the seasonal sights and sounds. Also look for stunning displays of holiday lights at Zoolights at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Free rides and free kids' meals are offered on designated Zoolights Family Nights. Check the websites for dates and details.
Not all the summertime visitors to San Antonio come from out of state; the city is also a big draw for Texas families who come to see the Alamo and other historical attractions. Avoid the lines by visiting between November and April, when room rates are cheaper and the mercury drops. Fall and winter also bring events and festivals to the San Antonio River Walk, such as artisan exhibitions, the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias, and the Bud Light Halloween Fest.
This North Carolina town has become known for its small breweries and growing foodie scene, and you don't have to spend a lot to dine on yummy barbeque, chicken and waffles or handmade pizza. Venture onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a drive through breathtaking scenery, or take a wintertime hike to escape the crowds and city heat. Hotel rates usually drop in winter, except where skiing is popular. Although the fall foliage is magnificent, rates are higher then, when most tourists visit.
Need more money-saving ideas? Laurel Greatrix, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals shares her tips:
If you’re not working around your kids’ school schedules, Greatrix says, “travel just outside of high season when the crowds dissipate and costs come down, but the good weather remains. Our research showed that last fall, rentals in Martha’s Vineyard were 30 percent cheaper than peak season, while Hilton Head came in 31 percent cheaper, San Diego came in 30 percent cheaper and South Padre Island came in at 26 percent less."
Opt for a long weekend getaway. Taking or starting a vacation mid-week may mean lower rates on accommodations.
Try a “stay-cation” or visit a different neighborhood, Greatrix suggests. “You’ll already know how to get around, where to shop and what to see, but may gain a new perspective on a familiar place.”
Be flexible about where to go. “For example, this summer the average two-bedroom rental in Destin, Florida is $1,923 per week; nearby Panama City Beach’s average is $1,586 per week,” says Greatrix. “While both are relatively affordable ($68 and $57 per person per night), staying just a few miles away can yield significant savings."
Book a vacation rental, which could save 50 percent or more over the costs of traditional accommodations. Greatrix says TripAdvisor's research shows that a two-bedroom vacation rental may save up to 48 percent off the cost of two hotel rooms in Venice. “The savings are high elsewhere – In Majorca the savings was 64 percent; in Boston, Orlando, Dublin, Dubrovnik, Florence and Stockholm it was over 40 percent and in Sydney, Rome, Edinburgh and Nice it was over 30 percent.”
Take advantage of exchange rates. ”With a strong U.S. dollar," Greatrix notes, "now is a great time to save on international travel to countries with a beneficial exchange rate – such as Europe and Canada. With direct flights, a European or Canadian trip is not only feasible, but more affordable than in past years."