Who says traveling has to cost an arm and a leg? As the best budget vacations remind us, you can enjoy plenty of must-see places to visit, and things to do, without blowing your household budget. Hunting for a quick weekend getaway, holiday vacation, or a lengthier escape? Head to these top spots – some of the most affordable places in the U.S. – the next time you’re in the mood for excitement or adventure. Your family (and wallet) will thank you.
Colorado Springs, Colorado – If you are looking for a beautiful, and affordable, vacation spot, Colorado Springs offers the best of both worlds. Tucked in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, this Colorado gem features loads of free outdoor activities to partake in and nature to get lost in. Look for inexpensive flights into Denver International Airport and then head an hour south to your destination. Be sure to pack your hiking boots and a good camera, as the trails in Colorado Springs are known for their natural beauty. Be sure to stop by the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum for a free tour and see the Hall of Fame, which is home to 75 original and restored examples of Harley-Davidson, Mustang, and Honda motorcycles dating from 1913 to 1983, as well.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida – While the sunshine state has a reputation for being a bit pricey, a trip to Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have to break the bank. Getting around this city is not expensive, which is why this Florida destination is one of the most affordable places to travel to. There are also a variety of free, fun, and quality things to do here. First and foremost: Fort Lauderdale Beach and Hollywood Beach (be sure to cruise the giant boardwalk in a pedaled bicycle cart with friends and family) are among the nicest beaches in all of Florida. Lining both are chic shops, good spots to grab a nice meal, and different entertainment venues – not to mention tons of great photo ops.
Monterey, California – This beachside community is located on the central coast of California, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Offering marine wildlife, abundant ocean views, and nature for miles, Monterey is one of the most idyllic, and affordable, places along the California coast. Rent a bike for only $10 an hour and ride the 29-mile Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail and stop for a picnic around lunchtime and head down to the water to catch a glimpse of the sea otters and other sea creatures. Grab an affordable dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf with clam chowder that is under $10! Charming inns and boutique B&Bs are not hard to find around town. Known for its moderate California weather, Monterey is an affordable vacation destination any time of the year.
Bozeman, Montana – With no state sales tax, Montana easily offers many reasons to make a list of the best, most affordable vacations to take. Head to Bozeman, Montana for huge savings and adventure in the heart of Gallatin Valley: There are streams to fish in, trails to hike on, and views of the big Montana sky—all free of charge. This college town is also abundant in affordable dining and free entertainment year-round! The Nova Cafe is one of the students’ favorites because it offers some of the best food in the city for an affordable price. (This café also has some of the best home-brewed coffee in town!) Known for having more than 300 days of sunshine, remember: Montana offers the affordable traveler many ways to build the trip of a lifetime.
Lexington, Kentucky – While often overlooked when vacation planning, Lexington is a is worth the trip. In some ways, it’s lot like Austin, Texas: Full of fun nightlife attractions, great restaurants, and live entertainment—but without the high price tag. Much of the sightseeing can be done on foot, meaning that a rental car is not necessary. Hotels are also affordable at all times of year and are located right in the heart of the city. One of the most unique neighborhoods in Lexington is the Distillery District. This area features some of the best ice cream in all of Kentucky at Crank and Boom Ice Cream Lounge. If this Kentucky town is not already on your travel list, be sure to put it down!
Seattle, Washington – The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is a great place to visit for travelers of every background. The Space Needle, Experience Music Project and Pike Place Market are just three of many iconic attractions to take in this bustling city, which make it a hot place to visit. History buffs can also take a stroll through the historic Pioneer Square. Located on the southern end of downtown Seattle, this neighborhood houses Victorian Romanesque architecture, art galleries, and all kinds of museums. Enjoy the 20 blocks of history around you without spending a dime! If you get hungry, grab one of Seattle’s famous treats—Top Pot Doughnuts. With more than 40 different kinds of doughnuts to pick from, it’s a dessert lover’s heaven. Note: Some of the best B&Bs are located right in the heart of the city and are inexpensive to stay at. Taking a trip to Seattle can be both memorable and budget-friendly.
Salt Lake City, Utah – A city known for its great skiing opportunities and beautiful scenery, Salt Lake City is a great place to vacation on a budget. Any person interested in history, religion, or just the outdoors is sure to find something to enjoy here. Not only has the craft beer industry taken off here, but you’ll also find a variety of top-notch live entertainment venues all over the town. In fact, you can even head to the Tabernacle to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person, free of charge. Note that Salt Lake City is also home to Fifth Water Hot Springs, one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the whole state. It requires a hike to get to, but the naturally heated pools are worth the trip.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Looking for cowboy culture at a budget-friendly price? Look no further than Oklahoma City. This former “cow town” is rich in history and culture, and the average hotel costs around $100 a night, so a trip won’t cramp your finances. Enjoy a visit to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and partake in all-star events each month like ARTonTAP, a beer-tasting soiree, or Tequila and Tacos, for a small fee. Enjoy a night of dinner and dancing in the Bricktown District and stop by one of the various (and affordable) restaurants for a real Oklahoma meal – there’s tons to do in town, as you’ll quickly discover.
Boston, Massachusetts – Known for Fenway Park, the Freedom Trail, and clam chowder galore, Boston is on most avid-travelers’ to-do list. Luckily, a trip here does not have to be expensive. With everything to see in this historic city, actual tour prices can be intimidating. That’s why the best way to see all the must-see sights is by foot. Take a walk down the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail and see each of the 16 historical sights along the way. (Bunker Hill and the Boston Tea Party Ship are a few of the best.) Or hop a ride on the Old Town Trolley, which takes you through town and offers detailed descriptions on more than 100 of the sights. (This trolley costs around $40, so if prices are out of your range, you can simply walk and ask locals for a quick snippet about each point of interest that you want to know about.) Enjoy the old, brick houses in Beacon Hill and wander through the gas-lit streets of Louisburg when you are done. You’ll have a great time taking in all the new culture and classic history that makes Boston the beloved city that it is today.
Flagstaff, Arizona – Adventurous and outdoor sorts will savor a trip to Flagstaff, Arizona. Due to the high altitude here (700 feet above sea level), Flagstaff experiences a very different climate than neighboring cities, which makes it a great destination to visit at various times of the year. During the summer, head to the Grand Canyon which is just north of the town, and be sure to bring your camping gear and pitch a tent. Don’t forget to capture photos of the red rocks that reflect millions of years of changing history and see the sunset and sunrise on the canyon of the Colorado River as well. During winter months, Flagstaff offers amazing skiing for a more affordable price than other mountains in the U.S. Stop by the city, and you can camp, ski, and adventure across Arizona’s diverse terrain without spending a fortune.
Lauren Harano is a sun-kissed Californian living in New York City. The Editorial and Marketing Assistant for VINAZINE, she's also written for Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. In her free time, she enjoys finding the best Mexican restaurants in the city and reading in Central Park. Most importantly, she believes that every day is a good day to have a good day.