10 of the Most Affordable Vacation Destinations in 2015
Does getting away from it all seem to leave your bank account stranded in poverty? You’re not alone. Research shows that vacations are an expensive proposition for Americans. The average summer trip costs around $1,200 per person, while half of travelers sacrifice big-ticket items like electronics in order to afford a trip. However, where you choose to go can make or break your travel budget.
The majority of Americans take their summer vacations within the country, which is good news for those on a budget. America has a variety of affordable vacation spots. A new analysis from GOBankingRates investigated 50 of the most popular vacation cities in the United States, ranking each on factors that matter most to frugal travelers: hotel prices, airfare and ground transportation costs, and dining expenses. Hotel prices and airfare costs received the largest weighting.
“You don’t have to drive to the middle of nowhere to find a cheap summer vacation. In fact, some of the least expensive destinations on our list are also the most popular, “said Casey Bond, GOBankingRates’ editor in chief, in a press release. “Still, it’s important to remember that saving money on vacation doesn’t end with finding a cheap flight or inexpensive hotel room; don’t blow your budget on squeezing in visits to crowded tourist traps. You can have more fun, spend less money and get a more authentic experience at some of the cheapest cities in the country.”
Let’s take a closer look at the 10 best cities in America to visit on a budget, based on a five-day vacation period.
With relatively inexpensive airfare and dining options, Denver ranks as the No. 10 best city in America to visit on a budget. Top attractions include: Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, Larimer Square, Coors Field, Denver Zoo, and several museums. Nature lovers can enjoy Washington Park or Mount Evans Scenic Byway, a 15-mile road that allows you to experience the Rocky Mountains.
If you would like to learn more about money and U.S. currency, you can even take a free guided tour of the U.S. Mint. GOBankingRates found that Denver’s hotel prices and transportation costs were slightly higher than some other cities on the list, but overall this is still a smart, affordable destination for the whole family.
The birthplace of rock and roll ranks No. 9 on the list thanks to some of the lowest drink and food prices of any city in the study. Visitors can enjoy the extensive music scene, and even tour Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion, located about 12 miles south of Downtown Memphis. In fact, Graceland is one of the most visited homes in America and offers an interactive iPad tour for a fully immersive experience. Children six and under get in for free, while other ticket packages range from $16 to $77 per person. Other top attractions include the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, and Memphis Zoo.
8. Salt Lake City
Despite slightly high airfare prices, Salt Lake City can be an affordable vacation spot to enjoy the outdoors and inexpensive transportation and hotel prices. It’s home to the Great Salt Lake, the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. Visitors can hike, picnic, and boat at one of the most popular tourist destinations in Utah, then enjoy a picture-perfect sunset over the water.
Utah is also a top choice to spend time on the slopes. Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort offers 3,240 vertical feet of award-winning terrain for all skill levels, and boasts Utah’s longest ski season. It’s only a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport. Visitors may also spend time outdoors at Liberty Park and Utah Olympic Park for free.
7. Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids, Mich. ranks No. 7 on the list of best vacation spots on a budget. Hotels are affordable and transportation costs are inexpensive. GOBankingRates notes that visitors can enjoy fresh water beaches, vibrant nightlife, outdoor activities, and historic sites. The Gerald R. Ford Museum, Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, and Millennial Park are all highly rated. The Grand Rapids Public Museum has three floors of core exhibits focusing on history, science, and culture, and also showcases several special exhibits throughout the year.
The flights can be expensive, but Albuquerque provides low-cost hotel options and transportation fees, placing it No. 6 on the list. Vacationers will find a vibrant local art scene and several museums. Top attractions include: Sandia Peak Tramway, Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum of Albuquerque, Max’s Magic Theatre, ABQ BioPark Zoo, the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Want pictures from a bird’s eye view? Albuquerque is also known for its world-renowned balloon fiesta that takes place in October, while several companies like World Balloon, Rainbow Ryders, Private Balloon Flights, and Sweet Escape Balloon Rides offer private rides throughout the year.
Motor City might offer more than you think. Budget friendly prices on hotel, food, drink, and transportation makes Detroit an affordable destination. Top attractions include: Detroit Institute of Arts, Motown Historical Museum, Eastern Market, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Detroit RiverFront. Don’t forget to check out a professional sports team while you’re in the area (Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, and Tigers), and tour the Ford Rouge Factory, where the Ford F-150 is made.
4. Kansas City
Barbecue isn’t the only reason to visit Kansas City, Mo. Affordable hotel rooms and slightly cheaper-than-average airfare places Kansas City at No. 4 on the list. Visitors can spend an entire day at the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where free admission allows you access to more than 35,000 art objects. Down the street is the Country Club Plaza, which is located up the street from Loose Park, one of the city’s most popular parks.
Union Station and Crown Center in the heart of downtown offer a variety of activities for the entire family, including Science City, Sea Life Aquarium, and Hallmark Kaleidoscope. Visitors looking to learn more about money should check out the Federal Reserve’s Money Museum for free. Sports fans also have plenty of options. The Kansas City Royals and Chiefs stadiums are side-by-side, while a short drive to Kansas offers Sporting KC and the Kansas Speedway. Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun give thrills on the Missouri side, while Schlitterbahn provides the world’s tallest water slide on the Kansas side.
Home to Mickey Mouse and his friends, Orlando is already one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country, and ranks No. 3 on the best cities to visit on a budget. Top attractions include Disney World, Universal Studios, and Epcot, among several others. Don’t forget to get away from the headline attractions and check out Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Kart Center, Thornton Park. While theme park tickets and in-park dining can steal some magic from budgeters, Orlando has some of the best airfare and transportation costs on the list.
Staying in Florida, Jacksonville ranks No. 2 on the best cities to visit on a budget. Visitors typically head to the beach where they can do anything from stand-up paddle boarding to fishing excursions. Top attractions include: Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, Jacksonville Zoo & Garden, Atlantic Beach, Museum of Science and History, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. Jacksonville scored well in all categories, but had the lowest overall hotel prices out of any city on the list.
1. Las Vegas
As long as you can keep your gambling and drinking expenses under control, Sin City ranks as the best city in America to visit on a budget. In fact, the average cost of a round-trip flight to Vegas was the lowest of any city featured on the list, and most airports offer multiple flights a day. Hotel rooms along the strip can be found for under $100 per night at places like the Excalibur, Luxor, and Tropicana. A rental car is unnecessary for many travelers, as the Las Vegas Deuce bus system runs up and down the strip 24 hours a day, stopping at almost every hotel and casino. A 24-hour pass costs $8, while a 3-day plan costs only $20.
Almost every hotel located on the strip is worth seeing, but some of the top attractions include: Mirage volcano, Bellagio fountains, Stratosphere rides, and the architectural beauty inside the Wynn. You can also feel like you’re in Venice by taking a gondola ride at the Venetian. Don’t forget to check out a show, and of course, the many buffets. Car lovers can also see a collection of over 250 World Class automobiles at The Auto Collection, located at the LINQ Hotel. Admission is free with an online coupon.
Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS