10 Affordable U.S. Travel Destinations – and How to Experience Them on a Budget

With the summer approaching, you’re probably looking wistfully at pop up ads of perfect white beaches with happy glistening people sitting on them. If money is tight, don’t assume an American seaside break—or any other U.S. vacation—is out of your financial reach. Compromise on timings and location, and you can get a lot of beach, city or unspoiled countryside for your buck.

Yosemite National Park, CA

El Capitan and Merced River meet in Yosemite. (Photo: Fotolia)

El Capitan and Merced River meet in Yosemite. (Photo: Fotolia)



This 1,200 square mile hunk of Californian wilderness is home to some of the most beautiful scenery the state—or country—has to offer: soaring waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, plus a glut of hiking trails and natural monuments.

How to visit on a budget

Take a tent and camp for a fraction of the price of a hotel. This will also give you the freedom to stay at a safe distance from the seven square-mile patch that lures most of the park’s tourists. Also, stock up on supplies before you enter the preserve. To get around, take advantage of Yosemite’s free bus service.

Destin, FL

Sunset in Destin, Florida. (Photo: Ruth P. Peterkin/Fotolia)

Sunset in Destin, Florida. (Photo: Ruth P. Peterkin/Fotolia)



In the heart of Florida’s Panhandle sits this under appreciated Gulf Coast enclave. The beaches are white, and the city has a low-key, relaxed vibe. Which is no small thing in a state where the most big name beaches are lined with flashy high rises and associated ridiculousness.

How to visit on a budget

Go off-season and book a vacation rental or hotel for well under $100 per night. The beach is free and, if you take your own chairs, umbrellas and food, you can save a fortune. Pack a rod, and you may even be able to catch your dinner. After all, Destin is known locally as the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.

Nashville, TN

Nashville in the morning. (Photo: Fotolia)

Nashville in the morning. (Photo: Fotolia)



Low hotel prices, live music in almost every bar and superb barbecue make Music City one of the most enticing spots in the South. The pressure is on to visit the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, but Nashville’s smaller live music venues are a better bet for the money-conscious traveler.

How to visit on a budget

Holiday in the winter when hotel prices are low and the heat is less intense. Invest in a total access city pass, which buys you access to four attractions for only $60. Also, check out Nashville’s tourism site for free activities and money-saving coupons.

New Orleans

New Orleans. (Photo: Fotolia)

New Orleans. (Photo: Fotolia)



Sublime Creole and Cajun food at reasonable prices, live music and cheap, gaudy beverages served in plastic cups (which you can take to go!) are just some of the things that make this Louisiana jewel so popular.

How to visit on a budget

Avoid high prices—not to mention time spent forcibly nestled in the armpits of unwashed revelers—by not planning a trip during Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. July and August are the best months for finding a great deal on a hotel. But whenever you go, avoid the rip-off accommodation options in the French Quarter.

Washington, DC

The Smithsonian (Photo: Fotolia)

The Smithsonian (Photo: Fotolia)



The nation’s capital brims with lobbyists, bureaucrats and distinctly un-budget hotel options. But you can still holiday on the cheap, because within DC’s limits are enough free attractions to fill several vacations.

How to visit on a budget

Three words: The Smithsonian Institute. Admission to this excellent crop of museums—plus the National Zoo—is free, making it a great option for money-conscious holidaymakers. Bu the complimentary fun doesn’t stop there. Check out this 20-free-things-to-do-in-DC guide. Between museums, try to avoid the street vendors selling over priced, disappointing fare. Pack a lunch or target the city’s ethnic food hotspots. The U Street Corridor is famous for its great and reasonably priced Ethiopian restaurants.

Chicago, IL

Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago (Photo: Fotolia)

Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago (Photo: Fotolia)



Brave, budget-conscious visitors to the Windy City book their trip for the winter months when hotels and airlines slash their prices. The chilly weather might make Chi-Town seem like an unattractive holiday spot, but if you’re primarily interested in the city’s museums and excellent restaurants then it’ll be minimally bothersome.

How to visit on a budget

Book a BB in one of Chicago’s northern neighborhoods like Andersonville or Lincoln Park. And about those museums you’ll be hauled up in because it’s so darn cold: most are free on certain days, so plan your schedule accordingly. And invest in a Chicago CityPASS, which gets you massive discounts on the city’s top attractions.

Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs (Photo: Fotolia)

Palm Springs (Photo: Fotolia)



This desert oasis conjures up images vintage Hollywood starlets draped seductively on expensive poolside furniture. Sure, you can blow your cash trying to emulate Audrey Hepburn on hiatus, but there’s plenty of moderately priced accommodation in the region’s Spanish and mid-century chic hotels.


How to visit on a budget


Hotel rates fall as the temperature soars in July and August, so factor this in when booking. For some relief from the heat, visit the mountains. If you’re after some budget retail therapy, Palm Springs is home to some of California’s best thrift stores.

Austin, TX

Austin (Photo: Fotolia)

Austin (Photo: Fotolia)



For a Texas vacation that the Ewing clan wouldn’t be seen dead on, head to the proudly alternative Austin. If the city’s slogan “Keep Austin weird” isn’t enough to lure you, then how about its affordability? It has everything budget conscious, trend-seeking travelers could want, from the inexpensive live music venues to picturesque outdoor swimming spots, like Lady Bird Lake and Barton Springs Pool.

How to visit on a budget

Follow the student crowd, and avoid festivals and game days. The achingly cool city has an impressive collection of stylish but moderately priced (sometimes under $100 per night) boutique hotels. Although the culinary scene has exploded in recent years, there’s still a decent crop of budget-friendly, mouth-watering BBQ and Mexican food options. For ribs with a side of live music, head to 2nd and 6th Streets.

Charlottesville, VA

Grape growers in the east coast’s nearest equivalent to Napa Valley have only recently been able to tease decent vintages out of the soil. Touring the town’s wineries is fun and surprisingly affordable. As an added bonus, you’ll get to gaze at the stunning Virginian countryside as you sip a local Bordeaux.

How to visit on a budget

Hotel prices are encouraging reasonable, especially compared to exorbitantly overpriced Napa. Visit Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, off season, November to February, and ticket prices drop.

Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas (Photo: Fotolia)

Las Vegas (Photo: Fotolia)



Stippled with low-cost hotels, this adult playground can provide a bargain break, provided you don’t gamble away everything you save. Instead, hang out at the casino’s all-you-can-eat buffets and lounge in your inexpensive luxury hotel room.

How to visit on a budget

Stick to the low-risk slot machines, soak up the sun at one of the many public pools and hammer those heaving buffets. If you put in the research, you can score some amazing deals on flights and hotels. Vegas traffic is a nightmare, and car hire will pump up your spend, so get around using public transport or those things on the end of your legs.

See more:
Traveling DIY Style: Tips for Brits Planning U.S. Holidays
Themed Vacations: Ideas for Brits in America
5 Very American Ways for Brits to See the U.S.
9 U.S. Vacation Destinations That Will Remind Brits of Home
7 Ways to Scrimp and Save in the U.S.

Join @MindtheGap_BBCA on Twitter tomorrow (Wednesday, April 30) at 2 pm ET to chat about ways to save on travel costs. We’ll be joined by blogger Kash Bhattacharya, known on Twitter as @BudgetTraveller. (Visit his website.) Tweet us using hashtag #MindTheChat for a chance to win the most recent season of BBC AMERICA’s Top Gear (Season 21) on iTunes!

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