10 Best Cheap Vacations in the U.S.
Stats show that these 10 U.S. destinations will tread lightly on your wallet.
Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next adventure. Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Budget travel has always existed, but it may be more popular this year, due to the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But being short on discretionary funds doesn’t mean you can’t travel — it just means you have to travel smart. One easy way to do that is to stay domestic and stretch your dollar as far as it’ll go by planning trips to affordable destinations in the U.S.
According to data pulled from Priceline’s top 100 U.S. destinations, the 10 destinations below offer the most affordable average daily rates at hotels at all-star levels. So, get wandering — without breaking the bank. These are the cheapest places to travel in the U.S.
1. Laughlin, Nevada
One irresistible reason to plan a visit to Laughlin: The unincorporated wild desert town averages over 300 days of sunshine each year. Located at the southernmost tip of Nevada, across the Colorado River from Bullhead City, Arizona, Laughlin is like the lesser-known, tamer cousin of Las Vegas. Even still, it’s home to nine resorts, golf courses, casinos, spas, and the beautiful Colorado River, which you can enjoy from afar by taking a stroll along the Riverwalk, or directly on a kayak or sunset cruise.
2. Black Hills, South Dakota
Looking to plan an affordable family vacation to a national wonder? South Dakota’s Black Hills may be your answer. Home to Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills offer plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors, from the Cathedral Spires in Custer State Park to the Wind Cave caverns to Badlands National Park. Plus, the region encompasses more than five million acres of forest, mountain, and Wild West beauty, so everyone has room to roam.
3. Northern Virginia, Virginia
Also known as NoVA, the Northern Virginia region spans several cities extending southwest from Washington, D.C. Highlights like Old Town Alexandria provide easy access to the many monuments and attractions of D.C. at a fraction of the price: You can ride into the city on a 20-minute Metro ride for $3, or simply enjoy the view of our nation’s capital from across the Potomac River. But you don’t have to include D.C. on your itinerary — in NoVA, you’ll encounter quaint cobblestone streets, modern art and culture that’s off the beaten path, plus horse country, history, breweries, boutiques, and more.
4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
There’s a lot to do and see in the high-desert city of Albuquerque — New Mexico’s largest. Whether you explore the modern downtown area or adobe-filled Old Town Albuquerque, you can expect a diverse and active destination with rich Native American influence and beautiful scenery. Make sure to include Albuquerque’s museums, traditional New Mexican cuisine, and Route 66 on your itinerary. Plus, save room in your budget for a splurge: Albuquerque is the hot-air ballooning capital of the world, making it the perfect place to check off this bucket-list adventure.
5. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
If you love beer, motorcycles, and cheese curds, Milwaukee — nicknamed Brew City — is right up your alley. Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the city is home to 30 breweries (including Miller and Pabst), the Harley-Davidson Museum, and yes, plenty of good Wisconsin cheese. Burn off all that tasty food by strolling through the nearly 25,000 works of art at the Milwaukee Art Museum or by enjoying the year-round temperate climate inside the domes of Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory.
6. Las Vegas, Nevada
A trip to Sin City doesn’t have to send you home broke and regretful — just avoid the slots and blackjack tables at the casinos. In fact, visiting Las Vegas on a budget is a practical and fun-filled way to take in the neon lights. There are affordable upscale hotels on and off the Strip, happy hour specials on food and drink all around the city, and even a slew of free attractions, including the famous Fountains of Bellagio and the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo. Oh, and don’t forget to snap a selfie at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
7. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Today, Oklahoma’s capital is nicknamed the Modern Frontier, thanks to its unique combination of Western cowboy culture, working stockyards and oil wells, and urban attractions. Wander Scissortail Park and visit a number of museums, including the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and Oklahoma City Museum of Art. And don’t miss the opportunity to attend a horse show in the Horse Show Capital of the World — many are free or priced very low. Oklahoma City is also known for its Bricktown entertainment district, an old warehouse district that transformed into an entertainment hot spot with a scenic canal winding through it. Plus, Oklahoma City made our list of 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020.
8. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Many assume Philadelphia is the capital of Pennsylvania, but Harrisburg actually lays claim to that title. Most visitors head to Harrisburg to indulge all their Willy Wonka dreams at nearby Hersheypark, a chocolate-themed amusement park founded in 1906. However, visitors can also enjoy outdoor activities, both on and off the Susquehanna River, as well as historical and cultural enrichment at the National Civil War Museum, the Brew Barons Beer Trail, the Beaux-Arts Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex, and the Susquehanna Art Museum, which is housed in a former bank. Riverfront Park and City Island are worth a stroll — and totally free — and the massive Midtown Scholar Bookstore, a renovated 1920s theater, is perfect for hunting used book bargains.
9. Chicago, Illinois
The Windy City can get pretty pricey, but stick to its outskirts and you’ll find great deals. Book a hotel in the suburbs and you can easily ride the L into the city for just a few dollars. Chicago also has a ton of free things to do: You can stroll Navy Pier, snap a mirrored selfie at the Bean in Millennium Park, attend an event beneath the world’s largest Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center, hit the scenic Lakefront Trail, stroll the Chicago Riverwalk, and visit the Lincoln Park Zoo — all without cracking open your wallet. Pro tip: A Chicago-style deep-dish pizza will set you back less than $20, but it easily feeds a group (or makes for great leftovers).
10. Omaha, Nebraska
One of the most underrated destinations in the U.S., Omaha has big-city vibes with small-town charm. Located on the Missouri River near the Iowa border, Omaha is a stop on the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, so you’ll find lots of history in the city. Make sure to stroll Pioneer Courage Park, an urban public art park with more than 100 larger-than-life bronze sculptures stampeding six blocks through downtown Omaha and telling the story of the westward journey of early pioneers. Kenefick Park is another must-visit for those interested in early American history, and the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and Durham Museum are also popular among visitors. However, no visit to Omaha is complete without fraternizing with Bob, Omaha’s unofficial mascot — a 3,000-foot pedestrian bridge with personality (and a blue troll).
Looking for more cheap places to travel in the U.S.? Here’s the bottom 10 from Priceline’s top 20:
11. Myrtle Beach, SC
12. Tulsa, OK
13. Houston, TX
14. Reno, NV
15. Denver, CO
16. Hampton Roads, VA
17. Cleveland, OH
18. Rio Grande Valley, TX
19. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
20. Charlotte, NC