With the rising cost of food and gas, you may not have as much money as you once did for vacations. Fortunately, these 25 best vacations on a budget will allow you to get away and relax without the big price tag.
Why You Need a Vacation
I am a firm believer that every individual, couple, or family should plan and take a vacation at least once every two years, if not once per year.
Allina Health actually reported on several health benefits associated with taking a vacation. They include:
- An increase in productivity at work and a reduction in burnout.
- Healing of the mind by decreasing anxiety and depression.
- A better mood and improved sleep patterns.
- Stronger family bonds.
Vacations provide a much needed break from day-to-day activities, and allow individuals to let loose and relax.
Planning a Vacation on a Budget
Now that we’ve established how important it is to take a vacation, we can move on to planning one.
The last thing you want to do is come home from vacation in debt. That will only add to your stress, not relieve it. So planning and keeping your finances in mind is key to creating and following a vacation budget.
The best vacations on a budget start with pen and paper. You can grab a notebook or purchase an already done-for-you worksheet. I recommend the one below, which is really affordable and can be reused again and again.
All-In-One Travel Planner by ManjaSheets
When creating your vacation budget from scratch, make sure you add up the following expenses:
- Cost of your flights or train tickets (or gas for car travel)
- Travel insurance if necessary
- Any special purchases needed for the trip (like sunblock for beach vacations)
- Souvenirs (to keep costs low I only purchase 1 souvenir to remember the trip)
Take the total cost of all of the expenses and divide that number by the number of months until your trip. That’s how much you need to save monthly to return home debt free.
25 Best Vacations on a Budget
Here is a list of 25 cheap vacation destinations to consider when deciding where to go with your family next.
When my children were tweens, I took them on a trip to Washington D.C. If you live within driving distance, like we do, you’ll find it’s super affordable and offers plenty to do.
You’ll find that most of the museums and monuments are completely free to visit, which means you won’t need to set aside money for activities.
You can walk to many of the sites from the hotels, which also saves on transportation costs.
I highly recommend visiting the city when the cherry trees are in bloom. Simply stunning!
2. St. Augustine, Florida
I’ve actually taken my kids to St. Augustine several times. It’s another location that is very walkable with plenty to do and see at a low cost.
We always make it a point to stop by the Castillo de San Marcos, which is a historic fort that is free for kids age 15 and under. Those over 15 pay $15, but this pass is good for an entire week.
You can also spend time on the beautiful beaches, visit the oldest wooden school house, or check out the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine.
3. Chattanooga, Tennessee
The views in this Tennessee city are hard to beat, as is the cost to visit with the family.
Put on a good pair of walking shoes and head to the Tennessee Riverwalk, which extends a whopping 16 miles with plans to expect to 22 miles!
From the Riverwalk, you’ll be able to access multiple nature trails, go fishing along the waterfront, and take some of the most breathtaking photos. The aquarium is also three blocks away, which is another must-do attraction.
Chattanooga also offers many hotel accommodations with rooms that cost under $100 per night.
4. Little Rock, Arkansas
Another city with room accommodations under $100 is Little Rock, Arkansas.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park is the place to go if you’re looking for hiking trails, while the Museum of Discovery is better suited to science buffs.
It’s free to check out the Big Dam Bridge, which is the longest pedestrian walkway in the world. Afterward, stop by Riverfront Park for a picnic lunch.
Additional attractions that won’t break the bank include Heifer Village, Little Rock Zoo and the Arkansas Skatium, which offers both roller skating and ice skating.
5. San Jose, California
San Jose is very walkable, which is why you’ll find plenty of walking tours you can join if you wish.
Start with Monopoly in the Park, where you’ll find the world’s largest Monopoly board! Afterward, take a ride on the Ferris wheel at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.
Spend an afternoon on the beach before heading to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. There’s plenty to see and do on the boardwalk, including playing an affordable game of mini-golf.
It may surprise you to learn that there are plenty of hotels in San Jose that cost less than $100 per night, making it an excellent budget-friendly vacation.
6. Holland, Michigan
If you love the charm of a small town, then you’ll want to add Holland, Michigan to your list of budget vacation destinations.
This town has cobblestone streets and windmills to explore. Both, the Holland Museum and the Windmill Island Gardens are super affordable.
Plan to tour the De Klomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, as it’s completely free! Then visit the town’s famous boardwalk to check out the lighthouse.
Hotels with breakfast included run as low as $65 per night, depending upon the season.
7. Cancun, Mexico
Looking to travel outside of the United States? Cancun, Mexico is a great option as it offers many affordable vacation packages.
You can book a trip to this cheap vacation destination at an all-inclusive resort that includes your lodging, food, and recreation (beach and pool access) for one low price.
Flights to Cancun are also among the most affordable when it comes to destinations outside the U.S. It’s definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a destination vacation.
8. Charlotte, North Carolina
There’s no lack of free or cheap things to do in Charlotte. Start by heading to Fort Mills and enjoy the nature trails at Anne Springs Close Greenway.
Next, take the kids to Good Karma Ranch Farm for a tour. Under 5 are free and adults are just $10. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the alpacas before you leave!
Charlotte Liberty Walk is completely free and loaded with landmarks that you won’t want to miss.
A few other top-notch activities in this town include the Wing Havens Garden & Bird Sanctuary, the Billy Graham Library, and the Center’s Art After Dark gallery.
9. Wildwood, New Jersey
There are countless affordable accommodations throughout Wildwood, New Jersey, which is known for its big beaches and long boardwalk.
One of my favorite things to do is to take the kids to the Wildwood Aviation Museum, which has super affordable ticket prices. Kids can explore all the planes and you don’t have to worry, as they are allowed to touch everything.
Miniature golf courses and arcades abound when you want a break from sunbathing or riding the ocean waves.
You’ll also discover the Seaport Aquarium, the Palace of Sweets Adventure Maze, and plenty of cheap eats when you visit.
10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Another budget-friendly beach vacation is found at Myrtle Beach. A few of my friends just got back from Myrtle Beach and they loved it. When my grandparents were alive, they visited every summer.
Myrtle Beach State Park is the best starting point for your trip, as it offers beach access, nature trails, and access to the piers.
Stroll the boardwalk and promenade next. There you will find live music, affordable eats, and even a few parrots.
Stop by the Waccatee Zoo, where kids are just $5 and you can view over 1,000 animals. The Tanger Outlets offer shopping for less, so this really is one of the best vacations on a budget.
11. Lexington, Kentucky
Since Lexington is the largest city in Kentucky, there is no loss for things to do and see.
You can take a bike ride down Lexington Trail and then walk through the beautiful gardens at The Arboretum.
Lexington is also the “Horse Capital of the World,” so you’ll want to swing by Thoroughbred Park to view the 40 statues and bronze plaques of many of the horses and their riders.
A few other budget vacation destinations to check out while you’re in town include the Mary Todd Lincoln House, the Lexington History Museum, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing (where you can sign up for a tour to see how cars are made).
12. Caye Caulker, Belize
You’ll be surrounded by beauty if you choose to take your budget vacation at Caye Caulker, Belize. This small island is walkable and you won’t find any cars in sight.
Soak up some sun on the beach, take a tour of the ancient Mayan ruins or go snorkeling to check out some of the most colorful coral reefs.
Accommodations are more affordable the farther you go from the beach, but this really isn’t an issue as no matter where you stay, you’ll find the beach isn’t far away.
13. Portland, Maine
When it comes to free events and festivals, Portland is hard to beat. When planning a vacation on a budget, don’t forget to look for any events that may be going on around the dates you’d like to visit.
Plan an afternoon to stroll down Old Port, which has quaint cobblestone streets, cute shops, and delicious restaurants.
Learn about the pre-Civil War era by taking a tour of Victoria Mansion. Children under 5 are free and students up to age 16 cost just $5. There are discounts for AAA members and seniors as well.
The Portland Observatory, Casco Bay, and the Wadsworth Longfellow House are also worth putting on your to-do list.
14. Williamsburg, Virginia
I love choosing cheap vacation destinations that promote a love of learning in my children. One of my favorite trips with the was to Williamsburg.
There are plenty of affordable accommodations in the area and you can even work out affordable vacation packages that include room accommodations and area attraction tickets.
Walking around Colonial Williamsburg was relaxing and so much fun. Kids get to learn what life was like in the 18th century through various tours and hands-on activities.
Also nearby is the Jamestown Settlement, the Governor’s Palace, and the Williamsburg Premium Outlets.
15. Panajachel, Guatemala
Family vacations on a budget may lead you to Panajachel, which has many many affordable accommodation options that will make the destination vacation a possibility.
The city provides access to a variety of low-cost activities, such as volcano climbing treks, water sports and ATV excursions.
Head to the Atitlan Nature Reserve Trail and get ready to take pictures of waterfalls and wildlife or stop by the ancient Mayan ruins of Iximche.
There are also plenty of museums to visit if your enjoy artwork and learning about the history of an area.
16. Burlington, Vermont
Vermont gets pretty cold in the winter, but once the temperatures warm up, you’ll want to plan your vacation on a budget to this exciting destination.
Admission to the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art is completely free, so you’ll want to make this your first stop.
Next, check out local shopping, dining and events at the Church Street Marketplace. Then head out on the open waters of Lake Champion with a tour aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen.
There are several bed and breakfast accommodations in this town with affordable rates, which is nice because you’ll only have to budget for two meals per day instead of three.
17. Grand Canyon, Arizona
What is more breathtaking than the Grand Canyon? You can visit on a budget as long as you’re willing to seek accommodations “off property.” Camping is also an option here, which equals big savings.
When visiting, you’ll need a good pair of hiking shoes and protection from the sun. You can hike and take amazing photos of the Grand Canyon without spending a fortune.
Add the Tusayan Ruins and Museum to your activities list. You can visit on one of their free days (1/17, 4/16, 8/4, 9/24, and 11/11) or you can pay just $35 total for your vehicle (up to 15 passengers are included).
The Grand Canyon Railway Depot, Kolb Studio, and the Yavapai Geology Museum are also affordable to visit.
18. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Another historical site worth visiting is Gettysburg. The re-enactments on the battlefields are the best you’ll ever see.
Start with the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center, where many of the self-guided tours are free as long as you purchase a trolley ticket (active military are always free).
Trolley tickets are free for younger children and under $10 for everyone else, so it’s very affordable.
I also recommend stopping by Devils Den or Little Round Top, the Gettysburg Museum of Natural History, and the State of Pennsylvania Monument.
If your family loves spending time in the great outdoors, then Yellowstone is one of the best vacations on a budget that you can take.
To keep costs low, you’ll want to stay just outside the park. The cheapest is to camp in nearby Cooke City.
Getting around the park requires that you either have a bicycle or a car. You can sign up for a tour as well if you don’t have a bicycle or car, but that will make the trip a bit more expensive.
Make sure you put stopping by Old Faithful, Fishing Bridge, and Dragon’s Mouth Springs on your must-see list.
When camping, you can keep food costs low with a backpacking stove and your own groceries.
20. Custer State Park, South Dakota
If you can’t get to Yellowstone, Custer State Park is the next best thing! It also offers stunning views and a host of wildlife across an astounding 73,000 acres.
It costs just $20 per vehicle, and that gives you a permit to visit for a full week. While at the part, you can hike, bike, picnic, swim, fish, birdwatch, take a boat out, visit the museum, and stop by the historical sites.
During the summer there are also educational programs for the kids.
There are nine total campgrounds within Custer State Park, most of which are extremely affordable. For example, if you don’t mind staying in a tent, you’ll pay just $15 per night at the Bluebell Campground.
Upgrade to a cabin for just $55 per night, which is still a budget-friendly option.
21. Galena, Illinois
When visiting Galena, you’ll want to stay at a bed and breakfast, which costs just $100 per night and includes a hot meal to get your day started off on the right foot.
Activities in this town are also extremely affordable. It costs just $5 per person to tour the home of Ulysses S. Grant, America’s 18th president.
Touring the Elihu B. Washburne House comes with a suggested donation of $5, but no required entry fee.
Go kayaking along the Galena River or walk Main Street to check out all the shops and restaurants. Don’t forget to check out Linmar Gardens, which is beautifully landscaped and a peaceful place to spend an afternoon.
22. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is on my vacation list, as my daughter visited the state of Tennessee a year ago and hasn’t stopped talking about how beautiful and peaceful it is.
There are plenty of free and cheap things to do in Gatlinburg, including visiting Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook.
There are miniature golf courses and arcades, as well as charming stores at The Village Shops. Adults can visit one of the many wineries or distilleries for a taste testing.
In Gatlinburg, you’ll also find the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, and the Christ in the Smokies Museum & Gardens.
23. Assateague Island, Virginia
If you have a love for horses, Assateague Island is the place to go. Here you’ll come across the most beautiful feral horses roaming around.
There are plenty of bicycle and walking trails for combining exercise with time in nature. You can also take out a kayak, explore the sand dunes, and visit the lighthouse.
Consider spending time on the beach either swimming or fishing and then do some birdwatching at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
When it comes to accommodations, you can camp on the island, or stay at a hotel just outside of the island.
We live close enough to Lancaster that we can make it a day trip, however, we prefer to spend the weekend because there is just so much to do and see.
Finding affordable hotel accommodations is a breeze and there are even campgrounds, such as those near Dutch Wonderland.
The only thing we splurge for is a show at Sight & Sound. I highly recommend that if you can fit it in your budget.
While in Lancaster make sure you take a horse-drawn carriage tour, visit the farmer’s market, and stop by the North Museum of Nature and Science (all tickets are $9 and under per person).
The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is also nearby, and I highly recommend it. We went last time and had a blast.
25. Athens, Georgia
The last budget vacation destinations on our list is Athens, Georgia, which is home to the popular Sandy Creek Park. Here you can spend time on the beach, hike, fish, and even disc golf.
The park has picnic and grilling areas for keeping food costs low, as well as playgrounds for the kids and special play areas for your dog.
In addition to Sandy Creek Park, you can visit Bear Hollow Zoo, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and the shops of downtown Athens.
There are plenty of historic homes you can tour, so you may want to plan for that as well.
How Do You Take A Vacation on a Tight Budget?
We’ve discussed how to budget for a trip, but how do you lower the overall cost when you’re on a tight budget?
Here are a few tips to make your vacation even more affordable:
- Stay with family. The first time I vacationed in Florida, I stayed with my mother, who had recently moved there. I didn’t need to pay for food or lodging. Just the cost to get down there (17 hours away) and back.
- Check out Airbnb prices. I’ve actually found Airbnbs that were cheaper than the area hotels. Plus, they have kitchens so you can get groceries instead of eating out. Since I already have weekly groceries in my regular budget, this doesn’t add any cost to my vacation budget.
- Choose a walkable town or use public transportation to get around. This will save you on your overall gas expense.
- Choose dates that are less popular (out of season). Dates when kids have off of school are typically busier, as that is when most families plan their vacations.
- Use rewards cards/hotel loyalty cards, as they will earn you money back or credits toward a free stay for a future vacation.
- Stick to free and cheap activities – opt for destinations with free hiking trails, beaches, lakes, etc.
Where is the Cheapest Place to Travel in the US?
I personally spent the least amount of money when I traveled to Washington DC, so I’d label that as the cheapest place to travel in the US.
It’s important to note, however, that hotels in Washington DC are on the expensive side. You’ll want to book a hotel just outside the city, as there are many that are super affordable.
You can then commute in using your own vehicle or public transportation and then walk around to all the sites and attractions, which are mostly free.
Where is the Cheapest Place to Take a Vacation?
When it comes to non-US trips, I believe the cheapest is Cancun, Mexico. This is because you can book affordable vacation packages that include your room, meals, and entertainment.
You can spend time on the beach relaxing in the sun or swimming in the ocean without having to pay anything extra.
If you are a AAA member, you can often get a discount on this type of trip as well, so make sure you look into it. I’ve gone to AAA for vacation advice a few times and I’ve never been disappointed in their tips.
In Conclusion: What Are the Best Affordable Vacations?
The best vacations on a budget are the ones you take the time to map out and save up for.
I always list all of the costs associated with the trip, including any new outfits I may want to purchase. Then I determine how much money I need to save per month to go.
When I come home, I feel relaxed and ready to get back to work and tackle the days ahead. I have no anxiety because I know I paid for my trip in full and came home with no debt.
Even if you can only afford a weekend trip, it’s totally worth it and will do wonders for your body and mind!
Do you have any suggestions for family vacations on a budget? If so, let us know in the comments below!