There are many reasons for couples to take cheap vacations. You may be on a budget and trying to retire early or want to balance expenses on a trip between luxury stays and heart-pounding adventures. Most importantly, you shouldn’t sacrifice your fun just because you’re looking for low budget vacation ideas.
With our years of travel, we know tricks and tips for cheap flights, road trips, shoulder seasons (even in summer!), and hacks for food and activities that will maximize your fun while stretching your dollar.
Cheap Exotic Vacations For Couples
What couple doesn’t love exotic vacations and seeing something extraordinary? Many foreign destinations are dirt cheap once you arrive (like eating street food in Bangkok), but your entire vacation budget will get eaten up by airfare. Others, like Europe, have an insanely high daily cost, regardless of what Rick Steve says.
Our budget exotic destination list combines the best of both worlds, so you can arrive without breaking the bank and return with a few dineros in your pocket.
Puerto Rico Vacations
Visiting Puerto Rico is like hitting the easy button of foreign travel. It’s technically in America, so your phone plan works, you spend dollars, and you don’t need a passport, but it still has a vibe and culture all its own. You’ll see cities older than anything on the mainland, bioluminescent lagoons, and the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. park system.
JetBlue generally has the cheapest flights to “The Island”. You can get there for under $200 bucks round trip. Once you arrive, you’ll find oceanfront Caribbean resorts where you can play golf, scuba dive, snorkel, or just bask on beautiful beaches with a mango mojito in your hand.
Riviera Maya Vacations
It’s super easy to find a cheap flight to Cancun, which makes Riviera Maya an affordable exotic vacation. Rather than blowing your budget on an inclusive vacation, look for the less touristy alternatives to get off the beaten path in the Yucatan Peninsula, like renting a car and driving to the interior to see Chichen Itza and hidden cenotes or a mini-vaca to Cozumel or Tulum. You can save enough money to splurge for a night or two of absolute luxury in an adult-only all-inclusive property.
There is a fabulous bus service from the Cancun Airport, so you can get to Holbox or Playa Del Carmen excursion without renting a car. Things to do in Holbox in the summer include swimming with whale sharks and bioluminescent lagoons. Playa offers great food and dining at an affordable price with plenty of day trips, including diving with bull sharks and snorkeling with turtles.
Costa Rica Vacations
Spirit Airlines services Costa Rica from the East Coast and Volaris has cheap flights of Tijuana, so airfare is reasonable, but the rental cars are notoriously expensive. Our secret back door trick is to combine an airport transfer with an Arenal adventure. You can zipline on the way in, go white water rafting on the way back, and walk through Arenal on your stay with no worries. Pura Vida!
In Costa Rica, summer is a shoulder season, so you will not pay peak spring prices. Many Costa Rican resorts are getaways in their own right, with on-premise hot springs and private access to the jungle.
Mexico City Vacations
There are some great flights to Mexico City, especially if you’re in Southern California and can do the Tijuana Airport hack, where you park in the U.S. and take the CBX Bridge directly into the Tijuana airport. Once you’re in T.J., the flight to Mexico City is domestic.
Mexico City is 7,200 feet above sea level, so it’s relatively comfortable all summer long and free from hurricanes. There are plenty of attractions in the city, like European architecture, cafes, museums, and affordable hotels at every level, plus abundant tours into the countryside so you can visit car-free.
Rocky Point Vacations
Puerto Peñasco has so many gringos visiting that it’s commonly called Rocky Point, aka Arizona’s Beach. It’s so close, in fact, that it’s a driving destination from Tucson or Phoenix. Once you arrive, there are luxury condos that cost less than most hotels and that undeniable Mexican feel whether you take a boat tour to Bird Island or just siesta in the sand.
Our best tricks for going to Rocky Point are to purchase your Mexican Insurance ahead of time and consider an electronic sim card. Be aware that the Lukeville Border Crossing is closed from 8 pm to 6 am and can get busy on Sundays.
Quebec City Vacations
Visiting Quebec City is like going to Europe without the jetlag. Lingua Franca is in the air, the restaurants are très magnifique, and there’s more romance than you can pack into a single weekend with horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone streets and the most photographed hotel in the world!
Summer in Quebec is a wonderfully cool explosion in green with accessible adventures, including Montmorency Falls and spectacular Via Ferrata trails. All you need to do is brush up on your French and book at a boutique hotel in the heart of the old city.
Vancouver Island Vacations
Visiting Vancouver Island in the summer is like going to the Alaskan coast, but it’s just a short ferry ride from Vancouver and less than an hour from the Washington border. The island is known for its mild climate and thriving arts community. Victoria, the capital, is filled to the brim with art, culture, and gardens, while the countryside is bustling with primeval forest and spectacular coastlines waiting to be explored.
Pick your hotel, plan your activities, and then explore the charm and beauty of Vancouver Island.
Cheap Florida Vacations For Families and More
Florida has become more than a little divisive in the travel space these days. Then again, people seem to be getting farther off-center every day. If you have deep-seated convictions one way or another, we won’t change your mind. However, Florida is more than just the Sunshine State and House Mouse; it’s the most affordable tropical vacation Americans can take – period.
Between cheap flights and road trips, it’s pretty easy for most people to get to Florida. Once they arrive, they can find anything they’re looking for, from luxury vacations in cosmopolitan destinations to confirmation bias that Florida Man exists or everybody is crazy in the “Gunshine State.” Personally, we think Florida has the best beaches, best springs, and best diving on the mainland, and if you’ve never been kissed by a manatee, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Orland is the mecca for family vacations because what good parent doesn’t want to pay money to Walt Disney World and Universal Study for an immersive week in their intellectual property and gift shops? With not one but two of the cheapest airports in America, It’s easy to get to Orlando, but what is there for couples to do once they arrive? Long story short, there are many romantic hotels and adventurous things to do in Orlando.
In town, you can explore Disney resorts with that unique theme park experience and no park tickets or crying kids. There are fireworks at the Polonysian, Skyliner flights to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, boat tour of CityWalk, and some of Orlando’s best restaurants, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, with the largest collection of South African wines outside South Africa. Orlando is a hip and happening city with vibrant nightlife. Combine all that with getaways to beaches near Orlando and day trips into Central Florida, and you’ll see why couples want to make that trip to O Town.
Florida Gulf Coast Vacations
The Florida Gulf Coast’s white sand beaches are simply amazing. Siesta Key consistently ranked as the best beach in America, and with Sarasota’s circus past, shelling on Cayo Costa, or shark tooth hunting at Venice Beach, there’s a lot of diversity too. However, Clearwater Beach typically gets the nod as the best “Beach City”, so let’s get into what the cities have to offer.
St Petersburg tops Strategistico’s list of most liberal cities in Florida because of its inclusive downtown and seven distinct art districts. Ybor City is a resurgent entertainment district with incredible dining, and Tampa is a thriving city.
There are plenty of cheap flights to Tampa and Sarasota and a wide selection of affordable hotels, so you’ll have enough left over to plan an adventure or two.
Space Coast Getaways
Roughly speaking, the Space Coast runs from Daytona to Melbourne and includes many “only in Florida” vacations. For starters, as the name implies, this is America’s spaceport, where you visit the Kennedy Space Center or see rocket launches if you time it right. It’s also home to outdoor adventures like the best surfing on the east coast and kayak adventures like bioluminescent paddling and exploring miles of mangrove tunnels. Combine that with “The World’s Most Famous Beach” in Daytona and the 260-mile St John River to Sea Loop bikeway, and you’ll see that the Space Coast has plenty to offer.
Budget-conscious couples will find hotels in Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Melbourne that generally offer more for less than on the Gulf Coast. You’ll also save enough on dining to pay for gas and the toll for the 40-minute drive from Orlando.
Central Florida Adventures
Central Florida is famous for its springs. Turn-of-the-century resorts offered these springs as a fountain of youth panacea that cured all your ills and aches. Today, people flock to them because they’re just clean fun, and since the water comes out at 71 degrees, they’re a great way to beat the summer heat. Of course, you can tube and kayak on many spring runs, with Ichetucknee and Wekiva Island being two local favorites. For the more adventurous, you can kayak with wild monkeys at Silver Springs, drift dive a crystal clear river at Rainbow Springs, or scuba dive at any number of inland caverns. You can even take a seaplane tour from a spring-fed lake.
Cheap hotels abound in Central Florida, but make sure they’re what you expect. Our favorite towns are Ocala in the west and DeLand in the East. Otherwise, you can base out of Tampa or Orlando and make day trips into spring country. One fun option is to try a tiny houseboat stay out of DeLand, which has a super cute downtown scene where we had the best chicken masala ever at Cress!
Ft Lauderdale For Couples
Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America because it has over 165 miles of canals for taxi boat tours, riverboat adventures, or just dining canal-side on Los Olas. It’s a romantic city with a surprising outdoor adventure scene, including amazing scuba diving, airboat tours though the Everglades, and the world’s largest loggerhead turtle nesting.
Ft Lauderdale has a fabulous airport and a functional light rail up and down the coast so that you can visit car-free. You can save enough money to stay at luxury beachfront resorts or double down with economy lodging.
Key West For Lovers
There was a time when Key West would have never made the cheap vacation list. That was before Breeze Airlines started offering budget flights to the Southernmost Point. With its island vibe, Key West is probably the most affordable Caribbean vacation around, and you don’t need a passport. You will still need to shop well for a hotel, but you will not need a car on Key West between golf carts and biking.
What makes Key West unique is all tours, especially watersports. You can snorkel on the mainland’s only living coral reef, kayak on the mangroves, scuba dive on the Vandenberg wreck, or zip around the seven-square-mile island on jet skis. Couples will love watching the sunset at Mallory Square, sharing key lime pie and conch fritters, then bar-hopping on Duval Street (another good reason not to have a car).
Panama City Beach Road Trips
Let’s get this out in the open; Florabama is real and not just a place one throws fish across the state line. If you come to Panama City Beach and expect Miami, you will be disappointed. That being said, we love PCB and think that Shell Island might be the prettiest beach in Florida, and there are lots of Romantic things to do in Panama City Beach, including scuba diving and dolphin tours in St Andrews Bay which has the largest residential bottlenose dolphin population in the world.
PCB is attractive to budget travelers because it’s a true beach driving-destination. You can find hotels at all levels, from beachfront condos to adult-only resorts. In fact, not only did we put PCB on our list of most romantic Florida getaways, Firefly restaurant is our reigning champ for best she-crab soup….anywhere!
Cheap California Vacations
Couples have been California Dreaming of romantic getaways in the Golden State since before the first car zipped down Route 66 to the Santa Monica Pier. It’s a land of sunshine, surf, and superstars.
There’s no reason to go anywhere else for a dream vacation for the 50 million people living in California and the surrounding states. Gas up before the state line and watch your burn rate along the coast, and you can have your choice of desert, beach, or mountain vacations. If you shop well for your hotel and flights, you can find cheap California vacations from anywhere in the county.
San Diego Vacations
America’s finest city is also our first choice for cheap California vacations. S.D. has the best beaches in California for surfing, swimming, and scuba diving, along with the world-famous San Diego Zoo. With the beach resorts of Mission Bay, the gilded age elegance of the Hotel Del, and the urban appeal of the Gaslamp District and Little Italy, it’s easy to see why San Diego is a beloved destination. The trick is how to do San Diego on a budget.
First off, because of traffic in the L.A. Basin, it’s easier to get to San Diego beaches for anybody in Nevada, Arizona, or Southern California for anybody living outside of Los Angeles County or the O.C. Secondly, because of the trolly system and hop-on /hop-off tours, you can visit San Diego car-free if you fly. There are many cheap things to do in San Diego, including biking and the beach, and the hotels are much more reasonable than you might expect. Finally, here’s our ace in the hole – the King of Happy Hour website. There are so many happy hour specials in San Diego, especially Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, that you never need to pay full price for meals.
OK, T.J. isn’t in California, but it’s so cool that you can take the trolly and walk into Mexico. Once you’re there, you can go to extreme water parks, culinary tours, art tours, or just hang out for tequila and tacos.
If you’re courageous enough, you can get a real nice hotel and stay overnight, but most people just come down for the day. Another more “exciting” adventure is to get Mexican insurance and drive into Baja. The “lobster loop” to Ensenada and the wineries of Guadalupe Valley is simply an incredible weekend road trip.
Malibu, Santa Barbara, Oxnard… One of these things isn’t like the other. And if you’re a bargain vacation shopper, you’ll choose the one with the best tacos. Oxnard has beach resorts that don’t suck your wallet like aggressive liposuction. It also has fun things to do, like boat trips to Channel Island National Park.
Two major Navy bases are in Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Point Mugu, which means a lot of travelers on government rates bring their families for a bit of beach time. Plus, the drive from LAX to Oxnard up Highway 1 is like you’re in the movies. Once you know what Point Magu Rock looks like, you’ll realize how often it appears as a Hollywood backdrop.
The Big Sur road trip gets a lot of love, but it takes work to turn into a full-fledged vacation. Reaching the beach is hard, and there aren’t really resort hotels. If you drive north out of San Francisco through the redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants, you’ll reach the sleepy coastal town of Eureka.
Budget travelers will love the price point of Eureka hotels and Humboldt Bay eco-tours. Everything is mellower in Eureka, including the dining. If you’re looking for more free things to do, there’s hiking and biking through the redwoods everywhere, and the coastal habitats of Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge are some of the most biologically rich places in the world.
Mount Shasta Escapes
Mount Shasta is a giant, not-so-extinct volcano in northern California. It erupts every 800 years, but may have yet to erupt since Moses led his people to the promised land. USGS scientists predict a 1% chance of eruption at Medicine Lake volcano, a 3.5% chance at Mount Shasta, and a 2% chance at Lassen Peak in the next 30 years. So you’re not risking death, but you do get to enjoy an alpine playground of forests and lakes.
There’s plenty of hiking, mountain biking, and disc golf around Mt Shasta, including downhill trails and scenic rides during the ski resort’s summer operations. There’s even rafting on the Klamath River and paddling all around Siskiyou. Word to the wise- Heart Lake Trail is AMAZING! All you need to do is pack the car and pick your hotel.
Big Bear Weekends
Big Bear is SoCal’s answer to Mt Shasta. Sure, maybe it doesn’t have all the epic alpine scenery, but it’s so much closer. You still get the trails and downhill biking, but save big on gas. Plus, it’s so much closer to Los Angeles.
You can still find cute lodging around Big Bear, including cabins, and plenty of things to do, including convenient paddle sports on Big Bear Lake and all the hiking you can handle in Castle Rock State Park
Camping in California County Parks
California camping is extraordinary because of the temperate weather and gorgeous locations. The problem is that everybody knows this, and the prices and availability at California’s State and National Parks are horrible. Here’s our travel hack for California camping vacations – county parks.
Most counties around the state have camping in their parks that’s objectively nice, affordable, and available. Here’s the campground resource we used when we lived in San Diego. Notice that you can get anywhere in the state you want. You might not be by the ocean, but you can find rivers and lakes to splash in and drive to the prime attractions. If you’re really cheap, there are even free campsites in California; you just have to know where to look.
Cheap East Coast Vacations
The Northeast Megalopolis, aka Boston–Washington Corridor, has the world’s largest economic output along with more people than California and its surrounding states. This combination of high demand and high standards tends to make East Coast vacations expensive.
However, a couple of factors favor the frugal, primarily good public transportation, reasonable flights, and a relatively small geographic footprint. The trick is to shop well for accommodations and pick activities that aren’t intrinsically expensive. You could go to almost any city and just try not to spend money, but that just isn’t fun. That’s why we put this list of vacation ideas together for you.
Washington DC Weekends
Washington.org says, “D.C. is the capital of free museums and interactive exhibits, from groundbreaking cultural museums to art galleries and so much more.” We agree, which is why it’s our lead-off budget destination for the East Coast. Combine the free stuff with paid tours and an outstanding international food scene catering to foreign dignitaries, and you can have all kinds of fun without the funding.
Visiting DC on a budget starts when you arrive. Reagan National is much closer to the tourist areas than Dulles, so keep that in mind if you’re flying. Also, Union Station is right in the heart of everything, with outstanding train connectivity to the Megalopolis. Once you arrive, you’ll probably use the Metro, but be careful of surge pricing during rush hour. Pick your hotel wisely for the trip you want to have. You might get more for your money in Alexandria with all the dining you need in the Historic District, but you’ll have to take the Metro into the city. Alternatively, you could stay in the Foggy Bottom / Dupont Circle area within walking distance of the National Mall. Summers are sweaty along the Potomac, so it’s nice to be able to have a shower and siesta during the heat of the day.
Great Smoky Mountains Getaways
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the system by a long margin. Every year about 13 million people visit, which is almost as many as the next three parks combined (Grand Canyon, Zion, Rocky Mountain). People come for hiking, waterfalls, cycling, romantic getaways, and even theme parks—anything for more mountains and less Megalopolis.
The trick to a great Great Smoky getaway is planning your stay. The Parkway in Gatlinburg is a fascinating melting pot between Southern sensibility and East Coast attitude, with many more people than you’d expect on a mountain vacation. Maybe consider a cabin in Sevierville and activities like a day of hiking and dining along Art Loop over the humanity along the Parkway if you’re feeling antisocial. Family-friendly isn’t always compatible with romance and YAMMV.
The Catskill Mountains lie in southeastern New York State, about a 2-hour drive from New York City. The area is known for the wildlife and hiking trails in the Catskill Forest Preserve, and ski resorts, including Hunter Mountain and Belleayre Mountain. Sites like Kaaterskill Falls and Sunset Rock inspired 19th-century landscape painters, and farm-to-table restaurants are bountiful. Here you find New York sensibilities and amenities in a rustic setting.
It’s not only the proximity to The City that makes the Catskills a popular budget destination. You’ll find super cute hotels and a thriving culinary scene at a fraction of the city’s pricing. There are also plenty of things to do, including outdoor activities and touring the Hudson River School Art Trail. Many of these are cheap or free, and they’re all less than you’d pay in town.
Poconos Romantic Getaways
The Poconos is a mountainous area in northeastern Pennsylvania, about two hours east of NYC. It’s a historic honeymoon destination overflowing with scenic beauty and fun-filled year-round activities.
The affordable, luxurious accommodations make the Pocono Mountains the perfect place for a romantic stay. What started with heart-shaped tubs has grown into world-class luxury spas incorporating the scenography of the region’s breathtaking natural surroundings. From quaint bed and breakfasts to adult-only resorts, couples can find the perfect place in the Poconos.
Niagara Falls Vacations
There was a time before air travel when Niagara Falls was the honeymoon capital of the world. Today, budget travelers can find all that romance without the cost of airfare. You can (and should) bring your passport and cross into Canada to make this a true budget international vacation.
Niagara Falls is filled with fun things surrounding the falls on the American and Canadian sides, like boat tours, zip lines, and even walking behind the falls. Niagara-on-the-Lake is in the heart of wine country for a driving (or cycling) tasting tour. Romantic hotels abound, especially on the Canadian side. Maybe Niagara Falls is no longer a world-class honeymoon location, but it’s a fabulous East Coast road trip.
Vermont 100 Road Trip
The Vermont 100 road trip is an iconic Northeast journey. It’s a 200 miles voyage along the Green Mountains with 4 hours and 340 minutes of driving time, but many people spend a whole week exploring all the nooks and crannies.
You’ll find tours of every description, including ski resorts offering summer operations, hiking, and agro-tourism. Don’t rush your way through. Relax, find romantic places to stay, and let the beauty of the natural landscape soothe your soul. Also, take comfort in the fact that this extraordinary getaway didn’t require air travel.
Coastal Maine Route 1 Road Trip
Maine’s Route 1 road trip is to the East Coast, as California’s Route 1 drive is to the West Coast. The “Lobster Trail” is filled with lighthouses, fishing villages, scenic views, and, of course, a crustacean or two. It’s only two hours north of Boston, but you could spend a week or more exploring everything the area offers and eating your fill of lobster.
Our strategy for a budget coastal Maine Route 1 road trip is to plan your overnight stops well. Leave enough room in your budget to enjoy yourself, but consider splurging for extraordinary views or a spa day to work out the kinks from the road. Also, check out the Boston Freedom Trail at one end of your trip. There are only a few paid stops, and the walk alone will introduce you to two-hundred years of Boston History.
Cheap Southwestern Vacations
New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment and there’s nothing like an Arizona sunset. The Southwest is a land of dreams and destiny like no place else. It’s notoriously hot in the summer, but, as the saying goes, it’s a dry heat. Also, many desert cities are at elevation, and it’s five degrees cooler for every 1000′ of elevation. Plus, they cherish their water features like rain in the desert.
Budget travelers will love coming to the Southwest because summer is shoulder season. Hotels and spas are jostling to bring in visitors, and the restaurants and attractions driven by snowbirds are available without a wait. The Southwest is an easy drive from SoCal and there are many budget flights available.
Las Vegas Vacations
Although the days of budget buffets for gamblers are long gone, they’re still plenty of deals in Sin City to tempt economy travelers. First off, flights into McCarren are ridiculously cheap, and you can still find cheap Vegas hotels with a little shopping, especially if you’re flexible with your dates and willing to avoid major conventions and events. There are over 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas, and they only fill up on select weekends. The rest of the time, it’s a buyer’s market. You can even 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas, and there are plenty of free things to see at Vegas casinos, from the Bellagio Fountains to the Fremont Street Experience and everything in between. Word to the wise, almost everything is cheaper downtown than on The Strip.
There’s even more to see and do around Vegas, including taking crystal kayaks to Emerald Cave, hiking in Zion, driving Death Valley, and the infamous Grand Canyon West Skywalk. Nature lovers can use the Vegas budget flights and then escape Sin City into a natural playground.
If Vegas is a good budget vacation, imagine what Budget Vegas, aka Reno, offers! The hotels are more in line with Freemont Street offerings, but, as we said, those are generally less expensive. Plus, there are still some city attractions of note, like the BaseCamp Climbing Gym featuring the Guinness Book of World Records’ largest artificial climbing wall in the WORLD!
Outside of the city, you’re only a 45-minute drive to the emerald blue waters of Lake Tahoe, hiking and biking on the Tahoe Rim Trail, and summer operations at ski resorts like downhill single-track mountain biking and scenic chair lift or gondola rides. Frontier Airlines services Reno well, so flights are cheap and plentiful.
Phoenix is the fifth-largest city by population, with a land area that exceeds New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Mountain ranges surround the 24 municipalities of the Greater Phoenix area and encompass more than 500 square miles of the Sonoran Desert. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is a hub for American and Southwest Airlines and a drivable distance from SoCal.
Combine Phoenix’s metro appeal and natural beauty with shoulder season at upscale resorts, and budget couples have a reason to brave the heat. Day trips around Phoenix, like tubing on the Salt River, Sedona, and the high country around Prescott, offer even more ways to beat the heat and make the most of the summer shoulder season.
Tucson doesn’t have the cheap flights or metropolitan appeal of Phoenix, but it has other charms to lure thrifty love birds. First off, the Tucson summer spa resort specials are second to none, and it’s the only UNESCO City of Gastronomy in North America. Secondly, it’s at 2,500′, so it’s ten degrees cooler than Phoenix, and you can reach the 9171′ summit of Mt Lemmon in under an hour.
There are many things to do around Tucson, but these are some of our favorites from living there for almost 20 years. The famous Sonoran Desert Museum offers Saturday night programs to introduce visitors to the magic of the desert, and a 54-mile bike trail loops around the entire city. Cool streams flow in Sabino Canyon, even in the hottest part of the summer, and it’s always comfortable in Kartchner Caverns, one of the world’s best show caves.
Albuquerque, at over 5,300′, is even higher and cooler still with the Sandia Peak Tram climbing to 10,378-foot with an 11,000 square mile panoramic view. Budget travelers will love the summer hotel specials and remarkably well-priced and distinctive New Mexican Style cuisine.
You can explore inside “Duke City” or climb even higher to the arts district of Santa Fe or go deeper and colder exploring the Bandera Ice Cave. You can even visit a distinctive American Castle at Montezuma Castle National Monument, although, truth be told, it isn’t actually a castle. But visiting Albuquerque is a trip you will not soon forget.
Las Cruces Getaways
There was a time when Mesilla was the most important city in the Southwest. It’s where the Gadsden Purchase was signed, and Billy the Kid went to jail. In 1881, they got railroaded – literally. The Santa Fe Railway chose the tiny town of Las Cruces, a few miles away, over Mesilla; the rest is history. But Mesilla still can claim the only remaining Butterfield Stage Coach Stop.
The Mesilla Valley isn’t a bustling metropolis, so finding a cheap room is easy. However, there’s no shortage of things to do between the history, wineries, and remarkable summer programs at nearby White Sands National Monument (the full moon ride is on our biking bucket list).
If there was a cheap rocky mountain vacation, Durango may well be the hot ticket. However, The San Juans are the most accessible access point for Arizona, Nevada, or California drivers, so Durango also fits into the Southwest section. Once you arrive, you find an unpretentious Colorado mountain town with lodging that is easier on the pocketbook than, say, Vail, Aspen, or Moab. Budget Your Trip estimates that a Durango vacation costs $153/day, as compared to their estimated $388 daily costs for Moab.
What’s more, there’s plenty of fun things to do in Durango, from playing on the Animas River to biking the Million Dollar Highway. When summer operations at Purgatory are in full swing, there’s abundant hiking and mountain biking. In the winter there is some seriously fun skiing. From your base in Durango, you can take excursions to soak in Pagosa Springs or find high adventure in Moab.
Cheap Vacations in the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is an enchanted land of old-growth forests fueled by a seemingly endless supply of rain. However, during the summer, the showers give way to sunshine and fields of wildflowers. It’s a time for celebration, festivals, and adventures in the great outdoors.
PNW vacations might not be objectively cheap compared to other places, but they’re a superior value considering the uniqueness of the land and the ever-present comparisons to Alaska. Our budget vacations in the Pacific Northwest are all about getting the most for your money with budget flights, adorable accommodations, and unique destinations.
Seattle Southside Getaways
For most people, Seattle is the gateway to the Pacific Northwest, but the Emerald City is notoriously expensive. Also, technically, the gateway to Seattle is the Sea-Tac Airport, which is in the middle of Seattle Southside and our choice for the budget alternative to Seattle. We love staying at the Cedarbrook Lodge, with its “living room” setup and airport shuttles, but you’ll find Seattle Southside hotels to be an exceptional value compared to Seattle proper.
Not only are there homegrown romantic things to do in Seattle Southside, but it’s an excellent base of operations. You’re right around the corner from Mt Rainier and the Olympic Peninsula and you don’t have to fight the notoriously bad Seattle traffic to get there. You can even take the light rail directly into the city and not worry about traffic or parking at all.
Olympic Peninsula Road Trip
Another great way to avoid Seattle pricing is to leave the city. Hotel prices immediately drop once you cross over to the Olympic Peninsula, but that isn’t why you’re going. The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is the largest temperate rainforest outside of Alaska. Seattle, AKA Emerald City, receives 36 inches of rain a year. The Hoh Rain Forest gets 168 inches of rain plus enough fog and mist to contribute another 30 inches of precipitation. The Hoh Rainforest isn’t just emerald; it’s iridescent.
It’s about an 8-hour drive to drive the entire Olympic Peninsula loop, but that doesn’t leave you enough time to let it all soak in. Instead, plan to spend a few days hiking in the old-growth forests. We like to run the loop counterclockwise and spend the first night on the coast or Lake Quinault Lodge for even more hiking, kayaking, and waterfalls. On day two, go to the Hoh Visitor Center and go for a hike before spending the night at a hot spring resort. From there, you can continue to Seattle or, better yet, the San Juan Islands.
San Juan Islands Excursions
San Juan County has 172 named islands. The three most popular, San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island, are the most popular with ferry service, affordable hotels, and plenty of things to do. We like the laid-back feel and bicycle-friendly roads, but we love the opportunity to see orcas in the wild. Whether you’re sea kayaking or on an excursion boat, nothing compares to seeing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
The quaint hotels and B&B of the islands are less expensive than a comparable property in the city, but the bucket list experiences bring real value to a San Juan Island vacation.
Cannon Beach and Oregon Coast Drive
Oregon coast road trips are another way to escape the cities and experience the real Pacific Northwest. Oregon has 364 miles of coast, but the crown jewel of the rugged shoreline must be Cannon Beach.
Cannon Beach has seaside hotels and delicious restaurants (you must try the clam chowder). It’s also home to the photogenic Haystack Rock and beautiful Ecola State Park, with forested hiking trails and sweeping panoramic ocean views. Be sure to work in a visit to nearby Astoria at the mouth of Columbia River for a visit to Fort Clatsop and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
Bend is a fun mountain town with a romantic and sophisticated side. You can hammer on single track in the morning before breaking for lunch at the Bend Ale Trail, the largest beer trail in the West. You can visit a spa in the afternoon before indulging in dinner at an award-winning restaurant.
Lather, rinse, repeat – Bend is a lot of fun and surprisingly affordable; just look at these hotel prices! We particularly love the McMenamins Old St. Francis School and Seventh Mountain Resort. As for things to do, don’t forget kayaking on the Deschutes River, visiting Tumalo Falls, caving in Lava River Cave, and climbing at Smith Rock State Park.
Coeur d’Alene Getaways
The Coeur d’Alene has 55 lakes within easy driving distance of the city, including the impeccable Lake Coeur d’Alene just outside town. Ten Thousand years ago, these massive sheets of ice slid down from the Bitterroot Mountains, which now house the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. Of course, there’s plenty of hiking and watersports, but don’t forget the magnificent Route of the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail. This 15-mile ride takes you through nine dark tunnels and seven sky-high trestles. Best of all, it’s all paved, and local shuttle and bike rental companies will take you up the hill, so your ride will be predominantly downhill.
Coeur d’Alene is close enough to Seattle for a weekend getaway and flights from LAX to nearby Spokane for under $400. Once you arrive, you’ll find reasonably priced lakeside inns, mountain ranches, and charming boutique hotels. The food (and wine!) is sourced from local farms and vineyards, making it fresh, delicious, and a terrific value.
Whitefish and Glacier Getaways
Whitefish, Montana, is a charming mountain town at the front door of America’s most beautiful National Park (in our opinion) – Glacier National Park. It’s fun for every season, with summer offering warm-weather operations at Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort and watersports on Whitefish Lake. However, you could hike Glacier every day of your vacation and still not see it all. If you’re coming in the early summer before Logans Pass is open to automobiles, you can cycle to the pass without sharing the road, one of America’s most spectacular bike rides.
Whitefish accommodations are reasonable, especially if you can secure lodging in Glacier National Park. However, the logistics of getting to Whitefish dissuade many budget travelers. However, with Amtrak service from Seattle, a select few will disagree. You can spend less than $150 for round-trip train tickets and check your bikes, so you will not need to rent a car. You still should book a Whitefish to Glacier tour, saving you stress on parking and permits while remaining car-free.
Cheap Southern Vacations
We live down in the Land of Cotton, so we’ve heard it all from “The Sweaty South” to “Sweat Home Alabama.” We don’t necessarily bring the family down for the summer, but we don’t always leave either. Flanked by beaches with mountains and lakes in between, there’s something down South for every season, even summer.
Gulf Shores Getaways
Gulf Shores might be the reigning champion for southern vacation. It certainly is if you ask anybody from Alabama, where the question is “WHEN are you going to Gulf Shores,” not “IF.” It’s easy to see why, with beautiful beaches, fun hotels, great bike riding, and plenty of things to do for adventure and romance.
We have a stack of tricks and tips for visiting Gulf Shores, but here’s the top one. The weather and crowds detract from the Alabama coast, but you can beat them both by waiting just a little for your Gulf Shore getaway. By mid-August, the kids are back in school, and you’re on shoulder season availability and pricing for Gulf Shores hotels. The air has cooled by September, but the water is still comfortably warm. Even in October, you can still come down for watersports and fall migrations of birds and butterflies.
Coastal Mississippi Holidays
Coastal Mississippi is a hidden travel gem for any season. Couples will love the boutique hotels and delicious food of Ocean Springs and Bay St Louis. There are some great bike routes on land and boat tours of every description, from schooners, tiki boats, haunted bayou rides, and ferries to legitimate beaches on Ship Island.
Bargain lovers will delight at sizzling summer deals on Biloxi Casinos and more fresh shrimp that you can eat. If you take a road trip on the US-90 cutoff from I-10, you’ll see the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the south and discover an underutilized ocean front playground.
Hilton Head Beach Vacations
There’s an East Coast logistic question about how far south you need to go to reach a decent beach. I mean, you can take the day train to Rockaway or Atlantic City, but does that count? I-95 peels away from the ocean south of The City, not to return until around Hilton Head, South Carolina, making this low country destination a reasonable choice for the “first beach” for budget car beach trips. It’s closer (and cooler) than Florida and way more beachy than The Monopoly City or Rockapulco.
You’re not settling when you visit Hilton Head because it’s the “#1 Island in the Continental U.S.” and “#2 Island in the World” according to Travel+Leisure Magazine, and the “Top Island in the United States” per Condé Nast Traveler Magazine. Your stay starts at beachfront or fairway resorts, many with on-premise spas. Your days are filled with watersports, biking, or enjoying the 12 miles of pristine beaches before dining on mouthwatering seafood. All of this, with a day and a half less driving than going to Florida.
Jekyll Island Historical Vacations
Not only do you reach Jekyll Island before you hit the Florida line, but it’s a historical vacation and beach vacation wrapped into one. The Jekyll Island Club was once the most prestigious club in America. The East Coast industrial elite would spend their winters here during “club season,” planning marriages and mergers. Their “cottages” rise off the riverside of the island like they’ve been lifted off the shores of Cape Cod. Today, you can rent a room that only a millionaire could afford a century ago.
The ocean side of the island features wide beaches and sandy dunes. It’s the westernmost beach on the East Coast, so the water can be a little murky, but Driftwood Beach also might be the most photographed beach in America. If you’re looking for a beach getaway that offers more than just sun and sand, Jekyll Island is the perfect place for you. In addition to its stunning beaches, Jekyll Island also has a rich history, plenty of outdoor activities, and a seemingly endless supply of sweet Georgia shrimp.
Lake Martin Summer Fun
If you want the best deals on summer fun in sand and water, just head to your local lake. If you’re in the “Real Housewives of Birmingham” circle, that lake will be Lake Martin. Of course, the area used to be farmland for Russell Athletics, so there’s quite a bit of diversity around Lake Martin.
Accommodations range from million-dollar lakeside homes to quaint B&Bs and rustic hotels. You can even spend the night in Hank Williams’s cabin. Land activities range from gourmet dining and a summer concert series to catfishing by the dam and fully-automatic machine gun ranges. Of course, you can’t forget boat tours to Goat Island, Pirate Island, and more. The real story for Lake Martin and local lakes everywhere is that you don’t have to travel a thousand miles to have an adventure. There’s plenty to do waiting for you in your own backyard.
Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains Retreats
The Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains are the start of all things Appalachia, from the Appalachian Trail to the southernmost wine grapes in America. It’s the sort of place where you can crush cars with a tank in the morning and go wine tasting in the afternoon. With Olympic-caliber white water and abundant waterfalls, it’s easy to find adventures from wild to mild in the Georgia Blue Ridge.
The Georgia Mountains are a budget alternative to the Smokies because they’re closer to the deep South with significantly better air connections through Atlanta. Your money goes farther in the Georgia Blue Ridge with all your vacation needs – eating, playing, and sleeping.
If you combined Atlanta with the Georgia Mountains, you’d get Chattanooga. It has a tremendous aquarium, art museum, food scene, and riverfront. It’s also home to Lookout Mountain with Ruby Falls, Rock City, and Lula Falls. Just outside of town, you’ll find hiking at Cloudland Canyon and the same whitewater rafting you’d go to from the Georgia Blue Ridge. You are just getting there from the other side.
We love Chattanooga as a cheap vacation for couples, especially along the I-20 corridor, because it’s hours closer than Gatlinburg or Blue Ridge. Add in the urban adventures and very reasonable accommodations (including staying onboard the Chattanooga Choo Choo), and you’ll have a “version of a really solid Tennessee excursion.”
Cheap Midwest Vacations
The Midwest is known for many things; epic summer vacations aren’t one of them, but low prices are. Nearly half of the “cheapest cities in America” are from the Midwest. So it seems like the trick is finding something fun to do in the flyover states, or at least fun enough to keep people from flying away.
You’ve seen Jim Carrey fly to Nebraska in Yes Man, but the quintessential Midwestern travel movie has to be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris rode to the top of the Sears Tower, visited the Art Institute of Chicago, and took in a game at Wrigley Field – all classic Chicago things to do. If they ever remake Ferris (nooo- Save Ferris), he’ll probably take a selfie at The Bean. Chicago is America’s 3rd largest city, with seventy-seven distinct Community Areas, so plenty of urban adventures are around.
Chicago grew because of its premier overland connectivity, so driving there is easy. Flying is as well with two major airports and the L-Train to take you around when you land. The hotels and restaurants are lower priced than in New York or Boston, and some people say Lakeside Park and the Navy Pier can go toe-to-toe with Central Park or the Boston Commons. In any event, there’s plenty to do in the Windy City to put it in the lead-off position for Midwest Vacations.
Some say visiting Detroit for Devil’s Night is a riot, but they haven’t witnessed the Motor City Renaissance. Old favorites, like the Ford Museum and Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, are still draws, but with urban revival projects like the Eastern Market and a world-class sports and entertainment district, Detroit is getting rave reviews. Even the Heidelberg Project is bringing a ray of light to overcome urban blight. If you haven’t been to Motown lately, you really should go. Plus, you can’t beat the summer weather.
Detroit’s hotels and restaurants are a remarkable value, and there are many well-priced city tours as well. The airport has many Frontier and Spirit flights arriving from across the country, and it’s pretty close to drive to from most of the Midwest.
Upper Peninsula Excursions
If you point to home on your right mitten and talk about trolls living below the bridge, you must be a Yooper, don’t ya know. The Upper Peninsula has the most remote wilderness east of the Mississippi, from Isle Royale National Park, with more moose than people and remarkable diving at the Alger Underwater Preserve. Some of those people remark about the water clarity and how well preserved the wrecks are; other’s just say how cold the water is. Even if you don’t brave the water, there are still plenty of hiking and scenic drives in the UP.
It’s hard not to have a budget vacation when you’re basing your vacation on road trips and outdoor recreation. However, you can even get a room on Mackinac Island for under $100 in the shoulder season. Oh, and by the way, fall is fabulous in the UP. Summers are pretty dang nice too, but be sure to pack your bug spray.
West Virginia Weekends
If you don’t want to drive across the country to the UP, take the country roads home to wild, wet, and wonderful West Virginia. The Gauley and New River are home to the east coast’s most extreme white water, and the New River Gorge has become an outdoor adrenaline playground, including the longest and fastest ziplines in the East. Don’t worry; there are plenty of hiking, paddling, and bike trails for the less amped outdoor lovers.
Like the UP, West Virginia vacations are naturally well-priced because you arrive by automobile and focus on outdoor adventures. You might want to save room in your budget for some big thrills, but that’s easy to get with the reasonable lodging offerings and a burn rate much lower than in big cities.
St Louis Sleepovers
There was a time before trains when riverboats were king, and St Louis was the premier city in the Midwest. Of course, it was the “Gateway to the West” in those times and still holds on to some of its pioneering spirit today, including the iconic Gateway Arch. To paraphrase – a pioneering spirit embiggens the smallest man. That’s a perfectly cromulent thing to say in St Louis because of the thriving culture still with cosmopolitan roots from when St Louis was America’s crossroads.
St Louis is well connected to Midwestern cities by roads and a reasonable distance for weekend getaways. When you arrive, pick your hotel well as a base for your adventure because each neighborhood offers different things to do. Absolute budget travelers will enjoy the St Louis Zoo, perhaps the best free zoo in the country. Urban explorers will want to stay downtown for the Arch and riverfront attractions, while others might want to get closer to Six Flags, a first-class coaster park.
Lake of the Ozarks Excursions
The Lake of the Ozarks is conveniently located in the heart of Missouri, in the Heartland of America. It’s been called the “Best Recreational Lake in America” and has more shoreline than the entire California coast, so it’s a boater’s paradise. On land, visitors will enjoy the beaches of Lake of the Ozarks State Park and the stunning beauty of Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Lake of the Ozarks is a tremendous value, especially if you have a camper or a boat. Seemingly every cove offers some unique experience, from show caves to Caribbean-themed beaches. Lodging ranges from boutique hotels to golf and spa resorts and a surprising array of restaurants. Whether by land or water, Lake of the Ozarks is one of the top vacation destinations in the Midwest.
A wise man once said quantity has a quality all its own. Now, he might have been a genocidal dictator, but that’s not the point of this segue. It’s to say Branson earned its nickname of “Live Music Capital of the World” with over 100 live shows running at any given time. Branson has more seats than Broadway at much lower ticket prices.
Branson has just about every family-friendly entertainment option you could think of. That’s not to say there isn’t a romantic side to Branson as well. With just a little shopping, you can find resort hotels and fabulous Ozark Mountain getaways like biking in Dogwood Canyon, spa days, wineries, and boating on Table Rock Lake. Of course, everything is remarkably affordable with all this competition, and Branson is within a day’s drive of 50% of the U.S. population
Wrapping our Cheap Vacations for Couples
You’ll notice a theme amongst these cheap vacations. It’s less expensive to drive than fly; if you do fly, look for budget airlines and options to stay car-free. Once you arrive, you can control your spending by being thrifty on food, lodging, and activities.
Only don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s better to plan intrinsically less expensive trips than cut away everything that makes vacations special. We love spending a couple of “cheap days” hiking and enjoying nature, which leaves us enough room in our budget for a splurge night with a fancy dinner and luxurious room.