12 Best Budget-Friendly Vacation Destinations

Dreaming of a getaway but worried about breaking the bank? You're not alone. Whenever there's a trending article about things the middle class can no longer afford, vacations are usually listed. But you can still plan an amazing vacation by choosing an affordable destination. 

Here are 12 budget-friendly vacations that won’t stress your budget. 

a mother and two children make sandcastles at the beach

Best beach vacations 

Does the word “vacation” conjure thoughts of sun, sand, and suntan lotion? If so, you’ll love the affordable beaches that kick off our list! 

1. St. Petersburg, Florida 

Florida takes the cake for best tropical vacations in the U.S. And on the Gulf side of the state, St. Petersburg offers accommodation rates that seem too good to be true — but they’re the real deal! 

St. Petersburg and the surrounding areas of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater have enough free or low-cost attractions to fill multiple vacation itineraries. Here are a few worth mentioning: 

  • St. Pete Pier: A 26-acre waterfront attraction offering a fishing deck, courtesy docks, parks, a family playground, dining, a splashpad, and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. 
  • St. Petersburg art scene: You’ll find outdoor murals throughout the area, as well as public art installations in Dunedin and Boyd Hill Nature Park, The Factory, Coastal Creative, and Safety Harbor Art & Music Center. 
  • Imagine Museum: Florida’s must-see contemporary glass art museum offers weekly and seasonal discounts as low as $5. 
  • Morean Arts Center: This contemporary art gallery is free, open daily, and offers affordable art classes! 
  • Weedon Island Preserve: Both the nature preserve and the on-site Cultural and Natural History Center are free to explore. 

Other budget-friendly attractions include the Florida Botanical Gardens, St. Petersburg Museum of History walking tours, Sunken Gardens, and Clearwater Boat tours. 

2. Marathon, Florida 

If you thought a vacation in the Florida Keys was out of reach, think again! Some island resort accommodations priced for travelers on a budget include: 

  • Knight’s Key Suits 
  • Kingsail Resort 
  • Coconut Cay Resort & Marina 
  • Conch Key Fishing Lodge 

Marathon claims to have some of the best fishing in the world, so bring your tackle box and put those claims to the test. If fishing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other fun activities and attractions in and around Marathon, including:

  • Swimming and snorkeling 
  • Sombrero Beach 
  • Island Trolley Tours 
  • Biking the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail 
  • Marathon Wild Bird Center 
  • Turtle Hospital 

Don’t forget to swing by the Marathon Visitors Center for more suggestions, area maps, and money-saving coupons. 

3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 

When I was growing up in Virginia, a trip to Myrtle Beach was the ultimate brag-worthy summer vacation. Today, it’s still a great beach destination that won’t empty your wallet. 

Myrtle Beach is known for its 60 miles of beautiful coastline, and there are a surprising number of beachfront accommodations with affordable rates — especially if you visit during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. 

Free or low-cost activities can be enjoyed at: 

  • Myrtle Beach Boardwalk 
  • The Market Common 
  • The Pier at Garden City Beach 
  • Pelicans Ballpark 
  • Horry County Museum 
  • South Carolina Hall of Fame 
  • Myrtle Beach State Park 

You’ll also find plenty of reasonably priced attractions, including mini-golf, museums, amusement and water parks, and theater shows. Trust me, you won’t be bored!

>RELATED: 7 Ways to Plan Your Most Amazing Vacation on a Budget 

a family looks at exhibits in a museum

Best family vacations 

The best family vacations offer adventure, excitement, and memories to last a lifetime. One special vacation from my childhood stands out, and it took place at the next spot on our list: 

4. Disneyland, California 

I admit, I was skeptical about this one, but it turns out you can vacation at Disneyland on a budget. It’s certainly the spendiest of our budget vacations — but saving a vacation fund and visiting during the slow season can make a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth more manageable. 

Here are my top money-saving Disneyland tips: 

  • The best accommodation rates are located outside the park in Anaheim. Not only are they cheaper, but they typically offer free shuttles to Disneyland, eliminating expensive parking fees. Book early and use trusted discount sites to find the best deals. 
  • Buy discounted Disneyland tickets online and avoid same-day park-hopping, which is more expensive. Since your ticket covers all park attractions, you’ll have plenty of rides, shows, games, and events to keep you busy. 
  • Pack bottled water and snacks to keep food costs down, but budget for treats; the portions are big enough to share! 
  • Buy any Disney clothing and plush toys you want to sport in the park before you leave home to avoid the markup. 

Finally, be realistic about how many days at Disneyland you can afford. Two full days is plenty of time to get an authentic park experience. 

>RELATED: 6 Savings Challenges to Try in 2024 

5. San Antonio, Texas 

There are so many affordable places to stay in San Antonio it’s impossible to list them all. You’ll have your pick of big-name franchises, historic hotels, boutique accommodations, and quaint B&Bs. 

The Riverwalk is THE San Antonio tourist destination. It’s where you’ll find the Alamo, outdoor art installations, the San Fernando Cathedral, the San Antonio Museum of Art, historic sites, and miles of hiking and biking trails. 

San Antonio boasts a huge list of free and low-cost entertainment, including: 

  • Japanese Tea Gardens 
  • Brackenridge Park 
  • Hopscotch Immersive Art Experience 
  • The Grotto sculpture 
  • Natural Bridge Caverns 
  • Tejas Saturday Night Rodeo 

6. Houston, Texas 

Houston proudly offers budget-friendly events and attractions for visitors, including affordable ticket prices for NASA’s Space Center Houston. 

Other attractions worth adding to your itinerary include: 

  • Children’s Museum Houston 
  • Houston Arboretum & Nature Center 
  • Memorial Park 
  • Houston Astros baseball games 
  • Astroville Tunnel Tour of Downtown Houston 
  • Outdoor Escape Room 
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science 

You may be able to bundle some activities together for a discounted rate, so check online to see if you can combine your events. 

people doing activities on a lake

Best summer vacation spots 

7. Great Lakes, Michigan 

Michigan more than delivers on exceptional lake vacations. Not only do you get the stunning, ocean-like shorelines along the Great Lakes, but smaller lakes and small towns provide that classic summer-at-the-lake experience. 

Lodging prices are a dream, with a selection of well-known chains, independent accommodations, and even resorts offering budget-friendly rates. As such, it’s easy to score waterfront accommodations, even on a budget! 

No matter where you stay, you won’t be bored on your Michigan getaway. For starters, the state boasts 103 state parks, five national parks, and 129 lighthouses. Free or low-cost recreation includes: 

  • Lake swimming 
  • Building sandcastles 
  • Hiking 
  • Biking 
  • Kayaking 
  • Paddleboarding 
  • Fishing 
  • Glass-bottom boat tours 
  • Museums 
  • Festivals 

Search for Great Lakes package deals that include lodging, meals, activities, or free days at state parks and museums to help you save even more. 

8. National Parks, Utah 

With its nine national parks, Utah is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground! Between the stunning scenery and endless list of free and low-cost activities, Utah might just be one of the county’s best summer vacation spots. 

Recreation.gov is a great place to find affordable cabins, yurts, RV spots, and tent campsites inside the national parks. Plus, by staying on park land, you cut down on travel time getting to the activities you want to enjoy. 

A national park trip tends to be very low-cost, with plenty of hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, stargazing, and photography opportunities. You can hunt for interesting rock formations, explore slot canyons, seek out petroglyphs and pictographs, go on scenic drives, visit park museums, sign up for ranger-guided tours, and look for dinosaur fossils. Local free events like outdoor concerts and art festivals provide a break from exploring nature. 

>RELATED: 9 Things to Think About Before Choosing Your Next Vacation Destination 

a barn top view in Pigeon Forge

Best weekend getaways 

9. Sweet home, Alabama 

Alabama has been enjoying national recognition for its small towns, making it an ideal weekend getaway for those who live within a day’s drive. 

Charming small towns widely featured in travel articles include: 

  • Fairhope 
  • Bayou La Batre 
  • Dauphin Island 
  • Orange Beach 
  • Gulf Shores 
  • Tuscumbia 
  • Magnolia Springs 

With so many quaint towns and small cities in Alabama, you can take your pick of beachfront, riverside, or mountain lodgings. Each town proudly showcases its unique heritage and artistry in its events and activities. Whether you stay, it’s worth slowing down and exploring the local parks, historic landmarks, art galleries, antique shops, and eateries. 

10. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee 

Located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge offers affordable places to stay and family-friendly activities and attractions that won’t break the bank. 

Pigeon Forge boasts an incredible mix of national franchises and independent hotels and motels — all conveniently located close to entertainment and recreation. 

With so much to see and do, it can be hard narrowing down your list of must-see attractions. Here are some suggestions for a budget-friendly mountain vacation: 

  • Explore The Island in Pigeon Forge 
  • Take a guided tubing adventure with River Rat Tubing 
  • Play a round at Toy Box Mini Golf 
  • Bounce into TopJump Trampoline Park 
  • Ride the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster 
  • Stop by Bush’s Visitor Center 
  • Visit the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center 

If you want to visit some of the more costly attractions, search online for discounted tickets to the Hollywood Wax Museum, Titanic Museum, Dollywood, and Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg.

One activity you might not consider is a helicopter tour. They’re more affordable than you’d think! 

Sign that reads "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada"

Best December vacations 

11. Winter wonderland, Ohio 

Not only does The Buckeye State experience a real winter — it’s also full of charming towns and parks that fully embrace the holiday season. 

Many of these towns in Ohio come to life with dazzling holiday lights, European-style outdoor markets, horse-drawn carriages, and village festivals, making them ideal for a magical winter getaway: 

  • Lebanon 
  • Clifton 
  • Steubenville 
  • Cambridge 
  • Historic Roscoe Village 
  • Granville 

Ohio also offers ample opportunity for outdoor winter activities, including ice fishing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, tobogganing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and skiing (cross-country and downhill). And don’t discount an off-season visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Glen Helen Nature Preserve, or Holden Arboretum. 

>RELATED: 9 Easy Tips for Money-Saving Travel During the Holidays 

12. Las Vegas, Nevada 

Snowbirds looking to escape the cold should consider a trip to the Entertainment Capital of the World. Las Vegas puts on a show year-round, but during the holiday season, it offers a surprising number of free and low-cost festivities, making it one of the best December vacations. 

Some of the low-cost and free holiday attractions in Las Vegas include: 

  • Enchant Christmas light maze 
  • Rockin’ Christmas 
  • Ethel M Chocolate Factory 
  • Rock Rink at Downtown Summerlin 
  • Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens 
  • LINQ Promenade 
  • Glittering Lights at Las Vegas Motor Speedway 
  • Las Vegas Great Santa Run 

Sure, Las Vegas puts on flashy performances every day of the year, but it takes on a different flavor during the holidays that’s worth experiencing! 

Plan your vacation on a budget 

There’s no shortage of great travel destinations with deals on accommodations and a mix of free and low-cost entertainment. With a little planning and staying focused on your financial goal, you can enjoy an unforgettable budget-friendly vacation the whole family will love.

About the Author

Bree Ewers has contributed to Advance America since 2023. Writing from her home office in Portland, Oregon, she shares a relatable perspective on the financial triumphs and challenges many readers face.

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