It’s already that time of year when we start feeling like we need a break. Tax refunds and time off from school may be the perfect recipe for getting out of town. It’s also bitter cold in much of the U.S., and a trip to sun and warmth sounds fantastic. Or maybe you are in a warm state and want to play in the snow. Either way, vacation season is upon us.
The problem is that things are expensive this year. From flight tickets to gasoline to lodging, inflation has many of us worried we won’t be able to vacation at all. Have no fear! You can still get away without killing your budget. Here are the seven cheapest cities to vacation in. We chose them due to their low lodging costs and availability of free and low-cost things to do. In addition, we listed them by region so you could stay semi-close to home and cut out the cost of flying.
Pacific Northwest – Bend, Oregon
Bend, Oregon, is a beautiful vacation spot that won’t put you in debt. This small mountainous city offers pristine beauty and plenty of outdoor pursuits. For a quiet vacation where you don’t have to fret about the amount of money you spend, Bend is perfect.
Where: Bend is located in central Oregon, along the Deschutes River, near the eastern side of the Cascade Range. It is 163 miles southeast of Portland.
Size: The population of Bend was 102,059 as of July 2021, and it comprises 33.27 square miles.
Weather: Bend’s hottest month is July, when temperatures average 67 degrees Fahrenheit. It can get as low as 33 degrees in December.
Low-cost Things To Do in Bend, Oregon:
- High Desert Museum
- Urban Trail System
- More than 80 parks
- Mt. Bachelor Ski Area
Rocky Mountains – Cortez, Colorado
Dubbed “one of America’s richest archeological centers,” Cortez, Colorado, offers plenty to do at fair prices. From the famous Four Corners to Mesa Verde, this little city is a great vacation spot. It also offers excellent camp areas to help you save on hotel fees.
Where: Cortez lies on the Old Spanish Trail in the state’s southwest corner. It is close to the four corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is also only a 10-minute drive from Mesa Verde National Park.
Size: As of July 2021, Cortez had 8,855 residents. It has a total area of 4,015 acres.
Weather: It is hottest in Cortez in July when it hits 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is coldest in January when temperatures drop as low as 25 degrees.
Low-cost Things To Do in Cortez, Colorado:
- Trail of Ancient scenic byway
- Mesa Verde National Park
- The Four Corners
- Cortez Cultural Center
Intermountain – Cedar City, Utah
The smallest town on our list, Cedar City, Utah, is an excellent place to escape the daily grind. From the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park, this town offers the choice of winter snow or warm sun.
Where: Cedar City is situated in southern Utah. It is only a 45-minute drive from Zion National Park and 90 miles from Bryce Canyon.
Size: The U.S. Census Bureau reported a population of 37,206 for Cedar City In July 2021.
Weather: Cedar City is in an excellent location if you want to enjoy both cold and warm weather. In the winter, you can drive 40 minutes south and enjoy the low-elevation desert climates or 20 minutes north for six feet of snow. The temperatures in town range from 20 to 90 degrees.
Low-cost Things To Do in Cedar City, Utah:
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Grand Canyon
- Frontier Homestead State Park Museum
Midwest – Indianapolis, Indiana
The flourishing brewery and culinary scene make Indiana’s state capitol a fun place to vacation. Indianapolis won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either. It offers surprisingly low lodging rates for a big city.
Where: The city sits in the center of Indiana, in the Midwest’s east-north central area. It is a two-hour drive from the Indiana Dunes.
Size: Indianapolis had 882,039 residents as of July 2021. It takes up a total area of 367.9 square miles.
Weather: In July, Indianapolis averages 76 degrees Fahrenheit, while in January, it averages 29 degrees.
Low-cost Things To Do in Indianapolis:
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
- Central Canal
Southwest – Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you love the big city but not its prices, Albuquerque is for you. It’s an art lover’s paradise with majestic desert mountain backdrops and hundreds of art shops and markets. This colorful city is one of the cheapest Southwest cities to vacation in.
Where: Albuquerque sits on the Rio Grande, opposite a pass to the east between the Sandia and Manzano mountains. It is just 11 miles from the Petroglyph National Monument.
Size: This New Mexico city is home to about 562,599 people. It comprises 189 square miles.
Weather: The temperatures in Albuquerque average 79 degrees Fahrenheit in July and can get down to 37 degrees in December.
Low-cost Things To Do in Albuquerque:
- Petroglyph National Monument
- American International Rattlesnake Museum
- Albuquerque Old Town
- ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden
Northeast – Washington DC
The nation’s capital should be on everyone’s bucket list. To see the White House in person is an experience hard to forget. From the Lincoln Monument to the Vietnam Wall, there are plenty of free attractions in D.C.
Where: D.C. is nestled between Virginia and Maryland on the Potomac River. It is 30 miles west of the Chesapeake Bay and 108 miles north of Richmond.
Size: The 68.3 square miles of Washington, D.C., is home to 671,803 people (as of 2022).
Weather: D.C.’s weather averages vary from 80 degrees in July to 37 degrees in January.
Low-cost Things To Do in D.C.:
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Arlington National Cemetery
- U.S. Federal Reserve
- The White House
Southeast – Athens, Georgia
Athens, Georgia, has a vibe of its own. This edgy college town offers art, culture, and great food. Attractions, outdoor activities, and scenery are in good supply in Athens. And it ranks as one of the most affordable cities in America.
Where: Athens is located between Atlanta and the Savannah River. It takes about an hour to drive to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.
Size: Athens sits on 118.0 square miles of land and is home to 127,358 people.
Weather: Athens sees average temperatures of 84 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and 44 degrees in winter.
Low-cost Things To Do in Athens, Georgia:
- Antebellum Trail
- Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
- Callaway Gardens
- Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest
Six Additional Tips for Vacationing on the Cheap:
- Avoid the tourist traps. Instead, look for out-of-the-way shops and activities.
- Talk to the locals. Be bold and ask around for the best cheap places to eat or stay. Residents will have the best recommendations.
- Eat in. Most hotels have microwaves and mini-fridges. Instead of going to a restaurant, head to the local supermarket. Grab some frozen or premade meals and eat at the hotel. Purchase sandwich stuff for lunch and milk and cereal for breakfast. (Don’t forget to pack some plates, bowls, and utensils if you plan to do this).
- Enjoy nature. No matter where you visit, there will always be free stuff to do. There are parks, trails, and scenic spots that don’t cost a dime. Seek out these places and make a day of it. Spending time in nature is the best way to reset while on vacation.
- Use public transportation. If you visit a major metropolitan area, ditch the car and save on gas by using the local bus or subway to get around. It’s cheaper, saves on parking, and gives you a different perspective.
- Check out our article on travel hacking for more ways to save on your next excursion.