Traveling around the United States can be super fun, even if you're already from the U.S. You're able to experience other cities that are very different culturally but still have the amenities that you consider normal. It can be a shock to see how much one city will differ from another, especially when they're all in the same country. Many cities will feel like you're in a different world! The price tags on each of the cities are also astronomically different, mainly due to location, tourism demand, weather, and surrounding attractions.
If you're on a budget, you can still experience a lot in the United States for less. While the U.S. isn't known for being the most budget friendly country in the world, it offers a wide variety that makes it appealing to almost everyone. From sub-zero ski destinations to tropical beaches, the United States has a little of everything! You can experience the historical parts of the East Coast, learn more about the Native culture out west, or dive into landmarks based on the Industrial Revolution. Whatever you're interested in, you should definitely be able to find a city that offers a relatively inexpensive experience.
Check out these 20 cities in the United States that are best for budget travel!
20 20. Chicago, Illinois: A Big City Experience for Less
Even though Chicago is a super well-known, large city with a lot to offer, it’s also one of the cheapest to visit in the U.S. With incredibly low flight prices (often under $90) from any other major destination in the United States, getting there is easy. Once you’re there, it’s not hard to find super cheap hotels or other accommodations, and most of the sights that you’d want to see, such as The Bean, are completely free. If you are interested in investing in an activity such as the famous architecture tour, you're able to do so for a low price.
Even Cubs game tickets are pretty affordable, making Chicago one of the best budget-friendly cities you could go to!
19 10. Portland, Oregon: An Eclectic, Budget Heaven
Portland Oregon is a super eclectic, alternative city that often sees cloudy skies. It has a new-age, bohemian vibe that appeals to many travelers, especially those who are health conscious. There's lots of cool contemporary museums that appeal to the younger culture of Portland. It is also very pedestrian friendly, keeping transportation costs super low. The music scene is especially fun and really good bands are usually available for free in bars and restaurants.
Lodging is also pretty inexpensive, especially if you go with AirBnB. Portland is a great choice for a budget vacation if you want to experience a really unique culture!
18 9. San Antonio, Texas: A Small-Town Vibe With a Small Bill
San Antonio is the third largest city in Texas and is able to remain a "small-town" despite its ever growing population. It's known for being extremely hot, especially in the summer months.
The River Walk is one of San Antonio's best attractions, as it runs all along the beautiful river, and is completely free! It is lined by many different cafes, restaurants, and shops, all of which are pretty reasonable in price.
Hotels will vary: if you need to stay right on the River Walk then you'll end up paying a bit more, but if you can manage to stay even just a few blocks away, it will be pretty easy to get a good room for under $100 a night.
17 8. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Experience the Outdoors Year Round
Located at the base of Pike's Peak, Colorado Springs is best known for housing the Olympic Training Center. Any time of year, the natural beauty of Colorado Springs draws a huge amount of tourists to the area. In the summer you can try to catch glimpses of the wildlife, hike to look over the city, and see the many types of gorgeous wildflowers blooming.
In the winter, the snowcapped mountains make for incredible views and winter activities. An adult can actually spend under $100 a day total in Colorado Springs and get all of the best experiences, making it a super affordable vacation any time of year.
16 7. Greenville, South Carolina: A Foodie's Paradise
Greenville may sound boring if you’ve never been, but it’s actually incredibly scenic. Greenville has a natural element that many other cities lack, but has been able to keep it’s authentic Southern charm throughout the years.
What’s newer for Greenville is the culinary element: it is quickly becoming a hot-spot for top chefs and foodies! Food bloggers flock to Greenville to review some of the United States' best food, but because Greenville is up-and-coming and is a smaller city, it’s still very affordable for the average person. Hotel rooms will usually be under $100 a night and flights are usually inexpensive as well.
15 19. Alexandria, Virginia: A Historic Destination for Less
Alexandria, while being in Virginia, is actually only a few miles away from the White House. It’s a much smaller town that feels very historic, with cobblestone streets and brick buildings. It’s also a lot cheaper than staying right in Washington D.C.
Much closer to Alexandria is George Washington’s Estate, which is a super cool outing if you’re up for a tour, and multiple different wineries that are known worldwide are also nearby. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activities or a good dose of history, Alexandria is sure to provide it at a reasonable cost and will be fun for the whole family!
14 18. Lake George, New York: A Summer Full of Fun
Lake George is located right near the Adirondacks and goes just as crazy in the summer. If you’re more of a lake person but don’t want to go overboard with spending, Lake George will be the perfect destination for you. There’s tons of excursions for cheap, from hiking to brewery tours. Ghost tours are also super common and range from family-friendly spooky to extremely scary.
Accommodations are super affordable compared to other places in the area (most hotels will be around $150 per night!). The main expense will be the flights if you’re coming from far away, but if you live in the northeast and can easily drive, heading to Lake George for a week in the summer is a no-brainer.
13 17. Pompano Beach, Florida: Have the True Florida Getaway
Many Florida destinations are crazy expensive, but not Pompano Beach. It is located just north of Fort Lauderdale and remains somewhat incognito to travelers, but has so much to offer.
You can get the super white sand, the warm blue water, and the long days filled with sun that you’re looking for in Florida, all while staying in a gorgeous hotel for under $150 a night. If you fly into Fort Lauderdale and get a rental car, you can often get a flight for under $100 through Southwest Airlines. Pompano Beach is great for snorkelers and scuba divers as it has some really cool underwater sights.
12 16. Stateline, Nevada: A Skier's Winter Paradise
Just across the border are super-expensive California winter destinations, but Stateline, Nevada has some really awesome views and slopes while being the best bang for your buck. There’s so many things to do in Stateline, including skiing down a 10,000 foot mountain in the winter or hiking it in the summer.
If you’d rather just take in the views, you can ride the gondola all the way to the top. Casinos are also big here, so there’s plenty to do indoors if you need a day off. Many of the resorts around Stateline are very affordable but offer the full Lake Tahoe experience.
11 15. Glen Arbor, Michigan: Live the Lake Life for Less
Flights to Glen Arbor are relatively cheap, but if you live in Michigan you can visit for next to nothing. Hotels are usually around $120 a night, although you can get a budget hotel for much less, and fully decked out cabins are available for around $50 a night. If you choose to stay for a week or more, you can get even better deals!
Glen Arbor is especially lively in the summer, with tons of boats on the lake and a huge amount of water activities available. Try to grab a cabin with your own dock and you'll never want to leave.
10 14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: A Melting Pot of History
Known as a melting pot due to its many different areas, Philadelphia will be a lot of fun to visit if you’re adventurous and like to head out on your own. For a historic atmosphere, head to the Old City. The Independence Hall has free admission and the architecture is really cool to check out (and also free). In Fishtown, you can experience all different kinds of cuisines.
You can also explore Philadelphia’s many art museums, most of which are under $10 for entrance. Hotels are affordable as are flights, since Philadelphia tends to be a hub for layovers and connections.
9 13. Memphis, Tennessee: The Music Capital of the U.S.
Memphis is famous for its music: if you like the Blues, Rock & Roll, or Country, it won't disappoint. Luckily, it's also one of the best musical cities to visit on a budget. There's a huge amount of music-related attractions that are super cheap to visit, such as those pertaining to Elvis Presley.
There's a lot of historical museums if you'd rather stay away from the music scene, and a super lively restaurant and bar culture. Hotels will often be under $80 a night for upscale accommodations! If you love music related history or the South, Memphis is the place to be.
8 12. Anchorage, Alaska: Enjoy the (Free) Outdoors
While Anchorage can be expensive to actually get to depending on where you're coming from, once you're there, everything is relatively cheap. You can do virtually any outdoor activity for free. Bring your own gear from home if you're into hiking or bouldering and you'll save even more. Camping is incredibly cheap, starting at $25 a week, so if you're into outdoor living you can virtually stay for free. Even luxury hotels will often be under $100 a night. If you can hold out for a good deal on airfare, you can have a pretty inexpensive vacation in a really cool, exotic destination.
7 11. Williamsburg, Virginia: A History Buff's Paradise
For a super educational, historical trip, check out Williamsburg in Virginia. A lot of the many historical activities, sights, and tours available are free or under $10. There's so many historical landmarks that you'd have to do two full days of sightseeing to even make a dent! Planning will be your friend and you'll be able to fit much more in for less if you're prepared. Make sure to book reservations ahead of time:
Williamsburg is notoriously short on good restaurants and the best ones book up far in advance. Hotels are usually inexpensive and even better deals are often available on Groupon.
6 6. Detroit, Michigan: The Automotive Capital for Machine Lovers
Detroit is one of the most affordable cities in the world to visit and offers some really unique activities. There are all types of art and war museums available that showcase not only Michigan's history but big historical moments for the United States as well. It is the country's automotive center, so anyone into cars or machinery will have a lot to check out.
An adult can actually spend each day in Detroit paying under $79! The cost is actually crazy when you realize that that price includes lodging, food, and a full array of daily activities. Flights into Detroit are cheap from almost anywhere, making it a great, super-budget destination.
5 5. Phoenix, Arizona: Hot, Dry, and Cheap
Want to head to a super sunny, extremely hot destination with limited humidity? Phoenix, Arizona is your best bet. If you like desert destinations, you’ll love Phoenix. It’s constantly over 80 degrees but has virtually no humidity year-round, making it much easier to spend time outside.
There’s plenty of hotels and resorts available for very reasonable prices, and it would be tough to find one without a pool. Additionally, flights are super cheap into Phoenix, especially if you’re coming from the West Coast. For a short weekend away or longer trip in the sun, Phoenix is always a great choice!
4 4. Austin, Texas: Experience Natural Texas For Less
Austin is the capital of Texas, and while it may seem small compared to other cities, it has a really unique, eclectic culture that makes it attractive to many travelers. Live music is huge here, and on almost any street (or in any restaurant or bar) you'll be able to hear some great tunes. There are many free outdoor concerts or events, especially in the summer, which is the best time to visit.
Hotels are really budget-friendly and flights are usually insanely cheap, since Austin tends to be one of the big cities that most airlines have layovers in.
3 3. Orlando, Florida: It Isn't Just Disney
When you hear Orlando, you probably think of Disney, which is usually expensive and impossible to do cheaply. What you might not realize is how much Orlando itself has to offer for a super low price. Hotels are often under $100 a night! If you do want to purchase passes to a park, Universal and Sea World often offer deals depending on the time of the year. Orlando is also known for shopping and restaurants, especially on the main tourist strip.
Flights are usually extremely cheap; Orlando is actually one of the most budget-friendly cities in Florida to fly into.
2 2. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Experience a Totally Unique Culture
If you want a US city that feels extremely cultural, Sante Fe is your place. Even just strolling down the street taking in the all-adobe architecture will make you think you’re in another country. If you want to get the full cultural experience, check out some of the Native museums and sites. Native heritage is huge here, and the locals go to many lengths to honor it. Luckily, many of these festivals and attractions are free.
Flights will fluctuate in price, depending on the season and where you’re flying out of, but hotel and accommodation prices remain resolutely low in Sante Fe throughout the year, making it a great budget friendly destination.
1 1. Cleveland, Ohio: Art and Culture Lovers Rejoice
You might not realize that Cleveland, Ohio is actually a hotspot for art and culture lovers. There are multiple art museums, the most famous of which is (of course) The Cleveland Museum of Art. Almost every museum is insanely cheap to enter, and you can see all kinds of musical and theatrical shows for virtually nothing.
Hotels are also pretty inexpensive, and transportation around the city is really reasonable, especially if you’re using Uber. Flights to Cleveland are affordable from almost anywhere in the country, making it a perfect destination if you’re looking to save but still experience a cool city.