Visit These Affordable Travel Destinations in the U.S.!

You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun! Visit these affordable U.S. travel destinations that won’t break the bank.

The United States is filled with affordable travel destinations. Below, we share five vacation locations to please your inner penny-pincher.

1. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN

Tennessee is one of my all-time favorite travel destinations. We had an amazing and thrifty vacation there a couple of years back that you can read about here. The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area has a ton of free and cheap activities, with the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop.

There are many wineries in the Gatlinburg area with free wine tasting. There are also distilleries with free moonshine tasting if that is more your style. Many of these are within walking distance of each other, so you can park your car and save on gas as well! Not to mention walking is a much safer idea is you are planning on doing lots of tasting ;).

Taking in the Great Smokey Mountains is one of the free activities Gatlinburg has to offer, making it a great affordable travel destination!
The Great Smoky Mountains

Other cheap activities at this affordable travel destination include the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum ($3 a person), and touring/hiking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (no entrance fee!).

Hotels in the area run pretty cheap, depending on the time of year. We went in March, and were able to get a great hotel for less than $40 a night! Current prices on Orbitz for the Howard Johnson and similar hotels are around $48 a night. There are not many areas where you can find a decent hotel room for that price!

2. Flagstaff, AZ

Flagstaff, AZ is one of the more affordable travel destinations with a lot to offer. We originally visited the area to escape the southern California heat, and were pleasantly surprised to find out how many national monuments were in the area!

Sunset Crater National Monument is a great affordable travel destination.
Sunset Crater National Monument

During our short stay, we visited Walnut Canyon National Monument, which has a fun hiking trail that takes you right up to cliff dwellings. Nearby, is the Sunset Crater National Monument. This is the site of a former volcanic eruption. You can see where the lava covered everything, and actually hike on it! If you have never hiked on cooled lava, it is definitely something to experience. Wupatki National Monument is in the area as well. This park boasts two large pueblo homes, and one has over 100 rooms! If you live near any national parks, be sure to get the annual America the Beautiful National Parks pass for $80 to see these monuments and more the cheapest way possible.

Hotels are very affordable in the Flagstaff area. For example, right now on Orbitz, a room at the Days Inn is $48 a night; the Baymont by Wyndham is only $49. With the cheap hotel rooms and wealth of activities, you may want to plan for a few days in Flagstaff! We wish we had had more time to spend in the area on our road trip.

If you need a rental car for your vacation (like we did for this trip), check out Fox, Dollar, and Thrifty car rental as they usually have the best deals.

3. The Rio GranValley, TX

As mentioned in a recent post, the Rio Grande Valley in Texas offers a wealth of cheap activities, making it a top affordable travel destination. Some of our favorites include the Dolphin Docks dolphin tour ($13 a person), the Gladys Porter Zoo during enrichment activities ($14 a person), and visiting Nuevo Progresso (free minus fee to cross border). If you are there around the holidays, be sure to check out the Hidalgo Festival of Lights ($5 a person for the train, free to walk), and the Holiday Village in Brownsville (free).

Nuevo Progresso in the Rio Grande Valley is a very affordable travel destination!
Visiting Nuevo Progresso

There are many affordable restaurants in the area as well. The Gulf coast is a great place to get a good deal on some huge Gulf shrimp! A plate of large shrimp and fries will run you about $10.

A decent hotel on South Padre Island can be had for as low as $55 a night. Prices are similar on the main land around the Harlingen area.

4. South Dakota

If you are looking for a family-friendly affordable travel destination, take a serious look at South Dakota. With Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and the Corn Palace, there is a lot to keep your family busy. Some of my favorite vacations growing up were to South Dakota. A visit to Mount Rushmore will only cost you $10 in parking fees for your whole car. Entrance to the monument itself is free.

Badlands National Park is pretty awe-inspiring if you haven’t seen it before. If you have an America the Beautiful pass, your visit will be free. Otherwise, it is $30 per private vehicle. The park offers two campgrounds, and your stay will be 50% off if you have a National Parks pass! Full price tent camping for two people is $23 a night, and RV sites are $38 a night without the discount.

Badlands National Park

The Wall Drug Store was started in 1931 and attracted visitors by offering free ice water. Today, this roadside attraction draws up to 20,000 people on a summer day. There is no admission fee, but there is plenty of shopping to do, so don’t forget your wallet!

The Corn Palace in Mitchell is free except for featured events. The building is made of corn and filled with corn murals. It sounds strange and it is, but it’s definitely worth checking out, especially given the entrance fee!

The cost of hotels in the area are very reasonable as well. For example, Orbitz lists a room at the Baymont by Wyndham at $51 a night for a mid-week room. Many other hotels in the area are similarly priced.

5. Kentucky

Kentucky is ranked in the top 20 states with the lowest cost of living, making it an affordable travel destination. We briefly traveled through Kentucky on our spring break trip a couple of years ago. Our hotel was in Louisville, which made it convenient for us to tour Churchill Downs. We were only there a day, but there were plenty of other activities if we had more time. Churchill Downs is located outside of South Louisville. A hotel room at the Red Roof in is $56 to $70 a night, which is pretty reasonable, especially for a bigger city. Join RediRewards to save up to 25% on your hotel stays at Red Roof Inns.

Our Churchill Downs tour included our museum visit and a walking historic tour of the track. It was $16 a person and took around four hours or so. It is worth the money for the tour if you are interested in seeing the track, but don’t want to shell out for the Kentucky Derby.

Mammoth Cave

An hour and a half outside of Louisville is Mammoth Cave National Park. Entrance to the park is free, and cave tours start at only $4 a person for the Discovery tour. Camping is available for $20 a night, or only $10 a night with a National Parks pass.

Less than an hour down the road, you can tour the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln…for free! There is no entrance or touring fees at this park, making it a great activity to help you stick to your vacation budget. Here you can tour the birthplace of President Lincoln, as well as his boyhood home. There are hiking trails that range from 0.3 miles to 1.5 miles surrounding these sights.

What are some of your favorite affordable travel destinations? Please share below! 🙂


Amazing Christmas Time Activities in the Rio Grande Valley

Looking to escape the cold weather for the holidays? Check out these fun activities in the Rio Grande valley!

Every year, we go visit my parents in Texas for the holidays. We always stay busy with all of the amazing Christmas time activities in the Rio Grande Valley! The area encompasses a number of cities in southeastern Texas along the Rio Grande River, which is a border between the U.S. and Mexico. Some of these activities are only available during the holiday season, but others are open year-round. Keep reading to explore some of our favorite things to do in the Rio Grande Valley.

1. Dolphin Docks cruises

Dolphin Docks is located in Port Isabel, which is right on the Gulf of Mexico. This is one of my favorite activities in the Rio Grand Valley. We usually take one of their cruises each year. My favorite is the dolphin watching cruise. It is an hour and half long and costs $13 a person, a steal in my opinion. We have gone on this cruise a couple of times, and seen a ton of dolphins each time. Last December, we even had two swimming along beside our boat! If anyone in your party is a dolphin fanatic, be sure to put this on your to-do list. This activity is open year-round, not just during the holidays.

2. Black Dragon Pirate Ship Cruises

Sword fighting is one of the many activities in the Rio Grande Valley!

If you are more into pirates than you are dolphins, you can put a Black Dragon Pirate Ship cruise on your list of activities to do in the Rio Grande Valley. This particular cruise starts at $38 a person and was a ton of fun. We drank tropical drinks, watched a pirate show, and even took part in a sword fight! My only complaint is that I won the “high maintenance” award at the end of the cruise…not sure what that was all about ;).

3. Visit Nuevo Progresso

Visiting Nuevo Progresso is another fun activity in the Rio Grande Valley.

While visiting border towns isn’t necessarily the safest activity in the Rio Grande Valley, Nuevo Progresso is one of the safer border towns. They loooove winter Texans since a large part of their economy depends on them. There is even a “Welcome Winter Texans” sign when you walk across the border. Just be prepared for a little culture shock, which is part of the fun in going!. It is also a great place to buy cheap purses, watches, Christmas ornaments, etc. It costs $1 to get into Mexico, and 25 cents to get back into the U.S. Be sure to take change, your passport, and have your picture taken at the U.S./Mexico border! Note that the border is closed right now except for essential business such as visiting a pharmacy or the dentist.

4. Hildalgo Festival of Lights

The Hildalgo Festival of Lights is one of my favorite Christmas time activities in the Rio Grande Valley! The Festival runs from Dec. 1 through Dec. 30. For just $5 a person, you can board a narrated trolley that will take you all around the Festival of Lights. The Festival features over 3,000,000 lights and over 900 displays! It is truly amazing if you have never been there before. Warning: it will completely jade you towards smaller light displays in the future!

5. Gladys Porter Zoo

The Gladys Porter Zoo is in Brownsville, TX. It is a fun zoo to visit, but it is especially fun during the holidays when they hold their “animal enrichment day”. On this day, they give the animals Christmas presents to open. You haven’t seen anything until you have watched a baby chimpanzee open a Christmas present, only to play around in the box and roll himself up in the wrapping paper. Seriously, cuteness overload. They do enrichment activities one day each month, so the fun doesn’t have to be limited to just Christmas time.

6. Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum

If you are looking for a super cheap but fun activity in the Rio Grande Valley, be sure to check out the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum. There are three historical buildings on the grounds, including Harlingen’s first hospital, the home of the town’s founder, and the Paso Real Stagecoach Inn. You can take a self-guided tour of the buildings for free, or have a guided tour for only $2 a person for adults. The museum inside features rotating cultural exhibits, and has a display of Christmas trees around the holidays.

7. South Padre Island

Taking in the beach on South Padre Island is another fun activity in the Rio Grande Valley

South Padre Island is another fun stop/activity in the Rio Grande Valley. It is a former spring break hot spot, but now offers a more laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere. There is a ton of open beach, and most of the resorts on the island offer pools and beach access. The main strip has a wide variety of touristy shops if you are looking for the tourist experience. Towards the end of the strip there is a little conservatory with a nice board walk. Just be careful as word has it there are a couple of alligators in that area!

8. Sea Turtle Hospital

The Sea Turtle Hospital is a unique experience in the Rio Grand Valley. It is a fully functioning hospital for injured sea turtles around the island. On the tour, you learn the stories of the sea turtles that have been injured and nursed back to health at the Sea Turtle Hospital, and you can view the ones who are still in recovery. The museum admission is $6 for adults in the off season and $10 for adults in the summer.

9. Holiday Village at Dean Porter Park

One of the cutest Christmas activities in the Rio Grande Valley is the Holiday Village at Dean Porter Park in Brownsville. The exhibit begins around the end of November and ends on the first of the year. The park is filled with adorable, decorated little houses featuring Christmas scenes and holiday music. It is totally free. Try to find the Elf-on-a-Shelf to win a free Krispy Kreme donut!

10. Museum of South Texas

Visit the Museum of South Texas in Edinburg to learn about South Texas’s rich history. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Plan on being there for a few hours if you are someone who likes to take in all of the information. Admission is $9 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $5 for children.

Check out more affordable vacations in some of our other posts here:

Things to Do in Munising and Marquette, MI

How We Went on a 6-Night/7-Day Vacation for Less Than $300!

Need a rental car for your trip? Check out Fox, Dollar, and Thrifty car rental as they usually have the best deals.

What are some of your favorite things to do in the Rio Grande Valley? Feel free to share below!

Things to Do in Munising and Marquette, Michigan

Looking for things to do in Munising and Marquette, Michigan? Read our review of our three-day weekend in the U.P. for ideas!

Pictured Rocks in Munising, MI
Pictured Rocks in Munising, MI

We found a number of things to do in Munising and Marquette Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this past weekend. We took a three-day weekend to get out of town and enjoy the fall colors! Our trip was originally booked for the summer, but we ended up rescheduling due to Covid-19. We went with the Uncle Ducky’s Paddling Michigan Chippewa vacation package, which included a three night stay in a safari tent, a lunch cruise/tour of the Pictured Rocks, a kayak trip by the Pictured Rocks, and a self-guided canoe trip down the Au Train river.

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How to Travel Safety During COVID-19

I don’t know about you, but being “safe at home” has got me pretty stir crazy! At least it was until about a month ago when Jason and I left for our two week honeymoon. You may be thinking, “why would they do that–that’s just asking for it!” As a nurse, I am aware of and appreciate the very real threat of COVID-19. However, after waiting 34 years to get married, there was no way I was going to let a pandemic get in the way of my honeymoon!

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How to Take a Road Trip for Less than $300!

Ready for a vacation but don’t have a lot of extra money? That’s ok! A couple of years ago, Jason and I were able to go on a six night/seven day road trip for less than $300 total! Road trips are the way to go if you want to do a vacation on the cheap. Not only do you save on airfare, but you can take food along as well. On our route, we started out in Green Bay, WI, then traveled to Louisville, KY, to Gatlinburg, TN, Asheville, NC, back to Louisville, KY, then home to Green Bay. I have broken down our trip into the categories of gas, hotels, entertainment, food, and credit card rewards in order to share our money-saving strategies.

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