The U.S. can be a great place to travel: it’s easy to get to, it has a wide range of activities and landscapes to enjoy, and getting around is simple. From epic road trips to a smorgasbord of culture, food, music and natural attractions, there are many ways to explore the U.S. on limited funds without sacrificing comfort or fun.
1. Time It Right
New York at Christmas or L.A. in the summer? Those trips can get expensive, and many popular tourist attractions may be crowded. Consider visiting these iconic cities in the spring or fall to make the most of your budget.
Consider a spring or fall visit to an iconic U.S. city to make the most of your trip.
Similarly, exploring studio sets and visiting imaginary worlds can be done any time of year. If you’re travelling with children, the Easter break might be the most ideal time to visit theme parks. The thing is, that time of year isn’t likely to give you the most bang for your buck. If you’re flexible in your vacation scheduling, you can save big on the destinations you’re most excited about. Peak season usually ends in March, so if you hold off until April or May you’ll often find flights and hotel prices have dropped.
Find out what the off-peak times are for the park of your choice by researching on travel information sites and park attendance level trackers. In addition to short wait times, you may discover the joy in saving cash on your family adventure.
If you plan early enough, you may be able to book a short trip around a weekend or holiday that can accommodate your children without missing much time away from school. And be sure to add an educational element to the trip — cities and towns of all sizes offer a unique blend of history and experience that your child may not get a chance to learn and appreciate in a classroom.
2. Explore the Road Less Travelled
The U.S. is large and geographically diverse. Choosing a less-travelled destination may help stretch your travel dollars further. For example, smaller American cities such as Savannah, Charleston, and San Antonio offer history, sightseeing, amazing food and warm weather beginning in the early spring. Nashville and Portland both have thriving music scenes. For wine-lovers, Washington state offers beautiful scenery and award-winning vineyards that rival California’s Napa Valley. If it’s the beach you’re after, consider the Gulf Coast of Texas over more tourist-heavy sandbars. These destinations, without the cache of some of some of the more popular areas of the country, offer outstanding experiences, for less.
3. Road Trip It
Once you make your way into your preferred port of entry, your next step can be to rent a car. There are many sites, cities, beaches and attractions you can easily get to by car — wherever you’re starting from. There is a great deal to explore in this vast country— so figure out how far you’re willing to drive and map it out. Where can your four wheels take you?
4. Seek out Travel Deals
There are a number of sites out there to help you find the best deals when you’re in search of a vacation on a budget.
Google Flights and Skyscanner are easy-to-use sites that let you search round-trip, one-way, multi-city or “everywhere” flights – which helps if you’re flexible on your destination or just not sure where you want to go.
Travelocity.com and Expedia.com are popular go-to travel booking sites that search for fares, hotels and car rentals based on price and availability, and have been around for years for a reason. They’re simple to navigate, reputable, and lay out all your options to make decision-making easier.
Kayak.com lets you search several travel sites at once in search of the best deal – plus they have a handy alert service that can let you know when prices drop.
5. Plan 8-10 Weeks Ahead
While booking travel last minute might give you an amazing deal, it doesn’t always work for everyone. Some people are born planners, and if you’re travelling with family, there’s always more to travelling than throwing your flip flops in a bag and skipping off to the airport whenever a travel deal pops up. Plus, by booking late, you may be left with limited hotel availability, which may force your hand in paying for something that’s higher than your ideal budget.
While you don’t necessarily have to be planning out your vacations a year in advance, planning about 8-10 weeks out may help you get the best fares and accommodation choices.2
These days, there are more accommodation options than ever, making it easier to find something that fits your budget, and what’s best for you and your fellow travelers.
Advance planning also gives you a chance to get your finances in order – whether that means saving towards a travel fund, creating a budget, renewing your passports and visas, or simply ensuring you have time to get sufficient USD currency from your bank before your trip.
Travel Tip: While it's always good to have cash on hand, a credit card can be a great benefit to your vacation. Many credit cards offer rewards such as miles, points, discounts on hotels and car rentals, and travel insurance. Find out if you pre-qualify for an RBC credit card.
6. Get Creative on Accommodations
Go camping. With many wonderful national parks across the U.S. you an easily find a free or inexpensive campsite with the basic facilities you need (toilets, showers, drinking water). Plus, there are many privately-owned parks that offer camping for $20-$30USD per night and come with hot showers, laundry, convenience stories, swimming pools and even wi-fi!
Rent a house. If you’re travelling with your family, renting out a house may be more cost effective — and likely more comfortable — than getting multiple hotel rooms. And if you have access to a kitchen and laundry, you can save on everyday costs that can really add up while travelling. Airbnb and VRBO provide easy ways to find and book a house in your chosen destination, offering guarantees and peace of mind for those who haven’t ventured into this space before.
Consider a hostel. Hostels have come a long way in recent years, and are not just for young travellers who are completely comfortable with dormitory-style living. Many hostels have single or double rooms perfect for couples, or larger rooms that can fit a family. With a new movement of affordable luxury hostels, there is a big range to explore.
Become a loyalty member. If you’d prefer to stay in hotels, getting a loyalty membership may pay off. Even if you don’t stay at the chain often, having a membership (which usually just means signing up and providing some details about yourself) can get you things like free upgrades, complimentary wi-fi, early check-in or discounts on rooms.
7. Find the Free Stuff
The U.S. is home to a great deal of attractions — natural and man-made — that can be experienced at no cost. Here are some of the best free attractions in the U.S.:
Explore the Freedom Trail in Boston.
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
Follow the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
Snap a photo of the “Bean” in Chicago (and explore surrounding Millennium Park).
Take in the Fountain Show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Visit the Lincoln Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, and Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. — they’re all free.
Wander through a city with great character and history – such as New Orleans, Memphis, Philadelphia, San Antonio, or Savannah.
Hang out in Balboa Park in San Diego.
Jump in the ocean, catch some rays or stroll the boardwalk in any of the U.S.’s fabulous beach towns.
Your next U.S. vacation can be fun, full of adventure, relaxing and just the kind of getaway you’re looking for. It can also be very affordable — with the right planning and an openness to try something a little bit different.
Sources: 1. Here’s The Best Time To Buy Airline Tickets, Forbes 2018
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