Cheap vacation spots for travelers on a budget in 2024
October 19, 2023 9 min read
Everybody needs a vacation now and then—even when money’s tight. The good news is that budget-friendly travel can be very doable, both within the U.S. and even to international destinations like Mexico and Central America.
Keep reading for a list of cheap places to travel that are still worthy of adding to your bucket list. Plus, find a list of budget travel tips to help you plan your next getaway.
With a little planning and flexibility, budget-friendly vacations can be doable.
Popular destinations, like Washington, D.C., Yellowstone National Park, Costa Rica and Mexico, can be budget friendly if you plan with affordability in mind.
Strategizing when to travel and when to book might help you economize and take advantage of lower prices.
Travel credit cards can be used to earn rewards miles, which can then be used to cover the cost of things like airfare, hotels and rental cars.
7 popular cheap vacation spots
One thing to note: The cost of travel is going to be different for most everyone. It depends on where you live, where you’re going, how you pack and a host of other factors. But once you reach your destination, you have the chance to make memories without spending a fortune.
Here are seven affordable destinations to keep in mind if you’re searching for travel deals.
1. Washington, D.C.
If you’re interested in cheap travel destinations, Washington, D.C., might not immediately come to mind. But it’s filled with low-cost or no-cost things to do—monuments to see, museums to tour and interesting neighborhoods to stroll.
Visit the Smithsonian museums, including the National Air and Space Museum. They’re America’s museums, so there’s no charge to get in.
Tour the National Gallery of Art, with works by artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso.
Check out the Library of Congress with its Gilded Age architecture.
Walk the National Mall for a gorgeous and free experience.
That’s just the start of what the nation’s capital has to offer. If you forgo the pricey hotels in Washington for one in a nearby city like Alexandria or Silver Spring, you could save on lodging too.
2. New York City
Yes, New York is another destination you might not expect to find on a list of the cheapest places to travel. But with a little creativity and basic knowledge of the city’s subway system—it’s inexpensive and operates 24/7—your trip to NYC could be both amazing and amazingly affordable.
Visit the city’s world-renowned museums and art galleries.
Plug into the high-voltage energy of Times Square.
Take in the city’s dazzling skyline from atop the Empire State Building.
Spend a low-key, free evening in Central Park.
And since your goal is to economize, consider staying outside Manhattan—even though the hotels are world class. Instead, book lodging in a less-pricey borough, take a day trip into the city and use your savings to splurge on a Broadway show.
3. San José, Costa Rica
Major cities can be the world’s most interesting places to visit thanks to centers filled with art and history, museums and architecture, vibrant nightlife, and great food. San José, which is both Costa Rica’s capital city and its largest city, certainly qualifies. There’s plenty to see, do and learn in this modern metropolis in the country’s Central Valley.
Spend time walking the streets of this modern cosmopolitan city.
Watch the world go by at La Plaza de la Cultura, the city’s main plaza, as you explore the city’s museums, theaters and parks.
Continue on to Avenida Central, a pedestrian shopping avenue leading the way to the Central Market.
Enjoy all the natural beauty the country has to offer, including the lush jungles and gorgeous waterfalls of San José’s Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo.
4. San Jose, California
Now for another affordable San Jose—this one in California. There’s so much going on in the capital of Silicon Valley, you’ll run out of time before you run out of things to do.
Visit Tech Interactive, a family-friendly center of science and technology located downtown.
Hike Almaden Lake Park, which offers a laid-back lake walk as well as fishing and road biking.
Enjoy three days of music at San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, one of the country’s major musical events, in late summer.
Stroll the free Municipal Rose Garden, with 200 types of roses.
Take in one of San Jose’s wineries and sip chardonnay under California’s famously sunny sky.
5. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
If your idea of getting away from it all involves lots of outdoor activities, a trip to a national park might be for you. And when you want to do it affordably, camping out when you get there is even better.
Take Yellowstone National Park. It offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 campsites, and booking one may be more affordable than getting a nearby hotel room.
You’ll want to see Old Faithful, of course, but there’s also:
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, the world’s third-largest spring, with its bright blue center circled by bands of green, yellow and orange water
Spectacular hiking trails
The park’s famous bison
Keep in mind that most of Yellowstone’s campsites need to be booked in advance—so reserve early to be sure your Yellowstone adventure happens just when you want it to.
6. Mexico City
No question, Mexico is famous for its beautiful beaches—Puerto Vallarta and Cancún, anyone? But if you’re in the mood for a city-based vacation, you might consider Mexico City.
Mexico’s capital is pedestrian friendly. Sightseeing is easily done on foot, which can help keep costs down, or by taking the city’s robust transportation system.
Make your way to the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, for a leisurely afternoon.
Visit Coyoacán, the neighborhood where artist Frida Kahlo grew up.
Tour the city’s museums, including the Frida Kahlo Museum.
Take a breather at Parque México, the art-deco-themed urban park.
And if you can plan your trip for early November, you’ll be rewarded with a quintessentially Mexican experience. On Day of the Dead, orange and pink marigolds are strewn around Mexico City to honor its departed.
7. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Thomas is so tropical, so otherworldly gorgeous that it can be easy to forget that it’s part of the U.S. But it is, which might make travel more convenient since there’s no passport required to get there.
Charlotte Amalie, the capital, features one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.
Splurge with lots of duty-free shopping and a round of golf.
Wind down with a great book on any of the island’s white sand beaches.
Visiting in January, which can be a great month for finding cheap flights to the Caribbean, might be another way to keep costs down.
Tips for traveling on a budget
You may not have a big budget when you plan a vacation. That’s why it can help to rely on practical tips for making the most of the money you have to spend. Check out these tips about destination choices, timing and more.
Plan and set your budget in advance
Researching prices at your preferred travel destination can help you understand typical costs for things like airfare and lodging, which may make you more likely to recognize a good hotel or flight deal when you see one. It will also give you plenty of time to start saving for your vacation.
If you want help planning your travel budget and coming up with a savings plan for your trip, you can enlist the help of a Capital One Café Ambassador for some expert help.
Use travel rewards to book
If you don’t already have a travel rewards credit card, it might be worth looking into. Travel cards allow cardholders to earn rewards on purchases. Then, depending on the card, those rewards can help pay for airline tickets, car rentals, hotels and more.
It may help to compare travel rewards cards before you apply. That’s because each has its own rewards structure, benefits and perks.
Travel in the offseason
If you’re open to traveling in the offseason, you could have more ways to save money on your next trip. That’s because traveling then can result in cheaper flights and hotels. Plus, you might enjoy your destination even more without all the crowds.
So consider visiting a traditionally summer spot in the winter, when rates may be lower. The beach, for instance, can take on a different kind of beauty in the offseason. Or try a ski town in the summer. You won’t be zipping down the slopes, but you’ll still experience the charm of mountain towns like Telluride, Colorado, and Big Sky, Montana.
Avoid tourist traps
Yes, there’ll probably be vacations when you want to do all the touristy things just for kicks. But if you’re willing to limit those kinds of trips, you could have getaways that are cheaper—and maybe more enjoyable.
So say no to overcrowded attractions, overpriced food and cheap souvenirs. Instead, seek out less-expected attractions on your next vacation. Chat with locals to find out where they shop and eat. You might find so much to see and do off the beaten path.
Find free things to enjoy
Who doesn’t love free? Museums, zoos and historical sites are good places to start if you’re looking to go gratis during your getaway. So are festivals that celebrate everything from an area’s heritage to its music to its signature foods. And nature—hiking trails, parks and lakes—is filled with free places to spend a perfectly enjoyable day. Many major cities also offer free walking tours, so be sure to do your research beforehand to take advantage.
You could also stay close to home on your next vacation—in other words, take a staycation. Pitch a tent and camp out in the backyard. Or play tourist in your own town, seeing sights you’ve missed but have always meant to see.
Limit eating out
Eating is essential when you travel, of course. But if you’re willing to be intentional about your meals, you could save on what is often a major expense.
Because restaurant prices can soar at popular travel destinations, think about staying at a vacation rental that offers an in-room kitchen. And consider seeking out local eateries or exploring the local street food scene to add local flavor.
Consider travel insurance
Nothing can bust a travel budget as quickly as an unexpected expense or emergency. To avoid the sticker shock of an unplanned expense—and a potentially ruined trip—consider whether travel insurance is worth it.
It may be helpful to research travel health insurance, medical evacuation insurance, trip cancellation insurance and credit card travel insurance. Then you can evaluate how each might fit your needs and budget.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance benefits that cover things like lost luggage or flight delays. Check with your card issuer to see what kind of coverage you’re eligible for.
Watch out for foreign transaction fees
Americans vacationing close to home likely won’t have to worry about how to pay for things while traveling. But if you’re taking advantage of travel deals to somewhere like Europe, South America, Asia or another international destination, you’ll want to watch out for extra fees you could incur for using your card to pay in a foreign country.
Some credit cards, for example, will charge a foreign transaction fee, which is a surcharge you pay when making a transaction in a foreign country. To avoid paying more than you need to, make sure you research whether your credit card charges foreign transaction fees and familiarize yourself with best practices for using a credit card internationally.
Cheap vacation spots in a nutshell
If you’re looking to travel on a budget, you could consider adding one of these affordable destinations to your next itinerary. But the good news is that cheap vacations can happen almost anywhere if you’re willing to plan ahead, stay flexible and bring a sense of adventure.
The right resources and tools can help too. If you’re looking for more ideas for how to save on your next trip, explore even more budget travel tips. And if you’re interested in using a rewards credit card to help pay for some of your vacation expenses, learn more about travel and miles credit cards from Capital One.