I haven’t been to a ton of places in my lifetime, but I have learned to travel on a budget. Here are thirteen of my favorite places in the U.S. and how I visited in the cheapest way possible (granted you don’t have to fly there).
1. Big Sur, California - I went to Big Sur for my first time two weeks before I moved back to the east coast. It was a quick weekend trip and we only spent one night there at Kirk Creek Campground. But it was by far, the best camping experience I’ve ever had. The campground is small and is right on the water. It was completely booked online, but we got there a day after it rained, so a lot of people had left early or didn’t show up. We got lucky, but you should definitely try this place first if you’re camping in Big Sur. P.S. No cell phone reception, which just makes the experience so much better.
(On the trail at our camp)
(This was the view from Kirk Creek Campground.)
(Our meal at sunset - chicken salad in mini pepper halves)
(Some other pictures from Big Sur...how do I pick just one picture when they all look this beautiful?!)
(The answer - I post them all! You're welcome. ;)
2. Joshua Tree, California - Joshua Tree made me fall in love with the desert. You can actually camp INSIDE the park, but we went during peak season, so campsites inside were filled up. Instead, we camped a few miles outside the park for $8/person (or something ridiculously cheap like that) and had an awesome time exploring, cooking around the fire, telling stories, etc. I’ve been dreaming of going back there since then. This is another place without cell phone reception, but I promise you’ll enjoy the secludedness!
(My favorite whimsical tree)
(This trip was extra special since my sister was visiting California!)
(Maybe you can tell - I'm wearing the Nike Pegasus that I talked about in my "Running Shoe Review" post)
3. New York City, New York - I’ve loved New York since I was little when my mom took my sister and I to see Broadway shows. There really is no place like New York in the U.S. (and I’m going out on a limb here to say not in the world). I usually stay with a friend when I visit the city overnight, but when I stayed by myself for a few days during the dg Expo last January, I had to find a cheap hotel. Although nothing is cheap in New York City, I found a deal to stay in Hotel Pennsylvania for $70/night. It wasn’t the most glamorous hotel, but it was the cheapest in the area and was only a few blocks away from Times Square. From what I’ve heard, AirBnBs are still pricey there, but if you live on the east coast, you could always just do a day trip on a $40 roundtrip Greyhound bus.
(“New York, New Yorrrk, I want to wake up in that city that doesn’t sleep.”)
(Even though it's chilly, the best time to go to NY is around the holidays.)
4. The Grand Canyon/Flagstaff/Sedona, Arizona - My friend Kaycee joined me on the first half of my road trip from California back to Pennsylvania. Our first stop was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The Grand Canyon was beautiful, especially at sunset, but it was freezing and we didn’t have much time to explore before the sun went down. Flagstaff and Sedona, however, are two of my favorite places on Earth. The air in Flagstaff was noticeably fresher than anywhere I can remember (kind of weird to say, but it was refreshing ;) and the rock formations in Sedona make you feel like you're in the old Wild West. I’m trying to convince my family to take a trip there since my parents and sister also love exploring new types of places. I’d really love to go camping there sometime, too!
(Seeing the Grand Canyon at sunset should be on everyone’s bucket list.)
(That’s the famous Cathedral Rock in the background. Miss this girl as much as I miss all these places!)
5. Nashville, Tennessee - Jon joined me for the second half of my road trip home from California. I picked him up in Dallas, then we went straight to Nashville. We both fell in love with the city - they have a strip of bars with live music in EVERY. SINGLE. BAR. That’s a dream come true for me. Jon was hesitant about staying in a hostel, but at $100 per night for a private room, it was the cheapest place that I found in the city. Honestly, it was pretty awesome and I wouldn’t have wanted to stay anywhere else. I only regret that we didn’t stay longer. If you’re a young group of friends trying to travel together, consider going to Nashville and give Nashville Downtown Hostel a chance.
(If you do go to Nashville, be sure to stop at Honky Tonk Central. It's FUNNNN!!)
(Of course we had to be huge tourists and get hats…)
6. San Diego, California - Stay in a hostel - just do it! I’ve stayed in Hostelling International’s Downtown location twice - once in a private room and once with my sister in a four-person girls room. My sister and I were paired with two girls staying there for a medical conference. They were super nice and headed to bed early so the only bad part was waking them up when we came back from the bars in the wee hours of the morning. San Diego’s nightlife is unbeatable, though. You can walk to most of the bars from this hostel, including my two favorites - The Tipsy Crow and Vin De Syrah. Both bars have dancing and Vin de Syrah is Alice in Wonderland themed complete with secret entrance below the Melting Pot. You’ll have to figure the rest out for yourself. ;) You'll also need to check out Balboa Park and of course, the San Diego Zoo!
(Balboa Park- very close to the zoo in SD)
(This is actually north of San Diego in Carlsbad - between SD and LA, but you have to go there when the flowers are blooming. It's called The Flower Fields.)
7. Las Vegas, Nevada (if you’re female) - Here’s the thing about being a young female in Vegas...it's pretty darn close to being royalty - free club entrance, free bottle service, free everything. I went to Las Vegas in August last year to celebrate my roommate’s birthday (along with my own since our birthdays are days apart). We had an awesome time as a group of girls, like I said, free everything! Guys - I’m sorry, but you might be the ones paying for all that free stuff, so this cheap vacation doesn’t apply to you.
(The cheapest way to stay in Vegas: don’t sleep and stay in the casinos and clubs all night. Just kidding, that’s dangerous, please get some sleep while you’re there.)
8. Lake Placid, New York - The only time I’ve been to Lake Placid was to watch the Ironman in 2012. However, I’d love to go back in the fall to see the leaves changing. It’s a secluded little town in upstate New York with beautiful mountains and lakes. Even during the Ironman weekend, we were able to find a cheap hotel so I’m sure hotels are even cheaper during the rest of the year. Get a crepe at the creperie in town, hike up Whiteface Mountain, and go kayaking or paddle boarding around the lakes. If you're really up for it, bring your bike and test your limits around the mountains.
(View of Lake Placid from Whiteface Mountain - one of the most breathtaking views you’ll find on the east coast - literally, it’s around 5,000 feet above sea level.)
(That's my dad...wayyyyy over there in the orange!)
(And him sliding down the railing...)
(The 1980 Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid so you can also check out the infrastructure that's still in use.)
9. Sequoia National Forest, California - Sequoia is a place out of a children’s fairytale. There are hundreds of miles of beautiful trail and you’ll likely run into some giant redwoods. But be careful - we got lost on a ten mile or so hike there - pretty scary actually. Make sure you know where you’re going and have a map - this is another one of those places without cell phone service. The Trail of 100 Giants is a must-see while you're there!
(This picture makes me feel like I’m about to go on some long journey like in Lord of the Rings.)
(Yes, we all fit INSIDE that tree...my friend has a video of it somewhere.)
(On the hike when we almost got lost in the wilderness)
10. Huntington Beach, California - I’m a little biased since I worked in Huntington Beach for a few years, but it really is an awesome place to visit. It’s been dubbed "Surf City USA", has tons of free events, especially during the summer (U.S. Open Surf, Fourth of July parade, pro volleyball tournaments to name a few) and farmers markets, has an excellent strip of bars on Main Street, and is close to all the other Southern California attractions. Be sure to check out Long Beach while you’re in that area. ;)
(HB is ALWAYS lively. The marine layer makes it look cloudy, but it usually burns off by the afternoon.)
(Biking down Pacific Coast Highway - or PCH - on our way to the Fourth of July parade. The streets are closed in the morning for the parade.)
(HB at sunset)
(That night we could see the sun and the moon at the same time - pretty cool.)
11. Seattle, Washington - Seattle is an active, outdoorsy person’s dream. There’s so much to do outside with mountains, lakes, and tons of running/biking trails. Lydia happened to be there for work and luckily, I visited during the perfect weekend without any rain. We went kayaking on one of the lakes AND went cider tasting AND went hiking. It’s definitely one of my favorite weekends to date.
(Be careful if you go kayaking on the lakes. My near-death experience happened in Seattle when a plane landing on the water nearly ran me over in my kayak!)
(It also happened to be Seattle cider month while I was there - luckiest coincidence ever!)
(Mount Rainier in the distance I believe)
(The city itself is also really cool.)
12. Malibu, California - Not only is Malibu a naturally beautiful place, but it’s also home to many of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. It’s close to Santa Monica (a fun, younger area in LA), but it feels secluded compared to the rest of LA. If I can ever afford it, I will 100% have a house in Malibu. It’s ridiculously expensive when it comes to housing, but if you’re just visiting, there are some great camping locations. Malibu is also one of the highest ranked places for paddle boarding (my number one favorite activity) in the country.
(My first time in Malibu and I instantly fell in love. You can just barely see the ocean in the background.)
(If you're missing Italy, go check out the Getty Villa in Malibu. Best part - it's FREE!)
(Can someone please invent a teleporter already?? I probably shouldn’t write about California when I’m missing it so much...)
13. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - I tried to avoid putting Philly on the list, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I reminisce about California and other places, my heart is and has always been in Philly. We have everything here - the food is great, the nightlife is great, and the attractions are great. There are several cheap hostels around, plenty of AirBnBs, and you’re always welcome to crash on my couch! Just kidding, Mel! My roommate is going to disown me one of these days...
(So much love in this city!)
(And being on the east coast means Jon and I can go on adventures together again. :)
Here are some ways to travel on a budget:
- Choose somewhere you can drive to rather than flying there.
- Start camping - you can see a ton of different places this way and it’s just a one-time investment for all the gear.
- Visit friends in a new place…more and more people are moving all over the country for jobs. You must know someone in a new city!
- Stay in a hostel - they’re cheap and are a great way to meet new people! I’ve stayed in probably ten different hostels in the U.S. (and a few in Europe). I don’t think a lot of people realize that Europe isn’t the only place with hostels!
- Look up free events in the city. I do this in Philly all the time and I always loved the free events in Long Beach. Every city has them and they’re usually fun and filled with locals.
- Go during off season - if you choose to fly, plane tickets will be cheaper and hotels will be cheaper, too.
- Use public transportation - the Google Maps app will tell you exactly where you need to be at exactly what time to catch the next train, subway, or bus. It can save you a lot of money not renting a car or having to Uber/Lyft around everywhere. If you do have to use an Uber, try using Uber Pool in the bigger cities.
- Don't splurge on every meal - try finding the hole-in-the-wall places that only the locals know about. If you're camping, canned chicken or tuna make a cheap, easy, healthy meal.
Next places to visit on my list: New Orleans, Louisiana & Boulder, Colorado
One of my life goals is to make it to every state. I’ve been to about 20, so almost halfway there. Unfortunately, I haven’t been camping much since I moved back from California, but that’s a New Year’s resolution. Anyone up for a camping trip??
TGIF everyone and have a safe and wonderful Halloween Eve!
What’s your favorite place to visit in the U.S.? Do you camp, stay in a hotel/hostel, stay with friends?
Have any tips for traveling on a budget?
What’s the next vacation spot on your list?