We Crunched the Numbers to Find the 10 Best Bargain Travel Options for 2018
Face it: 2017 has been a bit of a drag.
We got hit by three major hurricanes, we can barely afford rent anywhere in the U.S. and to put a cherry on top of this poop emoji of a year, our co-workers gave us crummy gifts during the annual office exchange.
We could all use a vacation. And even though Americans are terrible at saving money and are also pretty bad at taking vacations in general, this is the year where you should spring for that trip away to get some much needed rest and relaxation.
But where to?
We took it one step further and factored in the average rate for an Airbnb using Airdna and the difference in local costs using regional price parities from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to reshuffle those top 10 into the most affordable cities you should consider for a vacation in 2018.
Oh yeah, and we also found a couple of cheap things for you and the family to do in each one.
These 10 Cities Might Be Your Cheapest Travel Options in 2018
Just a disclaimer, these may not necessarily be the cheapest places for you to visit in 2018 depending on where you live. But on average, according to Hipmunk, you will get the best rate on roundtrip airfare to these cities.
1. Atlanta, Georgia
Average airfare: $290.62
Local prices rank: 1
Hotlanta is likely on the list due to its airport status as a major hub for connecting flights, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also see it as a solid vacation destination.
For $8, take the family on a glass elevator 72 stories to the Sun Dial Restaurant, and check out a birds-eye view of Atlanta. Don’t worry, they won’t force you to stay for a fancy meal.
Or you could get nostalgic and take in an $8 flick at the Starlight Drive-In Theatre. Celebrate the Civil Rights Movement by visiting Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace, and spend the day in Centennial Olympic Park for free.
2. Oakland, California
Average airfare: $251
Local prices rank: 10
You might just think of Raiders fans when you think of Oakland, but there’s plenty of culture in this Bay Area city.
Get half-price admission — plus some awesome food truck options — at the Oakland Museum of California on Friday nights. That’s just $7.50. You can also catch a flick at the historic Grand Lake Theatre for $11, which isn’t too bad in this day and age. You’ll even get a free Wurlitzer organ show.
And you’re so, so close to San Francisco. It’s less than $10 for a roundtrip ticket on the Bay Area Regional Transit line to get to the Mission District. There you can spend half a day just checking out the murals, enjoying the culture and chowing down on authentic Mexican food. Get the salsa verde.
3. Dallas, Texas
Average airfare: $315.24
Local prices rank: 4
Everything may be bigger in Texas, but it’s definitely not the most expensive state to take a vacation.
Head to the heart of Dallas in 2018, and feed your inner conspiracy theorist with a visit to Dealey Plaza and the infamous grassy knoll, near which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It’s $16 to get into the museum in the former book depository, but that price may be well worth it following the recent massive dump of documents related to the event.
Wear the kiddos out at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park which is $8 for adults and $6 for kids. For couples, spend $10 to check out the Dallas Museum of Art then get a cheap but delicious hot dog at Angry Dog.
4. Orlando, Florida
Average airfare: $282.98
Local prices rank: 2 (If you stay out of the dang theme park stores.)
There’s something freeing about visiting a city monopolized by theme parks and not actually visiting one. You should try it.
But you can still come close to one with Downtown Disney without forking over $75 or more. It does cost money to park, but spend $20 at any of the shops and parking is free. The same goes for Universal Studios’ CityWalk. I once spent three hours just wandering this district and taking in random shows while my wife was at a conference. I managed not to spend a dime.
5. Chicago, Illinois
Average airfare: $292.99
Local prices rank: 6
One of the biggest cities on this list, Chicago has such a large footprint that it’s hard to specifically pinpoint cheap things to do here. But we’ll do our best.
The 606 is an “urban oasis” that was once a railroad track. Now it’s an awesome, artistic recreational trail that will provide hours of entertainment — in the warmer months, of course.
Check out the lions at the Lincoln Park Zoo for free, then wander around the Navy Pier and Millenium Park. The Chicago Cultural Center always has free events, and you can get into the National Museum of Mexican Art for free as well.
6. Tampa, Florida
Average airfare: $337.49
Local prices rank: 5
Just over the bridge from The Penny Hoarder HQ, Tampa is a fun city my wife and I venture to from time to time. It definitely makes a solid vacation choice.
Since it’s basically summer year round here, you can enjoy any outdoor activity whenever you visit. It may be a half-hour drive, but no visit to the Tampa Bay area is complete without a trip to the beach.
For a fun afternoon, try out the local bike-share program, Coast, and ride along the Tampa Riverwalk. Then head to Ybor City, where you can tour the historic town and grab a cheap, but authentic, Cuban sandwich.
7. Las Vegas, Nevada
Average airfare: $288.67
Local prices rank: 3
Get here for cheap, then just put a few hundred bucks on red and you’re good to go. OK, we’re just kidding.
But seriously, there are things to do in Las Vegas besides throw away your hard-earned cash, even if the casinos themselves can be attractions. The Adventuredome in Circus Circus and the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden are worth a jaunt.
8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Average airfare: $283
Local prices rank: 8
This city is way more than a smaller Miami, and there’s just as much to do here.
While the nightlife is great, the real gems of this city are outdoors. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, and courageous, count the alligators as you bike all 15 miles of Shark Valley National Park. Or, for the less strenuous outdoor experience, explore the tropical hammocks of the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park on foot.
Then take a break and watch an Oscar-nominated movie at the historic Gateway Theatre. Get a glimpse of the good life by checking out the million-dollar yachts and homes on the city’s hop-on-hop-off water taxi.
9. Denver, Colorado
Average airfare: $279.99
Local prices rank: 7
You don’t have to spend big to enjoy the Mile-High City.
For thrifty beer-drinkers, take the light rail to Golden, Colorado, and take a free tour of the Coors Brewing Co. It comes with free beer! And Denver is another beautiful city to enjoy a bike-share program for $9 a day. Make sure to see the lower downtown district.
10. Los Angeles, California
Average airfare: $329.06
Local prices rank: 9
My brother lives in Los Angeles, so I’ve personally visited this city on a budget a few times. It’s expensive, but there are fun, cheap things to do.
You could spend an entire day for free in Griffith Park. Check out the Griffith Observatory, then challenge yourself to the one-hour hike to the Hollywood sign. You get exercise and get to re-enact one of the best scenes in movie history at the observatory.
Then you can drive an hour to Santa Monica or Venice to check out those famous California beaches.
You’ll notice that most of the destinations see the biggest savings in January and February. So get booking.
Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He’s been saving for months to afford a trip to Iceland. But Chicago is looking pretty good…