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Sharing experiences as a couple can make travel more enjoyable, whether it’s your first trip together, a honeymoon, or a babymoon. Sometimes, however, the motivation is there, but the budget isn’t quite up to a vacation splurge.
With some strategic planning and calculations, it’s possible to create an affordable vacation. You might look for off-season or less popular destinations, or shop for the best airfares on sites like Hopper. It also pays to be flexible on timing or travel days.
Experts advise putting together a budget, itinerary, and activities plan to estimate costs for hotels, airfare or fuel for road trips, food, and purchases. Travel advisors also suggest booking a hotel with kitchen facilities to avoid restaurant meals, and eating out at lunch rather than dinner. Consider all-inclusive hotels, too, but only after evaluating what is actually included and how much you would take advantage of the amenities.
Recognizing that “affordability” is a relative term, we’ve aimed for places where couples can have an enjoyable vacation while staying within the budget they create for themselves. We looked for free or low-cost activities and took into account the availability of less costly lodging. With that in mind, here are some of the most affordable vacations for couples.
Mazatlán offers white-sand beaches, delicious restaurants, vibrant nightlife, history, a 13-mile seaside promenade, reasonable prices, and lots to do with little or no cost. In the downtown historic district, visitors can explore Plaza Machado, stroll along cobblestone streets, and stop for a drink or ice cream. You could spend an entire day along the Malecón de Mazatlán, browsing souvenir stands, watching cliff divers, or grabbing a snack from one of the vendors. Rooms at the all-inclusive Pueblo Bonito Mazatlán Beach Resort start at less than $200. Plus, guests get access to the amenities at the upscale Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa at no additional charge.
New York, New York
You might be surprised to find New York City on a list of affordable vacations, but once you get to the Big Apple, there’s so much to do without spending a dime. Check Airbnb or shop online for a hotel room with sites like Hotels.com, and you’ll find lodging options at around $200. Enjoy an iconic (and affordable) New York bagel breakfast, and lunch on a slice of the best pizza or a hot dog from one of the street stands. Many of New York’s museums are free or accept a donation for visiting. Visitors can also take the subway to Long Island City’s Gantry Plaza State Park, which puts the gorgeous NYC skyline on display, or ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway (about $3 each way) for an aerial view of the city .
If you have your heart set on a vacation in Hawaii, you can manage to arrange one within a limited budget, especially with the help of some airline miles or points. Spending time on the beach and hiking are among the free things to do, as is a tour of Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. Oahu’s bus system is an inexpensive and efficient way to explore the island. Food is a fun part of travel, so look for farmers markets, saimin (noodles), poke, and shave ice at local spots. Rooms at The Twin Fin, a new surf-inspired beachfront hotel, start at $239, and nightly entertainment includes DJs, live music, stargazing, and more.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Located in northwest Idaho, on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, this year-round destination is ideal for couples who love the outdoors. Hiking, biking, boating, wineries, and breweries, are among things to do, in addition to enjoying the gorgeous scenery. Explore the downtown area near the waterfront, browse the boutiques, and stop for a bite at one of the restaurants. A variety of places to stay includes hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and campgrounds. The Coeur d’Alene Resort, known for daily scenic cruises plus sunset and dinner sailings, offers rooms starting at around $249.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Sandy shores, warm Gulf of Mexico waters, great food, and lively nightlife make the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area an economical place for a beachfront getaway. Take a ride on the Ferris wheel or roller coaster, drive a go-kart, or play some mini golf at Track Family Fun Park. Hop on the Mobile Bay Ferry for less than $10 to enjoy the scenic bay. Choose from more than 200 restaurants, and be sure to try the local seafood that includes shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. Hotels, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts, and campsites offer many affordable lodging options.
Fort Worth, Texas
About a half-hour from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Fort Worth is a fast-growing city known for its Western past and cowboy legacy, now preserved in the Stockyards National Historic District. Explore the streets that once were home to the cattle trade, and learn about the area’s past with a walking tour. You’ll want to see the cattle drive when the Fort Worth Herd of longhorns pass by with drovers who are available to answer questions. Shops, saloons, restaurants, rodeo events at Cowtown Coliseum, and music and dancing at famed Billy Bob’s provide plenty to see and do. Stay at the Kimpton Harper for under $200 a night, and check out the upscale Hotel Drover, Autograph Collection on Mule Alley for a beverage in their outdoor Backyard lounge.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
If beautiful beaches, great food, and a fascinating history are what you’re after, consider visiting Puerto Rico — no passport needed.Explore street art and colorful murals, as well as museums, for low-cost entertainment. See El Yunque National Forest and hike to a waterfall, enjoy the scenery, and pack a picnic for an alfresco lunch in the beautiful surroundings. Spend some time in Old San Juan to learn about the island’s history. And with a range of places to stay, you’ll find lodging to fit your spending plans. Plus, taxis and Uber are available to get you around the San Juan area, so you don’t have to spend on a rental car.
Palm Springs, California
The desert of Greater Palm Springs is a year-round destination, though hot summers often have visitors heading for pools or air-conditioned venues. No problem, there are many of both, plus plenty to do without spending a lot. Stroll along Palm Canyon Drive in the city of Palm Springs, browsing the shops and restaurants, or take a self-guided tour of the mid-century architecture or celebrity homes. Explore the outdoors with a hike through Indian Canyons. And with a range of lodging, you’ll find options to fit your budget. About an hour away, Joshua Tree National Park features stunning rock formations, native vegetation, cacti, and a night sky filled with stars.
St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Florida
Known for its white-sand beaches and warm waters, this area is a great choice for an affordable vacation, especially if the goal is sunshine, swimming, and water sports. There’s plenty to experience after sunset as well, from restaurants to clubs to dive bars. There’s no charge for strolling around town to view the more than 600 murals, and street art tours are available, too. The Dali Museum is set in a unique building on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, a perfect place to spend a day away from the beach. And a variety of places to stay will guarantee you’ll find one within your travel budget.
The nation’s capital, with its monuments and museums, can be an affordable destination, as well as an opportunity to learn about and appreciate history, art, science, and technology. The Smithsonian museums are free to visit, and there’s something for everyone’s interest, from space travel to natural history. TheSmithsonian’s National Zoo is a great place to spend a day at no cost. Just remember to apply for passes in advance. The same goes for tours of the White House, so be sure to make your reservations in time. Public transportation, including trains and buses, is a convenient, low-cost option. Hotels in the capital might be pricey, but staying in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, can save you some money and introduce you to the lovely city of Washington, D.C.
This walkable city is known for its diversity, reflected in its population and notably in its food scene. The Distillery District features shops, restaurants, art galleries, bakeries, and entertainment — perfect for an afternoon or evening exploring the historic area that was formerly a collection of industrial buildings. Stroll through St. Lawrence Market for a bite to eat or check out Stackt, a market designed out of shipping containers and home to shops, a microbrewery, and special events. Take advantage of the extensive public transportation network or get around on two wheels with Bike Share.
Yosemite National Park, California
Exploring one of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. — home to granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoias, and incredible wildlife — can be a memorable and budget-friendly vacation. Hikes take you to stunning lookouts, each season offering different experiences. Save on dining and enjoy picnic lunches with views of Yosemite’s wonders. Affordable lodging ranges from camping to cabins, either inside the park or nearby. Even if you don’t stay at the classic Ahwahnee hotel, be sure to stop in to see the decor, art, and architecture of this historic property. (closed until March 2, 2023 for refurbishment).