The most affordable travel destinations in the US – 2018 edition

With summer starting to heat up it’s time for families to start planning their summer vacations. This can be a stressful period, especially for families whose budgets are already stretched trying to afford their mortgage and saving for retirement. But while a dream trip to a distant country may be off the table, there are plenty of affordable U.S. destinations which families can enjoy without breaking their savings accounts. Below we rank the most affordable U.S. travel destinations.

In order to find the most affordable travel destinations in the country, SmartAsset estimated the costs of a vacation for a family of four and for an individual. Specifically, we looked at the cost of hotels, flights, car rentals and meals for a family of four and an individual in 48 cities. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together.

This is the fourth annual version of this study. Check out the 2017 version here.

Key Findings

  • Sunshine State Florida has three cities in our top 15, which is more than any other states. Close competitors are Texas, Arizona and Nevada, which each have two. What is great about visiting Florida is that not only is it an affordable state, but once you’re there you don’t have to spend any extra money to enjoy the great weather.

  • More of the same – Now that we have done this study for four years, some definite patterns are starting to emerge. For example, Orlando is a very affordable place to travel (although your budget mileage may vary depending on if you go to Disney World) and the only thing keeping you from an affordable trip to Las Vegas is your luck at the casino.

The Most Affordable Places to Travel for Individuals

most affordable travel destinations in the us
most affordable travel destinations in the us

In total eight cities overlap across our top 10 most affordable travel destinations for families and our top 10 most affordable travel destinations for individuals. The two cities that cracked the top 10 for individuals but not for families are Tucson, Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida.

Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville ranks as the 13th-most affordable travel destination for families and the ninth-most affordable travel destination for individuals. We estimate after factoring in hotels, car rentals, airfare and meals that a singe person spending a three-day, three-night vacation in Jacksonville can expect to pay $968.

The reason for the disparity between this city’s family ranking and individual ranking are the expensive flights. Jacksonville ranks in the top 20 for three of our metrics, but 40th for average air fare. Those flight tickets hurt a family of four more than an individual.

Tucson, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona lost a close fight with Salt Lake City for the final spot in the top 10 most affordable travel destinations for families. But it did claim a top 10 spot as an affordable destination for individuals. We estimate that a three-day, three-night trip to Tucson would cost $981 for an individual and $2,798 for a family of four.

most affordable travel destinations in the U.S.
most affordable travel destinations in the U.S.

Data and Methodology

In order to find the most affordable travel destinations in America, we analyzed data for 48 of the largest cities in America. Specifically, we estimated the cost of a three-day, three-night vacation for a family of four and an individual. In order to estimate these costs we looked at the following four metrics:

  • Average round-trip airfare cost. Airfare data came from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and is for the third quarter of 2017.

  • Average hotel room rate. We assumed a family of four would book two hotel rooms over the three-night stay while an individual would book a single hotel room for their three nights. Data on the average nightly hotel room rate came from hotel-price-index.com and is for 2017.

  • Average daily car rental cost. We assumed that a both a family and an individual would rent a car for three days. Data on average car rental rates came from cheapcarrental.net and is for 2016.

  • Average cost of a meal at a restaurant. We assumed that travelers would buy two meals per day at a mid-range restaurants That means eight restaurant meals per day for a family of four and two restaurant meals per day for an individual. Data comes from Numbeo.com

More formally, we used the following equation to estimate the expected cost of a three-day, three-night vacation for a family of four:

(avg hotel room rate x 2 rooms x 3 nights) + (avg car rental rate x 3 days) + (avg flight cost x 4 tickets) + (avg cost of a meal x 4 people x 2 meals x 3 days)

This is the formula for a single traveler:

(avg hotel room rate x 1 room x 3 nights) + (avg car rental rate x 3 days) +(avg flight cost x 1 ticket) + (avg cost of meal x 1 person x 2 meals x 3 days)

We then ranked the cities from most affordable to least affordable using these formulas.

Tips for Making the Most of Your Savings

  • Regularly check your budget – In order to save money, you need to watch what you are spending. Creating and constantly watching a firm budget is a good way to reel in unnecessary spending.

  • Use the right savings account – Sometimes you are budget-constrained and you can’t squeeze any more savings out of your current situation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save more money. Have your money work for you by putting it in a high-yield savings account. Online-only banks like Ally Bank or Synchrony tend to have the highest interest rates.

  • Force yourself not to spend it – Even if you find yourself saving money, it can be tempting to spend it if you keep it within reach. One way to force yourself not to spend money is to give it to someone else for safekeeping. That is roughly how certificates of deposits (CDs) work. With a CD you give a bank a certain amount of money and they promise to return it to you after a certain amount of time with interest. You can get your money back earlier, but you will have to pay a penalty. If you are someone who struggles to not spend money after you save it you may want to look into the best CD rates.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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