Good travel doesn't have to break the bank. Sure, there may be a famous chef whose restaurant you simply must check out. And maybe you've sunk some money into once-in-a-lifetime, front-row seats for that Broadway show you always wanted to see. But you can balance these splurges with affordable experiences, too. Here, we’ll tell you how to match big-ticket items with fun and cheap things to do in some of our favorite cities.
New York, New York
Get a view of the city from the water with a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry.
Splurge: On tickets to a show
Save: By catching a minor league game
You really wanted to see that Broadway show but your husband had his heart set on catching a game in the Bronx. Fear not! You don’t have to blow your budget to experience Yankees fanaticism. Hop on the Staten Island Ferry, which is just a short subway trip from Midtown Manhattan hotels. You'll enjoy a free, 25-minute ferry ride—under the Statue of Liberty, past Ellis Island—over to the Richmond County Bank Ballpark. The minor-league team and its fans won’t disappoint, and neither will your view from the cheap seats: Just a hop, skip and a jump from the waterfront, nearly every spot yields great views of the New York Harbor.
Southern charm doesn't have to take over your wallet. It's possible to take in the beauty of the South while saving a pretty penny.
Splurge: Take in the annual Savannah Food & Wine Festival
Save: By soaking up some Lowcountry history
It’s easy—and inexpensive— to embrace Savannah’s rich history while staying in the city for this weeklong event. You can explore the stunning Bonaventure Cemetery, and it won’t cost you a dime to catch the Savannah Belles Ferry. The famous Southern writer Flannery O'Connor's childhood home is also in town, and admission is quite affordable. To discover the creatures that live in the nearby Atlantic, visit the UGA Aquarium, where admission is just $6 for adults and $4 for kids and seniors.
Asheville, North Carolina
Lush greenery in Asheville doesn't require a lot of green cash. Take a stroll through Asheville's inexpensive attractions.
Splurge: On a fancy meal
Save: By taking a drive through the mountains
People travel to Asheville for the restaurant scene—for good reason—but it'd be easy to go broke eating at every five-star spot in town. To eat well and avoid sticker shock, try the hip and affordable Tastee Diner in West Asheville. Or snag a quick lunch in the nearby town of Fairview at The Hot Dog King, a long-standing local chain. Stepping into one of these places is like visiting a mid-20th-century fast food joint. Choose from several locations in the area around Asheville.
For entertainment that won't break the budget in admission costs, pack up some snacks at your Asheville hotel and take a drive up Town Mountain Road to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Watch for spectacular views of downtown from this drive, which goes straight up Beaucatcher Mountain from the middle of the city. Or catch your breath at the Botanical Gardens, a surprisingly secluded streamside refuge tucked away directly below UNC-Asheville.
It's easy to soak in the history and music of Nashville just by walking out the front door.
Splurge: Seats on the 50-yard line for The Music City Bowl
Save: While rocking out on Lower Broadway
Free music in Music City? It may sound too good to be true, but Nashville boasts many venues where you can walk in off the street, no cash required, and immerse yourself in honky-tonk tunes. Stay at a hotel in downtown Nashville and check out country music hub Lower Broadway, where venues like Robert's Western World proudly proclaim there’s never a cover charge. You can also make a reservation to see an early show at the Bluebird Cafe of TV's Nashville fame; admission is free, although there's a $10 food and drink minimum. Another essential Nashville stop is the Music City's Parthenon replica. Admission to this art museum is an unintimidating $4 for children and seniors and $6 for adults.
One of the best free things to do in Phoenix is to catch one of their stunning sunsets.
Splurge: To see the golf pros at the Phoenix Open
Save: By exploring the great outdoors
It doesn't cost a fortune to experience the culture and natural scenery in Phoenix. Lululemon Phoenix holds regular free yoga classes, and there's free comedy Thursday evenings at Thirdspace. If you want to blend nightlife and nature, the Audubon Center's monthly (and free!) Birds ’n Beer sessions let you grab a brew and learn about conservation, animal mating habits and wacky natural phenomena.
A stay in Phoenix would be incomplete without a desert experience, which you can get without burning through the gas it would take to go driving off into the wilderness. The enormous South Mountain Park retains its sparse desert character within city lines. Explore its 51 miles of trails, or drive up Summit Road to Dobbins Lookout and soak in the view.