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The Simple Dollar

Low-cost attractions offer cheap getaways

If you plan a vacation in which the primary activities are inexpensive, then the vacation is going to be inexpensive, Hamm writes.

By Guest blogger / December 18, 2012

Park ranger Marge Farnett, center, conducts a tour at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park N.Y., in this December 2012 file photo. The vast majority of National Parks are free and even the ones that have a cost are very inexpensive, Hamm writes.

Mike Groll/AP/File

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It’s common sense. If you plan a vacation in which the primary activities are expensive things, then the vacation is going to be expensive. If you plan a vacation in which the primary activities are inexpensive, then the vacation is going to be inexpensive.

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Thus, most of the time, it makes a lot more sense to choose vacations focused on inexpensive destinations.

How do you actually do that, though? Here are some options for planning a great vacation around inexpensive options.

Head to a national or a state park. This past summer, we vacationed in western South Dakota. Over the course of a few days, we visited the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and Custer State Park. Our total cost for several days of natural beauty and impressive monuments was a pittance. 

One great way to approach this is to pick up a guide to our wonderful national parks. I suggest checking out this book from your local library.

Take your time and browse through the abundance of national parks and monuments, state parks, and other amazing places of natural beauty in the United States. The vast majority of them are free and even the ones that have a cost are very inexpensive.

Select housing that’s not adjacent to a popular site. Instead of staying at a hotel that’s literally on the beach or right next to the place you want to visit, choose a hotel that’s five or ten minutes away. Then, when you want to visit the location in question, walk there.

How does this save money? You will almost always find interesting things to distract you when you’re on foot while traveling. You’ll see street performances, street art, free exhibits, and countless other interesting things going on nearby.

I can’t help but recall our trip to London, where we decided to walk from our hotel through Hyde Park and over to Westminster Abbey. Seeing the monuments was free, but along the way we found statues of Peter Pan in the park, a very good group playing Britpop-style music on a streetcorner, a guard presentation near Buckingham Palace, and a free temporary exhibit of Cindy Sherman’s photography.

All of those things were free, and they were all only discovered because we didn’t stay right by the thing we wanted to see. Instead, we walked there, gave ourselves plenty of time, and let serendipity take its course.

Get a free travel guide from potential destinations. For example, if you’ve decided to visit Washington D.C., check out washington.org. Many sites for large cities allow you to filter the many possible things to do in that area down based on free admission, leaving you with a long list of great things to do that won’t cost you anything.

On that Washington site, filtering for free attractions gives you a pretty impressive list of things to visit without shelling out a dime. Use the city’s strong metro system to get around and you can see a lot of amazing things for a pittance.

When you’re looking for things to do when traveling, focus on finding inexpensive things first and be choosy among those, and then give yourself plenty of time to explore. Chances are you’ll have a marvelous trip without breaking the bank on overpriced travel options.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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