7 Classic American Vacations on the Cheap
Great American vacations
Move over, staycation. Americans are ready to travel again.
Spending on domestic travel by U.S. residents is projected to grow by about 5 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Travel Association in Washington, D.C. Travel spending dropped nearly 8 percent in 2009, due to the recession.
People are willing to spend again on American vacations, albeit more smartly, says Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the U.S. Travel Association.
A poll by travel website Travelocity.com confirms people are watching their vacation dollars closely, with 60 percent having a predetermined travel budget for 2011, up from 44 percent in 2010.
"People have been taking shorter trips, staying closer to home and staying with friends," she says.
The good news? "There are a tremendous number of bargains out there for travelers," Keefe says.
Here is a quick guide to classic American vacations for less at some of the United States' most-visited destinations.
Yosemite National Park
Four million people visited Yosemite National Park last year to soak in the park's nearly 1,200 square miles of wildlife, waterfalls and towering sequoia trees as well as to hike, camp and ski.
"It's nature's greatest theme park," says Jeffrey Hentz, executive director of the Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau.
It's also affordable. Admission costs $20 per car for a seven-day pass. Once inside, the park has a free shuttle to ferry visitors between all of the major attractions.
To stretch your travel dollars, visit during the off-season from September to April. "A room that is $200 in the summer can drop to $40 to $60 a night in the off-season," Hentz says. Camping is a year-round saver, with spots starting at $10 to $20 per night. But there is limited space so book early, he says.
Many visitors on this American vacation save on food by picnicking, Hentz says. Local tourism groups also offer package deals on lodging and activities, and coupons for attractions and restaurants.
Eight million people visit Niagara Falls State Park every year to watch up to 700,000 gallons of water cascade over the falls per second. The natural wonder "is a must-see that won't break the bank," says Jennifer Starkey, spokeswoman for the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
"There are about a hundred free events, attractions and activities each year, and the majority of other attractions cost less than $20," Starkey says.
To stretch your travel dollars on this American vacation, the Niagara Falls State Park sells a Niagara Falls USA Discovery Pass for admissions to many major attractions, such as the Cave of the Winds observation deck, Maid of the Mist boat tour and the aquarium. It costs 30 percent less than separate tickets.
Hotel rooms near the falls can top $200 per night in summer, but the farther from downtown Niagara Falls, the less expensive the rooms, Starkey says. Visit during slower months, such as April, May, September and October, and the prices of hotel rooms are lower. Prices hit rock bottom in winter.
"Not all of the attractions will be open then, but the falls are always free," she says.
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., might be the ultimate budget vacation spot. "Apart from your meals, you're probably not going to spend anything during the day," says Kate Gibbs, spokeswoman for Destination DC, a tourism organization. "Most of the great attractions -- the National Mall, the 19 Smithsonian Museums, the National Zoo and Capitol Hill -- are all free."
To stretch your travel dollar, look for one of the many hotels offering stay-two-nights-and-get-one-night-free deals, Gibbs says. Hotel rates also drop from December to February, the city's slowest tourist season, even though there is still plenty to do.
In December, the city has holiday decor, free concerts on the National Mall and ice skating. February is the monthlong "Date Nights DC" event where entertainment venues and restaurants offer special discounts, such as two-for-one tickets and dinners. The Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington also sells half-price tickets to local theater events year-round.
It's easy to save on transportation on this American vacation, Gibbs says. In addition to the Metro subway system, the city has the DC Circulator bus line that stops at most of the major sites and only costs $1 to ride.
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