With Labor Day Weekend just around the corner marking the unofficial end of summer and lazy days by the beach or pool, it can feel a little depressing. But if you’re looking to plan a trip this fall, there are plenty of affordable spots you can add to your list — whether you’re looking to stay in the U.S. and plan a road trip to a National Park or head to Italy like all the celebs.
Of course, concerns about the Covid-19 Delta variant are still very real, so any trip you take should involve taking the necessary precautions, like vaccination, getting tested in some cases, and wearing a mask, to protect the people you’re traveling with and those who live and work in your destination city. But once you get there, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoor scene and keep your exposure and spending as low as you choose.
Here, 10 cheap places to travel this fall.
1. Glacier National Park, Montana
The ultimate cheap travel vacation is a national park. If you’ve already done the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park is another majestic one to see. First of all, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails that could keep you occupied for days (literally just a $20 entry fee for a full seven days of access), or you may opt to go ziplining, mountain biking, or rafting. Just plan to go before mid-October if you really want to take advantage of all the adventure sports, so you don’t have to do them in the snow.
You can unwind at night from your action-packed day and soak in some mountain views from the rooftop hot tub of the Firebrand Whitefish Hotel, with fall rates of around $375 a night. Or if you want to save a bit and you’re looking for the full wilderness experience, Glacier has tons of first-come-first-serve campsites that cost an average of $15 a night. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some moose or bighorn sheep for free — there are specific spots in the park you can hit to see wildlife.
2. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Looking to slip into full OOO mode? Puerto Vallarta is the spot. You can go for a swim in any of the crystal clear public beaches or book a downtown street food walking tour to taste the fresh ceviches and churros the city has to offer.
The real way to do Puerto Vallarta is an all-inclusive resort, which honestly makes sense from a financial standpoint too. Book a resort like Velas Vallarta for unlimited tacos and margaritas by the pool, obviously, but also for the deals: You can pay $185 per person per night this fall (if you book by October 31 to travel by December 18, you also get some cash back — $300 to spend at the resort and spa, to be exact). And it would absolutely make a great bachelorette destination, just saying.
3. San Diego, California
Soo, California is not known for being inexpensive, but San Diego is one of those cities you can definitely do on a budget. There is so much to explore all over the city — start by hopping the Coronado ferry to cruise around the San Diego Bay for just a couple of dollars. Then you can check out the city’s cultural center at Balboa Park, walk or bike down one of the many piers, and of course swim or surf any day.
San Diego’s known for its cheap eats, too. Locals recommend stopping at The Friendly Tavern for one of its famous $6 burgers. And for a view of the bay from just about any room, you can book the Wyndham San Diego Bay for just over $200 a night.
4. Charlotte, NC
Visit Charlotte for the free history lesson at the Revolutionary War-focused Charlotte Liberty Walk (Hamilton fans, that one’s for you), and stay for the beer and art gallery scene. You can even follow along with the Work for Your Beer blog’s curated list of beer fitness classes in Charlotte. After you’ve taken a $5 beer yoga class, immerse yourself in nature: Walk through the Anne Springs Close Greenway for a small fee. The city also has tons of live music and outdoor movie screenings, too.
Lodging can go one of two ways. For the full pampering hotel and spa vibe, try The Ballantyne hotel for rates of just over $300. Or, if you can snag a coveted spot at the Carolina Treehouse on Airbnb for the same price, you can relive your childhood.
5. Abruzzo Italy
For a cheap trip with probably the best, freshest cheese (and wine) you’ll ever have in your life, make your way to Abruzzo, Italy (it’s only about two hours from Rome if you decide to fly there). The region is pretty mountainous, so the scenery is an amazing photo opp at every turn. For the best bang for your buck, stay at a farm stay like La Porta dei Parchi in the tiny town of Anverso degli Abruzzi. You’ll spend less than 100 euro a night, all including food that is literally farm to table (you can see the sheep making the milk that will become your cheese).
You don’t have to just eat, though. It’s best to rent a car, and then spend the day walking through a medieval village-like Montesilvano Colle. If you’re feeling ambitious after all that wine and cheese, hike in a national park like Gran Sasso or Majella (don’t worry, there is a village inside, Fara San Martino, that’s called the “home of pasta” you can go for a break if you need more food).
6. Brooklyn, NY
Maybe you’re feeling a staycation, if you’re from the New York area. Or if you are craving a less touristy area of NYC, Brooklyn could be a great option. Basically you’re going to Brooklyn to eat: taste your way through Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg every Saturday and Prospect Park every Sunday. Whatever day you’re not there, you can take a Brooklyn pizza tour for as low as $45 on Airbnb Experiences.
You can see plenty more of the borough and spend very little, between Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, and Brooklyn Bridge park. For a vintage vibe that feels like a getaway outside of New York, stay at the Akwaaba Mansion in the historic Stuyvesant Heights neighborhood, with rates starting at $220 a night.
7. Vancouver, CA
Vancouver is a perfect fall trip. It’s much less chilly than the rest of Canada, so you can enjoyably walk around the city in September or even late October without having to bundle up in winter coats, in most cases. Just note that you’ll need to show proof of vaccination from at least 14 days prior to travel to enter the Canadian border. Stay at the Skwachays Lodge (for under $200 a night) — it’s filled with Indigenous art and is operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society.
While you’re in Vancouver, there’s a ton to do for nearly free. Shop around the Granville Island public market or go for a walk or bike ride through Stanley Park. Stop for an Insta pic on Main Street in front of one of its art murals or the art installations by the waterfront. If you’re there in late September or early October, you can catch part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, and you can’t leave Vancouver without doing some celeb-spotting.
8. White Mountains, New Hampshire
It isn’t fall unless you peep the foliage in New England. The ideal autumn weekend trip would be to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. You can book a room with a view of all the colorful trees at the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa for well under $300 a night this season. The resort partners with local farms to get produce, meat, and cheese straight to your table.
You could also pretty much stay outdoors the whole time: between rafting, plenty of state parks, horseback riding, and moose tours too. And if it’s late fall and snowy enough, you might even be able to get some skiing or tubing in.
9. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
For the complete opposite end of the weather spectrum, plant yourself in the middle of the rainforest in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. (And fall is a good time weather-wise to visit this part of Costa Rica, since it’s on the Caribbean and is cooler and drier than the Pacific that time of year). It’s cheap to travel around the whole country anyway, but is also a great deal for a wellness-centered retreat.
The Yoga and Surf package at Samasati includes yoga in the rainforest, surfing lessons at the nearby Puerto Viejo, a massage with the sounds of the rainforest in the background, and vegetarian meals. Casita-style rooms start at $90 per night, and you can contact the resort directly for more info on retreat pricing.
10. Aurora, Alaska
Have you always wanted to see the Northern Lights? It turns out mid-August to mid-April is the best time of the year to see them up close and personal, since there’s less daylight and the skies get darker at night. Alaska gets colder the longer you wait, but it can be an enjoyable fall trip if you bring lots of layers.
The experience isn’t going to be super cheap, but you can book a decently priced Northern Lights excursion and lodging duo. You can view the neon-colored skies from your own personal igloo with a Borealis Basecamp fall weekend package. It costs about $1700, but that includes transportation, a dog sled experience, and an ATV experience. For a slightly more budget-friendly experience, you can book a full week itinerary with Salmon Berry Tours for around $1900 a person, and that includes similar activities and a hot springs excursion to warm you up. Either way, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so definitely worth a bit of a splurge.