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For weeks, inflation reports have detailed how far American money can stretch in this economy. However, that hasn’t stopped travelers from seeking out ways to ensure their cash goes the distance. When considering the increased cost of airfare, gas, and theme parks, coupled with stagnant salary growth, careful spending is even more necessary.
Though $20 is rarely enough to fill up a gas tank and hardly comes close to keeping your refrigerator stocked for a few days, it's still possible to eat well and have fun in various locations around the country.
We spoke to U.S. tourism departments and locals to share what someone can do with $20. Here’s what they had to say.
Exploring the streets of downtown Charleston is a fun activity visitors love, and the best part is it’s free. Even better, Charleston’s newly renovated visitors center has a free exhibit hall full of history to explore.
Then, board the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle), also free, to walk through the historic City Market or explore Charleston’s Waterfront Park. There, you can take the Water Taxi across the harbor and search for dolphins ($14 for an all-day pass).
Alternatively, if you prefer to get out of the downtown area, you can pack a picnic and head to Isle of Palms (IOP) beach for the day. You can park for free and take the IOP beach shuttle. Those who don’t want to pack a picnic can order snacks at new Islander 71.
Another option is the Tanger Outlets for some window shopping, the Fire Museum ($6 admission), or the Firefly Distillery for a tasting of sweet tea vodka. Tastings include six spirits and cost $13.
For a fun, welcoming experience for all, Morgan’s Wonderland is the place to be. Dubbing itself as the “first theme park where everyone can play,” the attraction features Braille signs, service animal rest areas, a wheelchair-accessible Ferris wheel, and more. Admittance is free for visitors with disabilities and children under two. For children ages three to 17, tickets cost $13, while the price for adults is $19.
Explore the Presidio Tunnel Tops, an attraction within the national park, which features several scenic overlooks and an impressive view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Furthermore, free events, self-guided tours, admiring murals, and campfire circles are all available here. And because admission is free, you can spend the entire $20 budget dining at the various food trucks that operate on a rotating schedule. Couples might enjoy ending nature-filled day dates at the Presidio Tunnel Tops with large burritos ($10 each) at Mi Morena.
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Asides from some free beaches, visitors to Miami can also enjoy a round at Palmetto Mini Golf for $6.50 Monday through Thursday, or $7.50 per person on weekends and holidays.
According to Miami resident Jorge Vivar, Surfside, with its discrete beach town vibe, is a favorite for an affordable day out. "It’s perfect if you're seeking a local experience," said Vivar. Plus, there are day-long events that occur on the first Friday of each month in June, July, and August. "You can easily bring snacks and refreshments for under $20 and have some fun in the sun."
Take yourself on an iconic Chicago food tour — no formal company is required. Start with one of Chicago’s famous hot dogs, complete with relish, chopped onions, pickles, tomatoes, and peppers on a bun, and a a drink for roughly $8.25 at Portillo’s. Add in a side of Garrett’s legendary popcorn for less than $5, and end the iconic food tour by digging into the photo-worthy Original Rainbow Cone for $5.19. That’s several different colored slices of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla, cherry, walnuts), pistachio, and orange sherbet — in that order. Your total cost for the experience: $18.44.
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A family looking to see and be seen can rent orange eight-speed bikes for $2.50 per 30 minutes through the local bike-share program, BikeTown. Because of their partnership with a local bike company, the bike-share program also offers adaptive bikes for people with disabilities. Enjoy riding during the annual summer Pedalpalooza. Or, go gallery hopping through Alberta Art District, which is completely free unless you want to support local artists by purchasing their work.
On a modest budget, a group can enjoy a free Capitol Building tour, which includes a 99-step spiral staircase to an open-air deck with fantastic views of the city skyline and Rocky Mountains. Visitors can also explore downtown via the free 16th Street Mall bus. Then, purchase day of Rockpile tickets for a Rockies game, which can cost as little as $1 or $4 two hours before the first pitch. Otherwise, tickets are less than $20 if purchased further in advance. Finally, check out what’s on tap at a microbrewery. Denver is known for its craft beer scene. The MobCraft Dee Tacko offers five-ounce servings of beers on tap for as low as $2.75.
According to local Michelle Jackson, taking a fitness or yoga class at the Civic Center Moves (for free) is another great option while in town. Jackson also recommends enjoying a beer and free concert at the Levitt Pavillion.
Enjoy a ride on a New Orleans streetcar ($1.50) to the world-famous Cafe du Monde on Decatur Street. There, you can indulge in beignets for less than $5 after a lengthy wait in line. If queuing up at the original location is too much, visit the others for a much shorter wait.
After breakfast, head to the French Market for window shopping, or purchase some infamous beads as a souvenir for about $5. You can also stroll down Bourbon Street to see the signs and listen to street performers. Then, cap off the night with a tour by foot, exploring the roots of voodoo. The ability to name your own price for the tour makes it easy to stay within the $20 budget.
A trip to the Paul Revere House is both inexpensive and informative. With tickets as low as $6 for adults and $1 for children under 17, a family of four can enjoy the historic building for $14.
Alternatively, families can learn about nature at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. There, visitors can take a walking or bike tour, enjoy an art show, or audit various lectures from professors and experts in the field of horticulture. Entrance to the museum and all events are free of charge, freeing up cash to enjoy a meal at The Real Deal less than half a mile away from the arboretum. While there, you can dig into a patty melt for $11.99 or share a cheese pizza with the family for $17.99. The quick-stop restaurant also caters to dietary restrictions with gluten-free and vegan options.
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Macon is the epicenter of southern rock and roll. One way visitors can learn more about the city’s musical roots is by exploring the Ottis Redding Foundation. For $5, you can explore the small venue featuring original lyrics, family photos, and more honoring the music legend’s history and contribution to rock and roll.
Then, fuel up at the H & H Soul Food restaurant with a Midnight Rider ($7), which includes fried chicken, bacon jam, and pimento cheese on a biscuit.
Macon is also home to the Museum of Aviation, where visitors can learn more about the aircraft for free. Another must-visit spot is The Rookery — order the Jimmy Carter shake loaded with banana ice cream, peanut butter, and a slice of bacon ($6).
The ivy league-curious can spend time admiring the architecture of Princeton University as they walk through campus on their own. During the summer, visit Lake Carnegie to see the university’s world-renowned crew team participating in competitions (also free). If you happen to be visiting around the holidays, you can listen to the sweet sound of carolers roaming Nassau Street.
At Tipple & Rose, order a tea flight with three cups ($10), and enjoy it with a house-made scone and clotted cream for $6.25.
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Spend $4.40 for a day pass on the Light RailLink to explore all of downtown Baltimore. Then, walk around the Inner Harbor for free and take in calming views of the water.
For food, consider trying some famous Maryland crabs. Choose from an $8 bowl of Maryland crab soup and $15 crab pretzel at Bo Brooks.
“At Sand Hollow State Park, families can spend the day relaxing at the red sandy beach, swimming in the lake, and even cliff jumping off some red rock cliffs. It’s popular with locals, but relatively unknown to most tourists. Entry is $15 per vehicle for Utah residents, and $20 for out-of-state visitors.” — Brittany Haglund
“One of the coolest attractions here is the Art Car Museum. It’s unlike any other museum or art gallery, and truly a place people of all ages will find fascinating and fun. Plus, admission is free. All you have to do is reserve a time slot on their website. They feature various mobiles such as low riders, contemporary art, and more.” — Maria Britton
“I’ve lived in Long Beach for several years and enjoyed many afternoons at ShoreLine Aquatic Park with my dog and the Lions Lighthouse.
This wheelchair-accessible park is easy to reach, thanks to its location near downtown Long Beach. There's plenty of open space for children to play or to stretch out on a blanket for a picnic. The ocean breeze is refreshing, and the views of the bay and the Queen Mary are mesmerizing. Leashed dogs are also allowed in the park.
The lighthouse features historic photos of Long Beach and the path through the park displays informational signs about the bay. All this makes for a free, fun, and educational afternoon for the whole family. Or, you can go in the evening for a romantic sunset and enjoy the lighthouse's different color lights." — Sherry Arkfeld
“[Visitors] can start in the morning by climbing one of the three observation towers on the Gettysburg Battlefield, followed by a walk or drive around the awe-inspiring area. There, you might see deer, fox, hawks, and even bald eagles. You can also take pictures of the monuments, many of which are stunning works of art.
Then, head into town and visit the Gettysburg Museum of History on Baltimore Street to ‘see one of the most extensive private collections of artifacts from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, presidencies, and pop culture.’
When it’s time to grab something to eat, go to Ernie’s Texas Lunch, an iconic, 100-year-old diner on Chambersburg Street. You can get a hot dog or burger, fries, and 20-ounce drink for just $7.29.” — Jessica James
“If you’re down for a spooky adventure in Indiana, check out the Catacombs, which used to be Tomlinson Hall until it burned down in 1958.
When they were first built, the Catacombs served as a homeless shelter to protect people from harsh weather. The best and only way to visit the Catacombs now is by guided tour. I recommend using the highly regarded Indiana Landmarks as a tour company. Adults can book in advance for $12, and if you’re traveling with children under five, they can enter for free.” — John Webber