Memorial Day Trips That Won't Break The Bank

The 3-Day Memorial Day Weekend May 28-30 is the unofficial start of the summer. It is mostly known for amazing sales on cars, clothes and home appliances.

But choosing to spend money on experiences, as opposed to things, can cost you. This is a busy time – more than 30 million people travel – and some places boost their prices too much. Going to the beach is free, but not for everybody (Best Beaches for Memorial Day Weekend).

The good news is that there are some secret gems that are quite affordable. Take a road trip, enjoy some of America's most scenic views, and get away from it all.

1. Miami, Florida

Spring Break is over and that means Miami is not as crowded. That leads to discounted hotel prices. You can find good airline deals. A roundtrip from New York to Miami with leaving on Friday and coming back on Tuesday is about $450. The weather is still comfortably warm, so spending all day outside to see the March of Colors and the wreath-laying ceremony at Miami Beach Police Headquarters, as well as attending beach parties and music shows, will be a nice experience.  

2. New Orleans, Louisiana

The most expensive touristy thing you can do is go on a swamp tour that is about $70 (Reasons New Orleans is Better Now Than Ever). The food in this southern city is delicious and you can find many inexpensive places to try it. The famous Dookey Chase doesn't charge an entry fee and the most expensive item on the menu is $13. New Orleans, a great guys-only destination, has an adventure for every member of the family. There is live music in almost every bar (and corner) at night. Wine lovers will like the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience May 26-29. Kids will love the Audubon Nature Institute, which is just $15.

3. Washington, D.C.

Visiting the nation's capital for Memorial Day is the ultimate patriotic trip. The grand parade and the many special military ceremonies are totally free for spectators. Since the National Cherry Blossom Festival in April is over, hotel rates tend to drop. Don't miss the iconic, and free, National Memorial Day Concert on the Capitol's West Lawn. When else are you going to see the National Symphony Orchestra without paying a cent?

4. Saint Louis, Missouri

Have you been to the largest Flea Market in the Midwest? Use this trip as an opportunity to visit. The Gypsy Caravan, organized by the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association, is among the very best antique, craft and vintage markets in the world. General admission is just $10. There are many free concerts you can attend during Memorial Day weekend – including at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, the zoo, History Museum and many more.

5. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

How does a wine tasting along the river sound? Enjoy special wine releases, food pairings, free live music and world-class wine over the holiday weekend May 28-30. There are going to be huge discounts on  wine purchases. Make the most of the opportunity and refresh your collection. Those of you who want to stay active can join the 5K Obstacle Course Run, which an entry fee of just $10, or the Free Fun Run.

6. New York City, New York

It's hard to believe but New York can be quite affordable around Memorial Day. Make sure you don't miss Fleet Week, a unique chance for people to meet sailors, marines and coast guards. You'll be able to attend military band concerts and witness amazing aerial demonstrations for free. You can also tour the ships, free of charge. Other free events include a performance by the New York Philharmonic and the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade in the Bay Ridge, to name a few. This is also a good opportunity to go shopping in the city – everything is on sale.

7. Palm Springs, California

Memorial Day weekend is usually the time of year when it's starting to get too hot in certain parts of Arizona and California. That means hotels and resorts are offering cheap deals, some are as low as $60 a night. Take the opportunity to enjoy the sun and learn about the history of this desert oasis (How to Survive: Finding Water in the Desert). Don't miss the Annual Memorial Day Flower Drop & Air Fair at the Palm Springs Air Museum. The service will be highlighted with a fly-by and flower drop of over 3,000 red and white carnations from B-25 Mitchell bomber.

8. Gloucester, Massachusetts

Go on an amazing whale watching adventure. Many tours offer discounts this time of year. The ROOMFUL of BLUES Summer Kick-Off CRUISE is back by popular demand. The 5-time Grammy nominees will rock the Beauport Princes Cruise Ship on May 29. The $35 ticket, if you buy in advance ($45 at the door) includes the concert plus a special Memorial Day Cruise of historic Gloucester Harbor. Complementary light snacks and full cash bar are available (Office Snacks That Are Wrecking Your Diet).

9. Charleston, South Carolina

Go to the capital of the Old South, which is a city you must see in your lifetime, to honor all the people who have given their lives in service to the country. See the plantation and stately homes, roam the colorful streets, and learn about the architectural remnants, some of which go back to before the Revolutionary War. Explore the cobblestone streets on a horse carriage. Be there for the beginning of the Spoleto Festival, starting on May 27.

10. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is the right choice for adventurers who really want to connect with nature and the wilderness. Imagine sleeping directly under the starry night sky and witness some of the most stunning nighttime views in the Golden State? There are nine different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites all suitable for people traveling alone or with big families, the NPS says. Campgrounds usually fill on weekend nights from October through May. Most sites are first-come, first-served.

11. Atlanta, Georgia

There is so much to do in Atlanta...Exploring the world's largest aquarium, visiting the new World of Coca-Cola or staying in a unique treehouse are just a few interesting options. The food is delicious everywhere and the museums are world-class. Memorial Day weekend is the time to go because of the Atlanta Jazz Festival, one of the country's best and largest free jazz events.

12. Highgate Springs, Vermont

This small town in Franklin County offers the ultimate family vacation. Prices are about 50 percent less than during the peak season in July and August. Enjoy a trip with a lot of adventurous activities like boating, zip lining, rock climbing, and fishing. Family resorts like the Tyler Place include lodging, meals, sports activities, kids and adult programs, and bike rentals in the price.

13. San Juan Island, Washington

Memorial Day Weekend happens to be at a time when it's not high season in San Juan Island yet, which means you'll get better rates and no crowds. Have lunch or dinner at some of the farm-to-table restaurants in the city and taste real fresh produce. Get out in the water with a kayak to watch the whales (Most Beautiful Places You Can Only See By Kayak). Don't miss the Traditional Memorial Day Parade & Ceremony and the Guided Interpretive Trail History Walk on May 28. Both events are free.

14. New River Gorge, West Virginia

Go white water rafting this Memorial Day Weekend. The Grand Canyon will most likely be very crowded, so consider the New River Gorge, the oldest river in North America. Camping is another favorite option (Best National Parks for Camping). Some places offer 3-day packages that include both in addition to a BBQ cookout and breakfast, horseback riding, fishing and float trips. You can get all of this for around $130 a person.

15. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Forget about driving during the holiday weekend. Mackinac Island has a no vehicles policy. You'll have to commute using bicycles or horse-drawn carriages. The summer months are very busy and can get quite expensive, so make the most of the opportunity now. Go to an art show, take a kayak trip in the bay, or dance beneath chandeliers to live music. Go to the 1887 Grand Hotel to see the longest front porch in the world.