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3 Vacations You Can Take Right Now for Under $500

Too old for hostel-hopping, but not ready to throw down thousands? Book these wallet-friendly trips out of NYC, LA, and Austin.
MF
New York, US
June 18, 2021, 7:02pm
downtown Nashville
Photo: Getty Images

Are your armpits starting to feel like two sweaty pads of salted butter from Northern France? You tired, sticky baby. You’ve been working hard for the money. And now, it’s probably (definitely) time for you to take a summer vacation. Even if it’s brief, and even if it’s just for a few days, your vaccinated buns need a breather. 

Cool, you may be thinking, I can pay you in string beans, bottle caps, and all the childhood lanyards I’m willing to part with (so, none). No problem. If your heart is thrifty enough, you too can take the budget usually afforded to a small rich child (you know the type: annual pass to Disneyland; owns a horse) and apply it to the budget of one full-fledged adult vacation somewhere else. It’s all about how to stretch that little dollar across affordable Airbnbs and last-minute flight deals to cool places, as well as weighing out where you really ought to be throwing down Big Daddy coinage. 

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Stumped on location spots? Here’s a T-shirt cannon load of current flight deals. 

Fly round-trip from New York City to Nashville (July 14-July 21), $85.18 at Hotwire

Fly round-trip from Newark to Miami (July 9-July 12), $123.54 at Hotwire

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Fly round-trip from Atlanta to New York (July 9-13), $186.84 at Expedia

Fly round-trip from Seattle to Los Angeles (July 1-July 5), $226.80 at Expedia

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Fly round-trip from Chicago to Los Angeles (July 29-Aug 1), $235.78, at Expedia

Yeah, that cheapity cheap round-trip flight may involve a layover, and your lodging might not have 900-thread-count sheets. (But also, who knows. Airbnbs are wild cards.) But we didn’t leave home to stay inside—we came to party, to eat, and to pretend to enjoy whatever physical activity we scheduled for ourselves during our trip. 

We’ve planned out three examples of on-the-cheap getaways for those living in NYC, LA, and Austin. You probably have some wiggle room in your budget, but we want to have you covered for sleeping and airfare. We also want to chime in (shocker) on the realities of public transportation and walking. (We promise to not let our New York brains tell us that a 30-minute stroll down the interstate is NBD.)

You Want to Leave Los Angeles...

Where to go? Fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco for $107 (round-trip) from July 7-10 via a hawt deal on Expedia.  

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People-watching and burrito-eating mecca Dolores Park. Photo: Getty Images

What to do? You have plenty of time to explore the Bay Area, albeit not enough in the budget to rent a car for a week. No sweat, man. San Francisco is filled with so much to see, from beaches to neighborhood enclaves; museums, restaurants, and bars; and that part of Golden Gate Park where there are bison (yes, bison) roaming. You can always rent bikes  for a mere $16 and ride them over the Golden Gate Bridge, or take BART to Oakland and Berkeley (the UC Botanical Garden is seriously beautiful). But even if you don’t leave the city, there’s sooo much to see. Beatnik babies can hang out at Caffe Trieste in North Beach for a coffee (where The Godfather was written), visit City Lights Bookstore (legendary, and back from the dead after almost shuttering during the pandemic), and sploosh martinis ($12) around at Tosca Cafe while snacking on pressed pig ears ($6) and other meats before strolling into the neighboring Chinatown for the purse dumplings ($4.50) at Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House, and don’t miss the Li Po Cocktail Lounge (which serves up one of Anthony’s Bourdain’s favorite Mai Tais). If you have a slightly bigger budget, drink out of a giant pineapple at another one of Bourdain's favorite tiki bars, The Tonga Room, which is conveniently in the Fairmont Hotel’s basement and is complete with its own indoor rainfall, and brainfreeze your way through a lethal Zombie ($18; worth it). Eat the Russian baked goods of the Inner Sunset District, the incredible ramen in Japantown, and roll down the lawn by Mission Dolores while eating a Papalote veggie burrito ($10.95) before recharging with a fancy coffee from Four Barrel. San Francisco isn’t a city, it’s a smorgasbord. (Check out the MUNCHIES Guide to San Francisco for more ideas on where to eat, drink, and hang.)

Where to stay? 

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Noe Valley Victorian Room; sleeps up to 2, $77/night at Airbnb

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Photo: Airbnb

Private Cozy Room (Outer Richmond); sleeps up to 3, $59/night at Airbnb 

Camp in the San Francisco Presidio, $75/night at Rob Hill Campground

You Want to Leave New York City...

Where to go? Nashville, Tennessee. There’s a round-trip flight from July 13-16 (with one layover) for $137 at Expedia, and another from July 10-12 for $182.16 at Expedia

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Hell yeah, we want some Nashville hot chicken. Photo: Getty Images

What to do? You’re here to honky tonk, listen to some slide guitar, and lick the BBQ sauce off your new fringed cowboy boots from French’s Boots and Shoes (a three-generation family business). Nashville is home to the Grand Ole Opry, many a whiskey distillery tour, and some serious music history (make sure to visit United Record Pressing, a Motown institution), and you really can’t go wrong just wandering and sipping on cheap beers beneath the neon lights downtown, or peruse the vintage shops in East Nashville. Go to Dozen Bakery and grab a large split baguette with bacon and eggs to share with your boo ($9); head to Prince's Hot Chicken for lunch and grab three wings ($7.25) and seasoned fries ($2.75), and then for dinner don’t miss Arnold’s Country Kitchen, where you can get our choice of meat and two sides ($11.75) or brisket nachos ($14.99). 

Where to stay?

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Remodeled Southern Chic Studio in 1950s Motel; sleeps up to 4, $70/night at Airbnb

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Remodeled Southern Chic Studio in 1950s Motel. Photo: Airbnb

60s-Themed Musician’s Hangout; sleeps up to 2, $35/night at Airbnb

Cozy Lockeland Springs Private Loft; sleeps up to 4, $97/night at Airbnb

You Want to Leave Austin, Texas… 

Where to go? Garner State Park in Concan, Texas. And, yes, you will need a car for this one–but it’s only a three hour drive from Austin, making it an easy weekend trip. (And if you do need to rent a car, Kayak has some going for around $130-$200 for a few days.) 

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The Frio River. Photo: Airbnb

What to do? This one is pretty simple, because you’re not here to do much other than hike, float, drink bourbon, tell campfire stories, and hide bugs in your friend’s hat. Take your six-person convertible limo pool floaty, five 24-packs of Lone Star (pick up the 24/7 version if you wanna booze all day), a portable speaker, those Tevas—and boom! You have everything you need to enjoy over 1,700 acres of Garner State Park, drifting down the banks of its aqualine Frio River. This is definitely the trip where you whip out the high-tech outdoor gear that could help you survive Predator.  

Where to stay? 

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Photo: Aribnb

Wild & Free Glamping Tiny House; sleeps up to 4, $177/night at Airbnb 

Buchanan Cabin #31; sleeps up to 4, $136/night at Airbnb

Buchanan Cabin #32; sleeps up to 3, $90/night at Airbnb

Bon voyage, thrifty princes! 


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