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Affordable Alternatives Your Group Will Love

Pinching pennies and traveling may seem like polar opposites, but there’s some good news for those looking to get away without breaking the bank: Affordability and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive, even in an era when inflation is driving travel prices up across the board. 

While most popular travel bucket list destinations do tend to be higher priced, odds are there’s an equally great, budget-friendly option close by. Groups can find experiences similar to what the famous cities offer while enjoying the unique and charming histories of less famous places. 

Here’s a roundup of great destinations that give groups the chance to travel from coast to coast without wearing out their wallets.

Gallup, New Mexico

From its history of cowboys and Indians to its collection of geological and archaeological wonders, the Southwest offers travelers a long list of reasons to visit. Certain hidden gems such as Gallup give groups the same sense of wonder and adventure as more popular nearby destinations for a cheaper price tag. It’s a clear choice for travelers looking to see red sandstone cliffs against the desert sky while learning about the indigenous culture that has shaped the area for centuries. 

Gallup, located on Historic Route 66, is primarily known for its indigenous arts and culture and its scenic landscape, which served as the inspiration for the backdrop of the animated movie “Cars.” Its local economy is heavily intwined with indigenous culture, with the city being responsible for the sale of 70% of indigenous jewelry in the United States. 

“Groups here get a really personal experience with our indigenous friends and neighbors that they wouldn’t get in other places,” said Jennifer Lazarz, tourism and marketing manager at Visit Gallup.

Such experiences include a trip to the Gallup 9th Street Flea Market, one of the largest indigenous flea markets in the country. In addition to items one might find at any other flea market, this market sells authentic indigenous art and jewelry from over 500 vendors. At the Gallup Cultural Center, groups can view museum exhibits dedicated to Native American heritage and participate in displays of indigenous culture, from lectures to dance demonstrations to arts and crafts. For some light exercise and sweeping New Mexico views, groups looking to enjoy the outdoors can hike the Church Rock trail. The Historic El Rancho Hotel’s restaurant, which serves Mexican and American cuisine, offers groups a side of history with their meal.

Salem, Oregon

Groups looking to explore the Pacific Northwest on a budget should head to the capital of Oregon: Salem. This midsize town can be found in the heart of Willamette Valley, Oregon’s wine country. Known for its scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, this haven for outdoor recreationalists is home to an abundance of parks, waterways, farms and gardens. Its proximity to farms and wineries gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “farm to table” and stages a rich, local culinary scene. While it may be a nature lover’s paradise, Salem also has urban appeal due to its nightlife, historical buildings, museums, and displays of arts and culture. 

“We offer the best of a big city combined with the charm of a small town,” said Kara Kuh, deputy marketing officer at Travel Salem. 

Visitors to Salem can stop by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, where they can peruse the museum’s rotating exhibitions and permanent galleries highlighting art from the region and all over the world. Known for its amphitheater, carousel and 26 acres of well-maintained land, Salem’s Riverfront Park is located on the Willamette River. Groups can enjoy the outdoor space at their own leisure or even take a lunch or dinner cruise on the river aboard the Willamette Queen. 

A trip to Oregon’s wine country would be incomplete without a visit to a winery such as Left Coast Estates, a sustainable winery that doubles as a working farm. Groups can tour the beautiful vineyards, enjoy samples of the winery’s best vintages and visit the Left Coast Estates restaurant for an elegant dining experience. 

Cleveland, Ohio

Situated in northeastern Ohio along the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland is a city brimming with excitement with plenty of attractions for groups to explore. It was founded in 1796 and grew steadily due to its access to waterways, eventually becoming an important manufacturing city. Today, it’s Ohio’s second most populous city. Its long history as a hub for immigrants gives it a rich and diverse cultural landscape, and its contributions to music and art are also widely recognized. Cleveland is sure to impress both urban explorers and outdoor lovers due to its waterfront location and proximity to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 

“It’s known for world-class arts, culture, sports and rock ’n’ roll, so there is a variety in the experience for groups,” said Nick Urig, senior manager in public relations at Destination Cleveland.

When groups visit Cleveland, stops at some of its most legendary attractions, such as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, are a must. Here, groups can learn the history behind one of music’s most electrifying genres, including its ties to Cleveland and its most celebrated artists, while seeing the museum’s collection of musical memorabilia. 

Another Cleveland staple is its Playhouse Square, home to several historic theaters and an outdoor chandelier. In addition to catching a Broadway show, groups can participate in Broadway Buzz Pre-Show Talks, where they’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the show. 

Groups can tour the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, which features 10 tranquil acres of plants and water features. For an exotic culinary experience, they can visit the West Side Market, Cleveland’s indoor/outdoor market with stalls selling foods and spices from all over the world and its own café.

Ocean City, Maryland

A beach vacation is a travel favorite for many people, and for good reason: The sun, sand and saltwater give life on the beach a luxurious feel. Instead of other pricey Atlantic beach destinations, groups should consider a trip to Ocean City, Maryland. This resort city has fun and relaxing draws for everyone from wildlife enthusiasts to history buffs. Of course, the main draw in Ocean City is the beach, where travelers of all ages can unwind by the ocean, free of charge. 

“We have 10 miles of very clean beaches,” said Norma Dobrowolski, destination sales and marketing manager at the Ocean City, Maryland Department of Tourism.

Though Ocean City is comparable to many other mid-Atlantic coast beaches, there are a couple of experiences unique to the area. One such experience is a trip to Assateague Island to catch a glimpse of the wild ponies that roam there. 

Back on the mainland, the shops, arcades, amusement rides and restaurants on the Boardwalk offer groups a fun way to spend the day. Groups can take in some local history at the the Life-Saving Station Museum, which teaches visitors all about the Life-Saving Service’s role in rescuing vessels and people in distress on the water. 

Groups can enjoy a delicious meal of fresh seafood and views of the bay at the Angler Restaurant, which doubles as a charter for deep sea fishing. After their meal, they can go on a sunset cruise around the bay. Those visiting in May and September can catch two of Ocean City’s annual festivals, Springfest and Sunfest, where they’ll find plenty of food, entertainment and shopping.