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6 Budget-Friendly Southeast USA Road Trip Destinations
We’ve been lucky enough to spend an ample amount of time in the Southeast USA and have found it to be downright incredible and picturesque.
The tolerable year-round temperatures are divine, the beaches are out-of-this-world, the traditional southern food is mouthwatering, and there is something so charming about southern hospitality.
Say hello to these budget-friendly travel destinations to check out on your Southeast USA road trip for $150 a day or less!
Submitted by Logan & Kallsy Page, Pages of Travel
Northwest Arkansas has a contagious small-town charm that will allure you to return after your first visit on your Southeast USA road trip. Starting in Bentonville, Arkansas you’ll find the home of Walmart and see how Sam Walton’s legacy grew this area to become a place visitors and residents instantly feel at home.
In Fayetteville, Arkansas you’ll find the University of Arkansas and, of course, Razorback sports. But this small-town has many hidden destinations and top foodie spots that are perfect for a quick getaway or extended stay.
Things to Do in Northwest Arkansas on a Budget
Crystal Bridges Museum of Art is home to some of the best contemporary art you’ll ever find with rotating exhibitions from well-known artists including Dale Chihuly. Crystal Bridges also offers miles of bike trails in northwest Arkansas where you can view scenic outdoor beauty as well as various sculptures along the trails. Don’t have a bike? You can rent one from the Bentonville City Hall for around $10.
If you’re into hiking, nearby Devil’s Den State Park offers scenic beauty in the outdoors for absolutely no cost. The camping sites here are perfect for those who want to spend more time outdoors and the trails for hiking feature caves, water features, and more.
Although it may seem strange, The Walmart Museum inspires visitors about the history and heritage of Walmart. Learn the legacy of Sam Walton from the very beginning and stop by Walton’s 5 & 10 to indulge in some terrifically priced ice cream, such as a Moon Pie Sundae for less than $3!
Places to Eat in Northwest Arkansas on a Budget
Tacos 4 Life has delicious and reasonably priced tacos but their mission will make you want to go all the more. For every meal purchased one is donated to Feed My Starving Children, a non-profit that helps provide meals for children suffering from malnutrition in 60 different countries across the world.
At Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese you can find tons of adult grilled cheese options plus a serious amount of awesome cheeses and meats to choose from if you want to create your own sandwich. We loved it so much we went back three times within a month!
Get your hands on all things sweet and savory at Crepes Paulette, a French-inspired casual crepe restaurant. Crepes Paulette also offers many vegan, vegetarian, allergy-friendly options.
Where to Stay in Northwest Arkansas on a Budget
Northwest Arkansas offers many different accommodations in the Bentonville and Fayetteville area. A reasonable accommodation is the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Submitted by: Rachel Shulman, From East To West
New Orleans, Louisiana is budget-friendly for any type of traveler. The Southern and French culture combined with the insane food scene and nightlife on Bourbon makes it always interesting. When you intertwine this with a crazy interesting history, it makes this spot good for any type of traveler; families, solo, friends and anyone else that wants to go on a Southeast USA road trip. Spending at least 3 days in New Orleans is the perfect way to get acquainted with this charming city.
Things to Do in New Orleans on a Budget
Visiting The French Quarter is my FAVORITE activity and I do it every time I go to New Orleans and its FREE! You can get lost in the French Quarter streets just strolling the streets and listening to live music on the streets. The famous Jackson Square is right in the middle and provides for great scenery and pictures with real artists and art pieces lined around the square for sale.
A cheap way to see the different neighborhoods of NOLA is to take the streetcar uptown all the way and then ride it back. It’s really slow-moving but that’s a good thing because you’ll be awe-struck at the Southern mansions that line St. Charles Ave, the main street the streetcar follows. Once uptown, walk around Audubon park or make your way to the Levee to lay on the Mississippi! Price for the ride is: $2.75
My favorite place overall is Frenchman Street. Frenchman is a live jazz street lined with bars playing live music. The drinks are very cheap in the bars but the kicker is that you don’t even have to go inside – bands will just start playing and dancing around the street – all the entertainment you need is outside!
Places to Eat in New Orleans on a Budget
Cafe Du Monde is one of the most popular spots to experience the famous beignets in New Orleans! For around $4 you’ll savor the flavors of these tasty treats.
Dat Dog is a famous hot dog spot that people love to try in New Orleans. There are a few locations around the city and over 30 toppings are available to add on to your dog. Each dog costs around $8 and there are many flavors including alligator, duck, chipotle, and a vegan option as well.
During happy hour French & German restaurant, Luke, offers specials that are out of this world for being one of the nicest restaurants in the city. The $1 oysters are a real treat!
Where to Stay in New Orleans on a Budget
I suggest Airbnb they are WAY cheaper than hotels at less than $100/night for a 4 person apartment!
Submitted by Amanda Slavinsky, Edible Explorations
Louisville, Kentucky is best known for bourbon and horses, but that’s not all this city has to offer. The Derby City also has an impressive local food scene and proximity to hiking trails allowing you to take in the beauty of the bluegrass state.
Things to Do in Louisville on a Budget
I recommend starting your trip at the Kentucky Derby Museum for an introduction to Louisville’s most famous event, as well as a walking tour of Churchill Downs. Admission is $15 for adults and $8 for children.
If bourbon is more your thing, jump in the car for a distillery tour and tasting at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in nearby Claremont. A tour and tasting are $14 for adults and $7 for children (minus the tasting, obviously).
Head to nearby Jefferson Memorial Park for some free hiking (some trails lead to a view of the city’s skyline) or take a self-guided walking tour of Old Louisville, the largest area of mostly Victorian architecture in the country. The southernmost northern city (or northernmost southern city, depending on who you ask) is an affordable and unique American destination.
Places to Eat in Louisville on a Budget
Feeling hungry? Louisville has something to satisfy every food craving, from Southern classics to Southeast Asian. For some Kentucky barbecue, head to Feast. A half-pound plate of meat with two sides will run you around $12. Don’t forget to try a bourbon slushie!
If you want something from further afield, try Vietnam Kitchen or El Taco Luchador. The former is a Louisville institution run by a refugee who fled Saigon at the end of the war. Most main dishes, including pho and other noodle soups, will set you back about $10. El Taco Luchador is a casual taqueria with a big menu of these street food favorites for $3-4 each. You can also opt for a torta or one of their delicious sides.
Where to Stay in Louisville on a Budget
The Microtel Inn Suites by Wyndham Louisville East only runs around $55/night and is one of the top traveler ranked places to stay in Louisville!
Submitted by Jonathan, The Royal Tour
Memphis is an incredible city. It is the home to blues and rock and roll, a BBQ capital, and the location of the National Civil Rights Museum on the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Downtown is very walkable, keeping costs down, and the only tourist sight that is hard to make work on a budget is Graceland.
Things to Do in Memphis on a Budget
First, start by seeing the duck march at the Peabody Hotel it’s free to watch, but be sure to get there early for a good seat. After visit Sun Studio, the birthplace of rock n’ roll. It’s a slightly pricer at $14 but it is an AWESOME tour! A Visit to The National Civil Rights Museum is a must for anyone going to Memphis. You can go see the history and impact for $16. In the evening, check out the nightlife on Beale Street for free, though some places have a cover charge.
Places to Eat in Memphis on a Budget
A must while in Memphis is to enjoy some Memphis-style barbeque, Central BBQ is one of the best and the large pulled pork sandwich will only run you $7.49. Another Memphis favorite is Gus’ Fried Chicken where you can get an awesome meal for less than $10.
Where to Stay in Memphis on a Budget
CHINCOTEAGUE ISLAND, VIRGINIA
Submitted by Christina Dwiggins, Our Sweet Adventures
We always enjoy our trips, no matter how big or small, but sometimes we find places that really leave a mark on us – Chincoteague Island is one of those places. The city has a special island charm and “island time” feel of being laid back. There is always sand to be found at all of the restaurant’s patios, the food is simple, but amazing (you can’t miss the seafood), and of course, the beach is wonderful with their wild ponies relaxing alongside with you!
Things to Do in Chincoteague Island on a Budget
Assateague Island National Seashore is only a 10-minute drive away from Chincoteague. It is located in Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, therefore there is a $20 entrance fee (valid for 7 days). The beach itself is one of the most beautiful ones on the East Coast, but most travelers come for the ponies – yes, there are wild ponies living on this beach! Travelers are advised not to touch the ponies and to treat them as wild animals. They can be dangerous, so it is best to admire from a distance.
Another fun thing to do is rent a kayak at Snug Harbor Marina is the closest rental operation to the Assateague refuge and the Chincoteague Island wild ponies. You can rent a single ($38) or double ($48) kayak for half the day and explore the island from the water. If you can wake up early, kayaking at sunrise is beautiful and you can view the ponies at one of the best times, which is at 8am.
Who doesn’t love a great lighthouse?! Most lighthouses are found on the shore of a beach or island, but Assateague Lighthouse is more inland on Assateague Island. The lighthouse remains as an active navigational aid for the U.S. Coast Guard, which can be seen 19 miles out from the sea.
The lighthouse is open daily for guests during the hours of 9am to 3pm (closed from 12pm – 12:30pm for lunch). Travelers should be aware that the lighthouse is 175 steps up, though a little strenuous, the views are worth it! It is located within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, like the beach, there is an entrance fee of $20, which is valid for 7 days. Admission to go inside the lighthouse is free, but donations are welcomed.
Places to Eat in Chincoteague Island on a Budget
Sandy Pony Donuts are all around well made – they are extremely soft, the donut is not overly sweet, the glazes are out of this world and the toppings are tasty and fun. They have classic donuts such as glazed, chocolate glazed, powdered sugar and more. Though you cannot go wrong with the classic donuts, the specialty donuts are where the fun and flavor is at!
They have several different toppings such as bacon, Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, pretzels, coconut, rainbow sprinkles and more – they are nothing crazy, just pure simple and delicious. We recommend the Porky Pony (honey glaze, cinnamon sugar, and bacon) and the Charlie Brown (peanut butter glaze and mini chocolate chips). One donut costs $1.50, a half dozen costs $7.80 and a full dozen costs $12.80.
Be prepared to wait in a long line to order and a long wait for your food at Pico Taqueria, but believe us, it is totally worth it! Their motto is simple, “that anything can be put onto a taco.” These tacos are not your typical Taco Bell tacos. Pico Taqueria uses several different unique ingredients to create beautiful handmade tacos to order.
You cannot go wrong with any taco, but we recommend The Main Street (seared and seasoned shrimp, chipotle creme, green cabbage slaw, guacamole, and queso fresco) and The Chicken City (blackened chicken, corn and black bean salsa, avocado crema, and cotija). Each order comes with one taco and are $4 each. We found two tacos to be filling enough, but a third one wouldn’t hurt.
THE BEST place to get the freshest and most delicious seafood is Captain Zack’s Seafood. Their menu is pretty extensive with options such as quesadillas, oysters on the shell, sandwiches, and salads and if you cannot find anything on the menu, then you can always pick something from their daily specials.
While guests wait for their order, they can put their feet in the sand and play corn hole. We highly recommend their number one best selling appetizer, the Stuffed Bell Peppers (bell peppers stuffed with crab, shrimp, scallops, and cheese), No Filler Crab Cake Sandwich (nothing, but crab in this crab cake!) and you have to order the islands freshest and well known, Chincoteague Salts Oysters on the half shell (so flavorful you do not need lemon!). An average check with an appetizer and entree is around $24.
Where to Stay on Chincoteague Island on a Budget
Go camping! Skip hotels for accommodation at Chincoteague Island and enjoy the outdoors at either KOA campground or Tom’s Cove. Tent sites are around $55 at KOA and $35 at Tom’s Cove per night. Prices can vary depending on the time of year or holidays. We really enjoyed camping at KOA because of its location – it was near the food trucks and the lighthouse was our scenic view.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
Submitted by Logan & Kallsy, Pages of Travel
The Queen City of Charlotte, North Carolina has quickly started booming as a modern metropolis that offers countless culinary destinations, craft breweries, outdoor experiences, and interesting museums, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame which makes it one of the best places to stop on a Southeast USA road trip.
Things to Do in Charlotte on a Budget
If you love a good mystery take a tour with Brewed Clues. Similar to a murder-mystery dinner, Brewed Clues gives you a case file of clues to solve with your friends or family. This two-hour self-guided tour leads you around downtown Charlotte while you enjoy three mystery half-pints of North Carolina craft beer while you solve a “murder most foul”!
The historic 4th Ward District of Charlotte has free walking paths where you can read about the history of Charlotte as well as the homes that are in this district.
Into the nightlife? The EPICENTRE located in downtown Charlotte is where the Queens let loose! The EPICENTRE is the center of entertainment and nightlife but also offers many dining, shopping, and activities for all to enjoy.
Places to Eat in Charlotte on a Budget
For a one-of-a-kind dining experience try the “Burgushi” from The Cowfish. Burgushi is sushi in burger form that has a bun made out of rice and crab then wrapped in a spring roll wrapper. The Ahi Tuna with a bit of wasabi adds the perfect kick! Prepare to spend around $10-15 an entree.
Lunch at Alexander Michael’s will feel like you’ve walked into the show Cheers. It’s cozy, and if they don’t already, everyone will soon know your name. The spicy crab soup is the perfect accompaniment to one of their classic sandwiches for under $10.
Want a taste of everything that Charlotte has to offer? The Food Truck Friday event held at Sycamore Brewing Co. is perfect to try a bit of it all. Grab a grilled cheese, Korean BBQ, ala carte tacos, and some craft beer while enjoying the live music.
Where to Stay in Charlotte on a Budget
There are many affordable accommodations located in the central downtown part of Charlotte and on the outskirts. The Wyndham Garden Charlotte Executive Park is central to many activities in Charlotte. You can also rent a penthouse apartment and see the city views from an Airbnb!
Which of these places would you visit on your Southeast USA road trip?
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