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Tips for a Great City Vacation on a Budget

If you're looking for a low-cost adventure for you and your family, consider heading towards your favorite metropolis. Here's how to find unique experiences on a budget in almost every major city in the U.S. all year long.

So pack your bags, head to your dream destination and start exploring! Here are some great budget travel tips from Houston First's Sharon Adams:

Big City Walking Tour Apps: Thanks to technology, some of the most exciting must-see's are at your fingertips. Almost every big city (and a lot of smaller cities too) have downloadable walking tours, whether they're for historic districts, public art displays or almost anything that you're looking for. There's usually a downloadable app and that's really helpful if you want to explore a city either on bike or on foot because it can be tailored to your own interest. You just download it onto your phone and it just walks you right through it.

Photo Ops with Public Art: If you're looking for the perfect vacation shot that you can use on your Christmas card, think about public art. Many of the sculptures that you find hidden in these cities are true gems. Some are done by local artists, some are done by world famous artists, but it's a great photo op and a great way to get a one of a kind experience.

Use Bike Share to See the City by Bike: Bike Share is a wonderful way to see the city. While the program started in Amsterdam back in 1965, now it's all over the world and it's in almost every city in the United States. By using a program like Bike Share, it cuts down on probably the third highest cost of a vacation - gassing up and also paying tolls, and you don't have to worry about getting stuck in traffic.

Not sure about biking on city streets? Most cities are incorporating hike and bike trails that go throughout the entire city, so you can literally go from one end of the city to another without ever leaving a bike trail.

Use Public Transportation: Get familiar with the city public transportation system.

"You want to set your center of activity around what you're going to be doing most, so if what you really want is the urban experience, you want to try and find a place that's close to a rail line so you can just walk to the rail line or walk to the subway," says Sharon. "That's my favorite thing to do when I go to a big city".

Save Money on Big City Food: One of the biggest expenses, next to transportation, is food and dining, and that doesn't have to cost you a lot of money, and you don't have to be relegated to fast food chains. Sharon likes to Google, "best neighborhood groceries" and go to those stores so you can get a really good taste of what that area is known for, so you get anything from sandwiches to exotic wine and cheeses to things that might be produced locally.

Pack a Big City Picnic: If you want to know the best place to take a city picnic, there's probably nobody better to ask than a local. Don't be surprised if they point you in the direction one of their city's vast, open, green spaces where you can find a variety of entertainment and activity offerings, many of them for free! If you do a little research online you'll find that many parks and outdoor plazas have free showings, including everything from world class symphony to your favorite classic movies. Plus, it's a great place to take your picnic lunch or dinner.

Some cities have outdoor theaters, where you can put down your blankets or your beach towel (or the towel you took from your hotel room) and unload your picnic. Your children can run around and play while you enjoy the entertainment. You can even find open air farmers markets, skate parks and even free workout classes held at these parks and plazas.

Take Advantage of Big City Golf Courses: If golfing is your idea of a vacation, forget the high cost of resort fees. Great golf courses have very steep prices as anyone who's ever tried to book one will tell you; so there's a much cheaper and just as fun way to go, and that's by looking into Municipal Golf Courses in the city where you're going to. And you don't have to bother bringing your own clubs or your own equipment because almost all of them will rent you equipment for a very nominal fee.

They have the same types of pros that you'll get at the great resorts so if you want to take a lesson, whether it's your first lesson or you're ready for the Pro Tour yourself, there's something or everyone. So if you're on vacation, you've always wanted to try golfing, this is a great place to start, you can rent your equipment, you can hire a pro for an hour or half hour lesson, you can play the course all for less than probably what it would cost you to probably just enter one of the high price resort golf courses.

Find Out About Museum Free Days: Of course the best part of visiting a major city is the education and culture you find by visiting one of a kind museums and exploring the history that built the city. And, you can do it without paying full price for admission. Almost every major city has a free museum day, some have them every single week. It may be a Thursday night where all the museums in the district are open free to the public.

Find Out About Heritage Parks: Many cities have what are called Heritage Parks, where they have homes from different era all in one place. These are usually also free of charge. They have docents who are volunteers, and so if you call in advance, they'll take you and your family through these historic homes.

Get a CityPass: One of the best deals out there is a coupon book called CityPass which you can find in 11 major cities. With CityPass you really save 50 percent on some "must see" attractions, everything from museums to amusement parks.

Plan Ahead! In most cities, depending on the weather, you can always find a festival or something really fun to do that's no cost or low cost. Do your research beforehand to find out what's going on during your visit.

Here are some helpful links and info to help plan a trip on a budget:

Houston First

Bike Share

Visit for 50 percent off combined prices for admission to must see attractions in 11 cities. These include Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, New York, Seattle Atlanta and Toronto. has deals on fun things to do around your city for less, like paintball, kayaking tours, golf, water skiing, jet skiing and more. has fun things to do for kids and adults, from classes, camps, tickets and offers, travel information, things happening each month in cities like Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. for deals on like attraction passports for $18 at the Tucson Visitor Center. for free activities, $10 and under, discounted tickets, transportation, and trolley information. for daily free events in Indianapolis, like festivals, wine making classes, karaoke, theaters, river boat rides and factory tours. - Free community art project parties for children, films, performances, tours and more in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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