The most economical – and most expensive - summer vacation destinations

It’s the same question every year: Where should we go for our vacation this summer? Although there are lots of things that play into that decision, personal finance website has done some research into which destinations offer the biggest bang for the buck.

While other rankings focus on each destination’s scenic quality, WalletHub’s report focuses primarily on the cost and convenience of traveling to each location as well as its affordability. It also takes into account the number of attractions and variety of activities in each destination to ensure visitors will stay busy and entertained throughout the trip.

Washington Monument

Researchers looked at 100 of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States and evaluated each on 40 key indicators ranging from the cost of the cheapest flights to the number of attractions in each area to the weather.

Overall, the best place to visit is the Washington, D.C. metro area. It rates high in terms of safety, travel costs, and attractions, though they are almost exclusively culture- and history-related. No theme parks here, though a cynic might say Washington, D.C. is one big theme park.

On that subject, the Orlando, Fla. area is rated No. 2, with its highest ratings for activities and attractions. It’s about a fourth of the way down the list when it comes to travel costs and hassles, and about two-thirds of the way to the bottom for its weather, which is generally hot and sticky in the summer.

Los Angeles rated No. 1 for its attractions, which include Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, and more. As far as activities, it ranked No. 9.

The New York City metro area, which extends into New Jersey for the purposes of this study, was ranked No. 1 for activities and No. 2 for attractions.

Trying to keep the budget in check? Cincinnati, Ohio had the lowest travel costs and the fewest hassles. Somewhat surprisingly, it ranked No. 16 for attractions, though its scores in the other areas rated were less impressive. Oklahoma City had the best (read:cheapest) local costs, but little else to offer. Attractions and activities rated 48 and 79, respectively, among the 100 cities studied.

Waikiki and Diamond Head

Best weather? Honolulu, Hawaii, which also has the highest local costs and third-highest travel costs but plenty of activities and attractions, including an active food scene. It was mid-range when considering safety. A big surprise is that Fresno, Calif., was rated as having the second-best weather, but had little else to offer. The metro Seattle area where I live was ranked No. 94 for weather, just ahead of San Francisco and Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, Calif., at 95.

The safest place to visit: Portland, Maine. It’s not expensive to get to (No. 77) and not expensive once you’re there (No. 95), but the weather isn’t all that great (No. 93) and there's not much to do. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably not on too many “must visit” lists.

Results of another study, by travel commerce platform Travelport (NYSE:TVPT), show that Millennials (aged 18-34) are most likely to spend more on their upcoming vacations than other age groups, with one out of three Millennials willing to spend $5000 or more on their vacations.

And it’s not just Millennials. Of Gen-Xers (aged 35-54), 28 percent say they’re likely to spend more than $5K on their vacation, as do nearly 23 percent of Boomers (55-72).

My take

A vacation should be a departure from your day-to-day life, and that will come at a cost. Don’t go into debt that it will take several years to repay (remember, you’ll need another vacation next year) but spend what you need to spend to come back with your batteries recharged. Otherwise, what’s the point of a vacation?

Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
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