The unifying theme for our list in 2023 is value — that is, locations that warrant your time without breaking the bank.
Of course, affordability can mean different things to different people. As such, none of the recommendations made our list simply because they’re the cheapest options available. Instead, we weighed the costs carefully depending on whom the location is best suited, balancing core expenses such as airfare and lodging against local prices and activities once you’re settled in.
We also wanted to make sure various types of travelers felt seen and had ample options available to them. This approach led us to categorize our 50 travel picks — 25 domestic and 25 international — into five discrete buckets as opposed to presenting the cities in a uniform, ranked order.
Those five categories are:
- Bucket List: Must-visit locations that offer unparalleled beauty or activities you can’t find anywhere else.
- Family Friendly: Bring the kids. These places are perfect for families and offer up an abundance of (often free) activities for the young’uns.
- Luxury on a Budget: Cities that will spoil you with fine dining or other exquisite leisure activities — but are more affordable alternatives to what’s commonly recommended by the luxury travel industry.
- Off-Season: During peak season, these places might price you out — and that’s if the crowds don’t box you out. But they’re definitely worth it for flexible travelers who let the discounts guide them.
- Solo Travel: These mostly-urban destinations offer ample amenities for lone wanderers to get lost in.
Our selection process is also different this year. In 2023, we relied, in part, on a panel of 10 travel experts who shared their expertise on affordable regions and cities to visit this year.
Our travel panelists include: Travel Photographer Courtney Bishop; Travel Editor Kaeli Conforti; Gwen Kozlowski, president of Exeter International; Travel Book Author and Journalist Ocean Malandra; Lillian Rafson, founder and CEO of Pack Up + Go; Influencer Alyssa Ramos of My Life’s a Travel Movie; Andrea Ross, travel coach and founder of Kaanect Travel; Maurice Smith, travel advisor and founder of Eugene Toriko; Chris Waters, founder and architect at Constructed Adventures; and Daria Westerfield, owner of River Oaks Travel.
We also received detailed travel recommendations from 300 of Money’s newsletter subscribers who were instrumental in helping craft our list — as well as several Money staffers.
Best in Travel’s lead Editor Kristen Bahler and lead Staff Reporter Adam Hardy whittled approximately 600 of the top travel recommendations into a shortlist of 135 places. For each of those places, we gathered data on average airfare, nightly lodging at hotels and Airbnbs, daily car rentals as well as the price of local expenses including a glass of wine, a three-course meal at a mid-tier restaurant, a domestic beer, a soda, a cappuccino and more.
Using this data, we then created total trip estimates for each location that are tailored to the categories of the destinations. Trip estimates for Off-Season and Luxury on a Budget are based on airfare, room and board for two adults. For Solo Travel, the estimate is based on one adult. And for Family Friendly, the costs are adjusted for a family of two adults and two kids. Likewise, prices are based on the length of the stay. Estimates for domestic trips are calculated based on the cost of three days, and international trip costs account for seven days.
Airfare, hotel and car-rental prices were provided by our data partner Kayak as well as our Best in Travel sponsor Allianz. Average Airbnb prices were gathered directly from the site, based on searches using the “flexible dates” criteria over a weeklong period for international stays and a weekend period for domestic stays with at least one-month advance for domestic and three-month advance for international locations. Local food expenses were gathered from Numbeo and directly from menus at local restaurants. Square also provided additional data on local expenses such as burgers, wine, souvenirs, massages and more.
To reach the final 50, the Money editorial team vetted our shortlist based on affordability, interest and accessibility to a range of U.S. visitors. We hope you enjoy the results.
A special thanks to our sponsor Allianz — and to our data partners Kayak and Square. In addition to them, this project would not have been possible without Money's art, development, editorial, production and sales teams or our travel panelists and dedicated readers who shared their affordable travel recommendations.
Now get to booking!