Monday, 25 September 2017

Vacation time is a precious commodity in the United States, where many of us receive only 10 to 14 days off per year.

Family commitments, weddings, and holidays can cut into that limited vacation time. So how can you get the most vacation bang for your buck out of your remaining vacation days? 

For people living in the Southern United States, here is one strategy to visit three states by car in a week on the cheap.

Day 1: Nashville's Centennial Park

Set your GPS for Nashville, specifically the Hotel Preston, an affordable, modern property with rates starting at $109 per night.

Drive into town and grab a sandwich at a local deli. Then pick a spot under a tree at Centennial Park, Nashville's sprawling 132-acre park. Be sure to check out the Parthenon, a structure that was built in 1897 for Tennessee's Centennial and mirrors the Parthenon in Athens. Inside, you'll find an incredible art museum, where admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids. 

Spend the rest of the afternoon checking out The Johnny Cash Museum & Café (tickets are $18.95 per person), and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum ($24.95 per person, but check in advance to see if there's a concert when you're in town). 

For dinner, walk over to Bajo Sexto Taco and enjoy fish tacos for $6, and quesadillas for $4. Finish your day by listening to traditional country music at Robert's Western World, a Nashville institution. Check online for music schedules. 

Day 2: Museum and music

After breakfast, head over to Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. This 55-acre estate houses gorgeous plants (admission is $16 for adults), as well as a variety of art exhibits. After roaming for a few hours, head back downtown and grab lunch at Jack's Bar-B-Que, where you can bite into a Texas beef brisket sandwich for $5.99, or a Tennessee pork shoulder sandwich for $4.99. 

Next up is a walking tour of historic Nashville with Echoes of Nashville. Meet at the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway, and for $18 per person ($9 for kids), you can go on a 90-minute walking tour of Riverfront Park, learn about the Trail of Tears, and see multiple landmarks. (Note: this tour is offered at 1 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). 

Spend the rest of the day listening to live music on Broadway, also known as “Honky Tonk Highway." Bop in and out of some of the cities most popular music venues, such as Legends Corner, the Second Fiddle, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge and the Bluebird Cafe.

Day 3: Atlanta CityPASS

Get ready for a new state! Drive 250 miles southeast into Atlanta, Georgia, and park near the hip Ellis Hotel, where rates start around $135 per night. Settle into your room and then purchase a CityPASS for $75. Although that price may seem steep, it will afford you access over the next two days to attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, and the College Football Hall of Fame

If you'd prefer to go to places a la carte, consider visiting the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (free) or check out the free ArtWalk of downtown galleries between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

Eating cheaply in Atlanta is easy when you go to places like Taqueria de Sol (tacos for $2.50 each) and Grindhouse Killer Burgers (burgers start at $5.50). 

Day 4: BeltLine and history

Use your CityPASS today to check out local attractions or opt to take a self-guided tour of gorgeous Oakland Cemetery and visit the graves of famous Atlantans including Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, and Maynard Jackson, the city's first black mayor (tour maps are $4 and you can go on a guided tour for extra). You can also get some fresh air and play Frisbee at the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile railway corridor that has been made into a series of public parks. 

Need more ideas? Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site or the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

If you are looking for free live music, check out the Big Ketch Saltwater Grill and the Sun Dial. Don't forget to check online for schedules. 

Day 5: Downtown Savannah 

Drive four hours east from Atlanta to the historic coastal city of Savannah. Check in at the Baymont Inn & Suites Savannah South, where rooms start at $73 per night. Then head downtown for an Old Town Trolley Tour. Online rates are cheaper, at $28.80 for adults and $11.25 for kids. After the tour, continue walking around downtown and check out Forsyth Park (make sure to take a photo near the fountain!) and drive to Bonaventure Cemetery. Both have free admission.

Affordable restaurants abound in Savannah, and include local favorites like Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room and Sandfly BBQ (you can't beat a pulled pork sandwich for $8.50). 

Day 6: Charleston by foot

Make the two-hour drive to Charleston, specifically the Hampton Inn Charleston-Historic District (rooms start at $155 per night), and then head out to see the sights. 

Charleston is a gem of a city, founded in the late 1600s and still it maintains much of its historic charm today. Keeping with the walking tour theme on this trip, and give Free Tours by Foot a try. This company offers “name your own price" tours, with licensed guides to a variety of neighborhoods. Contact them in advance, and then go out and learn about everything from the city's Civil War history to the stories behind its incredible architecture. 

Food is plentiful and delicious in Charleston, and budget travelers are smart to check out Poogan's Porch for brunch favorites like sunrise shrimp and grits or a pimento BLT, and Brown Dog Deli, where you can try a Pig n' Fig sandwich (in-house pulled pork, fig rosemary preserves, Granny Smith apples, applewood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese on a panini) for $7.95. 

Day 7: Magnolia Plantation

Today is the last day of your trip, so check out a few more sites in Charleston, including Magnolia Plantation & Gardens (admission is $20 for adults and $10 for kids) before heading home with a week's worth of memories. 

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