10 to Watch
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2009
BudgetTravel.com reveals the best value hotspots for the New Year.
CLOSE TO HOME
If you really want to save in 2009—and help to revive a sagging domestic economy—travel within the United States. These three U.S. destinations are set to shine in the New Year.
Why in 2009: For years, the capital of down-home cool (and Texas) has been working to become the nation's capital of pop culture—at least among cities of a similar size. This city of 1.6 million residents has succeeded in its mission, especially as a venue for indie rock, bluegrass, and country music. Its largest music festival is South by Southwest, a multi-day, 1,700-band extravaganza that draws serious music fans nationwide (sxsw.com, Mar. 18–22, 2009). Austin's economy, meanwhile, is well diversified between public and private sectors, which means that Austin is poised to weather the economic downturn reasonably well, says University of Texas at Austin economy professor Daniel S. Hamermesh. So it should be full speed ahead on spending for free and affordable cultural events. A bonus: In the past year, discounter JetBlue has added flights to Austin. Rival airlines are feeling the pressure to keep airfares low.
Main events: Thousands of music fans converge on the city each year for two festivals: South by Southwest (mentioned above) and the Austin City Limits Music Festival (aclfestival.com, Oct. 2–4). Art lovers come for the Texas Biennial (texasbiennial.com, Mar. 6–Apr. 11) and the open-air Art City Austin (artallianceaustin.org, Apr. 25-26). Even if you're not in town for a big event, keep in mind that Austin has pretty weather for eight months of the year (summer's the sweltering exception). With its extensive Greenbelt park as well as 10 miles of waterfront paths, it's easy to get outside and enjoy a little nature.
Memorable moment: Chill out on the terrace bar of the Inter-Continental Stephen F. Austin hotel, overlooking downtown. Order a Stephen F. Top Shelf, the house margarita, tip your hat to the mounted longhorn on the wall, and watch the Texas Capitol turn pink as the last rays of the sun hit it. 701 Congress Ave., 888/424-6835, austin.intercontinental.com, margaritas from $10.
Price check: Round-trip tickets between Austin and Chicago recently started at $210, a 9 percent drop from a year earlier, says Farecast. Affordable lodging isn't hard to come by. Hotel rates should average a modest $104 a night, says a forecast by PKF Hospitality Research. We like the stylish Austin Motel, starting at $70. 1220 S. Congress Ave., 512/441-1157, austinmotel.com.
Why in 2009: It's not just the presidential inauguration, the Capitol's freshly minted visitor center, or the recently re-opened National Museum of American History—all reasons enough to drop by D.C. in 2009. It's also the built-in, year-round cost containment: Free admission to national monuments, the Smithsonian's many world-class museums, and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park make the capital a perennial choice for an affordable family vacation. (For other ideas, check out Destination DC's list of "100 Free (And Almost Free) Things to Do in D.C.")
Main events: The popularity of the upcoming presidential inauguration is jacking up prices temporarily around January 20. But there's plenty else to see in D.C. during the rest of the year. On April 12, for example, a re-creation of contralto Marian Anderson's famous 1939 open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial will commemorate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. This year's rendition showcases Denyce Graves, the Chicago Children's Choir, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and the Washington National Opera (lincolnindc.com, free and non-ticketed).
Memorable moment: For lunch, head to the tapas restaurant Jaleo for a shared plate of house-made grilled pork sausage with sautéed white beans (jaleo.com, $8.50). After a walk along the National Mall, end your day at the rooftop bar and terrace of the W Hotel, debuting in August (whotels.com), and watch the sun set over the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (nps.gov/thje, free).