ADVERTISEMENT

10 Best Cars for Budget Travelers

By Daniel Bortz
January 12, 2022
Empty Road Sunset Monument Valley
Gary Gray/Dreamstime
Mileage, cool tech features, and a sweet price point make these your go-to rides for road trips, one-tank escapes, and more.

Love a good road trip? So do we! But we also love to trim our travel costs, which is why we’ve worked with Autotrader.com to find the best cars for Budget Travelers. These 10 vehicles not only earned top marks for fuel efficiency but also boast cool tech features that will enhance your driving experience. Also, each car costs less than $25,000, so you won’t have to break the bank on your new set of wheels. 

2017 Ford Fiesta Titanium

At just under $20,000, the Fiesta’s Titanium model features keyless entry/start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rearview camera with rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, Sony 8-speaker audio system with HD radio,and specially designed 16-inch alloy wheels. Also, Ford’s Sync 3 smart entertainment system, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is standard on the Titanium Fiesta. “As subcompact cars go, the Fiesta is a good one,”says Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. “It’s fun to drive, has a reasonably nice interior, and sips fuel.”

2017 Honda HR-V EX

The base LX model ($20,000) of this new subcompact SUV from Honda features a rearview camera, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, 160-watt 4-speaker stereo system with USB input, auto-off headlights, and front and rear 12-volt power outlets. The EX bumps the price up to $23,000 but includes a 7-inch touchscreen audio display, Honda’s LaneWatch technology, 180-watt 6-speaker stereo, Pandora radio compatibility, heated front seats, power moonroof, Smart Entry with push-button start, auto on/off headlights, rearview camera, second USB jack, SMS text messaging, and automatic climate control. Plus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on every Honda model.

2018 Chevrolet Cruze LS

At only $17,850, the base-level, stick-shift-only Cruze L has a backup camera, 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, Bluetooth, power accessories, Teen Driver technology, 4-speaker stereo with Bluetooth, OnStar with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and 7-inch center touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Cruze LS ($19,400), however, allows drivers to order automatic transmission for $1,000 extra. “Add it all up and the result is a car that’s roughly $21,000 and features desirable tech,” Moody says.

2017 Jeep Compass Sport

The Sport ($21,000) is the Compass’ base model but it has some compelling features, Moody says. Push-button start, cruise control, USB port, auxiliary audio input, 6-speaker audio system, 5-inch touchscreen, hill-start assist, rearview camera and trailer sway control are all part of the package. “We also like the Compass because it looks like a junior version of the larger, pricier Grand Cherokee,” says Moody. Moreover, the car’s Uconnect system integrates a 5-inch touchscreen display, hands-free calling, voice text reply, voice commands for radio functions, and Bluetooth audio streaming.

2017 VW Jetta SE

“The Jetta is a great-looking car with a sporty attitude,”Moody says. It’s also a techie’s dream: in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Jetta SE ($22,000) has blind-spot monitoring, push-button start, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB port, LED daytime running lights, and 6.3-inch touch screen.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT

Standard goodies on >span class="s5"> Elantra GT ($22,000) include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, full power accessories, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, and remote keyless entry. For an extra $1,000, you can upgrade to theGT Sport, which has lane keep assistance, LED headlights and taillights, and heated leather front seats.

2018 Kia Niro FE

You’ll have to stick with the FE base model of Kia’s newest crossover, car-based SUV to keep the price of the Niro under $25,000, Moody says, but this hybrid boasts a whopping 50 miles per gallon on average—making it one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. And, if you’re willing to shell out an extra few hundred dollars, you can add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, and 7-inch touchscreen. 

2017 Nissan Altima S

The spacious Altima S model ($24,000) is loaded with cool tech features, including forward collision warning with emergency braking, Bluetooth, Siri eyes free, push-button start, and Nissan’s easy-fill tire system, which honks the horn when the car reaches the right level for tire pressure. 

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Impreza Sport ($23,000), which has an 8-inch touch screen that includes app integration for services like iHeartRadio and Pandora. The entertainment system is also more user-friendly than many other in-car interface systems, Moody says. However, “the real reason to pick this car is that, for the price, it’s one of the most fun-to-drive small sedans around,” Moody says. 

2018 Toyota Camry L

While the all-new Camry doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, you still get a lot for your money with the base L trim model, Moody says. Indeed, the car's tech features include automatic LED headlights, highway-speed adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning, Bluetooth, one USB port, 7-inch touchscreen interface, Scout GPS navigation smartphone app, and 6-speaker sound system with a media player interface. “That's a lot of stuff for a car that comes in at just under $25,000,” Moody says. “We also like the Camry’s new look and driving dynamics, which are far better than any Camry before it.”

CLUB DISCOUNTS

Save up to 50% on Hotels

1 rooms, 1 guests
ADVERTISEMENT
Keep reading
FamilyBudget Travel Lists

6 Awesome Astronomy Destinations in the U.S.

If the total eclipse got you hooked on the cosmos (or even if you’re already a devoted stargazer), there’s lots more where that came from. Across the U.S., major science institutions offer hands-on educational activities and plenty of fun. 1. Griffith ObservatoryLos Angeles Located more than 1,000 feet above sea level on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, one of America’s most beautiful urban parks, Griffith Observatory is always free and hosts a wide range of activities for all ages, including nighttime telescope viewing (the Griffith Observatory’s 12-inch Zeiss telescope has been used by more than 7 million stargazers, making it the most popular telescope on earth), educational exhibits, live shows at the observatory’s planetarium, and pinch-me views of the city. 2. Hayden PlanetariumNew York City Part of the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space and led by world-famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Hayden Planetarium is a must-see for anyone visiting the Big Apple. Generations of NYC kids got their introduction to the stars here (including yours truly), and the Hayden has even been commemorated in a pop song, Fountains of Wayne’s “Laser Show.” Frontiers Lectures update audiences on the latest discoveries about our universe, Astronomy Live programs take visitors on a tour of the universe with a special focus on the night sky. 3. National Air and Space MuseumWashington, D.C. One of the jewels in the Smithsonian Institution system of free national museums, the National Air and Space Museum immerses visitors in the history of flight, space exploration, and the science behind those endeavors. Best known for displaying iconic early airplanes and replicas that allow visitors to return to the days of the Wright Brothers and other pioneers and the spacecraft from the 1960s and ‘70s that first orbited earth and took people to the moon, the Air and Space Museum is also home to an IMAX theater and planetarium. 4. Kitt Peak National ObservatorySonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ At the top of a nearly 7,000-foot peak in the Sonoran Desert, the Kitt Peak National Observatory boasts the world’s largest collection of telescopes and one of the clearest skies and most beautiful locations anywhere in the U.S. for viewing the stars. Docent-led tours take daytime visitors to three large research telescopes, live views of the sun, and a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits. Nighttime visitors are treated to incredible glimpses of our solar system and beyond. 5. Very Large ArraySocorro, NM Sure, stunning visuals like galaxies and nebulas grab a lot of the attention. But if humans ever detect signs of intelligent life attempting to contact us from the depths of space, the Very Large Array may the place where it happens. After all, that’s where Carl Sagan set the dramatic opening of his novel Contact, in which an alien species sends radio signals to our planet that are first picked up by the immense radio telescope facility at “Project Argus,” which, in the 1997 film adaptation was set here outside Socorro, NM. Visitors can take self-guided tours and once-per-month guided tours to learn more about what scientists have learned about the nature of the universe through the study of radio waves. 6. Mauna KeaBig Island, HI Sorry, other awesome astronomy destinations, but at more than 13,000 feet on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, Mauna Kea Observatory’s stargazing tours, telescopes, and visitor center are unparalleled and absolutely free each night of the year starting at 6pm.

Budget Travel Lists

Myrtle Beach has last-minute deals that make fall feel like an endless summer

We can’t tell you how many times we looked at the calendar as the end of August approaches and start thinking about packing up our swimsuits and summer wardrobe to make room in our closet for sweaters and boots. But the folks at Myrtle Beach have done what seems impossible: they’re stretching summer out through October and making it really easy to plan a last-minute trip that will leave you with plenty of pocket change to put away for a winter vacation. But here’s the best part: not only are Marriott at Grande Dunes, Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, and a few others offering rates up to 30% off, they’re also tossing in extras like credits of up to $200 for their spas.   There’s a town-wide effort, in fact, to help you to relax. As part of Myrtle Beach's 60 Mores Days of Summer program, which stretches the season out through the end of October, every Saturday morning at 9AM there will be complimentary Vinyasa yoga on the beach. All levels of experience are welcome. And don’t worry—rain doesn't stop these dedicated instructors. In inclement weather, classes will take place at the Shanti Yoga Studio. There are complimentary massages on offer between 2PM and 4PM on Saturdays at Barefoot Landing. If you’re not one for classes, there are meditation zones, developed with an area yoga instructor, will be set up throughout the area at sites like Myrtle Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens, and smaller locations like Heidi’s Spot, a porch between Hook & Barrel Restaurant and Croissants Bistro & Bakery. A complimentary guide is available to download. For those who find they relax better when adrenaline is rushing, there’s surfing, inland kayaking and plenty more. A free 10-mile bicycle excursion happens each Thursday at 6.30PM. There are bikes to rent if you don’t have your own. Suddenly turning the calendar page over to September doesn't seem as stressful this year. 

Budget Travel Lists

7 Things to Do in Oakland, CA

Ask my kids what they liked best about their visit to California last July and they’ll both answer without hesitation: “Oakland!” My daughters spent a week attending an exceptional summer camp at Studio One Art Center, in Oakland, and some of their finest creations from that week now grace the walls of our suburban New York apartment, a reminder of all that our family discovered about Oakland on our trip. It’s also a great reflection of Oakland’s justly deserved rep as an epicenter of artistic creativity on the West Coast. From cool arts and cultural programs to great food and beautiful natural spaces, here are seven of the many ways you can - and should - get to know the city that’s just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. 1. GET ARTSY Studio One Art Center (studiooneartcenter.net), offering art classes for adults and kids and the great summer day camp my kids attended last year, is just one example of how Oakland embraces art and community. If you want a firsthand one-stop experience of Oakland’s art scene, attend First Fridays, the immersive art and community event that takes place each month on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street, with the city’s galleries, artist collectives, street artists, artisans, performers, and more participating. We also visited the Oakland Museum of California (museumca.org), an unusual hybrid that brings together superb collections devoted to art, history, and natural science with the goal of telling the multitude of stories that make up California from prehistoric times to the present. I loved the ways in which the museum brings various disciplines together, and my wife and I spent an entire day exploring the history timeline exhibits and photographing replicas of the state’s native communities, Gold Rush opulence, Steinbeck-era memorabilia associated with the Great Depression, and much more. The art collection ranged from Edward Curtis’s extraordinary photographs of Native Americans to brand-new conceptual installations that challenge viewers to redefine the very concept of art. 2. HEAR GREAT MUSIC One word: Yoshi’s (yoshis.com). While the legendary jazz club is by no means the only music venue in town, it exemplifies, perhaps better than any other, the Oakland community’s deep understanding and commitment to jazz music not only as satisfying entertainment but also as a gorgeous, swinging, ever-evolving manifestation of America’s diverse cultures, especially the creative African-American communities that helped give birth to the “West Coast Jazz” movement in the 1950s. Upcoming shows by Resonance Classical Jazz Ensemble on January 10 and Grammy-winning Latin percussionist Pancho Sanchez on January 26 and 27. Other great places to catch fresh music in Oakland include The New Parish, the Fox theater and the Paramount. 3. OGLE THE ARCHITECTURE Oakland is a wonderful city for walking, and visitors get a mosaic of architectural styles just strolling downtown and beyond. Take your pick from Art Deco to Victorian, Arts & Crafts (many of Julia Morgan’s iconic designs are here), and Millennial Modern, and don’t miss the lakeside Cathedral of Christ the Light. 4. GET OUTDOORS Sure, many of us associate Oakland with big-city style and urban music, but the city boasts some surprising delights for outdoor adventurers as well. With 19 miles of coastline and downtown’s beautiful Lake Merritt, Oakland offers opportunities to kayak, stand-up-paddleboard, and even sail on the bay. More than 100,000 acres of parkland and trails up in the hills are a weekend and vacation paradise for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and off-road Segways (yes, that’s a thing that exists here). 5. EAT (THEN EAT SOME MORE) We loved the way Oakland’s eats range from Michelin-starred restaurants to food trucks, making the city one of the West Coast’s hottest new culinary destinations. Of course you expect great Mexican fare in Northern California, and Oakland delivers with Nido, Tamarindo Antoneria, and Dona Tomas. With the fourth largest Chinatown in the U.S., Oakland also delivers perfect dumplings at Restaurant Peony and Shan Dong. You’ll also find classic Southern dishes at Pican, comfort food (think mac & cheese made with a local artisanal twist) at Homeroom, and great BBQ at B-Side BBQ. Cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea are gaining popularity at Addis, Cafe Colucci, and YaYu. We opted to explore the city’s Vietnamese cuisines, and Le Cheval is a standout with its classic Vietnamese blend of French, Chinese, and Southeast Asian traditions. 6. FIND FAMILY FUN While my kids happened to love their art camp experience, Oakland offers many other family-friendly experiences, the storybook-themed park, Children’s Fairyland, said to have inspired Walt Disney to explore the theme park concept. The Oakland Zoo is a favorite with little ones, and the Chabot Space & Science observatory keeps kids and grownups looking up. One of the top family experiences that deserves its closeup in 2018 is the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, allowing visitors to step back in time to immerse themselves in California’s early history. 7. TAKE THE ALE TRAIL If you’ve worked up a thirst diving into the six previous Oakland musts, it’s time to grab a beer. The Oakland Ale Trail, is a celebration of Oakland’s craft beer scene, one of the tastiest in America. Get a “passport” at one of Oakland’s brewery taprooms, and if you visit all of them, you’ll earn a free growler. (If beer isn’t your thing, you can hit the Oakland Urban Wine Trail to explore local wineries.) AND, YES, YOU CAN AFFORD AN OAKLAND HOTEL Oakland lodging starts at well under $200 (with some airport hotels under $100), and I thoroughly appreciated our stay at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel.

Budget Travel Lists

Meet the Coolest Small Town in America 2017

Budget Travel’s mission is to inspire and inform you to see more for less. For avid travelers, that means road trips, national and state parks, great beaches, great cuisine that won’t break the bank, and lodgings for under $200/night. It means discovering lesser-known destinations that are just waiting around the next turn in the road. And it means being open to the cultural and ethnic diversity, the creative energy, and unparalleled natural beauty that have defined America for more than two centuries. Our Coolest Small Towns in America program is an editor-curated celebration - inspired by thousands of reader suggestions and photos shared across platforms over the past few weeks - of the communities across the U.S. that we feel best exhibit the qualities we prize. From the Jersey Shore’s “coolest comeback” to an arts colony near the Mexican border to a California gem in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, every one of the Coolest Small Towns in America 2017 is a one-of-a-kind vacation waiting to happen. If you’re among the 80 percent of Americans who plan to take a road trip this summer, add some of these towns to your must-see list. READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part 1: The Northeast" Leading the pack is the Coolest Small Town in America 2017, Asbury Park, New Jersey, an easy road trip from New York or Philadelphia. The coolest comeback in America may be right here in Asbury Park - the revitalized Boardwalk offers great shopping, dining, and views of one of the East Coast’s most beautiful beaches. This beach town that helped launch Bruce Springsteen is, not surprisingly, a music mecca - check out shows at the legendary Stone Pony, the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall, and other venues. We love Asbury Park’s cultural diversity, welcoming vibe, and year-round calendar of events: Fourth of July fireworks, Oysterfest, Zombie Walk, and so much more. Here’s the complete list of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017. We’ll be celebrating each town in depth in an upcoming story that takes a close look at the people and places that make each one of these communities so special: 1. Asbury Park, New Jersey 2. Bisbee, Arizona 3. Nevada City, California 4. Chatham, Massachusetts 5. Mountain View, Arkansas 6. Cannon Beach, Oregon 7. Philipsburg, Montana 8. Milford, Pennsylvania 9. Glens Falls, New York 10. Indianola, Mississippi READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part II: The West"