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10 U.S. cities that are the cheapest to navigate on vacation

Comparing costs to get to and around major cities

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Planning a budget-friendly vacation can be complicated with so many costs involved, like lodging, food and entertainment. Transportation is another category that can quickly add up, both in terms of arriving at your destination and getting around once you’re there. To help you plan an amazing vacation that won’t break the bank, The Zebra analyzed the country’s 50 most populous cities to find the places with the cheapest, all-around transportation costs.

We looked at three factors:

  • Rental car prices: We used the average rental car price for a medium-sized car for a summer weekend. 
  • Airline fare: We looked at the average domestic airfare for each city’s airport. 
  • Public transportation: We found the ranking of the country’s best public transportation systems so you don’t have to blow your budget on an Uber. 

Ready to plan a fun, affordable vacation? Check out our top 10 cities that are cheap to navigate.

#1: Miami, FL

Miami is a year-round travel destination and it can also be quite affordable to get around. The average car rental price is $63, making it one of the cheapest cities in the U.S. to get a rental. So if you want to explore outside the city limits, it’s easy to stay on budget. Flights out of Miami International Airport are also inexpensive compared to most other airports. Its nationwide ranking for public transportation is 128, which isn’t extremely competitive, but you may prefer just to rent a car instead.

Budget-friendly tip: The city’s most iconic, free attraction is inarguably the beach. There are actually over a dozen public beaches to explore throughout the city.

Miami by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $63
  • Airline fare: $263.76
  • National public transportation ranking: 128

#2: Washington, DC

The nation’s capital ranked second for cheapest rental car price, so you can access the entire region’s hot spots for an extremely low cost. Airfare is a bit more expensive flying in and out of Dulles International Airport, so you may need to save in other areas if you arrive by plane. A great way to do this is through DC’s vast public transportation system, which ranks ninth nationwide.

Budget-friendly tip: The National Mall is free to the public and is home to the Smithsonian Institution, the nation’s largest museum complex featuring 19 destinations centered around a large park.

DC by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $56
  • Airline fare: $329.17
  • National public transportation ranking: 9

#3: Chicago, Il

Flying in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is among the cheapest destinations, coming in ninth place. And you’ll get a cheap, local experience riding the city’s El train. And if you prefer to drive, the average summer weekend price is just $86.

Budget-friendly tip: Traveling in the summertime? Get to know Chicago’s residential neighborhoods, which often have weekend festivals throughout the summer months. Some favorites include the Lincoln Park Greek Festival and the Andersonville Midsommerfest.

Chicago by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $86
  • Airline fare: $309.70
  • National public transportation ranking: 31

#4: Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia comes in first when it comes to rental car prices. You could spend an entire weekend zipping around the city for less than $50. That can make up for the above-average flight costs if you’re flying into the City of Brotherly Love. The public transportation also ranks well compared to the other cities we analyzed.

Budget-friendly tip: History buffs will love seeing the Liberty Bell in person, which sits outside of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Both attractions are free to visit.

Philadelphia by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $48
  • Airline fare: $340.07
  • National public transportation ranking: 34

#5: Baltimore, MD

Public transportation isn’t Baltimore’s strong suit, but you can opt for a cheap car rental to navigate the Charm City’s cobblestone streets. The city comes in 15th place for average airfare, which costs $313.50.

Budget-friendly tip: Stroll through Fells Point, a waterfront neighborhood with markets, shops and restaurants. Get a sweet treat at the snowball stand and take in the beautiful harbor views.

Baltimore by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $80
  • Airline fare: $313.50
  • National public transportation ranking: 155

#6: Atlanta, GA

Atlanta is another city with cheap rental car prices, averaging at just $66 for a weekend. Flight costs are a little more expensive at around $328, but that’s still below average for the cities we analyzed. Public transportation, on the other hand has a score of 249 and ranks 17th among our surveyed cities.

Budget-friendly tip: Check out Centennial Olympic Park, featuring the Fountain of Rings, frequent outdoor concerts and CNN’s studios.

Atlanta by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $66
  • Airline fare: $327.99
  • National public transportation ranking: 249

#7: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans has one of the cheapest average flight costs, making it a great destination if you’re looking for something outside of driving distance. Once you arrive, however, public transportation in the city does not rank well. But the city’s charm and size make it a great place to walk around. Rental car prices are also pretty competitive, coming in under $100.

Budget-friendly tip: There’s no subway in New Orleans, but you can get around using the city’s streetcar trolley system. Explore four different lines to help you experience the city on a budget.

New Orleans by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $94
  • Airline fare: $281.04
  • National public transportation ranking: 455

#8: Cleveland, OH

You can arrive in Cleveland for a fairly inexpensive price, with flight costs averaging under $300. The average rental car price is above average at $152. But the good news is Cleveland has an accessible public transportation system that places it in 8th place out of all the cities we analyzed for our top 10.

Budget-friendly tip: Discover world-class art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Especially noteworthy is the Impressionist Gallery, featuring paintings by Monet, Renoir and more.

Cleveland by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $152
  • Airline fare: $295.22
  • National public transportation ranking: 70

#9: Buffalo, NY

Buffalo ranks 12th on our list for having the cheapest airfare, which averages just over $300. Plus, it has a fairly convenient bus and rail system. It ranked 19th out of the 50 most populous cities. Rental car prices are a little higher at about $114 for a weekend.

Budget-friendly tip: Explore the sights and sounds of Elmwood Village, which consistently ranks as one of the best neighborhoods in the nation.

Buffalo by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $114
  • Airline fare: $312.22
  • National public transportation ranking: 315

#10: Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis completes our list of top 10 cities for cheapest navigation. It is a little above average to arrive by plane, but the price to rent a car averages just $72. Alternatively, you could have fun navigating the city by bus, light rail or commuter rail.

Budget-friendly tip: Head to the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to visit George Floyd Square, where you’ll find sculptures, murals and paintings offering tribute to George Floyd and other police brutality victims.

Minneapolis by the numbers

  • Average weekend rental car price: $72
  • Airline fare: $338.11
  • National public transportation ranking: 179

Methodology

The Zebra pulled three data points to analyze the top 50 MSAs (by population) in the U.S. related to transportation and navigation:

  • The cheapest rental car price for a medium-sized car Friday, July 8 through Sunday, July 10, 2022 (Kayak.com)
  • Average domestic airline itinerary fares (Bureau of Transportation Statistics)
  • Public transportation ranking for U.S. cities with 1,000 or higher population (AllTransit)

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