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VOL. 38 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 5, 2014

Drive off beaten path to bargain travel destinations

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December is here, and with it comes holiday decorations, busy party schedules and trips to Grandma’s house.

And with Christmas presents being a drain on the wallet, future travel probably isn’t top of mind.

So it might be a good time to have a look at bargain travel hotspots for 2015, based on the trivago Best Value City index.

Hotel search site trivago.com compiles all kinds of cool data on travel prices and trends. I recently stumbled on its list of 50 Undiscovered U.S. Cities for 2015, and since a big chunk of the list is made up of destinations in the South and Midwest, it is a good list to know.

The 10 cities rated as best value for 2015 are:

  • Macon, Georgia
  • Branson, Missouri
  • Montgomery, Alabama
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Wichita, Kansas
  • Augusta, Georgia
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Springfield, Missouri
  • Knoxville
  • Little Rock, Arkansas

The Best Value Index ranks cities based on a combination of consumer ratings and average hotel prices.

These aren’t exactly Seattle, Miami or New York City, but if you’re the type of traveler who enjoys experiencing off-the-radar spots as much as big cities, amusement parks and beaches, this list might just have some gems.

Visitors to budget-friendly Macon, Georgia, can explore an earth lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument and learn about the Mississippian Culture and the mounds they built in the area from 900 to 1250 CE.

-- Shutterstock.Com

And if you want to get away for a couple of days, the average hotel price in Macon ($77), Branson ($84), Montgomery ($89), Lincoln ($93) and Wichita ($96) are hard to beat.

Looking outside the top 10, there are some other interesting finds.

Sitting at No. 11 is Mobile, Alabama, with an average price of $96.

I really enjoy Mobile. I’ve spent several nights in the city, often on the way to the beach, but once as a standalone trip.

The city’s downtown is quaint with a lot of beautiful architecture and great seafood restaurants. And it sits 30 minutes from the arts community of Fairhope and less than an hour from the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is covered well with No. 17 Fort Worth ($114), No. 32 Irving ($103) and No. 44 Arlington ($108).

Fort Worth has museums, great food and nightlife, and sits less than 30 minutes from the theme park and sports stadiums of Arlington.

One of my favorite recent destinations – Albuquerque, New Mexico, makes the list at No. 24. With an average hotel price of $89, this underrated city is worth a visit.

I’ve sung the praises of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, held annually in early October. But there is so much history, natural beauty to explore and wonderful New Mexican food to taste. And it’s a more affordable option than Santa Fe, about an hour north.

I guess I’m a little surprised about the East Tennessee resort communities of Pigeon Forge (No. 20, $82) and Gatlinburg (No. 25, $91) making a most affordable list.

Along with Knoxville in the top 10 and Chattanooga coming in at No. 28, with an average hotel price of $97, it looks like East Tennessee should be on everyone’s radar for a 2015 vacation.

Memphis Daily News managing editor Lance Wiedower’s column appears every other Tuesday in The Daily News and The Memphis News. For more travel inspiration, read his blog at tripsbylance.com or follow him on Twitter at @tripsbylance.

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