A starry night in New England

New England on a Budget

Picturesque inns tucked amongst brilliant fall foliage, lobster rolls and lighthouses, and a revolutionary spirit behind the small-town charm – this is New England, and its old world reputation precedes it. Composed of the six states of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, New England is often thought of as a weekend spot for the affluent, not a destination for the budget-minded traveler. But good news for those who are longing to hike the Appalachian trail, or searching for the perfect bowl of clam chowder – the best experiences New England has to offer are easily accessible for all budgets. It’s absolutely possible to visit this historical region of America without breaking the bank, and we’re about to tell you how.

To start, consider when you want to visit. There is something exciting every season in New England, so high season is long.  May to August is when you’ll see lodging prices creep upwards, as this is the period when the blossoming gardens of the spring give way to exciting outdoor activities and festivals in the summer months. September is when travelers come from all over to see fall foliage, so lodging prices will skyrocket then, as well. It’ll be best to decide which activity is at the top of your list, and plan your stay around it.

There are tons of ways to hit the highlights of New England that are off the beaten path, making them more reasonably priced, and the same logic applies to lodging. Fancy hotels in city centres aren’t the way to go in New England – bed & breakfasts, inns, and AirBnBs are the way to go for a quaint experience at lower prices. Even hostels aren’t always cheaper than inns – prices shift with the seasons, so look around before you book.  

A trip to New England is the perfect opportunity to embark on your version of the great American road trip. Renting a car is without a doubt the most cost and time-efficient way to travel around New England. Driving through scenic highways, with the freedom to make stops for photo ops whenever you want is a priceless luxury that wouldn’t be possible if you’re waiting for public transportation in larger city centers. Having a car will help you make the most out of your trip, and you’ll save time and money in the long run coasting between states with ease.

Where to go in: Maine

Travelers flock to Maine for its rocky, lighthouse-dotted coastline and rich maritime history. While many venture to the popular Acadia National Park to experience Maine’s beautiful nature scenery, its steep $30 entrance fee is definitely deterring for travelers on a budget. Hit up Baxter State Park instead, where you can still catch incredible views without breaking the bank. There, scenic hikes up Mount Katahdin and rushing waterfalls await, and you can see the quintessential scenery of Maine without the price tag. Fresh seafood is readily available throughout the state, too, so you’re bound to find lobster rolls that are cheap and delicious for dinner. Take it to go and have a picnic – make sure you throw in a slice of blueberry pie for dessert, and you’ll be all set.

A white and red lighthouse on the water in Maine
Maine is famous for its picturesque coasts | © Frank McKenna/Unsplash

Where to go in: Massachusetts

Massachusetts is the state where you’ll get your American history fix. While it’s usually more cost-efficient to stay out of big cities if you’re on a budget, Boston happens to be one of the most budget-friendly cities in New England.  There’s no shortage of activities for the history buff, and many of them are absolutely free. A beautiful collegiate city, Boston has streets that are incredibly walkable. Visit the parks that are a part of the Emerald Necklace, a chain of green spaces that stretch across Boston including the Boston Commons, the Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. The Harborwalk is a great way to see the cityscape juxtaposed against Boston’s beautiful waterfront. For those who are looking for cultural enrichment, learn about 250 years of American history by walking the Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half mile path paved with a red brick stripe that connects sixteen nationally significant historic sites. When you pass Faneuil Hall, a Revolution-era marketplace and meeting hall known as the Cradle of Liberty, grab some chowder at neighboring Quincy Market, where you can find cheap eats. When you walk around the city, look for the public art that is all around – Boston is home to a great art scene, so you’re sure to find some gems.

Acorn Street in Boston
Explore America’s history in Boston | © Michael Browning/Unsplash

Where to go in: Rhode Island

New England is steeped in a rich art and literary tradition, and nowhere is it more inescapable than in Rhode Island. There’s tons of ways you can partake in this tradition without emptying your wallet. In Providence, visit the Providence Athenaeum, a public library that’s funded by its members and whose most famous visitors include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.  After that, walk down Benefit Street, a charming cobblestone street lined with historic Colonial homes. If you’re feeling artsy, the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design has an attached museum that opens its doors to patrons for free every Sunday and on the third Thursday evening of each month. Then, check out WaterFire, one of Rhode Island’s most spectacular art installations. Lastly, enjoy the stunning ocean view from Newport’s scenic Cliff Walk.

Newport, Rhode Island
Family-friendly beaches abound in Rhode Island | © Chloé Taranto/Unsplash

Where to go in: Vermont

Covered bridges, green mountains, and maple syrup are just three of Vermont’s biggest draws, and the good news is that you can do it all on a budget. With beautiful views of Lake Champlain in the summer and great skiing in the winter, there are plenty of great ways to see Vermont year round. Discover Vermont’s over 100 covered bridges on a driving tour, and take a scenic detour on one of Vermont’s scenic byways. Check out Quechee Gorge, formed by glacial activity thousands of years ago, and the breathtaking views below. If you’re looking for a quirky and inexpensive activity for the day, go to the Ben and Jerry’s factory for a tour, and visit the flavour graveyard, where you can marvel at flavours “dearly de-pinted.”

A person in a gold winter hat standing in front of fall foliage in Vermont
Vermont’s fall colours are legendary! | © Will Swann/Unsplash

Where to go in: New Hampshire

If you haven’t noticed, New England activities revolve around the outdoors, and New Hampshire is no different. With great ski resorts and beaches calling New Hampshire home, the state is in high demand all year. With the White Mountains in the background and Hampton Beach stretched out along the seashore, it’s a great place to be for nature lovers to find their zen. Climb Mount Monadnock on a moderate hike with stunning views that make it the most popular hike in New England – one that you might recognize by name from the works of Henry David Thoreau or Ralph Waldo Emerson. Go to Hampton Beach, a family-friendly stretch of sand where entrance is free and fun activities like sandsculpting, movies on the beach, and fireworks abound.

The White Mountains, New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s White Mountains | © Christian Collins/Flickr

Where to go in: Connecticut

Connecticut is perhaps most widely associated with being an offshoot of its neighbouring state, New York. However, it’s home to a rich cultural and intellectual scene in its own right, with the ivy-strewn walls of Yale University and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Admission to Yale might set you back a few hundred grand, but a tour of its grounds is free. Check out the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, as well. Connecticut is a great place for flower enthusiasts, making springtime a great place to visit. Fairfield’s Dogwood Festival brings visitors from all over to see the dogwood trees in bloom, and the daffodils unfurl into fields of yellow in Litchfield. The Elizabeth Park Rose Garden and Conservancy in Hartford is another botanical marvel, and makes for a wonderful afternoon of fragrant nature walks. Connecticut has a lot to offer, and it won’t take long for you to recognize its incredible natural beauty.

Yale University, Connecticut
Taking in gorgeous architecture at Yale doesn’t cost a cent! | © J.B. Hill/Flickr

What budget-cutting tips do you know about travelling in New England?

Melanie is a Toronto-based writer and editor who loves experiencing new things in new places. In between adventures, you can find her with her nose in a book, re-watching episodes of Friends, or on the lookout for her next favourite brunch spot.

A bright blue lake surrounded by mountains
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