5 Vacation Destinations That Cost Less Than $500

By Natalie Boesch
In Culture

Most people fly when they travel, but airline tickets can be pricey–especially for last-minute vacations. But there’s another underrated option: rails! If you’re traveling within the US, avoid the airport and take advantage of the Amtrak train system for cheaper prices and better views.

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Image courtesy of Stocksnap

1/ San Francisco, CA
If you don’t feel like flying and waiting out layovers for 20 hours, plane tickets to San Francisco can cost over $300. Instead of forking up that hard-to-come-by cash, save your money to spend in the city and take the California Zephyr line from Chicago to Emeryville, CA for as little as $133 (not including the $27 it costs to get from St. Louis to Chicago). There are buses at the Emeryville station that connect to San Francisco. The only downside? The trip takes more than two days to make. But the seats are spacious and comfortable, there’s a dining car and Amtrak cites the journey as one of the most beautiful train routes in the country. You’ll ride straight through both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. Worth it!

2/  Denver, CO
California Zephyr, the same line that connects Chicago to Emeryville, also stops in Denver for as low as $94, about half the price of the cheapest plane ticket available through momondo.com. Hike right into the Rocky Mountains instead of just seeing them through the window.

3/ New Orleans, LA
Migrate south this winter on the City of New Orleans line for just $104. You’ll have to backtrack both ways a bit as the line doesn’t connect in St. Louis. Catch a cheap train up to Chicago and start your trip from there. The long ride won’t seem as grueling with hot showers and fine dining.

4/ New York City
Start in Chicago, take the Cardinal line through the gorgeous Southeast and end at Penn Station in NYC for only $85! Soak in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and West Virginia’s white-water rivers before you explore the streets of the big city. The train offers free Wi-Fi, so the day-long trip will give you time to get some work done or Netflix-binge.

5/ Washington, D.C.
Both the Cardinal and the Capitol Limited lines can get you from Chicago to our country’s capital. The Cardinal line is cheaper ($78 instead of $98 for Capitol Limited) and the route is more scenic, but trains only run three times a week. Take the Capitol Limited line through the Potomac Valley for more flexibility.

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