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Big Travel Experiences with Smaller Price Tags

Your group doesn’t have to spend big to have big travel experiences.

It can be rather expensive to travel to some of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Visitors who want to take in the sights in Seattle; Orlando, Florida; New Orleans; Detroit; New York; or Boston should explore these well-placed suburbs that are destinations in their own right and that offer accommodations, retail shops and restaurants that are easier on the wallet.

Old Mandeville, Louisiana

Old Mandeville’s claim to fame is that it sits right across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Located in St. Tammany Parish, the historic town is just 40 minutes from the French Quarter. Old Mandeville offers everything that visitors to Louisiana expect, including wonderful Cajun cuisine and vibrant Creole history. Groups can also get out on the waters of the lake or look for wildlife on a scenic paddle trip on King Bayou or down the Bogue Falaya River.

Fontainbleau State Park in Old Mandeville is the most visited state park in Louisiana. Many visitors come to walk or bike the Tammany Trace, a rail trail in the park that connects five communities on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

Groups that want to learn more about the town can take a self-guided tour of 20 significant sites, among them the Jean Baptiste Lang House, one of just a few Anglo-Creole structures left in the area. It was built in the 1850s along the lake and served as a summer home for the original owner, who was a tobacco merchant. It was moved away from the shore to preserve it from flooding and now serves as a museum that tells the story of Old Mandeville.

The Dewdrop Social and Benevolent Hall was built in 1895 and is one of the oldest unaltered jazz halls in the world. Visitors who come during the spring and summer months can take in jazz concerts performed by New Orleans-based and local musicians. Visitors who want a taste of something different should stop at the Old Rail Brewing Company, which overlooks the Tammany Trace trailhead and offers specialties like tempura alligator, speckled trout and crawfish yaya pasta.

Kissimmee, Florida

Kissimmee is in central Florida, minutes away from Orlando International Airport. Known as the vacation home capital of the world, with more than 50,000 vacation homes and 70,000 accommodations, the area is easier on the budget than neighboring Orlando. It is well placed to visit the Walt Disney World Resort, the Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld and is also known for its eco-tourism and outdoor adventures.

Kissimmee is at the headwaters of the Everglades, making it a great place to explore the local waterways for alligators and other Florida wildlife. Central Florida is full of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams that all feed into the Everglades in the southern part of the state. Visitors to the area can see the waterways close-up by taking airboat tours or by renting a canoe or a kayak and paddling down Shingle Creek to see what wildlife they can spot along the creek’s banks.

Wild Florida is one of the main attractions in Kissimmee. The 85-acre safari park takes visitors past giraffes, zebras and other animals they can observe from the comfort of their vehicles. Gatorland gives visitors many opportunities to interact with some of the largest alligators and crocodiles in the world. Guests who are daredevils at heart can ride a zip line over 130 giant alligators. There are shows for the whole family, including the Gator Jumparoo show, which reveals just how far the creatures are willing to jump to get a taste of raw meat.

After experiencing theme park overload, many visitors to the area love some downtime. That could mean taking in the free Classic Car Show and Cruise on Saturday nights in Old Town or visiting the Promenade at Sunset Walk for a wide variety of restaurants and live entertainment. The Promenade is adjacent to the Margaritaville Resort Orlando.

Redmond, Washington

The home of Microsoft and other tech giants, Redmond, Washington, has become the destination it is because of its nerd culture. When Bill Gates set up his headquarters there, other tech giants followed suit. Facebook, Google, SpaceX and Nintendo all have offices there.

Situated between Seattle and Bellevue, Redmond makes a great base for anyone wanting to explore the area without staying in the middle of a bustling, concrete jungle. It also gives visitors the chance to see what all the techy fuss is about.

One of the premier destinations in Redmond is the Microsoft Visitor Center and Microsoft campus, which offers miles of trails and secret courtyards for the company’s employees and visitors to discover.

“We’ve grown as a mini Silicon Valley here,” said Peter Klauser, a spokesman for Experience Redmond. “It is so easy to access the big urban centers, but we are in the middle of glorious nature.”

Redmond is surrounded by parks, trails and water, and people who come here are passionate not just about technology but also about beer, bicycling and other outdoor activities. There are more bike trails in Redmond than anywhere else in Washington.

“We are the bicycle capital of the Northwest,” Klauser said.

There are 11 hotels in the area with nearly 1,700 rooms, ranging from budget to luxury. Redmond is also home to one of the only outdoor shopping centers in the state: the Redmond Town Center. Redmond is 40 minutes from a major ski resort, making the city a year-round destination.

Dearborn, Michigan

Just 10 miles from downtown Detroit, Dearborn, Michigan, is an affordable option outside the city. One of the most visited attractions in Michigan, the Henry Ford complex, is in Dearborn. It includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory.

At Greenfield Village, families can take a ride in a Model-T or visit four working farms. The village sits on 80 acres and has more than 80 historic structures to visit, including the laboratory where Thomas Edison created the lightbulb, the George Washington Carver house, the home where Henry Ford was born and Orville and Wilbur Wright’s bike shop.

For automobile lovers, the Ford Rouge Factory Tour shows visitors how the F-150 pickup truck is manufactured and allows them to visit the assembly plant. The Automotive Hall of Fame highlights the people behind the auto industry and the moguls who made a difference.

After a long day of sightseeing, visit Ford’s Garage, a car-themed restaurant that allows car geeks one more opportunity to look at car industry memorabilia while enjoying a nice meal. Dearborn is also a great base location for sports enthusiasts who want to attend sporting events in Detroit or visitors interested in learning more about the birthplace of Motown at the Motown Museum.

New London, Connecticut

The city of New London, Connecticut, is almost 400 years old, and because of that, it is always reinventing itself. Early settlers found prosperity in the whaling and oil industry. Today the city is an epicenter of marine manufacturing, ship and submarine building, and a regional arts and culture hub. Strategically placed within driving distance of Hartford, Connecticut; New York; Boston; and Providence, Rhode Island, the city is an affordable option for visitors who want to explore the area.

“When people come to New London, especially the waterfront, they are amazed to see how much activity is along the river,” said Felix Reyes, director of economic development and planning for the city.

The majority of America’s submarines are built in Groton, Connecticut, just across the Thames River from New London. The Submarine Force Library and Museum Association, home to the USS Nautilus, the nation’s first nuclear-powered submarine, is a must-visit.

People who love history will enjoy exploring Fort Trumbull State Park and Museum, which tells the story of the original fort built on that spot to protect the harbor from British attack, as well as the masonry fort that stands there today. They can also see the Coast Guard Eagle, a 295-foot-tall ship that makes its berth in the harbor. New London is also home to two world-class theaters — the Garde Arts Center and the Hygienic Art Theater — as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

New London is in the process of turning its downtown into a designated cultural arts district. The Hygienic, an outdoor amphitheater, is also home to artist studios. Downtown’s buildings, sidewalks and streets are covered in murals, and the area is full of street performers and live music. Beach lovers should spend at least one day at Ocean Beach Park, which has a boardwalk, arcades and other forms of family entertainment.