Budget Graduation Trips in the American South

Fallen magnolia blooms, drifting on the air with the leaves from 300-year-old oaks surrounding grand antebellum plantation homes while regal ladies sip tea from covered porches. The American South is a true land of enchantment, weaving fantasies of days slow as molasses and sweeter than honey. While the old, deep South may still evoke that sense of relaxed life, it's sure to prove itself lively, exciting, and full of joie de vivre, the perfect combination for your graduation trip. Inspire your new future with a budget trip to one of these fabulous destinations in the American South.


Churchill Downs Entrance Shutterstock

Louisville, KY

Kentucky's largest city is home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby horse race where all the elegant people turn out to bet on their favorite ponies, but it has so much more than that.  Art and culture will lead you to Conrad's Castle, a historic Victorian house museum, or touring Old Louisville and the stately antebellum homes like Locust Grove. Of course, if on your graduation trip, you want to explore nature, look into the giant Mega Cavern, or for excitement, Louisville has you covered with Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, the Louisville Zoo, and the Louisville Palace for concerts and performances.

Budget Tip: The Filson Museum, Carnegie Center for Art and History, 851 Mansion, and the Louisville Nature Center are all free, all the time.

Charlotte, NC

Home to everything from the NASCAR Hall of Fame to amusement parks, animal sanctuaries, and historic sites, Charlotte knows how to entertain guests. Carowinds theme park is one of the country's best budget amusement parks while Discovery Place wows visitors with a science and technology museum along with a world-class aquarium. The natural beauty of North Carolina is preserved in places like the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary, and the public city parks like Marshall Park and The Green. Check out the culture at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art or Levine Museum of the New South, a history museum focusing on post-Civil War North Carolina.

start your senior trip today

Budget Tip: This beautiful city offers free concerts outside Discovery Place, free admission to the UNCC Botanical Gardens, the Billy Graham Library, and Reed Gold Mine where you can pan for gold for just $2 if you wish.

Raleigh, NC

As old as it is, Raleigh has evolved with the times to maintain its history but look to a better, brighter, more exciting future. Sites like the Mordecai House, Yates Mill, and Montfort Hall are all inspirational historic landmarks open for touring while many people find the TWC Music Pavilion, PNC Arena, and Pullen Park to be more their style. Check out the free North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to see the state's natural treasures like the Venus Flytrap plants and the now extinct Carolina parakeet. The North Carolina Museum of Art (free), North Carolina Museum of History, and shopping at Crabtree Valley Mall are recommended as well.

Budget Tip: The JC Raulston Arboretum is free of charge as are parks like Yates Mill, Pullen Park, and Umstead State Park.

Charleston, SC

This grand belle still maintains her elegant southern charm with beautifully preserved historic districts, cobblestone streets, and stately manors surrounded by magnolia trees. History is everywhere in Charleston and is clearly evident in attractions like Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, 18th-century plantations on the Ashley River. The Civil War history is not far behind with sites including the H.L. Hunley Confederate submarine, Fort Moultrie, the Confederate Museum, and Fort Sumter, the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War. Also make sure you visit the City Market, Waterfront Park, and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens on your visit.

Budget Tip: Pleasant climates means you don't have to spend money to be entertained indoors. Spend your time touring the city on foot, which won't cost you a penny, window shopping along King Street or strolling through Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.


It may be saying too much to place the entire state of Florida on this list, but there are too many destinations to choose from. Orlando has all of your favorite theme parks from Walt Disney World to Universal Studios, each of which has discount hotels located outside the park grounds to cut down on costs. On the other hand, cities like Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami offer unique Cuban influences and a vibrant, youthful atmosphere and St. Augustine and the Florida Keys are more laid back, historic and picturesque. Choose a city based on your desired activity. If you want to relax on the beach, pick Miami or the Keys, if you want excitement and entertainment, choose Orlando, and so on.

start your senior trip today

Budget Tip: Downtown Disney in Orlando is free to visit, you don't need a Disney admission ticket to peruse the shops and taste the excellent dining. Likewise, Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Miami Beach, and tours of St. Augustine's pirate-looted Pena Peck House are all free and several museums across the state offer free days and discounts for students.


One of the most beautiful, historic cities in the country is also one of the most affordable. Savannah's oak-lined city squares, preserved mansions, and flawless appearance make her a highly popular vacation destination. Civil War history lives on at Fort James Jackson and Georgia's queenly architecture survives in the historic district and homes like the landmark Mercer-Williams home - inspiration for the novel and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Make sure you walk down River Street to window shop and taste the delicious southern plates or hop a street over to Bay Street to view the old Masonic Temple, grand parks, and take a tour of the Moon River Brewery.

Budget Tip: Bonaventure Cemetery, Forsyth Park, Fort Pulaski, all ferry rides around the historic district and neighboring islands, and trips to Tybee Island's beach are free of charge and wonderful itinerary add-ons.