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Traveling to Miami on a Budget

Author: Andrew Jackson

Miami is a favorite playground for the rich and famous, but you can enjoy the city even if you are not a member of the 1%. Cheap airfare is easy to find, particularly with some flexibility on dates and times, and especially if you are willing to land in a nearby city, such as Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach. For lodging, while the most luxurious hotels on South Beach cost a fortune, throughout Miami, there is lodging that runs a broad price gamut. As long as you do not mind a short drive to the beaches and nightlife, you can find an inexpensive place to stay. Best of all, you do not have to break the bank to have fun. If you eschew the overpriced South Beach nightclubs and focus on the bountiful free recreation the city offers, then a Miami vacation is no more expensive than visiting a typical American city.

Traveling to Miami

Miami has the benefit of being situated near three major international airports. The Miami International Airport, located right in the city, is the obvious choice. Depending on where you are coming from, however, it may not be the cheapest. Flying into the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport puts you not much more than a 30-minute drive to downtown Miami on a good traffic day. Another hour up the road in West Palm Beach is the Palm Beach International Airport.

If finding the absolute cheapest flight is of paramount importance, check all three airports. Several of the low-fare airlines, such as Allegiant Air and Spirit Air, do brisk business in Fort Lauderdale. If you live near an airport serviced by Allegiant or Spirit, check them out first. Renting a car will be necessary if you fly into Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach and do not have someone to pick you up. There are several websites and mobile apps to help you find a great car rental deal.

Lodging

Staying in a trendy part of the city, such as South Beach, Brickell or Coconut Grove, is going to cost you. Though you might be spending most of your time in those places, they are not where you want to stay on a budget. Reserving a hotel away from the city's hotspots will save you money. Do not worry; your daily drive to the tourist destinations shouldn't be bad. Like all big cities, Miami has traffic, but its grid layout and smart urban planning make driving more palatable than in sprawl-plagued cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is ensuring your hotel is in a safe area. Miami's crime rate has dropped precipitously since the "Miami Vice" days of the 1980s, but you should still avoid certain areas after dark. Statistically, the neighborhoods with the highest violent crime are Liberty City, Overtown, Opa-locka and parts of Hialeah. Tourists should avoid these areas. Instead, check out Aventura, Kendall, Coral Gables, West Miami and Hallandale Beach. All of these are suburbs with low-to-moderate crime rates and cheaper lodging cheaper than in Miami's trendy urban core.

Entertainment

Miami offers abundant sunshine, 12 months of warm weather and a vibrant urban core. If you cannot have fun in Miami, even on a budget, you cannot have fun anywhere. Even South Beach and Coconut Grove are doable without emptying your bank account, provided you stay out of the clubs and pricey restaurants.

The easiest way to save money in Miami is to jettison the mindset that because you are on vacation, you have to eat every meal out. Miami restaurants can and will bust your budget to smithereens. Eat at chain restaurants or even better, buy groceries to cook in your hotel. Then, if your destination is Coconut Grove, look for a fun but reasonably priced bar or pub to enjoy a few drinks or dessert. If you are headed to South Beach, park a few blocks from the beach as parking is much cheaper that way, and the flat landscape makes the walk easy. Then, take a stroll along the shoreline, which costs nothing.

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