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These Are the Best U.S. Cities for Working Women in 2018

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

One could say today’s American woman is a working woman. In 2016, 57% of women participated in the workforce, up from 43.3% in 1970. Additionally, 42% of mothers were the primary breadwinners for their families, meaning they brought in at least half of their family’s earnings, according to a 2015 report from the Center for American Progress.

Although more women are in the workforce and supporting their families, women’s earnings have historically lagged against that of men. In 1987, the average working woman earned about 70% of a man’s income. In 2016, the gap narrowed, with women earning 82% of the average man’s earnings. But broad research doesn’t always paint the clearest picture. For example, more detailed wage gap analyses have found the wage gap is much worse among minority women, while the gap is slightly better for today’s younger women.

Despite these advances, women in the aggregate earn less money, cover more child care costs, hold fewer leadership positions and suffer more in earnings and work penalties related to maternity and parenthood than men do. Factors like median earnings and women in leadership contribute to a woman’s ability to progress in her earnings and career throughout her life.

With these factors in mind, MagnifyMoney analyzed and ranked the largest 50 U.S. metros to determine where the average working woman might have the best shot at equal pay and advancement in the workplace.

How we chose the best cities for working women

To see where working women seem to fare better, we took the 50 biggest metros in America and graded them based on the following factors:

  • The rate of women who are unemployed.
  • The rate of businesses with employees that are owned, either equally or entirely, by women.
  • The rate of people in management occupations who are women.
  • The percentage gap between median earnings for women and men (i.e. the wage gap).
  • The rate of women between the ages of 18 and 64 who have employer-based health insurance.
  • The percentage of median income required to pay for day care, because access to child care is essential for the ability to work outside of the home.
  • The percentage of the state’s legislature (or the District Council, in the case of Washington, D.C.) who are women.
  • The protections offered by states to pregnant women and working parents, such as state-funded paid parental leave, protection for taking off time to attend school events and mandated accommodations for pregnant women.

Key findings:

Washington, D.C., is the best metro for working women.
The nation’s capital earned the top spot in our ranking, with a final score of 72.8. It has a relatively narrow wage gap compared with the nation as a whole (15.4% vs. 20.4%), one-third of the district’s legislators are women and it ranked highest out of all 50 metros for the rate of women (43.6%) who hold management occupations in the workforce.

Detroit is the worst metro for working women.
Detroit scored a 33.9 on our index, indicating the metro isn’t the best place for a working woman’s earnings and career advancement. At 25.4%, Detroit ranks in 46th place in the rate of businesses owned by women and 46th place in the gender wage gap rankings. Detroit women earn at least 25% less than men on the dollar. However, the metro’s 6% unemployment rate for women is among the highest in our survey.

L.A. has the lowest wage gap. Los Angeles has the lowest wage gap of all 50 metros, at 10.1%. That’s compared to an average of 19.0% across all 50 metros. It’s followed by Tampa, Fla. (10.6%); Miami (12.7%); Denver (12.8%); and San Antonio (13.7%).

Seattle has the highest share of women-owned businesses, at 39.8%. It was followed behind by Phoenix (38.4%); Portland, Ore. (37.3%); Miami (36.2%) and Riverside, Calif. (35.4%). Across all 50 metros we studied, we found an average of just 31.2% of businesses are owned by women.

More women in management occupations may bode well for gender wage gaps.
Generally speaking, we found a metro’s earnings gap was narrower in metros with a relatively high number of women in management occupations. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen in our number one ranked city, Washington, D.C. We found 43.6% of managers in Washington are women, ranking it No. 1 in that category. And it scored the 10th lowest wage gap out of the 50 metros analyzed. Likewise, Sacramento (ranked No. 3 overall) had the 3rd highest proportion of women who are in management occupations, and the 7th lowest earnings gap, we found. Denver bucks the trend, however. It was among the worst ranking cities for women in management occupations (39 out of 50), but had the 4th smallest gender wage gap.

More than half of the states had no parental or pregnancy protections in place. We scored features like whether or not there was a law in place, the length of coverage the law allowed, if the law was limited by the size of the employer and if women had to jump through hoops like bring a doctor’s note to gain access to pregnancy protections. In addition to the four states that currently offer workers paid family leave, both Washington state and the District of Columbia enacted paid parental leave coverage in 2017, which will go into effect in 2020. Washington, D.C., will provide eight weeks of parental coverage and Washington state will offer 12, with up to an additional six weeks for a serious maternal health condition. New York state will also increase the length of their paid leave from the current eight weeks now, to 10 weeks in 2019, and 12 weeks in 2021.

California has the best parental and pregnancy protections. After evaluating all 50 largest metro areas, none of them scored a perfect 100, but California scored the highest at 57.

Download the complete findings here.

The 10 best U.S. metros for working women

(All metros were given a score out of 100)

1 — Washington, D.C.

Score: 72.8

The nation’s capital earned the top spot in the Best Cities for Working Women ranking, with a final score of 72.8. The capital ranks first out of all 50 cities when it comes to the percentage of managers who are women, with 43.6% of its management occupations filled by women.

What the Federal City does well

Overall, women earn about 15.4% less than men on the dollar, making the Federal City the 10th best in our wage gap rankings.

Health care for women in D.C. is comparatively better than in the majority of other major U.S. cities, too. Nearly seven in 10 women have employer-based health insurance — placing it 5th in that category overall — and the metro’s pregnancy and parental workplace protections earned it a score of 30. Overall, D.C. ranks 10th in pregnancy and parental workplace protections.

The district ranked 3rd in earnings for child care when compared with the other metro areas, as it takes one-fifth of a woman’s median earnings to cover day care costs.

D.C. ranks 24th overall in percentage of women who are unemployed. The Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey reports a 4.9% unemployment rate for women in the District of Columbia, significantly lower than the national 2016 rate for all U.S. women, 6.7%.

Where D.C. could use some improvement

Those strong characteristics make D.C. the best city overall for the working woman, but the city has a shortfall. D.C. lands in the middle of the rankings in women-owned businesses at No. 24. Women own about 32.4% of businesses in the nation’s capital.

2 — Minneapolis

Score: 66.4

With an overall score of 66.4, the larger of the twin cities, Minneapolis, is the second-best metro area in the nation for working women.

What Minneapolis does well

The city’s health care climate for women and its unemployment rate helped pushed it to the top of our rankings. It also benefited from the fact that the state of Minnesota has a high rate of women legislators. Nearly one-third (32.8%) of state legislators are women.

Good news for the working woman who considers having children one day: Minneapolis placed 11th overall based on state legislation in place for parental and pregnancy protection. Falling just behind D.C., it earned a parental and pregnancy workplace protection score of 29. If a woman has a day care-aged child, it would take about 23.1% of her median earnings to pay for day care in Minneapolis (No. 29).

The Mill City also has the lowest unemployment figures for women. With 2.9% of women unemployed, Minneapolis ties with Buffalo, N.Y., for lowest unemployment among all cities in the analysis.

Where Minneapolis could use some improvement

The City of Lakes generally ranks in the middle for women in business leadership, as 31.5% of women own businesses (No. 28) and 40.8% of its managers are women (No. 17). Possibly a reflection of fewer women in leadership, Minneapolis has a 19.7% gender wage gap, placing it 31st out of the 50 metro areas in that particular category.

3 — Sacramento, Calif.

Score: 66.2

California currently has the best coverage laws for mothers and pregnant women, boosting the Sacramento, Calif., metro area up on our list to No. 3 overall.

What Sacramento does well

The city’s parental and pregnancy workplace protections earned it a score of 57 according to MagnifyMoney’s index, the best of all cities in the data set. No state had a program that scored a perfect 100. The city falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to day care costs. Women in Sacramento would need to spend about 22.2% of their median earnings to put children in day care so they can get to work.

The City of Trees ranked third in the percentage of managers who are women (43.4%) and 11th overall in the percentage of women-owned businesses. Generally on track with people in management occupations, the median earnings gender wage gap in Sacramento is 14.6%.

The unemployment rate for women in Sacramento is 5.7%, according to 2016 five-year ACS estimates. That’s an entire point lower than the nation’s 6.7% unemployment rate for women.

Where Sacramento could use some improvement

Sacramento lands in the middle of the index — No. 24 — in its rate of women legislators, 22.5% of whom are women.

The city landed on the lower end of the spectrum for the percentage of women with employer-provided health insurance. About 61.4% of women in Sacramento obtain health insurance through their workplace (No. 34), which is slightly less than the group average of 63.1%.

4 — Denver

Score: 65.8

What Denver does well

The city boasts the 4th lowest gender wage gap at 12.8%. That’s significantly lower than not just the national average (20.4%) but across the 50 metros we analyzed (19%).

Nearly 40% of state legislators in Colorado are women, helping boost Denver to No. 2 in that category. Denver ranks 10th for women-owned businesses, as about 35% of businesses are owned by women.

The unemployment rate for women in Denver is a low 3.6%, according to 2016 five-year ACS estimates, placing it third in the category’s rankings. The city lands in the center of the category’s rankings (24th out of 50) for the percentage of women with employer-based health insurance. Just under two-thirds (64.7%) of women in Denver have health insurance through an employer.

Denver isn’t a bad city for a working woman with children, compared with other metro areas in our data set. The city ranks 12th on our scale for parental and pregnancy protections.

Where Denver could use some improvement

On the flip side, 39% of managers in Denver are women, pushing it to 39th place in that category. Ironically, since wage gaps tend to narrow with a rise in women in management occupations, Denver has one of the lowest wage gaps. It ranks 37th when it comes to how much of a woman’s median earnings is required to afford day care at 24.4%.

5 — San Francisco, Calif.

Score: 62.6

What San Fran does well

As noted earlier when we discussed Sacramento, California is the best state for parental and pregnancy workplace protections. The state scored a 57 in that category — the highest among all metros in our analysis — out of a possible 100.

San Francisco benefited from that high score, ranking 12th in the rate of the city’s businesses owned by women (34.3%) and 8th in the percentage of managers who are women (41.8%).

San Francisco also has a relatively low unemployment rate for women compared with the other metros in the analysis, at 4.4%, landing it 12th place in that category.

Where San Fran could use improvement

Once children are of day care age, it would take about 25.1% of a woman’s median salary to afford day care in the metro area. That’s considerably higher than the 50-metro average of 23%.

San Francisco may be among the top 10 when it comes to having women in management occupations, but that doesn’t translate into a narrower median earnings gender gap. The wage gap is in the middle of our pack in the analysis, landing it 21st out of 50 metro areas. Women in the area earn about 18.7% less than men, worse than the national wage gap of 20.4%.

6 — Seattle

Score: 62.1

What the Emerald City does well

Seattle is home the highest percentage of businesses owned by women of all the cities in our data set. Close to 40% of businesses in Seattle are equally or fully owned by women. Additionally, only 4.2% of women in Seattle are unemployed, placing it 8th among all metros in the category’s rankings.

The metro also benefits from Washington state’s comparatively high rate of women legislators — 37.4% — which is good enough to place it third overall in the category.

What could use improvement

The city ranks 19th for women in management with 40.7% of women in management occupations, and has one of the highest gender wage gaps in our analysis (ranked 44th) at 23.6%.

About 67% of women in Seattle get health insurance through an employer (15th overall). The city scored 18 in parental and pregnancy workplace protection, placing it in 16th place in the category overall. It takes nearly a quarter (24.8%) of women’s median earnings to pay for day care in Seattle, 38th in the category’s rankings.

7 — Baltimore

Score: 60.8

What Baltimore does well

The city scored strongly in its rate of women with employer-based health insurance, the rate of women in management positions and benefits from Maryland’s relatively high rate of female state legislators.

Most working women in Baltimore — about 68.2% — are on an employer-based health insurance plan. The comparatively high percentage of women on employer-based health plans places Baltimore 8th overall in the analysis of U.S. metros.

More than 42% of managers in Baltimore are women, placing the city in 7th place overall among the cities in our analysis.

The gender wage gap in Baltimore is slightly worse than the national average but slightly better than the average gap found among the 50 metros we analyzed. Compared with the national wage gap of about 20.4%, women in Baltimore earn 18.8% less than men in the metro area. Among all 50 metros, the wage gap was 19%.

Child care is slightly more affordable. It would take about 21% of a woman’s median earnings to pay for day care in the Baltimore metro area, compared with a 50-metro average of 23%. About 32% of Maryland’s state legislators are women, helping boost the Baltimore metro area to 11th overall in that category.

What needs improvement in Charm City

However, Baltimore ranked 19th among other metros in the quality of its parental and pregnancy workplace laws on the books. The city scored a 12 in the category compared with an average of 15 across all 50 metros.

About 30.8% of businesses in Baltimore are owned by women, lower than the 50-metro average of 31.2%.

8 — Providence, R.I.

Score 58.2

What Providence does well

A good portion of management occupations in Providence are filled by women. The city is ranked fifth among the other metro areas in our analysis, with 42.8% of managers who are women. The state of Rhode Island has a good percentage of women in state legislature, which helped boost Providence’s score. It ranks 12th in the category, with about 31% of state legislators who are women.

Providence also ranks in the top 10 for its legal protections for expectant parents and those with day care-aged children. The metro was ranked 9th out of 50 metros with a score of 40 in parental and pregnancy workplace protections.

What could use improvement in Providence

Day care doesn’t come cheap. Providence has the 10th highest day care cost among metros. It costs a little more than a quarter of a woman’s median earnings to afford day care in Providence.

The metro falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to the rate of businesses owned by women. It ranked 29th place out of 50 with 30.8%, slightly lower than the metro average of 31.2%.

Providence’s gender wage gap also needs work. The metro is ranked 33rd when compared with other areas in our analysis as women earn 19.9% less than their male counterparts.

9 — St. Louis

Score: 56.6

What St. Louis does well

Almost a third of Missouri’s state lawmakers are women, pushing St. Louis to 8th place in this category, and 35.2% of businesses are owned, either fully or equally, by women, which is the 6th highest among the 50 metros. The unemployment rate for women in 2016 was also relatively low at 4.4% (12th lowest), which may have something to do with the high rate of employer-based insurance for women. St. Louis has the 10th highest rate of women with workplace insurance at about 68%.

St. Louis also does pretty well relative to other cities in day care costs, requiring 21.7% of the median earnings for women to pay the average costs. St. Louis is in middle of the pack when it comes to the number of women in management occupations (40.4%), ranking 23rd of the cities we reviewed.

Where St. Louis could use some improvements

Unfortunately, that good showing of women in leadership positions doesn’t translate to more equitable earnings for women. Median income for women was 22.5% lower than for men in 2016, and only six other metros in the data set has a larger wage gap. The state of Missouri scored a zero on our parental and pregnancy workplace protection index.

10 — Kansas City, Mo.

Score: 56.5

What Kansas City does well

The city’s ranking is largely helped by Missouri’s high rate of women in state legislature. In Missouri, nearly one in three members — 32.8% — of the state’s legislators are women.

About one-third (33.2%) of businesses in the metro area are owned by women, which is slightly better than other metros analyzed, which had an average of 31.2%.

The unemployment rate for women in Kansas City is lower compared with other metro areas in the data set. With an unemployment rate of 4.3%, the city ranks 10th in the rate of women who are unemployed.

Kansas City also has a decent rate of managers who are women. The metro area ranks 17th out of 50 for the percentage of managers who are women. About 40.8% of managers in Kansas City are women, right on par with a 40.2% average for all 50 metros.

Where Kansas City could use improvements

Kansas City is one of many cities that scored zero in parental and pregnancy workplace protections on the books in our analysis, thanks to a complete lack of state laws that provide these specific kinds of coverage.

Like in Seattle, ownership and workplace leadership do not seem to translate into higher wages for women in Kansas City, Mo.

The city ranks 43rd with a median earnings gender gap of 21.7%, higher than both the 50-metro average of 19% and national average of 20.4%.

The worst metros for working women



Final score





Memphis, Tenn.



Oklahoma City



Charlotte, N.C.



Birmingham, Ala.















Salt Lake City



Each of the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) was ranked against each other, on a scale 100, on eight factors relevant to women’s ability to achieve financial and professional success in the workplace.

Each MSAs scaled result was derived from the following formula for each, individual factor: 1 x 100, and rounded to one decimal point).

The results for each factor were then added together, and the sum was divided by eight (rounded to one decimal point), for the highest possible score of 100 and the lowest possible score of 0. The actual highest score was 72.8 and the lowest 33.9.

The eight factors are:

  • Employment. The percent of women who are unemployed, as reported in the American Community Survey 2016 (five-year estimate) from the U.S. Census Bureau (“2016 ACS”).
  • Health care. The percent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 (inclusive) who have employer-based health insurance, as reported by 2016 ACS.
  • Business ownership. Percent of businesses with employees that are owned, either wholly or equally, by women, derived from the 2015 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Management positions. Percent of people in management occupations who are women, derived from 2016 ACS.
  • Wage gap. Gap, as a percent, between median earnings of men and women, derived from 2016 ACS.
  • Child care. The average cost of in-center child care, as a percent of median earnings for women. Day care costs were reported in “The Care Index” from New America and, and median earnings were reported by 2016 ACS.
  • Representation. The percent of elected state (or district) legislators who are women, as reported by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics, Council of District of Columbia, and the Tennessee General Assembly legislator web pages. Since we’re working on the MSA level, which can cover multiple municipalities and counties, we opted to review women’s representation at the state level.
  • Workplace protections. State pregnancy and parental workplace protections were scored on the following bases. The highest possible score was 100 points and the lowest was zero. The highest actual score was 57 and the lowest actual score was zero.
    • Paid leave: the number of paid parental leave weeks covered by the state, divided by a maximum of 12 weeks, up to 50 points.
    • Pregnancy accommodation protections: each MSA was granted six points, for a possible total of 30 points, for the following:
      • the existence of such a law, 2) if the law covers both public and private employees,
      • if the covers all employers, regardless of size,
      • if the law doesn’t allow employers to require medical documentation for accommodations (three points were awarded if employers could not ask for documentation for some, but not all accommodations, such as bathroom and water breaks),
      • if the law doesn’t allow for an “undue hardship” exemption for employers (three points were awarded if the undue hardship exemption could not be applied to certain accommodations, such as bathroom and water breaks).
    • Allowable time off to attend school events: the number of hours spent at a child’s school, per year, for which a parent cannot be fired, divided by a maximum of 40 hours, up to 20 points.

For the sake of clarity, each metro name is the first city and state listed in the MSA title, which we understand to be the most populous component of each MSA. The Care Index (child care costs) refers Norfolk, Va., which we associate with the Virginia Beach MSA.


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Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at

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Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at

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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – Domestic Edition

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.


If one of your resolutions for 2019 is to travel more, but you fear that finances will hold you back, have a little hope: there are plenty of destinations across the country that are still very affordable to visit. As fun as major tourist destinations like San Francisco and New York City are, let’s be honest — accommodation alone can cost a fortune.

When you’re on a tight budget, it’s easier to make travel a reality when you choose lesser-known locations where the cost of activities and lodging are still reasonable. If you’re willing to make a budget in advance to ensure you’re regularly setting aside money for travel, you’ll be able to hit the road even sooner.

Another way to make vacations more affordable is to get a travel credit card, said Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston. If you get a travel rewards card and use it for your everyday purchases, such as gas, your car payment or groceries, and pay it off right away, you’ll quickly earn points without accruing any debt. Depending on the card you choose, you could earn free hotel stays, free car rentals or free flights.

Now you just need to figure out where to go. We spoke to several budget travel experts to find out the best places in the U.S. you can cheaply travel to in 2019. Here are their six top destinations that are still somewhat off-the-beaten-path and won’t break the bank. (All hotel prices are from and accurate at the time of publication.)


Albuquerque, New Mexico  

Cost of accommodations: Throughout the year, you can get a three-star hotel room for about $85 to $100. If you’re willing to stay at a one- or two-star motel, you can nab a room for around $40 to $50 per night.

Why go: Albuquerque is one of the top spots Mathis said she’s eyeing for 2019, in large part because it’s such a friendly spot for budget travelers. It’s also known for its distinct Southwestern feel and sunny weather. If you love the outdoors, Albuquerque is brimming with scenic hiking and bike trails that range in cost from free to only about $20 to use, making it an affordable way to explore the beautiful terrain.

There are also several museums in Albuquerque, and plenty of shopping if you’re on the hunt for Southwestern-style art, jewelry or souvenirs. Just west of the city, you’ll find the Petroglyph National Monument, where you can view ancient lava flows, petrified wood and rock drawings by Native Americans and Spanish settlers, dating back as far as 700 years ago. It’s free to enter, and parking is only $1 on weekdays and $2 on weekends.

It’s also typically affordable to fly into and stay in Albuquerque — according to Mathis, “they have tons of small hotels that will be a better price than the big chain hotels, and they give you a more local feel,” Southwest offers nonstop flights from many cities to Albuquerque, she added; for example, she recently saw nonstop flights in February from Houston to Albuquerque for $250, which she says is a great deal.

“To me, a budget trip is anywhere I can go for less than $500 with flight and hotel included for the weekend,” Mathis said, “and with Albuquerque, you can definitely do that.”


Bloomington, Indiana

Cost of accommodations: A three-star hotel room is available for as low as about $80 per night, while some two-star motels offer rooms as cheap as about $50 per night.

Why go: “I have a passion for college towns — I find they often are more progressive and innovative than their larger neighbors — and Bloomington is one that makes me swoon,” said Kristin Luna, a budget-minded travel journalist and founder of the travel blog Not to be confused with Bloomington, Ill., this town is about an hour’s drive from Indianapolis, which is typically the cheapest airport to fly into, according to Luna.

“It’s also located in proximity to so many great outdoor attractions such as Monroe Lake, Amy Weingartner Branigin Peninsula Preserve and Hoosier National Forest,” Luna explained.  “Another free and unique offering is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, which was started in Bloomington in 1979 by an exile named Thubten Jigme Norbu, to protect the heritage of Buddhism,” she added.

Luna also noted that since it’s a college town, Bloomington has plenty of seasonal activities, such as Indiana University football in the fall or the city’s long-standing Little 500 bike race in the spring. She added that Bloomington has an ever-expanding greenway called “the B-line” that cuts through town and is extremely bike-friendly, though the town is also easy to navigate with the newly-popular electric scooters.


Fargo, North Dakota

Cost of accommodations: It’s possible to grab a two-star motel room in Fargo for less than $50 per night. The average nightly rate for a three-star hotel here is around $90.

Why go: Fargo may be famous for the Coen Brothers’ cult classic film, but it’s also a great up-and-coming destination for budget travelers seeking something off the beaten path. Mathis said North Dakota is on Mathis’ radar for next year, and it’s especially an ideal destination for travelers who love nature. North Dakota has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, camping, fishing, horseback riding and just about any other outdoor activity you can think of.

Fargo and many other towns in North Dakota are also known for charming small-town bars, where you can get a true feel for the city, noted Mathis. There are also a few small breweries in Fargo, in addition to great shopping.

The town also has cultural institutions, including art museums, an air museum and a historic theater. A few minutes away, just across the river and the Minnesota border, you can visit the Hjemkomst Center for only $10, where you can see a replica of a viking ship and a “Stave Church,” a replica of a Norwegian church from the 1100s. And of course, you can see the infamous wood chipper from “Fargo” the movie; it’s free to see the original movie prop, located in the city’s visitor center.

Fargo is growing, but it’s still not a well-known tourist destination, Mathis noted, so it’s affordable, uncrowded, and still feels very authentic.


Knoxville, Tennessee

Cost of accommodations: Budget travelers can find two-star motels in Knoxville for as low as around $50 per night, and three-star hotel rooms for around $80 per night.

Why go: “I grew up just south of Nashville, but if we’re being honest, I would live in Knoxville if I had the choice,” Luna said. “Like many mid-sized cities across the United States, it has a booming brew scene, a dedication to the arts and a sprawling town square that has been completely revitalized from when I was a student there 15 years ago and almost all the storefronts were boarded up.”

As Luna noted, The Old City, Fourth & Gill and Market Square neighborhoods have all undergone major makeovers, which has brought life and investment into these areas. But despite its growth, Knoxville is still a very affordable place to visit.

“Free attractions such as Ijams Nature Center and its quarries, and many hiking and mountain-biking trails connecting to the nearby Smokies, make Knoxville a popular destination among budget travelers who like adventure,” Luna explained. She added that whiskey lovers will enjoy that two Tennessee Whiskey Trail stops are located in downtown Knoxville (Knox Whiskey Works and Post Modern Spirits), and there are several others only a half-hour drive away.

Knoxville also has plenty of museums, memorials and parks that cost nothing to visit. There are also many walking and driving tours that are also totally free — you can take a walking tour to learn about country music, a driving tour to learn about the civil war and much more.


Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Cost of accommodations: You can get a motel room for as little as $30 to $45 per night in Oklahoma City. If you’re looking for a step up, three-star hotels average just under $100 per night, but can be as little as about $45.

Why go: As a centrally-located city, flights from hubs like Dallas or Denver to Oklahoma City are cheap, according to Luna. Plus, she added, as a mid-sized metropolis, Luna has found there’s virtually no traffic, and boutique hotels and parking that won’t break the bank.

“The food and drink scene is positively booming — Bon Appetit even picked America’s best new restaurant of the year from OKC,” Luna said. “In fact, one of the nation’s first brewery hotels is set to debut in 2020.” She added that a new streetcar launched in the city in December, which makes it really convenient for tourists to get around town. The city has also spearheaded other improvement projects, noted Luna, such as “the Boathouse District, an amazing attraction for visitors that includes an urban whitewater rafting course, canoeing and kayaking on the river, ziplining and a whole lot more.” On top of that, she has noticed that the locals there are some of the friendliest, most hospitable folks she’s ever met.

Another popular area in Oklahoma City is Bricktown, a fun entertainment district where old warehouses have been turned into restaurants, shops, piano lounges and wine bars. There’s even a water taxi that can take you on a tour along the Bricktown Canal.


Oxford, Mississippi

Cost of accommodations: You can land a three-star hotel for around $90 per night, or one- and two-star hotel and motel options for only $45 to $75.

Why go: “While many people have a negative connotation about Mississippi — and yes, it’s a little complicated politically — I think it’s one of the most underrated and underappreciated states,” said Matt Kepnes, who writes the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and authored the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”.

According to Kepnes, the state is rife with rich history, the people are friendly and the Southern food is fantastic. Oxford is home to the campus of the University of Mississippi (known as “Ole Miss”), described by Kepnes as a beautiful (and free) place to explore. Right across from campus is Rowan Oak, former home of famed writer William Faulkner, which costs only $5 to visit.

If you want to take a road trip across the state, there’s plenty to see, according to Kepnes — and it’s all easy on a budget. A trip through the Mississippi Delta delivers a journey through incredible blues music, and he noted that it’s also worth a stop in the beautiful city of Natchez. Kepnes also loves the coastal town of Biloxi, which has great seafood, a beautiful beach and many casinos with very affordable hotel rooms. The Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic national park trail that goes up through Mississippi, is also worth a visit. It’s 444 miles long — it also passes through Alabama and into Tennessee, ending close to Nashville — and takes you along gorgeous drives.

“I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Mississippi,” Kepnes said. “I know some other travel writers who didn’t want to go, but once they did, they were surprised by how much they liked it.”

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Emily Starbuck Gerson
Emily Starbuck Gerson |

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here


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6 Budget-Friendly Places to Put On Your 2019 Travel List – International Edition

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best airline credit cards

Do you have dreams of collecting passport stamps but fear international travel is beyond your budget? You might be surprised what you can afford with some smart strategies.

If you’re willing to spend time budgeting and saving, stay in hostels and visit destinations that are off the beaten path — and therefore less expensive — it’s easy to travel internationally on a shoestring.

Another way to lesson the cost of travel is to regularly use travel credit cards. Deidre Mathis, a budget travel expert and writer, and owner of Wanderstay Hostel in Houston, said she uses her Delta credit card for everyday essentials, then pays it off right away. “I was able accumulate enough points to book a flight to go to Spain next year for free. This was just from using my credit card to pay for things I would have bought anyway,” Mathis said.

“Of course, if there’s an annual fee, you have to look into it and see if it makes sense,” Mathis explained. “For this card, it does make sense, because a normal flight to Spain from Houston can range from $900 to $1400, so an annual fee of $200 is totally worth it because I got the free flight.” If a long-haul flight is your main budgetary concern, racking up points on a travel credit card could be your ticket to ride. Plus, many travel credit cards offer huge sign-up bonuses that start you off with a large balance of reward points.

Now, where to go with all those points? We interviewed several budget travel experts to find out which countries are best for budget travelers. If you’re resolved to travel more in 2019, here are six of the most interesting and affordable spots around the globe. (All hostel prices come from, are presented in U.S. dollars and are accurate at time of publication.)



Cost of accommodations: The average price for a night at a hostel in Buenos Aires is an affordable $17.47. The average price of hostels in most other cities are only $10 to $20 per night, though there are some outliers, like Cordoba at $9.67 or El Calafate at $51.09.

Why go: “There’s never been a better time to visit Argentina,” said Johnny Ward, an entrepreneur who runs the hugely successful travel blog OneStep4Ward. Originally from Ireland, Ward currently lives in Thailand, and through savvy budget traveling, has visited every country on earth (seriously, he’s been to all 197). “Unfortunately, their economy is struggling a touch, but that means it’s a very cheap time to visit and explore,” Ward said.

He adds that long-distance buses in the country are like business class flights, with glasses of Malbec starting around $1 a pop. With a great bus system, it’s easy to explore the country, which has vibrant cities like Buenos Aires, in addition to areas of natural wonder, such as Patagonia.

To experience the best of Argentina on a budget, Ward suggests flying in and out of Buenos Aires. “Then, bus up to Iguazu Falls and back to Buenos Aires,” he said, “before getting those hiking boots dusted off and exploring majestic Patagonia, with Bariloche and El Calafate particular highlights.”



Cost of accommodations: Of the most popular cities, hostels are cheapest in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, with an average price per night of $6.99. Bansko is the most expensive, at an average of $18.82 per night.

Why go: “Bulgaria is not often picked on top travel lists, but it’s a great country for budget travelers because it’s inexpensive and it’s not on the euro,” said Matt Kepnes, blogger behind the popular budget travel blog Nomadic Matt and author of the book “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.”

According to Kepnes, Bulgaria has plenty of rich history, the beautiful Black Sea, delicious Mediterranean-style cuisine, friendly people and plenty of mountains ideal for hiking. “Plus, it’s sort of off the beaten path, so you won’t find the huge crowds of Prague when you’re going to Sofia,” he added. “And it’s affordable; as a backpacker, you can get by on around $35 a day. If you’re traveling on a slightly larger budget, you can get by pretty comfortably for $50-$60 day doing anything you wanted, eating anything you wanted and staying in an Airbnb or cheap hotel.”



Cost of accommodations: Hostels in Reykjavik are around $84 per night on average, but in most other cities, the average prices are closer to $30 to $50 per night.

Why go: While travel to Iceland has surged in popularity in recent years, it can still be an affordable place to visit if you know how to do it right, Mathis said. Known for its otherworldly landscapes and jaw-dropping geysers, waterfalls and lagoons, it’s the perfect place for outdoors-lovers (and adventurous eaters — fermented shark, anyone?).

Flights are often the greatest expense of an international trip, but not in this case: Mathis recommended looking at WOW Air, a budget airline that offers flights to Iceland from major U.S. cities for as little as $100 to $200 round-trip, on which Mathis was able to score a $200 flight. “Though Iceland isn’t super cheap once you get there, getting there is incredibly cheap, so it gives you more flexibility to use that money for something else,” she explained.

In addition to hostels, Mathis noted that the country has many Airbnbs that help you save money, as compared to a hotel. The other trick to budget travel in Iceland is to avoid public transportation, which is very expensive — “just rent a car and drive that for the time there, and you’ll save a lot of money on transportation,” she recommended.



Cost of accommodations: In six of the most popular cities in Macedonia, hostels range from an average of only $7 to $17 per night.

Why go: “France, Italy and Germany are all a little played out — head east, save a fortune and explore Macedonia,” Ward recommended, noting that you can easily get meals for $7 in the country.

He said the country’s capital, Skopje, is idyllic, with Old European architecture and boutique hotels for a fraction of the price of Western Europe. Skopje is home to the Old Bazaar, a great place to shop and find cheap eats. The city is also home to the Memorial House of Mother Theresa, who was born there — the house is on the site of the former church where she was baptized.

“Then head to Lake Ohrid for a truly relaxing time,” Ward added. “The water is clearer than you imagine, and there won’t be hordes of tourists, I can promise you that!”

The Lake Ohrid region has been named a world heritage site by UNESCO, and the charming town of Ohrid is the location of one of Europe’s oldest human settlements. The area has the oldest Slav monastery, built starting in the 7th century, and hundreds of Byzantine-style icons from the 11th to 14th centuries.


The Philippines

Cost of accommodations: You can score a hostel bed in Manila for an average price of $9.08. Hostels in other cities range from a mere $6 to $14 per night.

Why go: “South East Asia draws in so many tourists, but most don’t make it beyond Thailand or Vietnam,” said Ward. “For an additional hour or so you can explore the Philippines — all 7,000 islands of it!” Domestic flights within the Philippines can be as cheap as $40, he added, “so you can island-hop until your heart’s content.”

Ward thinks Manila, the capital, isn’t much to write home about, but from there, you can take a short, cheap flight to the “World’s Most Beautiful Island” of Palawan. From there, he recommended, “head north to El Nido and Coron for the kind of blue seas and limestone cliffs you’ve used as a screensaver for years.” According to Ward, you can nab some delicious street food and a cold beer for about $2, and if you get a cheap hotel on the beach, you can get away with only having to spend $30 to $50 per day.


South Korea

Cost of accommodations: In Seoul, the average price of a night at a hostel is only $15.68. In other popular cities, the average prices range from a mere $14 to $21 per night.

Why go: According to Kepnes, so many travelers get excited about Japan, but they often overlook South Korea: “South Korea is an underrated place,” he  explained. “Not a lot of people go there, but it’s fascinating.”

He pointed to the incredible Korean food, rich history, excellent museums, beautiful palaces, K-pop music and the booming tech scene. Plus, if you’re a history and politics buff, you can take a guided half-day tour of the The Demilitarized Zone — the infamous border between South and North Korea — for as little as $40.

Kepnes is especially a fan of Seoul, which he described as an affordable city that many people miss out on.

“It’s like a cheap Tokyo,” he explained. “You could go out there and go eat Korean BBQ and drink to your heart’s content, and then pay only $10.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Emily Starbuck Gerson |

Emily Starbuck Gerson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Emily here