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How to Experience Culture on a Budget When You Travel

This blog post was updated on August 6, 2021.

There are plenty of factors that add to the high cost of a trip (including splurging on last minute flights), but participating in cultural activities doesn’t have to be one of them. From museum “donation days” to free musical and theater performances, there are plenty of tricks to enjoying a destination’s cultural scene without breaking the bank.

Here are our five suggestions to take in culture when you travel…without spending too much.

Look Up Museum Discounts


There are a bunch of ways to access museums across the country (and abroad!) at a reduced or free rate of admission. Most museums offer discounts or free admissions to students or teachers (be sure to bring your school ID). On “donation days,” visitors to the museum give a free will donation (instead of paying the full price of admission), which allows you to tailor the entrance fee to your budget. Some museums offer family days when the entire institution is free and open to the public. Typically there are also special activities — from tours to classes to performances — on these days as well. Finally, quite a few museums around the globe that are free year-round (many museums in Washington, D.C. have no entry fee).

You can check the websites of the museums you want to visit to figure out what discounts, if any, on admissions they offer, along with their scheduled discount days and then use that info to plan out your trip and not pay monumental prices to see some memorable art and history.

Go During Cultural Festivals


Depending on when you arrive at your destination, there may be some exciting cultural festivals happening. Summer festivals across the US and annual festivals across the globe offer a great opportunity to learn more about local culture and take advantage of the free celebrations, parades, concerts, art shows, and performances associated with them. The Holi Festival in India, which is famous for the public free-for-all of people throwing colored powered and water, for example, is fantastic fun and totally free.

Obviously, you’ll need to do a bit of advanced online research to find festivals and learn what will be going on while you are in town. But once you get there, it’s a good idea to ask locals what they like to see and do during the festivities — so you’ll have the inside scoop on leads on the best (and likely cheapest) things to do.

Attend Outdoor Performances


From music to dance to theater to performance art, there are many types of free performances to take in while visiting cities across the globe. Southern California, for instance, is well-known for its free “Shakespeare in the Park” performances and outdoor music concerts. Check out the social media pages and accounts for the public parks of your destination to learn about any free events that are scheduled so you can find last minute flights to these destinations.

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Check Out Local Café Shows


A fun, affordable way to experience live music is to head to a local café. Sip some java, enjoy tasty fare, and listen to up and coming musicians hone their craft. A trip to the capital of country music, Nashville, for example, isn’t really complete with some time spent hoping from café to café. Virtually every coffee shop in the music mecca has live music performances in the evening. It’s a similar scene in other musically famous cities, like New Orleans or Austin, and most guidebooks will direct you to the areas known for low-key live music venues and you can follow your ears from there.

Go to Gallery Openings & Art Studio Crawls


If you want to experience cutting edge art on a budget, head to a gallery opening or art crawl. There is typically no admission fee to these types of events. Sometimes the artists are even on hand to speak about their work and answer questions, which can be a great way to gain insight into the local art scene. If you do find cheap one-way flights to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis’ annual Art-A-Whirl gallery crawl is a prime example of such an event. Plenty of other cities around the world have similar events where hundreds of artists open their studios for viewing and purchasing.

About the author

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

An insatiable foodie, art collector, and international literature aficionado, I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada. For the past fifteen years, I have written about my adventures for various travel and literary publications. I am the owner of Lucidité Writing ( and Bouchard Design Co. (

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