10 Cheap Summer Vacations for Students

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Traveling as a student is both pain and gain. Between student loans and not working full time, students generally need to pinch every penny and live on seriously small budgets, especially while on the road. But travel expands intellectual horizons and teaches lessons that can't be learned from books. These 10 travel destinations -- all culturally diverse communities with rich creative environments -- offer students free and inexpensive activities that should appeal across disciplines and interests.

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The nation's capital is one of the best destinations for students of all ages. With numerous colleges and universities in and around the District, there is a vibrant and diverse nightlife and a bounty of student culture. Many of the museums, including the National Gallery of Art and those that are part of the Smithsonian Institution, offer days' worth of free exploration. The city also features a bike-sharing program for easy and inexpensive transportation and a free concert series in the summer.

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If you're looking for a Caribbean vibe, San Juan is a good and inexpensive option. Roundtrip airfare from the East Coast starts at about $350, and accommodations are as low as $22 a night. The Yunque National Rain Forest offers hours of escape into nature at no charge when explored on your own (don't fall for the expensive tour options). Some of the best and cheapest food to be had is available from street and beachfront vendors.

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Wilmington combines the best of beach life and a burgeoning creative downtown scene. The universities in the area give it a college-town feel, even when school is out. There are free concerts on the weekend and access to the beach and boardwalks also is gratis. Accommodations within walking distance to the beach are as low as $35 a night, including Internet, cable, and pool access; discounts for large groups are available at some hotels.

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San Miguel De Allende should be for a go-to destination for any art student thanks to a thriving art colony and several art schools, many with international exchange programs. Roundtrip flights from the East Coast cost about $350 as little as two weeks in advance. An ample meal with beverage averages about $10 and lodging goes for about $60 a night for double occupancy. The dollar-to-peso ratio of 1 to 15 offers Americans a grand opportunity for a cheap visit south of the border.

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Vacationers eager for a mountain getaway will find few places whose beauty compares with the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The Lake Placid region offers remoteness in a natural setting with modern-day comforts and conveniences. There are a multitude of options for hiking and camping; a weeklong stay in a campsite for four people averages just $11 a day.

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Enjoy the ancient architectural glories and brush up on Latin American history at Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take advantage of any student discount airfare, even if that means making stops along the way or being flexible with travel dates; getting to the site is by far the most expensive part of the trip, with roundtrip airfare running starting at about $600 plus another $40 for a three-hour rail ride. Entrance to the site and the museum is discounted to $24 for students (compared with $84 otherwise). Nearby lodging starts at $41 a night for double occupancy.

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With living costs 11 percent below the national average, according to Kiplinger, this city is a bargain for student travelers. Many attractions are free, including The Alamo, the Japanese Tea Garden, the River Walk, and museums on certain days of the week. Lodging is inexpensive -- as low as $55 a night for double occupancy.

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Buenos Aires is a showcase for European influence and style within a Latin American context. Visitors can trek to some of the finest wine regions in the world as well as beautiful natural parks, including Iguazu Falls near the border with Brazil. In town, wander through art museums and gawk at world-renowned street graffiti. Roundtrip flights start at just over $600; booking on airlines that offer student discounts, such as Lufthansa's GenerationFly and Southwest's AirTran U, can lower the cost. Accommodations can be found for less than $35 a night for double occupancy.

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Students who love country music, barbeque, and saving money should put Nashvile at the top of their destination list. The epicenter of the country music scene, Nashville is full of cafes and venues where you can catch rising stars for a small cover charge or food/drink minimum; The Blue Bird Cafe is a local favorite. Groove to more music with free lawn parties and the Live on the Green music festival. There's no charge at many museums, including the Agricultural Museum, State Museum, and The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson; tours of the Dickel Whiskey Distillery are also free. Hotels start at $30 a night.

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A dangerously fun city for college students, New Orleans is known for strong drinks, all-night bars, first-class music, and deliciously cheap food. The sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art is free on Wednesdays, and the parades and outdoor concerts are free all the time. A stroll along Bourbon Street is no-cost entertainment, with a side of history and cultural diversity. A drink at a bar runs about $4 during happy hour, and an overflowing bowl of rich gumbo costs about the same. Lodging at hotels near the city center starts at about $43 a night for double occupancy.