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5 Affordable, Underrated Travel Destinations in the U.S.

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Major airlines are cutting their fares to keep up with the competition, making travel more affordable and accessible than ever. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami are known for their tourism, but why not check out a hidden gem that's yet to be overrun with tourists? These under-the-radar destinations have all the amenities of a travel-friendly city without the crazy crowds and tourist traps—and your dollar will get you further, to boot.

1. CLEVELAND, OHIO

Nestled on the coast of Lake Erie, Cleveland is undergoing a travel renaissance. Since 2011, over $3.5 billion has been spent on visitor-related infrastructure investments, says Nick Urig of Destination Cleveland. “What some still think is just a stop on the interstate is home to some of the country’s most renowned cultural institutions, quirkiest museums, [famed] sports teams, and most-visited green spaces,” Urig tells mental_floss.

In particular, Downtown Cleveland has transformed significantly in recent years. In its first few months of opening, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown was booked solid during the Republican National Convention and Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals. “And with the World Series having happened just steps from the hotel, we know we will only see the numbers of visitors and events in the city continue to rise,” Stuart Foster, VP of global brand marketing for Hilton, tells mental_floss. “As a Cleveland native, it’s incredible to see all the transformation happening in this great city.”

It’s also affordable. According to Kayak, median flight prices to the city from the U.S. and Canada are 22 percent lower than they were in 2015, and median hotel rates are under $250 a night. When visiting, you’ll want to make time for the West Side Market, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the only nationally recognized art museums to offer free admission to its permanent collection, which features more than 45,000 pieces of art from artists like Dali, Monet, and Warhol,” Urig says.

2. BOISE, IDAHO

“Boise is often called a ‘mini Austin’ for its similar characteristics: laid-back, outdoorsy, hills and rivers in the city, identical capitol buildings,” says Erin Bulcher, Content Manager at FareCompare.com. Domestic round-trip flights to Boise are about $350 on average, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Once you get there, you can stretch your dollar by taking advantage of Boise's many free outdoor activities. With the Boise River running straight through it, the city offers amazing fishing, whitewater rafting, and scenic views. “Boise is a place you can hike or ride a bike in the hills, come off the trail and hit up a pizza joint or grab a drink at a local bar,” Bulcher says. She recommends simply walking the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile trail that follows the river and passes through museums, golf courses, and beautiful scenery.

3. PORTLAND, MAINE

The East Coast’s version of Portland is a charming city with small-town vibes, and it’s definitely worth a visit. “What used to be a place to pass through on the way up Maine's rugged coast is now packed with a week's worth of must-try restaurants and brews,” says David Solomito, VP of NA Marketing at Kayak. “Dining options abound but traditionalists like to stop by the foodie haunt that started it all: Fore Street.”

Known worldwide, the gourmet restaurant opened in 1996 a block from the waterfront in Portland's Old Port District. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Port features cobblestone streets and 19th century buildings, but it’s also known for its bustling nightlife. You can take a walk down the city's main drag, Congress Street, to check out the many bars, shops, and art.

If you prefer to stay outside of the hub, check out Portland’s historic West End—and better yet, stay in a classic New England bed and breakfast (the Pomegranate Inn is a fun option). Once you're fed and rested, head to the Portland Museum of Art, which is free every Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and $15 otherwise. And of course, you have to see a lighthouse or two in Portland; for that, you can drive up the coast and stop at the gorgeous Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park.

4. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

It’s probably best known for being home to the Alamo, a must-see historic mission that sits smack-dab in the middle of San Antonio’s downtown area, but there’s a lot more to the city than that. The San Antonio Riverwalk, for example, stretches through downtown and is lined with restaurants, galleries, and hotels. “While everyone remembers the Alamo, they often forget about San Antonio,” Solomito says. “The city defines Tex-Mex culture, so be sure to head to Rosario's, or another of the city’s many great restaurants, for an authentic taste.”

“Recently the city is seeing a bigger travel surge because it's a smaller city of Texas but has all the Southwestern charm,” says Jennifer Buglione of Texas-based public relations firm Giant NoiseYou’ll want to check out the McNay Art Museum, San Fernando Cathedral, and for a little kitschy fun, the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. For a more upscale experience, try the Paramour, a swanky rooftop bar close to the Museum of Art in Downtown San Antonio; compared to the price of fancy cocktails in New York and L.A., the $12 drinks here will feel like a steal.

5. MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

Let’s face it, when you think getaway, you probably don’t think of Minnesota. However, Minneapolis is a gorgeous outdoorsy city known for its music and theater—and since it’s still considered under-the-radar, it’s generally pretty affordable.

Visitors shouldn't miss the Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall within the city limits; it is arguably even more beautiful in the winter when the Falls freeze over. And art lovers should be sure to check out the Walker Art Center or Midway Contemporary Art Gallery. If you choose to stay at the Le Méridien Chambers Minneapolis, the hotel will give you free entry to many of the museums around the city. For a more upscale experience, stay at the The Foshay, the W's Minneapolis location (you can still snag a room and breakfast for less than $200 per night). Both hotels also offer complimentary biking tours of the city.

Kayak also named Minneapolis one of their Top 10 cities to visit for New Year's Eve. Median flights for late December and January are around $285, and hotels are less than $200. It’s cold in the winter, yes, but Minneapolis has an 11-mile interlocking skyway system that spans a whopping 69 city blocks, so you’re covered (literally).

All images courtesy of iStock.

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Before Bitcoin: The Rise and Fall of Flooz E-Currency
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In the late 1990s, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Spencer Waxman was in Morocco on holiday when he heard an Arabic slang term for money—flooz—that stuck with him. In the dot-com boom taking place back in the United States, URLs with obscure etymology were popular. When Waxman and partner Robert Levitan decided to co-found a novel way of disrupting the online commerce industry, calling it Flooz.com was almost a foregone conclusion.

What Levitan and Waxman envisioned was a virtual gift certificate that would drive business to participating online retailers, give consumers some sense of security over their private information, and make shopping for stubbornly gift-resistant recipients easy. Rather than merely offering cyber currency, this was a service with purpose.

Unfortunately, it was also one that was doomed to fail.

A screen capture of Flooz.com
Flooz.com

Non-cash currency has been with us since the Chinese used cowry shells to sort out debt for goods and services more than 3000 years ago. In the 1960s, credit cards became an alluring alternative to saving and carrying paper bills. When online retailing exploded in the 1990s, it was only natural that startups would begin to explore virtual payment methods.

At the time, digital transactions were perceived by many consumers to be a near-guarantee of identity theft. Handing a card to a vendor in a closed-loop retail environment was one thing, but the thought of hackers seizing their information once it was entered into the borderless environment of the internet kept many away from online shopping.

As it turns out, that paranoia would turn out to be justified in our current climate of constant data breaches. It was also good for businesses hoping to turn their apprehension over credit card security into a monetized solution. Flooz.com debuted in 1999, just one year after another currency-based URL, Beanz.com, had garnered press. Beanz were a kind of earned points system, with approved transactions gifting customers with redeemable gift vouchers. Flooz took a different approach: Customers would sign up to Flooz.com and purchase gift certificates for specific retailers, which they could then use themselves or pass along to a gift recipient via email.

For businesses, it was a way of driving traffic to sites; for consumers, it was a way to keep credit card transactions limited to one vendor; for Flooz.com, being the intermediary meant taking a 15 to 20 percent cut of completed transactions on the selected retail sites, which ranged from Godiva Chocolates to Barnes & Noble and Tower Records.

To help Flooz.com cut through online marketing noise, Levitan enlisted actress Whoopi Goldberg to be their spokesperson. In exchange for company shares and Flooz.com money, Goldberg led an $8 million ad campaign for radio, television, and print that extolled the benefits of using Flooz.com.

Whether it was Goldberg’s pitch or the concept itself, Flooz.com met with a receptive audience. The company debuted in the fall of 1999, and had opened 125,000 accounts by January 2000. That year, roughly $25 million in Flooz.com money was purchased and used. (In a nod to the impenetrable vocabulary of the internet at the time, the media loved to point out that Beanz could be used to purchase Flooz.)

Bolstered by the attention and early success, Flooz.com was eventually able to raise $35 million in venture capital. Consumers could meet their gifting obligations by emailing a code to their gift recipient without having to waste time shopping. For a time, it appeared Flooz.com would become a leading method of payment for online transactions.

Actress and Flooz.com spokesperson Whoopi Goldberg is photographed during a public appearance
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But it didn’t take long for the seams in the Flooz.com model to show. While gifting vouchers to family and friends was convenient for the gifter, the giftee was stuck with a very limited number of vendors that took Flooz.com as payment. If Amazon, for example, had a deal on a DVD or book that Barnes & Noble didn’t, Flooz users were out of luck. Shopping for a bargain wasn’t possible.

The second and most crippling detail was one Flooz.com was forced to make in order to strike deals with vendors. The company guaranteed its transactions, meaning that it would make good on orders even if Flooz dollars had been purchased via fraudulent means. By the summer of 2001, that commitment became a tipping point. Agents from the FBI informed Levitan that they suspected a ring of Russian hackers had purchased $300,000 worth of Flooz in order to launder funds from stolen credit cards.

This created a paralyzing cash flow problem: As their credit card processor withheld funds until Flooz.com could secure the transaction, people were still busy redeeming Flooz dollars they had already spent. Retailers then looked for Flooz.com to reimburse them. Suddenly, customers trying to pay with Flooz were greeted with error messages that the site was down.

Those issues, coupled with the fact that corporate clients had already started to move away from gifting employees with Flooz dollars, forced Flooz.com to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in August 2001. Court papers cited almost $14 million in liability. (Beanz.com was also a casualty of the dot-com bust, when participating retailers processing the points steadily went out of business.)

Levitan rebounded, founding the Pando file sharing network and selling it to Microsoft in 2011 for $11 million. Meanwhile, Flooz.com remains a barely-remembered footnote in e-currency, though it would be hard to chart the rise of digital funds like Bitcoin without it. Like with so many other good ideas, timing is everything.

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These Are the Top 25 U.S. Cities With the Lowest Cost of Living
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Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco bustle with excitement, but residents pay plenty of hard-earned cash to enjoy perks like Central Park and world-class museums—and to pay their sky-high rents. If you’d rather have a full bank account than a hipster ZIP code, consider setting down roots in America’s most affordable region: the Midwest.

Niche, a data analysis company, has ranked the 25 cities with the lowest cost of living across the United States—and the top 10 are all located in America’s heartland. Their selections were based on factors including access to affordable housing, food and fuel costs, and median tax rates, all of which were gleaned from U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Indiana was the most-represented state in the list’s top 10 section, with Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend nabbing the first three spots. The remaining cities were mid-sized metropolitan areas in Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, all of which offer urban conveniences at a fraction of the cost of their coastal counterparts. After that, other cities in the mix included municipalities in Texas, Michigan, Alabama, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Check out Niche's top 25 list below, and visit their website to view their methodology.

1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
2. Evansville, Indiana
3. South Bend, Indiana
4. Topeka, Kansas
5. Toledo, Ohio
6. Wichita, Kansas
7. Akron, Ohio
8. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
9. Davenport, Iowa
10. Springfield, Illinois
11. Rochester, Minnesota
12. Dayton, Ohio
13. Springfield, Missouri
14. Wichita Falls, Texas
15. Kansas City, Kansas
16. Odessa, Texas
17. Cleveland, Ohio
18. Indianapolis, Indiana
19. Abilene, Texas
20. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
21. Montgomery, Alabama
22. Lansing, Michigan
23. Des Moines, Iowa
24. Brownsville, Texas
25. Warren, Michigan

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