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10 Inexpensive Things To Do in the South

America is the 3rd most popular country for tourists in the world behind only France and China. And let’s be real, if we didn’t make it such a pain in the ass to get a visa to come here, we’d likely be number one. Regardless, millions of people still come every year, but far too many keep their visits limited to popular places like California, New York City and Washington DC. Well, I have some news for everyone who only looks to the cities and left coast for a visit, the South has a lot to offer, and it starts with how nice the people are. World wide, Americans are known for being nice, and in a country known for its nice people, Southerns are known for being the nicest. With this in mind, many of the things on this list take advantage of Southern hospitality to help you save money and enjoy some interesting things about America you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. (Be prepared to make most of your accent to win people over.)

1. Go to a Tailgate Party. Estimated cost: $0

TailgateTailgates are a proud sporting tradition in America. They involve coming to a sporting event like a football or baseball game, or a NASCAR race early, like three or four hours early, sitting in the parking lot outside of the stadium and stuffing your face while getting your drink on. Tailgates are truly the best. When I was living in DC, we used to tailgate before baseball games all the time. However, the tailgating, which involved grilling, and lots of drinking games, usually ended up being so much fun that we never went in. So how much does all this cost? Well, I will assure any foreigner that if they simply show up to a game, walk around and talk to people, they’ll get all the food and drinks they can handle, and there’s no need to buy a ticket. Pro tip: tell anyone you’re talking to that you’re going for the same team they are. If fans of the two teams are pressing you to choose, choose the home team. (And yeah, it’s true that tailgates are done all over the country, but the people are nicer and the food is better in the South.)

2. Visit a Wal-Mart. Estimated cost: $0

wal57Yeah, Wal-Marts are everywhere in America, and they are worth a visit anywhere you might find one, but I can promise you that visiting one in the South will be more entertaining. Why you ask? Because of the people you’ll see. Don’t believe me, check out the website The people of Wal-Mart. Also notice how many of the pictures are from Southern states.

3. Get Some BBQ. Estimated cost: $2-20

imagesOK, this one will cost you some money, but since the South is the home of BBQ, it will be well-worth the cost. On top of that, each State will have their own take on it. There’s Memphis dry rub, Carolina pulled-pork and Texas pit BBQ to name but a few. And don’t even get me started on all the different sauces. Any restaurant worth a damn will have their own secret recipe.  When it comes to picking a BBQ joint, the smaller and more rundown the better. (Think Freddy’s on House of Cards.) The simple act of people buying food from a rundown place speaks to the fact that the food is good. Don’t sleep on local gas stations, hole-in-the-walls or back ally restaurants.

4. Ride in the Back of a Pickup Truck. Estimated cost: $0

Chevy_truckHopping in the back of a truck was something I loved to do every chance I got as a kid. But I never really appreciated it as being something unique until my family hosted a couple of French exchanges students when I was in middle school. They were both 18 and they damn near freaked out when one of our neighbors offered to give us a ride in his truck. They asked if they could ride in the back, jumped in and smiled the whole way. I assume other people might enjoy this, so why not try to get a ride while in the South where pickup trucks are kings.

5. Go Hiking:.Estimated Cost: $0 + Any equipment/snacks you decide to buy

4b39489f4f9b87966f2f8f0ee5489f98The Appalachian Trail (don’t worry, most non-Southerns can’t pronounce it right either) was the first of its kind trail system, in terms of length, and runs through the oldest mountain chain in the world. From Georgia to Maine, the 2,181 miles of the the world’s longest marked footpath has many fantastic vistas and view points, but many of the best are here in the South. More specifically, many of  the most scenic miles of the trail just so happen to be in my back yard. Between the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson National Forest and the Shenandoah Valley, you’ll be more than glad you strapped on your boots and took a walk in the woods. While there are plenty of worthwhile day hikes to enjoy along the AT, there are also plenty of free shelters set up on the trail that make it so you don’t even need to bring a tent if you wanna do an overnighter.

6. Shoot Some Guns. Estimated Cost: $0

fb2535f6759bf222fbe01d60f251adb0I am by no means a fan of guns. That said, I can’t deny that shooting them does come with a certain rush. Plus, I imagine many people visiting America might be interested in seeing a bit of our gun culture, which is always on display here in the South. How might a foreigner go about getting a chance to shoot a gun? Well, I’d say it’s as simple as getting out to a rural area, striking up a conversation, and simply bringing up the topic. Most of the country boys I know would love the chance to expose a foreigner to the joys of popping off a few rounds in the countryside. We’ll just ignore the fact that gun accidents are a huge problem and, for the sake of this article, just pretend guns are a wholesome form of entertainment.

7. Go to a Monster Truck Show. Estimated Cost: $10

monster_jam_elddiablo+truckIn the name of research, I actually went to my first Monster Truck Jam just a couple of weeks ago, and it was awesome! It combined the excitement of watching giant trucks jump over and smash little cars with the performance art of professional wrestling as the drivers and racers have very strong hero/villein personalities and don’t mind playing to the crowed. One additional price associated with this activity is the cost of ear plugs. But trust me, you’ll be glad you shelled out the extra two bucks for them.

8. Drink Moonshine. Estimated Cost: $0-20

moonshine_300xBack in the days of prohibition, when alcohol was constitutionally banned, people in the South took it upon themselves to start making their own, and they called it moonshine. It’s clear, strong and not very good, in my personal opinion, but it is a must try while in the South. Like a lot of other things on this list, gaining access to it requires befriending the locals, but once you do that, the moonshine will find you. It has this way of just popping up from time to time. If all else fails, head to the liquor store and buy yourself a bottle of Everclear. It’s mass produced moonshine and is so strong it’s banned in some states.

9. Eat Soul Food. Estimated cost:  $3-20

Fosters-Soul-Food.jpg-640I know, I already mentioned food, but the South is home to the best regional food in the entire US, so it only makes sense that it would be on here twice. When it comes to soul food, we’re not just talking about dinner fixens like fried chicken, macaroni&cheese, cornbread, collared greens and black eyed peas either, we’re talking about breakfast foods, too, like biscuits and gravy, grits and ho cakes. But don’t sleep on the pies, cobblers and sweet tea. The South doesn’t lead the way in obesity and diabetes for nothing. Following the same rules of looking for a good BBQ place, don’t shy away from the small, rundown-looking places that look busy.

10. Go to Church. Estimated Cost: $0

I’m not a religious man, but I do have some fond memories of visiting some black Southern Churches. The music will make you get up on your feet and clap your hands. And the energetic preacher will have you shouting hallelujah. In the end you might just view it as a good show, or you might find it moving, but either way you’ll be glad you witnessed a uniquely black American experience right in its place of birth. And don’t worry about the race thing. It’s church. All are welcomed and, your accent might just get you a front row seat. And if you’re really lucky, there might be some soul food in it for you after. My great-granddad’s church used to have Sunday dinner in the basement after his sermons.


Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

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