VACATION IDEAS

11 Bucket List Adventures You Can Actually Afford

Think dream trips to Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China are financially out of your reach? Think again. We've got the inside scoop on these and other super-affordable bucket list items—like hot air ballooning in Albuquerque and taking a jeep safari ride through the buffalo herds in Custer State Park—that are great for every budget.

Visiting the Great Wall of China

Another must-do bucket list item is making a pilgrimage to the Great Wall of China. I know, you're thinking it's going to cost too much to go all the way there, right? Luckily, there are some really great travel deals, packages that include airfare, hotels, and guided trips to the Great Wall from Beijing—if you know where to look. China Spree has a package to Beijing from San Francisco, L.A., Houston, or New York City, starting at $888 per person for an eight-day trip including round-trip airfare, six nights' accommodations in a four-star hotel, an extensive sightseeing program including a guided day-trip to the Great Wall, most meals, and all taxes and fees. Another package by China Spree gives you airfare from the U.S., a total of seven nights' accommodations, many of the same tour perks as the Beijing trip (including the Great Wall day-trip), and tacks on tours and time in Shanghai, from $999 per person for a 9-day trip. The best part: no matter which one you choose, you'll only be spending about $111 per person per day, including airfare.

UNDER $200 (per person per day)

A hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque

Hot air ballooning is not just a fun bucket list item in Albuquerque—it's a way of life, and it's fairly affordable compared to hot air ballooning opportunities in other parts of the world. Rainbow Ryders operates out of Albuquerque and Phoenix, offering sunrise and sunset flights where you can watch the intricate process that takes place as the enormous balloon is inflated and set up by the team before taking off on your 3.5-hour epic adventure high above the city. A special treat the Albuquerque crew likes to do is called a "splash and dash," where the balloon is lowered onto the surface of the Rio Grande, briefly skims the surface, floats along the river, and dashes back up to the height it just came from. Hot air balloon rides in Albuquerque start from $159 for adults (they're currently running a fall special but rates are normally $195 per adult), $125 for teens ages 13-17, and $99 for children ages 5-12. Adults riding in Phoenix pay $149 as part of their fall special. If you'd rather watch from the sidelines, be sure to visit this part of New Mexico during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a phenomenal festival held every year in early October that features thousands of colorful hot air balloons with participants from all over the world.

A scenic train ride through the Alaska wilderness

While an Alaska vacation may seem pretty far away both geographically and financially, the Alaska Railroad is trying to make it easier to turn that dream trip into a reality. Like many sought-after locations, it's a good idea to travel during the shoulder season, and in this case, that's during May and September, to make your trip more affordable and experience the destination when crowds and temperatures are more tolerable. Alaska Railroad offers a variety of vacation deals, but our favorite is the Just the Basics package, a five-day adventure available June thru September each year. Upon arrival in Anchorage, you'll spend the night in town, giving you a chance to explore the area, visit local sites like the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, or go for a scenic walk along the Tony Knowles Coastal trail. Next, you'll ride the rails of the Denali Star Train from Anchorage to Talkeetna and spend the night in rustic cabins surrounded by the spectacular Alaskan wilderness before continuing the next day to Denali. Spend a day checking out the wildlife and views of Denali National Park before returning to Anchorage later the next day. Adults pay $839 per person, and children pay $189 per person for the five-day, five-night package in September; packages June thru August start at $899 per adult and $219 per child. Packages do not include airfare and start at roughly $168 per person per day.

Snorkeling Australia's Great Barrier Reef

The world's largest coral reef definitely deserves a spot on our list. Keep an eye out for airline sales to Australia that usually happen during the shoulder seasons (remember, if it's fall up here, it's spring down under), and once you snag the perfect flight, the rest is easy thanks to a great travel package by G Adventures, East Coast Encompassed: Sydney to Cairns. This 17-day joyride up the eastern coast of Austraila includes a tour of the Hunter Valley winery with a wine tasting, a chance to pan for gold at a working mine, time to explore Yuraygir National Park and Byron Bay, a hippie surfer's paradise. You'll get to see Australia's Gold Coast, visit Brisbane and Fraser Island, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and spend a three days sailing around the scenic Whitsunday Islands before hopping a train to Cairns, and experiencing the rich culture of the Aboriginal people. Package is priced from $2,999 per person excluding airfare for a 17-day trip, breaking down to about $176 per person per day.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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