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.

Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru
(Kseniya Ragozina/Dreamstime)

UNDER $100 (per person)

Hiking a volcano and walking on a dried lava field in Hawaii

Remember all those earth science classes you took about volcanoes and lava rocks? Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the real thing in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera—don't miss the Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way—there's also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano, that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $10 per vehicle that enters the park, or $5 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Don't forget to get a park map from staff on your way into the park, and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you're viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available, as are park ranger-led walking tours, but be sure to check the website for updates on volcanic activity in the park before you head out. Always stick to the marked paths and never try to get closer to the lava, no matter how great you think your photo might turn out. You're still on an active volcano, after all.

About an hour's drive outside the park along Highway 130 in Puna is the entrance to Kalapana, a town that was completely covered by a 1990 lava flow. Miraculously, no one was injured and the town actually got together and hauled their church to a nearby town to escape the wrath of Hawaiian volcano goddess, Pele—you can still visit the Star of the Sea Painted Church today, now located along Highway 130 just before Kaimu Park. Park your car where the road ends (it's literally blocked by a wall of hardened lava), grab a sturdy pair of shoes, and go for a hike on the dried lava field. The hike can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours depending on how much of a hurry you're in, but it's best to tread lightly and slowly, as lava can be very sharp if you fall. The trail, which ends at a gorgeous black sand beach (swimming is not permitted due to the proximity to the active volcano, Kilauea) is open daily from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Parking and hiking are free, thought the last car is allowed to park at 8 p.m., so plan accordingly and bring a flashlight if you plan to do the hike at night.

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Zorbing in New Zealand

Americans first encountered zorbing—the art of rolling and bouncing down a hill while inside a giant, hamster-wheel-like plastic ball contraption—when teams competing on The Amazing Race a few years ago faced it on TV as one of their big challenges. An adrenaline junkie's dream come true, Zorbing has been popular since 1997 and is definitely one of those "only in New Zealand" types of experiences to write home about. You have two options: Zydro, a sort of water-ride version of the Zorb, and Zorbit, the dry version. Zorb Rotorua then offers four track options and eight ride variations—some strap in just one person, others up to three for a crazy head-over-heels trip down the half-mile track. Prices for one Zorb ride (either wet or dry) are $45 per person; pay $70 for two people to ride in the same globe; pay $90 for one person to ride three times.

Zip lining over alligators in St. Augustine, Fla.

While regular zip lining may already give you a heckuva rush, there's nothing quite like zip lining and completing an aerial obstacle course over a park full of crocodiles, alligators, and hundreds of other reptiles. At the St. Augustine Alligator Farm's Crocodile Crossing, located along Florida's northeast coast just outside the historic town of St. Augustine, you can do just that. Not to worry, everything is totally safe. (I have to admit I was a little skeptical myself when I tried this, but figured the bragging rights and bucket list story would be more than worth it in the end). You are trained by the experts before you go about how all the ropes and pulley systems work, and even get to do a small practice zip line before you set off on your adventure. Choose from the 45-minute long Sepik River Course that takes you 20 feet up and gives you three zip lines to go through, or the longer, higher, 90-minute Nile River Course, an aerial obstacle course 60 feet above the park that takes you through a total of nine zip lines. (The 45-minute course costs $30 per person while the 90-minute course costs $65 per person). Both courses are self-led, but there are trainers beneath you to come to the rescue should you get stuck or require assistance. Once my knees stopped shaking (I wasn't used to being so high up), I tried to concentrate on the view around me and not on the giant, toothy reptiles underfoot, and had a great time!

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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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