10 to Watch
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2009
BudgetTravel.com reveals the best value hotspots for the New Year.
Price check: If you plan wisely, free admissions should yield huge savings for your family. To save even more, fly into Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) airport, roughly an hour's ride by Amtrak rail or by public transportation to D.C.'s Union Station. Southwest's strong presence at BWI makes fares more competitive than those at the more central Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Why in 2009: The Aloha State received positive, high-profile press coverage when president-elect Barack Obama recently visited, but it's still hurting from the downtown of the national economy. This always-popular destination saw about a 10 percent drop in visitors in 2008, a statistic that represents a tourism drought for Hawaii. Tour operators are responding by aggressively discounting un-booked rooms and car rentals and bundling them into packages. As we enter 2009, there are remarkable package deals, air inclusive, from both the west and east coasts.
To save a bundle, consider a timeshare rental instead of a standard hotel stay. Rental rates are dropping to as low as $100 a night for beautiful properties, says Timeshare Users Group (tug2.net), a site tracking timeshare rental inventory in Hawaii and elsewhere. Many of the timeshare properties are owned by people who are now anxious about making their mortgage payments, and you can rent their spacious units at a significant discount, without listening to any sales spiels.
Main events: It's Hawaii—beaches, volcanoes, and luaus will continue to be the big draws. But this year marks Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood, and a party is planned at the Capitol for March 18 (free, hawaii.gov/statehood). Obama watchers can take a do-it-yourself tour of the president-elects's childhood haunts by using a map from Obamasneighborhood.com; or hop on a two-and-a-half-hour bus tour of his grade school, the Baskin-Robbins where he once worked, and several picnic spots that he loved (Guides of Oahu, obamatourhawaii.com, $40 per person).
Memorable moment: Have a mai tai made the right way at the Royal Hawaiian, a landmark pink hotel in Waikiki Beach. It's a beautiful spot for watching the surfers wipe out and the sun go down—and taking in live Hawaiian music and hula dancing. 2259 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, 808/923-7311, mai tai from $14.
Price check: Pleasant Holidays has numerous Hawaii promotions, including three-night air/hotel packages starting at $427 per person from Los Angeles and $472 per person from San Francisco (pleasantholidays.net). Apple Vacations also has deals, such as a recent offer for six-night stays at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, including a $150 per-room voucher for meals at Sheraton restaurants. The package rates begin at $999 (applevacations.com, from Baltimore, Newark, and other airports).
The financial crisis has weakened currencies around the globe against the U.S. dollar. Although predicting currency trends is a tricky business, Hungary, Iceland, and Mexico should remain bargains for U.S. visitors in the coming year.
Why in 2009: Budapest has become the sort of expat haven that Prague was in the '90s, back before the Czech capital's cafés started charging $4 for an espresso and tour groups suddenly outnumbered locals. Recently, the U.S dollar has surged in hard-hit Hungary, gaining 30 percent against the declining local currency, the forint. In addition to savoring the city's glorious art nouveau architecture, anchored by the imposing Museum of Applied Arts in the center of town, you can shop in the well-preserved Great Market Hall, explore the miles of caves under Castle District (former hideouts for soldiers during wartime), and catch a show at the Hungarian State Opera House, where standing-room tickets go for only $2.
Main events: Budapest's monthly design market WAMP is well on the way to renown as an international fashion destination. The market, which spotlights contemporary handcrafts, jewelry, prints, and other items from Hungarian craftsmen, is held in the summer and fall in Erzsébet Square and in winter at Gödör Klub (wamp.hu/en, free). Hungary's two largest cultural and foodie events are the Budapest Spring Festival, a collection of 200 free and ticketed concert music performances (festivalcity.hu), and fall's 18th Budapest International Wine Festival, which encompasses tastings and workshops at Buda Castle (winefestival.hu, free).