10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2010
Each year, we pore over industry news and trends and dive through mounds of statistics to determine the world's new best-value destinations. Find out why our picks are more affordable than ever—and how to have fun once you get there.
Memorable moment: Hit the Stratosphere Tower to confront Insanity, the Ride, a mechanical arm that spins you at three g's while you dangle more than 900 feet in the air (stratospherehotel.com, admission $16, rides from $12), or head downtown for the wild light-and-laser show at the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block open-air pedestrian mall (vegasexperience.com, free).
Price check: As of December 2009, 43 casino hotels offered rooms for less than $40 a night, and seven had rates under $20. Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon is a no-frills favorite renowned for 99¢ margaritas (served 24/7) and midweek $40 rooms just off the Strip next to the Flamingo (billslasvegas.com). Even upscale should be cheap this year: Stay at the chic CityCenter's Vdara Hotel & Spa from $129 (citycenter.com).
Why in 2010: There's reason to celebrate, and also reason to get a little misty-eyed. This year marks Glacier's 100th anniversary as a national park, and festivities are sprinkled throughout the calendar. At the same time, it's hard to overlook the fact that the crusty old beauty of a park, located on 1 million acres in northwestern Montana, has changed a lot over the years: Only 26 of its namesake glaciers exist today, down from 150 in 1850. And if warming trends continue, estimates suggest there could be none by 2020. In other words, time to see the park in all its icy glory is running out. If you're heading to Glacier for its centennial, affordability is built-in, especially if you can drive there: A seven-day entry pass is $25 per vehicle in the summer (when the peaks are still capped in snow but most trails are suitable for hiking), and $15 in the winter, and low-cost lodgings and activities make our national parks a perennial choice for a cost-effective vacation.
Main events: While many specifics haven't been announced, the park is hosting special events between May and September, when much of the backcountry is accessible (glaciercentennial.org). Thus far, activities include epic group hikes to some of the highest summits; a folk-singing "Roadshow Hootenanny" at Many Glacier Hotel (glacierparkfoundation.org, July 29–Aug. 1, free), and heritage tours coordinated by Belton Chalet that re-create the early 1900s park experience via trains, horseback, and authentic 1930s-era red sedans, known to locals as jammer buses (beltonchalet.com, Aug. 18–23, fees not yet announced).
Memorable moment: Drive to one of the two main hubs, Apgar Transit Center or St. Mary Visitor Center, and hop a free shuttle to Logan Pass at the summit of Glacier's famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Start a moderately difficult, phenomenally scenic, 7.6-mile downhill hike along the Highline Trail. Panoramas of glaciers, meadows, and craggy peaks are guaranteed on all but the cloudiest days, and with any luck, you'll spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Price check: Glacier Park Lodge, a gorgeous early-1900s structure that incorporates immense fir and cedar columns—each 40 feet long and more than three feet in diameter—delivers $129 rooms and $159 family rooms for stays before June 17. After that, rates go up to $140 and $199, respectively (glacierparkinc.com). Two "fee-free" days are National Public Lands Day (September 25) and Veterans Day (November 11). Expect additional fee-free days to be announced. For updated park info, visit nps.gov/glac. Unless you live nearby, a rental car is a must-have, and economy-class rentals at nearby airports start at $270 per week (including taxes and fees).
Why in 2010: Yes, Mexico again. A year ago, we chose the country as a budget destination because of the strength of the U.S. dollar against the Mexican peso. In 2009, the dollar kept making headway, and in October it hit its most favorable point versus the peso in 16 years. In 2010, the value of the dollar is expected to remain strong. You can travel affordably across Mexico—to popular destinations like Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, for example. But the combination of water and land sports makes Baja California special. Exhibit A: The southern cape town of Cabo San Lucas is home to seven acclaimed public golf courses (including two designed by Jack Nicklaus) as well as several established deep-sea-fishing tour operators, who ply waters that have long attracted famous anglers like Ernest Hemingway.