10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2012
Your annual guide to the year's biggest savings—from deeply discounted tours to favorable exchange rates to the cheapest five-star hotel rooms around (as low as $112!)—in some of the world's most appealing vacation spots.
Price Check: Winter nonstops can be had for as little as $628 from New York to Warsaw (LOT Air), but for just a bit more cash (and one connection), you can enjoy September's much milder weather. A recent search turned up one-stop flights from New York for $756 (Continental) and from Chicago for $528 (LOT Air), or for $1,010 from Los Angeles (Air New Zealand).
Why in 2012: The arrival in Taiwan of the first mainland Chinese tourists last June (not counting supervised tours) marked a turning point for this onetime Chinese territory—a sign that a longtime political stalemate might finally be thawing. It also brought an influx of tourism revenue and a renewed interest in this Pacific island's assets. The cosmopolitan capital city has an emerging culinary scene (world-famous chef Joël Robuchon opened a Taipei restaurant in November 2009) and plenty of snazzy new construction, while the surrounding countryside offers lush hot springs, majestic mountains, and golden-sand beaches. To cater to the new visitors, Taiwan's government launched the new TaiwanTourist Bus Travel Service, which runs cheap day trips to several island attractions, such as an excursion to Taiwan's alpine Sun Moon Lake that includes a cable-car ride, a boat tour, and electric-scooter rental (taiwantrip.com.tw, day trips from $11). And while a recent bump in U.S. visitors to Asia has caused hotel prices elsewhere on the continent to jump 4 percent—rates in South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore have all spiked—Taipei's rooms are 11 percent cheaper than they were in 2010, with an average rate of $144 per night.
Best Time to Visit: May through August are Taipei's wettest months, with rainfall averaging eight inches; summer is sweltering and humid. October and November are much more pleasant, with less than four inches of rainfall and average high temperatures in the mid-70s.
Where to Stay: Every room in the Tango Taipei XinYi—which sits near the world's second-tallest building, the nearly 1,700-foot Taipei 101 Tower—has two 42-inch plasma TVs (one for the bedroom, one for the bathroom) and a Jacuzzi tub (tango-hotels.com, from $137).
Price Check: At press time, tickets to Taipei weren't available beyond October 2012 (when direct flights from San Francisco start at $1,145 on Taiwan's EVA Airways). But if 2011 prices are any indication, fall trips will come relatively cheap. This November, Malaysia Airlines offered nonstop fares from Los Angeles for $1,057 and one-stops from Chicago were going for $1,087 on Cathay Pacific.
Why in 2012: Thanks to arts-centric developments both large-scale and grassroots, this Midwestern city is fast becoming a hotbed of high culture. In September, the $326 million Moshe Safdie–designed Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened to host the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera, and the Kansas City Symphony, along with one-off performances of all stripes. The center's arrival has only helped to bolster the already-vibrant Crossroads Arts District—a funky enclave of 70-plus galleries in renovated warehouses, interspersed with boutiques and restaurants—that surrounds it. Thankfully, Kansas City's prices haven't caught up to its highbrow reputation. Both hotels and rental cars are cheaper than they were in 2010, with rooms going for about $137 per night (a 3 percent drop) and cars averaging $55 per day.
Best Time to Visit: September is technically high season here—annual events like the Plaza Art Fair and the Barbecue Blaze Off are in full swing then—but you'll be able to find good deals (and great weather) toward the end of the month. Skip July, when Kansas City is at its hottest and most crowded—especially this year, when it'll host the MLB All-Star Game.
Where to Stay: Opened in 2007, the Q bills itself as Kansas City's first green hotel. Eco-friendly touches are everywhere, from the fair-trade Guatemalan coffee in the lobby's cafe to the complimentary hybrid shuttle that chauffeurs guests around town. theqhotel.com, from $139.
Price Check: September savings abound, with nonstop fares from Denver and Houston starting at $158 (US Airways) and $205 (American), respectively. For $243, you can fly direct from Chicago on American, and a straight shot from New York will run you $289 (Continental and United).
Why in 2012: Greece's economy is faltering—it's in the clutches of a massive debt crisis and on the brink of bankruptcy—but travel deals are going strong, especially in the country's capital. According to the 2011 Mercer Cost of Living Survey (which ranks living expenses across cities by measuring prices of staples like food, transport, and entertainment), Athens is the world's 53rd most expensive city—down 13 spots from 2010. While hotel prices fell 4 percent across Greece from 2010 (an average room now goes for $150 per night), in Athens rates sunk 15 percent to $125. Despite the recession, the city is beefing up infrastructure with Greece's biggest-ever subway project, an expansion of the Athens Metro (www.oasa.gr, single rides from $1.89). New subway lines and stations—some stocked with ancient artifacts excavated during construction—will make roaming the city simple, and a full-day pass only costs $5.40.