I have to admit, this was the number one thing on my personal dream trip list, and I was finally able to do it in April of this year thanks to a super-affordable vacation package by G Adventures. The Machu Picchu Adventure 8-day tour starts in Lima, where you'll get a chance to soak up the food scene—try the lomo saltado, a delicious dish made of tender beef, veggies, rice, and french fries, or stick to ceviche—and take a walk by the Pacific after dinner. Then, you'll board a one-hour flight to Cusco and spend the next five days exploring the sites of the Sacred Valley, visiting ruins in Ollantaytambo, relaxing in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes, and of course, taking a bus ride up the mountain to view Machu Picchu at sunrise, definitely a memorable experience. You'll love hearing about the legends and stories of the Inca from native Quechua guides and locals along the way—all that stuff you've learned in school about the Conquistadors doesn't quite sink in until you see places where they demolished once-beautiful Inca temples and built gigantic churches on top of them. Plus, with G Adventures, you'll have a great mix of guided tours and free time to explore the cities of Cusco and Lima on your own, as well as exclusive access to a traditional Quechua women's weaving cooperative and restaurant, experiences with the locals that you'll never forget.
Book It: Machu Picchu Adventure, G Adventures, from $1,399 per person, land only.
Home to beautiful beaches, vibrant cities, and a wealth of historical sites, Vietnam definitely deserves a spot on your dream trips list. World Spree offers an 11-day tour that includes airfare from San Francisco (or L.A., or New York City for an addtional charge), making this amazing county more accessible than ever. The trip also gives you time to explore Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi, and includes an overnight cruise around scenic Ha Long Bay. All transfers, ground transportation, and intra-Vietnam flights are also part of the package price, as are most meals, a comprehensive sightseeing itinerary, and the services of English-speaking guides throughout. Several optional tours are also available for a little extra, including a half-day trip to see the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels ($40) and a half day historic tour of Hanoi's "Old Quarters," the "Hanoi Hilton," and a traditional water puppet show ($50), but you'll have a number of guided tours along the way that are included as well.
Book it: 11-Day Amazing Vietnam, World Spree, from $1,899 per person including airfare from San Francisco.
Ah, a place that's probably on everybody's dream trip list. So much so that my parents' dream was to live on Oahu, a beautiful place they'd lived after they first got married, and where we lived from 1994-2001. I'm not going to lie, Hawaii is a pretty expensive place, but like everywhere else, there are ways to get around it. Check for flash sales and other discounts offered by Hawaiian Airlines, which just started flying non-stop from New York City two years ago, so no more excuses, east-coasters! Their website even offers bundled vacation packages combining several nights' accommodations with airfare and other island activities on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. If you're a cruise-lover and can only spare a week of vacation time, you're in luck! Norwegian Cruise Lines offers a 7-day cruise onboard the Pride of America, taking you around the Hawaiian Islands with stops in Kahului, Maui; Hilo and Kona on the Big Island; and on Kauai before returning you to Honolulu, a great way to get a taste of the islands.
Book it: Pride of America, Norwegian Cruise Lines, from $899 per person for a 7-day cruise. Always check NCL's Last Minute Cruise Deals page, you know, just in case.
The Great Wall is not as far away as you think, thanks to these great travel deals by companies like World Spree. For starters, there's the Timeless Beijing tour, giving your six nights in China's capital city and round-trip airfare from San Francisco or L.A. from—are you ready for this?—$988 per person! You'll also get three days of escorted tours—visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the "Bird's Nest," home of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and enjoy a full-day trip to the Great Wall of China and Sacred Way of Ming Tombs, including entrance fees—and have two-and-a-half days to explore the area by yourself. World Spree also offers a 9-day tour of Beijing and Shanghai (from $1,129 per person including airfare from San Francisco or L.A.) and a 12-day tour of Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai, from $1,619 per person.
Book it: Timeless Beijing, from $988 per person. A Tale of China's Two Great Cities, Beijing & Shanghai, from $1,129 per person. 12-day tour of The Middle Kingdom, from $1,619 per person. All tours are offered by World Spree and include international airfare from San Francisco or L.A.
As we've said in the past, yes, you CAN afford the South Pacific! We've often been surprised by how affordable the South Pacific can be, if you keep an open mind and are willing to travel during the shoulder season. Travelscene is offering a deal to the Cook Islands (book now thru Mar. 22, 2015) where you can fly from L.A. to Rarotonga on Air New Zealand, spend five nights at the Rarotonga Edgewater Resort, and enjoy complimentary breakfast and use of the hotel's snorkeling equipment. The best part: the package starts at $1,549 per person!
Book it: Cook Islands—Off The Grid, Travelscene, from $1,549 per person including airfare from L.A.
While the idea of visiting Europe might already make your wallet nervous, keep in mind that there are always ways to get around the big-ticket items like airfares, hotels, and activities. Check for airfares on sites like AirFastTickets.com or Hotwire.com for flash sales, or keep an eye out for seasonal sales by Irish airline Aer Lingus, a great budget-friendly option that I use every time I travel with my family to Europe—we even mentioned them on our list of Best Budget Airlines. If you're up for spending more money on what you do outside the room, versus spending heaps on a fancy hotel, opt for Generator Hostels, a revolutionary new style of affordable accommodations that's taking Europe by storm. You'll end up spending about half of what you'd expect to pay normally, stay in a great location not far from the city's main attractions, have access to hostel-only activities like movie nights, live music in the lounge, and have the opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world without leaving the lobby. The old way of thinking about hostels has changed—Generator's biggest percentage of clients are actually a mix of families who rent out an entire dorm room and business travelers of all ages who yearn to mingle rather than stay cooped up in a fancy schmancy hotel. Buildings and rooms are stylish, and if you really want to avoid sharing a room with your new friends, single and double private accommodations (with your own washrooms) are always an option. Generator Hostels can now be found in London (I stayed there in March and will definitely keep these in mind for future European travels!), Dublin, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Venice—they also just opened a new location in Paris.
Of course, if you are between the ages of 18 and 35 and are looking for an exciting way to see the continent, you should probably opt for a good old-fashioned bus tour by Contiki, a company that's been around since the 60s and is still full of young people traveling abroad for the first time whether they're from the U.S., Australia, or everywhere in between. The best part about Contiki: you'll get a ton of included guided tours, day-trips, and exclusive access to cool places (like a behind-the-scenes tour of a popular French Perfumery with special discounts in the gift shop!) as well as a mix of free time to go out and explore the city you're visiting. There are different levels of tours and accommodations depending on your budget and the kinds of places you want to stay in, and several meals like daily breakfasts and the occasional lunch or dinner are part of the deal. I took my first group tour with Contiki last year, spent 10 days getting to know London and Paris with really fun people from all over the world, and had so much fun, I came home and booked my next one from Amsterdam to Barcelona, a trip I'll actually be on by the time you're reading this article!
Book it: Visit Contiki's website to learn more about sales on travel packages to Europe and all over the world. I went on their London & Paris, Plus Paris Extension tour in Oct. 2013 (from $1,515 per person, land only), and their Amsterdam to Barcelona tour last summer (from $1,839 per person, land only).
For a little affordable fun closer to home, opt for one of Norwegian Cruise Line's finest. Their newest ship, Norwegian Getaway is now setting sail from Miami in its inaugural season on a 7-day adventure to Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas. Don't miss brand new waterslides, Legally Blonde The Musical, and dinner-and-a-magic-show in The Illusionarium, among other family-friendly onboard activities. Adults will love the Svedka Ice Bar, onboard casino, and tons of entertainment ranging from nightclubs and live music to an improv dueling pianos bar. The Norwegian Breakaway sets sail from New York City on a 7-day trip to Bermuda and offers Broadway show Rock of Ages and other only-in-New York themed experiences, and, as on every Norwegian ship, a wide variety of restaurants to satisfy your every craving.
Book it: Cruises onboard Norwegian Getaway start at $449 per person. Cruises onboard Norwegian Breakaway start at $549 per person. Great news for solo travelers: Norwegian's ships offer a special section full of studio-style staterooms that help to lower costs if you're traveling alone.
Who says you can't afford to take a safari in Africa? You just have to know where to look. Keep an eye out for sales at tour companies like G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, and others that frequently run tours to Africa. SmarTours is having a sale right now on a 9-day trip to South Africa that includes airfare from New York City on South African Airways, four nights' accommodations in Cape Town, two nights' accommodations in Kruger National Park, the flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a guided tour of Cape Town, and a full-day open-vehicle guided safari in Kruger National Park. If a Kenya safari is more your style, Intrepid Travel offers an 8-day trip to Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha, Loita Hills, and gives you time at the Masai Mara National Reserve.
Book it: SmarTours' sale for the Cape Town & Safari Express tour ends on Mar. 12, so if you want to take advantage of the sale price (from $1,899 per person including airfare from New York City), don't wait—prices go up to from $2,399 per person once the sale is over. The Kenya Wildlife Safari tour is available from Intrepid Travel, from $1,165 per person, land only.
If you think the perfect trip to Cuba is an impossible dream, think again! Thanks to companies like Friendly Planet Travel that offer government-approved people-to-people itineraries, there are several options at are available—while they might not be as budget-friendly we we'd hope, they do offer a ton of inclusions, and are among the most affordable trips to Cuba being offered right now that we've seen. If Havana's on your bucket list, check out the 6-day Discover Havana tour, which includes airfare from Miami to Havana via a U.S. Government-licensed charter service, one night at the Crowne Plaza Miami Airport Hotel, and four nights in superior first class hotels in Cuba. Friendly Planet Travel also takes care of the hassle of paperwork, licenses, and authorization letters that are necessary for travel to Cuba these days, covers mandatory health insurance needed to visit the country, and offers an educational exchange program so you get the most out of your time in Cuba. You'll also have day-trips to Alamar, Cojimar, and Las Terrazas before heading back to Havana each night. For those wanting to spend more time in this once-forbidden Caribbean country, check out the 9-day Colors of Cuba tour, which includes similar features and gives you time in Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.
Book it: Friendly Planet is offering Budget Travel readers a $100 discount on their Discover Havana tour so book by Feb. 24th with this link and mention promo code BT120314; their Colors of Cuba tour is also available from $3,699 per person.
Although technically India did earn a spot on Budget Travel's To Go Or Not To Go: 2014 list due to last year's violent streak against women, things seem to be calming down now, and with strength in numbers, you'll be fine with a group if you go. SmarTours offers a great, affordable 8-day tour that includes international airfare from New York City on Air India and five nights in three different Indian cities: one night in Delhi, two nights in Agra, and two nights in Jaipur. The trip includes all transportation within the country, daily breakfast and a farewell group dinner, and an extensive sightseeing plan that includes guided trips to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, the Red Fort in Delhi, the Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, and an elephant ride to Amber Fort in Jaipur.
Book it: You'll have to act quickly on this one as SmarTours is currently having a sale that prices this tour from $1,299 per person if you book by Feb. 12th. After that point, the prices rise to $1,799 per person, so don't wait! World Spree also has a brand new Incredible India travel package that includes international airfare from New York City, L.A., San Francisco, or Vancouver; 9 nights' accommodations in five-star hotels; an extensive sightseeing program including entrance fees; all transfers and transportation within the country, and most meals, from $1,499 per person for a 12-day trip.
Who wouldn't want to visit the Land Down Under—I mean, come on, have you seen these photos? Keep an eye out for airline sales by Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Air New Zealand, for starters, or watch for travel packages that include airfare, like those offered by Down Under Answers and Travelscene, which is running a special now thru Feb. 24th, that includes round-trip flights between the U.S. and Australia on Qantas, four nights in Melbourne; four nights in Sydney, flights between cities, and all taxes and fees, from $1,799 per person.
Book it: 11-Day Australia on Sale: Sydney & Melbourne, Travelscene, from $1,799 per person based on double occupancy. The same company also offers a similar 11-day trip to Sydney and Cairns from $1,999 per person, as well as an 11-day trip to Brisbane and Adelaide from $1,999 per person. All must be booked by Feb. 24th for travel between May 1 and Jun. 21, 2015.