1. GO TO MONTREAL, NOT PARIS
Mon dieu! Overseas flights and City of Light prices can blow a budget pretty quickly; immerse yourself in French language and culture in Montreal instead. The city's brand-new, streamlined Alt Hotel is très chic and doesn't do low-season or high-season rates: Rooms are $131 per night, every night (montreal.althotels.ca). Je voudrais un croque monsieur, you say? Grab one to stay or to go at Café Grévin by Europea downtown ($7, cafegrevinpareuropea.ca). Psst—they have wine, too. Afterward, learn all about "New France" at the historic site and museum Château Ramezay and take a stroll through its replica French colonial garden (about $9, chateauramezay.qc.ca). For dinner, hit the bar at Laloux for modern French bistro fare. The special "intermission menu" offers two entrees and a dessert for each person—we're talking roasted quail with chanterelles, and maple profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and hazelnuts—for about $17.50 (laloux.com).
2. GO TO WARSAW, NOT LONDON
Rich European history, mesmerizing museums, and quality time at the pub can all be had in Warsaw for less than you'd pay in London. The capital of Poland is an eminently walkable city, with cheap public transportation (about $5 for an all-day pass) and museum admission prices that top out at about $6.50 on days they're not completely free. Boutique Bed & Breakfast, near the Chopin Museum, has a charming, old-world feel and hosts piano concerts on the second floor ($70 per night, bbwarsaw.com). Fish around in your pockets for $1.20, and you've got entrée into the Warsaw Fotoplastikon, one of the few turn-of-the-century 3-D photo theaters left in the world. View original historical photographs of subjects ranging from WWII-era Warsaw to the Radio City Rockettes high-kicking in the late 1960s (fotoplastikonwarszawski.pl). When your inevitable pierogi craving hits, stop into one of the city's "milk bars," known for serving dairy-based items and traditional Polish food. An order of dumplings will run you less than $3 at Mleczarnia, a popular milk bar chain with locations in the city center (mleczarniajerozolimska.pl). Kicking back at a Warsaw bar for happy hour comes cheap: A pint of beer is usually less than two bucks.
3. GO TO PLAYA DEL CARMEN, NOT CANCUN
Get more breathing room for your money—and rub elbows with fewer sunburned tourists—in sustainability- and preservation-focused Playa del Carmen. Hotels in the Riviera Maya are designed around the existing mangroves, limited to four stories, and more spaced out than Cancun. Go all-inclusive for less: The recently renovated Barceló Maya Beach, for example, starts at $95 per person (barcelo.com). Cheap eats are basically synonymous with "tacos" in Playa Del Carmen. Get your fix in town at Los Aguachiles, a hip joint where the seafood tacos are fresh and the Dos Equis is cold (tacos from $1.89, losaguachiles.mx), then take a seven-minute stroll to Ah Cacao Chocolate Café on 5th Avenue for a hot cup of Mexican cacao direct from the plantation, with a luscious, pillowy brownie on the side (from $1.50, ahcacao.com). But back to why you're really here: Scenesters, gorgeous Mamitas Beach is calling your name. It's a popular spot for both locals and out-of-towners, and the site of the free Riviera Maya Jazz Festival in late November (rivieramayajazzfestival.com).
4. GO TO ELEUTHERA, NOT NASSAU
Most tourists' Bahamas journeys stop at Nassau, but consider going one step farther and hopping a small plane to the nearby Out Islands for privacy and unspoiled beauty. The draw of the long, crescent-shaped island of Eleuthera is its pink-sand beaches and still-rugged charm. The Bahamas tourism board is keen on drawing travelers to the islands, so check its website for deals like buy-one-get-one-free airfare and scuba-diving resort credits (myoutislands.com). Tippy's restaurant is where the social action is: Located in the Pineapple Fields beach hotel right on the Atlantic Ocean, Tippy's has ever-changing lunch and dinner menus heavy on local produce and seafood, like cracked conch and grouper tacos (lunch entrees from $12, pineapplefields.com). Staying overnight at Pineapple Fields is on the pricier side, but every unit is a condo with full kitchen, veranda, and easy pool and beach access (from $170, pineapplefields.com). For fewer frills, but a rustic feel and your very own cottage on the beach, Northside Inn & Restaurant, in south Eleuthera, touts its ocean views and its food—jerk chicken, grouper fingers, homemade mac and cheese, and conch dishes, all cooked by proprietor and native Bahamian Rose Gibson (from $100 per night, northsideinneleuthera.com). Wherever you go for dinner, if you see a dessert menu, pick the pineapple tart. Pineapple plantations are plentiful on Eleuthera; the annual Pineapple Festival in June celebrates pineapple farmers with events including a pineapple-eating contest, a swim/bike/run "pineathlon," and a Little Miss Pineapple Pageant. If you can't make the festival, for another type of party, hit the local Anchor Bay fish fry in Governor's Harbour, held every Friday night at 6, for a meal of fried fish, barbecued chicken, sides like peas and rice, and the "rum bubbas"—especially potent fruit-juice cocktails that have been known to inspire earnest killer dance moves ($10, bahamas.com).
5. GO TO MOOREA, NOT BORA BORA
Choose tropical, verdant, volcanic-ridged Moorea over its more expensive sister island Bora Bora, and you'll immediately save about $950 on interisland airfare just in taking the ferry from Papeete to Moorea ($70 per couple round trip). For a classic "Bora Bora-esque" resort experience at a good value, go off-season and select a lanai room at the InterContinental Resort & Spa (from $245 per night, intercontinental.com), or DIY most of your meals and take over a Polynesian bungalow with full kitchen at Hotel Le Tipaniers (from $180 per night, lestipaniers.com). Tahiti.com has airfare-included package deals for both. Resorts often offer free activities like snorkeling equipment rental and kayaks for exploring the island's lagoon and waterfalls. For a special meal out, take the free shuttle to new hot spot Moorea Beach Café to sample its modernist cuisine amid sweeping lagoon views; restaurateur Bruno Jamais once worked under fine dining deities Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse. The food isn't cheap, but you can try the plat du jour lunch special for $17 (mooreabeachcafe.com).
6. GO TO PALM SPRINGS, NOT SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco has the skyline, but Palm Springs has the deals. U.S. history is alive and well in the desert: Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals—plus a certain politician or two—were known to carouse around town in the 1950s and 1960s. It's a modern-day millennial haven too, especially for summer Coachella concert-goers. Retro-chic digs are affordable at the rustic Sparrows Lodge, originally a 1950s movie star retreat that's been restored to its former glory and updated with an outdoor fire pit and saltwater pool (from $129, sparrowslodge.com). Cheeky's is a new favorite spot for breakfast or lunch—and there's a Bacon Bar! (entrees from $8, cheekysps.com) Spending at least an afternoon marveling at the otherworldly geological formations and desert vegetation in Joshua Tree National Park is an essential pit stop. A weeklong pass to the park for a carload of people is only $15. Spiritual enlightenment doesn't get any cheaper (nps.gov).
7. GO TO DESERT HOT SPRINGS, NOT PALM SPRINGS
If you'd rather be away from the Palm Springs scene—or overlooking it, more accurately—and getting a spa treatment instead, nearby Desert Hot Springs rises to the occasion. The mineral water in Desert Hot Springs' underground aquifers has historically been thought to have therapeutic properties. Soak in one of eight natural hot pools open 24/7 during a wallet-friendly stay at Miracle Springs Hot Mineral Resort & Spa, and tack on a spa treatment afterward: Prices for combination treatments are lower than you'll find on most hotel menus, like a full-body Swedish massage and facial for $115 (from $75 per night, miraclesprings.com). Lido Palms is pricier but gets high marks from visitors for its apartment-like rooms with full kitchens (from $130 per night, lidopalms.com). Dollar tacos? Don't mind if we do! Locals love Monday evenings from 4 to 9 p.m. at Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine, when you can get as many tacos as you have George Washingtons (laspalmasmexicancuisineps.com). For a local museum experience you'll be talking about years later—we sure are!—tour Cabot's Pueblo Museum, homestead of the eccentric self-made man Cabot Yerxa, an adventurer, activist, entrepreneur, and pet donkey enthusiast who "discovered" the area's hot springs with a pick axe ($11 for a guided tour, cabotsmuseum.org).
8. GO TO GALWAY CITY, NOT DUBIN
True, you could head to Dublin brave the big city (and the $23-a-ticket Guinness Storehouse) with other tourists, but if you'd rather unwind and explore Ireland on a smaller scale, consider touring Galway City, on the west side of the island. The medieval Spanish Arch in cobblestoned Galway City is an extension of the town's wall and a passageway that allowed ships carrying goods from nearby countries to pass. Find out more about the city's historic sites on a free two-hour guided walking tour that meets in Eyre Square three times a day (galwaypubcrawl.ie). A few blocks from the square, Griffin's Bakery has made homemade bread and yeasted brack (cake) like mom never used to since 1878 (from $2.50, griffinsbakery.com). If you can't resist bringing a little Irish heritage home, the free Claddagh Ring Museum tells the story of those quaint little hand, heart, and crown baubles; the attached shop sells souvenir claddagh jewelry at multiple price points (claddaghring.ie). The Park House Hotel is centrally located, and its in-house restaurant cooks up a full Irish breakfast of grilled bacon, sausage, tomato, black and white pudding, and free-range eggs (from $140 per night, parkhousehotel.ie). And, let's be honest, of course you'll want a Guinness draught in Ireland: Look for nightly specials and live music at the local pubs—both are plentiful.
9. GO TO PORTLAND, NOT SEATTLE
Riding up into the Space Needle is bucket-list-worthy for sure, but if it's a quirky vibe and zero sales tax you're looking for, Portland's your city. The famously hip Ace Hotel chain started in the Pacific Northwest; its Downtown Portland outpost offers free bikes for borrowing and bargain-priced rooms if you don't mind sharing a hall bathroom—an en suite W.C. is higher (from $129, acehotel.com). Have you ever wanted to bunk in a tiny house with wheels? You will now. At Caravan, on the west side of the Willamette River, each of the hotel's six rooms is its own 100- to 200-foot abode with bathroom and kitchen (from $125 per night, tinyhousehotel.com). Wash down a hearty sandwich (like the pork meatball banh mi) with a cold microbrew at local favorite Lardo - the pork-and-beef-steeped joint began as a food truck and now has three locations (sandwiches from $9, lardosandwiches.com). Burn off those calories on the free Secrets of Portlandia city walking tour (secretsofportlandia.com), then wind through the seemingly never-ending stacks at Powell's City of Books, the world's largest new and used bookstore (powells.com). You still have room for something sweet, right? Jump smack into the middle of the Portland vs. Seattle doughnut rivalry by sampling a Butterfingering doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut (voodoodoughnut.com) and/or a Cointreau-infused crème brulee brioche doughnut from newcomer Blue Star Donuts (bluestardonuts.com). Last but not least: Portlandia fans, this is your mecca. It's hard not to bump into a location where the TV show has been shot, but Travel Portland has a breakdown of locales by season, including Land Gallery, where the unforgettable "Put a Bird on It" sketch was filmed (travelportland.com, landpdx.com).
10. GO TO TWIN FALLS, NOT NIAGARA FALLS
Niagara Falls will always have a classic romantic cachet; Idaho's Shoshone Falls, however, is not only 45 feet taller, but the Twin Falls area is also much less expensive than a traditional vacation destination, Niagara included. The quaint brick Tudor-style Fillmore Inn, originally a counterintuitively flashy Depression-era residence built by a Standard Oil man, is appointed with vintage furniture, hemmed in with honeysuckles, and located minutes from Snake River and Shoshone Falls National Park (from $99, thefillmoreinn.com). After a full breakfast on the garden patio, take your whole crew fishing, hiking, or picnicking at the Shoshone Falls/Dierkes Lake Complex in full view of the falls ($3 per car April through September, no charge other months, visitidaho.org). Just when you thought the vistas couldn't get any better, have dinner on the rim of the Snake River Canyon next to an outdoor fire pit at Elevation 486, which serves up local catches like grilled Idaho ruby-red trout and fresh Northwest steamer clams (entrees from $10, elevation486.com).
11. GO TO THE CINQUE TERRE, NOT THE FRENCH RIVERA
Someday you'll find yourself flush with cash and lying on private beaches in Cannes with the glitterati, but until then, for high-drama cliffside coastal scenery and a slow-paced Italian vibe, the UNESCO World Heritage site Cinque Terre is a less expensive but highly picturesque alternative. Hotels can be pricey in the area, but the very basic Hotel La Zorza, housed in a 17th-century building located in the Riomaggiore Village (one of five that make up Cinque Terre), starts at $40 a night (hotelzorza.com). Bring your swimsuit in warmer months: The beaches are pebbly but egalitarian—and free. Hiking between the villages is an extremely popular activity; just be prepared to climb steep stone steps. Check the park's website for trail closings, difficulty ratings, and a schedule of guided walking tours, which will set you back less than $4 (parconazionale5terre.it). Fresh-caught anchovies and pesto, which originated from the Italian Riviera, are two local specialties you'll want to check off your foodie list, and Trattoria dal Billy, hidden up in the hills of Manarola, dishes out both amid sweeping views from the balcony (entrees from $14, trattoriabilly.com).
12. GO TO BUDAPEST, NOT PRAGUE
Fun fact about Budapest: Hungary is a member of the European Union but not part of the eurozone, which means more Hungarian forints for your pocket. Aside from being cheaper than Prague as a whole, Budapest is also larger, so the crowds will be thinner. (Bonus.) Overlook the Danube River from quiet, leafy Margaret Island at Grand Hotel Margitsziget (from $100 per night, danubiushotels.com). Frugal spa-addicts, there's a heated hallway that connects guests to free mineral-rich thermal baths, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a mint-scented aroma cabin, two saunas, a steam room, a solarium, and a sunbathing deck. For about a buck, you can try Hungarians' favorite street food, lángos, deep-fried bread with sour cream, grated cheese, and garlic on top that's sometimes called "Hungarian pizza." Get it at a stall in the Great Market Hall, along with a homemade plastic baggie of paprika to take back home for only a couple of dollars (budapestmarkethall.com). For free, you can take a walking tour of UNESCO World Heritage site Castle Hill, a collection of historical sites such as the 13th-century Royal Palace (now the Hungarian National Gallery, admission about $6, mng.hu) and Matthias Church, founded in 1015 (matyas-templom.hu). But who can resist a cruise down the Danube? Book seat on a boat ride and see the sights or treat yourself to dinner (from about $16 for a sightseeing cruise, from about $34 for a dinner cruise, legenda.hu).
13. GO TO BIG SKY, NOT ASPEN
Aspirational as Aspen is, fighting for space on the slopes and paying a premium for skiing accouterments isn't exactly the vacation that some of us envisioned for winter break. Instead, consider swooshing north to Big Sky Resort in Montana, the largest ski area in the U.S., which opened up more terrain over the summer for a total of 5,800 acres (bigskyresort.com). Kids ski free if you stay in a property that Big Sky manages—that includes condos with kitchens if you'd rather do the cooking yourself. Best hotel bets for a tight budget are the resort's Whitewater Inn, eight miles away (from $133 per night), and Huntley Lodge, on site (from $179 per night). After a grueling run, refuel with a creatively topped weiner from Yeti Dogs, like the Lifty: a beef dog with yeti sauce (zesty mayo), shredded cheddar, and bacon (dogs from $4, yetidogs.com). Locals love 'em. If you're more into the après than the ski, Solace Spa's menu includes moisturizing ginger foot rubs and the option to add locally made, muscle-soothing arnica oil to massage treatments for $10. Of course, booze is another way to numb a sore body. Cure what ails you by having a barkeep mix up a 44˚ North Huckleberry Lemonade, a cocktail made with Idaho potato vodka that's been blended with local huckleberries ($9), or pour you a pint of Retro Red Ale, crafted by Lone Peak Brewery for the resort's 40th anniversary ($5). Off property, Yellowstone National Park's West Entrance is less than an hour's drive away. Set out on a mission to spot Old Faithful, rent a bike for $8 at Old Faithful Snow Lodge to explore the park's bike paths, or go on a short day hike through the backcountry (entrance fee $25 per vehicle, nps.gov).
14. GO TO THE ALBANIAN COAST, NOT THE DALMATIAN COAST
Croatia's sparkling Dalmatian Coast is spectacular (in fact, we recommend it as No. 18 on this list), but flights to Tirana, Albania, are significantly cheaper right now than flights to Dubrovnik (a Kayak search for a six-day vacation in early 2015 brought up $845 for Dubrovnik versus $718 for Tirana), and vacationing on the Albanian Coast has been lauded by travel experts as a real budget traveler's paradise. Rent a car after your flight to Tirana and drive to the coastal town of Vlorë. The modern, cleanly furnished Paradise Beach Hotel has two restaurants that serve traditional Albanian food like fresh octopus, plus Italian and French cuisine (from $27 per night, paradisebeachhotel.al). Hit the beach a few miles down the coast: Jali Beach offers swimmers crystal-blue waters and eaters fresh seafood at nearby eateries. Farther south, below Himerë, is the still-standing Port Palermo Castle. No one seems to know for sure who built it or when, but at one time it was in the possession of a tyrannical Ottoman pasha who came to power in the 18th century. Now the fortress is both an historic site and a place to take selfies and admire the sea view. Pay particular attention to the loopholes for guns and cannons, and be glad you were never on Ali Pasha's bad side (albania.al). If that whets your appetite for archeology, you'll be satiated near the Greek border at UNESCO World Heritage site Butrint, a former stop along ancient trade routes that contains a bonanza of ruins left as the detritus of different occupations: Greek temples, Roman fountains and baths, a paleo-Christian baptistery, and a tall Venetian fortress, among other significant finds—all pristinely preserved thanks to a literal sea change in the late Middle Ages that coated the city in mud and vegetation until excavation began in the 1920s (about $6.50, butrint.org).
15. GO TO PERTH, NOT SYNDEY
Less crowded and even sunnier than Sydney, Perth is a clean, spiffy city with a burgeoning hipster scene. Exhibit A: A café called Toastface Grillah, where you can order a brie, prosciutto, and zucchini sandwich called the Danny Zuccho ($9, toastfacegrillah.com). Where to stay? The 83 on Swan B&B is a federation-style home with a quaint, well-manicured garden near Swan Valley, known as a winemaking region where you can get your chenin blanc and shiraz straight from the source (from $95 per night, 83onswan.wordpress.com; swanvalley.com.au). Or go old-school and set up shop in the oldest hotel in Western Australia: The Rose & Crown was built in 1841. Staying in the ornate rooms in the original structure costs a pretty penny, but the budget-friendly rooms in its adjacent Lodge are decidedly modern (from $150 per night, rosecrown.com.au). Don't leave the city without stopping at one of Miami Bakery's three locations for one of its award-winning sweet or savory pies for under $10. The custard tart's smooth, dome-shaped top is so perfect you'll hate to pierce it (miamibakehouse.com.au). Take the pie and have a picnic among the bright red-and-green kangaroo paw plants—with a clear view of Perth's skyline—at Kings Park & Botanic Gardens (free, bgpa.wa.gov.au); snorkel and dive the reefs at Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, then watch penguins and sea lions frolic atop a string of limestone islands (free, parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au).
16. GO TO PORTUGAL, NOT SPAIN
Portugal is cheap. Real cheap. It's also the ideal place for a somewhat schizophrenic all-in-one vacation: You can beach-hop among the country's 50 different sandy stretches and get a huge dose of history via sites like the 11th-century Castelo de S Jorge that looms over Lisbon and the medieval villages Marvão and Monsaraz ($11 for a castle tour, castelodesaojorge.pt). In Evora, Convento do Espinheiro, a former 15th-century convent gone (affordably) luxe, has incredibly sleek indoor and outdoor pools and plush, modern furnishings (from $151 per night, conventodoespinheiro.com). Nearby, the Alentejan cuisine at longtime institution Restaurante Fialho is a splurge but does include specialties like quail eggs with paio, a traditional pork sausage, and house-made desserts including sweet tecolameco cakes and custard; send any appetizers away that you don't want to eat or pay for—they're already on the table when you sit down (entrees from $19, restaurantefialho.com). Along the southwest coast of Portugal, walk the Rota Vicentina, a series of preserved rural and coastal paths that run through cork tree forests, past villages, and up along the cliffs (rotavicentina.com). Time your stroll just right to end at Cape St. Vincent, Europe's southwesternmost point, as the sun sets.
17. GO TO KRABI, NOT PHUKET
No disrespect to luxury playground Phuket, but a visit to Thailand's coastal province of Krabi is reputedly even more peaceful and relaxing. The Just Fine boutique hotel in Krabi Town has crisp, modern décor; each of its 12 rooms has an individual style, including one with a painted wall of tall, fanciful trees (from $47, facebook.com/justfinekrabi). On weekends, pop over to the "walking street" market on Maharat Road, open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The stretch is lined with food stalls selling inexpensive dishes like khao yam (rice salad) and hor mok yang (Thai steamed fish, chicken, or pork curry in banana leaves on a stick). Glide via kayak through mangrove estuaries into Ao Thalane canyon for a prime opportunity to see the area's unique limestone karsts and wild monkeys in action—watch for langurs and long-tailed macaques. There are numerous kayak tour outfitters to choose from, like Sea Canoe and Krabi Trek (from about $16, seacanoe.net, krabitrek.com).
18. GO TO CROATIA, NOT ITALY
Croatia is just a hop across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, but the savings are ample, and the rolling hills and loads of sunshine are terrific for relaxation. Plus, instead of a tourist-heavy experience, you can take in the crystal-blue seas and an almost supernaturally beautiful landscape. To wit: The HBO TV show Game of Thrones is shot there—die-hard fans who have saved their pennies can take a three-hour walking tour in Dubrovnik's Old Town that includes a stop at Lovrijenac Fortress, better known as the palace at King's Landing in the series ($74, viator.com). For fresh catches, Kantinon Tavern, up north in Rovinj's Old Town, emphasizes local seafood and Croatian wines—we hear great things about the tuna steak (385-0-52-816-075). The San Rocco hotel, in the coastal region of Istria, prides itself on its enogastronomy (food and wine tourism) (from $150 per night, san-rocco.hr): The restaurant incorporates different olive oils from the San Rocco family's olive trees nearby into its traditional Istrian cuisine (multi-course tasting menu from $64). Lounge by the pool or get a rubdown for cheap, because this is a hotel spa you can afford: Full-body treatments start at about $27. When in wine country, visit a winery. The Istrian peninsula is full of them. Family-owned Franc Arman winery offers free tastings if you buy a bottle to take home with you (call 385-0-52-446-226 for an appointment, francarman.hr).
19. GO TO MONTENEGRO, NOT GREECE
Cleverly dubbed a "pocket dictionary" of experiences, Montenegro is more compact than Greece and still relatively unknown, ideal for obscure-vacation cred among your well-traveled pals. Its green, rugged terrain offers everything from a rain forest—rare in Europe—in hiker-friendly Biogradska gora national park to the long, sandy Big Beach in Ulcinj. On the coast, also in Ulcinj, Old Town's historic Hotel Palata Venezia has Adriatic Sea views from each apartment unit and is close to several beaches (from about $80 per night, hotel-palatavenezia-montenegro.com). In the walkable, café-rich capital city of Podgorica, restaurant Pod Volat serves a smorgasbord of Montenegrin food, especially roasted meats (382-69-618-633).
20. GO TO GUATEMALA, NOT MEXICO
For a glimpse of authentic Mayan culture—both ancient and modern—unlike what you'd see in the usual touristy destinations in Mexico, Guatemala is an inexpensive but rich choice. In Antigua Guatemala, the tranquil seven-room Hotel Cirilo is built into the ruins of an 18th-century colonial church and within walking distance of Antigua's famous colonial relics, including the iconic vivid-yellow Arco de Santa Catalina (from $109 per night, hotelcirilo.com). While you're in town, stop by La Fonda de la Calle Real restaurant, which dishes out traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Pepián y pollo stew is a specialty (lafondadelacallereal.com). Yoga devotees and workaholics in need of a change of pace, Villa Sumaya Retreat Center, on Lake Atitlan, could be your new favorite escape. Tailor your own trip by customizing a four- to seven-day "personal package" that can include options like vegetarian meals, yoga classes, Mayan protection ceremonies, adventure sports, and guided tours of local municipalities like Santiago and San Juan (from $65 per night for single occupancy, villasumaya.com). Come face to face with the ingenuity and brutality of ancient Mayan culture at several sites throughout Guatemala. Most popular are the ruins at Tikal National Park in northern Guatemala, which are larger than those at Chichén Itzá in Mexico and evidence of one of the most powerful ancient Mayan kingdoms ($20, whc.unesco.org). The Temple of the Two-Headed Serpent, built circa 741 AD, rises above the bygone city at 212 feet—but you might know it from the movie Star Wars, as Luke Skywalker's rebel base. Climb to the top (yes, they actually let you do this!) via wooden steps and take in the view of rain forests and the other Tikal temples.
21. GO TO ZAMBIA, NOT ZANZIBAR
The city of Zanzibar is crowded, but the country of Zambia is comparatively undiscovered, offering such pristine beauty that Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Nearby, antelope roam (along with zebras, giraffes, and other creatures) in Mosi oa Tunya National Park: Drive your own car through or go on a guided open-vehicle game drive with a company like Safpar (from $55, safpar.com). Lusaka, the capital city, is bustling with business travelers, so if you'd like a solid hotel option with modern conveniences, Southern Sun is a favorite (from $170, tsogosunhotels.com). Expats rave about Sugarbush Café's Sunday roasts (roast beef, that is) and fresh vegetables plucked right from the neighboring farm (entrees from $7, facebook.com/sugarbushcafezam). If you have a decent amount of cash left over at the end of your visit, the adjacent Jackal & Hide shop sells travel bags, leather-bound journals, and accessories made from locally tanned cow leather, plus other small souvenirs (jackalandhide.net).
22. GO TO JACKSONVILLE BEACH, NOT SOUTH BEACH
If you're aiming to shoehorn a Florida beach getaway into your budget and want to avoid South Beach prices, Jacksonville just might be your town. Its average hotel rates are the lowest in the state, at about $77. A boutique luxury experience is actually affordable at the One Ocean Resort & Spa, right on the Atlantic Ocean (from $150, oneoceanresort.com). Aside from easy access to the sand, amenities include a heated beachside pool, a selection of snacks and drinks—like sparkling water and sun-dried tomato pita chips—waiting for you in your room when you check in, and a personal "docent" who can unpack your suitcase, steam your clothes, book your spa treatments, recommend restaurants, and more. Does a day at the beach leave you craving tacos, no matter which coast you're on? They start at $3 at local favorite Taco Lu (tacolu.com). Pair a Baja fish taco with a pinarita (pineapple margarita) and sit outside. For a modern farm-to-table vibe, the Blind Rabbit will present you with brioche-bunned burgers and a long, long list of whiskeys (entrees from $10, theblindrabbitwhiskeybar.com). There's a bacon maple milkshake that you can spike with Buffalo Trace for two bucks. You're welcome.
23. GO TO ROCKAWAY BEACH, NOT MONTAUK
The ride to Rockaway Beach in Queens from Manhattan is about an hour and a half via train, as opposed to double that for Montauk. The crowd of surfers and sunbathers is low-key and the eats are cheap: Rockaway Taco's tilapia taco and fried sweet plantains are modern classics (from $3, rockawaytaco.com). Spending the night? Come for the beach and stay for the party at the recently opened hipster-rific Playland Motel, which freely owns up to its "loud environment" (from $72 per night, playlandmotel.com). Artists designed the often-bizarre rooms—all of which, except one, have a shared bathroom. Playland Tavern, down below, holds open mics and DJ'd parties, and slings cocktails like the peach-flavored Rockaway Boulevardier, made with rye and brandy. The motel just partnered with Bolivian food stand (and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, favorite) Bolivian Llama Party for the summer season: Fans make a beeline for the brisket salteñas and triple pork sandwich de cholas (from $6, blpnyc.com).
24. GO TO PHILADELPHIA, NOT NEW YORK
We love New York, but for a more affordable, more manageable option that's iconic in its own right, consider Philly instead. History 101 starts here. Back when Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States, the Morris House Hotel, built in 1787, was there to witness it. Today, the renovated brick inn is two blocks from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. You can have your (free) tea and house-baked cookies and eat them too in the hotel's Revolutionary-era lounge, sip a complimentary glass of wine from 4 to 5 p.m. every day, and take advantage of a free continental breakfast in the morning (from $139 per night, morrishousehotel.com). Obviously, you're going to run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and strike a Rocky Balboa pose for Instagram (aren't you?), but for a different creative experience, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a indoor/outdoor visionary art environment, celebrates the curious, colorful, undulating mosaics and murals of local artist Isaiah Zagar ($7, phillymagicgardens.org). Head to Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue to decide for yourself who has the best Philly cheesesteak: Pat's or Geno's, longtime rivals directly across the street from each other that are open 24/7 (from $7, patskingofsteaks.com, genosteaks.com). John's Roast Pork, though, is known for elevating the sandwich with its roast pork, sharp provolone, and broccoli rabe creation-he has regular cheesesteaks too that reviewers love (from $6.50, johnsroastpork.com).
25. GO TO MYRTLE BEACH, NOT CHARLESTON
Betcha didn't know: Quaint little towns and sprawling plantations make Myrtle Beach not just a beach town, but a more reasonable alternative to Charleston, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach spans a full 60 miles, and its southern end, specifically Pawleys Island and Georgetown, has a rich Southern history. Mansfield Plantation Bed & Breakfast in Georgetown was a giant, near-1,000-acre rice plantation in the late 1700s and is still relatively architecturally intact-you can take a group tour for $12.50 per person. If you stay overnight, the Old Kitchen House is the least expensive of the three guesthouses: Each room has a private entrance, two have four-poster beds, and one has a claw-foot soaking tub. A large "plantation breakfast" with selections like poached pears, much-raved-about stuffed French toast, and various egg bake incarnations is served in the a.m. (from $150 per night, mansfieldplantation.com). Farther north, if the thought of contending with crowds of beachgoers makes you shudder, Litchfield Beach is quiet and pristine. It also lies near the thin, four-mile stretch of Pawleys Island, a laid-back "barefoot paradise" with vacation rentals and hotels like the Sea View Inn, which serves guests three full meals of Southern cuisine a day, from grits in the morning to seafood gumbo at night (from $130 per night, meals included, seaviewinn.net).
26. GO TO FINGER LAKES WINE COUNTRY, NOT NAPA VALLEY
Vacation fantasy: You're swirling a goblet of red in the countryside. Vacation reality: Hey, you can definitely still do that, even if Napa's prices are out of reach. Wines produced in central New York State's Finger Lakes region—riesling, chardonnay, cabernet franc, and pinot noir in particular—are garnering higher scores than ever and enjoying expanded distribution. New Vines Bed & Breakfast has Seneca Lake views, an idyllic porch perfect for sunset sipping, a backyard vineyard, and six wineries within a two-mile radius (from $120 per night, newvinesbb.com). In Hammondsport, Dr. Frank Wines, famous for its critically acclaimed rieslings, holds free tastings; bottles start at $10 (drfrankwines.com). Later, you'll need some food to pair with that vino. Open April through November, Stonecat Café's organic cuisine is hyper-local-spelt from Trumansburg combines with cream from Ithaca to make up the strawberry and sweet pea risotto; wines are Finger Lakes only-and the back garden's willow trees make for picturesque alfresco dining (entrees from $12.50, http://stonecatcafe.com/). If you're looking to dispense with the fancy stuff and grab and go, pick up a house-made sausage or fresh-ground burger for lunch from FLX Weinery (yes, you read that right) (from $3, flxwienery.com). Need a break from gastronomic bliss? The Corning Museum of Glass is opening a sunlight-infused, architecturally sleek new wing in March, but until then you can still view the glass art collections that span 3,500 years and glassmaking (and glass-breaking) demos ($16, cmog.org).