Dream Trips You Can Actually Afford
Machu Picchu, Peru
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 2014 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 per person) and a half day historic tour of Hanoi's "Old Quarters," the "Hanoi Hilton," that ends with a traditional water puppet show ($50 per person), 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 in June of 2012, 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 Hawaii 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 and a 12-day tour of Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai if you're looking to explore more of the country.
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 $1,719 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 by 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! Looking for an affordable trip to Tahiti? Another deal gives you round-trip airfare from L.A. on Air Tahiti Nui and five nights' accommodations at the Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa, along with daily breakfast and round-trip ferry transfers between Tahiti and Moorea when you travel by May 31st.
Book it: Cook Islands—Off The Grid, Travelscene, from $1,549 per person including airfare from L.A. when you book by Mar. 22, 2015. Travelscene's 6 Day Magical Moorea Getaway starts at $1,919 per person and must be booked by Apr. 30 for travel by May 31, 2015.
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—especially now that the euro is the lowest it's been in years. 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 and live music in the lounge, and have the opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world without ever leaving the lobby. The old way of thinking about hostels has changed—Generator's largest percentage of clients are 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 some 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 last year and will definitely keep these in mind for future European travels!), Dublin, Berlin, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Hamburg, and Venice—their latest property in Paris just opened in February.
Of course, if you are between the ages of 18 and 35 and are looking for an exciting way to see the continent and make new friends from around the world, 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 in 2013, spent 10 days getting to know London and Paris with really fun people from several different countries, and had so much fun, I came home and booked my next one from Amsterdam to Barcelona for the following summer! You tend to bond quickly with your travelmates on a bus tour—I've had several new friends from Australia and Canada visit me in New York since then and have kept in touch with many others post-trip thanks to social media.
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 $1,545 per person, land only), and their Amsterdam to Barcelona tour in May 2014 (from $2,299 per person, land only).
For a little affordable fun closer to home, opt for one of Norwegian Cruise Line's finest. The Norwegian Getawayset sail from Miami 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 $599 per person. Cruises onboard Norwegian Breakaway start at $599 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 Apr. 23rd, 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 $1,105 per person, land only.
If you think the perfect trip to Cuba is an impossible dream, think again! The country is now more accessible to Americans than ever before. Thanks to companies like Friendly Planet Travel that offer 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 paperwork, 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's Discover Havana tour starts from $2,499 if you book by Apr. 7th; their Colors of Cuba tour is also available from $3,699 per person when you book by Apr. 7th.
Although technically India did earn a spot on Budget Travel's To Go Or Not To Go: 2014 list due to 2013'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 Apr. 23rd. 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.
Australia & New Zealand
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 Mar. 31st, that includes round-trip flights between the U.S. and Australia, four nights in Melbourne; four nights in Sydney, flights between cities, and all taxes and fees, from $1,799 per person. Additional options are listed below.
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 $2,299 per person. All must be booked by Mar. 31st for travel between May 1 and Jun. 21, 2015.
Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago: More Than 800 Untouched Tropical Islands
In a world where it seems every potential tourist spot is becoming yet another site for fast food franchises, Myanmar offers many locations that are unbelievably unspoiled. Formerly known as Burma, the country is vast and offers a wide range of ecosystems that can be enjoyed. Among them are tropical islands, such as those that make up the Mergui Archipelago to the south of the country. Because they only became opened to tourism recently (in 1997), there are not that many visitors as of yet, allowing you a chance to visit a place that few people in the world have ever been. It's the perfect spot for enjoying the surf and the sand. You can go boating, snorkeling, diving, and fishing here in turquoise water that is unbelievably clear. Or you can just laze on the pure white sand and do nothing at all except enjoy a refreshing drink. The choice is yours. On land, you'll be able to spot a number of different species including deer, wild boar, lizards, monkeys, and many tropical birds. In the water, there is abundant marine wildlife, including sharks, rays, dolphins, and an almost impossible myriad of colorful fish. As interesting as the animals are, so too are the local people called the Moken, or sea gypsies. They live primarily on the water and have a unique culture that is almost magical to behold. Today, they build their boats and fish much as their ancestors have done for centuries. They are superb swimmers and divers, making the bulk of their living by diving for pearls, shells, and other marine treasures. To get to the islands, you can fly from Yangon, Myanmar, or take a boat from Kawthoung or Dawei. Flights don't leave every day, so be sure to check the schedule when planning your itinerary. It's also possible to cruise there. The best part of the islands is the lack of infrastructure, so you're not going to find your pick of 5-star resorts here. The lodging of choice is the Myanmar Andaman Resort. While it is called a resort, don't think Club Med—it's more like an eco-lodge, but what it lacks in the facilities of a true resort, it more than makes up for in its proximity to nature at its unspoiled best. The hotel does offer kayaking and snorkeling trips and it's even possible to take most PADI courses here for those who wish to improve their diving abilities. If staying landside doesn't appeal to you, take a look at one of the many cruise options. They are available in a variety of lengths from as little as three days on up to 10. Of course, the longer a cruise you choose, the more you will be able to see and do. When choosing your cruise, you will have options as to the class of boat you would like—remember that you will be living aboard the ship for the duration of your tour, meaning you should choose the same comfort level that you would prefer in a hotel. Also, if your particular interest is in diving, be sure to look at one of the many vessels that offer that as a specialty. This article was written by Maureen Santucci. Originally from the U.S., Maureen has made Peru her home for the past five years. She writes for Fodor's Travel Guide as well as various travel blogs when she isn't escaping off to the mountains to hike, teaching Tai Chi, or treating patients in her acupuncture clinic.
Wildlife Hotspots in Lima, Peru
This article was written by Andreas Ambarchian, a freelance journalist from England who writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife, and sports. He wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge offering ample opportunities for wildlife viewing in the Peruvian Amazon. For all the dense rainforest in Peru, the capital of Lima is better described as a concrete jungle than a haven for animals. Yet, despite the heavy traffic congestion and inexorable building development in Lima's inner city, there is still plenty of wildlife to see along the coastal region. Palomino IslandsAlthough a city in its own right, Callao is fully integrated into the Metropolitan Area of Lima—it is off the coast of this important port that the Palomino Islands are situated. The islands are home to a large colony of sea lions, with boat tours to the area taking around 30 minutes to reach the destination. Life jackets are provided, as are light snacks and refreshments. Depending on weather and water conditions, visitors are offered the chance to swim among the animals. Tours to the islands also pass by the naval base of San Lorenzo Island, which is home to a number of Humboldt penguins and the old prison island of Fronton. Inner City BirdwatchingThe inner city of Lima is well built up, however even in the most urban districts, such as Barranco and Miraflores, it is possible to find public parks. Although often quite busy, these spaces can be peaceful and are very popular with the wildlife in the area. Vibrantly colored song birds often forage for food in the parks, while flocks of parakeets and hummingbirds can also be seen. One of the largest and best maintained public parks in Lima is Parque El Olivar, located in the business district of San Isidro. The green space has lots of trees, and you can visit a library, an art gallery, a pond, and some early 20th century mansions nearby. [Parque Kennedy in Miraflores is also worth a visit, especially if you're a cat lover—the park is full of clean, happy neighborhood cats!] The CoastLong stretches of boardwalks make much of the coast visible from inland Lima. From here, sea birds, such as cormorants, can be seen plunging into the ocean below. There is also a circuit of beaches making the ocean easily accessible for scuba divers. The water is quite cold so a wet suit would be required. The Pacific Ocean off Lima is inhabited by an array of marine life. In all, Peru has over 1,000 species of fish, some 1,400 species of mollusks, and more than 300 species of shellfish. One of the most popular dives in the area is in the south of Lima, off the coast of the Pucusana district, home to the remains of a 60-foot boat wreck. ZoosLima is home to two zoos, the Zoologico de Huachipa and the Parque de las Leyendas. The first, the smaller of the two, is a privately owned park in the Ate district of the city, close to Central Lima. Here, there are a wide variety of different animals including tigers, giraffes, zebras, and kangaroos, as well as a few indigenous species like monkeys, llamas, and parrots. Inside the botanical garden are around 600 species of exotic, native, and endangered plants. Meanwhile, Parque de las Leyendas is located in a pre-Columbian complex in the San Miguel district. There are various ruins inside the park as well as animals like bears, vicunas, penguins, and big cats.
Lock in an Unbeatable Ski Deal NOW
World-class snow-peaked Rocky Mountain lodging from $99 a night. Oh, and kids ski for free. Sounds good, right? Wait. It's only May! Didn't the ski season just wind down? Yep. But if you want to lock in great rates, don't wait until next season's snow starts coming down before booking a ski getaway. Keystone Resort (800/328-1323, keystoneresort.com), in Colorado, may be America's best ski deal, and booking now means you can save up to 40 percent on lodgings, not to mention the resort's kids-ski-free policy, which has no exceptions or blackout dates. Last November, I published our Ski Resort Survival Guide, in which I confessed that I'd never been skiing, and I promised to learn. The folks at Keystone read that story and emailed me, suggesting that my family and I join them for ski lessons. We did just that, spending a week at Keystone in February, and had a blast learning to ski (I'll share that story in Budget Travel's November/December 2014 issue). We also came away feeling that Keystone not only offered exceptional deals but also a gorgeous, second-to-none setting. If a deal is high on your winter 2014/2015 list, check out the Inn at Keystone in November or early December, where you can lock in rates from $99 a night. I loved the comfortable feel of the rooms at the Inn, the fact that you can walk to Keystone's fantastic Mountain House ski runs on Dercum Mountain (including an amazing ski school that my daughters adored), nab a complimentary hot breakfast every morning, and even bring your dog if that's your thing. The vibe around the Mountain House ski runs is laid back and friendly. The Inn's comfy convenience is just one of Keystone's many lodging options, and you can get downright spectacular if your budget permits. But even upscale digs like the Keystone Lodge and Spa, and a number of condos, remain firmly in the range of smart travelers like you. And as appealing as the resort's Mountain House runs are, the River Run ski area, with an incredible gondola ride to the 11,000+ foot summit, has more star power. Most visitors divide their time between the two areas, and of course there's plenty of exploring to do. (There's also a traditional chairlift for those who prefer to kick it old school, and for the occasions when the winds require the gondola to shut down.) Staying at Keystone also means you can take part in the Epic ski pass program, which gets you onto the runs at other major Colorado resorts, including Vail and Breckenridge, plus resorts in Japan, Switzerland, and France. Keystone also has an array of dining options, all of them exceptional. (My favorite is Keystone's Sleigh Ride Dinner, which takes guests on a two-horse open sleigh to a homestead-style cabin for a cowboy-cooked dinner, live music, and, on a cold, clear night, one of the most spectacular night skies you'll ever seen.)
America's Most Beautiful Sunsets (Plus Deals to Get You There!)
Want to check out these amazing sunsets in person? Here are deals to get you to all of them: Maui, HI How does six nights at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel sound? Delta Vacations puts you right on the beach, including airfare, six nights, and hotel taxes for around $1,200 (depending on where you're flying from). Bradshaw Mountains, AZ Spend some time exploring Arizona with an Expedia deal that includes airfare and five nights, usually for less than $700! The stunning Bradshaw Mountains are in Prescott National Forest, about a two-hour drive northwest of Phoenix. Virginia Hunt Country The Marriott Ranch, in Hume, Virginia, is about 50 miles outside Washington, D.C., but is a decidedly rural environment. You can book day trips, including a "City Slickers" ranch experience, "Twilight Dinner Rides," and a four-night "Western Vacation Package (including all riding equipment) for under $700. Texas Hill Country You can book a flight and three nights in Austin via Expedia, usually for under $500, and explore Hill Country must-sees like Fredericksburg (about a 90-minute drive due west), with its thriving wineries, inns, and restaurants. Sault Ste. Marie, MI The gorgeous sunsets behind freighters in the Soo Locks here are an unlikely pair, but it's all part of the spectacular landscape to be found around Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water on earth. Fly into Minneapolis (typically under $400 on U.S. Airways from New York) and explore the lakeshore, including Minnesota, Michigan, and Ontario, at your own pace in a rental car. California Wine Country From the sunny valleys to the mist-shrouded mountains, the warm days the cool nights, the climate in Northern California isn't just ideal for growing grapes but for the perfect romantic getaway as well! Gate 1 Travel offers package deals that include airfare, hotel, and car rental in San Francisco and wine country, often for less than $800! See our readers' best photos of sunsets around the world!