If you dream of visiting far off places and experiencing once-in-a-lifetime adventures, you might think it’s impossible, short of winning the lottery or receiving some other type of windfall. The reality is, there are ways to make your travel dreams come true on a budget, including these top trips of a lifetime.
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New Zealand is on the top of many travelers’ bucket lists – but the cost of visiting this breathtaking country stops many people from achieving their dreams of visiting it. There are many ways to cut back by planning on your own trip rather than choosing an all-inclusive tour. Plan to visit between March and May, when airfare to New Zealand is typically cheaper — high season is considered June-August. If you’d like to explore the entire country, you might want to consider renting a motor home, although there are many less expensive alternatives. In fact, the most budget-friendly option would be to use public transportation and take advantage of the amazing Kiwi hospitality and Couchsurf. New Zealanders tend to be especially friendly and many are more than willing to open their door to couch surfers for a night or two –it also gives you the chance to get in on the secret hidden gems.
Once you pay for airfare, South Africa is an excellent value destination, especially as the U.S. dollar is strong against the South African rand. You can honor Nelson Mandela with a visit to the Apartheid Museum or Robben Island, and of course, instead of taking an expensive safari, you can visit the country’s top wildlife parks on your own. South Africa offers one of the most diverse landscapes on the continent, with habitats ranging from verdant forests, stony deserts and towering mountains, to lush grasslands and classic African savannahs. This country is home penguins and flamingos, great white sharks and African elephants, as well as many other animals. There are hundreds of publicly owned reserves, including national parks and private reserves, with Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park being the largest.
Travel to Cuba was off-limits to Americans for decades, but now travelers can enjoy visiting this country and feel like they’re stepping back into the 1950s, including classic automobiles from the era. Staying in a Casa Particular, similar to a bed and breakfast, is the least expensive way to experience this island nation. This is also a great way to get to know the locals and be let in on local favorites when it comes to what to see and do in the area. Dine on the wide variety of street fare options and you can save big on food too, with items like peso pizza available for less than 50 cents. To plan your trip, you’ll need to contact a tour company that holds a special government cultural-exchange license through President Obama’s People-to-People program.
Mayan Pyramids, Mexico
Just about everyone has the Pyramids of Giza on their travel bucket list, but with the high cost of airfare to get there in addition to the political strife in Egypt, you might want to consider the equally inspiring Mayan Pyramids in Mexico. While there are plenty of pricey resorts on the Yucatan Peninsula, you can find budget-friendly accommodations in Mahahual, a small village in Costa Maya. Costa Maya is the closest port of access to many of the lesser known, but just as rewarding, Mayan ruins, including Kohunlich and Chacchoben.
The capital city of Lithuania was recently named the cheapest Europe destination for a city break. In this relatively undiscovered gem, visitors can find accommodations, sightseeing attractions, city transport and dining for very affordable prices. Even a pint of locally brewed beer is only 2 euros. Vilnius is also a rising star for budget European airlines, delivering travelers directly to the city from other major airports throughout the continent. While Vilnius may be overshadowed by places like Budapest and Prague, you’ll find just as many delights, including Old Town Vilnius with its diverse array of architectural styles, including Baroque, Classicism, Gothic and Renaissance. The city is also filled with parks, cobbled alleys and monuments as well as cafes, shops, museums, galleries, theaters and squares.
Southeast Asia Tour
If you’re dreaming of a tour through Southeast Asia, including the chance to visit ancient temples, historical spots and idyllic beaches throughout Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, it may seem out of reach on a budget. However, some budget-friendly travel companies like G Adventures offer Southeast Asia tours for a little more than $100 a day, including regional flights and boat rides between countries, accommodations, most meals, all guided tours, entrance fees and ground transportation. You’ll get to explore the bustling streets of Hanoi, sail down the Mekong River, spend the night in a Laotian village, experience magnificent Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, and much more.
You can even visit India for about $65 a day through G Adventures. A tour of Northern India and Rajasthan includes accommodation, guided tours and all ground transportation. You’ll enjoy an array of unique experiences, including an overnight camel safari in the desert as well as free time to explore many cities on your own. Guided tours include visits to Pushkar, New Delhi, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Udaipur and Bikaner as well as the opportunity to witness a sunrise at the Savitri Temple in Pushkar and a scenic boat trip down the River Ganges.
This ultra-cosmopolitan city has a longstanding international reputation as a mecca of fashion, art, culture, history, gastronomy and architecture as well as being a rather pricey place to visit. With its iconic Eiffel Tower, lots of opportunity for romance, and delectable croissants with chunks of dark chocolate, there is really nowhere else like it. The good news is that unlike cities like London, you’ll find a number of affordable and comfortable accommodations. Instead of the legendary George V, choose a more intimate, family-run hotel de charme or a B&B. While you’re in Paris, you can even get a meal for free, or next to nothing, as some bars and eateries offer customers a free meal provided you buy a drink, while other restaurants serve up a free dish of mussels and chips or couscous once or twice a week. There are plenty of free cultural offerings as well. Some museums offer free entry every day, all year long, while others offer free entry on the first Sunday of every month.
The Dead Sea, Israel
Swimming in the Dead Sea is really more like floating due to its high salinity levels, offering a rather surreal experience, though the main attraction for taking a dip here is the water and mud’s purported beauty and therapeutic effects. Baking in the mud is like an amazing mineral mask all over your body, and many people have claimed to find relief from conditions like arthritis and psoriasis after floating in this warm, salty bath. Stay at the Massada Guest House & Youth Hostel and you’ll enjoy incredible views of the sea, free Wi-Fi, an outdoor swimming pool and a kosher breakfast. A dorm room is just $43, while a private, double room will put you back about $128 a night.
Many people long to take an Alaskan Cruise through the Inside Passage for the chance to see massive glaciers, whales, bears, bald eagles and all sorts of other wildlife. Going during the high season, between June and mid-August can be expensive, but you can find pretty good deals by going in April or May, or between late August and early September. While temperatures will be a bit chillier, the cost savings usually make bundling up well worth it. Also keep in mind that boarding in a larger port, such as Seattle, is usually cheaper than embarking from a smaller, less-frequented port. If you find that it’s still out of your price range, you might want to consider making a trip on a ferry via the Alaskan Marine Highway instead – you’ll enjoy the same breathtaking scenery at a fraction of the cost, albeit without lavish amenities.
The Faroe Islands, located between Scotland and Iceland, is a remote archipelago that may seem impossible to visit for anyone who doesn’t have a very thick wallet, but there are ways to make a trip here more affordable. If you’ve always wanted to go to Iceland, you might consider an adventure that combines both. WOW airlines offers cheap airfare from the east coast to Iceland. Once you’re there, you can take a ferry to the Faroe Islands, starting at around $300 round trip. Mykines is the most westerly and most picturesque of the islands. It is renowned for its bird watching opportunities, particularly puffins, and is home to the beautiful Mykines village that is dotted with small, grass-roofed houses. Accommodations here start at less than $35 per night.
While most people think of a Caribbean cruise as departing from Florida and visiting ports like Nassau in the Bahamas, there are actually some 2,000 different Caribbean cruises to choose from, and quite a few bargains to be had as well. With so many options, competition is fierce, keeping prices lower than you might think. If you’re able to sail during the school year, you’ll find some of the best deals – for example, a seven-night round trip cruise aboard Disney from Port Canaveral, Fla., in late October/early November can be had for only about $1,000 per person. Holland America offers about a dozen 10- and 11-night Caribbean cruises for less than $1,000 too. You can also keep your costs down by driving to the embarkation port, provided you don’t live on the other side of the country.
Just a four-hour flight from the east coast via SATA Airlines, the Azores is made up of nine volcanic islands that feel like they’re worlds away. Located at the midway point between the old and new world, they offer a paradoxical experience since they are all at once wild yet tame, historic yet modern. Their remoteness has left the culture relatively untouched, and it’s not uncommon to spend the day splashing in natural swimming pools, which are actually water-filled volcanic craters, and then end up drinking local wine with the very man who filled the bottles. Hostel dorm rooms can be had for less than $20 a night, while private rooms start at around $40.
How about soaking in whey in the Swiss Alps? Certainly something to check off on your bucket list. In Appenzell, you can hike up to a remote dairy farm above the gorgeous turquoise waters of Seealpsee Lake, where dairyman Hans Gmünder and his family live in a small cabin above a cheese-cellaring cave. There, visitors can enjoy a soak in a creamy bath filled with fresh, unfiltered whey in a large outdoor wooden tub for under $50, which includes cheese, a drink and a farm visit. For only another $20, you can stay in a guest cabin too. An alternative, is Berggasthaus Seealpsee, a chalet-style guesthouse with a wide variety of sleeping options, including single rooms and private double rooms, for less than $80 a night. It also hosts a full-service restaurant serving delicious regional dishes made with local ingredients. From here, you’ll just be a short walk to the dairy farm – in fact, if you open your windows in the morning you’ll even be able to hear the ring of the cowbell from across the lake.
St. Kitts, Caribbean
If your idea of a fabulous vacation is spending your time at a Caribbean island resort with lots of amenities and a private beach but you can’t afford to shell out several hundred dollars a night, you’re in luck. The St. Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino offers one of the best values in the Caribbean at $200 per night. That includes access to a multitude of pools, bars, restaurants, a private beach, casino, golf course and a spa. While you’re here, you can also enjoy a once in a lifetime experience meeting the Rastafari community, a group dedicated to “sharing Rastafari and natural farming to serve and nourish the physical and spiritual well being of all people.” They welcome volunteers and visitors to their organic farm outside of Basseterre, where you can share home-cooked organic meals with the farmers in their outdoor kitchen, debating life and philosophy, and even helping to shell peanuts for planting if that’s your thing.
Iguazu Falls and the Rainforest, Argentina
Iguazu Falls, located on the basaltic line straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil, have to be one of the best spots on earth for a selfie — though the powerful falls are much more impressive in person than any photo could possibly capture. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly said “Poor Niagara” after seeing them for the first time. You can reach the top of the falls by taking a short hike through Iguazu National Park. While you’re here, you can also visit what remains of the Atlantic rainforest. The region provides a natural habitat for half of Argentina’s birds, including parrots and toucans, with sightings of crocodiles, otters, raccoons and monkeys extremely common – with a little luck, you may even see a puma or jaguar. Check the low season rates for upscale accommodations at Iguazu Grand Resort Spa & Casino, just 10 minutes from the falls, and you can find even cheaper options through a number of hostels in the area.
Walking China's Great Wall
While you could walk the entire Great Wall, it would take the average person 18 months. There are few people who have that kind of time, but you can walk a portion of it and still enjoy memories of a lifetime that won’t cost you a ton of money either. One option is the Great Wall Courtyard Hostel, a unique property built in the original style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It’s just one-third of a mile from the Badaling Great Wall, and a half-hour drive to the Badaling Broken Great Wall. The staff offers guided tours and you’ll also enjoy an onsite hot spring, wine bar, free karaoke and private bathrooms.