What’s on your travel bucket list? It’s safe to say that it’s probably not the cheapest vacation on the planet, since there’s something about the words “bucket” and “list” that usually comes with a high price tag. So I tapped into a handful of travel experts and got them to share their best tips for how to plan an affordable trip to some of the world’s most amazing—and most expensive—places. Compare this to my 2017 story on the cheapest ways to afford the world’s most expensive places. Now there’s no reason not to start planning your dream trip.
Where: Tokyo and Nikko, Japan
The Expert: Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a Stockholm-based author and photographer, and mother to a daughter obsessed with Japan. Follow her on @LolaAkinmade.
How to Save: From dazzling skyscrapers to dizzying subcultures, it’s no wonder Tokyo, Japan, remains high on many travelers’ list. But exploring Tokyo’s cultural sights and culinary scenes isn’t cheap. Especially with a family in tow – in my case, a daughter who is fascinated by and wants to learn more about Japanese culture. Many people pair a trip to Tokyo with a side trip to Kyoto, expecting a serene experience and not realizing that this is a big, bustling city. Instead, I recommend going to Nikko, a mountain town that is an easy train ride from Tokyo and filled with historic temples and quiet gardens. Here are my tips for making the most of your time in Tokyo and Nikko.
READ MORE: “This 21-Year-Old Woman Claims She’s The Youngest Person To Travel To Every Country”
Taking a taxi from both of Tokyo’s international airports—Narita and Haneda—may eat up half your vacation budget. If you’re lugging a lot of baggage as a family, taking the often packed trains to town can also be a hassle. I recommend booking shared shuttle services through sites like Viator or Green Tomato. Spending time at the Skytreecomplex is a great way to while away an afternoon. From lunch at Solamachi Kunimi restaurant with excellent views of the tower, exploring the Pokemon center for souvenirs to visiting the Sumida aquarium and going up to the Skytree Observation Deck to watch the sun set. For families, take an overnight (or preferably several night) trip to Nikko, a less than two-hour train ride with Tobu Railway from Tokyo’s bustling center. Tobu Railway offers a discounted Nikko Pass, which includes train tickets, unlimited public transport, as well as offers for the key attractions in the area.
In Nikko, you can visit its national park and World Heritage area, check out Kegon Falls, which is Japan’s highest waterfall, take traditional canoes down the Kinugawa River and marvel at the awe-inducing Toshogu Shrine. You can also travel back in time to Japan’s Edo period at Edo Wonderland, where you and your family will learn about its history, participate in arts and crafts, watch live ninja storytelling shows and wear traditional folk attire—from kimonos to dressing up as geishas.
If you book well in advance, you can easily find affordable accommodation. Stay at the Tobu Levant Hotel in Tokyo for its spectacular views of Skytree Tower. If you have fans of Hello Kitty in tow, then check out Keio Plaza Tama and its Hello Kitty-themed rooms within walking distance from Sanrio Puroland (Hello Kitty World). While in Nikko, be sure to bed down and dip into natural hot springs and thermal pools at historic Chuzenji Kanaya Hotel.
From tempura and sushi to teppanyaki and excellent vegan choices, you will be spoilt for choice in Japan, especially if you lean towards a more savory, saltier palate. Sushi restaurants such as Heiroku, which serve sushi on conveyor belts, are affordable and fun. For a vibrant peek into Japanese subcultures, Harajuku Kawaii Monster Café offers a glimpse. While not considered cheap, it’s definitely worth dining on crazy-crafted technicolored foods and popular with families.
Some other travel advice: You will need a mobile map to get around and navigate Tokyo with ease, so pick up a SIM card with a data plan at the airport to cover the duration of your trip. Many restaurants and shops still don’t accept credit cards, and if they do, may require a local one, so it’s best to have enough cash on hand. Not all ATMs work with foreign bank withdrawals as well, so whenever you see a 7-Eleven convenience store with an ATM, be sure to stock up on cash. Saying that Tokyo is sprawling is an understatement. If you will be staying in more than one hotel during your trip, there are same-day luggage transfer services that will deliver your bags to your next hotel at affordable rates so you don’t have to worry while you’re out exploring.
Where: Amalfi Coast, Italy
The Expert: Becca Ingle is an avid family travel blogger. She is the founder of BeccaIngle.com, where you can read all her travel guides. Follow her on Instagram (@Beccaingle).
How to Save: There is something magical about living the Italian lifestyle, riding Vespas along the coast and sailing to small islands during the day. Good thing for you: All these excursions can be reasonable if you do it right. The best times to visit are in the offseason, typically between November to April, but you can also see the best deals and experience great weather in the fall/spring if you snag a rental soon enough (start planning six months in advance). Your best bet is to stay in the center of the Amalfi coast in Sorrento and eat like a local. I also recommend traveling with a group of friends, which can cut your nightly rates by 75%. Book with Sorrento Vibes, a property management company for holiday villas and local travel planning run by an experienced team who provide trustworthy information, tailor-made itineraries and suggestions about Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. With their recommendations, you can have an unforgettable holiday in the area and find prices as low as $100 a night for romantic (and luxurious) accommodations.
My next suggestion is to rent Vespas for your time in Sorrento for as low as $35 euros a day at Jolly in Sorrento. You can take the Vespas to Positano, Ravello or along the Amalfi coast and find easy parking decks at the places with the top views. Make sure to stop by the free area on the famous Spiaggia Grande beach in Positano (only one area is free to the public; the other two beach clubs are very expensive).
If you are with a group or prefer a private van tour, you can book and customize any type of excursion with Salvatore’s Tours, which offers various deals for an entire day. Check out the Pompeii tour for two people with your own private car, guided tour, wine tasting and lunch included for $300. Another way to get the most out of the trip is to do a boat tour to Capri or Amalfi Coast with Fernandos Boats for an entire day (choose the group tour option). If you stop on the island of Capri, visit the shops and have custom leather sandals made for only a fraction of the price you would get online in Ana Capri. Then eat lunch at a local stand and head over to La Fontelina to relax for a few hours on the beach chairs. A tip: You need to reserve three days in advance.
Staying in Sorrento gives you the best options to explore each city within 45 minutes or less and find the best local cheap eats. Stop by these family-owned restaurants in Sorrento: La Cantinaccia Del Popolo, Da Emilia and Da Filippo. If you want to splurge one night with the money you saved, I still dream about the lemon linguini at L’Antica Trattoria, also located in the heart of Sorrento, or O’Parrucchiano. Then stop in to Pizzeria Da Franco for just $6 per person. You can also go by local grocery stores and get the best wine and appetizers to have a picnic on any of the beaches or parks.
Flying into major airport hubs like Rome over Naples will also help with the cost. Make sure to put Google flight alerts on flight routes several months in advance: I have seen roundtrip flights as low as $600 from RDU airport to Rome. Grab an Italian dish to get your tastebuds ready for the trip from Babymoon café right by RDU airport.
Where: The Maldives
Chosen By: Patricia Stone is the founder of Global Adventuress. She’s traveled to 170 countries and shares her handpicked favorites at unique destinations. Her award-winning site has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and USA Today. Follow her on Instagram @global_adventuress.
Why: The Maldives is a tropical escape like no other. This paradise lies on the equator southwest of Sri Lanka and India, spanning 500 miles north to south across the Indian Ocean. The Maldives archipelago of 27 ring-like reef formations surrounded by lagoons was created by volcanic activity long ago. These atolls look like pearl necklaces with 1,192 small coral islands. Only 190 are inhabited by locals and over 200 are resort islands.
What used to be a billionaire’s getaway is now affordable for budget travelers. Pack some patience, and you can take the slow boat to dozens of local islands with white sand beaches, swaying palm trees and the bluest waters you’ll ever see. Go off-season (July to September) when rates are low, and you’ll find you have beaches all to yourself. Independent travel is new here, so plan ahead.
Stay in a guesthouse on a local island and get to know the Maldivian way of life. On Mahibadhoo, stay for as low as $20 at Zala’s Liberty Guest House on a white-sand beach with a coral reef. Enjoy meals like chicken, curry and rice, grilled fish with roshi bread for $10 per person. Don’t miss the free breakfasts, and buy local fruit and snacks for lunch to save money. There’s even a dive center on-site. Other local islands to consider include Maafushi, Fulidhoo and Guraidhoo. Or stretch your budget and stay at a luxury resort for a night or two.
There are plenty of free things to do. Bring your gear and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters. Some places offer water equipment for free. Get off the grid, relax on the beach, read a book. Shop around to find a good price for a snorkel or fishing trip or a boat trip to private sand banks ranging between $25-50 per person.
When it comes to getting around, take the public ferry or traditional dhoni to local islands for as little as $1. Timetables can change, so be sure to check the schedules. Or save time and go by speedboat; tickets start at $29 each way.
The Expert: Katherine Alex Beaven is a travel and food writer who has visited over 45 hotels in the Canadian Rockies and falls more in love with Alberta after every visit. Follow her adventures on Instagram (@alex_keight).
How to Save: Alberta’s five pristine national parks (including the planet’s second-largest Dark Sky Preserve), plethora of outdoor activities, food, culture and iconic North American wildlife make it a no-brainer for adventurous bucket list travelers. The jaw-dropping landscapes in Alberta look good in any season, though crowds tend to peak in summer. Exchange rates help offset overall trip costs, but taking advantage of shoulder season flight and hotel deals between mid-March to mid-June and again from late September to mid-December can automatically save you hundreds. Flights route into either Calgary or Edmonton—both cities with a thriving food and culture scenes and worth a trip in their own right—so you’ll want to rent a car to reach the Canadian Rockies. A car will give you the freedom to travel on your schedule and help avoid expensive tours and taxis—and the scenery is out of this world, especially along the Icefields Parkway in winter. Summer and winter car rental rates are highest due to demand and possible mandatory winter extras like tire chains for driving through snow. The Roam Bus, which travels to specific sites between Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise, is also a great public transportation option with pass options starting at just $5.
However, having your own transportation means you can also save money by staying in hotels and lodges in less touristy towns, like Drumheller, or more secluded areas slightly off the beaten path, like the Castle Mountain Chalets located between Banff and Lake Louise. You’ll also have easier access to Alberta’s 500 campgrounds—the ultimate nature-filled and budget-friendly experience. For city stays, many folks set up base in Canmore, just an hour from Banff, where you get more bang for your buck, and larger, more modern accommodations. You can also find hotels deals in both Edmonton and Calgary that rival the cost of staying in an Airbnb, though some say the value of local Canadian hospitality is priceless.
Eating out can be expensive, especially up in the Canadian Rockies, so stretch your dollars by booking accommodations with condo-style rooms sporting self-catering full kitchens like Canmore’s Blackstone Mountain Lodge or the Rocky Mountain Lodge near Banff. Save your money for memorable meals out at Bündok and Cafe Linnea in Edmonton, Storm Mountain Lodge or The Grizzly House in Banff, Maligne Kitchen in Jasper or Bridgette Bar in Calgary, to name a few.
When it comes to exploring Alberta’s natural beauty, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a rich experience. Park day passes are about $15 ($20 CAD) per vehicle and parking is usually free, meaning it’s possible to spend less than $100 to hike, bike, walk and soak up the wildlife and scenery in all five parks. In Jasper National Park, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge hosts educational Dark Sky activities with astronomy guides, but you can still catch an eye-full of stars overhead if you find a clear patch of sky and look up. Hotels and tourism boards often run package specials, particularly for families, like kids under 12 ski free with a paying adult. Oh, and don’t worry, you don’t have to spend over $1,000 per night to take in the beauty of the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, just take the Roam Bus from town and explore the grounds on your own—or better yet, save money and enjoy the scenic 15-minute walk.
The Expert: Laura Robinson is a writer, travel designer and founder of LCL Travel. She spends her summers on the island of Kauai with her husband and two daughters.
How to Save: From the 15 miles of the Na Pali Coastline with cliffs as high as 4,000 feet to the monk seals on the south side, Kauai is arguably one of the most gorgeous spots on earth. With no taller building than a coconut tree and free-roaming chickens, the garden isle’s tropical forests have served as a backdrop for many films such as Jurassic Park. Yet Hawaii, even for locals, can be an expensive prospect if you are not in the know. For a fraction of the cost of spending the summer in Nantucket, for example, we have found a way to have a reasonably priced summer on the island. We love summers on the north shore, but the cheapest times to fly to Kauai are September to November and April to June when airfare drops.
Every rental property on Kauai must be managed by a property manager or someone with a real estate broker’s license. On VRBO, most condo and villa units list the property manager’s name. Avoid the VRBO fees by going directly to the management’s website and book directly through them. The Princeville has a myriad of condo options to choose from. Also feel free to negotiate rates directly with owners. The Alii Kai condos, Puamana and the Sea Lodge on the north shore have great deals on one- and two-bedroom condos. The Prince Kuhlio and Waikomo Streams on the south side are very reasonable, as well. Parrish Kauai often runs specials on its condos. For cheaper rental cars, check this site.
Want to save money on food? When you depart Lihue airport, stop at Costco. The charming surfing town of Hanalei has a vibrant food truck scene, where locals line up for their favorite “grindz” often before noon. Kealia Poke and Pat’s Taqueria are located in Hanalei down the road from the Princeville. Kapa’a on the east side has wonderful food trucks, too, like 3 Girls Local Grill for plate lunches and Porky’s for Kalua pork hot dogs. Look for the farmer’s markets that occur almost every day on the island. My favorite is Hanalei Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. Foodland and most local supermarkets have great poke and sushi, so take it with you for a picnic at the beach. Another tip: Try going to restaurants for happy hour, which offers discounts on drinks and pupus. The Happy Talk Lounge at the Hanalei Bay Hotel has a great view of the water and $2 off drinks and food between 3-5 p.m. Dukes at Kalapaki Bay in Lihue has happy hour daily from 4-6:30 p.m., plus Taco Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m. with $3.50 fish or kalua pork tacos along with beer and margarita specials. Trees Lounge in Kapa’a has a happy hour from 5-7 p.m. Monday to Saturday with $6 Martini Madness and Live Music. The best ice cream is at Pink’s Creamery in Hanalei with chocolate mac nut ice cream and a Hawaiian grilled cheese—your lunch is done.
All beaches in Hawaii are public. Rock Quarry Beach (aka Kahili beach) is as private and wild as they come, with lovely rolling waves and rope swings hanging over the nearby river. The beaches around the island are countless. Hike Waimea Canyon—Hawaii’s Grand Canyon—one day and swim in the waterfalls Kayak the Wailua Riverand visit the secret falls for $60 per person. Princeville Makai Golf Course has been rated one of the beautiful in the world and has a sunset golf tour that starts two hours before sunset. It’s $69 per cart and well worth it for the views alone. Rent a bike in Kapa’a and enjoy the bike path along the ocean. A full day on a classic beach cruiser is $20 for an adult. The Tahitian Dance Shows in the Poipu village are free and open to the public every Monday and Thursday at 5 p.m. The Kauai Coffee Company invites you to visit the estate, learn more about how coffee is grown and processed and sample the coffee—for free. There’s also a free scavenger hunt for the kids.
Chosen By: Michaela Guzy is a media executive, entrepreneur and on-air show host. She is the executive producer for two online television shows, Michaela’s Map and Oh The People You Meet. Based in New York City, she is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, where she teaches a course called ”Travel Storytelling: Creating Video Content.”
How to Save: An African safari may translate to sighting the Big Five (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino and leopard), but Botswana has so much more to offer travelers than just bouncing about in the back of a safari vehicle passively watching spectacular wildlife. For starters, get involved in your life-changing experience. Take an unconventional safari by boat, on foot, mokoro, helicopter or my new favorite—on horseback. Trotting past giraffes past a fresh kill is intimidatingly awesome.
These unexpected safari experiences are possible because of the country’s geographic diversity rich with national parks, flood planes, salt pans, deserts and river deltas, including the 1000th UNESCO World Heritage site, the Okavango Delta.
And it’s not just about the animals here (though having a meerkat climb on top of my head to make sure no predators were around was hands down one of my favorite life moments). The San communities of the ancient Kalahari Desert live in peaceful coexistence with the wildlife and directly benefit from tourism. For an authentic immersion with the local San community, check out one of Natural Selection’s four camps in Makgadikgadi, from the seasonal San Camp and the family-friendly Camp Kalahari or Meno a Kwena to Jack’s Camp, at the top end for rustic African luxury. One of many reasons to splurge on Jack’s Camp is the free massage, premium beverages and a horse riding experience, all included in the nightly rate.
In other regions of Botswana, stay with sustainable safari operators African Bush Camps and &Beyond, which have a range of eco-chic and barefoot luxury properties across the country with some of the top guides in Africa. Both companies also work to support wildlife, the land and the people through relevant and sustainable income-generating initiatives.
Some ways to stay at safari lodges for less include visiting during green season (December to March) for rates up to 40% off or traveling with a friend and room sharing to avoid single occupancy rates. All three companies, above, have multiple lodges in Botswana, and the longer you stay (four, five or six-plus nights) or at multiple properties within the portfolio, you’ll receive an increased discount. Inquire with your travel advisor or ask directly when booking online. Certain safari operators also offer special discounts for brides on their honeymoons (including African Bush Camps and &Beyond)
Africa is also where all-inclusive is a good thing. If you break down the cost per night at these camps, your transfers, meals, sundowners, water, guides, amenities, laundry and heck, even bug spray, are all included.
The Expert: Kaitlin Menza is a travel and culture writer who’s written online for Town and Country and Conde Nast Traveler. She’s been to 51 countries. Follow her on Instagram (@heykmenz).
How to Save: Switzerland is on so many people’s lists for its unparalleled scenery. The only problem is that the beauty comes at a price. The Swiss franc is on par with the American dollar at the moment, which only makes your morning coffee more painful. Think $7.
Luckily, there are ways around it. Avoid or simply swing through the really ritzy ski towns, like St. Moritz or even Zermatt, and instead check out charming (and cheaper) little medieval villages like Spiez and Stein am Rhein, or chic French- and Italian-influenced towns like Montreux and Poschiavo (respectively). Skiing itself is really expensive, so unless you’re a diehard you can skip altogether—or fly over with your own equipment to save on rentals. Sledding and snow-shoeing are cheaper activities, as is hiking, waterfall chasing and discovering outdoor wonders in adventurous towns in the Jungfrau Region like Interlaken and Grindelwald.
Classic budget maneuvers include staying at Airbnbs, Alpine Huts, camping, hostels like Grindelwald Youth Hostel and Alplodge Interlaken, or two-star hotels like the Hotel Alpenblick or Hotel Edelweiss. Another idea: Stay on a farm. Switzerland also has a thriving agritourism industry, which will allow you to stay on a farm for very little (think under $100 a day). Rates usually include breakfast.
Want to have a great meal? Consider picking up groceries at one of Switzerland’s supermarkets, which are top-notch. (Look for brands like Migros, Coop, Denner, Aldi and Lidl.) Plus, Switzerland isn’t exactly known for its cutting-edge cuisine, though delicious, so you’re not missing out if you eat locally bought produce in your room. Another money-saving meal: Spring for a fondue pot, which costs around $20-25 and can feed four people.
European trains are always a bit more expensive than you think they’re going to be, so a rail pass is a great idea (they are several options, but one is $440 for eight days in second class, which is immaculate). Also, rail passes get you discounts on museums and other tourist experiences around the country. You might also consider a packaged vacation or tour operator, like Vacations By Rail. Not only do they do the planning for you, but they are available at many budgets and will cover your biggest expenses (hotels, train and transfers).
Take advantage of the fact that the primary draw of the country is its landscape, which will always be $0 to look at, and take hikes or swims in the summer (or snowshoe in the winter).
Chosen By: Veronica Stoddart is the former travel editor of USA Today and an award-winning editor, writer and content consultant with more than three decades in travel publishing. A high-profile expert in travel and tourism, she has visited more than 100 countries and believes that travel can be a force for good in the world. Follow her on Instagram (@vjstoddart).
Why: Antarctica, as one of the most remote places on the planet, may be the ultimate bucket list destination. Only 35,000 tourists visit each year, typically by cruise ship. But a trip to the coldest, driest and windiest spot on earth is also expensive. Cruises to the White Continent, 90% of which depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, can cost $6,000-$25,000 per person for 10-14-day expeditions, excluding airfare. But here’s how to save on your trip of a lifetime:
Get a last-minute deal. Check online for last-minute cruise deals, which can be heavily discounted. If you’re flexible, fly to Ushuaia during cruise season (November to March) and check with local travel agencies for available space on any of the daily cruise departures, which can save you as much as 50%.
Book early. Many cruise lines and tour operators offer an “early bird discount” of up to 30% if you book well in advance—from eight months to one year.
Avoid peak times. The cruise season runs during the Antarctic summer (November to March). December and January are considered peak, while November is the cheapest month to travel, since it is colder then with more sea ice present. March may also be cheaper as the season winds down.
Choose a cheaper cruise line. Avoid the luxury lines with their pampering amenities and cushy cabins in favor of less expensive, more basic ships. All your excursions, onboard lectures, and observation decks will still be the same.
Select a cheaper cabin. Smaller and lower cabins (often without portholes) are much less expensive.
Pick a cheaper itinerary. The most common and least costly itineraries just visit the South Shetland Islands and the 1,000-mile-long Antarctic Peninsula, the continent’s northernmost point. Avoid the more expensive sailings, which also include the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
Save on shore excursions. Most cruises include basic daily excursions as part of the cruise price. Skip costly add-on excursions such as snowshoeing, kayaking and overnight camping.
Book as a group. Organize a group, which can be as few as six people, to negotiate a better rate.
The Expert: Celeste Brash has been traveling to French Polynesia since 1991, lived there for 15 years and writes Lonely Planet’s Tahiti and French Polynesia guidebook. Find out more at celestebrash.com. She also rents out her three-bedroom house, Green Room Villa, near a beautiful beach and river in Teahupoo Tahiti.
How to Save: Tahiti and French Polynesia have the bluest water on the planet, chiseled mountain peaks striated with waterfalls, pink, white and black sand beaches, vibrant culture, fresh fish and fruit galore. Plus, the whole place smells like flowers. It seriously doesn’t get better than this.
Flights from the U.S. west coast are the cheapest right now that they’ve been in over a decade. French Bee and United Airlines are running the best deals out of San Francisco, but Air France and Air Tahiti Nui — which both fly from LAX — have had to price their flights more competitively to compete. A roundtrip can cost as low as $650 in low season. Prices go up around Christmas and during summer.
Many people want to head straight to Bora Bora, which is by far the most expensive island. Going to Moorea (which some people think is more beautiful) or mellower islands like Huahine or Maupiti can save you a lot of money. Tahiti can be great, too, especially for people who enjoy hiking.
Another misconception about French Polynesia is that it’s all resorts. There are some truly fantastic small hotels and family pensions all around that country that are not only affordable, but are better for the local economy and give visitors a much more immersive experience. Vanira Lodge, near the surfing village of Teahupoo on Tahiti, is simply stunning. Moorea’s Les Tipaniers is right on a white-sand beach and is great for families. Budget travelers will love Chez Guynette with dorms, private rooms and communal kitchen right near an amazing beach on Huahine. For a local-style Robinson Crusoe experience, Chez Raita on Ahe in the Tuamotu archipelago is an incredible getaway. There are some great Airbnb rentals available, too.
Self-catering is the cheapest option if you have an Airbnb or communal kitchen, but otherwise, snacks, which are very casual restaurants, are the best bet and sell all the local favorites like poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime, mixed with vegetables and covered in coconut milk) and steak frites. If you get off the beaten path a bit you can even find a big plate of sashimi for around $12 (try Snack Tavaniain Vairao, Tahiti). Food trucks are a great option, too, and sell everything from pizzas to crêpes — the Place Vaieta Food Trucks on the waterfront in Papeete are a not-to-miss experience. At lunch, snacks and supermarkets everywhere sell giant casse croute (baguette sandwiches) for around $5 — some of the best I’ve had are found at a little food truck on Moorea called A L’Heure du Sud.
On smaller islands like Huahine, Rangiroa or Bora Bora you can get around on a bike pretty easily but on bigger islands like Tahiti and Moorea renting a vehicle is advisable — and will be your biggest cost. Rental prices fluctuate a lot and it used to be that the small local companies had the best rates, but more recently the best prices I’ve found were online through the bigger companies. For activities, there are plenty of tours but DIY can be just as good — take a hike, head into the lagoon with a mask and snorkel, wander around a market or get a ticket to a local dance performance. You’ll surely meet plenty of locals along the way who will make the adventure even more special.
Inter-island flights are very expensive (there’s a chance a new domestic airline will start services in the coming years which may offer cheaper flights). If you want to see a few islands, definitely look at Air Tahiti’s Air Passes that can save a lot of money.
Cruises won’t get you into the culture much and aren’t the best option for contributing to the local economy, but they can be a good way to see a lot of islands at once and save money on flights, food and lodging in one fell swoop.
The Expert: Julia Dimon is a family travel expert and on-air travel personality who has traveled around the world across seven continents to over 80 countries. She is the co-host of the TV series Word Travels and the author of the book “Travel Junkie: A Badass Guide to Solo Female Travel.” For more of her family travel tips, visit juliadimon.com.
How to Save: Less than a two-hour flight from most East Coast gateways, Bermuda is a great choice for families looking for an elegant beach getaway. The most affordable time to visit Bermuda is during the off-season, which runs from November to March.
Transportation in Bermuda can be expensive. There are no rental car companies on the island, and taxi rides can add up quickly. I’ve found that the most scenic and affordable way to explore Bermuda is via the SeaExpress ferry service. A one-day pass ($19 for adults, $9.50 for children) gives you access to all ferry and bus routes with stops to tourist hubs like Hamilton and historic St. George’s.
Bermuda has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and you can visit them for free. I recently took my two kids (aged 2 and 4) to Horseshoe Bay Beach in Southampton Parish. At the western end of the sandy strip, you’ll find Baby Beach, a calm, protected cove perfect for toddlers.
If you’re traveling with infants or toddlers, consider leaving all of your cumbersome baby gear at home and rent instead. Jogging strollers ($15 a day), car seats ($14 a day), baby monitors ($2.50 a day), pop-up baby beach tents ($5 a day), baby gates ($6 a day) and floaties ($3) can all be rented from Little Longtails, a locally-run baby gear rental service.
For an affordable morning activity with the kids, visit The National Museum of Bermuda’s playground and playhouse at the Royal Naval Dockyard. Easily accessible by ferry, tickets to the museum cost $16 for adults; kids under 16 are free. Within the confines of the largest stone fortress on the island, this playground includes a 70-foot-long moray eel that kids can crawl through and a 21-foot-tall slide replica of the St. David’s Lighthouse. Pop into the adjacent playhouse, featuring hands-on exhibits about Bermuda’s maritime history.
For the active traveler, rent bicycles at Oleander Cycles and bike the Railway Trail, an 18-mile pedestrian and bicycle path that the length of the island. A particularly pretty stretch is in Hamilton Parish near Bailey’s Bay. Another great day trip that won’t break the bank: a visit to Crystal & Fantasy Caves, a whimsical subterranean world of stalactites and stalagmites that was the real-life inspiration for Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. From there, walk along the leafy path to the Swizzle Inn, a colorful pub where you can eat wahoo burgers and sample an authentic Bermuda rum swizzle. For dessert, cross the street to Bailey’s Bay Ice Cream Parlour, a longtime family favorite with 30 flavors of all-natural, homemade ice cream, including coconut and Dark ‘N Stormy for the adults. For more cheap eats, break out of the hotel and go local. The Village Pantry, a sunny spot located in Flatts Village, has a kids’ play area, a wide selection of gluten-free, vegetarian and paleo options on the menu, and kids can even make their own pizzas.
The Expert: An expert on Norway, Terry Ward is a travel writer by profession and lover of world cultures, languages, souls, food, oceans, wild spaces and urban places by nature. She is a contributing editor for Endless Vacation Magazine, Family Vacation Critic, The Points Guy and Conde Nast Traveler. Follow her travels on Instagram (@smokenotfire).
How to Save: The best way to take an affordable trip to Norway — a notoriously expensive country — is to focus on what the country is known for. And that’s it’s impressive natural landscapes, which includes the famed fjords as well as freshwater lakes, rocky islands, many national parks, alpine peaks and more. There aren’t many countries in the world that welcome travelers to bring a tent and pitch it for free almost anywhere. But Norway does, thanks to the country’s right of access called allemannsretten that basically stipulates public access to nature almost everywhere. On one of my first trips to Norway, I spent two weeks in the famous Lofoten islands free-camping in oceanfront locales that we had nearly to ourselves. My expenses were little more than meals and the price of the extra baggage fee for the tent and camping gear we’d lugged from home. The weather is perfect for camping during the summer months, and the views we had were better than most five-star hotels.
Restaurants and especially alcohol, which is heavily taxed, are really expensive in Norway. But I’m always surprised that groceries are along the same lines as what I’m used to paying in the U.S. You can put together an amazing meal with a fresh loaf of bread from a bakery, a typically Norwegian tube of mayonnaise and a bag of shrimp sold quayside in many coastal towns.
Compare the costs of renting a car versus getting around by train or bus. I always rent a car to have maximum freedom, but Norwegian tolls are omnipresent and exorbitant, thanks to the excellent infrastructure of bridges, tunnels and ferries all over the country.
Breakfast is included at almost all hotels, which helps cut costs, and look for Scandinavian chains like Radisson Blu and Scandic all over the country. They usually are pretty affordable, compared to U.S. hotel rates for a similar class of stay.
While Norway does have a few true five star hotels now, it’s not a country where your vacation budget is going to go toward staying at the Four Seasons. What you save on your stay you can put toward experiences, and that’s what the country is really all about — whether that’s heading out on a reindeer sledding adventure north of the Arctic Circle to spot the Aurora or taking a midnight sun safari ride on a rib boat in the fjords to witness the beauty of the Midnight Sun. Norway is all about the experiences, so scrimp on hotels and restaurants and put your vacation dollars where it counts in a country known for its truly great outdoors.
Where: The Galápagos
The Expert: Shortly after getting married, Katie Diederichs and her husband, Ben, quit their jobs and set off on a backpacking trip that never really ended, ranging from teaching English in South Korea to volunteering on a remote organic farm in the Andes. Along the way, they share stories, photos and responsible travel tips on their blog, Two Wandering Soles.
How to Save: Renowned for its unique ecosystem that allows a diverse array of animal species to live together harmoniously, there’s no arguing why the Galápagos Islands are a bucket list destination for wildlife lovers. Even though it’s touted as a luxury destination, you don’t have to be rich to enjoy this spectacular place.
Getting to the Galápagos isn’t cheap, and there’s really no way around it. You’ll first need to get to mainland Ecuador, then book a round-trip flight to the islands. These flights hover around $400 and don’t fluctuate much. Paired with the $120 conservation fee you pay upon entering, this might seem like a destination that’s off-limits to budget travelers. However, once you’re on the islands, there are many ways you can stick to a budget and experience a trip of a lifetime without coming home completely broke.
Cruises are a popular way to see the Galápagos, but if you’re truly on a budget, doing your own DIY land-based tour is the most affordable option. Plan to stay on a few different islands and get around using the ferries between islands.
Take advantage of free activities: Grab a snorkel and swim with friendly sea lions. Lounge on one of the many beautiful beaches. Go cliff jumping (or watch others take the plunge!) at Las Grietas, a local hotspot on Santa Cruz Island.
When it comes to meals, Western restaurants can be quite expensive. Instead, stick to local places where you can find prices nearly as cheap as in mainland Ecuador. You can’t go wrong with places that have almuerzos, or set lunch. They typically include soup, a main dish, sides and fresh juice, all for around $4. Ask the staff at your guesthouse for their favorite spots.
If you’re in Puerto Ayora, Binford Street is a night market that offers many affordable food options, starting around $10. Insider Tip: If you’re hunting for cheap seafood, Cazuela de Camarones—a traditional stew of plantains, spices, and shrimp—is an excellent choice.
Plan out your splurges ahead of time. There are many day trips to choose from and if you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to blow your budget. Do a little research ahead of time and determine which activities are musts for you. For instance, if you’re a scuba diver, be sure to splurge on a dive. The Galápagos is one of the most unique places in the world to go diving, and you’ll regret skipping it.
It’s possible to find cheap hotel rooms for as little as $40 per night. Just know that the budget options on the islands tend to be pretty basic. Before booking any accommodation, be sure to read the reviews and make sure the low price doesn’t mean you’re in for a poor night’s sleep or dirty rooms—unfortunately, this happened to us at more than one hotel in the Galápagos. A good budget option is Hostal Galapagos Morning Glory in Puerto Ayora, which has comfortable private rooms and free breakfast.
A note on responsible travel: Remember that the Galápagos Islands are home to one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. Be mindful of the waste you create, and when you do go on tours, support companies that have high environmental standards.
Where: The Seychelles
Chosen By: Patricia Stone is the founder of Global Adventuress. She’s traveled to 170 countries and shares her handpicked favorites at unique destinations. Her award-winning site has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and USA Today. Follow her on Instagram @global_adventuress.
How to Save: The Seychelles is a group of 115 granite, mountainous and coral islands off the coast of East Africa. This Indian Ocean oasis presents intimate hideaways with pristine beaches, blue waters, coral reefs and nature reserves encircled by verdant palms. Expect abundant wildlife including one of the largest tortoises in the world, the giant Aldabra.
Visit one or all these three islands: Mahé, Praslin and La Digue and you’ll discover tucked away, peaceful places to get away from it all. Select from a range of small hotels and guesthouses. Stay at Le Relaxon the beach for $100 or enjoy mountain views from Casa Dani for $50. Or go all out and indulge and retreat to the exclusive private North Island where Prince William and Kate Middleton honeymooned.
Buy fruit, breadfruit chips and grilled fish at Victoria market on Mahé. Taste Seychellois Creole food like the octopus curry at Chez Jules. Try the traditional Satini salad and Ladob dessert with bananas in coconut milk.
Island hop across the 16 islands. Cycle the island of La Digue and find your favorite beach enclosed by giant boulders. Hike to the highest peak, Morne Seychellois for panoramic views. Snorkel at the Ste Anne Marine Park. Walk around Moyenne Island and find pirate’s graves. Relax on beaches like Beau Vallon or Anse Source d’Argent. Visit Praslin’s Vallée de Mai, a UNESCO-designated nature reserve. Walk under giant palms and learn about the indigenous coco de mer, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a black parrot. Dive with hawksbill turtles or sail and spot dolphins.
Island hop on Cat Cacos for as low as $16 per person one way or take the interisland public ferry. Most islands have a public bus to get around, and on small islands like La Digue you can rent a bicycle.
Where: Sierra Leone
The Expert: Michaela Guzy is a media executive, entrepreneur and on-air show host. She is the executive producer for two online television shows, Michaela’s Map and Oh The People You Meet. Based in New York City, she is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, where she teaches a course called ”Travel Storytelling: Creating Video Content.”
How to Save: For wildlife lovers who are looking for the next great frontier of African Safaris and sustainable adventure seekers, Sierra Leone is open for business. Several budget carriers, including Brussels Airlines fly there and once in country, the exchange rate will allow for your dollar to stretch far.
Earlier this year, I had the honor to film Dr. Jane Goodall’s return to Sierra Leone in Western Africa after 27 years. Sierra Leone has the second largest population of the endangered Western Chimpanzee in the world. There is no better place to witness a conservation success story, than the eco-lodge: Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. While we were there, the government named the chimpanzee the national and now protected animal of the country. The country is also home to incredible bird populations and the rare Pygmy hippo.
And watch this space: There are some amazing sustainable adventure operators and hotels opening up along Sierra Leone’s 250 miles of untouched coastline. One of my favorites is the luxury tented camp called Bafa Resort on the historic Banana Island. Don’t miss exploring the reefs and sea life. Contact XtremeAfrica to help you navigate the best eco-lodges opening across the country.