Friday, May 9, 2014

8 Great Alternative Budget Vacation Ideas

While many of us dream of world travel, or, at least taking a few months off from work in pursuit of adventure, for many it’s not always feasible. While I frequently talk about long-term travel and round the world trips, I know that realistically, not everyone can travel that way. I don’t think traveling the world is hard, but I also know that what I do isn’t for everyone. For a number of reasons, people just aren’t able to do it.

But there are many other ways to travel the world and even if I won’t find you backpacking Cambodia, I still want to see you travel. The two most common reasons that stop people from traveling are time and money. But you don’t need to be rich or have three months off a year to take a vacation. There are many ways to get on the road and see the world if you are cash-strapped and time-poor. Here are eight ways to travel and explore the world when you don’t have a lot of time and are on a tight budget:

Be a Local Tourist

How often do you visit the tourist sites in your own city? Hardly ever, right? I know New Yorkers who have never seen the Statue of Liberty and Bostonians who have never walked the Freedom Trail. I once took a friend on a tour of Amsterdam because, despite growing up there, she had never seen the local attractions that lure millions of visitors per year to the city. I am also guilty of doing this. It took me 5 years to see the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok and I’ve still never been to Bunker Hill in Boston despite spending the first 24 years of my life there. We always put it off until tomorrow because when we live in the city, there is always a tomorrow.

So make your vacation that tomorrow. If you’re short on time and money there’s no better way to take a vacation than to take one in your own city. No matter what the size, your city has a number of wonders just waiting to be explored.

One important point for becoming a “local tourist” is to check out of your house and into a hotel/hostel/guesthouse. It’s important to get out of your familiar environment because, if you stay home, you’ll find something to do around the house and create excuses on why you can’t sightsee. Moving to a different location can help give you that feeling of adventure, excitement, and unfamiliarity.

Travel Regionally

Travel Regionally - 8 Great Alternative Budget Vacation Ideas

Travel brings to mind far-away and exotic destinations. It invokes images of all the places we’ve dreamed of and seen in movies. Because of that, few people look in their own backyard for adventure — but your backyard offers many places to travel. I grew up in Boston and from there, I could visit New Hampshire, the woods of Maine, the bed and breakfasts of the Berkshire Mountains, or the farms of Vermont. New York was a 4 hour car ride from home. You don’t have to fly across an ocean to explore the world. Head to the bookstore and buy a regional guidebook and see what there is to see in your neighborhood. Your backyard holds as many possible travel destinations as does a country half a world away.

Go Camping

The great outdoors presents a great chance to go somewhere on the cheap. Camping, after all, costs very little money. Park fees in National Parks in America are $15 dollars. Additionally, you come stocked with all your own supplies and accommodation (i.e. a tent) so you won’t have to worry about spending money at expensive restaurants. Your food bill is whatever you spend on groceries and nothing more.

You don’t need to love camping to go spend time in the national parks either. I hate camping. I need toilets, beds, and especially hot water. I’m not the camp-in-a-tent kind of guy. Luckily, many parks provide cabins that you can use. While hiking the Grand Canyon, I stayed at a national park lodge at the bottom. I had a room in a dormitory but for a few nights, it was the cheap accommodation I needed.

Book a Last-Minute Cruise

Book a Last-Minute Cruise - 8 Great Alternative Budget Vacation Ideas

Cruises are normally very expensive, with a 5 day Caribbean cruise costing over $600 USD. But if you’re the last passenger running onto that ship, you can get a sweet bargain. Cruise lines always offer incredible last-minute deals. A quick look at http://cruise.expedia.com/ shows last-minute cruising going for around half that at $348 USD. Plus, cruise operators always throw in some on-board amenities, free upgrades, and cash vouchers to sweeten the deal.

And now, because of the Costa Concordia cruise disaster, travelers are beginning to rethink their trips and cancel so cruise lines want to make sure people keep booking. There will be a lot of good deals right now.

My research has shown that you can go on a cruise for as little as $30 a day. If that interests you, read this guide to finding super discounted cruises.

Think Outside The Box

Forget Mexico and go to Guatemala. Skip Paris and head to Budapest. Forget Italy and see Greece (it’s really cheap!). Ditch Brazil and see Bolivia. The list goes on and on. Travel counter to the prevailing trend. Zig when everyone zags. If people are going in the summer, you go in the spring or winter. Skip the popular destinations and head off the beaten path a bit.

Contrarian travel will save you a bundle of money. It’s like reverse commuting. Whenever one heads into the city in the morning for work and is stuck in traffic, you breeze the opposite way hassle free. The same is true for travel. Flights to Europe in the summer can cost over $1,000 dollars. In the winter? Half that. It might not be the most ideal time to go or your favorite destination, but thinking of places off the beaten path and visiting in the off season is going to save you a lot of money.

Book a Last-Minute Tour

Book a Last-Minute Tour - 8 Great Alternative Budget Vacation Ideas

Just like cruises, tours are best booked last-minute. Tour companies need to fill the seats just like cruise companies because once that trip departs, they still have the same costs. Last-minute tour bookings work the same way as cruise bookings. My favorite company, G Adventures (I’ve been using them since my first trip abroad), often has 15-30% discounts on last-minute tours. That’s some pretty good savings.

Why are tours and cruises so cheap last-minute? Well, think about how people plan vacations. People are predisposed to planning. You get the time off work, you book your vacation, you buy your flight, and you go. Since people pre-book, prices are higher in advance because these companies understand booking patterns and then price accordingly. Hardly anyone wakes up and says “Today, I’m going on a cruise.” So as departure time nears, companies know people aren’t likely to turn up and book on departure day so they sweeten the point to increase bookings. So take the time off work, wait until the week before, see what’s cheap, and then go.


If you’ve been thinking about doing something positive or giving back for a while, voluntourism might just be the way to do it. The really good volunteer organizations will usually cover your room and board so you just need to cover the cost of a plane ticket. Moreover, you aren’t going to have many chances to spend extra money either on your trip since you’ll be “working” and waking up early. Volunteering gives you a chance to give back to communities around the world without spending a lot of money.

If you are looking to volunteer, please do so with the right companies so that the money actually reaches the community. Often times, volunteer groups keep a lot of money for administrative costs and little of your money or donation goes to the local community. If you want to volunteer, please read this article on how find ethical and responsible volunteer opportunities.

House Sit

House Sit - 8 Great Alternative Budget Vacation Ideas

Accommodation can eat into the cost of a trip big time. You might get a good flight deal but then accommodation, even if you can find it cheaply, might push the cost of your trip into unaffordable territory. A way around that is to stay somewhere for free. While I like Couchsurfing, it’s hard to do that for two weeks without annoying your host. A unique way to overcome this is to house sit for someone while that someone else is on vacation. You get free accommodation, a kitchen to cook in, and the chance to explore one destination in depth. It’s a pretty unique way to travel and one that I know a lot of world travelers do.

Not everyone can jump overseas at the drop of a hat or wants to spend six months backpacking around Asia. Luckily, there’s more than one way to see the world. You might not have a lot of time or money, but there are plenty of ways for you to get out and see the world. Travel doesn’t always mean some fancy vacation to Mexico or some six month trip around Europe.

Travel is simply the art of going somewhere new and different and exploring everything the place has to offer. It doesn’t matter if you have two days, two weeks, or two months.

Source: Nomadic Matt

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