5 Budget-Friendly Vacation Spots for 2016
We could all use a vacation, but travel gets expensive. Between flights, lodging, and food, you can end up spending quite a bit when all is said and done. By the time your vacation is over, your depleted finances stress you out all over again.
Your choice of destination plays a big role in how much you can expect to spend, though, and the good news is, there are a handful of destinations you can visit at a discount this year.
1. PENSACOLA, FLORIDA
If you’re looking for stunning white sand beaches and clear water, put Pensacola on your list. According to Oyster.com, it’s a top budget beach destination this year. Depending on your origin city, flight prices range from about $200 to $400 round-trip, and Oyster says the restaurants and hotels that line the beaches are surprisingly affordable. In our own research, we found that most hotels are about $150 a night in June, with many under $100.
Best of all, there’s plenty to do when you’re not relaxing on the beach: diving, air shows, bike tours, museums, and more. Oyster’s editor, Jane Reynolds, points out that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is another budget-friendly domestic destination. She suggests booking about a month and a half in advance.
“Studies show that flight prices are generally their lowest seven weeks prior to departure,” Reynolds says. “And if your dates are a tad flexible, even better; opt for an early morning or late evening flight on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday.”
Colombia has made many an “affordable destination” list this year, and that’s partially due to the strength of the U.S. dollar.
“When I moved to Medellin, Colombia, in October of 2014, the currency was recently 1700 pesos to the dollar and in February 2016, the currency went as high as 3400 pesos to the dollar,” says David Feldsott, founder of Colombia’s PanTrek. “Everything is incredibly cheap in Colombia, including food, lodging, transportation, etc. Round-trip flights from the U.S. can be as low as $300 to 400.”
Cities like Bogota and Medellin are much safer than in years past and they’re becoming increasingly popular tourist destinations. They boast beautiful weather year-round, a lively nightlife scene, and best of all, they’re affordable.
“Flights within the country can be as little as $40 each way and inter-city buses are even less expensive,” Feldsott says. “You can travel between the two largest cities for under $20 by bus. Hostels can be under $10 a night depending on the city you visit and quality hotels are routinely under $50 a night.”
3. PUERTO RICO
Depending on your destination, flight prices range from about $150 to $400 for summer travel—a steal for a Caribbean beach getaway. According to USA Today, Puerto Rico’s beaches are public, too, so they’re all free of charge. They add that posadas, historic buildings converted into hotels, typically offer cheaper rates at less than $100 per night.
Of course, there’s plenty to do, from exploring historic San Juan to snorkeling to hiking nearby rainforests.
4. NEW ZEALAND
According to BudgetTravel.com, Fiji Airways and Air Tahiti Nui are offering specials that make New Zealand a surprisingly affordable option this year. Based on our research, flight prices to Auckland are just over $1000 from most major cities in the U.S., which is still a pretty penny. However, a strong U.S. dollar makes the country affordable once you’re there.
For June travel, many hotels are under $100 a night. And BudgetTravel.com says you can get vacation packages, which include lodging and tours, for under $500 total.
“If you’re open to a layover, a non-direct route will almost always help you save,” adds Reynolds. Using Google Flights, you can search for stopover cities with longer layovers. This way, not only do you save money on your flight, you may also be able to squeeze a little more vacation into your trip.
5. BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
If Europe is on your list, Reynolds suggests Budapest as a budget-friendly option. You’ll splurge on the flights—summer prices range from $800 to over $1000-—but once you’re there, hotels and activities are surprisingly affordable. In fact, Oyster named it one of the top countries where your dollar will go the farthest this year. They explain:
Restaurant food is generally cheap here and there are plenty of affordable hotels and even hostels with private rooms ... making it a good spot for budget travelers with more time than money. However, even those wanting a more luxurious experience will find that a room in a high-end Budapest hotel costs a fraction of what it might in other major European cities.
Most hotels are under $100 for summer travel, with some even as low as $50 a night.
The bottom line is: You’ll save quite a bit on travel overall by picking an affordable destination in the first place—and these five offer something for everyone. Beyond that, it can be hard to stick to a budget on vacation when all you want to do is enjoy the sights and relax. Reynolds suggests coming up with a game plan to get the most out of your vacation without going broke.
“Set your budget ahead of time and come up with a rough idea of what you’ll spend where. If there’s a restaurant you’re dying try, but it’s pricey—that’s okay. Just make room in your itinerary to balance that cost with museums with free entry, public transportation over cabs, and other money savers,” she says. “And remember that the cheapest option isn’t always the best bang-for-your-buck.”