The world is a huge place with so many amazing things to see and do, but unless you're incredibly rich, you might think that a dream vacation is out of reach. And that may very well be true, though there are some surprising ways you might potentially save some money throughout the year — including your holiday spending. You see, the average American spends $885 on Christmas gifts, according to Gallup — and that doesn't even take into account costs for traveling to your destination to celebrate them with loved ones. While we support warming the hearts of others, getting on a plane and getting out of town can be just as fun. With that in mind, we've put together five amazing trips for two that you can take for what you'd spend on holiday gifts combined (that's $1,770 to be precise).
If Spanish sun and a historic atmosphere sound better than holiday carols, Andalucia is calling you. In fact, much of the culture we’ve come to think of as Spanish — veiled women wearing mantillas, flamenco, bullfighting, and some of the nation’s most famous festivals — all have their home in this southern region. It’s packed with beautiful natural landscapes and some of the world’s most famous architectural sites, and justifiably draws millions of visitors a year. Within Andalucia, Seville and Granada are the most famous destinations, though other towns also merit your attention if you’re flexible with your itinerary.
Like much of Spain, you’ll score some serious bargains on everything from hotels to food — especially if you avoid visiting during peak times, like Semana Santa. Average hotel rates in Seville come in around $60 per night in the low season, while Granada and Cordoba are even cheaper. When it comes to food, opt for light breakfasts, a menu del dia for lunch, and tapas bars or casual joints for dinner. You should be able to spend around $75 per day for two people. Some attractions, like the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville, do require tickets, but these are rarely more than $10 to $15 each.
Getting here will be your biggest cost, as direct flights from the U.S. to Andalucia are essentially nonexistent. We recommend finding the cheapest flight possible to Madrid, then booking a budget airline to Seville or hopping on the high-speed train. Booking these in advance will save you more money. If you time it right and look far enough in advance, you can nab the entire round-trip journey for around $450 per person from major cities in the U.S. (Tip: Look for bargains with Norwegian Air and TAP for the transatlantic haul.) Once you’re in Andalucia, opt for cheap intercity buses between the three cities.
Five full days in the region comes in under budget, and if you want to extend your trip for a full week, just choose cheaper digs and fewer frills in your hotels. In any case, if you travel in the low season and score your hotel and flights at the prices listed above, you’ll have over $500 to burn on food and attractions.
Our Pick for a Seville Hotel: Las Casas de Los Mercaderes
Las Casas De Los Mercaderes is a historic boutique hotel that’s right in Seville’s historic center. You’ll find restaurants, cafes, bars, shops all around, while Seville’s Cathedral and the Giralda Tower are within walking distance. The 47 rooms are simple, but pleasant, and include amenities like flat-screen TVs, minibars, and free Wi-Fi; some have balconies. A courtyard makes a lovely place to start the day with a coffee, and the adjacent bar serves a variety of beverages and tapas.
We’ve already told you why the coast of Oaxaca is Mexico’s next must-visit beach destination, so take our advice and spend all of that holiday gift money on a trip there now. What two average Americans would spend on Christmas presents will go incredibly far in the region. Stick to the towns that cluster east along the coast from Puerto Escondido to Zipolite. You’ll find hotels in Mazunte — a town famous for its beach turtles and sunsets — and Puerto Escondido for $50 per night or less.
You’ll find an awesome mix of high-end foodie spots and low-key beachside seafood stands all along this stretch of Oaxaca’s coast. And while meals at the more elevated establishments cost a bit more than the casual restaurants, lunches and dinners in these towns are still far more reasonably priced than other famous beach destinations like Cabo and the Riviera Maya. In any case, one person could easily feed themselves on $25 per day by sticking to humble street food or market meals plus one nice dinner per day. If you limit yourself to street food, mercados, and local cantinas, this number can be as low as $15 per day per person.
To save money on flights, opt for flying into Mexico City, and then catching a short domestic flight to Puerto Escondido. If you’re savvy, you can find these for around $350 per person, with connecting flights rarely costing more than $80 each. You should also set aside about $100 for taxis on the ground, though this will vary depending on where you choose to spend your nights. Zipolite — Mexico’s only true nude-friendly beach town — and Mazunte are a bit farther from the airport, while Puerto Escondido has its own airport.
Our Pick for a Puerto Escondido Hotel: Villa Mozart y Macondo
Villa Mozart y Macondo is one of the coolest artsy options in the Puerto Escondido region. This intimate property only has two funky bungalows set among lush tropical gardens. The whole place feels artfully curated, and has a peaceful vibe. The kind husband and wife hosts whip up fresh breakfasts that score raves from previous guests. All in all, the property is perfect for those seeking an affordable place to unplug (no TVs, phones, or radios) that’s a 15-minute walk to the beach.
The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty, and some of its prettiest spots can be found in the northern reaches of Arizona. The Grand Canyon and Sedona — when paired together — provide a magical landscape overload. In the case of Sedona, that landscape may literally be magical, as the town is home to so-called vortexes where various energies align to create spaces for communing with, well, whatever intangible thing it is you’re seeking. But don’t let that distract you from the red rock buttes and cliffs that jut out of the ground at almost very turn. The Grand Canyon, of course, needs no introduction, and the popular South Rim entryway is a scenic two-hour drive from Sedona.
Get here by flying into Phoenix and renting a car — you’ll find incredibly cheap deals on the latter, and Southwest plus a number of other domestic low-fare carriers fly to Phoenix for $250 or less per person. There are any number of ways to tour the Grand Canyon, and if you’re hoping to do multi-day treks, rafting trips, and the like, your budget will rise significantly. Keep in mind that the park itself costs $35 to enter per vehicle, and if you’re planning on taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, it’s an additional $15 per person. Sedona itself has numerous hiking trails that are all free to access, and you should also make time to visit Slide Rock State Park or Oak Creek Canyon. The former has a $10 vehicle entry fee, while the latter has some paid areas and parking lots with fees.
Hotels aren’t cheap in this part of Arizona. If you settle for slightly more humble digs, you can snag rooms for under $200 per night in Sedona. Meals here, like other popular tourist destinations in the U.S., aren’t cheap. But if you balance some store-bought meals with a few meals out, the remaining budget — just shy of $350 — should be enough to feed a couple for four days. That’s the perfect long-weekend trip needed for this part of the country.
Our Pick for a Sedona Hotel: Sky Ranch Lodge
If you only want a clean, quiet place to sleep while touring Sedona, the Sky Ranch Lodge has one of the best locations and most amazing views in Sedona (see the photo at the beginning of this section for proof). Sitting on Airport Mesa, about 500 feet above the center of town, the Red Rocks vistas are astounding (the hotel even has its own lookout point). Many rooms have balconies to soak up the scenery, and there’s a patio bar and a nice pool as well.
While people often think of vacationing in the tropics as a wallet-busting prospect, the reality is different. And that doesn’t mean you have to post up at some run-down, aging all-inclusive resort either. Cartagena is easily one of Colombia’s most famous destinations — and for good reason. The city is blessed with an achingly beautiful historic district — the photogenic Walled City — as well as an artsy, bohemian vibe and one of the most famous beach districts in Latin America (even if it doesn’t have the white-sand and aquamarine-sea combo you may have in mind when you think of the Caribbean).
Cartagena is by no means the cheapest destination in Colombia, but its combination of cultural highlights and warm weather mean that shelling out a little more is well worth it. You can also score incredibly cheap flights here on U.S. budget airlines like Spirit (if you’re brave) or JetBlue (if you’d like more reliable service). From most major cities in the U.S., you’ll spend around $450 for a round-trip ticket. On the ground, meals in the Walled City are definitely more expensive than in budget-friendly Latin American destinations like Mexico City and Buenos Aires, but you’ll still get more for your money here than in touristy European and American places. By mixing handful of local joints, street food, and just a few cool foodie spots, you’ll get by on around $60 per day for two people.
Hotels are reasonable as well, with tons of boutique options packing both the Walled City and Gethsemane. Five nights in the city, including all of the above, will come in under budget if you’re smart about spending on food and lodging, and book your flights ahead of time.
Our Pick for a Cartagena Hotel: Hotel Kartaxa Cartagena
For a simple pick with just the right amount of charm, the Hotel Kartaxa Cartagena is a great option. It sits in a relatively quiet area at the north edge of the Walled City, just a short walk from the stunning views along the coast. Rooms here are compact, but clean and quiet, and there’s even a courtyard dipping pool and a great breakfast for reasonable rates.
If you’re willing to travel in the off season, visiting the quaint city of Copenhagen is easy to do on a budget from most major cities in the U.S. We promise Denmark’s winter weather isn’t nearly as bad as you imagine — in fact it’s often milder than those in the northeastern U.S. Thanks to budget airlines like Norwegian, tickets to the Danish capital can be as low as $400 per person, often with nonstop itineraries (and yes, this includes West Coast hubs like Los Angeles).
Like most European tourist magnets, hotels aren’t generally cheap in Copenhagen, though you’ll benefit from off-season discounts. Also, unlike many of their American counterparts, most major European cities do have cheaper budget hotels if you’re willing to forsake some frills. Thankfully, in design-mad Copenhagen, you can still score chic style at reasonable rates ($120 a night or less).
You’ll spend the most of your cash on food and drink, and — be warned — they aren’t cheap. However, if you’re visiting when the daylight hours are few and far between (the sun rises after 8 a.m. and sometimes sets before 4 p.m. in the winter), you’d be foolish not to indulge in the city’s comfort food. Of course, pastries are a must-have and are relatively cheap (just a couple of dollars), as is coffee. Lunches can be a bargain if you aim for the smorrebrod — Denmark’s traditional open-face sandwiches that are piled with veggies, seafood, and other delectables. You shouldn’t spend more than $8 to $10. Dinner is a costlier affair, and the city is packed with trendy casual spots — allot around $40 per person.
Our Pick for a Copenhagen Hotel: Hotel Alexandra
Fans of cool vintage design and all things Scandinavian chic are in luck at the Hotel Alexandra. And for rates like these, the location and style is particularly exciting. The hotel sits just north of Tivoli Park and the train station. That puts Hotel Alexandra within walking distance of trendy Vesterbro and the touristy Nyhavn. Low season rates are a total bargain here.
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