Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.
Why you should go: Goa’s coastal-scapes are sumptuous, wrangling the perfect balance of untouched beauty and clean, cared-for strands. Tourist creature comforts abound: jungle parties, seafood feasts, drop-in yoga on the beach. But you’ll get the gratification of skipping off the beaten track too. Spending another $18 a day will get you a motorbike and unlimited access to backwoods lagoons and hidden beaches, where it’ll be just you and the sea turtles bathing.
Just how cheap is it? The aftershock of the debt crisis can still be felt at plenty of Greece’s tavernas, restaurants, and supermarkets (though not so much in touristy areas). On a popular island such as Mykonos, you’re likely to spend at least €25 or more on a lush evening meal -- but you can also get a bottle of godly nectar and cook at your Airbnb or hotel kitchenette for a sliver of that. On smaller, less touristy islands and in some parts of Athens you’ll feel less of a wallet pinch, especially when it comes to accommodation.
Just how cheap is it? In Prague, you can get a one-bedroom apartment on Airbnb for as little as $30 a night, just a few metro stops from Downtown. Public transportation costs a song ($1 for a half-hour ticket) and you won’t be using it much anyway, considering the center is compact and walkable. It’s a city that’s great for playing bougie tourist for less -- gourmet dining and museum entry fees are moderately priced -- but meager budgets can also get on too, with main attractions such as Charles Bridge, Old Town, and Christmas markets being outdoors and gloriously free.
Why: The Central Coast runs roughly from Santa Barbara to Monterey and the string of small towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach is an unexpected surprise for many California coast road trippers. This is where SoCal surf town meets fishing village, and otters and elephant seals share the spotlight with European masterpieces at the Hearst Castle. Veer away from the coast and in a few minutes you'll find yourself at the wineries of Paso Robles, with tastings that are half the price of Napa and Sonoma. Adelaida is open daily; for a special hilltop tasting, try their Vineyard Tour, Taste and Tailgate. An emphasis on eating local and fresh creates foodie-worthy dining options throughout the region. Pismo Beach and quaint Moonstone Beach in Cambria offer the largest selection of lodging with the best value outside of the holidays and summer. Guests at Cambria Shores Inn relax each evening in Adirondack chairs positioned perfectly to take in the sunset. Afterwards, take a five-minute stroll to Sea Chest Restaurant for local seafood or drive to the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach where the Deadliest Catch crew dined and all things crab are on the menu.
From the blue waters and white sands of Mismaloya to the secluded shores and jade backdrop of Majahuitas, it would be easy to call Puerto Vallarta heaven on earth. But aside from its stunning beaches and natural landscapes, Puerto Vallarta has plenty more for budget travelers. Cruise the Rio Cuale Riverwalk, or tackle a challenging hike through the El Tuito jungle to reach the amazing Yelapa Waterfall.
Switch up the usual Caribbean getaway this winter and check out gorgeous Cartagena, Columbia. You'll find white sand beaches, plus a beautiful old city and vibrant culture. Your 4-star hotel is only steps from Bocagrande Beach and just five minutes away from historical downtown Cartagena. What's Included? Based on two people sharing, this vacation deal…