Why: Zanzibar may sound like an expensive, bougie honeymoon island, but take it from this solo affordable adventure traveler; it's more budget friendly than you think. Not to mention, absolutely beautiful. You can take the ferry from mainland Tanzania to Zanzibar for only $35 ($50 if you want a VIP seat), but flights to and from there are usually less than $100. Yes, there are many luxury resorts like Tulia Zanzibar and Melia Zanzibar that you should definitely splurge on if you can. (Tulia has a jungle waterslide and pool floaties. Enough said.) But there are also budget options. In fact, I found an Airbnb called the Surf Escape that was only about $40 per night, right on the beach, and had on-site surf, paddleboard and wind-surfing lessons.
How cheap is it? Very. Its largest city -- helpfully named Panama City -- is the world's third-cheapest major city. And it is major! Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America, with abundant new restaurants and luxury hotels; it's pretty much the most (and arguably only) truly global/metropolitan city in the region. And still a bunk in a cheap but well-reviewed and centrally located hostel will set you back only $14 per night, while those seeking luxury accommodations can stay at the damn Waldorf Astoria for $149 per. Which is stupid cheap, all things being relative. A public bus ride in the city is just 25 cents. You can eat on the cheap for under $20/day for all three squares if you hit up cafés for breakfast, the beach fish markets for lunch, and restaurants without English menus for dinner. Beers will cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $3 a pop. All in all, you're getting huge bang for your buck -- oh also literally your buck, as US currency is interchangeable with the Panamanian balboa.
The Big Island of Hawaii, or simply "the Big Island," is the largest island in the island chain. Due to its size, the Big Island's regions vary considerably. There are twelve distinct climate zones here, ranging from East Hawaii's tropical rain forests and the frozen slopes of Mauna Kea to Kau's arid desert in the south. The dramatic size of the largest Hawaiian Island creates a microcosm of environments and activities. Read more about the Big Island
Why: Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, travelers might be reluctant to visit the territory of Puerto Rico. But, on a recent visit to the island to help rebuild some of the most popular tourist attractions, I was thrilled to see that Puerto Rico is thriving and really is open for business. If you don’t have a passport — or if you have one that’s closed to expiring or being filled — one of the best parts about visiting Puerto Rico is that no passport is needed for U.S. citizens. With plenty to see both in San Juan — from the charm and bright colors of Old San Juan to checking out where one of the most famous rums in the world is made at the Bacardi Factory ($15 for a historical tour) — and outside, such as a trip to El Yunque National Forest, you'll be kept busy. Flights to San Juan generally will run you less than $250 from the East Coast, making it a perfectly close and affordable getaway. While there are several affordable chain hotels, boutique hotels flourish — especially in Old San Juan. Check out The Gallery Inn or Decanter Hotel.
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Why you should go: Sofia is one of Europe’s coolest overlooked capitals, with ancient ruins and salmagundi architecture in Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments. In the past few years, its streets have proliferated with graffiti art, skateboarder girls, and shabby-chic bars where you can while away days and evenings. A city trip is easily paired with a few more days at the Black Sea on the Bulgarian Riviera. You’ll find a gorgeous seaside that rivals plenty of more-lauded Mediterranean stretches -- again but for a sweet fraction of the cost.
This is Mother Nature at her best. Take a bus to explore 27 mammoth waterfalls as well as emerald Dominican jungle and local wildlife. A guided walking tour of the first seven waterfalls is around $6 (it costs extra if you want to see more of them), or you can spend more to explore them by Jeep. Word to the wise: Bring your bathing suit and bug spray.
Europe is a must vacation experience, offering something for everyone. Explore the vibrant theatre scene in London's West End and ride the London Eye for a spectacular bird's-eye view of the city's iconic skyline. One of the most romantic cities in the world, Paris delights at every turn, from the heights of the Eiffel Tower to the picturesque banks of the Seine. Italy is a feast for the senses, abounding in art, architecture, culture and cuisine, whether you visit Rome, Florence or Venice.
According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau files well over 1,000 complaints in a single year from victims of “free” cruise scams. Other “too good to be true” deals may not be actual scams, but may require you to participate in a sales presentation, commonly for a time-share. Be alert, be skeptical, and be willing to put in the time to verify anything that doesn’t feel right.
Hotel Tonight. While Hotel Tonight is an app that bypasses direct communication with travel companies, it can still be a great source for good, last-minute deals. Hotel Tonight takes advantage of hotel owners’ desire to fill empty rooms by enabling last-minute bookings at up to 70% off standard rates. It’s available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.
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.
If you’re tempted to make a vacation-related purchase but are a little put off by the price tag, add the item to your electronic cart – but don’t go all the way through with the purchase. Before doing this, be very careful to make sure that it’s not a one-click purchase or a website where your payment details are stored, or anything else that will rope you into a purchase that you’re not ready to make.
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