Of course, “top-notch guest services” is subjective. You could stay at a five-star hotel where the concierge is snooty and there’s constant construction, whereas you could find a gem of a two-star hotel where you’re treated like royalty by a warm, welcoming staff. That’s why it’s so important to value guest reviews over star ratings. Guest reviews give you an indication of what it’s actually like to stay at the hotel.
Why: The Golden City of Jaisalmer is often overlooked by travelers because of its distance from Delhi (a 14-hour train ride), but it is absolutely worth a visit for its stunning architecture and magical atmosphere. Situated in the heart of the Thar Desert, the Jaisalmer is made entirely of yellow sandstone and looks like an enormous sandcastle rising out of the desert. A visit to the Jaisalmer Fort costs 50 rupees ($0.80) and offers sweeping views of the city below; aesthetes will appreciate the intricately carved and painted havelis (homes). Don't miss stopping by the picturesque Gadisar Lake, dotted with beautiful temples, and taking a camel ride in the dessert.
Travel Auctions. There are two kinds of travel auction sites. One allows you to enter your preferred travel dates, destination, and class of service (such as economy or business class), and travel companies compete to offer the lowest-priced trip that meets your criteria. Flightfox is one site that operates this way: It charges a per-trip fee, and while the exact price depends on the trip itself, you can expect to shell out around $30. The other type of travel auction operates the opposite way: Companies offer flights, hotels, or packages, and users can bid on the trips. When the auction closes, the top bid wins. SkyAuction.com operates using this model. It’s free to bid – though you should be aware that additional taxes and fees are unlikely to be included in your bid price, so you will end up paying more than your bid if you win.
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.
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.
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.
Why: The second largest city in Morocco, Fez has an enchanting souk, lively markets, fascinating leather tanneries (which you can sniff out before you see) and quaint cafes serving Moroccan mint tea and local pastries. Fez is also filled to the brim with palatial riads, Moroccan homes built around a central courtyard or garden, which feature cozy rooms and rooftop terraces where you can relax after a walk through the bustling labyrinth of alleyways right outside your front door. Prices for a double room in a riad can be as low as 550 dirhams ($60), while a tangine dinner is around 50 dirhams ($6). Step inside a medersa, a theological college, to marvel at the splendid architecture and tilework and get a scrub at a hammam for a fraction of the cost of a spa in the U.S.
Why: The Greek Island of Karpathos offers much of the same allure as chic Santorini and Mykonos, but with the advantage of lower prices. Karpathos is the second largest of the Dodecanese Island chain, which includes better-known Rhodes. Karpathos dates back to the 5th century BC, offering history buffs a way to have two trips in one, combining sun and sand with a step back in time. Ancient ruins can still be seen at Aghia Anastasia, while the island’s history can be studied in more detail in the Archaeological Museum. Beyond lounging on white-sand beaches, active travelers can choose from a selection of sports: fishing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing. Away from the well-worn tourist path, Karpathos has hillsides covered in vibrant wild flowers and small villages like Arkasas to explore. The island’s capital, Pighadia, is a modern city, but in small towns like Olympos, traditional dress is still worn day-to-day and life has the authentic feel of the past. Karpathos has many apartments and studios to rent, resulting in real savings. There are plenty of budget hotels under $100. Multiple restaurants and tavernas dot the countryside, where you can savor traditional Greek dishes at low prices.
How cheap is it? Mexico’s huge, it’s right next door, and each of its 31 states has something to offer. You’re gonna take your best cheap shot? Aim for the mezcal and gastronomy capital: Oaxaca, in the south. In the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez, feast on the regional specialty: tlayudas, an oversized crisp tortilla heated on a grill, topped with lard, beans, veggies, salsa, and meat, (think combination of pizza and taco in the best possible way). It is to be eaten from a street vendor in the early hours after a night of drinking, and will set you back all of $4. For daytime noshing the markets are stacked with small vendors who serve sublime homemade moles that cost around $8 for a full portion including rice and soup. Lodging is cheaper than a movie ticket in the States; Hostel Don Nino alongside Parque Llano charges $14 per night, which includes Wi-Fi, a computer station, filtered water, clean showers, and breakfast. For free activities, there are plenty of colorful markets to stroll and art galleries to wander. The ruins of Monte Albán and the ancient Tule Tree cost around $20 for round-trip transportation plus entrance.
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.
Mexico - Last-Minute Holiday Sale Offer: Valid on new bookings at participating resorts made 10/29 - 12/2/18 for select travel 10/29/18 - 6/30/19. Offers vary by hotel and may be category-specific, require advance booking, be restricted to specific days of the week and/or require a minimum night stay. Booking and travel dates vary by hotel. Blackout dates may apply.
Why: When people think of beach getaways, they never consider Egypt. Tourism in Egypt is down, due to the unstable government, shaky economy and terrorism. Despite this, you shouldn't fear going to Egypt. In my experience, I have found it to be completely safe. Plus, it's remarkably cheap. During the low season (spring), you can catch flights from the U.S. to Egypt for around $400-$600 then get a flight to Hurghada for around $50 or so roundtrip, depending on the date. Hurghada has coral reefs and beautiful deserts. A desert tour can cost you about $30. What's remarkable: The five-star luxury hotels are so cheap. I stayed at the Marriot Hurghada right on the beach for $50 a night. Literally as soon as you step outside the hotel you're on the beach. Most of the rooms right now in Hurghada are going for under $100. Your money goes a long way in Egypt because the dollar is worth more and not many people are going, due to fear.
Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” Option. When using Priceline, you can enter the day you’d like to fly (or the day you’d like to stay at a hotel) and the price you’d like to spend. Priceline comes back with an offer of a flight or hotel, if there’s something available that meets your criteria. You find out the times of the flight and the star rating and general location of the hotel, but you won’t get to know the airline or specific hotel name until you book. Priceline claims that you can save 40% off published prices by using this method. Priceline also offers traditional booking services if you’d rather know exactly what you’re getting.
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.
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.
Chosen By: Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder and CEO of Ciao Bambino. After having her son, Amie searched extensively for credible resources to provide family-focused advice, direction and useful accommodation information. She quickly realized that there were no relevant resources available, particularly for a discerning traveler, so she decided to help solve this problem and started Ciao Bambino.
Why: While the devastating hurricanes of 2017 impacted just a portion of the Caribbean region, it damaged some of its more cruise-popular spots, like Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, St. Bart's, and the U.S.V.I.’s St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. While all are under significant rehab and rebuilding — and most are actually now open to cruise ships and tourists, this could be a perfect year to explore more exotic islands. That’s because lines like Windstar, which had, pre-hurricanes, planned to offer BVI-centric trips, relocated ships to other parts of the Caribbean. The winning trip? We love Wind Surf, one of the line’s sailing vessels, with its trip out of Barbados; ports include Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Montserrat — all islands that heretofore have often been bypassed by established cruise lines. And get this: There’s plenty of cruise capacity in this region, particularly when it comes to small ship sailings. In part, excess cabins are available because many skittish travelers canceled their bookings. As well, they can typically be more expensive (look for $300 per person, per day) than big ship vessels. But do the math: Windstar, and other small ship lines like Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, Azamara, Oceania and Viking Oceans, can actually be quite a good value when compared to land-based properties because they’re more price inclusive. Look for deals that include cocktails, gratuities and shore excursions not to mention pre- and post-cruise hotel stays and, in some cases, airfare to the ships’ port of embarkation.
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U.S.: Alabama: Birmingham; Alaska: Anchorage; Arizona: Sedona; Tucson; California: Burbank; Long Beach; Ontario; Palm Springs; Sacramento; San Jose; Santa Barbara; Colorado: Colorado Springs; Connecticut: Hartford; Florida: Clearwater; Daytona Beach; Ft. Walton Beach; Naples; Marco Island; Key Largo; Melbourne Area; Cocoa Beach; Vero Beach; Miami; Pensacola; St. Petersburg; Tampa; Georgia: Atlanta; Savannah; Idaho: Boise; Illinois: Chicago; Indiana: Indianapolis; Kentucky: Louisville; Maine: Portland; Maryland: Baltimore; Michigan: Detroit; Flint; Grand Rapids; Traverse City; Minnesota: Minneapolis/St. Paul and Mall of Americaopens in a new window; Rochester; Mississippi: Gulfport and Biloxi; Jackson; Missouri: Kansas City; St. Louis; Montana: Billings; Bozeman; Kalispell; Missoula; Nebraska: Omaha; Nevada: Reno and Lake Tahoe; New Hampshire: Manchester; New Mexico: Albuquerque; New York: Albany; Buffalo; Rochester; White Plains; North Carolina: Charlotte; Greensboro; Raleigh; North Dakota: Fargo; Ohio: Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus; Dayton; Oklahoma: Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Oregon: Portland; Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh; Rhode Island: Providence; South Carolina: Charleston; Greenville; Hilton Head; Myrtle Beach; South Dakota: Rapid City and The Black Hills; Tennessee: Chattanooga; Knoxville; Memphis; Texas: Dallas/Ft. Worth; El Paso; Virginia: Newport News/Williamsburg; Norfolk; Richmond; Washington: Spokane; West Virginia: Charleston; Wisconsin: Green Bay; Madison; Milwaukee; Wyoming: Casper; Cody
Why: Colombia isn’t usually thought of as a value destination, but due to the strong U.S. dollar, it has become one of the most compelling destinations in the world for those willing to venture off the beaten track. Travelers in the know are loving Barichara, one of the most beautiful small colonial villages in the Andes. Stay at Casa Barichara for under $200 a night and dine at El Carambolo, a quaint B&B rich with personality and the perfect fit for those searching for authentic, Colombian hospitality. Though not a typical tourist destination, Barichara is perfect for adventure travelers who enjoy activities like paragliding. A trip to Barichara can be paired with the town of Salamina, where travelers will find quirky architecture and a renowned coffee production, and/or the vibrant city of Medellin, which boasts music, museums, nightlife and friendly people.
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
Caribbean - Last-Minute Holiday Sale offer: Valid on new bookings at participating resorts made 10/29 - 11/25/18 for select travel 10/29/18 - 1/5/19. Offers vary by hotel and may be category-specific, require advance booking, be restricted to specific days of the week and/or require a minimum night stay. Booking and travel dates vary by hotel. Blackout dates may apply.