Since no one has time to check flight prices constantly throughout the day, it’s a good thing that you can ask someone else to do the searching for you. Sign up for a fare alert, which is a subscription notification (usually via email) that provides a selection of flights and prices to a chosen destination. For example, I receive a daily email that tells me the cheapest flights over the next six months to London, Paris, and Bora Bora.
Just how cheap is it? The food and accommodation aren’t fabulous bargains -- but, oh, the shopping is. In the tourist town of Victoria Falls, a hostel bed or a hired tent will cost you $15 to $20 per night, but I scored a carved stone necklace from a street vendor for the sandals I was wearing. Bartering is common at flea markets and on the streets, where second-hand clothes -- shoes, baseball caps, and sportswear (think basketball or soccer shirts) -- have real buying power. Fill your suitcase with gently used gear and exchange it for jewelry, handmade crafts, and souvenirs like devalued trillion dollar notes.
Some of the best cheap vacation packages include trips to Asia and Australia. Have you always wanted to explore the outback? Guided tours are the best way to experience the continent like a true outdoor adventurer. From India to Vietnam to China, excursions in Asia will leave you awestruck and satisfied. Who wouldn't feel like an explorer after visiting the Taj Mahal and trekking through bustling Hong Kong?
*Savings based on all holiday package bookings with Flight + Hotel on Orbitz.com from July 2017 to December 2017, as compared to the price of the same components booked separately. Savings will vary based on origin/destination, length of trip, stay dates and selected travel supplier(s). Savings not available on all packages. For Free Flight or 100% Off Flight deals, package savings is greater than or equal to the current cost of one component, when both are priced separately.
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
Cruise around charming cobblestone streets and hidden alleyways to come across some of the best bargains in Mexico. Buy handmade pottery, silver jewelry and leather goods for insanely low prices, and peruse the sidewalk artwork by local artists. The food is a steal, too, so be sure to check out the carts selling mouthwatering fresh fruit and margaritas.
Just how cheap is it? Here $20 can last a day or even two if you’re feeling tapped. Your dream beach vacay awaits for lunch-money prices: In Goa, comfy waterfront bungalows go for around $30, but if you forgo housekeeping and some space, basic huts can be had for $15 (often, with breakfast). If you don’t mind skewing rustic, the beach town Gokarna, a two-hour train ride away, is even more budget-friendly. Rooms go for around $5 (a little run-down but clean), and you can shop flowy pants, dresses, and trinkets for $3 a pop, assuming your haggling is on-point.
Why: You’ve heard of the French Polynesian islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mo’orea. Why? Well, it’s known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Island You’ve Never Heard Of.” And that is great for the wallet! You can find great deals on Airbnb starting at $40 a night and five-star hotels at $200. For example, the InterContinental in Bora Bora averages at $1000 a night, while the Intercontinental Mo’orea is around $250. The water is warm and crystal clear, providing you with a lot of free fun. If you want to do more organized tours, Tahiti Legends and Tahiti.com offer many at $50 per person. Like most French Polynesian islands, food is expensive, but there are many grocery stores on the island that sell sandwiches for as low as $3. If you want to splurge on a romantic dinner, many restaurants offer free shuttle service to and from hotels. The best part? Mo’orea is really easy to get to from the U.S. It’s a quick 30-minute ($15) ferry ride from Papeete, Tahiti, whose airport offers direct flights from many cities in the U.S.
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.
Why: Did you know that Lake Tahoe is one of the oldest, tallest, largest, deepest and purest lakes in the world? The southern shore of the lake, known as South Tahoe, straddles two states and is known to be the livelier shore. There is a booming craft beer scene, and they even have a beer map for visitors. Some standouts are locally owned Lake Tahoe Ale Worx and the Cold Water Brewery. Not too sure what’s in the water out there, but the southern shores of Lake Tahoe also produces world-renowned athletes. South Tahoe is home to a couple of Winter Olympian Gold Medalists and several 2018 Olympic hopefuls. (Check out my interview with Hannah Tetter, Maddie Bowman and Kyle Smaine, who all train on Sierra, the “locals” mountain.) In October 2017, an 11-foot bronze sculpture by artist, Gareth Curtiss, was unveiled at Champions Plaza called the “Spirit of Competition," inspired by local Olympic athletes. Heavenly is a mountain that's great for families. The resort has a village with shops and outdoor fire pits. Check out dinner and magic show at The Loft, and for the best sunset views (and steaks) in South Tahoe, go to Friday’s Station. Stay at the Lake Tahoe Resort at Heavenly, where rates start at just $109 and its location in the middle of the village means you can walk right to the gondola — nice when lugging skis or a snowboard. But South Tahoe isn’t all about the powder; in fact over two-thirds of tourist arrivals are in the spring and summer months for hiking, biking and golf. Wildlife lovers won't want to miss a visit to meet Emma, an American bald eagle rescued by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.
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.
Puerto Vallarta travel experiences are made complete by a visit to these twin gems. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of the town, a square full of life and color, music and dancing around the clock. Check out the Presidencia Municipal and Los Arcos amphitheater en route to the Malecon, a mile-long seafront walkway filled with sculptures and home to the much-photographed La Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church.
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.
Why: As the gateway city to celebrated tourist destinations like the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Pompeii, Naples is finally getting its well-deserved time in the spotlight and intrepid travelers are flocking to the stunning southern city in droves. Naples is one of the oldest cities on the European continent and filled to the brim with intriguing cultural sights and monuments, from seaside castles and underground catacombs to show-stopping Baroque architecture and a plethora of contemporary art. It also boasts one of Italy's most cherished cuisines and is well-known as the birthplace of pizza, which you can enjoy for as little as €4 ($5), accompanied by views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius (free). Neapolitan pizza making has just been recognized by UNESCO as part of its Intangible World Heritage list, so now is a great time to visit and enjoy its effervescent energy and fabulous cuisine.
Maui, nicknamed "The Valley Isle," is consistently rated by travel experts to be among the top island destinations in the world. Maui has some of the finest luxury beach resort accommodations and activities in the islands, especially along Kaanapali Beach. All of these high-end resorts amid the romantic beach backdrops make Maui a popular honeymooning spot. Read more about Maui
Why you should go: With some 6,000 islands, Greece is the Mediterranean’s powerhouse beach destination. While only 200-some are inhabited, an island-trotting adventure for everyone here, whether you’re looking for wildlife adventures, historic discoveries, or quite frankly, drinking ouzo and boogying. Athens makes an energetic springboard into the Aegean, with its own archaeological ruins, hipster cafés, and hangouts ranging from dynamic industrial to retro chic.
Oahu, known as "The Gathering Place," is the most populated area in the island chain. It's also home to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world like Diamond Head, the world-famous Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. Most people think of Honolulu, Oahu's largest city and state capitol, as a metropolitan with global flavor, but just a few miles outside of the city limits, quieter getaways can be found. Read more about Oahu
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.
Why: This small island nation is easy on the wallet and big on experiences. I came here on a three-week tour expecting to be a beach bum, but instead, found so much more: delicious (albeit spicy) food, stunning ancient rock formations in Sigiriya, surfing at Arugam Bay, and some of the most physically rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Climbing to the top of Adam’s Peak and (barely) surviving the 5,500 steep stairs that make up this pilgrimage, with the help of a friend and a monk, taught me some inner lessons about strength and power. Don’t miss a chance to visit Ella, a small mountain town with a laid-back hippy vibe, accessible via a scenic train ride from Kandy that will cost you less than $10 and bring you past stunning tea plantations. The real magic of the country is outside of Colombo, but since your flight will always begin/end here, I strongly recommend starting your trip with a stay at Penthouse Above Sea ($100 a night). The amazing woman who runs this property can help you plan your time in the country.
There is another way that the practice of almost purchasing can pay off. You’ve probably already noticed that, after conducting a web search for a specific item, the advertisements on the Internet pages you visit are chock full of that very item. Those ads might annoy you, but they also might contain tailor-made discounts on the exact hotel, cruise, or vacation package you were looking for. It’s worth a second glance.
Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.