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By Thomas Muellner
Need a break to recharge your batteries? Taking time away from the office or job site can be just what the doctor ordered. Whether you spend it sipping piña coladas on the beach or exploring a new city, making time to travel can help you feel refreshed and rewarded about the hard work put into your nine-to-five.
Unfortunately, more than half of U.S. employees don’t use their paid vacation days each year. If finances are holding you back from crossing a dream vacation off your bucket list, consider these five budget vacation ideas that’ll help you explore the world without breaking the bank.
It’s hard to miss when it comes to Europe – cafes, museums, architecture, culture. The continent’s rich and diverse history make it a wonderful destination for novice and veteran travelers alike looking for vacation ideas on a budget.
Take advantage of a healthy dollar-to-Euro exchange rate and low airfares by booking your vacation to one of Europe’s many enchanting cities. Tourist mainstays like Paris and London are an excellent place to start, while backpacker favorites, such as a Budapest, Prague and Amsterdam, offer their own unique flavor.
If managed carefully, a $5,000 budget is more than enough to eat and drink your way across the continent on a 10-day or two-week trip –or perhaps even longer. With flexible dates, especially if you travel during an off-season, it’s possible to lock in a flight for between $600 and $1,000, a serious discount in price from just a few years ago. Better still, by booking a multi-destination flight (arriving in Munich and departing from Madrid, for example) you can navigate Europe’s robust railway system and see multiple locales in a single swoop.
Once you’re one the ground, save money while traveling by balancing big-ticket outings with low-cost attractions, such as museums, outdoor plazas and walking tours. You’ll be amazed how a cappuccino and a spot to people watch can make the day fly by.
Feeling bold? Make your next dream vacation one to remember with this budget vacation idea. Located along the southern tip of Chile and Argentina, the Patagonia region spans 402,700 square miles and is home to some of the most majestic views on Earth.
By embarking on a multi-day trek through Chile’s Torres del Paine or Argentina’s El Calafate national park, you can expect to see breathtaking glaciers and wildlife while sharing the trail with hikers from all across the globe. Just check out the photo above to get an idea of what to expect.
As you might imagine, the biggest expense when traveling to Patagonia is transportation. Flights and buses needed to access the remote region can easily account for $2,000–$2,500 of your travel budget, and will likely require a stop off in Buenos Aires, Argentina or Santiago. However, once you arrive, a booming industry of outfitters can help you with all the equipment, food and supplies you’ll need for just a few hundred dollars. Even with hotel or Airbnb rentals to get you to and from the wild, a trip of this kind is well within reach with a $5,000 budget.
After you make it back to basecamp, treat yourself to a rewarding glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec from the regional vineyards and chow down on a plate of chorrillana (Chile’s egg-and-beef–topped version of cheese fries) to make up for all the calories you burned while trekking!
If a cheap road trip is your forte, take your game to the next level by renting an RV and exploring the heartland on your next extended vacation. A creative take on a classic experience, it’s the perfect trip to share with old friends or a growing family.
For around $2,000, you can lease a tricked out RV that includes multiple seating areas, a functional kitchen space and loads of entertainment features for two weeks. Not to mention, by opting for an RV over a traditional car or truck, you’ll save on hotel and room rentals – your bed is on wheels!
But where to go? One famous road trip itinerary is a staple of Americana culture: Route 66. Running from Los Angeles to Chicago, the historic highway traverses unique small towns across the Southwest and Midwest, offering a new perspective and loads of opportunities to shake off the trail dust. If small town America isn’t your cup of tea, consider using the country’s national parks or booming music festival scene as a guidepost for your trip.
How do sandy beaches, mellow reggae beats and ice-cold refreshments sound for a vacation? If your goal for a trip is to let loose and unwind, there’s no better option than the colorful shores of the Caribbean.
Whether you opt for a DIY adventure or an all-inclusive stay, Caribbean hot spots like Barbados, Jamaica and St. Lucia offer a wealth of accommodations and countless excursions. On a $5,000 budget, you’ll be able to spend a week at a nice all-inclusive resort while still having extra cash for airfare and day trips. Imagine waking up to the roar of the surf, snacking on a loaded buffet and heading out to snorkel or sail before returning for some R&R and evening festivities.
Opposite a traditional European vacation, an amazing locale that’s often under the radar of travelers is Southeast Asia. Known for its breathtaking beaches, spectacular monuments, expansive street food scene and advantageous exchange rates, it’s a smart-money option for vacationers who are looking for something a little different.
Start your trip in Phuket, Thailand, and soak up some sun before making your way to the country’s Chiang Mai region. Home to Buddhist ruins, beautiful natural terrain and a wide range of hotel accommodations, it’s an excellent base for exploring the region. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore also offer unique experiences and loads of value if you’re open to country-hopping throughout the area.
As with Europe, fares to Southeast Asia are currently quite reasonable, with flights from many major U.S. cities ranging from $700 to $1,000. Combine that with ultra-cheap food prices (a three-course meal at a nice restaurant runs about $15) and budget-friendly places to stay, and it’s easy to make your way across several countries on a budget of $5,000 with room to spare.
Regardless of where you choose to land, you’ll thank yourself for having the adventure. Sometimes choosing a cheaper alternative to a popular vacation spot is best. And with some smart planning ahead of your departure, you’ll be able to grab memories that last for a lifetime without sending your financial future off course.