Being in the travel industry, I do keep pretty well abreast on current trends in travel. I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week shopping for travel, comparing prices, and researching destinations and trips. I have a good handle on what’s hot right now, what’s up-and-coming, and where to avoid if you don’t want to break the bank.
Booking airline tickets and accommodations is one thing, but something that I think commonly scares people away from traveling is the actual in-destination cost of things. Unless you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort, you really need to factor in the cost of food, drinks, entertainment, activities, and transportation. You could spend $2000 on a trip before even leaving home, but realistically, how much more are you going to be forking out just to make sure you’re having a good time while you’re actually there?
So many destinations have become so accustomed to tourists coming in and spending money hand over foot that frankly, some of them have simply gotten out of hand. When you’re spending $10 for a Coke, you know something’s not right.
It doesn’t have to be that way…
There are a lot of places that want to get on the tourist radar, that are in the process of building up their infrastructure, that are trying their damnedest to attract tourists but aren’t quite at the outrageously commercialized stage as some more well-established destinations. We should be taking advantage of them! It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We want unique places to visit that can be affordable, and they want tourists! Win and win.
I’ve compiled a list of destinations that may take a bit of creative thinking to get to, but that won’t empty your wallet once you do arrive.
1. Samana, Dominican Republic
Located about a 5 hour drive from the Dominican Republic’s famed Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana, Samana has remained one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets. It is located on a quiet peninsula on the northeastern side of the island and boasts a gorgeous bay and a newly rennovated “malecón” (boardwalk). It is much less crowded than Punta Cana, but the tourism board is striving to put it in tourists’ fields of vision. Samana has some of the best humpback whale viewing in the world, offers hiking in many areas and especially to a gorgeous waterfall called Salto Limón, and some out of this world snorkeling spots (most notable, Las Terrenas shoreline). Samana has its own airport, but there are also many developments happening in the Dominican Republic such as new highways being built between major areas, making the breathtaking beaches much more accessible to visitors. Until the boom in these more out-of-the way towns becomes full-fledged, accommodations, food, souvenirs, and excursions are very attractively priced in an effort to attract visitors just like you and I!
2. Vieques, Puerto Rico
Wild horses on Playa Negra, Vieques (the beach doesn’t normally look like this but I was there one week after a huge hurricane hit).
A small island just an hour and 15 minute ferry ride from the east coast of the island of Puerto Rico, Vieques is yet another hidden gem of the Caribbean. The island does have an airport, but flights there are often expensive and unreliable, so I recommend taking the ferry from Fajardo on the main island. It’s easy, very inexpensive (about $3 if I remember correctly?), and a fun experience too! The island is very explorable by Jeep and it’s something you can easily navigate on your own while feeling completely safe. Even in the “high” season, I guarantee you can find a secluded beach somewhere off the beaten path and be the only soul(s) there to enjoy it in peace. Isabel II, a town on the north side of the island, is where the ferry docks and it has some really beautiful and inexpensive villas overlooking the water as well as B&B’s and guesthouses. If you drive south and cross the line of mountains that slices through the island (which I mistakenly tried to ride a bicycle through), you’ll find yourself in the quaint beach town of Esperanza. Wild horses gallop around the island and you can spend the afternoon roaming one of the nature preserves or an evening kayaking in a bioluminescent bay. This place is truly a paradise just waiting to be discovered.
3. Lombok, Indonesia
Often overshadowed by its big brother, Bali, Lombok is yet another destination that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The island is much less crowded and has just as much to offer as neighboring Bali, but for only half the price tag! There are waterfalls, friendly locals, and rice terrace walks just waiting to be enjoyed. The island does have its own airport, but before booking your flight here, be sure to check the price of taking the ferry from Padang Bai on the east coast of Bali instead, as you may be able to save a significant amount of money this way. There is a fast ferry (1 and a half to 2 hours) or a slow ferry (5 hours) to choose from. I will warn you, the quality of said ferries does vary, but if you’re lucky, you might end up cruising across the ocean in a massive ferry with a snack stand, a jungle gym, and nap stations! It’s all just a part of the adventure… Find yourself a hillside bungalow in Senggigi and hunker down for a getaway you’ll never forget.
4. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Yup, I couldn’t resist! I just had to throw in a little slice of home in the top five! The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore consists of 40 miles of coastline on the northern side of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, bordering Lake Superior and affording some of the most gorgeous views and scenery I’ve ever seen. I have traveled to a lot of corners of this big world, but I can honestly say that the Pictured Rocks are probably the #1 most beautiful location I’ve been in all of my travels. The sandstone cliffs have been eroded to show every color of the rainbow and the water can be such an electric turquoise blue that you’re eyes will need time to adjust. There are glass bottom boat tours to view shipwrecks, cute little coffee shops, and hiking galore between the charming towns of Munising and Grand Marais, Michigan. I had heard little about the Pictured Rocks before visiting, but I always thought to myself “How good could it really be?”. After spending five nights backpacking the North Country Trail, winding in and out of the trees and literally feeling like the breath was being knocked out of me by such magnificent views, I was baffled by the lack of attention this place was getting from travelers. There were Michiganders and others from the surrounding US States visiting, but I couldn’t understand why Europeans and Aussies weren’t chomping at the bit to jump on a plane and come explore northern Michigan! Maybe I am biased, but I will swear up and down every day that the Pictured Rocks should be #1 on everyone’s travel bucket lists.
5. Bocas del Toro, Panama
I will admit, this one’s a doozy to get to. I took two flights, a ten hour bus ride (this one was due to my own lack of planning and isn’t compulsory for everyone…), and a speedboat ride before arriving on the hammock-lined dock of Bocas Town in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. One more speedboat ride and I had arrived at the island paradise I would call home for the next week. I stayed in a place that until that point I could only ever dream of called Palmar Tent Lodge, nestled underneath the palm trees deep in the rainforest yet still just a stones throw away from the lapping waves. Though it takes patience to get to, Bocas del Toro is a jungle oasis like you could never imagine and if you like socializing, beach bon fires, and brick oven pizzas, you can stay in this tent lodge or many other guesthouses for an extremely reasonable price. You could take up surfing, go on a canoe ride through the mangroves, or explore a bat cave, all for what I would say is less than $20 USD. If you don’t mind spending some time off the grid and like the idea of visiting a place where there are no roads, only rivers, or even if you feel like spending some time volunteering with the indigenous Ngobe community there, this is the place for you!
Of course, there is no all cheap or all expensive destination. Traveling is really what you make of it. Just like anywhere else, you can either stay in the Ritz-Carlton or you can stay in the Motel 6–it’s really just a matter of putting in the time and research to put together something that fits your budget and your preferences. If you have patience enough to watch flights for a bit, or creativity enough to find an out-of-the-box solution to high transportation costs, then you can turn something that most people only dream about into a reality. And be careful when you’re looking too, because at first glance, something you may see may immediately seem too expensive, but sometimes the inclusions and the values can really make what seemed outrageous into something really worth your while. Really dig deep and you can make an educated decision about what’s a good deal and what’s not and you could be jetting off on your next dream trip in no time!
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS