Got a travel itch but trying to stick to your budget? As it turns out, there’s often an amazing (and cheaper!) alternative to the pricey destination you’ve been dreaming about. For a little inspiration, we turned to Jeralyn Gerba, co-founder and editorial director of the travel website Fathom, who offered up some innovative and inexpensive travel ideas. Read on for some smart swaps that will satisfy your wanderlust but set you back way less, along with her expert tips on where to stay, eat, drink and shop in each locale.
Seeking Tahitian surf and seclusion? Try Nicaragua.
According to WaterWays Surf Adventures, Nicaragua is one of Surfline’s “Best Bets” for surf travel from anywhere in the US. Gerba agrees: “Flights are cheap from the States, the rural coasts feel just as secluded as the South Seas, and there's consistent beach bum migration because of the great Pacific surf breaks--always a good sign.” There’s much more than surfing here too. In addition to the dramatic Pacific coastline, Nicaragua offers up tranquil Caribbean beaches, freshwater lakes, verdant hills and even volcanoes.
Where to stay: La Bahia Beach Hotel This stylish, laid-back surf lodge has a pool, a restaurant serving fresh seafood, an open-air lounge and four breezy cabanas with king-sized beds, al fresco showers and unobstructed views of the ocean. The low season (May 16 – October 31) rate is $150 per night; the high season (November 1 – May 15) rate is $180.
Photo courtesy of La Bahia Beach Hotel
Eat like you're in Paris in... Montreal.
There's Old World charm, beguiling accents, and plenty of gourmet items you'll wish you could smuggle through customs (foie gras! confit de canard!). Check out the city’s oldest quarter, Vieux-Montréal, for the most European experience. It’s full of cobble-stoned streets, museums and restaurants. Don’t miss the revitalized canal district, which you can explore by boat, on foot or with rented bicycles. Burn off those gourmet calories by strolling through Parc du Mont-Royal, situated on the hill that gave the metropolis its name.
Where to shop: Jean Talon Market This open-air market and the surrounding food shops are a gourmet paradise, showcasing a vast array of locally raised meats, farm-fresh produce, artisanal chocolates and Québécois cheeses, wines and ciders. Have lunch here, or just enjoy the plentiful food samples at the market while mingling with Montréalers.
Photo courtesy of Glorious Vintage
Feel like a local in Portland, instead of Brooklyn.
Top-rated chefs and artisanal wares abound, all without having to pay New York City hotel prices. “The quality of artisan foods, craft goods and design aesthetics is top notch, but the prices are wildly low,” says Gerba, “Everything feels like a discovery.” Browse the specialty shops of Nob Hill and the Pearl District, check out the arts and crafts at Portland Saturday Market, and treat yourself to some stellar grub in one of the country’s most amazing food cities.
Where to snack and imbibe like a local: Clyde Common Though the Portland food and drink scene has grown since this atmospheric, airy restaurant opened in 2007, locals still descend upon Clyde Common’s communal wooden tables and long bar for elevated pub food and $5 happy hour craft cocktail specials, like the Bourbon Renewal (made with bourbon, lemon, cassis and bitters).
Photo courtesy of Clyde Common
Want wine? Tap your inner Napa in New York.
With enough wineries and views to keep you busy road-tripping for days, central New York’s Finger Lakes region rivals Napa when it comes to beautiful vistas, farm-fresh dining and superb sips. Why so wine-friendly? Turns out the lake region’s microclimate favors the cultivation of grapes. Says Gerba, “There's a bit of a culinary renaissance happening, with lots of locavore eating and drinking in a gorgeous landscape--and, of course, Riesling.”
Where to drink: Ravines and Finger Lakes Distilling Try the Ravines Dry Riesling–lauded by wine experts–along with other varietals at the Ravines Tasting Room’s picturesque waterfront setting on Keuka Lake. And for just $6, you can pair a flight of wine tastes with a selection of Finger Lakes cheeses or locally- made artisanal chocolates.
Love Berlin’s art and architecture? Try Austin.
For great design and old building sites repurposed with creative flair, the coolest neighborhood in Texas’s quirkiest city is a dream destination. Art and entrepreneurship are flourishing in East Austin, says Gerba, which is home to lots of artists, designers, cheap rents, and innovative businesses. Eat at Hillside Farmacy, a cool café whose drugstore décor nods to the building’s apothecary past. Then burn off your meal two-stepping at The White Horse, a hip honky-tonk saloon with free live music and cheap Lone Star beer.
Where to shop: HELM Boots, a company whose showroom is a converted library from the late 1930s, hand crafts an artisanal line of work boots. Check out their recently-opened store for gently-priced unisex products and gifts that -- like their stylish boots -- are all made in the U.S.
Photo courtesy of Hillside Farmacy
For Miami’s social scene, try Mexico City.
Save on socializing by booking a getaway to the Mexican capital, where you can live it up like the locals do in neighborhoods like Roma and La Condesa. “There are tons of cute young people, along with a lot of late-night action on the street,” says Gerba. The best part? People eat and drink really, really well for not a lot of money. Trend alert: There are also loads of mezcalerias that have opened up around town, specifically serving the city’s current spirit of choice—tequila’s smokier sister, mezcal.
Where to eat: Contramar Lunch is a lively, extended affair in Mexico City. Book a table midday at this bustling restaurant, and kick back for hour after convivial hour while you dive into incredible seafood ceviche, oysters, grilled fish, tacos and margaritas.
Photo courtesy of Sonia Carolina
Love the beaches and beats of Ibiza? Try Formentera.
For years, Ibiza has been a top destination for European club-hoppers and beach bums alike. But for a better bargain—and a more relaxed atmosphere—Gerba recommends this beautiful, and much less-crowded destination in the Balearic Islands. It’s a true hippie hangout, with a low-key vibe minus all the overpriced nightclub chaos. “The beaches are long stretches of white sand, there's excellent seafood, and also some great eco-resorts popping up here and there,” she adds.
Where to lounge: Playa Mitjorn It’s easy to secure a secluded spot along the coves of Playa Mitjorn, the longest beach on the island – and one of the prettiest. Stroll along the beach’s rocky promontories for great views, then settle onto the soft white sand and gaze out onto the still cerulean waters for the ultimate in relaxation.
Seeking enlightenment? Try an Argentinian ashram.
Intrigued by Indian ashrams, but constrained by budget? Head south instead. South American sojourns don’t have to be cosmopolitan stays or cost-prohibitive adventure tours. Take a tip from Gerba and book an alternative (and cheaper) kind of trip: Stay at an ashram for a spell. “You can stay for a pittance with yoga, meditation, and fresh meals on the verdant grounds,” says Gerba. Bonus: This kind of retreat offers up the perfect mix of solitary soul-searching as well as bonding with a diverse group of fellow volunteers.
Where to stay: Eco Yoga Park At this eco-conscious village located about an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, volunteers take on tasks like gardening and kitchen duty alongside the monks while also learning about yoga, meditation, vegetarian cooking and organic agriculture. And there’s plenty of time to just relax in the beautiful rural setting. The low rate of $18 per night includes warm beds in rustic cottage accommodations along with all food, activities and workshops.
Photo courtesy of Eco Yoga Park
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