Have you been putting off your dream vacation because of a high price tag? This might be the year to finally book it. The same way technology and on-trend products drop in price over time, dream destinations also become more accessible. A slew of high-value bucket list trips are now within reach.
Thanks to new tour options and changing travel trends, these dreamy destinations and expensive-sounding vacations just became more affordable. But act fast—travel trends move quickly, and these trips could be ultra-pricey again before you know it.
Editor’s note: For the latest version of this story, see 10 Affordable Dream Vacations You Can Take in 2020.
The continent that not long ago was only reachable by the most intrepid world explorers has recently seen a spike in adventure travelers—most of whom have had to pay a pretty penny (think well over $10,000 before flights) to get there. But now, thanks to an influx of cruise options to the Antarctic Peninsula through the Drake Passage, Antarctica is nearing affordability—and even seeing sales by big-name travel providers that will ensure you get there (and back) safe and sound.
Premium lines like Celebrity Cruises’ Antarctica cruise from Buenos Aires will get you there in 2019 from about $2,700 to $4,000 per person for a two-week trip that will land on Elephant Island and the Gerlache Strait, and cruise through Paradise Bay.
And booking early can also pay: Peregrine Adventures is offering up to 20 percent off several itineraries to Antarctica on voyages departing in 2020 and 2021, when you book by March 2019.
The tiny coral islands of the Indian Ocean are known for their lagoons, atolls, and pricey overwater bungalows. But the Maldives’ more hidden gems, like non-resort islands home to inexpensive local guesthouses, are upping their game to accommodate more tourists, and competing with the pricey private islands by providing way cheaper dream vacations.
Using independent lodging is not only cheap—it’s an easy way to directly support the local community. Getting off the beaten path in North Male Atoll can cost as little as $50 per night at a local lodge or cozy inn, while other hotels pack value into about $120 nightly, per person. Another reason the Maldives is affordable? U.S. dollars are widely accepted, so you don’t have to worry about changing currency.
Around the World in 21 Days
Does knocking out six countries across the globe and in one trip sound like your dream vacation? Around-the-world trips by premium providers have made headlines in recent years for both their extreme itineraries and private-jet price tags, rather than any semblance of value or affordability. But that may be about to change thanks to smarTours, a tour operator that told me it’s launching a 21-day, around-the-world itinerary that will depart from New York to stretch across London, Cairo, Bangkok, Bali, Sydney, and Fiji, ending in Los Angeles.
Billed as the “first around the world trip for the average Joe,” the trip will cost $6,500 for early birds who book directly with smarTours via phone or email by February 28. Five departures are expected from New York (JFK) in July, August, September, October, and November 2019 with a maximum group size of 30 for each. Airfare, hotels, meal, and experienced tour guides are all included.
Ski the French Alps
Family ski getaways can cost a pretty penny in the U.S.—so why not stretch your dollar a bit for a value-packed dream vacation in the Alps? Europe is more affordable than ever, and the recent expansions of Club Med are making its luxe properties (with way more inclusions than most pricey Aspen abodes) a steal.
The newly opened all-inclusive Club Med Les Arcs Panorama in the French Alps is offering ski vacations from $257 per person, per night. The all-inclusive price matches that of many American hotels’, and includes ski-in/ski-out access, lessons led by ski or snowboarding professionals, lift tickets, a spa complete with a Turkish bath, fitness center, and heated indoor and outdoor pools. The property is also family-friendly, with day and night entertainment including kids’ clubs for children.
Istanbul’s luxurious new mega-airport aims to be the largest terminal under one roof, and is sure to keep attracting cheap flights from around the globe in 2019. But Turkey itself is already a cheap dream vacation thanks to affordable tours bolstered by a favorable U.S. exchange rate of about five-to-one (see XE.com for up-to-date currency conversion). Trafalgar’s Highlights of Turkey itinerary spans seven cities over eight days from just $1,425 and includes meals, accommodation, and on-trip transportation (not including your round-trip flights). For only about $100 more you can extend your trip to a 14-day Best of Turkey Winter getaway that includes historic Ankara, the nation’s capital.
Whale Shark Swimming in Mexico with National Geographic
Think you have to be a nature documentarian to go swimming with whale sharks alongside a National Geographic expert? Think again. The travel outlet’s new slew of expertly curated National Geographic Expeditions are more affordable than ever. Forget the standard Yucatan all-inclusive resorts and switch things up with an active nature getaway led by some of the world’s top wildlife and science experts.
National Geographic Expeditions’ Yucatan Adventure: Whale Sharks and Maya Ruins itinerary will put you in the water of Isla Mujeres with whale sharks, on guided hikes and swims through the Rio Secreto cave system, on a private tour of Chichen Itza, and in colorful hidden-gem towns near even more ancient Mayan ruins. Not including airfare, departures start at $5,995 per person.
Just in time for a solar eclipse that will draw thousands to Argentina in July 2019, the country is an affordable dream vacation thanks to its newly advantageous exchange rate and new flight routes to the country. The U.S. dollar’s power has increased almost ten-fold since 2012, making one dollar now equal to about 40 pesos.
That’s a lot of buying power for Argentine hotels, which in 2017 dropped a hefty per-night value added tax (VAT) that was about 20 percent in order to reinvigorate tourism. The move seemed to have worked, since cheap flight routes are also booming: Norwegian Argentina, a South American venture by Norwegian Air Shuttle launched late last year despite the Argentine peso’s meltdown by offering $18 flights from other parts of South America.
Norwegian Polar Bear Tracking
If you’re more keen on polar bears than penguins, you’ll want to head north (there are no polar bears in Antarctica) for a dream vacation destination that has also dropped in price. Tour operator G Adventures is offering savings on hundreds of its guided trips in its January ‘Must Go Sale’ for 2019 departures including 10 percent off its uber-popular Realm of the Polar Bear expedition, now $4,000 per person when you book by January 31. “Must-Go” discounts will offer travelers savings of up to 25 percent on over 300 tours including other Norway expeditions like a Norwegian Fjords & Arctic Discovery sailing trip for 15 percent off.
A South Pacific getaway that’s following the Maldives in becoming an affordable dream trip when you make more local choices, Fiji can be an affordable dream vacation if you go resort-free. Intrepid Travel offers an 11-day Fiji Expedition for $3,250 including meals, transport like boats and river rafting (not flights), and a dolphin-spotting excursion. Intrepid is also currently offering its annual one dollar deposits deal, so you can secure a spot on a trip now for just a buck and pay later. The deposits are available for over 1,000 Intrepid trips in over 100 countries, and on the table until February 15, 2019.
For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The 10 Best Solo Vacations for 2019
- 9 Trending Travel Destinations for 2019
- The Best U.S. Cities to Visit in 2019
SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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