The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Elana writes, “My husband and I are planning a trip for my graduate school graduation in June 2009. I have been working 70-hour weeks and am finally finishing a long three-year masters in social work degree. I am a budget traveler who prefers non-package-type places (no fancy resorts either) and have a budget of $2,500 for two. I am hoping to go to a far away island that is still unknown enough to be affordable. Let’s see what you can come up with!”
When I initially read your question, I immediately thought the Azores—no, wait, Tofino! Since I was overwhelmed with ideas, I’ve decided to offer up on both suggestions.
Located in Portugal—about a five-hour flight from Boston—the Azores Islands combine culture, natural beauty, and an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life. Begin your journey at Sao Miguel, the biggest and easiest island to get to by plane. Flights leave Boston every Tuesday and Friday, and I was able to find airfare for $816 (with taxes and fees) per person through SATA for travel in mid-June. Even though the flight there may take up more than half of your budget, you can find ways to save once you arrive. You can eat well for very little cash per day, and many of the outdoor activities are free. When it comes to where to stay, you can find hotels through Bensaude Turismo, which offers rooms starting at €64 (about $91 U.S.; check with XE.com for current exchange rates) per night.
The total thus far if you were to stay seven nights at this rate with airfare would be $2,269 for two. Depending on the hotel you choose, you may be able to find a little extra cash to rent a car for a few days, which would allow you to see some of the sights, including the Sete Cidades twin lakes (the Azores largest extinct volcano crater), Furnas Volcano (where you can taste “cozido das furnas,” or furnas stew), and Terra Nostra Park. Renting a car in June starts at $152 (without taxes and fees) for seven or more days through Azores Five Islands.
For something a bit closer to home, try Tofino on Vancouver Island, an ideal getaway in an off-the-beaten path location. Most people come to this small town to take advantage of the natural surroundings, including activities such as hiking in Pacific Rim National Park, surfing at Long Beach, whale watching, and sea kayaking in Clayoquot Sound. Getting to Tofino may prove to be a bit of a challenge, since it is known as the end of the road for Western Canada, but you can still do it within your budget. Since flights are typically quite expensive, you can avoid that cost altogether by driving. Start by taking the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, which costs $258 round-trip for two. Once you reach Victoria, rent a car (about $256 CAD or $213 U.S. for a seven-day economy rental). The drive from Victoria to Tofino is about five hours, and I recommend using Google Maps to plot your course.
One of the most affordable and educational places to stay in town is at the Clayoquot Field Station. A private queen with a shared bath costs $85 per night, and includes free admission to the Tofino Botanical Gardens. The total price for lodging and transportation—not including airfare to Seattle—clocks in around $1,066. This leaves quite a bit extra for activities and food, especially since most of the things you’ll do are free and there are plenty of affordable dining options. A cheap and completely satisfying place to grab a bite to eat is Sobo, and there are a plethora of coffeehouses and bakeries serving fresh and local food in the area for a reasonable price.
I hope that between these two options, you enjoy your well-deserved vacation.
Do any of you, my other readers, have different island to suggest to Elana? Or maybe you have a suggestion for a place to stay in the Azores? How about a must-see attraction in Tofino? Please share any and all tips you might have regarding this subject, so we can insure Elana has an amazing trip.
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