Cheap vacations secrets
December 31, 2011 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any really cheap vacation secrets? I'm looking for inexpensive, do-it-yourself getaways to relaxing locales, that don't depend upon me perusing scammy travel websites.

You can interpret "relaxing locales" very broadly; I like cities and beaches pretty much equally. But the kind of answer I'm looking for is something like "Southwest has regular $99 specials to [X City], you can rent a car for $35 a day and drive to [Y beach] and there's a nice little place called [Z hotel] that has comfortable rooms on the beach for $50 a night." I'm primarily focused on the U.S. but please offer suggestions on international trips if they're good (kind of like, "if you can fly to Thailand, take the $20 bus from [X airport] to [Y beach] and there are a million great little hotels on the beach that are the equivalent of $25 a night."

What I'm not looking for are package deals through a travel website.
posted by jayder to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And with regard to the Thailand example, I realize there are a million such examples people could offer up (surely $25 a night is not a particularly good deal in many parts of the world). I mean that more as a format for an answer, than as an example of what would be a good deal. If YOU have a suggestion that you personally think is an excellent deal or cheap vacation that one can reliably put together themselves, I'm interested in hearing about it (whether it's city, beach, mountains, whatever).
posted by jayder at 9:31 AM on December 31, 2011

Cost is relative to independence. If you go to a resort, you're paying lots of money. If you go to a hostel, you're paying little money. The hardest variable to change is getting to/from your destination, where cost is relative to speed of travel.

So...the cheapest trip will be by bus, to a hostel. There are tons of resources online for budget travelling - everything from ridesharing (e.g. carpool with someone who's driving cross-country) to couchsurfing for free/reduced lodging. Read some of Rick Steve's backpacking books, and apply the same ideas to local travel.

How do you execute on all this? Figure out where you want to go, then figure out how to stay there (or nearby) for cheap, then figure out how to get there at the cost/speed that you can afford.
posted by jpeacock at 9:59 AM on December 31, 2011

How do you execute on all this? Figure out where you want to go, then figure out how to stay there (or nearby) for cheap, then figure out how to get there at the cost/speed that you can afford.

Sure, but how do you know where you can fly for cheap, that has a great little spot nearby? The world is big - it can be so helpful to have some specific suggestions, which is what I think the OP is looking for. It also cuts down on planning time, which is helpful. If I have to imagine, research, and then purchase tickets for every single trip, it can get a bit tiresome. Sometimes all you want is a great, cheap relaxing trip, without much regard to the specifics.

Jayder, there are a few previous threads on last-minute travel websites, which are really helpful because they often run weekend 'packages' which can include just a flight and rental car.
posted by barnone at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any languages under your belt? You'd be surprised how many deals you can get if you just wander in to a hotel with no reservation and ask what's available. It's a bit more seat-of-the-pants than I usually do for vacations, but I tried this in Mexico and it worked like a charm.
Travel by bus whenever possible; in many cases, it's about 1/10th as expensive as a taxi.
Check out 'Lonley Planet' guides for good up-to-date reviews of places to stay and eat. They're very budget minded, so you'll have a good idea of what you're getting in to.
posted by Gilbert at 11:11 AM on December 31, 2011

Response by poster: barnone - you're exactly right in your words about what I'm looking for. I'm very capable of planning my own trip but I think getting suggestions from people about their own cheap vacation ideas could very well lead to some great trips. I know that hosteling and couchsurfing are cheap, I'm just collecting specific destinations and logistics for cheap trips people know about.

For me, a $200 round trip to Austin, book a room at the Austin motel, and spend a few days hitting the swimming holes and Barton Springs is something I did three times last year. That's the kind of thing I mean.
posted by jayder at 11:57 AM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: I don't know where you're located, but you could always try the Chinatown Bus. There's pretty much one in every state, there might even be one close to you. As far as pricing goes, I live in the southeastern most part of VA, and a round trip is about $35 for me.
As for continually cheap hotels in NY, I don't have much advice. There's always Air BnB though. And if you're only spending 40 bucks on transportation, that gives you more wiggle room for your lodging.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:19 PM on December 31, 2011

Best answer: Well! Talk about an apropos question...I'm writing this while on vacation in Cairo, one of the world's cheapest and most interesting cities.

I got here on a special-offer flight from LOT Polish Airlines (I live in Poland) from a deal they run every Wednesday evening on their website; lots of weird destinations (less Paris, more Yerevan). At the height of the high season, a flight like this might run close to $400-$500, but post-Egyptian Revolution, I think they've been struggling to fill their seats to Cairo, so I picked this up for around $300 in September - about a third less than normal!

After I scored the flight I started looking for somewhere like, well, exactly where I'm staying: a $20-a-night hostel, which I found under the "other accommodation" section on Cairo's TripAdvisor page. They threw in a free transfer from the airport - which would cost about the same as one night's stay at the hostel! - since I'm here for more than three days. It's smack in the middle of everything.

Most sightseeing has been cheap - even the Pyramids at Giza are only $10 to get in! - or free (just about every mosque and bazaar here).

Souvenirs for friends have included some cool-looking candy ($2), local tea ($1) and halva ($3), jam made from things like guavas and mangos ($2-$4), plus letters and stamps! The supermarket is a great place to find local food and other specialties to bring home.

Now Cairo's not relaxing by any stretch of the imagination, but the inexpensive nature of the city is making me relax and not panic about how much I need to scrimp and save. In Alexandria, where I'm headed on a $6 air-conditioned train trip, I'm "splurging" on a $100-a-night colonial palace because Cairo has been so cheap!

And...that's it really. Found a flight, found a place to stay, picked up a guidebook, and boom - vacation accomplished.

My advice would be this, then:

- find a cheap flight first, possibly from the airlines' websites themselves, booked well in advance, so you can save up more for your holiday!
- look at "alternative" accommodation like B&Bs, hostels (I'm in a private room with private bathroom for $2/night more than a 6-bed dorm!), and Couchsurfing
- look at areas other than resort hubs if you want a lower-hassle, less-expensive destination (Mexico: think Puebla or Merida instead of Cancun - Hawaii: Hilo instead of Kona - Caribbean: Nicaragua instead of Aruba)
- use public transport if it's not too much hassle, or walk/bike!
- look for ways to splurge on yourself so it still feels like a vacation! (I'm eating baklava every day!)

Happy travels!
posted by mdonley at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You can get really awesome hotwire etc. deals on airfare to Miami.

Then you take a shuttle to South Beach and stay in one of the many waaay above average hostels with private rooms (which cost less than half the rate of a hotel in the area, usually)

And after that, go hotel bar-hopping along Collins (hit up happy hours at the luxury hotel row of Shore Club/Delano, etc.) and end up at Shelborne for karaoke. I don't even drink and I've never been bored at any of those places-- the garden/poolside areas are just too lovely to permit boredom.

Also, go to the beach.

Oh, and you can rent private condos at the Shelborne for a week-- really decent prices.

And there are a million night clubs within walking distance, as long as one is staying near the South Beach main drag.
posted by devymetal at 2:26 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take up camping. Basic gear is cheap and you can usually buy used on craigslist. This nation has an astounding amount of public land like national monuments, parks and forests. YOu can pay to stay in a campground or do dispersed camping in most national forests and BLM lands. You can pay a few dollars to shower at a campground or a truck stop if you get grungy. The only website you will need is the one for the agency that manages the land you are going to. This is all kinds of low stress and you will learn something new about yourself as well. Just an idea for a vacation-it isn't all about traveling to some well known destination that you will find on travelocity.
posted by bartonlong at 3:58 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My friend went to Costa Rica (from Florida) for really cheap. The dollar goes a lot father there and so things end up being really cheap.

I know Amtrak has deals on Tuesday if you are not too particular about where you want to go.

If you are in the North East look into Peter Pan bus, ChinaTown Bus, GoTo bus, MegaBus (also goes to Chicgo and Memphis and some other mid-eastern cities), if you are in Florida/Georgia check out Red Coach. There are more of theseThese are all cheaper and better than Greyhound. Some even have free wifi (Red Coach does). Red Coach has bigger seats and more leg room, too. You can go DC to NYC for around 27 bucks if you look hard enough. Name your own price. My brother got a round trip airline ticket from Florida to California for around 250. It was on Sep 11 2009. Tuesdays are a good time to fly. Avoid weekends, especially Thurs, Fri and Sun. Priceline is also good for hotels.

Car is still the cheapest way to travel if you have more than 1 person. You can plan your sleep stops ahead of time, but it's not always necessary. I booked a "name your own price" deal on a hotel in a DC suburb in the car using a laptop tethered to a smart phone for about 60 bucks a night (after taxes ect.).

Oh yes, camping! You can even sleep in your car if you don't like the idea of a tent. Not eveyone likes this idea, but if you have an SUV or a Prius or any vehicle that les you fold down the seats and put the trunk down you could set up a little bed area back there.

Go to the lesser known places. They tend to be cheaper. If you just want to go to the beach, go to a small town instead of Miami Beach.
posted by eq21 at 11:11 AM on January 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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