Where can I spend some vacation days alone?
September 29, 2017 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm an mid-20s male that has 5 vacation days to use before the end of the year. I have some spare money, and I'd like to spend it on experience, rather than things. Where do you recommend I visit? Details inside!

Total Budget: $500-$1500
Timing: Now-Dec31st. I have 7 days I need to use by the end of the year. So, if I position those on weekdays, I could potentially do a 11 day trip, using weekends for additional days. I have maxed out the carryover allotment.
Who: I'm mid-20s, average white guy. I speak some spanish.
Where: Really, I'm happy going anywhere within my budget, if you think I would get something out of it!
What: Here's the tricky thing, I'm not particularly outdoorsy, but I see being very lonely if I were to just jump to Seattle or Denver by myself. However, I could see greatly enjoying a cruise or resort with some structured / implied service and relaxation activities. I do like exploring for day hikes, but I don't have a lot of camping/backpacking equipment. I do not particularly enjoy the company of children. I enjoy puzzle rooms and board games, and I imagine I would greatly enjoy a cruise or resort.

My ideas so far:
1. Fly to Miami, take a cruise through the Caribbean. This sounds great! And, I see flights for ~$100 and cruises for ~$300. Concern - have the hurricanes through this area made them less fun to visit? And, since I am solo, I think I would have to pay double on the cruise. Still within budget though! Also, very touristy and lots of children (potentially).
2. Fly to Belize or Cancun and stay at a resort. Flights for ~$250, resorts for $500, might have to pay extra for singles rates again. Cons - would I get bored? Would there be a lot of children? Is the area impacted by hurricanes? Again, very touristy and I feel like when people say "go out and experience things" they don't mean through thin fences only. Pro - sometimes those resorts have lazy rivers.
3. Fly somewhere scary and stay in a hostel. Talk about adventure - I am sure I would learn a lot and feel very unsafe. But, what's the worst that could happen? Well, I am slightly worried about losing my passport or being drugged, and not making it back, and losing my job, and ruining my life. But maybe this kind of adventure is what I'm looking for? Cons - Hostels seem to usually be in cities, and I'm not just looking to drink for a week. Older / poorer cities aren't super interesting to me - I spent some time in some smaller cities near San Jose and didn't find them super entertaining. Plus, the lack of air conditioning did bother me.
4. I could find some kind of USA-based board game / festival / overwatch / dungeons and dragons / camping trip that a bunch of 20-somethings are going on, and tag along. There has to be some kind of event that interests me in the USA that lasts a week, right?
5. I could take 3 day weekends for 7 weeks - plus adding on to holidays. Con - I think I'd do just as much work during these periods.

Anyway, above is just what I've thought of so far - if you know of any festival, or location, that seems like it would be a good fit for me, or if you have any other thoughts or advice for someone in my position, I would greatly appreciate it!
posted by bbqturtle to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you starting from?
posted by AFABulous at 12:16 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sorry! My home airports are Ohare/Midway, and Detroit!
posted by bbqturtle at 12:17 PM on September 29, 2017

I would suggest taking SCUBA diving lessons in your city and then going on a diving vacation, or, taking the lessons at your destination. They usually are about 4-5 days when in a diving area but are fun and you meet people. Diving is a great way to meet people with a common interest instantly and have a group to hang out with. I've traveled to many places alone to SCUBA dive and have loved it.
posted by waving at 12:20 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

I could find some kind of USA-based board game / festival / overwatch / dungeons and dragons / camping trip that a bunch of 20-somethings are going on, and tag along. There has to be some kind of event that interests me in the USA that lasts a week, right?

Have you looked at a tour company that attracts a younger crowd, such as Green Tortoise?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:32 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now is not the time at all to visit the carribean. Friends in St. Croix and St. Thomas have been on curfew since the hurricanes and while they will need the tourism dollars in the future I would not plan to visit before January.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think a cruise sounds like a good idea for you - you can participate in the onboard activities and excursions when you feel like it, and just relax by the pool when you don't. I've been on two Royal Caribbean cruises and they have separate pools for kids and adults so I honestly didn't find the kids to be particularly noticeable. They also have kid camps that I think a lot of people sequester their kids in. You'll pick the activities (casino, comedy shows, musical acts) that cater more to adults too. What I like about a cruise is not having to do anything at all if I don't feel like it - I could literally just lay by the pool and read and drink stupid daquiris and eat buffet food for 4 days if I wanted. On the other hand you could probably find stuff to do all day if you really wanted to.

Cons: the food is not great; it can be very crowded by the pool; the rooms are very small and not super comfortable (but way better than a hostel)

Tips: Do not eat the sit-down formal dinner, it's a three hour process of gross food that pretends to be good in a way the buffet food doesn't; get a drinks package on the first day if you drink; go on one with a couple ports of call so you can experience a few different places; go jet-skiing because that's the most fun thing you can do on a cruise; do not do excursions not affiliated with the cruise line (ask me how I know!); I have heard that Carnival cruises are worse than Royal Caribbean but don't know if this is a fact.

Have a great time!
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:53 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh forgot to mention I don't know how the Caribbean is recovering this hurricane season so that is something to nail down before you go obviously!
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2017

Not all cruises go east to the Caribbean islands. Lots of cruises go south / west to ports of call in Mexico.

Fall / Winter is off season in Europe - you might be able to find some bargains. My 21 year old daughter spent 25 days this past Spring bouncing around mostly northern Europe staying in hostels and visited 10 counties in that timespan. She was already in Europe for Study Abroad so she didn't have to fly to Europe, but I'd be surprised if she spent more than $30 or so on room and board each day.
posted by COD at 1:05 PM on September 29, 2017

In my experience, hostels aren't particularly scary but also aren't particularly exciting/adventurous unless you're very outgoing and good at ingratiating yourself with groups of strangers, and/or you drink a lot. Every time I've stayed in a hostel it was just a cheap place to crash--nobody talked to me or anything, and I didn't talk to anyone either beyond just basic small talk. Although hostels do sometimes have organized activities and tours, don't get me wrong.

But basically if you lean toward #3, I'd keep the focus on the question of where you'd go and what you'd want to do there, rather than thinking that staying at a hostel will be inherently exciting or cause adventure to happen to you. (Sorry if I'm misreading you! But it kind of sounds like you're laboring under that impression.)
posted by honey wheat at 1:08 PM on September 29, 2017

A cruise is a great experience if you are considering it for having the experience of a cruise. I would not suggest it if you are considering it for having the experience of visiting other places. You will be in those places less than 6-8 hours each, and even if you avoid taking the side trip "excursions" (in quotes because that's what they call it, not scare quotes or anything) offered through the cruise line itself, pretty much everyone you meet anywhere near the dock will just assume you are looking for a cheaper version of same. Which can be fun! But they will be a thoroughly sanitized version of what people actually do in those places when there's no cruise ship in port. And you are right that the per person pricing generally assumes double occupancy, so if you want a single room you'll basically just be paying for both spots in a double. On the plus side, there are adults-only and singles-only cruises, so you can avoid the kids altogether (or if you end up on a family friendly line, there will still be adults-only lounging decks probably).

Love the SCUBA idea. It is a fantastic experience, and you can certify in three days or so, so even if you wait for the trip to do it, you could have some of that time doing much better dives than the "discovery" dives often offered to non-certified divers.

Hostels are a cheap option in a lot of non-scary places, and also I wonder if your definition of "scary" may be somewhat overgeneralized.

SO, with all that in mind, here's my pitch: Cartagena, Colombia. You can get flights for ~$300 through Fort Lauderdale so you don't even have to hit Bogota (which can legit be a bit of a scary place if you don't know how things work) and book somewhere to stay in the Getsemani area of the old walled city via AirBnB - $20-$30 per night for a private room, even less for a shared room, more for a whole apartment. There's a TON of stuff to do either in the walled city or a quick cab ride outside of it, including diving, and the walled city area is super safe, you can walk around at 3am and be totally fine. Or at least, that was true three years ago, I suppose it'd be worth asking someone who's been more recently. Go to the mud volcano. Explore the tunnels under the fort. Visit random, fantastic statuary in all the public squares. There will probably be a parade at some point. Check out the museums - the modern art museum especially is small but super. Eat amazing food both on and off the street, and if you are a beer person, be sure to find a bar that carries Bogota Brewing Company offerings, they are top notch. If you want a fancy night on the town, take a quick cab to the Bocagrande area (negotiate a return rate before you go, could be harder to get one coming back otherwise). Come back and thank me.
posted by solotoro at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had such a great time doing a discover dive in Cozumel (which is very close to Cancun) that I went home, did the boring half of the scuba certification here, and I'm going back in November to finish my cert and dive a bunch. Definitely try diving, wherever you go! Neither Belize nor the Cancun/Playa del Carmen chunk of Mexico have been hit by a hurricane in a long time, so I wouldn't worry if you go there. The more eastern Caribbean is, unfortunately, likely to need longer than your timeframe to recover completely for the islands that were hit.

I would advocate for Mexico or Belize over taking a cruise unless you want to go on, say, the JoCo cruise or one that equally caters to nerdy interests; if you're staying on land, you get to see a lot more than if you're herded back onto the boat after a few hours.
posted by tautological at 2:20 PM on September 29, 2017

Came in here to suggest SCUBA too. Do your pool work locally, do your open water checkout dives and subsequent diving wherever you're headed. Doing it solo will raise the price a bit, because you'll need to dive with a guided group (need two people to dive, so you can't just rent tanks and go in off the shore), but you'll get a little bit of structure in doing the dives with a group, meet cool people...

I was down in St Croix twice last year, and it was awesome. St Croix got hit pretty hard by Hurricane Maria, but that probably means that once essential services are back up you'd be doing the region an amazing favor by bringing in your tourist dollars. Calling a dive shop in your target area (For the west (cheaper, rainier) side of St Croix I have had really good experiences with N2TheBlue) and asking them how the area fared and whether they're ready for tourists would probably give you good beta.

And even when you're not diving, there's a lot to be said for snorkelilng or just hanging on the beach...
posted by straw at 2:28 PM on September 29, 2017

The Caribbean is a fairly large region. I suspect you could have a great time at the resort in La Romana on the south coast of the DR now or any of the touristish areas on the island in a month or two. There are some very cheap but still decent all inclusives in Puerto Plata on the north coast, which could be mildly problematic depending on exactly where for the next month or so.

PR or the USVI or anywhere else close by would be enough of a problem to not want to book anything there before at least Christmas if not longer.

Miami Beach might work out OK, or even Key West by Thanksgiving or so, but will be more expensive for a trip that long than somewhere farther afield. (Flights are cheaper, but hotels and food and such are more expensive)

The thing about all the places that depend heavily on tourism is that pretty much the moment people aren't running out of food and the infrastructure can support it, the people who live there want you there so they have a paycheck. Lots of people are incurring unexpected expenses at the same time they have little or no income, so it's a bigger deal than you might think.
posted by wierdo at 2:54 PM on September 29, 2017

Ooo. OOOO. Dice Tower Cruise. It might be on the top end of your budget, but if you're interested, email them stat as I think they're close to filling up. Husband and I went to their convention in July, and really, EVERYONE was super friendly and just wanted to play board games all day (and night)!. I imagine that their cruise would also be full of friendly people wanting to make new board gamer friends.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Montreal and Quebec City are never disappointing.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 4:22 PM on September 30, 2017

If I were you, I'd do the hostel thing. It's really very safe. I spent 10 days in Rome and Florence in my mid-20s, staying in hostels by myself, and it's one of my favorite memories. I did way, way more than just drink.

I'm not sure you'd enjoy that sort of travel for other reasons, based on your stated preferences, but if that's your main objection to it, do some reading up first. It's not unsafe at all.

Aside from that, do you have access to a car? How about a road trip?
posted by breakin' the law at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2017

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