September 22, 2019

Summer Under $700

These weeklong trips pack in all the essentials of a getaway
for less than 100 dollars per person, per day

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: Summer Under $700
Steve Beaudet/Norwegian Cruise Line
You're on a budget -- a tight one, at that. One that might have you second-guessing every expenditure, even as you try to make the most of every vacation day.

Escorted and independent tours are an efficient way to stretch those dollars. "With more than 1,000 tours on every continent, all of our trips are locally operated and sourced to ensure every traveler has a tour that fits their needs and price range," says Darshika Jones, regional director for the North America division of Intrepid Travel.

This vacation style, which bundles accommodations, ground transportation and more into a single package price, relies on regional experts with a nose for the best deals. Their advice has led to the creation of budget-friendly programming like Intrepid's Basix itineraries.

"All our Basix tours strip away the cost of high-end accommodation, instead focusing on central, locally owned hotels that are always comfortable and clean," Jones says. "When possible, we take local transportation over private transportation, and we add overnight trains in lieu of flights. The Basix tours meld together attractions with free time, so travelers can explore a city on their own, within their budget."

Ocean cruises and all-inclusive beach resort stays, too, package together most vacation essentials to help guests plan ahead and estimate the eventual cost of their trip. You can travel by land or over sea, or find the perfect lodgings on a tight budget, but be sure to eye the details. "Travelers should look at activity inclusions, accommodation and transportation standards and compare with the cost," Jones says.

You also can rely on a travel expert to help you narrow down your options. Peruse the following suggestions -- each a week long, and costing no more than $100 per person, per day -- before contacting the specialists at Vacations To Go for more details.

BY LAND
Escorted tour provider G Adventures caters to younger travelers on a budget with its Shoestring programming. Typically exclusive to guests ages 18 to 39 and restricted to small groups of 18 participants, these itineraries take advantage of public transportation and simple accommodations -- hostels, guest houses, campsites, sleeper trains and more -- to keep costs low. And, while group meals are encouraged to form new friendships on the road, few are included in the price of your travel package, allowing you to choose cheaper eateries at mealtimes or treat yourself when your wallet allows.

"Northern Morocco on a Shoestring" spends seven days exploring this charming corner of Africa, from Casablanca to Marrakech. Stops include Rabat, Morocco's capital; the blue city of Chefchaouen, its historic walls painted a soothing shade thought to encourage spirituality; and Fes, with its enchanting eighth- and 13th-century medinas. Two departures still are available this summer, July 14 and Aug. 4, and start at $679. The same price is available for a handful of summer 2020 itineraries.

For a more tropical retreat, try the eight-day "Costa Rica on a Shoestring" traveling round trip from the capital of San Jose to visit the active Arenal Volcano and the Pacific beach retreat of Santa Teresa. With few organized activities, guests have ample free time to choose their own add-on excursions, from hot springs soaks and whitewater rafting to hikes, horseback rides, snorkeling and scuba diving in wildlife preserves or through coral-rich waters. Prices start at $577 for a July 20 departure.

Europe is made accessible for all budget levels through a series of independent rail and self-driving tours from Gate 1 Travel. Lodging and transportation options vary to create flexible pricing; you can choose among three-, four- and five-star accommodations or upgrade to first-class seating on trains cutting through the Italian countryside. Optional excursions, from guided sightseeing through historic city centers to afternoons spent winding through Old World wine country, make the most of your time abroad, or you can choose to skip them to avoid costly obligations.

The eight-day "Rome, Florence and Venice by Rail" allocates two nights to each city, with two- or three-hour train trips between destinations. Guests spend this vacation largely at leisure, though Gate 1 representatives can book a number of activities: morning tours of the Vatican Museums, tastings in Chianti, a gondola ride accompanied by a singer for a Venetian serenade. Three August departures start as low as $579.

"Ireland Fly and Drive" another eight-day expedition, puts guests behind the wheel of their own rental car, with choices ranging from economical hatchback coupes to six-seat minivans. Trips begin and end in Dublin, with Killarney, Galway and Irish icons like Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher among suggested pit stops. An Aug. 27 installment starts at $619.

Intrepid Travel offers several options for low-cost itineraries in Southeast Asia. "Intrepid Travel's Basix range of tours can make any destination affordable," Jones says. "However, Southeast Asian countries are often the most affordable on the ground."

"Six Days in Cambodia" is as advertised: just shy of a week full of busy capital sites and sacred temples, from Phnom Penh to ancient Angkor Wat to the resort town of Siem Reap. Organized activities include a sightseeing tour by cyclo, a modified pedicab made iconic in Phnom Penh; a traditional meal cooked and served by a capital family; and a day pass to Angkor Archaeological Park, where more than 1,000 years of history await exploration. Prices start at $425 for July installments.

Jones suggests Intrepid itineraries that bundle three favorite destinations -- Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam -- into a single trip, but they do break a few rules of our suggested getaways. "Essential Cambodia" for instance, lasts 10 days, not the promised week; it is priced from $715 for summer 2019 departures. Still, it does meet our criteria of costing less than $100 per day, and each day is full of possibilities. In addition to the three main locales visited on "Six Days in Cambodia" above, this tour kicks off in Bangkok and reaches out to Kampong Cham, a Mekong River retreat, and the Cambodian village of Chambok, where locals will host you for an overnight homestay, before ending in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

BY SEA
Carnival Cruise Line approaches the Bahamas on budget-friendly vacations from your choice of U.S. ports.

From Baltimore, the Carnival Pride cuts through the islands to call on the private beach retreat of Half Moon Cay as well as Port Lucaya, with duty-free shopping paving the way to the Grand Bahama Island city of Freeport. Depart on Sept. 22 -- the last official day of summer -- for prices from $559.

From New Orleans, the Carnival Glory makes time for Key West, FL, before cutting east to Port Lucaya and the Bahamian capital of Nassau. Shore excursions there can include a visit to the stingray residents of Balmoral Island, and prices start at $469 for an Sept. 22 departure.

From Charleston, SC, the Carnival Sunshine basks in the warmth of another private beach -- Princess Cays, in the outer islands of the Bahamas -- before parking itself overnight at King's Wharf, Bermuda. That's time enough for a spelunking trip to Bermuda's famed Crystal Caves, plus a Carnival-hosted sunset cruise complemented by rum tastings. A Sept. 7 voyage starts at $589.

Norwegian Cruise Line visits the Caribbean this summer on two essential itineraries: one aimed for Mexico, and the other for points east.

The former hits two Yucatan Peninsula hot spots: beachy Cozumel and Costa Maya, a gateway to pre-Columbian ruins. They also sail south to visit Roatan, Honduras' port for reef snorkeling adventure, and Harvest Caye, a Belizean island built for high-flying zipline adventures as well as quiet encounters with local wildlife.

Destinations for the latter vary depending on departure date, though these cruises often reach as far as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. They occasionally include Norwegian's private isle in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay, as well as Puerto Rico, where San Juan shore excursions can include tours of colonial architecture, a rainforest or a rum distillery.

Both itineraries sail round trip from Miami and are hosted by the Norwegian Breakaway, with Broadway shows, a top-deck waterpark and sports complex and, ideal after dark, its own casino and nightclub. Prices start at $549 for a Mexico-bound cruise departing Sept. 1 -- Labor Day weekend, also known as the unofficial end of summer.

If your idea of the perfect summer getaway involves beating the heat instead of seeking it out, look into Holland America Line journeys through Alaska's Inside Passage. Traveling between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seward, the Alaskan port serving Anchorage, guests can choose from northbound or southbound travel; both routes make time for the state capital, Juneau, and the self-proclaimed totem pole capital of the world, Ketchikan.

These itineraries also skim Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, where a park ranger will board your ship to answer questions about the passing scenery and point out local wildlife, from migrating whales to bald eagles wheeling overhead.

Depending on your chosen shore excursions, these Alaskan adventures can include rainforest ziplining, floatplane rides to fly-fishing spots, salmon bakes, lumberjack demonstrations, introductions to indigenous cultures and rail rides through historic gold rush country. July departures are priced from $549.

BY THE BEACH
The Caribbean is a reliable source of unbeatable vacation prices, but two destinations in particular -- Mexico's Caribbean coast and the sunny shores of the Dominican Republic -- boast some of the most affordable all-inclusive getaways in the region.

Melia Cozumel Golf All Inclusive offers an affordable, unfussy way to enjoy its namesake island about 10 miles off the coast of mainland Mexico. The accommodations are simply furnished but spacious, from marble-accented bathrooms to king-size beds and private balcony or patio spaces. Restaurants dish up inventive regional fare as well as Italian cuisine, seafood and, of course, buffet fare expected of any all-inclusive property. But options abound for vacation upgrades, if your budget allows: The property neighbors an 18-hole golf course, and an on-site spa is available for deep-tissue massage, body scrubs and hydrating facials, a welcome relief after a long day outdoors.

Windsurfing, kayaking and snorkeling equipment also are available when you've had your fill of sunbathing and need a little adventure. Activities not hosted on Melia Cozumel's stretch of white-sand beach center around its swimming pools, one reserved for adults and another for families; on a minigolf course, tennis and basketball courts and game room for billiards, air hockey and more; or at an active kids club, with an electric car course for little ones, batting cages and archery for teens and video games for a range of ages.

All-inclusive resort prices are based on double occupancy. At Melia Cozumel, a Saturday-to-Saturday stay in mid-July would cost a total of $1,128 for two -- about $564 per person for the week. (And, if you still have a little wiggle room in your budget after booking that spa treatment, upgrade from the garden-view room to an ocean-view, bringing your total vacation cost for two to $1,332.)

Sunscape Puerto Plata Dominican Republic is another haven for families -- a special check-in service welcomes little ones with treats and a personalized "passport" for use around the resort. Afterward, they're free to tear off to the Explorer's Club, with treasure hunts and campouts for kids ages 3 to 12, or unwind in the Core Zone Teens Club, for Xbox, PlayStation and Wii fans from 13 to 17. Parents then can retreat to spots like Manatees, a swim-up bar found in the main pool, for the first frozen, fruity cocktails of their well-deserved vacation.

Still, be sure to book time for group activities. Sunscape Puerto Plata treats guests to a private retreat on Playa Dorado, a top tourist destination. Perks around the property include an on-site theater for evening entertainment and a PADI-certified dive center offering one complimentary scuba lesson to each guest. And even the pickiest eaters will find something to their liking here: All nine dining options, including spots for Argentine steak, sushi and piping-hot pizzas, offer gluten-free menus.

The resort's alluring pricing means that multiple room categories are available at a budget rate. Book a mid-July, Saturday-to-Saturday stay for two in a deluxe pool-view room for $1,017, or just $73 per person, per day.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Summer 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.


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