When it comes to choosing travel destinations, certain trusted standards spring to mind: Paris for urban exploring. The Bahamas for beach lolling. Greece for island hopping. Napa for wine.
The trouble is that these popular spots can prove pricey. Luckily, there are plenty of alternative locales—fabulous in their own right—that can offer parallel experiences, minus the hefty expense.
“It’s a classic way to approach travel,” explains Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel. “If you can’t afford one destination, choose somewhere with similar flavor—not a substitute, but something both different and related.”
With Banas’s guidance, we scavenged memorable (and less expensive) alternatives to eight iconic getaways around the world.
In Place of Paris ... Consider Montreal and Quebec City
Quebec City so closely resembles a French village that its main church, Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, actually stood in for its Paris namesake in the Steven Spielberg film, "Catch Me If You Can." The walled, historic Old Town of the Canadian city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to cobblestone streets, fortresses and castles—along with the requisite antiques shops and cafés. Once you've canvased Quebec City, make your way to bigger sister city Montreal, which has authentic “patisseries and French restaurants, and the primary language spoken is French,” says Banas. Don't-miss highlights include Jardin Botanique, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, and a cruise down the St. Lawrence River.
The Savings From common European hub New York, a round-trip flight to Paris costs $700–$800 at a minimum—even during low season. By comparison, a round-trip ticket to Montreal hovers around $300–$400. Banas recommends booking with Porter Airlines, a kind of “Canadian JetBlue” experience, with good regional wine and a waiting/gate area that feels like a business-class lounge.
In Place of Greece ... Consider Croatia
It’s easy to fantasize about island hopping from Santorini to Mykonos, but Adriatic counterpart Croatia offers a related experience—with more economic stability and less-expensive hotels. The country has over 1,000 islands (only 67 are inhabited), the same beloved Mediterranean climate and even ancient ruins, like the Roman amphitheater in Pula. Adds Banas: “Croatia has a lot of seafood and even a similar landscape, plus it has a budding wine culture.”
The Savings In Croatia, even a five-star hotel can cost as little as $200 a night.
In Place of Aspen ... Consider Park City
Image: Park City Chamber/Bureau
When the rich and famous want to ski, they head to Aspen, Co., perusing luxury finds from Burberry and Ralph Lauren in their downtime. For an equally quaint town and choice slopes, Park City, Utah, is a great alternative that offers lower prices for vacation rentals. Although the area is best avoided during the star-studded Sundance Film Festival, the annual event, which is held each January, has brought more must-try restaurants and hotels to the snowy city.
The Savings Banas recommends checking out the Ski Utah site for fantastic deals, which can often include airfare, hotels and even lift passes.
In Place of the Bahamas ... Consider Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic
Although both tropical destinations are easily accessible via direct flights from the U.S., Las Terrenas offers more bang for your buck—and an off-the-beaten-path vibe that you won't find in the built-up Bahamas. For a moderate cost, you can loll on a largely uninhabited stretch of sand in Las Terrenas at a resort like Balcones del Atlantico—or get active and go off-roading from beach to beach.
The Savings According to Banas, food in the Bahamas can be astronomically priced, sometimes averaging $30 an entrée. Conversely, in Las Terrenas, good meals at the myriad restaurants in Las Terrenas are reasonable, such as the rustic Restaurant Luis, where grilled fish and lobster are served under palm tree shade.
In Place of Thailand ... Consider Cambodia
Thailand was once considered a true road-less-traveled destination, but these days it’s a true tourist destination chock full of big resorts. The southeast Asian country of Cambodia is what Thailand was a decade ago, offering up equally impressive ancient sites like the Angkor temples, celebrations like the Mekong River Water Festival, beach towns such as Sihanoukville, national parks like Kirirom for wildlife spotting, and outstanding seafood, of course.
The Savings While affordable stays may be available in both countries, says Banas, you get much more for your money in Cambodia—and you may be among the first of your friends to visit, making it even more special. Since it's lesser traveled, better-quality hotels are less expensive in Cambodia: Stylish boutique stays don't typically exceed $115. Plus, the beaches—and subsequent hotels—aren’t as overrun with tourists as they can be in Phuket.
In Place of Napa ... Consider the Finger Lakes
Napa is known for its stellar sips, top-notch meals and bucolic California scenery—and New York’s emerging Finger Lakes region offers many of the same experiences, says Banas. The landscape is green and lush, sweet B&Bs dot country roads, and “there are wineries up and down the lakes,” explains Banas. “You can learn about local wines and foods through the New York Wine & Culinary Center—it’s very organized and cool, with visits to various little trails.”
The Savings Not only are hotels considerably less expensive in the Finger Lakes (expect to pay $100–$150 a night; $200 for only the swankiest resorts), but tasting rooms mostly don’t charge, so you’re spared the $5 or $10 cost for sips of vino.
In Place of Rio ... Consider New Orleans
Rio is known for its carnival culture, balmy Brazilian nights, live music, exotic fusion food and sexy nightlife. And the same can be said of steamy New Orleans, where iconic restaurants like Jacques-Imo’s serve up such Creole, Cajun and French-influenced specialties as duck and andouille sausage gumbo and alligator cheesecake. Meanwhile, Bourbon Street offers a lively, music-infused good time, regardless of whether it’s Mardi Gras. “New Orleans is the same kind of party city,” says Banas. “You want to have drinks and let loose—it’s an uninhibited place.”
The Savings Flights to Rio hover around $1,000, while plane tickets to New Orleans cost half as much.
In Place of Belize ... Consider Nicaragua
When it comes to eco-vacations, Belize ranks at the top of the list. And as tourism has boomed, so have hotel prices and crowds. But the central American country of Nicaragua has equally gorgeous, white-sand beaches; great surfing, snorkeling and diving; and wildlife refuges, like La Flor on the Pacific coast, where 15,000 endangered sea turtles nest. “The Corn Islands are separated into Little and Big,” explains Banas of the 17th-century pirate hideout. “On Little Corn, you have to check out Bottle House, a cultural center that the mayor built from used bottles to promote recycling and eco-responsibility.”
The Savings A no-frills but nice hotel can cost between $10–$20 a night in the Corn Islands!
Reprinted with permission from LearnVest. Want more?