Budget Travel compiles a list of the coolest, most affordable places to go for the year. The team combs through piles of data regarding new flight destinations, airline prices, places aggressively building new hotels, cities experiencing cultural booms, currency charts, and other statistics to compile a list of the 10 best Budget Destination.
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Even if Ko Phi Phi isn’t familiar by name, you still might recognize its turquoise waters, leaf-blanketed limestone peaks, and signature longtail boats—the hallmarks of this island paradise off the coast of Thailand inspired wanderlust the world over when it was spotlighted in the film “The Beach.”
An archipelago comprised of two main islands, Ko Phi Phi was on the rise as a holiday destination when it was devastated by the tsunami of 2004. Eight years and a rigorous rebuilding effort later, it’s now well on its way to becoming a luxury tourist spot. This year, hotel rates have dropped by 27 percent to an average of $151 per night, compared with a 13 percent increase in nearby Phuket.
Spring (March, April) offers a sweet spot between the peak tourist season of the holidays and the onslaught of the rainy season in May.
Toronto is seriously having a moment. The cultural, entertainment, and financial capital of Canada has not only undergone a huge building boom, but also New York City exports are opening up here at rapid pace, like the new Thompson and Trump hotels, and David Chang’s Momofuku empire.
But what makes it a great budget destination is that unlike the rest of the world, hotel prices didn’t increase at all in the first half of 2012. Like any good bustling North American city, there are myriad cultural options to be found here, but because this is a harbor town off Lake Ontario, there are also plenty of affordable outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking, and canoeing. And because about half of the population was born abroad, the ethnic food scene is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Peak visitor season is in the summertime, which means both airfare and hotel costs are much higher. If you’re aiming to save some money, try September through November, or March through May.
If you’ve never heard of the Turkish Riviera, you’re not alone—Americans have thus far rarely ventured to the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey for holiday. All that seems likely to change this year for several reasons: Average hotel prices have significantly and notably dropped from last year (from $193 to $146, almost 25 percent), and in 2011 it beat New York City to become the world’s third-most visited city by international tourists.
The word is out about this city that’s part beachfront, part metropolis, and part ancient town. And even though many of the tourists here are of the incredibly wealthy European variety, the 5-star all-inclusive resorts on the beaches offer rates as low as $100 a night. More adventurous types will also get a huge kick out of the city’s proximity to some of the oldest known architectural ruins in the world. The nearby Catalhoyuk Mound is one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites to date, existing from 7500 BC to 5700 BC.
It gets well into the 90s in the middle of summer, so it’s best to visit in September through October, or May through June. While it never gets particularly cold in the winter months, you won’t want to take a dip in the chilly Mediterranean then either.
Loire Valley, France
According to the 2012 Hotel Price Index, the historic wine and chateaux region known as the Loire Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) saw a 19 percent price decrease in average hotel rooms, bringing them to $128—pretty good, considering going to France isn’t generally considered a budget affair. The best way to see the area is to rent a car in Paris and drive 150 miles south until you reach the middle stretch along the Loire River. You’ll want to be able to drive to the various vineyards—the fertile land is home to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as Muscadet. Add to the fact that there are hundreds of small country inns, charming B&Bs, and chateaux-turned-hotels here, ranging from as low as $70 a night, and you’re looking at an attainable dream trip in 2013.
July and August are the most crowded, so we suggest aiming for spring and fall. The weather is still warm here in September, and the rolling hills take on a gorgeous golden hue.
Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second city, became the first U.K. City of Culture. The 6th-century walled city beat out finalists Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield, and will spend $25 million in new cultural programs designed to bring in tourism, including performances from the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, a new punk musical, and the premiere of a Sam Shepard play. The city itself has also gotten a makeover. Ebrington Square, former military parade grounds, reopened in 2012 as a new public space for outdoor concerts and festivals, and it also saw the opening of the Peace Bridge, which links the predominantly Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. Best of all, Northern Ireland is now easier (and cheaper) to get to: Beginning in fall 2012, EasyJet and Aer Lingus added more flights between Belfast and London, which is expected to increase competition with British Airways and thus further lower airline prices.
The UK City of Culture program will run throughout 2013.
Since it split from the Czech Republic in 1993, Slovakia has remained a quiet hidden gem. But on the 20th anniversary of its independence, with one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, Slovakia finally seems ready for its close-up.
Slovakia’s second city, Košice, shares the European Capital of Culture designation with Marseille, marking the first time a Slovak city has held the title. The well-preserved city, which dates back to the 12th century, will focus on the future. The city’s 19th-century military barracks have been converted into Kulturpark, a creative district that will promote contemporary art, experimental theater, and modern dance.
Capital of Culture events are scheduled throughout 2013, but one that shouldn’t be missed is the Biela Noc, or White Night, on October 5, 2013.
Boracay Island, The Philippines
As tourism from east Asia and the United States grows each year, the white-sand beaches of this southeast Asian archipelago should move from your bucket list to your see-it-before-it’s-overrun list—especially since Royal Caribbean made its first call to Boracay in October.
It’s rather remarkable considering that tourists never even set foot on Boracay until the 1970s. Now there are more than 300 resorts and hotels for visitors to choose from on this thin speck of prime oceanfront real estate (less than a mile wide and less than four miles long) and last year the area saw more than 900,000 visitors.
January to May is typically the best weather. While heavy rain is always possible here, the second half of the year is typhoon season and best to avoid.
If it seems as if the Bahamas are an annual fixture on you-can-afford-to-go-here lists, well, they are—for good reason. Fares to the islands fell 4 percent while the number of visitors increased 8 percent and the average airfare to the Bahamas in 2012 was $463. From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to iconic Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite “stylish steal” for savvy travelers.
Mild trade winds keep the average temperatures in the 70s and 80s pretty much year-round, but rainy season is May through October, making the islands most hospitable in late fall, winter, and early spring.
In the new hit ABC drama “Nashville,” a political powerbroker describes his hometown as “a thriving, prosperous city, an industrial and cultural juggernaut.” In other words, the home of the Grand Ole Opry is going a little heavy on the “grand,” while easing up considerably on the “ole.” You might say life imitates art. This spring, a brand-new, $585 million, 118,000-square-foot convention center will open downtown, which will in turn help fuel the city’s ongoing hotel construction boom. But growth in Nashville isn’t solely related to real estate. In a city known primarily for its “hot chicken” and “meat and three sides,” chefs are helping to transform Nashville into a new culinary powerhouse, along the lines of Charleston. On the other end of the spectrum, buzzy food trucks are hitting the streets of hip neighborhoods like East Nashville and The Gulch.
Gourmet restaurants and architecture aside, Nashville is still the capital of the country music world. From June 6 through 9, the city will play host to the CMA Music Festival, which attracts a who’s who of country stars, including Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Miranda Lambert
Palm Springs, CA
With its towering namesake palms and countless pools, Palm Springs has long been heralded as California’s desert oasis, where the stars and golf aficionados fled when they needed a little R&R. Now, with a 6 percent drop in airfares amid near-universal increases nationwide, it’s also a refuge for bargain-seeking travelers.
With not-yet-scorching temperatures, winter and early spring remain peak seasons. Crowds descend on the area for big-ticket events in January (the Palm Springs International Film Festival) and April (perennially popular Coachella), and occupancy rates remain high in between. Opt for fall instead to beat both the heat and the masses.