It’s halfway through summer and if you’ve already run through the list of fun, free things to do where you live, you may be setting your sights a bit farther afield.
Itching for an adventure, but low on cash and not sure where to go? Read on for ten of our favorite cheap vacation spots right now. Whether you’re down to pitch a tent in the wilderness or need four walls and a shower to live your best life, we’ve got something that’ll fit the bill.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Why you should visit: Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, the government has repeatedly said the best way your average Jane can support the island is to visit it. San Juan is great for a long weekend trip from the East Coast, as flights are seriously cheap and relatively quick; you’ll get there in under four hours. And the city still has all it ever did: Beautiful beaches, great food, nice people, and a gorgeous old city center. As Puerto Rico is a US territory, you don’t need your passport to visit.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to San Juan from LA run around $350 and from NYC run around $200. American, Delta, and JetBlue have the best direct options.
Where to stay: The Gallery Inn, a boutique hotel with views of the Atlantic, has a deal on for “artist rooms,” where students and single travelers can stay in a simple rom for $130/night, a steal for this property. Seriously, take a look at its pool. Some charming rooms in local homes are listed on Airbnb; for instance, this “floating treehouse” is pretty divine. If you make a trip outside the city, stay at a parador.
Why you should visit: So much more than gorgeous beaches, but also gorgeous beaches. Waterfalls. Grottos. Gardens. Fresh fruits at Papeete’s municipal market, including many you’d be hard-pressed to find in the US, like breadfruits and rambutans. Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, has a “lagoonarium,” which is the best word.
How to get there: French airline Frenchbee has just launched a direct flight from San Francisco to Tahiti; fares start at $700 roundtrip. (Most flights from the US connect, and can easily run double that.) This is a deal worth running toward.
Where to stay: If you’re down to fly by the seat of your pants, you can plan to find a guesthouse or pension, run by a Tahitian family, when you arrive; this will be far cheaper and more personable than staying at an international hotel. Many pensions can also be booked in advance via Airbnb, though the platform will take some of the money that would otherwise go into the local economy. Many of the booking sites are in French, so either fire up your Google Translate or lean into learning the language.
Why you should visit: Stunning architecture. A thriving art scene. Great restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and nightlife. Easy public transport.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to Berlin from LA and NYC start around $1000. Ignore the cheap WOW flights that pop up on Expedia; it’s not the best airline. TBH, it’s not super cheap to get anywhere in Europe in the summer—but once you’re in Berlin, things are cheaper than you might expect. If you’re constitutionally capable of handling cold weather, you might also consider traveling in November, December, and February, when the exact same charms will be available to you and the flights are way cheaper.
Where to stay: EastSeven Berlin Hostel has a cheesy website, but comes through IRL. It’s not strictly a hostel; it has plenty of clean, quiet double rooms that will run you around $35 per person per night. It’s in Prenzlauer Berg, a wonderful part of town. The people who run it are extremely friendly and a free walking tour worth doing leaves straight from there.
Why you should visit: Beautiful buildings and beaches nearby. Friendly people. Charming antiques. Live music and salsa. Terrific seafood.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to Cartagena from LA run around $800 and from NYC run around $600. Direct flights run from Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue and from Atlanta on Delta.
Where to stay: Try Posada Le Fe, a sweet, small bed and breakfast near the city center, where a double room will cost you $125/night. Les Lezards Bed and Breakfast is a slightly cheaper, still-peaceful spot.
National Parks, across the US
Why you should visit: Visiting the national park nearest you is relatively cheap (typically around $10-15 per person). By doing so, you’ll show support for public lands, which the Trump administration is set on selling off to developers. Plus, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that’s right around you. Twenty eight states are home to national parks, ranging from Missouri’s Gateway Arch National Park (192 acres) to Alaska’s mammoth Wrangell-St. Elias (more than eight million acres!).
How to get there: Totally depends. You might be able to drive.
Where to stay: The go-to move is to camp, but if you’re more of an inside cat, many national parks have affordable lodging on the perimeter or even inside. Some of these spots have complex booking policies; advance planning is your friend. For instance, if you want to stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (highly recommended), you can either book directly months in advance or apply through a lottery system and try your hand at a golden ticket.
Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji
Why you should visit: Warm, clear blue water. Hot springs and mud pools. Day hikes. Beautiful temples and bustling markets. Kava, an invigorating root drink, and kokonda, similar to ceviche.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to Nadi from LA run around $900; from the East Coast, it no longer qualifies as cheap. Fiji Airways and Qantas have the best direct options.
Where to stay: Aquarius on the Beach, a small and sweet hotel overlooking the water, costs $40/night for a simple room. Smuggler’s Cove, which is a little more touristy but has more amenities, will set you back about the same amount.
San Juan Islands, WA
Why you should visit: This is a place to drop off the grid. There are orca whales. There are remote coves where you can swim when it’s warm (the water around the islands is super chilly; Eagle Cove is your best bet here) and kayak when it’s cold. Best of all, your cell phone won’t work. Also, Oprah has a home in the San Juan Islands. Her home is in a secluded compound obvs, so that’s more of an endorsement than an attraction. But if the islands are fab enough for Oprah…
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to Seattle from LA run around $250 and from NYC run around $400. American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have the best direct options. Fly into Seattle, then drive 1.5 hrs north to Anacortes, where ferries to the islands depart from. More info here.
Pro tip: For rental cars, consider Turo, a peer-to-peer service and a godsend for those of us who go bezerk every time we see the taxes and add-ons (and taxes on the add-ons) that traditional companies stick us with.
Where to stay: A strong option is The Golden Tree Inn & Hostel on Orcas Island, where a camping spot will run you $60/night (and include access to the hot tub, sauna, bathrooms, nightly bonfire, and an outdoor kitchen). It’s basically like camping in the backyard of a really nice house and getting to use all its stuff. Or stay in one of their funky room offerings, from a geodome to a “Thai palace tour bus.” You can also can try one of the many whimsical cottages listed on Airbnb.
Why you should visit: You can sail, snorkel, drink rum swizzles, hang on the beach, and hang in Hamilton’s historic, pastel-accented downtown.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to St. George from LA run around $500 and from NYC run around $300. American and JetBlue have the best deals. Take a shuttle or a bus from the airport to Hamilton.
Where to stay: Staying in Bermuda is expensive. Taking a cruise around Bermuda, however, gives you access to many of the island’s wonders at a lower price point. For instance, Celebrity Cruises runs cruises in Bermuda that, depending on the season and the deal, can cost around $200/day, which includes all of your meals. Definitely worth a look.
Why you should visit: There’s a reason so many people visit Taos on a whim and never leave; it’s downright delightful. Don’t miss the Manby Hot Springs, where three warm and hot natural pools sit alongside the colder Rio Grande. You can dash between them day or night, in your swim or birthday suit; vacation, no rules! This is an artist hub and there’s tons of gorgeous southwestern art to admire, including at the Taos Ski Valley Arts Festival at the end of July. And check out the Earthship community, a collection of solar houses you have to see to believe.
How to get there: Roundtrip flights to Albuquerque from LA run around $200 and from NYC run around $300 right now. American Airlines has the best direct options. Fly into Albuquerque and take the 2.5 hour drive northeast to Taos. It’s cheaper (while Santa Fe’s closer, Albuquerque is a bigger airport) and you won’t want to miss the scenery.
Where to stay: Taos has an embarrassment of affordable lodging. The Taos Inn is charming and rustic, right in the heart of town, and simple rooms will cost you about $120/night. The La Doña Luz Inn is a bed and breakfast that’ll steal your heart; simple rooms start at $99. If you’re low-maintenance, take a look at the Snowmansion Eco Adventure Lodge & Hostel in nearby Arroyo Seco. Campsites cost $30 per night, bunks cost $34, and, while the decor is more to die from than to die for, the vibe is extremely nice.
Why you should visit:Dakar is deeply beautiful, sitting right on the water with an energetic center. It contains moving monuments to its past as a hub of the slave trade and optimistic symbols of the future, like the huge (and controversial) African Renaissance Monument. It’s also a diverse city, where Afro-Cuban music venues and ancient mosques sit side by side. The street style is terrific and the food is out of this world; dig into some thieboudienne while drinking a baobab juice and you will see the face of God herself.
How to get there:Flights to Dakar from the East Coast typically cost about $1,500, so it’s only a cheap option if you have enough vacation time to make the airfare worthwhile. Delta and South African are the best direct options; Royal Air Maroc typically goes through Casablanca, but shaves a little off your fare.
Where to stay: There are a number of lovely hotels in Dakar, but they can be pricey and the service is not always the best; better to go for breakfast or a beer and enjoy the views. Instead, post up at a guesthouse like La Demure for around $85/night and explore your options from there. Renting a room once you get your bearings is the pro move.