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Heather Greenwood Davis is an award-winning family travel expert, columnist and feature writer. If life is the best teacher, she is a travel expert by any measure. She recently returned from a yearlong trip around the world with her husband and two sons under the age of 10 and is already planning her next big adventure. She shares all at globetrottingmama.com and if you're looking for an affordable respite, she's got some destinations that offer the excitement, beauty and R&R potential for less money than the most popular hot-spots.
First, consider a break-up. Package vacations, which bundle flight and accommodations for one price, can net a steal, but sometimes you can get a more live-like-the-locals experience by booking accommodations separately. Renting a house or condo might also save money. With access to a kitchen, you can cook for yourself -- for a family of four, or even a hungry couple, breakfasts and dinners out can add up; even a few home-cooked meals can save big-time and give you an excuse to check out local markets and grocers, where some of the best travel experiences happen. Try Owner Direct Vacation Rentals or Vacation Rental by Owner.
It's hard to keep on top of every airline sale and travel agent's special deal. Bookmark Sympatico's Travel Deals page and you won't have to. If there's a deal to be had for Canadians looking for a beach pit stop or an extended trip of a lifetime, it's here. (It covers last-minute getaways, as well as specials that run for weeks and sometimes months.) Sign up for TravelZoo's newsletter and they'll deliver handpicked deals to your inbox every week.
Once you're ready to hop on a plane and let the vacation begin, consider these 5 under-the-radar, bargain vacation destinations:
1. Skip LA and head to San Diego
"In LA, everything you buy helps to fund the idea that you're in the land of the rich and famous," says Greenwood Davis. "San Diego has decidedly less ego and, frankly, a lot more charm. Beaches aren't clogged with perfectly tightened bodies, you can find cute places to explore and if you really need the LA fix, it's only a congested highway away." Some of Greenwood Davis' favourite places include shopping the Saturday morning mercato in Little Italy ("the local produce and live music are an addictive pairing," she says); shopping for deals in the South Park neighbourhood ("artisanal jewelry is incredible"), and a stop at the Burger Lounge, "for all the flavour and none of the guilt -- the meat is grass-fed or free range and there's a quinoa option, too."
2. Forget New York and hit Philadelphia
"Everyone loves New York City, but when your budget isn't up to the higher prices of those hotels, Philadelphia (only a quick bus or train ride away) is a fantastic option that has all of the culture of New York City, like the Rodin Museum, new Campus of the Barnes Foundation and the Museum of Art," says Greenwood Davis.
Page 1 of 2 -- Find out why you may want to consider Puerto Rico over the Bahamas on your next trip on page 2. 3. Calgary's great, but Canmore's nicer
"I like this area for its outdoor offerings," says Greenwood Davis. "You've got it all: mountains, lakes, fresh air and a small town feel with an artsy flavour. Walk, hike or bike your way around town or simply curl up on a park bench and be struck with awe by Canada's beauty. There's more room to stretch out and enjoy and you can rent a car to see the expansive natural wonders of Banff [about 30 minutes away] or urban flavour of Calgary [about 90 minutes]."
4. Try Nicaragua, not Costa Rica
It's the same coastline, in many cases offering the same surfing and scuba potential, but Nicaragua is less built up, less well-known and so, generally, has cheaper accommodations and local food than Costa Rica. The rainforest knows no borders so, yes, it's abundant in Costa Rica, but it carries over to Nicaragua too. And don't let memories of Nicaragua in the news keep you away -- the country has been stable and safe for years. Bottom line: many of Costa Rica's eco and cultural experiences can be had in Nicaragua for less money.
5. Consider Puerto Rico over the Bahamas
If you're in the mood for some nightlife, like casinos and clubs, you can get it in the Bahamas, but you'll find more for less in Puerto Rico. When you get there, you'll find the same resorts and stunning beaches as you would in the Bahamas, but with a bonus: a burgeoning food experience, and dancing, music, nightlife 24-7 without the inflated prices of established resort destinations like Nassau and Paradise Island.
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