Everyone seems to always be all aflutter about the same destinations, be it the beaches of Cabo or the bright lights of New York City, and, naturally, the initial inclination may be to follow in their footsteps.
However, there’s an intrinsic problem to going where everyone else is going—everyone else is already there! Supply and demand can result in more than a few hurdles when it comes to popular travel destinations: expensive hotels, overcrowded or pricey flights, and restaurants that are geared toward overcharging tourists (rather than offering authentic experiences). There are some great alternatives, though, that offer a lot of what you love about those trendy places, sans the high price tag, crowds, and hype.
Quebec, Instead of France
Quebec offers the beautiful French language, the laissez-aller rhythm of life and all of the unpasteurized cheese, baguettes and croissants you could eat, but with a shorter and cheaper flight and less expensive hotels. The province of Quebec is pretty huge (roughly three times the size of France), and while Montreal and Paris share quite a few similarities, you’ll save a lot of money if you opt to visit the former; One American dollar gets you $1.30 Canadian, making any trip to Canada that much more affordable for Americans. Montreal is the perfect, easy alternative to visiting France. Why cross the ocean to experience French language and culture, when you can book a flight that’s only an hour away from New York City or five hours from Los Angeles? Chances are, you’ll take one step out of the airport and find it difficult to believe you’re still in a North American city. What’s great about Montreal is that you’ll hear French all the time, but for those who don’t speak the language, English is very common. You can practice your high school French skills, while still being able to slide back into English whenever you need. There are tons of fantastic boutique hotels in Old Montreal, and the historic part of the city, complete with cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and lovely little cafes, resembles many parts of Europe. Montrealers take their coffee, bread and pastries seriously, and you’ll find the best croissants outside of France.
Stowe, Vermont, Instead of Vail or Aspen
While the trendy thing is to head to Aspen or Vail when winter comes knocking, there’s plenty of great snow and skiing to be had closer to home in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Plus, you can take what you would have spent on plane tickets and use it for room upgrades and vacation add-ons (or even save it for the next vacation!). Travelers have long flocked to Stowe for the slopes, the trails, and the fresh Vermont air. With stunning vistas, a bustling town center and a vibrant art scene, Stowe is the definition of a year-round destination that is both accessible and affordable. There’s a hotel to suit every type of traveler, but for those looking for the luxury lodge experience of Aspen, Field Guide is a beautiful boutique property that features exploration and discovery in its design choices—bird wallpaper, cardboard and paper mache animal “heads,” antlers, trail maps as visuals abound. An (affordable!) luxurious option is Stowe Mountain Lodge. In addition to being an outdoor-lover’s paradise, Stowe is a mecca for fans of beer as a wide variety of breweries are only a stone’s throw away from its doors. You’ll also find Cabot Creamery and Ben & Jerry’s’ headquarters in the neighboring town.
Serchio Valley, Italy, Instead of Florence
There’s arguably nowhere more beautiful to travel to than Italy, but it can be pricey. However, visiting less-discovered spots in the romantic country will carry your dollar a lot further. In the heart of Italy’s beloved region, Tuscany, the mountainous Serchio Valley is as authentic as it gets. Complete with surrounding medieval villages, biodynamic wineries, and stunning country landscapes, Serchio Valley is far from all of the noise associated with crowds of tourists. A little over an hour from Florence and Pisa, Serchio Valley is a quiet, peaceful retreat where travelers can immerse themselves in Italy’s culture and indulge in the country’s signature flavors including the porcini mushrooms, earthy truffles and fresh new olive oil (without having to pay inflated prices), all while rubbing elbows with locals. Nestled on the hill of an expansive 600-hectare estate , the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa overlooks the mountainous Serchio Valley and they offer guests one-of-a-kind experiences, including chef-led tours through quaint farmers markets, cooking lessons, biodynamic wine tastings and a cinque borghi hike, which takes travelers through secret medieval villages that can only be accessed on foot.
Curaçao, Instead of Aruba
While both of these ABC islands offer travelers year-round sunshine thanks to their convenient location outside of the Hurricane Belt, Curaçao is an affordable Caribbean escape with a melting pot of more than 55 authentic cultures. With its eclectic flavorful cuisine, unique European architecture, and historic capital city of Willemstad (a UNESCO World Heritage site acclaimed for its iconic Handelskade backdrop and roster of museums, monuments, and attractions), this Dutch Caribbean island is more than just a beach destination. For travelers looking for soft adventure, this colorful 172-mile island is home to 65 pristine dive sites with sparkling turquoise waters and more than 35 cove-like beaches that offer a multitude of water sports activities including SeaBob, a personal underwater propeller that lets you explore Curaçao’s exotic sea life. While Aruba is filled with a lineup of large resort brands, Curaçao provides travelers with more bargain four-star boutique hotel options , such as Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curaçao, Avila Beach Hotel, and ACOYA Curacao Resort, Villas & Spa, with rates under $200 that offer genuine island experiences. Curaçao is an undiscovered Caribbean vacation destination, but increasing non-stop flights from New York and Miami on JetBlue and American Airlines make it easier North American travelers to plan a quick getaway.
Singapore, Instead of Hong Kong
With a large business traveler community and lots of luxe activities, Singapore gets a rep of being extremely expensive. I mean, as last year’s Crazy Rich Asians depicted, it is, but many are unaware that you can actually visit on a budget. So, yes, visiting this tiny city-country-island can be ludicrously expensive, but if you plan ahead, you can eat, shop, and get around town for less than many other cities in Asia. For a unique culinary experience that can get you a meal for around $3, visit one of the many hawker stalls, offering famous Singaporean dishes like Satay, Laksa, Chili crab, Hainanese chicken rice, and more. Singapore is also very walkable, so you can spend your days roaming through attractions like the Gardens by the Bay, the Singapore Botanical Gardens, and MacRitchie Reservoir’s Treetop Walk, or window shopping around the enclaves of Little India, Chinatown, or the Arab Quarter for virtually no cost at all. For family-friendly nighttime entertainment, travelers can experience various light shows at Gardens the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, catch a free performance at Esplanade Theatre (also good for people-watching), or enjoy the sunset on the beach at Sentosa.
Bimini, Instead of Nassau, Bahamas
The Bahamas has always been popular. However, the downside to this is that recognized islands like Nassau, home to the gigantic Atlantis, Paradise Island, have now become extremely overcrowded, expensive, and run-down by an influx of tourists. Nevertheless, The Bahamas holds a hidden gem known as Bimini. Just 50 nautical miles from South Florida, Bimini is the closest Bahamian island to the United States. But despite its proximity and easy accessibility, the destination feels like a world away — your own private Caribbean island escape, full of authentic experiences you won’t find on any other Bahamian island. The lodging options on the islandlike the affordable, up-scale, adventurous Resorts World Bimini, also complement the destination’s charm. Bimini also holds a myriad of undiscovered facts that will stay with you after a vacation here. Did you know, for instance, that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a regular Bimini visitor, and found the inspiration to write his legendary Nobel Prize Acceptance speech here? Or that author Ernest Hemingway fell in love with the island’s unparalleled deep-sea fishing? There’s also some cool under-the-radar educational gems, such as the one-of-a-kind Dolphin House, which is a museum devoted to the magic of dolphins and is constructed entirely out of recycled materials.
Toronto, Instead of New York City
Toronto is currently having a moment thanks, in part, to Meghan Markle, who lived there for a majority of the last decade. Ironically, she was filming a series that was to be set in New York — that’s how similar these two cities are! Although, Toronto can provide you with that big city-feel—lots of shopping, a multicultural population, and tons of fun to be had — without the hefty price tags and dense crowds. Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel is in the heart of downtown in Rogers Centre, where you’ll find concerts and sporting events; also check out the Scotiabank Arena near the Hockey Hall of Fame, CN Tower, and Ripley’s Aquarium.
La Paz, Instead of Cabo
This incredibly beautiful hidden gem is located just two hours from the overly-visited (and Americanized) Cabo. La Paz feels authentically Mexican and people can enjoy the culture and environment through the beautiful boardwalk; swim with the whale sharks, dive with sea lions or watch the gray whales up close! There are also markets, small local shops and a family-friendly atmosphere that adds to the daily charm in La Paz. La Paz has more than its fair share of impressive scenic views like the ones found on Isla Espiritu Santo, a Natural Protected Area declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. On the island, tourists can perform various activities like snorkeling, hiking or camping. Beaches like El Coromuel, El Caimancito, and El Tesoro offer different spots to rest and enjoy the sunset.
Naples, Florida, Instead of Miami
Naples is far more intimate and charming, with stunning beaches and the everglades just a short drive away. Plus, you get to trade in the busy and stressful Miami International Airport for the easier and smaller one in Naples. For a budget stay, consider the Residence Inn Naples. The hotel is located just one mile from The Village on Venetian Bay as well as the boutique Waterside Shops, numerous beaches, and all the local restaurants and shops along U.S. Route 41. For a more upscale option (without sticker shock), consider the Inn on Fifth, a gorgeous boutique property right in the heart of the action. While in Miami, you have the busy, traffic-ridden city at your back. Naples is more relaxed and laid-back, which makes it especially easy to get into vacation mode. The water on the gulf is calmer than the Atlantic Ocean as well.
Edinburgh, Instead of London
Yes, London is fantastic, but it can be very expensive, so it’s healthy to try alternatives now and then —spend some time in Scotland! Edinburgh offers stunning architecture, amazing history (featuring the Royal Family), castles, ghost tours, and late-night drinking. We can’t beat that. Edinburgh is a very walkable city, and is easy to cover in a few days, unlike London, which at times (more often than not?) can feel moderately overwhelming. Also, everything from a pint (very important!) to a place to stay for the night is much more affordable. Plus, in Scotland, the pubs are old and beautiful; we love to see the sites while getting our drink on!