While others focus on New Year's resolutions, my family and I make a list of dreams about where we want to go. Places we missed last year (Thailand and the Cook Islands) are often renewed, but we're always adding new places (this year, South Korea) that, with careful planning, can be done affordably.
In 2024, more than half of American travelers plan to go to places where the cost of living is less expensive than their hometown, according to online travel agency Booking.com. Sixty per cent said they would look for “copycat holidays” or cheaper alternatives to expensive places.
“Consumers are increasingly broadening their appetite to try new destinations, leading them to experience places off the beaten path and more affordable,” said Brett Keller, CEO of online agency Priceline.
Frugal strategies, such as traveling during low or shoulder seasons, going places where the dollar is strong, and trying unknown destinations, help make the most of your budget. The following destinations offer new, affordable incentives to visit in 2024.
Exchange rate darlings
A stronger dollar buys more abroad. Instead of heading to typically expensive U.S. locations like Hawaii or New York, take your spending power to an affordable destination for a bonus.
Mexico, where $1 is worth more than 17 pesos, has long been a bargain for Americans and remains the most popular international destination, attracting more than 33 million visitors in 2022 (the last year for which tickets are available). statistics from the National Travel and Tourism Office).
The U.S. State Department is warning travelers not to visit several states in Mexico because of crime, but not Nayarit, on the central Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta.
There, travelers can now visit the Marías Islands, a biodiverse archipelago about 60 miles off the coast and designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Recently, the government began offering trips to the former penal colony, which has been redeveloped as an educational and environmental center. For now, weekend trips are only by ferry from San Blas and cost about 5,000 pesos per person (about $300), including meals, guided tours and two nights in former prison cells that have been renovated. This easy trip offers opportunities to spot rare species such as the yellow-headed parrot and Tres Marías raccoon, as well as migrating whale sharks.
Costs in Canada are about a third cheaper when paying with US dollars. Head to the town of Penticton in British Columbia's southern Okanagan wine valley, where there are new one-hour flights from Vancouver and a new Four Points by Sheraton hotel, with rates starting at around $135 Canadian. or about 100 dollars. . After a bike ride along the spectacular Kettle Valley Rail Trail that hugs Okanagan Lake, visit wineries in scenic Naramata (tastings are $10 at Chain Reaction Winery).
Or head to Montreal to see “Nature Vive,” an immersive sound and light show from Oasis Immersion on the theme of biodiversity, debuting on February 22 (tickets start at $29). This year Montreal also has one of six teams participating in the first season of the women's professional hockey league (tickets start at about $25).
Travelers looking to avoid overly touristy and expensive places have long sought less pressured and cheaper alternatives, a trend recently popularized on TikTok as “duped destinations.”
On that note, instead of seeing the cherry blossoms of Kyoto, Japan, or Washington, D.C., consider Modesto, California, the gateway to agricultural country in the Central Valley, during almond blossom season. In February and March, the region's 1.5 million acres of almond trees burst into pink and white blooms. Visitors can take an almond blossom walk with an audio guide ($14.99) and listen to a Spotify playlist dedicated to spring by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra.
While you're there, take the new Self-Guided Street Art Audio Tour ($14.99) to see many of the city's 100+ murals. Accommodations range from hotel chains to Airbnbs that, in a recent search, started at $65 a night.
Cleveland and Indianapolis are in the path of totality for the April 8 solar eclipse, making them astral tourism destinations. But they can also be considered sporting dupes for the Paris Olympics.
Ahead of the Olympic Games, June 15-23, America's top swimmers will gather in Indianapolis for the US Olympic Swimming Team Trials at Lucas Oil Stadium, the first time an NFL stadium has hosted an Olympic-sized pool (tickets start at about $56).
From July 12-21, Cleveland will host the Pan American Masters Games, an Olympic-inspired sports festival for athletes over the age of 30 competing in age categories up to 100 and older. More than 7,500 athletes from more than 50 countries are expected to compete in dozens of sports, including rowing, curling and track and field. Admission for spectators is free.
Wellness trips tend to skew luxury, but the popularity of things like forest bathing and meditation have shown that healthy practices don't have to cost a fortune.
“In 2024, I predict the resurgence of social wellness,” said Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at high-end tourism group Aman. The company will open Janu Tokyo in March with spacious therapeutic and swimming pools, which are considered places to socialize in Japan.
Cheaper and closer to home, travelers can check out and soak in hot springs, including Glenwood Hot Springs Resort in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This year, the late 19th-century resort, about 40 miles north of Aspen, plans to expand with five new pools, two with waterfalls (admission, from $32; rooms at the resort currently start at $179).
For an all-inclusive spa experience, consider the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina, which has responded to a 20 percent increase in bookings in 2023 with more than 40 renovated rooms and plans to install a flotation tank.
Their three-day Happiness Retreat uses yoga, breathing and meditation to improve well-being. Bring some friends and the experience costs $595 per person in a triple room, including programming and meals.
Connecting with nature
Most visitors go to the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area in the Florida Panhandle in search of white sand Gulf Coast beaches. But the destination has been working hard to connect visitors with nature, including installing eight artificial snorkeling reefs since 2019 that attract grouper, snapper, sea turtles and, in summer, tropical fish. From April to October, a program called Little Adventures offers educational excursions for kids about snorkeling, fishing, and surfing (free).
Founded in 2019, the area's Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament, which returns May 17-18 ($75), encourages divers to hunt invasive lionfish and has helped create a culinary market for the fish through partnerships with local restaurants. Last year, the event caught nearly 25,000 lionfish, voracious eaters that have no predators and are most easily caught by spearfishing.
“Lionfish are here to stay,” said Andy Fogg, a marine biologist who works for the Destin-Fort Walton Beach tourism office. Catching the event, he added, “is giving the local species a break and establishing them as a food fish.”
Visitors will find many affordable accommodations in the area, including La Quinta by Wyndham Fort Walton Beach, which offers rooms from $111 a night on Booking.com.
Eco-friendly travelers should consider heading to southern New Mexico to be part of the Gila Wilderness Centennial celebrations. The first wilderness area in the United States was designated in 1924 after visionary conservationist Aldo Leopold campaigned to set aside large regions, primarily to keep ecosystems functioning with minimal intervention.
Its original 755,000-acre footprint is now split between the Gila Wilderness and the neighboring Aldo Leopold Wilderness, with more than 800 miles of hiking trails between them (access is free). Starting in March, anniversary events include guided hikes, stargazing, and a film festival. And it's all affordable, including accommodations priced under $100 a night in the nearby town of Truth or Consequences, according to online travel agency Expedia.
Selections that go unnoticed
Always consider what is overlooked: to save, of course, but also to surprise.
Lonely Planet this year highlighted Poland as a valuable destination (the dollar is worth about 4 Polish zloty), noting that the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw will open its doors later this year.
“In Europe, we are seeing interest emerge in more exclusive destinations like Poland and Bulgaria,” said Bruce Poon Tip, founder of tour operator G Adventures, who visited Warsaw last year and praised its cultural offerings, including music. G Adventures' seven-day trip from Budapest to Berlin visits Krakow and starts at $1,161.
Travelers interested in architecture and history should consider Tucson, Arizona, where its downtown neighborhood, Barrio Viejo, will receive National Historic Landmark designation this year, officially recognizing its colorful adobe houses built between 1860 and 1900.
Walk to the area from the Downtown Clifton Hotel, an elegantly renovated 1948 motel (rooms from about $99), and tour it with a guide from Museo Presidio San Agustín del Tucson ($30) or Airbnb Experiences ($50).
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