10 Dream Vacations Where You can Surprisingly Save a Lot of Money

You don’t have to travel very far to have the time of your life. Here are some affordable ways to get away.
Last updated June 2, 2023 | By Cat Lafuente Edited By Chris Kissell
pile of money along with pennies spilling out of flass jar on world map

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The phrase “dream vacation” conjures images of treks through the wilderness on safari, luxe accommodations at Disney, and requisite selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower.

All of those adventures are worthy endeavors, but none of them is cheap.

If you want to avoid wasting money unnecessarily, consider a detour off the beaten path. Choosing one of the following alternatives can still give you an unforgettable vacation at what might be a more affordable price.

La Fortuna and Quepos, Costa Rica

trowels/Adobe costa rica sea shore with blue water surrounded by green trees

You don’t have to travel to Iceland or Bali to experience natural hot springs or stunning beaches. Instead, save on airfare and head down to Costa Rica.

English is spoken widely in this biodiverse paradise, and the U.S. dollar goes far and is accepted almost everywhere.

Consider starting in the Arenal Volcano region (La Fortuna), which has many affordable lodgings. Then, head down the coast to Quepos, home of Manuel Antonio National Park. There, you can walk on the beach and spot monkeys, sloths, macaws, and more.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida

Ali Safarov/Adobe clear water beach sign in downtown florida

Everyone thinks of Orlando or Miami for a Florida vacation, but they are missing out on a more budget-friendly secret: St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

Famed for its pristine white sand beaches, this area also has a diverse dining scene and affordable lodgings once you step off the beach.

This is a great base for day trips, too, such as a quick ride to Busch Gardens in Tampa, up the coast to quaint Tarpon Springs, or slightly inland to one of Florida’s crystal clear natural springs. Don’t forget your kayak.

Budapest, Hungary

e_polischuk/Adobe budapest parliament building in front of water with streets full of people

Western Europe may snag most of the tourists, but there are some real gems in Eastern Europe as well. This includes Budapest, Hungary, a stunning capital city on the banks of the Danube River.

Spend hours strolling on foot here out onto the chain bridge, over to the famed Parliament Building, or through Heroes’ Square.

A must-see is Hospital in the Rock, an underground bunker that is now a museum.


Sean Xu/Adobe beautiful scenery of greenery and snow mountains at moon lake in colorado

Switzerland arguably has the best skiing in the world, but don’t sleep on the dream ski vacation you can take in Colorado.

Places such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Telluride and Aspen are well-known for their slopes and top-tier skiing.

Colorado offers more than skiing, as the culinary and shopping scene in Denver is dazzling. So is the burgeoning recreational cannabis industry. Attractions such as natural hot springs and Garden of the Gods are not far away from Denver.

All of this is much more affordable — and closer — than the Alps.

Cartagena, Colombia

JorgeIvan/Adobe beautiful and colorful houses with flowers in balconies in streets of cartagena colombia

Cartagena may not be the first destination that pops to mind when you’re planning a Caribbean vacation, but this colorful city has come a long way in recent years.

The affordable locale has tons of local flavor. The walled city center is even a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Spend your days island hopping and exploring while enjoying gorgeous beaches, sampling the local cuisine, and visiting sites such as the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a castle that dates back centuries. At night, visit the Getsemaní neighborhood to scope out the famous graffiti art.

Las Vegas, Nevada

StockPhotoAstur/Adobe eiffel tower and paris balloon full of colorful lights on the las vegas strip at night

As long as you’re not bad at gambling, Las Vegas packs a big punch for those traveling on a budget. You can book package deals that save you money on lodgings, and heed the many tips about how to get free stuff — such as scoring free alcohol while gambling.

There is so much more than hedging your bets at the casino, however. You will find tons of restaurants, shows, and activities right along the strip. If you’re flexible, same-day show tickets are sold for cheap at the airport or on the strip. And admission to the Pinball Hall of Fame is free.


pink candy/Adobe autumn leaves of orange color on trees in front of water with skylines in montreal

A trip to Paris is a worthy bucket list item, but so is Montreal, a city with tons of French flavor.

Those who love to explore places on foot will love it here in the warmer months. Heading to Quebec will also save you money, thanks to cheaper airfare and accommodations than what you would find in France.

Of course, the Notre-Dame Basilica is a must-see, with its breathtaking architecture and sprawling spaces. So is the Montreal Tower, the world’s tallest inclined tower. Be sure to snag a bagel here, as the quality gives New York City a run for the money.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to pack one of the top travel credit cards for your next vacation. Using such a card can earn you cash back or other perks.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

napa74/Adobe castle el morro on coastline with blue water waves in puerto rico

You don’t need a passport to visit this dreamy Caribbean island, which may be small but still offers a lot for less. Start by staying in Old San Juan, the historic heart of the capital city.

Once you’re done swooping across checkerboard floors, enjoy window shopping and dining in Condado.

If you want to explore more of the island, enjoy surfing in Rincon, hiking in El Yunque National Forest, and paddling in the famous bioluminescent bay off the island of Vieques.

Big Sur, California

Maks_Ershov/Adobe bixby bridge in big sur california during day time with blue water in background

It’s tough to find a dreamier vacation for campers than Big Sur, California. The views from this small, winding town on Highway 1 are some of the most stunning in the world, replete with craggy cliffs, azure ocean waters, and even a waterfall or two.

Save money by skipping hotels. You can pitch a tent at a number of parks, including the picturesque Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Just be sure to book your reservation six months out, as spots fill up fast.

Pro tip: You have not lived until you have dined on the Ambrosia Burger at Nepenthe, high above the moody Pacific.

Upstate New York

wxs2102/Adobe taking a break during a hike in upstate new york

New York City is truly an iconic destination, but it’s difficult to do on a budget. Fortunately, you can find all of the trappings of a dream vacation in Upstate New York.

Mountain enthusiasts will fall in love with both the Catskills and the Shawangunk Ridge.

While Woodstock is the mark on the map in this area, towns like New Paltz and Phoenicia offer rustic charm in the shadow of looming hills at a more affordable cost. And you don’t have to stay at the Mohonk Mountain House to hike its iconic labyrinth.

Bottom line

Chan2545/Adobe woman traveling alone walking at train station with backpack and suitcase

Many people dream of going on an African safari or visiting Jerusalem at least once. Those worthy destinations usually cost a pretty penny, however.

If you want to give an extra boost to your bank account, look for a dream vacation closer to home that will be easier on your wallet.

You may not even need to get on a plane to have the time of your life, as many amazing locales are accessible by car.

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Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.