Our Top 5 Travel Destinations on a Time and Money Budget

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We love to travel as often and to as many places as possible. So we like to book trips for as cheap as possible without sacrificing too much comfort. After all, the less we spend, the more trips we can take. BUT we usually can only take one week off at a time (sometime a week and a half) so we will pay more for faster transportation, convenient flights and extra comfort on the road. We don’t stay in hostels, nor do we take long rides on the chicken bus—but those are great options for travelers who are on a tight budget and want to have an amazing adventure! We spend a little money for speed and comfort since we are vacation travelers rather than slow travelers at the moment. But we want to show you the experiences you can get by just saving a little bit each week.

Kayaking through mangroves. Ometepe, Nicaragua

Anyway, we were just reading a few articles on cheap places to visit, but got annoyed because they either neglected to tell you how much the airfare costs to get to those places from the U.S. or recommended sub-par lodging options that might take away from the experience. Other travel articles boast cheap airfare and forget to mention that everything in that city (We’re looking at you, Reykjavik) is super expensive once you get there. That’s why we decided to share our recent budget travel experiences that rank among our favorites. This is really geared toward those traveling from the Northeast United States, because that’s our reference point on airfare. And because we also travel on a time budget, we picked placed that you can get to within about 6 hours from the Northeast U.S.

Obviously, everyone is different when it comes to day trips, dining, drinking and other activities, so we only included the prices of airfare, accommodations and ground transportation below—but each of these places has super affordable dining, sightseeing and entertainment options. All prices listed here include taxes and fees. All totals are for two people rooming together for 7 nights.

We thoroughly enjoyed our adventures in all these places and didn’t break the bank doing so. We hope you will experience some of these destinations, too!

1. Hollywood Beach, Florida

Hollywood Beach has a great boardwalk, lots of fun places to hang out and a nice stretch of beach. It’s also super close the Fort Lauderdale airport, so it’s cheap to get a Lyft ($30 round trip). And since there’s plenty to do, you don’t have to travel much when you get there. Plus, Southwest Airlines has ridiculous Rapid Rewards deals to South Florida. We got direct nonstop flights on Southwest from Washington, D.C., for 13,000 Rapid Rewards points each (plus about $45 each for fees and early bird check in) and a studio near the boardwalk for $750 for the week. Reserving a condo is great because we can use the kitchen and save on food and booze. So that’s under $900 total for two people for flights, accommodations and transportation for a week on the beach. Hollywood Beach is a better budget destination than Miami Beach or Fort Lauderdale Beach because dining is less expensive, the boardwalk is awesome and it tends to be a bit less crowded (but still has a lot going on).

2. Nicaragua

Nicaragua was absolutely amazing! The people were friendly. The landscape was diverse. The food was delicious. Our flights from Washington, D.C., to Managua cost $445 each (you can find cheaper, but these flights were at good times). We spent an average of $65 a night for cozy boutique hotels that included a wonderful Nica breakfast of rice and beans, fresh fruit, juice, coffee and eggs. So that’s $455 for a week! We hired shuttles to take us from location to location, rather than renting a car. That cost about $300 for the week. Nicaragua was such a great trip and we got to explore Granada, Ometepe and San Juan del Sur. Total for a couple was $1650 for the week.

3. Panama

Bocas del Toro, Panama

We got a crazy deal on airfare to Panama City from Dulles airport: $214 nonstop on Copa! We got this deal by monitoring flight prices on Hopper for the specific dates we wanted to travel in February. We stayed in the El Congrejo district for a few nights ($75/night) and took Uber everywhere ($200). Uber drivers will not only take you to the airport but will also wait for you while you visit the Panama Canal or wander through the rainforest. While in Panama City, we decided to spend one night in the more touristy Casco Viejo neighborhood ($145) and then took a domestic flight ($200 pp) to Bocas del Toro where we splurged for a cabin on the water for four nights ($155/night). So that comes to about $2000 total for the two of us.

4. Roatan, Honduras

Roatan is a beautiful island off the cost of Honduras that boasts incredible diving and snorkeling opportunities. It’s located just south of Belize and gives visitors access to the same coral reef that rests off the coast of Cancun. The barrier reef is one of the largest coral reef systems in the world, by the way, and you can snorkel from the shore. Flight deals are harder to come by for Roatan, but once you land on the island, it’s just a 30-minute taxi ride ($25) to West Bay or West End, where you’ll likely stay the whole time. American Airlines offers flights from Washington, D.C., through Miami for $500-$750, depending on the season. You can get a nice room on the beach or a condo for a reasonable price. There are good happy hour deals, especially in West End, and the 10-minute water-taxi ride between West End and West Bay is $3 per person. Budgeting about $2,000 for two people for accommodations, transportation and airfare is realistic, though spending a little more will upgrade your experience. For our next trip here, $2,500 will get us airfare, a beautiful condo on West Bay and airport transfer.

5. Colombia

A few years ago, we got tickets to Bogota for $250, so we decided to check out the city. We were only there for a few nights, but we loved it. People were so friendly, the museums were interesting, and the food was fantastic. It’s probably not a place you’ll want to stay for a whole week, but there are plenty of things to do in the city and on day trips to hike in the woods or explore coffee plantations. Recently, we found $325 direct flights from Miami to Medellin to Cartagena and back to Miami. So we decided to book a trip for May! We used frequent flyer points to get flights from Washington, D.C., to Miami and back and reserved condos on Airbnb from local owners in each city for a total of $650 for the week. So that’s $1400 once you factor in ground transportation to get around and see things ($100 for Uber). We haven’t done this trek yet, but we are excited about it!

Monserrate, Bogotá, Colombia

Bonus: Reykjavik, Iceland, for less

Iceland is generally very expensive, but you can find good airfare deals from the United States.

Iceland Air has been offering direct flights for about $450 from Washington, D.C. You can stay in Reykjavik for a week at an Airbnb for about $1,000-$1,200. Rental cars can be pricey (especially with add-ons), so we got one from Blue (which included most insurance coverage in the quote and was top-notch for service) for two full days (to drive the Golden Circle and take an evening dip in the Blue Lagoon one day and to take a day trip down to Vik the next). The company dropped off the car in the morning to our Airbnb and we drove it back to their airport location on our last day. The rest of the time, we just wandered around Reykjavik – you can also take day trips out on the water from town (for whale watching and puffin sighting). So this week-long trip for two people can be booked for about $2,500—just remember that a burger and domestic beer might cost $40 pp in the heart of the tourist district! Also, keep in mind that Iceland has had more tourists in recent years than it can handle. Leave a limited footprint, go in the shoulder season and travel responsibly!

Downtown, Reykjavík, Iceland
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