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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Good Old Fashioned Road Trip

Spring break is nearly upon us and that means travelers are going to be hitting the roads and skies. Sometimes, it’s just more cost-effective to travel by car, but it depends on how far from home you plan to visit, how many you’ll be traveling with and how much time you want to spend at your destination. How do you know if driving is a better deal than flying? Start by calculating the number of times you’ll need to fill up the tank, eat and stay overnight somewhere along the way, because if you have to travel for 3 days there and back and it’s going to cost your family of four $1200 before you even make it anywhere, it’s not worth the time and effort. You’re losing a week in transit when you could have been there in 6 hours or less and everyone will already be cranky and sick of each other by the time you get where you’re going.

If a road trip is within your budget and sounds like a good time, then by all means, start planning it out and packing up your car.  There are many benefits to a good road trip and a few downsides, but that seems to be with anything. Let’s look at the benefits first, because those are the most fun:

Family togetherness – With school, sports, friends and work, you are lucky to see your kids at dinnertime. Reconnect with everyone while you have them trapped in the car for hours at a time. Play games, listen to music, talk about what you’re most looking forward to (or what you loved the most, if you’re on your way home) and plan out what you will do when you get to your destination (if you haven’t completed you itinerary yet).

You can bring your own food – Sure, you can bring your own food on the plane, but you can’t take an entire cooler full of sandwich fixings, sodas, fruit and potato salad. When you drive you can bring all that and more. It can feed you for many meals and allow for snacks without stopping every 5 minutes.

You can bring the dog – Yes, you can bring your dog on the plane with you, but at a price to both the dog and your wallet. Your dog is probably already used to riding in the car, so it’ll be less stress on everyone and you can share your vacation fun with your four-legged child(ren).

2 or 7 can travel for the same price – This is one of the biggest plusses. No matter how many people can fit in your car or minivan, it’s not going to cost you more gas to carry them. You will fill up the same amount whether there are two of you or a bunch of you.

More legroom – If you’re among the majority, your car has more legroom than your average airplane seat. If you get cramped, you can stop at a rest area and run around and use a regular size bathroom stall. Stretch your legs, eat a sandwich and then get back in the car and be on your way.

See many things along the way – Some people aren’t into stopping when they’re on the road, but I say that’s most of the fun! Buy AAA guides and search the Internet before you leave for funky and odd things along your route. You can stop at something you never would have before, like the Oregon Vortex. Maybe it’s hokey, but it can be entertaining and also get you out of the car for a bit.

No “peak” travel days – Aside from everyone trying to drive somewhere during rush hour and all day on Saturday, you won’t have to pay more to road trip when you want to. You might get stuck in some traffic, especially if you’re driving in/through a big city, but that’s to be expected.

Pack as much as you want – As long as it fits in your car, you can take it. No one is going to tell you that your bag is overweight and slap you with a heavy fee. If you are traveling with strollers, car seats, camping equipment or golf clubs, this is awesome. If your little one refuses to go anywhere without their own pillow or blanket, you don’t have to say there’s no space. You only have to pack light if you want to.

Can stay in campgrounds or hotels – When you drive, you have the choice of where you stay. If a hotel seems like too much, you can bring a tent and stop at a campground. There’s a big difference in price here. Usually they charge around $12-15 per car at a campground. If you multiply that by the number of days you’re traveling and compare it to spending $50+ per night on a hotel, it’s a big savings. Of course, if you’re like me, after a long day on the road, I want to sleep in a bed. Pick up those coupon books at rest stops and roadside diners and find deals on lodgings along your way.

Bring your own car or rent one – If your car is in good shape, you can save even more money by traveling it in. If it’s not, you have the option to rent a car or a bigger car if it would be more comfortable for everyone traveling. This is still a huge savings over airfare.

You have a car at your destination – You don’t have to rent a car at your destination or take public transportation if you don’t want, because you already have a car to get around town. Convenient!

Now that you know all the good things about road tripping it, let’s look at the potential sucky parts of being in the car much of the day for possibly several days. You probably remember your childhood trips in the car and don’t exactly look back on them fondly. You can make them better, and I have some great ways to do it in my two-part post here and here.

Family togetherness – While this can be a plus, too much togetherness can be a bad thing. If your kids are fighting the whole way or your driver doesn’t like to stop for directions when lost you may NOT have a very good time. At that point, you want to leave everyone on the side of the road and go without them. Bring your GPS, pack some chocolates, handheld games and DVDs and when everyone has just about had it with each other, let them all do their own thing for a while.

Takes longer to get there – You “waste” a lot of time driving to your destination if you have to spend days to get there. It’s time you could have spent having a good time there already if you’d flown.

Parking fees – When you drive, you can sometimes incur parking fees, both at hotels and activities. Sometimes they are nominal and still beat public transportation costs, but other times they are outrageous.

Gas prices – Gas prices are nearing $4 per gallon in some places and in others it’s even higher. You may want to check online to see what the average cost per gallon is along your route to make sure you’re actually saving money.

Rental fees – If you have to rent a car, the rates can be a little steep, since the larger the car, the more you pay. A compact car is always going to be less expensive than a sedan or a minivan. You have to decide if it’s worth the cost, especially if you don’t want to drive your own car.

If you decide to go for it and take that road trip you’ve been talking about and plan to stop at hotels along the way, make sure you check in advance if there are any conventions or festivals happening along your way, as this can really throw a wrench in your plans if you were just assuming you could find a place to stay while you were driving. This happened to us on a few trips and we didn’t have reservations and had to drive quite a long way to find a vacancy or we had to sleep in our car in a campground. It’s better to be prepared than not. Don’t forget, campgrounds can fill up, too, especially during the weekend. Many will let you book ahead of time.

What are some of your favorite road trip memories?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Luxury Budget Travel in 8 Steps

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't travel like a rich person. Some may say that you have an even better experience on your trips, and they mean more, when you have to be creative in planning and paying for them. I find the more work I put into my vacation and the less money I have to spend, the more appreciation I have for it when I get there. With plenty of research and preparation, you can travel better than what your budget would seem to allow.

I know must of us aren’t fortunate enough to have beautiful tropical islands just a short jaunt from our home…and don’t have the luxury of being able to fly in a helicopter there either, but that doesn’t mean that short trips to cool places aren’t possible. Let’s look at some good old-fashioned ways to save you money on your next vacation, which you may not have though of, even if it takes you far from home.

Look for package deals. While package deals aren’t always a “deal”, many of them are and can save you big on your trip. As I’ve said before, it depends on when and where you go, but I’ve been able to book a package for 2 (RT air, hotel and car rental) for less than the price of airfare more than once. If I had to pay for it all separate, it probably would have cost me twice as much. Check sites like BookIt, Expedia, Travelocity, LastMinute, Orbitz, CheapTickets and even the airlines’ websites for package deals. If you think you’ve found a good price, do some research on how much it would cost separately. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, since you can use the same booking site to do it and also you probably have an idea of what you want to spend before you start looking.

Pack light. Yes, I know I keep repeating myself like a broken record on this, but it is the easiest way to save big bucks. Airlines can charge you up to $50 just to check a bag – one way. That means if you have to check it both ways, it’s like you’ve spent an extra $100 on your plane ticket – per traveler who has a bag to check. Unless you’re flying on a discount airline that doesn’t charge you for bags, take half the stuff out of your packing pile. For short trips I recommend packing 3 tops and a pair of pants (and a skirt or dress if you must). You also have what you’re wearing on the plane and, if you layer well, you can get away with a few extra pieces. 

If you’re going on a longer trip, I recommend packing 5 tops and 3-4 bottoms.  Make sure all your pieces mix and match and, if you aren’t opposed to doing laundry, you can get even more wear out of everything you brought. Also, with this kind of packing, you can share a large carry-on with a travel partner. I have packed two week’s worth of clothing for me and my husband, including shoes and toiletries, in my 21” rolling carry-on. I pack snacks and entertainment in a smaller bag and we’re good to go anywhere. Need more help packing smaller? Try these:

  • Spacebags – If you have to take a coat and need to mash it flat, or you find you’ve bought too many souvenirs on your trip, bring yourself some Spacebags. They are like big Ziplock bags designed specifically for your luggage. You put clothes in, zip it up, squeeze all of the air out by rolling it up and then it packs flat in your bag in half the space! I don’t recommend using these TO your destination. If you buy anything, it won’t fit in your bag.
  • Take two pair of shoes, max. As you know, I don’t consider flip flops shoes, since they take up hardly any space and are highly useful on any trip. This said, you have two pair of shoes you can take. One go on your feet on the plane (the bulkiest is the best choice) and the other go in your suitcase and get stuffed with socks, jewelry, ties or whatever else you can fit in there without horrible end results. On my way home, I pack any fragiles in my shoes, like ornaments I might have bought (wrapped in tissue or bubble wrap). They are great at padding those items and I’ve yet to come home to sad broken things.
  • Travel size is the way to go! If you take all your full-size makeup and hair care products, you’re just asking for someone to take away your bag and toss it under the plane. For one, you’re only going to be gone a short time. It takes you months to go through that stuff at home, so you don’t need to take it all with you for two weeks. For another, if liquids/gels/pastes don’t fit in your 3-1-1 bag, you can’t take it on the plane. You can check it or have security throw it in the garbage as you hold back tears. Buy travel sized products, like toothpaste and shampoo, on Minimus.biz or at your local store. Products that don’t come smaller can easily be made that way by purchasing 3oz bottles, tubes, etc., and transferring liquids into them.
  • Pack travel-sized personal grooming products, too! Do you regularly travel with a blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron? Buy the smaller version that you can keep in your travel bag all the time. They take up less space and do just as good a job on the road. This saves packing time and leaves you room in your bag for something else.
  • Pack multi-purpose items. Things like moisturizer with SPF in it or tinted moisturizer let you bring one item instead of two. Other great ideas? A sarong can be used as a skirt, beach cover up, shawl, headscarf, top, belt, picnic/beach blanket or a towel. Because it is so light, it packs easily and can be taken with you everywhere. Your iPod Touch or iPhone can be used to play games, watch movies/videos, take notes, get quick internet access and as a GPS. You get the idea! Travel “gadgets” are one of my favorite topics. 

Get Double Cash Back with Ebates. That’s right! This week is Travel Week on Ebates and there are many travel merchants offering double cash back in honor of it. Before you purchase or book anything online, check to see if they are affiliated with Ebates and make your purchase through their links. If you aren’t yet a member of Ebates, it’s FREE and easy, so do it HERE.

Rent a vacation rental house/condo/apartment. They can be an awesome money-saver if you are staying anywhere for a week or longer. You feel like you’re at home, even on vacation, which can be much more relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. You also don’t have to contend with other vacationers and/or their children being loud in the hallway at all hours. With the kitchen facilities, you can eat in if you want. Stop at the local grocers and pick up some staples to make breakfast or lunch on you own and save money by dining out less.

Take public transportation. While not as glamorous as being driven around town in a taxi, it is much more affordable and probably even more convenient. You can see a bus stop or subway stop and you know that if you stand there, one will come you way. Taxis aren’t always readily available and sometimes you have to call and wait. Public transportation almost always goes to the most touristy and busiest parts of the city. This is great for us tourists, because they go right where we want to go!

Exchange your currency when you get there. You probably won’t always travel to where you need to get new bills, but if you do, exchange money when you get to your destination. You can get by with exchanging just a bit at the airport and then the rest somewhere in the city, where the exchange rate is more advantageous. Probably not a bank, since they sometimes charge a fee (or a higher fee than other places). I’ve had good luck with the front desk of my hotel, but also in small shops that have an exchange desk. They want you to spend more money there, so the fee will be much smaller.

And here’s a General Tip for you. If you find what looks like a fantastic deal on a hotel or vacation rental, research! There might be a reason they are so inexpensive and, even if the pictures look amazing, read the reviews. Not just on the site you’re on, but check out other sites as well, like TripAdvisor. Make sure you can verify that it isn’t infested with mice or in the worst neighborhood in the city. That can make your vacation REALLY interesting, but not in such a good way. You don’t want to be afraid to go to sleep or turn off the lights or leave your belongings there while you’re out.

How do you save money on your trips?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Aren't You Using Groupon?

Enter to win $500 from Shereen Travels Cheap and Giveaway Promote.
Yes, this is my question to you. And if you're only using it at home, then you really should be using it on your vacations, too. I can't even tell you how much money you can save on your trip with Groupon. It's free and easy to sign up for, you can get as many updates as you want  (one city's deals or fifteen!) and you can change your preferences at any time. Who doesn't want to save up to 90% off on entertainment, dining, tours and more? Not convinced? Here are some of the things I've used Groupon for on my trips, and remember, they are available worldwide:

Breakfast at Mel's Diner in Hollywood

Pearl Harbor Tour in Hawaii

Japanese dinner for two in Honolulu

Pedicure in Utah

Now, with the smart phone apps, we can use Groupon even easier. We use it often at home, too. Here are a few of the things we use it for around home (which we also look forward to doing on our future trips):

Food cart waffles

Romantic night at our living room theater

Halotherapy session in the salt caves

Brunch at one of our favorite restaurants

Delicious, delicious crepes

What do you use Groupon for, or what do you look forward to finding a deal on when you go on our next trip?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, George.

Enter to win $500 from Shereen Travels Cheap and Giveaway Promote.

I know Presidents’ Day doesn’t sound all that exciting, but since we can’t make every president’s birthday a national holiday – well, I suppose we could, but then no one would work half the year – we celebrate with the first president’s birthday, George Washington, on the third Monday of the month, which is almost never on his actual birthday. And, I should add, we throw in a bit of honor for our awesome 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, because he freed the slaves and was pretty amazing…and because his birthday is on the 12th, making it an easy tie-in. He may not be the father of our country, but he made the most of his years in office, which I think deserves quite a bit of credit.

If you aren’t plotting your course for hitting as many sales as you can next weekend, then possibly you would rather spend your money on something a little more enriching, like a trip that can be fun and educational (super for kids!). Today is all about things to do for fun and cheap in our nation’s capital: Washington, D.C. I have been there once, in my former years, and it was a disappointing trip all around. We drove from Virginia, mostly without stopping, only to get stuck in rush hour traffic and see very few buildings as we inched along at 3 mph. I did see the White House, but as there were renovations being done, the majority of it was covered in plastic. The next thing I remember was turning around and going back home. I didn’t even get to go to the zoo, which I distinctly recall being asked about before we left. You don’t want your trip to be like mine, and I hope that my next trip – which is something that will happen – is a lot more fun and I even get to get out of the car at some point!

Get half-price and discount theater tickets to performances at the Signature Theatre, the Kennedy Center, Folger Theatre, Imagination Stage and more. You can get them same-day or in advance.

Take a free tour of (some of) the White House. Get there early, though, because this is always a popular activity and wait times can be long. You might even catch a glimpse of Obama doing presidenty stuff: taking phone calls, concurring with people ideas, signing documents, wearing a suit, walking purposefully down the hall. Things like that! Update 3/8/13: due to budget cuts, the White House is no longer offering tours. This is saving them $43,000 a WEEK!

Pay homage to our veterans who have passed on with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. You can visit John F. Kennedy’s grave, along with Jackie O, their two children and his brother Bobby, the Unknown soldier and see the changing of the guard throughout the day.

Wish our 16th president Happy Birthday with a stop at the Lincoln Memorial. Then take a tour of the other famous stops in DC: the Washington Monument (closed for renovations due to earthquake damage), the reflecting pool, the Vietnam Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, DC War Memorial, Eisenhower Memorial, Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Women in Vietnam Memorial and a whole lot more. You could spend three days just visiting these sites. Go here for a map of the most popular and to start planning your trip.

Print out free walking guides for your trip. Almost 20 different guides are available, so whether you want to stroll the Botanic Garden or visit the Smithsonian, you are covered!
Save money and skip the ticket lines by purchasing a DC Power Pass. Valid from 1-5 days, it enables you to see Washington DC to the fullest. Over 20 attractions are included in your price as well as discounts for shopping. Passes start at just $64.99 and if you buy before day end on February 13th, you can receive 5% off!

About.com for DC has some fantastic solutions for dining on the cheap. For info, including addresses and phone numbers, view the whole list here. The following are local favorites, so you won’t be eating at Burger King or similar fast food venues. You’ll be saving money and eating like the locals do:
·         American City Diner
·         Baja Grille
·         Ben’s Chili Bowl
·         Bullfeathers of Capital Hill
·         Cactus Cantina
·         Capital Q BBQ
·         Couscous Café
·         Hanks Oyster Bar
·         Lauriol Plaza
·         Surfside Restaurant
·         Zorba’s Café
·       And if you’re looking for late-night dining: The Diner 2453 18th St NW Washington, DC (202) 232-8800 An upscale diner that’s open 24 hours.

Stroll along the C&O Canal. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal used to be a waterway where goods were shipped to the Potomac River. Historic!

Ever seen an aquatic garden? Technically, it’s a marsh, but Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens sounds a lot better and prettier than Kenilworth Marsh. It’s the last natural marsh in Washington DC and you can see amazing water plants and flowers, as well as dozens of species of birds…and it’s all free!

Let someone else show you around the city with the Hop-on Hop-off Trolley. I’m dying to go on one of these and think that my next trip to a big city that has one at a reasonable price might be reason enough to hand over my hard-earned money. For $35 per person ($25 for kids) you can sit back and take pictures and listen to the narration, then get off and back on at any of the stops all day long. The ride covers over 100 points of interest and stops at 20 locations, including the White House Visitors Center and Ford’s Theatre. The full loop takes 2 hours if you don’t get off anywhere, but why wouldn’t you? Book your tickets before March 15 and get use of the trolley for three days instead of just one!

Here’s one to splurge on: Have you ever wanted to be a spy? I mean, like not get shot at and stuff, but be secretive and carry important information? The Washington DC Spy Tour will have you itching to get your hands on that Top Secret envelope full of the country’s secretest secrets! You’ll discover the city’s spy secrets, mysteries and deceptions on this tour and then take part in a secret “mission”. I’ve been dying to do this tour since I saw Samantha Brown do it on her Weekends show. Your $58.99 will also get you VIP admission to the International Spy Museum for more about espionage, traitors, gadgets and more…if you know the secret password! You even get to meet former intelligence officers. Awesome, right?

Even if you aren’t planning to travel to DC over Presidents’ Day Weekend, don’t forget that there are so many amazing things to see and do there for the next time you’re stumped for an affordable trip. Make DC your home base and then take day trips to Maryland or Virginia, too. But, for the love of travel, wherever you go, get out of the car!

Do you live in the DC area or have you vacationed there? What are your favorite tourist spots and eateries?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Travel with the Hopper

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of DISH for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

By now you’ve probably seen at least one of those DISH commercials where the New England family brags about “The Hoppa” they have that enables everyone in their family to record all their favorite shows and watch them on any TV in the house. Well, DISH has taken the love of the DVR one step further and it’s perfect for travelers, too. Right now you have very few choices when it comes to watching live TV on your trips: you can watch what’s on, you can use a Slingbox to watch shows as they are on in your time zone or you can try to watch network shows the next day online. None of these are ever all that convenient (especially if you’re in another country and can’t get access to U.S. television through your internet). The Hopper Travel DISH is your solution.
 photo 730e2884-47bc-4bc4-90d2-ea67ab288570_zpsf5f56aa8.jpg
There are going to be times on your trip where you have downtime and just want to relax. Or you have an extra-long layover and have already finished your magazines, eaten and made a circuit through the cool airport stuff. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pull up shows you’ve recorded at home and catch up with them? Well, now you can! If you are a DISH subscriber, you already have access to their free DISH Anywhere app. If you don’t, it’s easy to sign up and packages start at just $24.99 per month. (For 12 months with 24 month commitment. Restrictions Apply.) Boredom averted!

Almost every traveler brings along some sort of web-enabled device, and the average family has several, including smart phones, laptops and tablets. All of these can play your favorite shows anywhere you happen to have an internet connection. Hopper lets you record 6 shows at once and up to 2,000 hours of TV and movies. Why pay money to download old shows and movies from iTunes to your devices, which takes up valuable memory, when you don’t have to?

Won’t have an internet connection when you’re traveling? Maybe you’ll be somewhere remote or want to keep yourself and your family entertained in the car or on the plane. That’s okay, too. You can transfer recorded shows to your app before you leave the house and then watch them later when you can’t get online. Awesome, right? It’s called Hopper Transfers. If all you’re getting on your hotel TV is foreign programming and news, pull up recordings from home and fill your downtime with familiar faces that will make you more comfortable wherever you are. I'll tell you, being able to pull up the latest episode of Two Broke Girls is way better than watching election coverage or old episodes of Knight Rider in Spanish.

With DISH Anywhere, you don’t have to just watch things you’ve recorded, but you can choose from thousands of On Demand titles, use the Blockbuster @Home option (if you subscribe to this feature) and even check your recording list and add new recordings as necessary. Maybe you found out about a great show coming on that you don’t want to miss, but you’ve already left home. Just log onto your DISH account and set up that recording. You can also watch it live if you happen to be somewhere at the time it plays and you can get online on any of your devices. After a long day of sightseeing, you may just want to curl up on the couch with a good movie. Being able to watch a new release is better than settling for reruns of soccer games in German or a 3-hour block of Es Incroyable in French.

Are your kids fighting over which show to actually watch and you just want the arguing to stop? You can watch two shows on two different mobile devices. It’s also a great distraction for when you are waiting for things. Maybe it’s a long line at a theme park or waiting for the train to arrive or even just waiting to leave the hotel for the day. There are plenty of times your family may get antsy during a vacation and if you can easily pull up a cartoon or another show they love, that time can fly by. You can even skip commercials on recorded primetime TV, which helps you save time, too. Maybe your wait time is only 20 or 25 minutes. Skipping those ads will allow you to watch that show in less time and see the end before you have to put your device away.

DISH is the only service that allows you to access all of your programming at home and on-the-go, so you never have to worry about missing shows you love just because you’ll be on vacation or traveling for business. Want to Learn more about the Hopper?

You can also LIKE DISH on Facebook and Follow DISH on Twitter for more ways to get the most out of your service or new additions to the Hopper.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where Will You Go in 2013?

If you’re starting to feel like you’re in a rut and work has you stressing out, then maybe it’s time for a change. Sometimes, the only thing you really need to rejuvenate – besides a trip to the spa – is a quick trip away. Nothing is better for finding yourself again than going somewhere new. Don’t start planning that trip to a theme park or your sister’s house again. The goal is to break out of your same groove and do something different. Discover a new city and discover new things about yourself and your family in the process. The top 10 budget destinations for 2013 will definitely get you thinking about things in a different way.

Photos of Toronto Island Park, Toronto
This photo of Toronto Island Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Toronto, Canada
Our neighbors to the north have something to show you beyond their incredible hospitality. Not only is Toronto full of history, which is a fun way to get some education in for those traveling with kids, but it also has a ton of beautiful open spaces to be explored. You can even spend the day at the beach! It may not be the “put on your bikini and lay out” kind of beach, but there is surf, sand and plenty of shops. The Beaches is a hidden gem of Toronto, so it is rarely overcrowded and especially not with tourists.

Antalya, Turkey
Turkey is just becoming a well-known tourist destination. The affordability is drawing travelers from all over the world. While they are all off discovering the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, you can be sightseeing off the coast of the Mediterranean. If that’s not exotic-sounding enough, you can tell all your friends you’ll be lounging along the Turkish Riviera, browsing the colorful and lively bazaars, visiting Roman ruins and hot air ballooning over breathtaking scenery. Antalya gets over 300 days of sunshine and even the winters are comfortable, so whenever you go, you won’t have to pack your carry-on full of bulky clothing.

Photos of Chateau de Brou, Noyant-de-Touraine
This photo of Chateau de Brou is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Loire Valley, France
Get away from the hustle and bustle of busy (and tourist-filled) Paris by spending your time in the Cradle of the French Language. Loire Valley is the perfect getaway for those who love the country, amazing food and a good glass of wine. With so much of the grand architecture still standing, you’ll feel like royalty everywhere you go in this area of central France. If you’re looking for an affordable romantic vacation, then you will want to start planning your trip now, because what more could you want out of time with your sweetie than relaxing at a little bistro after strolling through a fruit orchard right outside of a historic town?

Palm Springs, California
While not as exotic as much of the rest of this list, and known mostly for their golfing, Palm Springs is a nature-lovers’ desert oasis. From hiking, horseback riding and swimming, there is something for everyone who loves to be outside. Steeped in Native American and Mexican culture, the city is now a resort paradise that draws regular travelers and celebrities alike. You can find great deals on accommodations, entertainment and even dining and spa services. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it – and find it for less – in the desert of Palm Springs.

Photos of Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island, Ko Phi Phi Don

This photo of Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi Island is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
The Phi Phi islands are where you want to go when you have a tropical locale on the brain. Thailand is notoriously budget-friendly, but most recreational travelers don’t know much about the islands. Ko Phi Phi is becoming a more widely known secret, because it offers everything one could want from an island getaway: beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and perfect for diving and snorkeling. Tourism plays a big part in the economy of Ko Phi Phi and they have rebuilt a more luxurious island experience since the devastation of 2004’s tsunami. You’ll find resorts and restaurants that cater specifically to those looking for a true island experience – in between kayaking and laying out, that is.

Nashville, Tennessee
Known mostly for producing the majority of country music superstars, Nashville might surprise you as being a metropolitan city with so much more to offer besides Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks. Did you know that it is also the hometown of Ke$ha? It’s true! You’ll find amazing southern history around Nashville, including Civil War plantations. These grandiose homes are both awe-inspiring and educational. There’s no better way to learn about significant times in American history than to go right to the source. You can top off your days with down-home southern meals out and a vibrant nightlife full of all types of music.
Photos of Walking Tours of Belfast & N. Ireland, Belfast
This photo of Walking Tours of Belfast & N. Ireland is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Northern Ireland
After decades of religious battles, Northern Ireland has recently calmed down and become more of a travel destination as the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the poorest economies in the UK, which makes it the most affordable for visitors. If you love sports, then you’ll be able to enjoy watching football, rugby and cricket and also engage in some spectacular golfing as well. Ireland is one of those places that makes you feel like you’re walking in a fairy tale with the rolling hills and lush greenery everywhere. Add that to being pretty much oceanside in many big towns and you’ve got yourself a beautiful and picturesque getaway.

For a more unique European vacation, the Slovak Republic will definitely fit the bill. Not many travelers – outside of backpackers – really think about Slovakia as a preferred destination. It has only gained its independence in the last 20 years and is still finding itself as a tourist spot. The country features wonderful medieval architecture and natural attractions like caves, mountains and lavish green spaces. Even though you may not know anything about Slovakia, it is an incredibly romantic country with its historical landscape dotted with castles. You’ll find old-fashioned and rustic souvenirs to bring home, like ceramics, wooden serving pieces, glass and homemade dolls in traditional dress. It’s certainly made for a vacation to remember.

Photos of Diniwid Beach, Boracay
This photo of Diniwid Beach is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Boracay Island, the Philippines
Wouldn’t you like to visit the “best island in the world”? Travel + Leisure Magazine bestowed this title on Borocay in 2012, which means you know it’s a wonderful place for a vacation. The small island is a magnet for travelers of all kinds, including those who aren’t made of money. Previous visitors claim Borocay is so awesome because you can travel like a VIP on a budget. No matter what time of year you visit, you will always bring a bag full of summer clothes with you. You can fill all that empty space with your snorkel gear, as that is one of the best things to do off the coast, in addition to kiteboarding, scuba diving, windsurfing and cliff diving. The only time the weather isn’t ideal is during a tropical storm, but even then it can still be warm. Pack a rain jacket and you’re good to go!

The Bahamas
If you’re looking for a tropical getaway that is closer to home, then the Bahamas with its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches might be calling your name. Whether you’re excited to lay on the beach drinking something with an umbrella in it or more adventurous and willing to explore underwater gardens, then you will find something for you. The native Bahamians are so welcoming to visitors that you may never want to leave. If beach activities don’t really thrill you, that’s okay. Visit botanical gardens and historical forts from the time when pirates tried to take the islands for themselves. You’ll also experience some of the most interesting and delicious seafood you’ll find anywhere as well as see amazing animals that are native to the islands.

As you can see, there is a huge range of economical destinations to choose from that are further from you than your normal vacation options. They are totally different and will immerse you in cultures you maybe weren’t aware you were missing out on. No matter your budget, you can always find an exotic getaway that suits your needs and wallet. Doesn't this make you excited to start planning your 2013 vacation? I know I am totally looking forward to another trip, wherever it is! Where will you be going in the coming year?

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