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10 Trips for Under $1,000

If the world’s most exciting destinations seem too far out of reach for your budget, don’t despair. Sometimes all it takes is a little extra travel know-how to put them within reach at a fraction of the price. That’s why I’ve created this incredible list of travel bargains for under $1,000 each. So don’t just dream about a trip to Hawaii, Asia, South America, and Europe—pack your bags and go!

Tokyo, Japan

Winter is the driest season in Japan’s capital city. Average temperatures stay above freezing, and you can find flights from San Francisco in the offseason at around $430 when traveling midweek. For affordable accommodations and a taste of local culture, stay in a capsule hotel like Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel. Midweek rates are around $30 per night in a women’s or men’s unit. Each unit has a TV, lighting, and Wi-Fi. Like many capsule hotels, this one has a lounge area, lockers to store your luggage, and a men’s-only bathhouse. Separate showers and changing rooms are available on the women’s floor. The “room” is all you need if you plan on exploring.

A 72-hour subway ticket costs just $15. For a seven-night stay, this leaves you about $330 for food and activities. Luckily, with plenty of delicious budget and street food options, it’s possible to eat well in Tokyo on just dollars a day. You can find yakitori—skewers of bite-sized chicken grilled and slathered in thick soy sauce—for around $3 a stick. Noodle dishes at renowned ramen shop Afuri start at around $10.

Visiting Tokyo’s temples, like Meiji Shrine, costs nothing. Strolls through the city’s renowned Harijuku fashion district or famous Tsukiji Fish Market are also free (unless, of course, you buy some fresh sushi). By watching your daily budget and traveling in the off-season, it’s entirely possible to plan a vacation under $1,000 to Japan.

San Jose, Costa Rica

With flights at around $350 in summer from Atlanta, you have two options on how to spend the rest of your $1,000 travel budget.

First, you could opt for a shorter stay at an all-inclusive resort, such as DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Central Pacific, with rates around $180 midweek in a room with two double beds, based on single occupancy. A three-night stay clocks in at $540, leaving you $110 for transportation to and from the airport. Food, beverages, kayaking in the Pacific, tennis, and access to pools are all covered in this affordable vacation under $1,000.

Alternatively, you could spend a bit more time exploring the country by staying at a local hotel, such as Hotel Villa Dolce . Rooms with one queen bed start at $57 per night, including breakfast, based on single occupancy ($61 for double occupancy). A five-night stay leaves you around $365 for activities and food. The hotel, only about 10 minutes from the airport, can organize transportation for around $30 round-trip. Within walking distance are a deli, bakery, restaurant, and grocery store, giving you plenty of options to save on meals. The hotel has a pool, but it can also help you organize excursions to nearby attractions, such as Colinas del Poas with canopy tours and views of the cloud forest; coffee tours; or an all-day tour to Arenal Volcano and hot springs. Leave time to explore San Juan’s historic neighborhoods like Barrio Amon, where colonial mansions are now home to restaurants and galleries.

Azores, Portugal

You can fly to the Azores’ largest island, Sao Miguel, for around $450 in the fall from Boston. Once you land on this autonomous Portuguese island chain, you’re practically on the beach. Opt for a hotel like Hotel Talisman for convenient access to the airport as well as historic Ponta Delgada and beaches like Praia das Milicias.

Or, head to Terra Nostra Garden Hotel if you want to see why Sao Miguel is also called the Green Island. Midweek rates in the autumn go for around $100 per night, including breakfast, though you may be able to save more by booking in advance.

With rooms in a similar price range, both hotels leave you around $250 for food and activities during a four-night stay. And with plenty of opportunities for swimming in lakes and beaches or hiking the mountains and hills, many of your vacation activities won’t cost you a dime.

Eat at family-run restaurants where the homemade food is delicious and affordable, and look for the dish of the day. Portions can be large, so split meals if you’re traveling with a partner and looking for a vacation package for two for under $1,000.

Paris, France

Airfare to the City of Light is cheapest in winter, and if you search at the right time you can find flights from Chicago coming in around $400. Affordable accommodations in notoriously expensive Paris aren’t impossible to find, either. Look a little further from the center of town to places like Montmartre in the city’s 18th arrondissement. Many vacation rentals go for as low as $50 per night.

If you plan to visit a lot of museums and attractions, save on entrance fees by purchasing The Paris Pass. A two-day pass goes for about $145, and includes a city tour; a river cruise; entrance to Versailles and the Arc de Triomphe; fast-track entrance at the Louvre, Orsay, and Centre Pompidou; plus unlimited travel on the metro, RER trains, and buses.

For a five-day stay, this leaves you around $200 for food and additional transportation as needed. Besides living off pastry shops and crepes from roadside vendors, you can find fantastic falafel at places like L’As du Fallafel, affordable sandwiches at a Chez Alain Miam Miam, and plenty of food to make your own picnics at La Grande Epicerie.

Lihue, Hawaii

Thanks to lots of route options from Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines, midweek flights to Kauai from Seattle come in at just under $500 in the fall (you can usually find flights to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island within a similar price range). With half of your $1,000 vacation budget devoted to airfare, that leaves $500 for food and accommodations, as well as any activities. Fortunately, many vacation rentals come in around $65 to $75 per night. Look for a place with a kitchen so you can cook meals and save.

On a four-night stay, you’ve got about $200 left for food and activities (and if you vow to not eat out, you may be able to stretch your budget to a five-night stay).

Pack a snorkel and mask from home to save on rental costs of gear at your destination. Floating in Hanalei Bay, hiking to a secluded beach, wandering Waimea Canyon, or walking part of the famed Kalalau Trail are all free. Bus routes travel the entire circumference of the island, making it easy to explore—if you don’t mind walking to and from your ultimate destination. Each ride costs $2. And though I don’t advise it, hitchhiking is not uncommon.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Midweek flights to Iceland from New York City come in around $275 during the winter—a.k.a. the best time to spot the Aurora Borealis. Rather than join a tour to spot the Northern Lights—their guess is as good as yours as to where they may pop up—drive away from the city to chase them on your own. Pack some hot beverages in a thermos, bundle up, and you’ll be thankful you don’t have to share the light show with dozens of others rushing to set up their tripods for the perfect shot. A five-day rental for a compact car via SADcars goes for around $230. Paying ahead can save you some additional money.

With just under half your vacation under $1,000 budget left, go for a midrange hotel like Hotel Hafnarfjordur. Rates are around $300 for a five-night, non-weekend stay in a single room with private bath. Breakfast is included.

With your car, you can head to free national parks such as Snaefellsjoekull and Reykjanesfolkvangur, a nature preserve. Be careful about how far you drive, since gas is around $7 per gallon. With $130 left, accounting for about 10 gallons of gas, you can burn half on the Comfort Package at the Blue Lagoon geothermal springs. In addition to entrance, the admission price includes a silica mud mask, use of towels, a drink, and an algae mask.

If you go this route, you may want to focus on the hot dog stands that are common in the capital. But you can also find cheap eats at Habibi Kebabs and some of the best fish at Ostabudin. If you’re feeling really adventurous, stop at BSI drive-thru where you can get sheep’s head, an Icelandic specialty.

Lima, Peru

Flights to Peru’s capital city from Miami go for about $400 in the summer months. For Peru, that’s wintertime. Daytime temperatures are still in the mid 60s, though it can become quite chilly at night. To extend your time in the area, go for a mid-range hotel like the three-star Hotel Runcu, located in the Miraflores neighborhood. At $75 per night, you can afford to stay for around four nights, leaving $300 for enjoying local Peruvian cuisine as well as activities and transportation.

A shared transfer from the airport to hotel will cost around $20 one-way.

Lima is south of Caral, the oldest civilization in America, and north of the Archaeological Complex of Pachacamac. Visiting Pachacamac is affordable at $35 for a tour, including guide and transportation, but Caral tours are pricier.

Don’t overlook Lima’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right, where pre-Colombian temples and colonial facades mix with modern nightclubs. South of the historic center, the Miraflores boardwalk attracts visitors looking to get a glimpse of the coastline and those wanting to head to the beaches. Surfing lessons are a bargain at around $30 for a private lesson.

Use some of your remaining budget to splurge on one of the degustation menus at El Senorio de Sulco. Starting at $35, they’re a steal.

Victoria, Canada

Head to Victoria during the less-visited fall season and you’ll find flights from Dallas at around $350. Accommodations downtown at a tried-and-true brands like Best Western are well within your budget for a five-night, midweek stay. Try the Best Western Plus Carlton Plaza Hotel with rates from $60 a night, based on double occupancy.

The hotel puts you close to Chinatown, the oldest in Canada and the second-oldest on the continent after San Francisco. While you’ll find plenty of affordable eats there, J&J Wonton Noodle House has some of the best eats just east of downtown. Other affordable spots include Rebar, serving more than 80 smoothies, and Fishhook for topnotch seafood.

On the splurge list is afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress. For $75, you can dine on scones, tarts, and mini sandwiches, including local shrimp, salmon, and cucumber.

Alternatively, you could take that money and rent a car for the day to explore more of the coast, with economy cars available for around $35.

The Parliament buildings are free to visit, while Craigdarroch Castle is another affordable option at $14 per ticket, and the renowned Butchart Gardens will set you back just $25.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

From Los Angeles, you can fly to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on a midweek winter flight around $275. Even at its coldest, this part of Mexico stays in the mid 70s, so leave the hoodie at home. With flights clocking in around just three hours, it’s easy to pop down for a couple of days at an all-inclusive resort.

For accommodations, Vamar Vallarta has rates starting at $150 per night, based on single occupancy (add around $50 for as second person). It includes three meals per day, domestic and international drinks, non-motorized watersport, pool, and Internet access. With everything covered, plus access to the beach and four swimming pools, you may have no reason to leave the property.

But after a four-night stay, you’ll have $125 left. Save around $30 for round-trip transfer to the airport, and then pocket the rest for your next trip or spend it on a canopy tour, a whale watch, or surfing lessons.

New Orleans, Louisiana

In the winter months, escape the cold by heading to the Big Easy. Flying midweek from Denver, you should be able to find fares around $120. With such affordable airfare, you can afford to splurge a little on accommodations. And in New Orleans, a little bit extra goes a long way.

Look to La Belle Esplanade, with funky rooms from $190 based on double occupancy. The rate includes a breakfast that features an array of foods from local farmer’s markets, area pastry shops, and neighborhood butchers, like buttermilk drops and Creole sausage. It gives a true taste of the city.

After a three-night stay, you’ll have $310 left for eating and exploring. Leave room in your budget for drinks at jazz clubs like The Spotted Cat, but don’t think you have to spend a lot to eat well. Morning Call has perfected the beignet after nearly a century and a half of frying them up, and you can get three for just $2. Killer Po’ Boys serve sandwiches from $7, while Cochon Butcher has Cajun specialties under $10. Happy hour deals flow as freely as the alcohol. Find half-priced cocktails and 50-cent oysters at Luke and 25 cent oysters at Samuel’s Blind Pelican. Cafe du Monde provides the quintessential cup of chicory coffee.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 18, 2009. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about trips under $1,000. 

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