In the process of creating an itinerary, navigating an unfamiliar place and sticking to a budget, travelers sometimes find romance taking a back seat to practicality. Despite the toils of traveling, finding a little flirtation on the road isn’t as difficult as it may seem. There’s no need to spend weeks planning the perfect trip or persuading foreign hotel staff to leave rose petals on your bed in the shape of your partner’s face. Spice up your love life with unique and inexpensive ways to add some va-va-voom to your vacation, from booking the best accommodations for romance (not a luxury hotel room) to learning to love like a local.
Avoid the Crowds
Some of the world’s most famous romantic places aren’t really as romantic as they seem in photographs, movies or our dreamy imaginations. Take the Eiffel Tower, for example, a symbol of Paris that embodies the city’s acclaimed amorous aura. Rarely will a chick flick or jewelry commercial depict its protagonists waiting in line for 45 minutes before paying 12 euros per person to take a crowded elevator to the top, or proposing marriage at the foot of the monument amid hundreds of noisy, pushy tourists snapping photos of each other as they pretend to hold the tower between outstretched fingers.
Notwithstanding occasional mobs of visitors, France’s famous tower is still worth a visit. But couples seeking a private moment minus the boring queue and high entrance fees should look beyond the big-ticket attractions. In Paris, try walking around the historic Montmartre neighborhood and stopping in an out-of-the-way cafe for cafe au lait and a crepe.
The same advice goes for the most visited and well-known spots in other destinations, like the Pyramids, Stonehenge or the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, which are virtually guaranteed to draw massive crowds, long lines or packs of aggressive hawkers selling souvenirs. Every city has unique and worthwhile things to see beyond the world-famous sites. Do your research so you’ll know what to expect before planning a romantic excursion to a famous site. If you want a more personal experience with your travel partner, seek out lesser-known museums and attractions, or plan low-season or early-morning weekday visits to spots that regularly draw crowds.
Book a Self-Catered Stay
Creating a home away from home — a place where you don’t have to tip the maid or hide your valuables in a safe — can be more romantic than staying in a lavish, expensive hotel room. Self-catering accommodations, which include vacation rentals and apartment- or cottage-style lodging, usually have kitchens and living areas, and tend to be much cheaper than B&Bs, inns or hotels.
This type of lodging is particularly romantic because it lets couples create a cozy and familiar retreat in an unfamiliar destination. After a long day of sightseeing, return to your short-term residence, whip up some home-cooked meals and relax on the balcony with a bottle of local wine (no need to frequent the pricey hotel bar). Use the cash you save on lodging to buy fresh ingredients at local markets, and cook your own meals together. Note: Self-catering may not be for everyone; couples who come to blows when one partner uses the last roll of toilet paper without replacing it or gets cookie crumbs in the bed may be better off staying at a hotel with turndown service.
Go Where It’s Cold
Nix the trip to Sandals and head to a place where a fusion of frigid temperatures and warm, cozy hotel rooms makes romance a snap. Here’s how it works: take your loved one to Canada, the Rockies, Alaska, Iceland or any other wintry destination. Then, book some distinctly cozy digs — we’re talking Jacuzzi, sweeping views of snow-capped mountains, crackling fireplace, room service. If it’s winter near your home town and you’re on a budget, you don’t have to travel far to pull this one off.
You can also save money by staying at a budget hotel and adding your own touches, like packing an electric blanket, hot cocoa mix, bath bubbles or scented candles. Take a hike through a snowy forest, go cross-country or downhill skiing, or try ice skating on a frozen lake. Come evening, return to your cozy room after a day of adventure in bitter temperatures and snuggle up with your sweetie!
When in Rome…
Cultural norms regarding public displays of affection vary greatly from country to country. While it’s natural to kiss your loved one on the mouth in public for an extended period in, say, Paris, locals may find such behavior offensive in parts of India, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan or Egypt. When visiting countries like Greece, France, Brazil, Italy and Spain, where couples cavort freely in parks, beaches and restaurant booths, behaving like a local can heat up your relationship. Put some sizzle in a long-term relationship that has long passed the touchy-feely stage by watching what the natives do, then following suit. Learn a sexy Latin dance in Brazil, kiss under the stars in the streets of Rome (no one will notice, we promise) or visit a nude beach in Greece — we dare you!
Try a Family-Friendly Resort
The elements of many family resorts and cruises — meals with giant animals, humongous waterslides and hundreds of kids running around all over the place — tend to stifle adult notions of romance. But if you’re a parent, many family-friendly vacations also offer unique, inexpensive opportunities for adults to get precious one-on-one time: organized childcare programs and activity centers. Lots of cruise lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Disney, Carnival and Cunard, have affordable kids’ programs where certified childcare staff look after children while Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) can hit the spa, dine out or book an excursion sans offspring.
Likewise, scores of family resorts also have on-site childcare programs similar to those on cruises, especially in popular family destinations like Disneyland and Disney World. Rates for group childcare are significantly cheaper than private babysitting services. And the best part? Many programs entertain children with enriching destination-specific activities like surfing lessons or nature walks, so parents and grandparents can get some guilt-free, kid-free romance while the youngsters enjoy an amazing vacation.
Be a Man (or Woman) of Mystery
An unexpected getaway for two is about as romantic as it gets. You can keep your destination a secret until you get to the airport, or spirit your partner away for a last-minute weekend getaway. But if you’re seeking a surprise that requires a little less planning, try planning a secret excursion, restaurant outing or even hotel stay while on vacation.
For example, if you decided not to book a room in that luxury Irish castle because it was too expensive, covertly cancel your replacement reservations at the more affordable hotel, book a night in the castle and pick up the tab. Same thing goes for arranging an impromptu dinner at a nice restaurant or a surprise excursion: As you and your loved one are planning your trip together, keep your ears open for activities your partner likes but feels are a little too expensive or don’t quite fit into the itinerary. Then find a way to make it happen, and be sure to keep your surprise hush-hush.
Plan a Suitcase Surprise
Here’s a cheaper way to surprise your significant other — with equally positive results. Purchase something your loved one would enjoy using on your next trip together. Then hide the gift in your travel partner’s suitcase so he or she discovers the item while unpacking. Don’t get too practical! Items we do not recommend leaving as a surprise include deodorant, tweezers and socks. Items we do recommend you hide in your partner’s suitcase include guidebooks, candy, a new sweater, binoculars or a novel by his or her favorite author.
One practical note: Think twice before putting that bottle of Champagne into your partner’s carry-on bag. Romantic surprise or not, the TSA’s airport security rules for liquid and gels still apply.