Splurge vs. Save: 5 Affordable Alternatives for Lavish Vacation Destinations

Nora Zelevansky

Best Foodie Getaways

La Boqueria market puts Barcelona's local food on full display.

La Boqueria puts Barcelona’s local food on full display.

The splurge destination: Barcelona, Spain
When to go: May to June and September to October, when the weather is the mildest and sunniest
Sample economy airfare: $1,200 from New York City to Barcelona
The allure: Catalan food is incredibly eclectic and communal—every meal is a social event, which is what makes it Seshadri’s splurge pick. Regional specialties include Serrano ham and paellas made of seafood and botifarres, locally made sausages. To sample some of these goodies, check out the famous La Boqueria food market. Barcelona-bred chefs, like the Adrià brothers, owners of the famed El Bulli restaurant, are also whipping up some of the most innovative dishes in the culinary world that are paired with some of the best wines, to boot. Would you expect any less from the region that brought you cava?

Add lauded architecture (Gaudi, anyone?), high-end properties like the Hotel Arts (from $370 per night), museums and festive nightlife—and you’ve got enough to keep you busy in between meals.


Bangkok’s street vendors offer delicious local fare at cheap prices.

The budget-friendly alternative: Bangkok, Thailand
When to go: November to February, when there’s less rain and humidity.
Sample airfare: $1,100 from Los Angeles to Bangkok
The allure: “Thailand is über-cheap, and Bangkok is the epicenter of the nation,” says Seshadri. This means that hotels are simultaneously luxurious and affordable—like the Sofitel So Bangkok (from just $150 per night!)—and meals won’t pinch your wallet, either.

In this foodie mecca, travelers can sample all types of Thai cuisine—from the traditional to the reinvented, hawker stalls to five-star eateries—as well as some of the best international restaurants. One don’t-miss food experience? The world’s highest open-air restaurant, the Greco-Roman-style Sirocco, which is as known for its breathtaking views (63 floors up!) as it is for its Mediterranean food and signature Hangovertini, a green-tea-liquor-based cocktail.

In between meals, check out other unique local activities, like the ancient Wat Pho temple, khlong rides down the river, and the Nang Loeng market, which also provides ample opportunity for capturing the local flavor.

RELATED: 6 Money Saving Summer Airfare Secrets

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  • GillianisGreat

    Wouldn’t it make more sense if the *alternative* used airfare from the same origin as the splurge choice? Otherwise it’s impossible to compare in a meaningful way.

  • Melissa Kennedy

    Describing travel to Chicago as “a little gusty?” If that’s a reference to our major gang/gun problem, you’re not painting the right picture of the city to travelers. Other big cities listed – Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mexico, Costa Rica and Miami – are not immune to crime and danger. Thieves targeting travelers is not any higher in Chicago than in any other popular city. Your readers understand that all travel destinations have some degree of risk so they have to be smart. When you’re a visitor in Chicago – my home – you’re not going to be close to the areas that have become known for their gang and gun violence. People aren’t randomly attacking tourists so no one should feel frightened or gusty to visit the Windy City. Also, you bring up a lot of points that make us a great alternative travel spot. I’d tell anyone who wanted an urban vacation in the US that there are plenty of thing to do, see, eat and places to stay in Chicago that are more budget-conscious than say, New York City or San Fransisco. Just don’t come in the winter and it’s pretty much perfect.

    • Christina Pangburn

      Please look up “guSTy” in the dictionary and that ought to clear up your issue.

      • Hizvondrolon Maltusador

        Christina, your snarky comment aside, Melissa is correct that there is an insinuation that seems out of place.

        • Jill

          What implication? Melissa is talking about a problem with crime, which isn’t even implied in the article. The only even remotely negative item in the article is the aside about the windiness, which is simply a statement of fact. I don’t understand why you and Melissa are both perceiving any negatively in the article.

        • 2cents

          How is she being snarky? And how are they insinuating anything?

    • mere

      It is the windy city, right?

    • Archer

      “gusty” as a play on the “Windy City” – not guTsy which would be your misunderstanding. Learn to read.

    • 2cents

      No one said anything about crime and your rant makes no sense. Are you trying to keep people away from Chicago?

  • Lindsey

    Chicago is called the Windy City because of the politicians, not because of the weather.

  • Paula Lewis

    Apparently we are using different definitions of affordable here. This list does not relate at all to the reality of my life. When Tulum is the most affordable destination on the list, then something ain’t right.

  • Megan

    How is Iceland comparable to Mexico, or Barcelona to Spain? This makes NO sense.

  • Lisa

    So instead of spending $1,200 to fly to Barcelona from NY, I should spend $1,100 to fly from LA to Bangkok?!
    1. How is that a ‘budget-friendly’ alternative?
    2. Interesting that the writer doesn’t mention the costs to fly from LA to Barcelona, or from NY to Bangkok.
    Clearly, ‘affordable’ and ‘budget-friendly’ are relative terms here. Disappointing.