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

Nora Zelevansky

Best Urban Adventures

Few places can rival Hong Kong's cityscapes.

Few skylines can rival that of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor.

The splurge destination: Hong Kong
When to go: Hong Kong is a popular year-round destination, but late September to early December is ideal for visiting, when the humidity drops—just be aware that you could still experience a typhoon or two!
Sample economy airfare: $1,250 from San Francisco to Hong Kong
The allure: “Exploring this urban jungle is one of the most exhilarating experiences a city enthusiast can have,” Seshadri says. Hong Kong continues to grow vertically at a fast clip to accommodate its ever-increasing population of locals and expats, creating an architectural wonderland of skyscrapers and breathtaking views.

Hong Kong is jam-packed with Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury shopping malls, so visitors can spend countless days wandering this metropolis and still not see it all. Spend a day antiquing on Cat Street, visiting Man Mo Temple or browsing galleries on Tai Ping Shan Street before stopping for lunch at a café in the trendy hidden neighborhood of PoHo. Then call it a night at the architecturally stunning Peninsula Hong Kong ($900 per night).

Chicago has a

Chicago is best explored by foot—to take in the city’s architecture.

The budget-friendly alternative: Chicago
When to go: April to May or September to October, before it gets too hot or too cold
Sample economy airfare: $250 from New York City to Chicago Midway
The allure: Yes, it’s a little gusty, but that may be a small trade-off for access to the Windy City’s world-renowned art, architecture and food scenes (think farm-to-table, tons of bacon and craft beer). “There’s good food everywhere you turn, and beautifully restored neighborhoods where you can walk for hours on end,” Seshadri says.

Areas like Wicker Park and Bucktown are perfect for exploring on foot, and the state-of-the-art Millennium Park is a great place to catch concerts and view public art.

Theater enthusiasts shouldn’t pass up a show at the Steppenwolf Theatre, and for improv and comedy there’s no more storied place than Second City, which has birthed famed performers like Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, to name a few. And history buffs, here’s a challenge: See if you can nab Al Capone’s favorite booth at the well-known jazz and poetry-slam cocktail lounge, The Green Mill.

Finding cool places to lay your head also shouldn’t be a problem: A slew of new spots from the Godfrey Hotel to the upcoming Soho House Chicago are part of the myriad options. Another great stay is the Allegro, which runs just $200 per night.

RELATED: Can a Travel Agent Actually Save You Money?

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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.