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

Nora Zelevansky

Best Off-the-Grid Escapes


Reykjavik’s terrain encompasses everything from waterfalls to glaciers to volcanos.

The splurge destination: Reykjavik, Iceland
When to go: Mid-June through August is the peak season, but if you visit between September and March, you can glimpse the Aurora Borealis
Sample economy airfare: $1,300 from Boston to Reykjavik
The allure: “Iceland is a remote, eco-adventure haven,” Seshadri says. In the summer, there are around 18 hours of sunlight a day and mild temperatures. In the winter, you can snowmobile, backcountry ski or hike across glaciers—and the weather is milder than you would think.

Even though Reykjavik is an urban city, it’s very nature-focused, so you can spend your days exploring all sorts of unique terrain—like diving into the Silfra Tectonic Fissure or traversing Landmannalaugar’s lava fields and colorful mountains. For slumber, you can retire to a cozy spot like the 1010 Hotel Reykjavik (from $550 per night)—and spend your evenings sampling such classic Nordic cuisine as salted cod and smoked lamb, washed down with local beers like Einstok Pale Ale.

Maya ruins in Tulum give visitors a glimpse into the city's past.

Mayan ruins in Tulum give visitors a glimpse into the city’s rich history.

The budget-friendly alternative: Tulum, Mexico
When to go: Mid-December to April is the peak season, but October to early December, right after hurricane season, still offers good weather and lower prices
Sample economy airfare: $500 from New York City to Cancun
The allure: Tulum is best known for its pre-Columbian Mayan ruins, but it’s also home to the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, which attracts adventurers and eco-travelers to this lesser known Mexican enclave for snorkeling, hiking, kiteboarding and more.

Affordable thatched beach bungalows abound along Tulum’s turquoise coast, like the Design Hotels, Papaya Playa Project, comprised of 80 open-air cabanas that line the beach (from $105 per night). The hotel is a member of the Rain Forest Alliance, which works to conserve biodiversity and ensure environmental sustainability. “This is truly an experience that’s as off the grid as possible,” Seshadri says.

RELATED: What Does Your Travel Style Say About Your Money?

Posted in: , ,
  • 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.