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5 Fun, Affordable Alternatives to Pricey Bucket-List Destinations

Originally published in Outline

by Jen Murphy

We all dream of visiting the world’s best places. But in what’s shaping up to be the most expensive year to travel since before the pandemic, it’s also good to branch out. One of the biggest travel trends of 2024 is destination “dupes”—affordable alternatives that are just as dreamy and beautiful as the most popular places but aren’t as expensive or crowded.

Europe in particular is filled with historical, lively cities that can serve as stand-ins to their well-known counterparts. For example, if you long to visit Amsterdam for its river scene and cafés, you might try Rotterdam, just 50 miles to the southwest. If you like Munich for its beer culture and jaw-dropping Baroque buildings, check out the German cities of Nuremberg or Stuttgart. If you’re drawn to Vienna for its music and art scene, try Graz, in Austria’s eastern Alps. In the U.S., music lovers might check out Memphis, Tennessee, rather than Nashville.

Which destinations will offer the most bang for your buck this year? I looked at some popular bucket-list trips and have come up with alternative destinations and itineraries that will be just as much fun and cost you less.

Summer Hiking in Europe

Dreaming of: The Italian Dolomites
Try This Affordable Alternative: The Slovenian Alps

The limestone peaks of the Slovenian Alps are similar to those found in northern Italy. Slovenia is half the size of Switzerland (and half the cost), and it’s incredibly easy to get around its hills, thanks to more than 6,200 marked trails. Members of Slovenia’s Alpine Association help manage a network of nearly 180 mountain huts, such as Triglav Lodge at Kredarica, located near the nation’s highest peak, 9,400-foot Triglav.

This country also has some of the nicest glamping accommodations I’ve ever seen. Garden Village Bled, a short walk from Lake Bled, feels straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale, with riverfront tents starting at $120 and family-friendly treehouses starting at $260. And with nearly 60 Michelin-starred restaurants in the immediate surrounds, you can have insanely good food for a serious bargain. The nine-course tasting menu at Hisa Linhart, for example, costs $140.

Adventure Intel: The 167-mile Juliana Trail made its debut four years ago and wends through both quaint towns and Triglav National Park. One Outside writer spent nearly three weeks trekking it and enjoying the sites and local hospitality. If cycling is your thing, now’s the time to get wheeling on the Trans Dinarica Route through the Balkans; the northern terminus is Slovenia’s Soca Valley. We mention details and outfitters on the entire 1,250 miles in this year’s travel awards.

Glamping in the Southwest

Dreaming of: Camp Sakira, Utah
Try This Affordable Alternative: BaseCamp 37, Utah

Five nights in one of the five nice safari tents at BaseCamp 37, a remote glampground 15 minutes from Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument will cost you about $1,000. That’s dramatically less than one night at Camp Sakira, where tents start at $7,547 per night for double occupancy (and includes amenities like airport transfers, all meals, and adventures like a full-day national-park tour). You won’t have a private plunge pool, but BaseCamp 37 does have a mini pool where you can cool off, plus Wi-Fi, grills, and two indoor kitchens. Another economical option is Zion Wildflower Resort, located 15 minutes from the south entrance of Zion National Park. It has a pool and a hot tub and hosts live music and movie nights. Its covered wagons (with A/C) and canvas tents start at around $200.

Adventure Intel: Our Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park will set you up with must-have intel on everything from iconic spots like the Narrows and Subway to slickrock side options that leave the crowds behind. And if you haven’t yet read about the Aquarius Trail, it’s time you did. This nearby bike-packing hut system is open from early July to late September and is just the place to take your hardtail for the adventure of its life.

A Family Road Trip

Dreaming of: The California Coast
Try This Affordable Alternative: British Columbia’s Vancouver Island

Given the strength of the dollar, a road trip along the western coast of Vancouver Island provides more bang for your buck, and with its old-growth forests and wild beaches, it rivals the Cali coast in terms of scenic beauty. I suggest the two-hour drive from Victoria to Port Renfrew, stopping en route to explore the hiking trails and beaches of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park and camping at China Beach ($20 per group). Wild Renfrew lodging is conveniently positioned between two coastal trailheads: the challenging West Coast Trail and the more mellow Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, and its cozy wharfside cabins feature kitchenettes and start at $190. Continue another 210 miles north to the surf town of Tofino, and consider tacking on a stay in the neighboring town of Ucluelet, at the Nami Project, a collection of oceanfront, self-catering suites and cabins right next to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Rates start at $343.

Adventure Intel: Those old-growth trees have their own support system—activists blocking clearcutting and provoking 2021’s War in the Woods—the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Our reporter embedded with them to get some perspective on that island movement. And if your B.C. vacation takes you into the interior, we’ve got nine choice suggestions on how to maximize your options. Bear-watching is one of them. Try not to think about the mountain biker in coastal B.C. who survived an attack by a grizzly by using his pocketknife. (That tale’s a good one for the campfire)

A Caribbean Beach Getaway

Dreaming of: The Bahamas
Try This Affordable Alternative: Colombia

This South American nation may not be the first place that comes to mind when you hear the words “Caribbean vacation.” But the country’s turquoise waters and white-sand beaches could easily be mistaken for any stretch of gorgeous shoreline in the Bahamas. Deborah Gellis, a travel agent with Embark Beyond, says that its activities, dining, and hotels offer prices unseen in Mexico and the Caribbean in more than ten years. Many people day-trip to the Rosario Islands from Cartagena via a 45-minute boat ride. This archipelago of 27 powdery-sand islands is surrounded by incredibly clear waters and boasts pristine coral reefs. Stay at Fragata Island House, where a sea-view room will cost less than $200. You can walk out the hotel door and be  snorkeling and paddleboarding in minutes. Or stay closer to Cartagena on Tierra Bomba, reached via a 25-minute boat shuttle from the city’s port; on the island’s western shore lies Blue Apple Beach House, where a beach-club day pass costs $25 (and includes transfers) and rooms start at $159. A residency program allows musicians and artists to share their talents in exchange for free stays.

Adventure Intel: A few Caribbean destinations have been grappling with crime in recent years, including the Bahamas. This spring we reported on its level 2 advisory (reconsider travel)  and exactly where the trouble there has been occurring. If you’re still set on a dream trip there, read this first. We also like Todos Santos, Mexico, for affordable beach getaways. Check out our guide to a good time there from a writer who chose to work remotely from the Baja town for a few months. It’s true, that water isn’t Caribbean blue. So maybe you head to Puerto Rico, where the water hue is one you dream of, you don’t need a passport, and lodging and food won’t set you back an arm and a leg. We like that idea, too—Puerto Rico is another one of our choices for travel in 2024.

A Ski Weekend

Dreaming of: Big Sky, Montana
Try This Affordable Alternative: Morzine, France

Lift ticket prices at almost any European ski resort are cheaper than in the U.S., especially if you skip big-name spots like Chamonix, France, for lesser known destinations like Morzine, just an hour north. Part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area that straddles the Swiss border, Morzine offers everything from gentle groomers to serious off-piste action. Compared to a three-day lift ticket at Big Sky ($644 in March, not including an extra ticket to access terrain off the tram), which has 5,800 skiable acres, a three-day pass at Morzine costs less than $200 and includes access to all 12 resorts that comprise Portes du Soleil—in total, nearly 100,000 skiable acres. Because this is France, meals are a highlight, but instead of paying $20 for mediocre food-hall tacos, you might opt to spend $35 on wood-fired beef rib for two at the cozy mountain hut Chez Nannon.

Adventure Intel: You’re not far from Switzerland in Morzine, and we wouldn’t blame you for crossing the border just to eat älplermagronen, or herdsman macaroni. You can read about that gooey goodness here. Want to look like a local while you’re swooshing the slopes? The key piece of gear might be these glacier glasses from Julbo; the Chamonix company invented that particular kind of eyewear protection. Warning: unlike the places we’re pitching in this article, they’re not cheap. But they are cool.

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Who's egg-cited to cluck up some fun out at the huts? 🐔😁

📸: John Bowers
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Whos egg-cited to cluck up some fun out at the huts? 🐔😁

📸: John Bowers

2 CommentsComment on Facebook

⚠️ The article has violated community standards. See more at: ln.run/Contactus

⚠️ The article has violated community standards. See more at: ln.run/Contactus

Aspen trees and autumn leaves from last September!! 🍂 ... See MoreSee Less

Aspen trees and autumn leaves from last September!! 🍂

1 CommentComment on Facebook

Pretty sure those are aspen not birch.

What's everyone's favorite trail along the hut system? ⚡️💥⛰️

📸: Ryan Pierce
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Whats everyones favorite trail along the hut system? ⚡️💥⛰️

📸: Ryan Pierce

Brian Head Peak: Elevation 11,307 feet, and somehow every single foot is worth it! 👣🏞 ... See MoreSee Less

Brian Head Peak: Elevation 11,307 feet, and somehow every single foot is worth it! 👣🏞
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