As inflation puts a crimp in travelers’ plans, here are some affordable suggestions for trips focused on wine, culture, food, the outdoors and more.
Inflation, high gas prices and soaring airfares are sponging up discretionary budgets, forcing Americans to rethink travel.
In a survey of 4,000 travelers, Destination Analysts, a market research firm, recently found that high prices kept 38 percent of respondents home in April, while some 23 percent canceled an upcoming trip. Unless gas prices fall, 60 percent said they would be staying closer to home on their road trips this spring and summer.
You can still travel affordably this summer, but you’ve got to get creative.
“My best advice is to book early, be flexible and don’t go where everyone else is going, when everyone else is going there,” said Rob Stern, a travel adviser based in Raleigh, N.C., who runs RobPlansYourTrip.com. “Be willing to go to offbeat places and think outside the box.”
With substitutes in mind, and a preference for closer-to-home destinations, the following alternative places bear some resemblance to farther-flung destinations, but cost much less. Consider it stimuli for your own creative travel planning.
Drink it in
There are many regions with spirits circuits to stand in for a trip to Scotland (consider the Kentucky Bourbon Trail) or beer-centric towns that might slake your thirst for Germany (Fort Collins, Colo., holds its own with more than 20 craft breweries).
But if you’re interested in exploring European wine regions, North America offers a wide range of opportunities to toast hill-combing vineyards beyond the usual, Northern California suspects.
In southern British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley offers great variety, from the Indigenous winery Nk’Mip Cellars, to the modern, art-filled Liquidity and more rustic Covert Farms Family Estate. Accommodations range from Spirit Ridge on Osoyoos Lake (from $263) to rental condos in Okanagan Falls near Skaha Lake from about $100.
In the Midwest, the region along the Missouri River, about an hour’s drive west of St. Louis, was called “Rhineland” by German immigrants in the 19th century when they arrived and began planting grapes.
“The top grape is the Norton red,” said Jerri Hoffmann who, with her husband, David Hoffmann, has recently invested in several wineries and rental properties in Augusta, Mo., the first federally recognized American Viticultural Area in the United States, established in 1980. “They were making award-winning wines here in Missouri at the turn of the century,” Ms. Hoffmann said.
One of their vintage log cabins starts at $229. Or you could head to nearby Hermann, center of one of the state’s wine trails, to stay at the 19th-century Inn at Hermannhoff and its hillside cottages (rooms from $99).
In New York, the Finger Lakes region offers vineyards overlooking glacier-carved lakes as well as adventures on the water, hikes in the roughly 16,000-acre Finger Lakes National Forest and waterfall treks in Watkins Glen State Park and around Ithaca, home to more than 150 cascades.
It’s hard to replicate Hawaii outside of the islands, but rising prices are forcing some travelers to try. The average daily hotel rate there has grown nearly $100 between March 2019 ($282) and March 2022 ($378), according to STR, the hospitality benchmarking analysts. And that doesn’t even address the high prices for rental cars.
Mexico, with its favorable exchange rate — currently about 20 pesos to the dollar — is a good place to search for deals on beach vacations. Like Hawaii, the Sea of Cortez draws humpback whales in winter. But in summer, the body of water that separates the mainland from the Baja California Peninsula is a good place to snorkel and scuba dive in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park.
Rooms at the boutique Hotel 1697 in Loreto currently start at about $100.
In the Caribbean, St. Lucia does a credible job standing in for Hawaii when it comes to the volcanic Pitons on its southern end where you’ll also find lush jungles and waterfalls. For a close encounter, hike up Gros Piton, the squatter of the two peaks, a thorough exercise that can take between three and six hours one way, according to Real St. Lucia Tour guides who will lead the way ($50).
“We call St. Lucia ‘The Hawaii of the Caribbean,’” said Sarah Kline, the owner of Time For Travel, an Ensemble Travel Group agency. “Both destinations have stunning beaches, water sports, rainforests, mountains, waterfalls and volcanoes.”
While the island is often associated with luxury resorts and all-inclusives, the island’s tourism office has made it easier to find the destination’s small hotels under a collection called “Pepites,” which includes the short-term rental Vista Del Piton near the mountains starting at $80 a night for two bedrooms. You may save on flights, too, especially in the Caribbean shoulder season; a recent search for a June trip from New York City to the island turned up nonstop flights starting at $343, versus $840 to Honolulu.
Beyond beaches, outdoor lovers can find swaps for the fjords of Iceland in coastal Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, or Europe’s Alps in the Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia. Instead of the lavender fields of Provence, France, drive the so-called Hood River Fruit Loop in northern Oregon to see lavender fields with Mount Hood in the background.
However, it will be high season in many of these alternative spots over the summer, which means savvy travelers should plan well in advance and be flexible with dates.
For example, if you wanted to swap the dark, star-filled skies in Scandinavia for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in northern Minnesota, act now. There is a quota on entries, and while outfitters will secure your permit, you may have to be flexible with dates and routes.
Travelers looking for the volcanoes, rainforests and sustainable ethos of New Zealand may find some of its appeal closer to home in Costa Rica, where summer is quieter. You may have to put up with some rain showers, especially in the mountains, but you’ll evade the crowds and the high prices of winter.
One of the easiest ways to trick yourself into feeling like you’re elsewhere is through food, especially in multicultural corners of cities across the continent.
The sprawl of strip malls that comprises Houston’s Chinatown, for example, is the only tip-off that you’re still in Texas. These days restaurants serving Chinese, Hong Kong, Vietnamese, Thai and other Asian cultures fill these shopping plazas.
Toronto has a virtual United Nations of dining districts, from Little India to Little Jamaica. Suresh Doss, a Toronto-based food writer who focuses on the city’s multicultural pockets, grew up in suburban Scarborough, where he takes small groups to Sri Lankan restaurants, among other food tours throughout the greater Toronto area (250 Canadian dollars, or about $195).
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“There’s an ephemeral quality to the food, because you don’t know it if will be around in 10 or 12 years,” Mr. Doss said, referencing successive waves of immigrants over the past 80 years who have established Greek, Hungarian and Italian enclaves, followed by Vietnamese, Chinese and Sri Lankan and, most recently, Syrian.
For do-it-yourselfers, he recommends a progressive feast along Danforth Avenue in Toronto, home to Trinidadian, Venezuelan, Japanese and Ethiopian restaurants, among others. “It’s not fully gentrified yet, and has an inviting feel,” he said.
Among affordable accommodations in Toronto, try the Hotel Ocho near Chinatown where a recent search found rooms from 209 Canadian dollars.
The safest way to explore Ukraine right now might be to eat in Cleveland, which has strong Eastern European roots and a concentration of Ukrainian shops and restaurants in suburban Parma.
“You cannot have a restaurant in Cleveland and not have some sort of pierogi,” said Natasha Pogrebinskaya, a native of Ukraine and the chef at the South Side restaurant in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, singling out the dumpling that many Eastern European cultures claim (she recommends eating them the Ukrainian way, with sour cream and dill).
“Many restaurants aren’t specifically Polish, Ukrainian or Hungarian, but they do Eastern European food,” said Susan Chapo, the owner of Relish Cleveland, which runs food tours. Her flagship tour visits the city’s West Side Market, opened in 1912, for pierogies, bratwurst, homemade ice cream and more ($71 a person for three hours).
“You can eat well here, cheaply,” she added.
That goes for lodgings too; an Airbnb condo near the market costs $97 a night.
Architecture and culture
When it comes to architecture, Spain’s history of colonization has left Spanish settlements throughout North America, including Casco Antiguo in Panama City, which dates back to the 17th century, and the San Antonio Missions in San Antonio, Texas, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In northeast Florida, St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the United States, established in 1565, where visitors can tour the Spanish-built fort Castillo de San Marcos, the Peña-Peck House, built around 1750 for the King of Spain, and the oldest street in the nation, Aviles Street. The St. Augustine Music Festival stages free classical concerts in summer in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.
“It’s a great place for architecture buffs,” said Christina Parrish Stone, the executive director of the St. Johns Cultural Council, a nonprofit arts organization. “You could almost be in Seville with the spires of the buildings.”
The Local, a modernized 20-room motel, offers a balancing dose of Americana, with rooms from about $160.
For a date with immigrant cultures, head to Milwaukee for its series of cultural festivals held on the Lake Michigan shore. Polka bands provide the soundtrack to Polish Fest, June 10 to 12; German Fest includes a Dachshund Derby race, July 29 to 31; and with a roster of bands, many from the Emerald Isle, Irish Fest claims to be the world’s largest Irish music festival; Aug. 18 to 21.
Festival weekends are always busy, but with planning you’ll find rates starting at $195 at the modern boutique Kinn Guesthouse in the arty Bay View neighborhood.
From Milwaukee, take a drive about 100 miles west to New Glarus, a traditionally Swiss town in dairy farming country where the Alpine-style Chalet Landhaus Restaurant serves schnitzel and rosti (and has rooms from about $193).
“For the most part, it seems like Switzerland,” said Tony Zgraggen, a Swiss native who moved to New Glarus in 1981. He owns Alp and Dell Cheese Store in town and performs as a lead yodeler during special events. “We don’t have the mountains,” he said, “but we have the rural areas and rolling hills.”
Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.
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