When it comes to travel, the term “bucket list” can be synonymous with “budget-busting.” Sure, some bucket-list candidates, like safaris or around-the-world cruises, are so expensive you might need multiple lifetimes to pay them off. But we know you can have an epic, life-changing trip without draining your bank account to the last penny. Here are seven trips that feature staggering landmarks, culturally rich institutions or milestone experiences — yet stay comfortably far away from five-figure prices.
1. GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
With dazzling rock formations and a depth of over a mile, the Grand Canyon National Park is in a league of its own. It’s a United States attraction that tops many a bucket list, but thankfully it’s just a road trip away for Southwest residents (and a quick, inexpensive domestic flight for others). Hotels in the area also cater to a wide variety of budgets, so value-minded travelers can find an affordable place to bunk and put that extra money toward a sunset tour, a railroad excursion or a full-day rundown of the history and geology of the canyon.
Our hotel pick: Yavapai Lodge
2. MACHU PICCHU, PERU
What could be more bucket list-y than visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World? Most “wonders” (the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China) are vast, cinematic and crazy expensive to reach. Just the flights to any of these monuments could set you back $2,000. But that’s not the case for Machu Picchu. This marvel of ancient Incan society has all the splendor of the other six sites, but airfare here tends to stay in the three-digit territory. And Peruvian soles offer a good exchange rate to dollars, too, making this trip a wonder in both culture and price.
Our hotel pick: El MaPi by Inkaterra
3. NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
Since the early 1900s, Niagara Falls has been known as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World.” And lovebirds can still don matching ponchos and get soaked by the aptly named Bridal Veil Falls. But any traveler will appreciate a ride on the Maid of the Mist boat as it brushes up against the crashing falls, a trolley tour or dinner at the Top of the Falls Restaurant. For most East Coast travelers, Niagara Falls can be reached by road or a quick, cheap flight, and hotels on the Canada side can offer a price break. Maximize the majesty of the natural wonder by staying in a hotel room that gives you high-drama views, and save time for a side trip to dip into the surrounding wine region.
Our hotel pick: The Tower Hotel
4. HAVANA, CUBA
The music, the food, the history and the cocktails — there are so many excellent reasons to visit Cuba. If you’re dreaming about sipping a daiquiri while the house band plays Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan,” dream no longer. Cuba is remarkably affordable, entirely doable and in a world of its own, despite being only 105 miles off the shoreline of Key West. For many travelers, the obstacle here isn’t money, but paperwork. However, if you’re intimidated about squaring away the logistics, you can outsource the headache to a tour company or a cruise line. The latter is also an extremely economic way to bundle the price of travel and lodging into one ticket.
Our cruise pick: Norwegian Sky
Our hotel pick: Hotel Nacional de Cuba
5. CROSS-COUNTRY ROAD TRIP
Get your motor running! For travelers who love the open road, the ultimate bucket list trip is one that can be measured in exit ramps. Route 66 is a classic cross-country route, conveniently paired with plenty of roadside hotels, motels, mom-and-pop diners and coffee shops. The road slices through the bottom of the U.S., kicking off in Illinois and running through the shifting landscape of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, the top of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before finally landing in California. With the money you save on airfare, you can buy some killer road snacks and travel games.
Our hotel pick: The Lodge On Route 66
6. ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
Yes, tickets to Cambodia can set you back a bit. But consider this an up-front investment to an otherwise cheap getaway. Once you’re on the ground, upscale hotels can carry the price tag of stateside motels, plus food, drink and transportation are equally cheap by Western standards. Angkor Wat is the nation’s biggest tourist attraction, and that’s with good reason. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest religious structure in the world. (The translated name means “temple city,” to give you a sense of its scale.) Ornate carvings and towers in the shape of lotus buds only add to the extravagance of this wondrous attraction.
Our hotel pick: Rambutan Resort — Siem Reap
7. TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE
Cruising was once the way to travel to Europe, with shuffleboard by day and dinner and dancing by night (BYO fox stole). But this type of trip didn’t disappear with the Titanic. Several cruise ships continue to make the European crossing from “new world” to old. Even better, they’re relatively economic trips, considering the base rates are a three-for-one price covering food, accommodations, entertainment and transportation. While modern ships do go back and forth on the Atlantic, we prefer Cunard’s throwback vibe where travelers can still indulge in afternoon tea, a game of bridge, and ballroom dancing.
Our cruise pick: Queen Mary 2
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