Ask most people which destinations or travel experiences are on their bucket lists and you’ll hear some familiar hot spots: spotting the Big Five on an African safari, sleep in an over-the-water bungalow in Fiji or sail to Antarctica. These most epic adventures deserve to be on every avid traveler’s list, but the average person doesn’t necessarily have loads of extra dough (and time) lying around to spend on all these experiences. Fear not, we’ve replaced some of those legendary—and often mind bogglingly expensive—bucket list destinations with more affordable options that are much easier to access, yet don’t skimp on adventure.
European riverfront road trip vs European river cruise
European river cruises are an amazing way to experience the romantic continent, but they can cost close to five figures. Yowza! Not everyone has or wants to shell out that kind of cash on a vacay. Fortunately, there are other ways you can enjoy Europe’s riverfront scenery. Consider a road trip instead, but spend a few enjoyable afternoons on a day cruise to get your flotation fix. France’s Loire Valley makes for an especially beautiful route, notably from Nantes to Tours, where you’ll hug the river, wind through vineyards, sip wine at historic chateaus and gaze at hilltop castles. Another option: Consider road tripping through the Douro Valley stretching from coastal Portugal to Madrid, Spain. You’ll get your big city fix in Porto and Madrid, while also hitting super charming river front towns like Villa Real and Zamora, plus you’ll get to taste excellent wines coming from the Douro Valley. In Italy, we suggest an Amalfi Coast road trip. Suitable only for the most daring and brave of drivers, the reward is breathtaking coastal views. Book a day ferry trip to Capri to check out the island and swim in the Blue Grotto. It’ll will be great to get out on the water via boat without having to actually sleep on one!
Bonneville Salt Flats vs. Bolivia Salt Flats
Some of the most bewitching Instagram pics of all time have been taken at the salt flats in Bolivia, where miles and miles of endless white salty earth creates a crazy composition and wacky depth perception both in real life and in photos. The popular South American destination is truly a sight to behold, but getting there is no easy feat. Rather than hopping multiple flights to get to the Southern Hemisphere, consider heading to Utah. About 90-minutes west of Salt Lake City, you’ll run right into the Bonneville Salt Flats. The land speed record was set here, with some dare devil driving a bullet shaped race car 482.6mph! You, of course, can slow down and enjoy the ride, stopping to take tons of photos in this sea of salty white. It’s so flat that some say they can see the curvature of the Earth, and it’s so barren that nothing lives here… so nothing will photobomb you!
Overwater Bungalow Roatan vs. Bora Bora Overwater
You could take an 18-hour flight for the luxury of spending upwards of $1,000 night for an overwater bungalow in Polynesian Bora Bora. Or you could just take a quick plane ride down to Roatan, a hidden gem island off the coast of Honduras and one of the world’s foremost diving destinations. Overwater bungalows here start at just $175/nightly and include stunning scenery and barefoot luxury amid pristine, cerulean waters for as far as the eye can see. The location of the Honduran island, 40 miles from mainland, is also less than 100 miles from Belize’s Great Blue Hole. Famed for its unparalleled diving, this ocean sinkhole is on the top of most adventure seekers’ bucket list. Plan wisely and you’ll fold two bucket list items into one. Over the water bungalow, check! Snorkeling the Great Blue Hole, check!
Pico De Orizaba vs. Mount Everest
Climbing to the top of Mount Everest (or at least to Base Camp) might just be the ultimate bucket list line item. But let’s not kid ourselves, that one takes a whole lot of time and money to maybe (or maybe not) even accomplish. Why wipe away your life savings when you’ve got the third-highest mountain in North America just a short flight away? Pico De Orizaba, a stratovolcano, is the tallest mountain in Mexico and the highest volcano in North America. Unlike Everest, which takes roughly 2 months from arriving in Tibet or Nepal until you reach the summit (acclimation, base camp, etc), the journey to the top of Pico De Orizaba is much more doable. Fly into Mexico City or Puebla, then drive the 2-3 hours to Tlachichuca. From there, you’ll spend about 4 more hours in the car, heading to base camp at the Piedra Grande mountain huts. In 15 hours, you’ll have embarked on the climb, reached the summit and be heading back to base camp. We’ll overestimate that whole process to take 3 days, from travel to the end of your climb, versus two months for Everest. You’ll still be summiting one of the worlds tallest mountains, an impressive feat for anyone, but the process will be quicker, cheaper, and much easier to access. We call that a win!
Alaska vs. Antarctica
With all the buzz on climate change, we know the world’s icebergs are melting at an alarming and saddening pace. If you haven’t already felt the itch to witness these frozen giants, perhaps you do now. While Antarctica is widely considered to be home to the most epic of iceberg adventures, the southern most continent on the planet is certainly no easy or affordable place to reach. You’ll need time, money, months of planning, and luck with the weather to make an Antarctica adventure a reality. Why not visit our 49th state, instead? Alaska offers wild, once-in-a-lifetime expeditions as well. There are numerous affordable nonstop flights throughout the US, and cruise options abound with everything from up close iceberg encounters to glacier walking to wildlife spotting (think grizzly bears, mountain goats, moose and more). With so many options, you’ll check iceberg hunting off your bucket list while also partaking in a handful of other activities you didn’t even realize you needed to do!
San Diego Zoo Safari Park vs. African safari
An African safari is certainly something any adventurer should try and experience in their lifetime. However, the long trek to Africa to see animals in their natural habitat and camp at luxury outposts isn’t one that many can easily afford, especially for a family with kids. While you’re taking years to save up, consider checking out San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Owned by the famed San Diego Zoo, Safari Park is much more experiential. The 1,800 acre park in suburban Escondido is home to more than 2,600 animals roaming in wide open field enclosures. Witness giraffes gliding across grasslands and rhinos resting under boulders. With a variety of experiences offered, you can choose which safari is best for you and your family. Embark on the Caravan Safari to ride in the back of an open-air truck or opt for the Flightline Safari where you’ll catch a glimpse of nature while zip-lining from above. Kids will love the Jungle Ropes Safari that takes place on a rope course high in the tree tops. With so many impressive safari options, coupled with the ease of a flight to San Diego, you can’t go wrong at the San Diego Safari Park if Africa is out of the budget!
Northern Lights in Canada vs. Norway
Seeing the Northern Lights is truly a magical experience. To witness the sky light up in dazzling neon shades of greens and purples is certainly a memory you will never forget, especially if you’ve traveled to what may feel like the end of the Earth to see it. Most often, people head to the Lapland region of Finland, Tromsø or Lofoten in Norway, or to Iceland since they are all north enough in latitude and far away enough from the light pollution of big cities to see the colorful phenomenon. However, getting to remote destinations such as those is no easy feat. We’re talking multiple flights and in some cases multi-day layovers and long drives to arrive at a place where you might get to see the lights assuming everything else—like weather—cooperates. Turns out, there’s no need to go traipsing halfway across the world, as our Canadian neighbor also has plenty of places where you’ll likely see the lights as well. Places like Edmonton in Alberta, Lake Superior in Ontario, Takhini Hot Pools in Yukon, and Prince Edward Island boast chances at seeing the Aurora Borealis. Yellowknife, Canada takes it one step further and claims to be the best place in the world to see the northern lights! If you’re there, look for the Northern Lighthouses. The tiny lighthouses alert the town to when an active aurora is in the evening forecast. Keep in mind, the season for seeing the Aurora Borealis is from August 21-April 21, with your best bet being those mid-winter, darkest months.
Tulips in Washington State vs. Holland
About half way through the month of April, seven million tulips blanket the fields of the Netherlands and Instagrammers in flowing dresses and floppy hats flock to the fields for the perfect photo op. The meticulously planted rows of blooms are a no doubt gorgeous and mesmerizing sight to behold. But with increasing crowds, plus the need for a spring flight to Europe (pricey!), there has to be a better option. Luckily, there is! For an easier jaunt and similar experience, fly to Seattle during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This event, which spans the entire month of April, showcases millions of tulips bursting into bloom about an hour south of the Emerald City. During the festival, there are dozens of art shows, wine tasting events, chili and chowder cookouts, and of course lots of tulips. In Holland, it’s just rows of flowers. Washington offers more bang for less buck with lots of other activities to boot.
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