Top Budget Destinations

Childs Travel is pleased to share the Top Budget Destinations of 2012. Some are perennial, family-friendly favorites (San Diego, San Antonio); some are bucket-list standbys made suddenly affordable (Egypt, Athens); and some are overlooked underdogs ready for their turn in the global spotlight. What do they all have in common? The best time to see them is right now.

Azores

Why in 2012: This chain of nine volcanic islands lies 930 miles off the coast of Lisbon, but the distance hasn’t spared Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, from the mainland’s economic troubles—which means big bargains for American travelers. Hotel rates across Portugal have slid since 2010, with five-star hotel rooms averaging about $112 per night, and the Azores, which are dotted with baroque churches, black-sand beaches, and crater lakes, are no exception. And while island-hopping had traditionally required a long ferry ride or a chartered fishing boat, last November, state-owned SATA Airlines shortened the trip when it increased inter-island flights.

Best Time to Visit: Azores weather is mild year-round, but outdoor enthusiasts will dig October, when temperatures typically hit 70 degrees and daylight lasts 11 hours. Since the month also marks the start of Azores’s low season, which runs through May, hotels deals are easy to find then.

Egypt

Why in 2012: Although (as of press time) the travel warning put in place by the United States after the Arab Spring has been downgraded to an alert for sporadic unrest, Egypt—where tourism accounts for 11 percent of the economy—is hurting for visitors, even at the nation’s most famous destinations. Traveler numbers have plummeted by more than a third since 2010, and travel operators and hoteliers are cutting serious deals to encourage a turnaround. TUI, Europe’s largest tour company, slashed $600 off the price of a recent Egyptian excursion, and average daily hotel rates have fallen 25 percent countrywide, dipping to about $107. There are deals at both the Great Pyramids of Giza, where room rates have slid 45 percent since 2010, and in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El Sheikh, where prices slumped 26 percent to about $104.

Best Time to Visit: Summer delivers 90-plus-degree temperatures and winter brings tourist throngs, but the shoulder seasons (March to May; September to November) promise fewer, and less-sweaty, crowds.

San Diego

Why in 2012: With miles of picturesque Pacific coastline (perfect for surfing), only 10 inches of rain per year (ideal golf weather), and family-friendly attractions (Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, a LEGO-Land theme park), it’s easy to see why San Diego is one of America’s top 10 most-visited cities. And unlike northern neighbors Los Angeles and San Francisco, the SoCal city is offering bargains on everything from hotels—the average nightly room rate is about $128—to rental cars, which are 3 percent cheaper than they were in 2010. Another reason to book a trip now: Hotel prices are expected to continue dropping through 2012 before spiking again in 2013, thanks to an ongoing construction boom.

Best Time to Visit: The rainiest months are November through March, but even then you won’t get soaked—the highest average precipitation (in January) is only 2.3 inches. Prime beach season runs from April to October, when the temperatures rarely dip below 69 degrees.

Atlantic Canada

Why in 2012: The provinces lining Canada’s eastern seaboard have always had plenty to offer the outdoorsy traveler—from scenic kayak rides around Prince Edward Island to whale watching in the Bay of Fundy to wilderness hikes in the glacier-specked Torngat Mountains. But the region’s biggest attraction this year only comes around once in a lifetime: the 100th anniversary of the Titanic‘s sinking off the coast of Newfoundland. Along with two other eastern cities (Charlottetown and Fredericton), Halifax once again made Hotels.com’s list of cheapest Canadian cities in 2011, with rates averaging $145.

And if you want the full Titanic experience—only with a happier ending—consider one of Carnival Cruise Lines’ new four- and five-day voyages from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Glory, launching in June; departures from New York will follow in the fall.

Best Time to Visit: Hurricane season officially spans June through November, but since September and October are the highest-risk months, you can feel safe traveling here in June, when humidity is low and temperatures peak between 65 and 77 degrees.

Belize

Why in 2012: Belize tends to be overshadowed by its neighbors: Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, which in 2010 saw twice the visitor arrivals that Belize did. Yet this English-speaking nation has plenty to recommend it, including a bounty of exotic birds, stunning Mayan ruins, and the world’s second-largest barrier reef. On top of all that, Belize is also one of the region’s biggest bargains. In 2011, the dollar appreciated 1.3 percent against the native currency; as of September, the exchange rate was nearly two to one. The savings should last until December 2012, which marks the end of the 5,126-year era of the Maya calendar and the culmination of a year’s worth of festivals and sporting events—and a likely spike in hotel prices and crowds.

Best Time to Visit: High season is dry season in Belize, roughly February to April. (While the country is hot and humid year-round, northern areas stay much drier than their southern counterparts.) Arrive in late May to find the sweet spot for beach-ready weather, early-shoulder-season discounts, and thinning crowds.

San Antonio

Why in 2012: America’s seventh-largest city is best known for its 19th-century missions (remember the Alamo?), but San Antonio is staking a claim on the future with new construction: a massive expansion of San Antonio’s popular River Walk (thesanantonioriverwalk.com, pedestrian access free). As part of the $358.3 million River Improvements Project redevelopment plan, this network of paths along the San Antonio River nearly doubled in length in June, adding eight miles of walk-and-bike routes and a slew of shops and cafes. The latest phase of the project was perfectly timed with the introduction of the city’s first bike-rental program, B-Cycle, which launched in early 2011. Best of all, room rates are down 5 percent from last year—the average four-star room goes for about $100 per night.

Best Time to Visit: April promises prime weather—the average high is 79 degrees and there’s little rain—but springtime also means massive crowds, who descend on San Antonio for events like Fiesta, a Tex-Mex-style Mardi Gras. For a quieter trip, try September. It’s a bit rainier and hotter (expect highs in the 90s), but worth it for the extra elbow room.

Poland

Why in 2012: With new airport terminals sprouting up from Warsaw to Gdansk, a hotel-construction boom that’s drawing marquee brands like Hilton and Westin, and a growing economy (the Polish GDP has shot up 4 percent since last year), Poland is ready for its close-up. Its cameo will come in June, when the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament descends on stadiums across the country (and Ukraine—the two nations are cohosts)—but you don’t have to be a sports fan to reap the benefits. South Africa, which hosted the World Cup in 2010, saw post-game price drops as high as 20 percent when premium rates vanished, and the same trend is expected in Poland, where five-star hotels are already among the cheapest in the world (in Warsaw, they average about $135 per night).

Best Time to Visit: The warmest weather, with averages in the low 70s, arrives from May to October—and so do vacationers, who sweep in around July and August to hit the Baltic beaches. Book a trip around September, when the crowds and soccer tournaments will have disappeared, leaving tranquility and low prices in their wake.

Taipei

Why in 2012: The arrival in Taiwan of the first mainland Chinese tourists last June (not counting supervised tours) marked a turning point for this onetime Chinese territory—a sign that a longtime political stalemate might finally be thawing. It also brought an influx of tourism revenue and a renewed interest in this Pacific island’s assets. The cosmopolitan capital city has an emerging culinary scene (world-famous chef Joël Robuchon opened a Taipei restaurant in November 2009) and plenty of snazzy new construction, while the surrounding countryside offers lush hot springs, majestic mountains, and golden-sand beaches. To cater to the new visitors, Taiwan’s government launched the new TaiwanTourist Bus Travel Service, which runs cheap day trips to several island attractions, such as an excursion to Taiwan’s alpine Sun Moon Lake that includes a cable-car ride, a boat tour, and electric-scooter rental. And while a recent bump in U.S. visitors to Asia has caused hotel prices elsewhere on the continent to jump 4 percent—rates in South Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore have all spiked—Taipei’s rooms are 11 percent cheaper than they were in 2010, with an average rate of about $144 per night.

Best Time to Visit: May through August are Taipei’s wettest months, with rainfall averaging eight inches; summer is sweltering and humid. October and November are much more pleasant, with less than four inches of rainfall and average high temperatures in the mid-70s.

Kansas City

Why in 2012: Thanks to arts-centric developments both large-scale and grassroots, this Midwestern city is fast becoming a hotbed of high culture. In September, the $326 million Moshe Safdie–designed Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened to host the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera, and the Kansas City Symphony, along with one-off performances of all stripes. The center’s arrival has only helped to bolster the already-vibrant Crossroads Arts District—a funky enclave of 70-plus galleries in renovated warehouses, interspersed with boutiques and restaurants—that surrounds it. Thankfully, Kansas City’s prices haven’t caught up to its highbrow reputation. Both hotels and rental cars are cheaper than they were in 2010, with rooms going for about about $137 per night (a 3 percent drop) and cars averaging about $55 per day.

Best Time to Visit: September is technically high season here—annual events like the Plaza Art Fair and the Barbecue Blaze Off are in full swing then—but you’ll be able to find good deals (and great weather) toward the end of the month. Skip July, when Kansas City is at its hottest and most crowded—especially this year, when it’ll host the MLB All-Star Game.

Athens

Why in 2012: Greece’s economy is faltering—it’s in the clutches of a massive debt crisis and on the brink of bankruptcy—but travel deals are going strong, especially in the country’s capital. According to the 2011 Mercer Cost of Living Survey (which ranks living expenses across cities by measuring prices of staples like food, transport, and entertainment), Athens is the world’s 53rd most expensive city—down 13 spots from 2010. While hotel prices fell 4 percent across Greece from 2010 (an average room now goes for about $150 per night), in Athens rates sunk 15 percent to about $125. Despite the recession, the city is beefing up infrastructure with Greece’s biggest-ever subway project, an expansion of the Athens. New subway lines and stations—some stocked with ancient artifacts excavated during construction—will make roaming the city simple, and a full-day pass only costs $5.40.

Best Time to Visit: April and May are clear winners, with pleasant temperatures (highs range from 68 to 77 degrees), low humidity, and little rain. Just steer clear of April 15, 2012, when Easter festivities will likely inspire price hikes and a run on accommodations.

Contact Childs Travel for more information on planning your dream vacation!