The weather has warmed up, and the summer vacation season has begun. If you’re dreaming about an international vacation, but it’s not in your budget, I might have a solution. Below are some tips on how to simulate five “budget” versions of dream vacations in distant lands without leaving the continent.
There are some places in North America that resemble other parts of the world. It’s possible to stay closer to home and experience a version of your dream vacation without paying the high costs of international flights. Dream locations are listed in bold print, and below them are their “local” counterparts for a fraction of the cost.
Nothing here on your list? Check out Travel Zoo Top 20 for price breaks to destinations across the globe.
Alaska has lots of glaciers (like Sawyer’s below), icebergs, and wildlife. You can take a cruise to get near the glaciers, and it can cost as little as $100/day per person for an all-inclusive vacation. If you port in Juneau, take a city bus or an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier. Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay are two favorites, but not all ships have them on their itinerary. The blue ice is stunning when you see it live, and you might even witness glacier calving. You might get lucky and spot some whales or dolphin swimming alongside the boat. July through mid-August is the best time to set sail, but you can find deals from the end of August through the beginning of September when it’s a bit cooler and rainy. Some Alaskan cruises are a bargain compared to an expedition to Antarctica. Bon voyage!
The Swiss Alps
When you’re visiting Colorado’s Vail Village or Lionshead Village, you’ll feel like you’re in a European alpine community. The “Lüftlmalerei” or fresco paintings on the buildings are more Bavarian or Tirolean than Swiss, but it has the essence of a German-speaking region. There are street signs in English and German, as well as Austrian, German, and Swiss restaurants throughout the villages with authentic cuisine, since many of the owners come from the respective countries. It actually feels somewhat organic right down to the many cyclists leisurely riding throughout, and pedestrians walking their dogs. The villages are not as contrived as a theme park, i.e. the Germany Pavillon at Epcot. Order the käsespätzle “Allgäuer Art” or the European specialties if you eat lunch at Pepi’s. You’ll find good condo rental deals in the summer since it’s off-season. Willkommen!
Quebec is the obvious choice for those looking for a French atmosphere within driving distance. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac castle is a beautiful hotel that sits on a hill, welcoming you to the old city. There’s a wall surrounding it with gates, which is typical for European cities. The cobblestone streets, courtyards, architecture, and language will immerse you into the culture, and make you wonder if you’re still in North America. If anyone in your party speaks French, this would be the perfect opportunity to practice. Don’t fret if you are not fluent in this romance language, because most people speak English as well. You can find classic French cuisine like soupe à l’oignon and coq au vin in restaurants to enhance your journey, but there are also regional specialties like Poutine you should try. Bienvenue!
I remember the quote from the movie The American President, “Washington D.C. is a city designed to intimidate foreign leaders.” The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns symbolize power and influence. We borrowed this concept from ancient Greece, and D.C. has a plethora of buildings displaying this Greek-influenced architecture. The Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, National Archives, and Capitol Building are excellent examples, and our nation’s capital is a mere three and a half hour drive away. This could be a day trip or weekend getaway. Borrow some Greek music from the Princeton Public Library to listen to on the way down, and eat at Greek restaurants to set the mood.
There’s also The Parthenon in Nashville, which plays homage to the original structure in Athens. Kalimera!
Six Flags Great Adventure has changed their safari experience to replicate a more authentic exotic excursion. Safari Off Road Adventure has replaced Wild Safari. The difference is instead of riding in your own car as in the past, you now climb aboard a safari vehicle that actually goes off-road, and you can get up close to the animals (wilder animals are still enclosed). This is a phenomenal value for such a safari-like experience that’s just an hour away. Afterwards, drive to New Brunswick to eat at Makeda Ethiopian Restaurant, to complete your mini expedition.
California has the impressive Safari West, which is not an amusement park attraction like above. It provides a true safari experience, close to what you’d get in Africa. Ride in open air safari vehicles, and overnight in well-appointed tents in the African Tent Camp.
Texas is home to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center where you can go on a guided tour in an open air safari vehicle, stay overnight at the Foothills Safari Camp with genuine-looking safari tents, then go on the Morning Safari Tour, which is probably the best tour of the day. This is much like the Safari West experience. Jambo!
Safari photo tips: Zoom in and take photos of the animals with just a little greenery around them, avoiding feeders, fences, amusement rides, or anything else manmade. Also, wait until the vehicle slows down or stops, and rest your camera on the seat back while shooting to avoid blurring. There’s a flexible tabletop tripod (Joby Gorillapod) that can wrap around objects to keep your camera/phone stable while zooming in, and will help avoid blurry shots.