7 less expensive summer vacation destinations

Priced out of your dream vacation spot? Here’s where to go instead.

(iStock/Washington Post Illustration)

Summer vacation dreams are clashing with the reality of travel prices. Trips to Europe, Mexico and Central America are slightly more expensive this summer than they were in 2019, according to data from the travel booking app Hopper. Hotels.com says travelers can expect to pay more for rooms this summer than they did three years ago.

It’s a classic case of supply and demand, says Mark Crossey, travel expert for the airfare booking site Skyscanner, with interest in travel back in full force. However, prices aren’t necessarily up across the board, and “there are still incredible deals to be found for travelers who can be flexible or are open to exploring less-well-known destinations,” Crossey says.

To find those deals, you can use Kayak’s Explore Tool, search on Skyscanner for flights to “everywhere” or try Google Flights for trips to specific regions during a range of time (i.e., a two-week trip from Los Angeles to Europe in July). You can also set up price alerts from those sites, as well as Hopper or Airfarewatchdog, or sign up to get flight deals from services such as Scott’s Cheap Flights or Thrifty Traveler.

To jump-start your trip brainstorming, we picked seven cheaper alternatives to popular summer travel spots.

Instead of Costa Rica, try Peru

Costa Rica is one of Hopper’s most-booked international destinations of the summer — no surprise as it has the hallmarks of a great vacation, such as sun, surf and natural wonders. Thanks to that popularity, the destination has been becoming pricey, said Linda Jelencovich, a Travel Leaders Network adviser with SuperTravel Palm Beach.

For another adventure destination with biological diversity and surfable beaches, Jelencovich points to Peru. Data from WeTravel, a payment platform for travel businesses, shows that even with more people taking trips to Peru lately, costs haven’t increased for travelers.

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Instead of Paris, try Montreal

Delta Air Lines says Paris is one of its hottest summer destinations, but Hopper estimates that travel prices to the city are up more than 20 percent compared to 2019. You can hunt for flight deals on budget carriers like French Bee or Play airlines, or you could head to French-speaking Montreal. The Canadian city offers similar delights to Paris, from historic restaurants (such as L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel, which dates back to 1754), a wealth of museums and even its own Notre Dame.

Instead of the Maldives, try Belize

If the Maldives isn’t in your budget, travel experts suggest looking to Belize for its inviting water and more-affordable overwater bungalows. Kayak data shows average flight prices into the Caribbean country from the United States should cost around $620, with hotel rates averaging $259. Marci-Beth Maple, spokesperson for the travel company Zicasso, said travelers love Belize for its biodiversity, Mayan ruins and the world’s second-largest barrier reef. It’s also home to the Great Blue Hole, the largest underwater sinkhole on the planet.

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Instead of Tuscany, try Portugal

Per Hopper estimates, traveling to Tuscany this summer could be pricey, with a round-trip flight from the United States to Florence on average costing more than $1,000. Flying into different parts of Italy will save you hundreds, but for a more price-conscious European vacation centered around wine, Jelencovich recommends Portugal.

Jeff Segal, founder of natural-wine store Domestique in D.C., says Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, is one of the best places to drink natural wine in the world right now (his other picks are Mexico City and Barcelona). Airfare to Lisbon costs less than Tuscany, and a one-way train ticket to Porto starts around $30. For domestic alternatives, Segal’s wine-driven picks are Miami, New Orleans, Chicago and Kansas City, Mo. “All can be done affordably and have awesome natural wine scenes right now,” he said.

Instead of Turks and Caicos, try Greece

Turks and Caicos may be famous for its white-sand beaches, but Hotels.com says it tops the list for overall most expensive international summer getaways, along with Saint-Tropez. Cue the turquoise waters of Greece. According to Kayak, hotel rates on the island of Zakynthos average around $152 a day, and on Corfu, they’re around $187. Average rates in Turks and Caicos are around $856 a day.

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Instead of Bangkok, try Guadalajara

Interest in Thailand is on the rise, thanks to loosening travel restrictions, but the cost of airfare could be a barrier. If Southeast Asia isn’t doable, head south to Mexico, where incredible street food, perfect mangos and exciting cultural attractions also await.

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Based on average ticket prices booked through May 2 for travel between June and August, Expedia shows you can find summer flights from the United States for less than $350 round trip to Guadalajara, the gateway to tequila country. For domestic options, food lovers on a budget can also turn to alternatives such as Nashville, Houston, Philadelphia or New Orleans.

Instead of Hawaii, try Florida

Hawaii has been cost prohibitive for some of Jelencovich’s clients this summer (although she says deals aren’t impossible to find). Her swap for a better-value beach destination is Florida, with Gulf Coast options such as Clearwater and Fort Myers or the Treasure Coast’s Port St. Lucie and Stuart.

While the vacation-rental booking company VRBO says it’s seeing an “accelerated booking spree” for this summer, there are more rentals and less competition in Florida beach towns. If you’re a Nantucket regular, VRBO suggests Naples for high-end shopping; St. Petersburg or Clearwater for Rehoboth Beach, Del., lovers looking for something family-friendly; Cocoa Beach for the Jersey Shore crowd interested in nearby Orlando theme parks; and the LGBTQ-friendly Florida Keys instead of Provincetown, Mass. For travelers using wheelchairs, Jelencovich recommends Cape Florida, which has more facilities with ramps for better access to the beach.