1. Take a cruise down under. More and bigger ships are heading to Australia’s ports during its peak summer season, known as Super February. A typical cruise between Sydney and Auckland, New Zealand, provides a “tapas-style sampling of two of the world’s most intriguing countries,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, of CruiseCritic.com. On Cruise.com, we found a 14-day Australia and New Zealand cruise for $1,121 per person, including gratuities (but not airfare).
2. Visit sunny Spain. Offset the cost of flying with super-cheap lodging. Spain traditionally hosts European vacationers; money worries on the Continent mean hotels should have more vacancies and offer better rates. To catch the best flight deal, follow fare-alert sites, such as Airfarewatchdog.com; monitor your favorite airlines on Twitter and Facebook; or sign up for flash-sale e-mails. A room for two in Madrid’s Hotel Regina recently went for $90 per night on Travelzoo.com, including breakfast and a bottle of Spanish sparkling wine.
3. Sample gelato in Rome. “A Mediterranean cruise is the best cruise value, hands down, anywhere right now,” says Clem Bason, of Hotwire.com. With the Costa Concordia catastrophe still fresh in travelers’ minds, prices have taken a nose dive. Gate1Travel.com recently posted a 14-day Mediterranean cruise with several departure dates in early 2013. Prices start at $649 per person, or $1,589 per person with airfare from New York City.
4. Do you know the way to San Jose? Direct flights from major U.S. cities to Costa Rica are more numerous than ever, and the Central American country boasts great resorts for families. “All-inclusive resorts make it easy to budget in advance, and family-friendly chains such as Westin, Marriott and Hilton provide beachfront locations with great amenities,” says Lissa Poirot, editor of FamilyVacationCritic.com. At the all-inclusive Hilton Papagayo resort, in Guanacaste, we found a room for two adults and two children for about $500 per night.
5. Head to the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic is a reasonably quick and inexpensive trip from the East Coast. “You can leave on an 8 a.m. flight and be in your bikini by 1 p.m.,” says Gillian Telling, of BudgetTravel.com. As with Costa Rica, all-inclusive resorts make it easier to budget. JetBlue launched service from New York City to beach resort Samaná this fall and was recently offering round-trip fares starting at less than $400. A room at one of the Grand Bahia Principe resorts—there are several, including in Samaná and Punta Cana—averages about $150 a night, double occupancy.
6. Or to the blue Pacific. Hawaii can be affordable, especially if you land a flight from the West Coast, says Bason. To save on lodging, consider a vacation rental home. The average price for a five-guest rental on the Kona Coast is $150 per night, according to FlipKey.com. Rentals typically work best with larger groups, so bring your kids (and your parents, too). Stick with sites such as HomeAway.com and FlipKey.com for reliable guest reviews and safer online payments.