The wavering economy may have thrill seekers fooled into thinking they can’t afford their dream action-packed vacation, but that might not be the case.
Experts say there are a host of Web sites that make it easier than ever to save on adventure vacations. Whether your idea of fun includes racing down ski slopes or jumping out of a plane, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm or a leg (but we're not responsible for broken limbs).
“Every destination has the ability to transform itself into a wonderful active adventure, sometimes easily and sometimes with creativity. You can find those opportunities very inexpensively,” says Peggy Goldman, owner of Friendly Planet Travel, an online tour operator.
Gary Oppenheimer, founder of nonprofit AmpleHarvest.org, took a solo, “very cheap” 400-mile bike ride along rail trails from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and had the time of his life. He stayed in bed and breakfasts that were under $100 a night, which help keep costs down. He then swapped his wheels for some wings and took a three-hour flying lesson on the way home for less than $500.
“It was just magnificent,” he says. “I would recommend it whether you are a family with children or by yourself.”
Even if you’re not up for a 400-mile bike excursion, adventure vacations can be a thrill and provide a lifetime of stories without breaking the bank. Here’s how to find them:
Do Your Research
Search community forums on independent travel sites such as Frommers.com to find off-the-beaten path places where lodging and activities tend to be much cheaper.
“Tourism Web sites in your destination can be huge resources for things you didn’t know existed,” says Ann Lombardi, a travel expert with the Trip Chicks of Atlanta.
Explore places like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, they may be expensive to get to, but scuba diving in Thailand is a fraction of the cost it is in better-known places, according to Goldman.
And just because you are traveling on the cheap doesn’t mean you are losing out on comfort and activities. For example, the YMCA of the Rockies has two resort-style properties in north and central Colorado where guests can enjoy tons of free activities, including volleyball and guided hikes of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Cities like Portland, Ore., have bicycle exchange programs, and some cities even offer free or very inexpensive bike rental programs. So spend some time researching online, and don’t be afraid to call a city’s tourism department to find out what they offer.
Look for Adventure in Your Own Backyard
Adventure doesn’t have to be a plane ride away, Lombardi says.
For example, Canada isn’t the only place that offers a sled dog ride. The Inn at Jim Thorpe in Pennsylvania offers a sled dog training and adventure package including lodging for around $200 a night.
Befriend Locals and Book with Local Vendors
Locals often get better prices on activities such as golf than tourists, says David Lytle, editorial director of Frommers.com, so if you can become buddies with a resident, you’ll save.
“If you … get a European bike tour through a European provider, you’ll save a bundle,” according to Lombardi “With Biketoursdirect.com, [travelers] can get a bike tour in the 300 euro range for a week, with all meals and lodging included.”
Expand Your Idea of Vacation
Properties and sporting schools are always interested in getting guests more “involved,” Lytle says. If you want to become master of the waves, you can have a two-day intensive surf school experience in Costa Rica for $295.
“If you make your vacation longer and focus on [one] activity … oftentimes you get greater discounts,” Lytle says.
“Voluntourism” is becoming a hot vacation trend--it gives travelers experience working on ranches and farm in places like France or Wisconsin in exchange for room and board. Many times, volunteer vacations are tax deductible.
If a ranch isn’t exactly your idea of fun, you can help in the lap of luxury, too. The Four Seasons Hotel Austin in Texas has a "Pay it Forward" package that allows guests to volunteer a few hours with non-profit Keep Austin Beautiful in exchange for hotel rates at nearly half off its normal price.
Travel in a Group
Activities like chartering a yacht in the British Virgin Islands could be as low as $150 per person if you can share the costs of the rental.
Lombardi advises travelers to put the word out on Twitter for other couples or groups interested in sharing court fees, charters or accommodations.
Don't be Shy About Asking for Discounts.
Be honest about your budget and vendors and operators may work with you.
“Not all travel prices are etched in stone,” Lombardi says. Ask your hotel where to find the cheapest rental equipment. Lombardi suggests even renting it in your hometown before you go.
There are many ways to find the affordable action on vacation, and experts say activities where you might be taken out of your comfort zone and learn something new is almost always worth the money.
“I can’t think of a better way to travel,” Lombardi says.