This is a wonderful idea, and much appreciated!
We will definitely be taking a look into couchsurfing. What was your best couchsurfing experience/trip??
So hard to choose!
The example I like to use with this community is my experience in Iceland; it is "common wisdom" among travelers that you need to rent a car there. But not so! My hosts, who lived 5 minutes from Keflavik airport, were walkable to town, so I had an easy time exploring the smaller town of Keflavik by foot on days they were working (including spending some time at the town pool & hot tubs, where you could - if you weren't squicked by the idea - even rent a bathing suit). Then, they took me on all kinds of adventures further afield - including dropping me off in Reykjavik for the business I was on there. I came back specifically to visit them a couple of years later, and we went driving all over the Reykjanesbær peninsula, and found ourselves helping out at a réttir - a sheep sorting (I think one of my earliest stories is about this). We spent a night at their family vacation home in a place so remote that I still could not point it out to you on a map. I helped plant trees and do yardwork around the vacation home, and we sat up talking and waiting for the northern lights (which alas, did not appear that evening). If I had had longer to stay, there was a cousin visiting town who offered to take me to her home in Akureyri. As it was I met almost the entire extended family, went to a festival with them (Ljósanótt), got a 'backstage tour' of the Blue Lagoon, visited a black sand beach, heard legends of a local witch and the history of the world's oldest democratic meeting site... and all for $0. I mean, I gave them some gas money and paid for some treats at the festival, but they didn't ask; I offered. So, yes - plenty more stories like that from Ireland, Belgium, Orkney, Wales, Virginia, Canada... it's truly a phenomenal way to see the world.
I am a little late, but here are some of my budget destinations.
1. The entire state of West Virginia. Miles and miles of hiking trails, lots of mountains, waterfalls, photograph opportunities, etc. If you are looking for a bit of a rustic, down home, mountain destination without the glitz, you can see some gorgeous scenery on a budget here.
2. The Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Lots of museums, state parks, beaches, battlefields, and other attractions. Very affordable, albeit a bit out of the way. Bring your sunscreen, bug spray and drink lots of water.
3. Eastern Tennessee - much like West Virginia - great mountain scenery and very affordable.
4. Wichita, Kansas. A surprising assortment of museums as well as lots of restaurants and nightlife in Old Town (a district of restored/repurposed brick warehouses). The Salt Mine in Hutchinson is awesome! The nearby Flint Hills have some nice attractions as well. All in all, Wichita is very underrated - and very affordable.
5. Driftless Region - an area of southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa. Nice rolling scenery, hiking trails, paddling, museums, and other attractions. Within reasonable distance from Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Twin Cities.
6. El Paso, Texas - a great city with lots of museums and other attractions. Great food as well. Like the Rio Grande Valley, it is a bit out of the way, but quite affordable.
Also, let me mention a few other favorites:
1. Colorado West Slope. The Western slope of the Rockies is absolutely beautiful and a lot less commercialized than the Front Range. Towns such as Grand Junction and Delta are much more affordable than other places in Colorado and they give great access to Arches National Park in Utah.
2. Shiloh and Vicksburg. These are two Civil War battlefields in the south. They are very much worth visiting and less crowded than Gettysburg.
3. New Mexico. As far as I'm concerned, New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. Lots of great hiking, history, and other cultural experiences. Outside of the main tourist areas, it is very affordable. Even the major tourist places are not too terribly steep as long as you avoid major weekends and holidays.
I will absolutely second Belfrybat on El Paso and New Mexico!
My family lives in this area and it is one I am so happy that I get to visit and revisit, and deepen my relationship with over time.
Hi All, I've been MIA for awhile... working on some new years resolutions. Will be back in Feb.
New Mexico is on my bucket list. BelfryBat, you mention NM as one of the most beautiful spots. What areas to you recommend? Any close to Pheonix. Thinking of a roadtrip from there.
As far as best budget vacations...I will have to think about that. I usually use points to save on costs and then try to find a hotel with free airport shuttle and free breakfast to save on transportation/food costs as well or stay at an AirBNB, but those costs lately seem to be the same as hotels.
I hit reply accidentally. Welcome back to the forum. I would always recommend the area around Los Alamos. There are some incredible scenic drives and other places of interest around there. Santa Fe and Taos are very popular but I have only spent a limited amount of time and those two towns so I cannot give a lot of recommendations.
El Malpais out by Grants is really awesome especially if you are looking for remote adventures and extreme outdoor activities such as caving.
At the other end of the state, Carlsbad caverns and White Sands are really worth visiting. The area around Cloudcroft, which is somewhat between the two of them, is beautiful.
I am a bit late, but let me share my best budget vacation story. My best budget vacation was in Iceland. I know you specifically said about mileages and award travel, but I used my mileage for air travel to Iceland. Then, I rented a car and stayed in camp sites. The biggest expense I had was the rental car and I had really minimal expenses (say ~ $25/day including foods for your own cooked meals, camp site, shower, gas, etc.) to travel around one of the most fascinating places in the planet. This was my best ever budget travel and at the same time one of the most memorable travels in my life.
Thank you for sharing!! I love knowing that alot of our shared budget travel stories are the most memorable!
Seems like Iceland is a hit too on the discussion -- haha. I'm sure we will venture over there soon!