Think dream trips to Machu Picchu, Cuba and the Great Wall of China are financially out of your reach then think again. With careful planning and flexible travel dates you can achieve these life changing experiences on a realistic budget that you only thought available to the rich and famous. Here is a list of ten affordable bucket list adventures worth considering while they are still accessible and above all, safe to travel to so put down your National Geographic magazine, turn off the Travel Channel and start planning. "Award Winning Destinations provides a glimpse of some popular tourist places. Explore the best travel destinations featuring the most exhilarating and beautiful places that will turn your international trip into an epic experience."
A must-do bucket list item is making the trip to the Great Wall of China. It can eat into your budget just getting there but luckily, there are some really great travel deals and packages that include airfare, hotels and guided trips to the Great Wall from Beijing if you know where to look. There are packages to Beijing from San Francisco, L.A., Houston, or New York City, starting at about $900 per person for an eight-day trip including round-trip airfare, six nights’ accommodations in a four-star hotel, an extensive sightseeing program including a guided day-trip to the Great Wall, most meals, and all taxes and fees. Imagine how cool it would be to have that selfie as your screen saver!
One of the most popular bucket list spots on everyone’s list. This is the mystical land once ruled by the ancient Inca tribes of Peru. It’s definitely one of those places where once you bite the bullet and pay for the airfare to get to Cuzco, the rest is very affordable. There are many guided tours and adventures to Machu Picchu. Try a four-day Inca Trail hike or simply take the train to the top, it’s up to you. A popular tour if you have the time can be a 21-day adventure that takes you to Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, Colce Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Puno, Cuzco, the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, and into the Amazon Jungle all-inclusive for about $2,500. Definitely an affordable bucket list to do and you’ll soon make new friends along the way if you are traveling alone.
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see real live volcanos in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera, you won’t want to miss the Crater Rim Drive. It’s an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way. There’s also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $10 per vehicle that enters the park, or $5 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Don’t forget to get a park map from staff on your way into the park, and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you’re viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available as are park ranger-led walking tours.
Get out there and experience nature at its finest by dog-sledding through the wide open wilderness of the Laurentians in Canada’s Québec province, about a two-hour drive from Montréal. At outfitters, you’ll get to meet the dogs before you ride along with or drive the dog-sledding team through the Canadian wilderness. You’ll have a beautiful cabin-in-the-woods style cottage to stay in, delicious home-cooked meals and a wealth of activities to choose from no matter what season you’re visiting. If you can’t make it out to the Canadian countryside, try dog-sledding in the ski resort town of Tremblant, located about an hour and forty minutes from Montréal. Costs are about $100 per person for a half-day adventure, and $200 per person for a full-day adventure and well worth the cost. Imagine casually dropping this into a dinner party conversation!
Regular zip lining may already give you an adrenalin rush, there’s nothing quite like zip lining and completing an aerial obstacle course over a park full of crocodiles, alligators, and hundreds of other reptiles. At the St. Augustine Alligator Farm’s Crocodile Crossing, located along Florida’s northeast coast just outside the historic town of St. Augustine, you can do just that. Don’t worry, everything is totally safe. You are trained by the experts before you go about how all the ropes and pulley systems work, and even get to do a small practice zip line before you set off on your adventure. Choose from the 45-minute long Sepik River Course that takes you 20 feet up and gives you three zip lines to go through, or the longer, higher, 90-minute Nile River Course, an aerial obstacle course 60 feet above the park that takes you through a total of nine zip lines. Cost is about $30 – $65 per person.
Located just an hour’s drive south of Mount Rushmore and is one of those places where reaching it is half the fun with plenty of twisting mountain roads, gorgeous views, and incredible wildlife. Once inside the park, opt to spend the night camping in the South Dakota wilderness or visit one of the affordable Custer State Park Resorts. This is the start for the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours, a spectacularly intimate way to get up close and personal with the park’s diverse wildlife. Get up close to bison, past fields of noisy prairie dogs, and end the night with a traditional chuck wagon cookout. Admission to Custer State Park costs about $4 per person per day or pay $15 per vehicle for up to seven days. Prices for just the Jeep Safari are about $45 for adults, $35 for kids 12 and under.
This is a fun bucket list item in Albuquerque that is quite affordable compared to hot air ballooning in other parts of the world. Operators out of Albuquerque offer sunrise and sunset flights where you can watch the intricate process that takes place as the enormous balloon is inflated before taking off on a 3 or 4 hour epic adventure high above the city. Some operators offer a special treat called a “splash and dash,” where the balloon is lowered onto the surface of the Rio Grande, briefly skims the surface, floats along the river, and dashes back up to the height it just came from. Hot air balloon rides in Albuquerque start from about $160 for adults. If you’d rather just watch, be sure to visit this part of New Mexico during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a phenomenal festival held every year in early October that features thousands of colorful hot air balloons with participants from all over the world.
Like many sought-after locations, it’s a good idea to travel during the shoulder season, and in this case, that’s during May and September to make your trip more affordable and experience the destination when crowds and temperatures are more tolerable. Alaska Railroad offers a variety of vacation deals, but a great affordable option is the Just the Basics package. A five-day adventure available June thru September each year. Upon arrival in Anchorage, you’ll spend the night in town, giving you a chance to explore the area and visit local sites. Next day, ride the rails of the Denali Star Train from Anchorage to Talkeetna and spend the night in rustic cabins surrounded by the spectacular Alaskan wilderness before continuing the next day to Denali. Spend a day checking out the wildlife and views of Denali National Park before returning to Anchorage later the next day. Adults pay about $850 per person, and children pay $190 per person for the five-day, five-night package.
Travel to Cuba has become more accessible to Americans and though it is a bit on the pricy side to visit this mysterious island, there are budget-friendly options out there that are definitely worth the splurge. While travel to Cuba is still greatly limited to Americans, if you are part of a religious organization, educational group, or people-to-people guided tours there are several packages that include chartered flights from Miami, all transfers and transportation within the country, accommodations, extensive cultural people-to-people experiences with the locals, guided tours, and best of all, all the visas and paperwork necessary to visit Cuba. A package example would take you through Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cojimar, and Santa Clara, a nine-day trip for from about $4,000 per person. Going through the right channels opens up this once off limits country to Americans.
The world’s largest coral reef definitely deserves a spot on your list. Watch out for airline sales to Australia that usually happen during the shoulder seasons and remember, if it’s fall up here, its spring down there. Once you get the perfect flight, the rest is easy thanks to some great travel package offers. For example: Sydney to Cairns is a 17-day joyride up the eastern coast of Australia that includes a tour of the Hunter Valley winery with a wine tasting, a chance to pan for gold at a working mine, time to explore Yuraygir National Park and Byron Bay, a hippie surfer’s paradise. You’ll get to see Australia’s Gold Coast, visit Brisbane and Fraser Island, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and spend three days sailing around the scenic Whitsunday Islands before hopping a train to Cairns, and experiencing the rich culture of the Aboriginal people. All this for about $3,000 per person.