10 Travel Adventures That Won’t Break the Bank

Dreaming of taking a Big Trip in 2010? Finances a bit tight? Well, take a look at the following destinations. Magic, thrills and adventure, yes. But for the budget-conscious globe-trotter, what’s equally important is that these are places where your dollars will stretch a long, long way. As a travel writer, I’m lucky enough to have experienced all 10–but I’d love to revisit every single one as a vacationer.

Vietnam

Vietnam packs a lot into its borders. Highlights include misty Halong Bay with its fairytale seascapes of limestone outcrops and islands; the Mekong delta with its floating markets; the old Vietcong tunnels at Cu-Chi near Saigon–now officially known as Ho Chi Minh City. (Don’t worry about getting stuck: one tunnel has been specially widened for westerners.) Backpacker beds are exceptionally cheap, but decent hotels often cost less than $40. A filling bowl of pho bo beef noodle soup or six seafood spring rolls is less than a dollar. In local hangouts, Saigon Export beer costs 40 cents a bottle.

For the ultimate traffic tale to tell the folks back home, head for Hanoi’s old quarter. Any attempt to cross the road turns into a heart-racing adventure. Not only are you contending with psycho-cyclos (rickshaw bicycles), there are thousands of motorbikes and scooters whose riders regard a red traffic signal as a suggestion rather than an instruction. Best place to experience the utter chaos is from within a cyclo rickshaw.

Lithuania, Eastern Europe

The southernmost of the Baltic States, visitors usually couple Lithuania together with Latvia and Estonia. However, you can easily spend a week in Lithuania alone. Quirky cities like Vilnius and Kaunas are steeped in art, music and historical curiosities…mushroom-scented woods and farmers riding on haycarts…mysterious sites steeped in pagan traditions…the windswept sands of the Curonian Spit where you can beach-comb for amber.

Mid-June would be a great time to go. A national holiday in Lithuania, the old pagan festival of Rasos marks the summer solstice. It’s an all-night affair with singing, dancing, bonfire-leaping, hunting for “magic” ferns, and floating garlands down rivers. Despite some serious alcoholic partying, most people manage to stay awake to greet the sunrise. As for prices, how about $2.54 for three potato pancakes with smoked salmon and sour cream and $1 for a glass of Svyturnys beer?

Granada, Nicaragua

From the laid-back colonial city of Granada, you can do a lot in a week in Nicaragua: tackle volcanoes…take Spanish lessons…visit Masaya craft market and also the villages where rocking chairs, hammocks, and pottery are made…explore the Selva Negra’s cloud forests and coffee plantations…chat with expats in the beach surfing town of San Juan del Sur…go to colonial Leon, where you might get to meet indigenous Indians.

Settling into a rocking chair with a cold Victoria beer is a pleasure that generally costs under $1 and spending more than $7 on a meal is difficult. The Alhambra Hotel on Granada’s main square costs a mere $30 a night.

Goa, Southern India

India is beyond fascinating, beyond anything you’ll ever experience elsewhere. The easiest introduction to this teeming country is the seaside state of Goa. Baking below a tropical canopy of banana, coconut and mango trees, this drowsy world of Arabian Sea beaches, backwaters, and spice-laden breezes is stamped with more than a few reminders of Old Portugal. You’ll find sunrise yoga on the beach, full massages for $8, dolphin trips for about $6, and colorful hippie markets.

Including four beers, two people can eat in a beach shack for under $10. And if you want to cut your expenses to the bone, there’s accommodation in simple beach chalets for as little as $8 a night.

Porto and Northern Portugal

Famed for its port wine lodges (yes, they do offer free samples), Porto is Portugal’s second city. An historic Atlantic trading port, its warren of laundry-hung alleys plunges down to a waterfront of boats, nets and fish restaurants. Sheets of cod (bacalhau) hang outside grocery stores with original art nouveau tiled facades; the church of Sao Francisco has a gold leaf interior that would make King Midas salivate. Don’t miss the Bolhau food market or the Torre dos Clerigos, Portugal’s highest belfry tower. From the top, you’ll get great views over the jumbled cityscape of churches, bridges and red-roofed houses.

By EU standards, the price of dining, accommodation, and public transport throughout the region is astounding. Trains and buses are an affordable way to make exploratory day-trips along the coast and into the interior of terraced vineyards and green river valleys. Don’t miss Braga and the thousand-stepped stairway of Bom Jesus church. On holy days, some pilgrims tackle these steps on their knees.

Montenegro

After its split from Serbia, Montenegro is Europe’s latest holiday hot spot–and also the world’s newest independent nation. Along with three-course meals for $7 and rooms in private houses for $10, you’ll find a land of craggy mountains with a switch-backed Adriatic coastline of bays, beaches and villages of pale gray stone. The sea sparkles like blue topaz and medieval walled towns with crumbling fortresses and palaces are often emblazoned with the winged lion emblem of the Venetian Republic.

Now paint in monasteries slotted into mountain crevices and fishing villages of red-tiled roofs and deep-green shutters. Roman mosaics…olive groves…water-lilied lakes…deep canyons and the mighty Boka Kotorska, Europe’s southernmost fjord…the border town of Ulcinj with its minarets and tales of pirate slave-trading.

Austria

The Alps? There’s no denying that Switzerland is one of the most scenically gorgeous countries on earth. But unless you’re armed with an expense account, I can promise you that exploring its mountains, lakes and medieval towns will wreak havoc on your finances.

Winter or summer, neighboring Austria has just as much of the alpine wow factor…plus the city splendors of Vienna and Salzburg. And it’s a lot less expensive than you may think. For example, in the Tyrolean village of Fendels, you could rent a furnished apartment for two in a chalet next spring for as little as 175 euro ($230) per week. Surrounded by hiking trails, Fendels village makes an excellent base–the Tyrolean Oberland is close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy. (Go to the Austrian Tourist Board’s web site at http://www.tiscover.at and you’ll find plenty more self-catering accommodation at similar prices.)

Penang, Malaysia

A melting-pot of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, Malaysia offers up powder white beaches and virgin rainforest teeming with wildlife; the bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur and the historic port city of Malacca; inexpensive seafood and inexpensive spa pampering; sailing, snorkeling, diving, fishing, golf and island-hopping.

With a distinct Chinese flavor, one of Malaysia’s star turns is Georgetown, capital of Penang island. You come across snake temples, arcaded shophouses and tiny workshops specializing in mahjong tiles and dice; kong-teik craftsmen who make funerary paper artifacts; fish getting dried like laundry in the open air. On the Weld Quay waterfront, around 2,000 fishing families live in rickety wooden dwellings on the Clan Quay jetties.

Chania, Crete

On the Greek island of Crete, Chania is one town that it would be criminal to miss. Crete’s former capital, its history goes back 5,000 years. In the Old Town’s skinny alleyways you’ll find icon workshops…lyres hanging in dusty musical instrument repair-shops…bursts of white jasmine cascading from archways…cats snoozing on balconies…the unlikely sights of a pencil-thin minaret above church towers and a mosque squatting on the waterfront.

Strung with garlands of colored light-bulbs, Chania’s old Venetian harbor at dusk truly is the stuff of romance. The water shimmers in waves of crimson, sapphire and emerald, the Venetian lighthouse sends out its beady wink, and stalls do a steady trade in pistachio nuts. Alleys that were afternoon-silent become thronged with locals taking the volta–the evening stroll. Even in July and August, you’ll find studio apartments here for under $40 a night…plus you can eat well for $10.

Bohemia, the Czech Republic

Prague teems with tourists but few people realize what the rest of the Czech Republic offers. One of its regions is Bohemia, blessed with a spellbinding mosaic of castles, frescoed houses and Rapunzel-style turrets straight from a sword-and-sorcery tale. At Cesky Krumlov you can peer into a medieval bear pit complete with bears. Sedlec, a suburb of Kutna Hora has a chapel entirely decorated with human bones, right down to its chandelier.

Many towns have stoupas…lofty “plague pillars” adorned with chained devils. They commemorate deliverance from the plagues, which swept Europe during the Middle Ages. Then there’s Karlovy Vary, the oldest of Bohemia’s grand spa towns. With spa water bubbling up all over town which visitors can collect for free, it’s a gorgeous place of baroque buildings in sugar-plum colors, flowery parks, and shops glittering with Bohemian crystal.

Travel Agency – Best Wine Votes

The most costly Cabernet Sauvignon in the entire United States originates from Napa Valley since no other place can produce Cabs of the identical consistency and profundity. Kelly Peterson from Switchback Ridge stated, “I have got 2000 people in the waiting list. To think that when my dad and I started off, we thought, well, if it does not sell, we’ll just simply drink it ourselves.” Now, California wines are among the most in demand in the market.

In films as well as in fashion, they say that nothing defeats the classics. Exactly the same may be true for wines. The Beringer Private Reserve wine is a blend of fruits through six different Napa vineyards. It has been the tradition since “wine master” Ed Sbargia made the vintage in 1977. This wine will get older gracefully in wine storage for several years. It’s definitely worthy of being acclaimed by a travel agency. There are tours to the many wineries to ensure visitors could find out more about the fine art of wine and enjoy it more with free wine tasting.

Smooth and elegant that has a touch of Cabernet Franc that gives it a faint herbal scent and flavor, the Napa Cabernet hails from Dalle Valle’s estate vineyards. It is produced by Mia Klein, a respected name throughout the wine industry. Not to be over shadowed, Aaron Pott made Quintessa, a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet, Merlot and California reds. The smoky black plum and currant flavors have become impressive Quintessa produced as of today. The Diamond Creek Gravelyy Meadow managed by Al Brounstein was always making wine since 1972. Obtaining a compelling scent of anise and red cherries, Gravelly Meadow’s 5-acre plot produced this classic flavor. A travel agency offers tours of such popular sites.

Wines do not have to be really pricey for it to exhibit that distinct flavor. There are actually Napa produced wines below $20 that are pretty good for its price tag. Cellar No. 8 by Paul Rydquist is manufactured in the Sonoma’s Asti Winery with sweet black currant in addition to vanilla oaks as its significant substances. Hahn Estate’s $12 wine beverage by Adam La Zarre has a straightforward, delicious and spicy combination using hints of French oak backing the sweetness associated with the dark-colored berry. Dennis Hill and his accomplice David Hayman made wine out of Napa fruits producing a extraordinary blackberry taste having suggestions of spice. Tours to the vineyards where these wines are produced are available in a travel agency.

California is definitely the place for wine enthusiasts and is ideal also for many who just want to visit a winery to complete their particular California experience. Surely a travel agency offers more information related to vineyard tours to be able to educate visitors about the art of wine and perhaps tourists may learn how to enjoy it more. Your California experience is never complete without a flavor of its internationally famous wine. Make it part of your itinerary and do not fail to see it.

Travel And Flowers – Do You Have A Life-List?

In this era of life-lists and books on 1001 places to see, mountains to climb, trails to hike, rivers to raft, etc. all to do before you die, maybe as travelers and flower lovers we should develop our own life-lists of flower sites around the world. The plants on this list would be the must sees – the oldest, tallest, shortest – wildflowers, commercial crops, roadside or trailside, and fruit trees – oddities, originals, scented; and flower festivals and official flowers.

Just as some bird tours focus on viewing a particular bird at a certain time in a specific location, single blossom plants exist that you might travel a great distance to see. The plants on this list would be the “must sees.” These beauties include, among many others, the bee orchid in its native Cypress; the blue, Egyptian lilies in Cairo; the black iris at Petra; and the blue poppies in Bhutan.

But life-lists are composed of many categories and a flower life-list would be no exception. Biggest, oldest, tallest, etc. are all vying for your attention. For flowers the biggest category would include: the world’s largest wisteria, which blooms in March in the city of Sierra Madre, California; and the largest rose tree (8,000-sqft arbor) is growing in, of all places, Tombstone, Arizona.

Oldest is another category. My list would include the oldest camellias in the New World at two plantations near Charleston, South Carolina (Magnolia and Middleton Place). But then I should consider the Tang Dynasty plum tree and the Ming Dynasty camellia at Black Dragon Pool in Longquan Hill, China. They are living works of art, especially when they bloom in February.

Tallest: the tallest rhodendrons I’ve ever heard of are in Sikkim, India, and stand 60′ high and I want to see them bloom! (May to October)

Shortest? Would that be an appropriate category for flowers? It could apply to alpine plants, which are actually wildflowers that grow at higher elevations where soil conditions are poor and weather is extreme. It could also apply to new cultivated varieties, such as Belgium azaleas. Maybe the original tulips still growing in Turkey and the purple irises of Mt. Gilboa, Israel, would fit here.

What about wildflowers? This would really expand the list. Almost every place on earth has wildflowers. There are the daisies in Namaqualand, South Africa; the California poppies in the deserts east of Los Angeles; the bogs in Estonia; the red poppies in Tuscany; the vernal pools in Northern California; the mountains of Bhutan; the bluebells in Great Britain; and the hillsides in Galilee to name just a few. Then there’s Australia, a wildflower lover’s paradise.

Not technically wildflowers, the wild herbs of the Mediterranean area make up for their lack of striking color in scent: specifically, a “pizza seasoning” aroma. But the wild herbs along the Camino de Santiago are comprised more of rosemary, thyme, and wild lavender with wild rose thrown into the mix. Heavenly!

Here’s a different category: Roadside or trailside. Sometimes your best memory of a trip is of the flowers that lined the roadside. For this group, I’d have to say the fuchsias in Madeira rival the chicory in SW Virginia and the wild roses of Nova Scotia.

I’d have to include an oddities category, too. The flowers of the Argan trees in Morocco are definitely odd–the local goats get into the trees and eat the leaves when the trees are in bloom! The silversword in Maui’s Haleakala Crater is another odd-looking flower as are the proteas of South Africa. Of course, orchids would fit here.

Then there are the field crops of flowers. Flowers are a worldwide commodity and lavender is now grown nearly everywhere around the world (as are sunflowers and coffee). I’d have to see if the different types and growing conditions changed their scent. That study alone could take me to some interesting places: while I’m sniffing the air at the lavender farm in Tasmania, I could also admire the fields of pink, opium poppies fluttering in the breeze. Or I could compare the intensity of aroma from commercial fields of roses between Turkey and Bulgaria.

What about fruit trees? There are festivals celebrating these blooming field crops. Apricot blossom festivals in Korea; plum blossom festivals to celebrate the Chinese New Year; almond blossom festivals in Northern California; and of course, the most celebrated of all, cherry blossoms in Japan.

Some flowers could have their own category. Violets grow in alpine areas, bogs, along trails in dry areas during the wet season, and in ancient gardens. Different colors would increase the value of the list: yellow violets in Argentina, purple in France, lavender in British Columbia, lavender/white in Japan…this could go on and on.

Perhaps the most interesting is the “origin of” category. I would definitely want to see the hillside in Turkey where the ancestors of the modern tulip still grow. Then there’s the source of the original African violets in Tanzania; the hillside in Taxco, Mexico, where the original poinsettias grow (which don’t look much like modern poinsettias); the national park in Argentina where wild petunias provided the stock of our modern bedding plants; Easter lilies that originated in Bermuda; and the mountain in Japan where centuries-old white-blossoming cherry trees bloom in sequence up the mountain and look like snowdrifts.

What about scent? That would make the list even longer. I simply must visit the ylang ylang plantations in Madagascar; then there are the peonies in China, mimosas in France, daphne in the Dolomites…And we haven’t even touched orchids yet!

I’ll also have to attend flower festivals–there’s one every month somewhere in the world. Again, I would have a lot to choose from: crabapple festivals in China, Japan, and Rhode Island. There are several azalea festivals, hydrangea festivals, and dogwood festivals around the world and rhododendron festivals in New Zealand, China, Japan, England, and many places in the US. I’d have to compare the rose festivals in Morocco, Japan, New Zealand, China, and many cities in the US.

Should I include “official” flowers? Such as the many “Jacaranda City” attributions around the world; or the national flower status bestowed upon flowers–this could get diplomatically tricky: the water lily is the national flower of several Asian countries. The same is true for state flowers: for Kansas it’s the sunflower; for Wyoming it’s Indian paintbrush, but for three states it’s the violet.

So many flowers sites, so many places to travel!