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15 Cheaper Alternatives to the Most Overpriced Tourist Attractions

Check out these affordable or less-trafficked Spring Break alternatives to those crowded and pricey bucket list destinations.

casa-palopoCourtesy Casa Palopo

Sub Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán for Italy’s Lake Como

It’s hard to replace Lake Como with anything, really, but for many, a trip to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala may be more feasible if time is limited. Dotted with a dozen colorful Mayan villages along its shores and in the shadow of three majestic volcanoes, the natural scenery surrounding the lake is reminiscent of Italy’s most famous lake. Book a night at Casa Palopó (the only Relais & Chateaux property in the country) where the staff can set up sailing excursions and other outdoor activities. Expert tip: If you’re headed abroad and worried about exchanges rates and currency fluctuations, check out the Travelex MoneyCard. You can pre-load it with foreign currency erasing any need for exchanging cash at the airport. The MoneyCard allows you to lock in one rate—a great deal for international travelers since credit cards can often charge foreign exchange fees.

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banyan tree resort Courtesy Banyan Tree Samui

Koh Samui is often less crowded than Phuket

Thailand’s most famous islands are a favorite of vacationers from around the world. While it may not be a notable savings, Koh Samui has sections of the island where resorts are so secluded it can feel like a private island. The Banyan Tree Samui is spread along a hillside cove in a way that creates a private beach free from trinket hawkers and noisy tourist clubs. And who wouldn’t want to snap a picture of this view from their own infinity pool? Here are 13 European islands you never thought to visit.

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sandals resort Courtesy Sandals Resorts

Get to these over-the-water bungalows with less jet lag

Forget long, expensive flights to the Maldives or French Polynesia. There are a few over-the-water villas and bungalows in the Caribbean that are just as beautiful. You can slumber while perched over turquoise water at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Jamaica and Sandals South Coast and Sandals Grande St. Lucian in St. Lucia. Lounge on your private terrace, or dive directly into the sea for impromptu water sports.

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crater lake Courtesy Travel Southern Oregon

Been to the Grand Canyon? Try Crater Lake National Park

As the deepest and bluest lake in North America, Crater Lake is surrounded by cliffs nearly 2,000 feet high with a beautiful island at its center. Located in southern Oregon, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors whether hiking in summer or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Pack your picnic basket and explore this calm, majestic landscape with a violent volcanic past. These 10 national parks are so far off the beaten path they’re practically secret.

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quebec canadaCourtesy Paul Shio

Avoid jet lag with Québec City instead of Paris

Typical French charm awaits in historic Québec City in the Canadian province of Québec. Here, visitors are wooed with traditional architecture, street side cafes, trendy boutiques, and of course, all things French. But, Québec offers its own unique twist that makes it extra special with a burgeoning culinary scene and numerous art galleries. Be sure to sample a steaming plate of poutine, which consists of french fries drizzled with gravy, cheese curd and a variety of delicious toppings. The region even produces some notable wines!

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alaska cruiseCourtesy Regent Seven Seas Navigator in Alaska

Head north to Alaska instead of south to Antarctica

Antarctic adventures are pricey, but the scenery and stimulating lectures aboard most voyages are worth it. Those sailings typically run during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer (November-January). Until then, hop aboard Regent Seven Seas’ Artful Travelers voyage to Alaska instead. Majestic glaciers, mountains, and wildlife pair perfectly with the special programming from Artful Travelers, which welcomes aboard speakers, performers, and directors from the world of public broadcasting. Dine with scientists and international experts while soaking in the sights and sounds of a frozen wonderland closer to home for half the price. Here are 14 cruises you should only take in winter.

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safari Courtesy San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Get your safari Stateside

If you’re strapped for time and can’t try the Sky Safari by Elewana Collection, why not check out the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park instead? You can ride along in the typical safari caravan vehicle to spot cheetah, giraffes, lions, and elephants. While the natural savannas of Africa are hard to match, the Zoo does a wonderful job of creating a natural environment that immerses visitors in the next best thing. The option to camp overnight in the park for a “roar and snore” safari is great for families.

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The Flower Fields at Carlsbad RanchRvia tripadvisor.com

Make a closer pilgrimage to reach these flowers

The Keukenhof Flower Gardens in the Netherlands are a pilgrimage for many flower lovers each spring, but if you can’t make it across the pond, there’s a great alternative. The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch in Carlsbad, California, come alive with more than 50 acres of blooming ranunculus (part of the buttercup family). Rows and rows of colors and a wonderful aroma form a majestic tapestry that is worth seeing in person.

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casa larga vineyardCourtesy Casa Larga Vineyards

Try the Finger Lakes instead of Napa Valley

With more than 130 wineries, the Finger Lakes region of New York is a great alternative to those that have visited many of California’s wine-producing regions. The area counts distilleries, breweries, cideries, and vineyards among its many additional attractions. The natural backdrop is a huge draw for visitors that come to hike, bike past waterfalls, hot air balloon over the vineyards, and even skydive. Find out all the reasons fall is the best time to plan a vacation.

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fort lauderdaleCourtesy Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach

Hit the beaches of Miami’s neighbor, Fort Lauderdale

Been there, done that with Miami Beach? Fort Lauderdale is just up the road and has its own burgeoning arts scene and pristine beaches. The arts district, known as FATVillage (similar to Miami’s Wynwood), is packed with galleries, murals, cafes, and shops worth exploring. The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens are worth exploring if you’ve already been to Miami’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Beachfront hotels like the Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach put visitors front and center for beach views.

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lake superior northern lightsCourtesy Pure Michigan

See the Northern Lights closer to home

Save time and expensive airfare to Europe when you’re stargazing. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a great alternative to crossing the ocean to see the Northern Lights in Iceland or Norway. Instead, this closer-to-home option is ideal for spotting the aurora borealis due to its latitude and relatively low light pollution. The best time to spot the lights is in April.

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hawaii oahu Tor Johnson/Courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)

Choose Oahu as your next Caribbean paradise

With the announcement that Southwest Airlines is starting flights to Hawaii, competition will surely heat up with great fare deals. For those living in the western half of the country, getting to Oahu is easier to reach than the Caribbean, which often requires a red-eye flight. The island’s history is rich (Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace for starters), there are hotel options at every price point, and the surfing is among the best in the nation. Here’s what to know before you book your Hawaii vacation.

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reno nevadaCourtest Reno Tahoe

The Biggest Little City in the World versus Vegas

Looking for world-class entertainment and outdoor adventure? Reno Tahoe could be the antidote to more crowded Las Vegas. Known the world over as the gateway for the Burning Man festival, the art-infused region is a hot spot for year-round outdoor activities, concerts, food trucks, and of course, gambling, where the downtown row of hotels and casinos—Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus—offer plenty of gaming action and amenities like a brand new, full-service spa. One of the unique aspects to the area is a strong Spanish influence in the cuisine and lifestyle thanks to Basque sheepherders that relocated here to work as ranchers.

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cambridge nightCourtesy University Arms Hotel, Autograph Collection

If you’ve seen London, wait until you see Cambridge

If architecture strikes your fancy, Cambridge (50 miles north of London) has plenty of impressive landmark buildings. This quintessential college town is worth a visit to explore King’s College Chapel, which boasts the largest fan-vault ceiling in the world. Take a lovely boat ride along the River Cam to peruse the city while afloat. Literary buffs should book a night at University Arms Hotel, Autograph Collection where each of its suites is named for and stocks the works of an author that studied here.

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biltmore estateCourtesy Biltmore Estate

Try an American castle rather than a European one

Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is every bit as breathtaking as many of those in the French countryside. North Carolina’s biggest mountain city is known for craft breweries, great dining and shopping, and glistening vineyards on the Biltmore grounds. The mansion was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s and continues to be the largest privately owned home in the country. Guests can book a night at The Inn on Biltmore Estate if they want to sleep like royalty once did. Read up on the best places to visit in the offseason.

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Ramsey Qubein
Ramsey Qubein covers the hotel, cruise, and airline industry from every corner of the globe. He is highly recognized as an expert in travel loyalty programs and writes for RD.com's Travel section. You'll find Ramsey flying more than 450,000 miles per year on his quest to visit every country on the planet (166 and counting so far). His work has appeared in numerous publications including Reader's Digest, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel+Leisure, CNBC.com, AFAR, Robb Report, Business Traveler, BBC Worldwide, USA Today, Frommers.com, Fodors.com, and NerdWallet.com. He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and completed a Master’s Degree thesis studying the history of branding in the airline industry. Follow along on his travels via Instagram and Twitter.