Now more than ever you’re lusting after a vacation that will take your mind off all the gloom and doom in the news. The trouble is you just can’t afford it. But exotic travel doesn’t have to be expensive. That is if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and consider a variety of travel alternatives that can stand-in for the real thing. There are some real deals on the fake deal.
If you want to go to Spain, fake yourself out with St. Augustine, Florida.
You’d like to be baking in the sun off the coast of Spain in oversized sunglasses which reflect the villas lining the beach, a glass of sangria in hand. Go to St. Augustine Florida instead. The minute you feel those rays bearing down on you, you’ll be glad you got away and the feel of the place will quickly transport you to another time and place. Since the Spaniards were the first explorers to set foot in the US, it only makes sense that the oldest US city’s got that distinct flair; it was settled on the heels of Juan Ponce de Leon’s 1513 landing.
Why you will be transported: The balconies overlooking narrow streets in the Old City smack of Barcelona. Stop by the whitewashed Basilica of St. Augustine, a great example of old-school Spanish Colonial architecture. Grab a pint at the ancient Taberna de Gallo, where you can listen to Spanish folk tunes by torch or candlelight-this place is so staunchly old school that they’ve shunned electricity, too. If it is the posh beaches that you still dream of, there are plenty to go around in the nearby national parks, which you can get into for just $6. For a more close-up and personal encounter with Spanish history, check out the ghost tours, including the Ghost of the Matanzas boat tours.
All that and you’ll also get: A sip from the very Fountain of Youth the Ponce de Leon was looking for when he set out on his expedition. Oh, of course it’s here, in an orange grove with men in tights.
How much you’ll save: Buckets. Hotel rooms are very reasonable, as are the things to do. You’ll save many hundreds on the air ticket alone.
If you want to go to Paris, fake yourself out with Quebec City.
An elegant French city is so just magical, especially when its prize is rich, decadent food. You’ll eat just as well as you would in Paris in the bejeweled, second largest French-speaking city in the world-and it’s not even in France.
Why you’ll feel transported: Sometimes the best part of traveling to another country is not understanding a thing, making up your own back story and marveling at being a complete outsider. You’ll find plenty of that in Quebec City, where over 95 percent of people are originally from France, and most speak French as their first language. The skyline of the Old City is marked by the opulent Le Chateau Frontenac. (Though it looks like a fairytale castle, you can stay there, for a price.) Check out the pristine old chapel at the Musee de la Civilisation , which is a generally good starting point for making sense of it all. Get lost in the narrow, charming St-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood. Still, you can’t die without seeing the Eiffel Tower, so check the Paris Grill for a replica of the real thing. All that and you’ll also get: Boites à chansons, the wonderful Celtic-influenced Québécois folk music.
How much you’ll save: The main savings will be on airfare. It’s especially cheap to fly into Maine, New Hampshire, or New York and rent a car or take the train the rest of the way in.
If you want to go to Japan, fake yourself out with Hawaii.
There aren’t many places in the world that can stand in for Japan. Japan’s culture is simultaneously both ancient and bleeding edge modern which is one reason it remains an otherworldly fascination for so many people. But Hawaii can help you understand much about Japan without your having to dive headfirst into that culture.
Why you will feel transported:
Hawaiian language is peppered with Japanese words directly lifted from the diaspora. (Have some anpan, a Japanese sweet red bean treat or musubi, a rice ball “sandwich.”) In June, go to a traditional matsuri festival, a unifying summer celebration of identity for places, large and small, all over Japan. The state is dotted with Japanese religious shrines, including Byodo-in, a Buddhist temple which is a recreation of one in Japan, with a serene 12-foot bronze Buddha. Also check out Shirokiya, a Japanese department store in Honolulu that can really make you feel like you’re a part of the everyday in Japan and not a tourist. Go late in the day to pick up that days fresh sushi at half price, just as the Japanese do in Japan. Or pick up the latest consumer electronics, straight outta Akihabara.
All that and you’ll also get: The stunning, lush natural landscape of Hawaii.
How much you’ll save: Tourism is way down in Hawaii so there are lots of bargains to be had. Stay away from the big resorts and rent a condo with a group of friends. Shop for groceries at Costco and cook at home. Spend your days at the beach or in the free public parts. Do these things and a vacation in Honolulu can be almost as inexpensive as staying at home.
The excellent tourism site www.gohawaii.com includes videos and searchable databases for each island.
If you want to take a trip around the world, settle for a weekend in Las Vegas.
Each of the unreal casino-states offers its own charming brand of escapism.
Why you will feel transported: At the Venetian, you can enjoy lunch al fresco at a replica of St. Marks Square or take a ride on a gondola. Paris has its own versions of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triomphe along with an approximation of European café culture. It’s even possible to get an authentic New York deli sandwich at New York New York. Monte Carlo attempts the haute glitz of a real Monaco city-state, minus the yachts. If you can’t get to the pyramids and great Sphinx, you’ll might can be easily fooled at the Luxor, a famed larger than larger-than life Egyptian-themed casino. Another thought: If you don’t sleep for the entire weekend, which is very possible, you will even feel like the vacation is much longer than it really was…
All that and you’ll also get: To either double or lose your life savings in your spare time.
How much you’ll save: Thousands, and a few months of vacation time.
In conclusion, save the right to take the trip of your dreams for the moment you lose your job. Hey, there’s never been a better time to remind yourself why it’s great to be alive.