Charming Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is one world-class destination that won't break the bank! Photo courtesy of Mike Clime/Dreamstime. Article by the Editors of Budget Travel.
Here at Budget Travel, we know nobody wants to skimp on vacation -- it's the time for great food, luxurious surroundings, and breathtaking scenery. But what if we told you that all that can be yours for less than $100 a day? Contributing Editor Darley Newman joined Today hosts Kathie Lee and Hoda to share five "real" budget destinations:
MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Why we love it: This is a gorgeous, warm American beach that's a road trip away for most Easter Coasters.
What to do: Relax! Miles of warm sand and gentle surf are perfect for families or girlfriend getaways. Nightlife includes oceanfront seafood buffets, local micro-brews, and boardwalk rides (like the Twist 'n Shout roller coaster) that turn grownups into kids.
Where to stay: Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort includes beach access, a heated pool, and a kids-eat-free policy (from $75/night).
7-DAY CARIBBEAN CRUISE ON THE NORWEGIAN GETAWAY
Why we love it: A super-stylish new Norwegian Cruise Line mega-ship is hitting knockout destinations like St. Maarten and St. Thomas -- and you can totally afford it.
What to do: The brand-new mega ship Norwegian Getaway (featuring chic Miami-themed food, entertainment, and decor!) departs from Miami and leaves plenty of time for you to explore the beaches, open-air markets, and shops of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau.
Bottom line: This seven-day cruise starts at $449 (that's less than $65/day!).
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: IBEROSTAR COSTA DORADA ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
Why we love it: "All-inclusive" means you may not have to reach for your purse the entire stay! And unlike some resorts, this place pours top-shelf cocktails for no extra charge!
What to do: Hang a do-not-disturb sign on the door of your thatched-roof lodgings! Or indulge in cuisine that includes Brazilian, Mexican, and international menus. Lounge on the beach or beside the massive pool, or get adventurous with kayaking or diving lessons in a tropical paradise.
Bottom line: The Iberostar Costa Dorada, just 10 minutes from Puerto Plata, completely renovated its 500+ rooms in 2011. All-inclusive lodging, three a la carte restaurants, and top-shelf drinks from $75 per person per night based on double occupancy.
Why we love it: With world-class food, theater, and art, the Windy City is second to none in style!
What to do: Enjoy the peerless art collection at the Chicago Art Institute (including Seurat's pointillist masterpiece, "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte"); see a great play at Steppenwolf Theater; have a ball on the classic Navy Pier (one of Budget Travel's "most awesome boardwalks in America"); take a cruise on the Chicago River; explore some of America's most noteworthy architecture (including some of the highest observation decks in the world!); and take your pick of cuisine -- from heaped-high hot dogs to an under-$30 lunch at the fantastic Café des Architectes restaurant.
Where to stay: Hotel Blake is in a lovely 19th-century building a short walk from the upscale shops and boutiques of State Street, from $95/night when booked via Expedia.
Why we love it: Step back in time in an 18th century fishing village. Enjoy the friendly locals, freshest seafood EVER, and a European feel right here in North America!
What to do: Old Town Lunenburg is a lovely 18th-century century heritage site in Nova Scotia. Stroll past brightly colored wood-framed houses painstakingly preserved by Lunenberg's citizens. Buy a $10 ticket to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and its wharves to behold floating replicas of famous trawlers and schooners. Grab an amazing bowl of chowder and traditional Lunenburg fish cakes at local favorite, The Knot Pub.
Where to Stay: Quaint and cozy, the Smugglers Cove Inn is right by the docks. For $5 a night, you can even rent a Beta fish, which the hotel calls "a free 'therapy' session to help you relax." (From $99/night)
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Restaurant.com sells $25 gift certificates for $10 or $50 gift certificates for $20. The site also has sales throughout the year, and I've snagged $25 gift certificates for $5. I keep a stack of these things in my wallet at all times. Most places have a minimum purchase requirement (from $35 and up) but you can generally use the gift certificates any time. But there are drawbacks: They're for dine-in only, they're nonrefundable, and they can only be redeemed once per month per restaurant. Still, the site has become so popular that you can double dip - buying Restaurant.com certificates through an airline's shopping portal in order to earn frequent flier miles, for instance.
If you're not already using Groupon and LivingSocial, start now. Both sites post daily deals that will give you 50 to 90 percent off at different restaurants. You'll have to act quickly, but you'll save a bunch. I just got a dozen cake pops (regularly $17) for $8 through Groupon. If you don't want to spend hours sifting through all the offers, Money Talks News deals diva Karla Bowsher has culled the very best on our deals page.
If you have a smartphone, some social networking apps will get you free stuff and discounts. Last weekend, I got free guacamole and a free flan for checking into the restaurant on Yelp. Here are a few apps that score you deals: Yelp Check-ins - After you check in, mention Yelp to your server to get the goods. Foursquare - Many places offer discounts and buy-one-get-one offers to people who check in. SCVNGR - Every time you check in, you accumulate points. You can redeem your points for a discount on your bill or a free item depending on the restaurant.
Every restaurant in town knows when my birthday is. Last year, I got three half-price meals, six free desserts, two free entrees, and about a dozen free cocktails - and all I had to do was sign up for a birthday mailing list and turn a year older. Many restaurants have a birthday or anniversary club. Signing up is free and they'll send you a coupon around the date. Ask your server how to sign up - and even if they don't have a mailing list, he'll tell you what you can get for free or cheap on your special occasion. There's even a site devoted to listing restaurants where you can eat free on your birthday: eatfreeonyourbirthday.com
Social media-savvy restaurants post special deals on Twitter. Some even post code words. If you tell your server the code word, you'll get a discount or a freebie. Last month, I got a free dessert for saying "Free Sean Payton" to my server. (I live in New Orleans, and the code words referred to our NFL coach who has been suspended by the league.) To find a restaurant's Twitter info, visit its website and look for the "Follow Us" links. One should be for Twitter. Another should be for Facebook. Speaking of which...
Here at Money Talks News, we take surveys, hold contests, and give out freebies on our Facebook page as a way to keep in touch with you. Many restaurants do the same thing. By "liking" the restaurant page, you'll get access to special deals not mentioned anywhere else.
I've made it a habit to open a few apps before I walk into a restaurant. There are several free apps that post deals to local and chain restaurants. Most places will apply the discount to your bill if you show them the app - no need to print the coupon. Here are a few apps worth downloading: Dining Deals LocalEats The Valpak App
Many restaurants in my area extend their lunch hours until late afternoon. By eating dinner early, I get the lunch prices, which are often 25 to 50 percent cheaper than the dinner prices for the same entrees. Before you try somewhere new, visit the restaurant's website and see if they have a lunch or early bird special.
It's uncommon, but some restaurants let you bring your own beer or wine, which is usually cheaper than the cost of paying per glass. Before you go, call ahead and ask if the establishment is BYOB. If they're not, skip the cocktail and have one somewhere else. Some places will charge a "corkage fee" if you bring your own wine, but even at $10 per bottle, it's still often cheaper than buying the same bottle in the restaurant. Most restaurants in my area overcharge for alcohol. For example, my local bar charges $3 for a mixed drink, but the restaurant next door charges $6. I save 50 percent stopping by the bar for my after-dinner drink.
Restaurant meals are over-proportioned, so split your meal in two. You'll eat dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for one price. It may seem like obvious advice, but it's harder in practice. If you're not careful, you'll end up eating everything on the plate. To beat the extra calories and save money, I divide my plate in half before I start eating. I only eat from my "now" half of the plate and ask for a to-go box for the rest.
Knowing the different steak cuts and how they're prepared will save you money. For example, my friend always goes for the filet mignon because it's well known and tender. It's also one of the most expensive cuts you can order. Meanwhile, I ask if the hanger or flank steak was marinated. If it was, I order that. It's the cheapest steak on the menu, but it's also flavorful and tender - if marinated. MSN says sirloin, flank, skirt, and hanger steaks are really underrated. Give them a chance.
If I've learned one thing being a local in a tourist town like New Orleans, it's this: Tourist traps are alive and well. Many of the famous restaurants tourists want to visit are overpriced and not the best dining experience. If you want an authentic experience and a better price, check out a review site like Yelp or Urban Spoon before you visit a vacation spot. Pick a few places the locals rated highly and check their websites for menu prices. You can save a ton by planning ahead and skipping the hot spots.
I'm fortunate to have very cheap friends. "I don't care where we go as long as it's cheap," is a common refrain on a Friday night. But I also have some less-than-frugal friends who visit from out of town. Since I know they'll want to try that expensive five-star restaurant they heard about on the Food Network, I jump the gun and suggest a similar but cheaper place. If you're dining out with a group, suggest reasonably priced places ahead of time. It will keep you from having to choose between a $25 salad or a $30 piece of chicken.
Around here they call it lagniappe - the little something extra you get for being a great customer. Like the free cup of gumbo I've gotten every time I visit a diner in my neighborhood. I get that little something extra because I'm a regular. Trying new places is great, but you can get a discount (or a lagniappe) by building a relationship with the servers or owners of local restaurants.
With iDine, you can earn 5 to 15 percent back any time you eat out. Just sign up on their website. Within 30 days of your meal, sign on and complete a quick survey. For every survey you take, you'll earn cash back. When you reach $20, iDine will mail you an American Express gift card. It takes some effort, but it's free money. See? Dining out doesn't have to mean going all in - or staying in.
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