Traveling in your early twenties is a privilege, and one that doesn’t only have to happen once a year. Lofty plans to backpack western Europe with friends or head to Australia are often hindered by lack of cash, considering most international (and even domestic flights) total around a grand and upwards. And sadly the days of our parents semi-paying for college spring break trips are out the door (damnit), so traveling sometimes seems impossible.
That’s why when my friend Annie mentioned that her ticket to Juneau, Alaska cost around $300, I was pretty shocked. Like hold up, you can fly to a cool, incredible place and not shell out an entire paycheck for a flight?
I searched travel sites like Travelocity and Kayak to see what else was out there under $700, and it was unbelievable. And yes, you’ll see that Europe is no where on this list and that’s because it’s damn near impossible to find a “cheap” round trip ticket there (yeah, even to semi-scary places like Bosnia.) But Europe isn’t the end-all-be-all for traveling, guys.
From state side visits to Austin, Texas for fall music festivals to jetting over to the Costa Rican and Thai jungles, I found 10 amazing places throughout the world you can fly to without depleting your entire bank account.
WHERE: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
WHEN TO GO: Winter months
FLIGHT COST: As low as $552 from Chicago, $559 from JFK and $666 from LAX
Playa Del Carmen was my spring break spot freshman year of college, and I have very fond memories of it (minus stupidly eating the tequila worm). So I was pumped to find that a trip to one of the most beautiful parts of the country around New Years wouldn’t break the bank. Because chilling in Mexico is the most fun when you get to ditch cold ass weather. Playa Del Carmen is about an hour from Cancun, and has enough parties within its city limits to make it super lively but not the kind you’d find in a Girls Gone Wild video.
WHERE: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
WHEN TO GO: Late spring, like April and May
FLIGHT COST: As low as $765 from LAX
Okay, it’s $65 dollars over $700 but it’s Cambodia, there’s abandoned temples and it’s backpacking heaven. Unfortunately this trip goes above $900 from JFK or Chicago, but if you’re flying out from LAX, you’re in luck. Phnom Penh is known for its bustling river fronts with nightlife, restaurants and markets, and is nearby ancient temples that’ll make you feel like you’re in Tomb Raider. And an absolute must is checking out UNESCO Heritage Site Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap.
WHERE: San Juan, Puerto Rico
WHEN TO GO: Mid-April to June
FLIGHT COST: As low as $407 from JFK, $419 from Chicago and $517 from LAX
If you don’t have a passport, you can still get to a tropical paradise via San Juan, Puerto Rico. Known for its lively street events like the San Sebastian Festival, Puerto Rico is a strong contender for the ultimate summer party island. Surfers flock to its 20-foot ocean waves and backpackers head to the beautiful El Morro Fortress that juts out into the ocean. The best part? It’s less than a three-hour flight from Miami, so you could really do two party trips in one.
WHERE: San Jose, Costa Rica
WHEN TO GO: Mid-December to April during the dry season
FLIGHT COST: As low as $400 from JFK, $402 from LAX and $446 from Chicago
Tropical rain forest meets urban dwellings in San Jose, Costa Rica. With the Talamanca Mountains to the south and volcanoes to the north of the city, San Jose is cheap to get to and a treat to explore. If you’re an architecture nerd, there’s Spanish colonial churches and museums to peruse through. But if you want to go zip lining or ride an ATV through the jungle, there’s also mini adventures nearby.
WHERE: Vancouver, Canada
WHEN TO GO: Spring
FLIGHT COST: As low as $274 from LAX, $527 from Chicago, and $569 from JFK
Prime Canadian hockey season doesn’t come at that much of a price apparently in Vancouver. Can you say Canucks’ games? Surrounded by mountains, it’s no wonder the British Columbia city is a popular film location. There’s also a budding theater, art and music scene in the Canadian city that’s worth tapping into.
WHERE: Austin, Texas
WHEN TO GO: Fall to late spring
FLIGHT COST: As low as $178 from Chicago, $329 from JFK and $260 from LAX
I was pumped to find that a ticket to Austin would only set me back about $260 in October for the Austin City Limits music festival. A city that is dubbed the “live music capital of the world” and is that cheap to get to from most parts of the country is something worth capitalizing on. It’s even cheap to fly down there for all of the SXSW parties in mid-March, even if you can’t actually attend the interactive film and music festival. Not to mention, the nightlife in Austin puts it in a whole other category.
WHERE: Juneau, Alaska
WHEN TO GO: Summer
FLIGHT COST: As low as $269 from LAX, $558 From JFK, and $627 from Chicago
I’ve never really thought about Alaska as a cool travel destination until my friend Annie showed me pictures of her recent trip to Juneau. The picturesque town is an unexpected summer destination, I know, but it’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiast who wants to hike during the day and go to a dive bar at night. Bars like Red Dog Saloon and the Alaskan bar are good spots to stop at, and if you need badass hike routes, try Perseverance Trail and the West Glacier Trail.
WHERE: Belize City, Belize
WHEN TO GO: November to mid-April
FLIGHT COST: As low as $335 from JFK, $394 from LAX and $396 from Chicago
It’s true — you can travel to an exotic country in Central America that has attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, the famous gigantic blue hole, numerous islands, pristine rainforests and jungles for under $500. Belize has become one of the most popular places to travel to, and it helps that you can do it on a relatively low budget. Even though Belize City is cool, I would recommend that as a jumping off point and visiting its most famous spots like Ambergris Caye and Hopkins Island.
WHERE: New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN TO GO: February to May
FLIGHT COST: As low as $351 from JFK, $331 from LAX and $186 from Chicago
Heading down with your friends to Mardi Gras isn’t as expensive as you think from most places around the country. Known for its round-the-clock nightlife, it’s a place you need to get weird at least once. And the restaurant scene? Yeah, it’s pretty damn good. If you’re into the cajun and southern food scene, this is the ultimate place to be at.
WHERE: Bangkok, Thailand
WHEN TO GO: Avoid September to October and April to May
FLIGHT COST: As low as $679 from LAX
If you’re flying out of Chicago or JFK, it’s going to cost you over $900 to get there (sorry), but if you’re a west coaster you can get to Bangkok for a good price considering it’s an international flight. And the coolest thing about Thailand? Most travel sites say you can get by on $40 a day (I know) AND it’s totally cheap to island hop, too. Head to the famous island of Phucket for a Full Moon Party, or Ko Phi Phi for scuba diving and deep sea fishing. And yeah, Ko Phi Phi might look familiar because it’s where they filmed The Beach. Don’t worry though, no weird shit will happen to you like it did to Leonardo DiCaprio. I swear.
Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy. She once went from Kosovo to Greece for $30 dollars, so bug her about bargain traveling @nctheodore.