Five affordable travel destinations for summer 2023

Five affordable travel destinations for summer 2023

With the summer quickly approaching, now is the time to plan your travels. That’s because the longer you wait, the more you’ll usually pay. Admittedly, what counts as an “affordable” summer vacation is up for debate since July and August are the peak travel season, which means flights and hotel prices are typically expensive. That said, the cost of renting a cottage for a week can climb quickly: At press time, Ontario lakefront cottage rentals that can sleep a family of four on AirBnB averaged $669 a night, plus taxes, gas, food, cleaning fees, activities and more.

So why not think outside the box? You may be surprised to learn that there are popular destinations near and far that you can visit for a similar – or even lower – price. While they all come with downsides given the time of year, the tradeoffs can be worth it. You just need to be realistic about your expectations, and know where to cut costs and when to splurge on things that matter the most to you.

Six European travel destinations to avoid the summer crowds

Consider Curacao for an affordable summer vacation

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Dutch-style homes painted in bright pastel colours. Located in the historic area of Willemstad, these buildings have been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO.Curaçao Tourist Board

Located about 65 kilometres north of Venezuela, Curacao is one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems: The island sees less than 500,000 visitors each year. Not only does that mean fewer crowds, but you’ll also find lower prices compared with other Caribbean countries. Plus, Curacao sits outside the hurricane belt, which will give many people peace of mind.

Travellers exploring Curacao can expect pristine beaches, colourful architecture and rich history. The Dutch Caribbean island has a diverse heritage spanning 55 different cultures, and locals speak English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu – the native language. In downtown Willemstad you’ll find bars and restaurants that feature a mix of American, Caribbean and European influences. Goat barbecue, fresh seafood (including lion fish, conch and raw herring), and iguana soup (which tastes like chicken vegetable soup, but gamey and chewy) are some local favourites.

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What really makes the island stand out are the Dutch-style homes painted in bright pastel colours. Located in the historic area of Willemstad, these buildings have been recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

How much to budget per person: Expect to spend about $1,100 on flights if departing from Toronto or Montreal. Mid-range accommodations that sleep two to four are around $300, and expect to pay $65 a day for food. If you’re staying for four or five nights, budget an additional $250 for local transportation and excursions.

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Playa Forti, Curaçao.Curaçao Tourist Board

How to stay within budget: Air Canada Vacations often has sales and offers flight and hotel packages where you can save big. Authentic meals can be had for less than $10 at a truk’i pan (food truck), which are found throughout the country, or the Plasa Bieu (old market). Boutique hotels such as the Kura Botanica and Bario Hotel typically have rates of $150 to $200 a night.

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Willemstad, Curaçao.Curaçao Tourist Board

If you want to upgrade: The Kontiki Beach Resort recently renovated its suites. There, guests can enjoy private pools, tropical flora, a private beach and unforgettable views of the Caribbean Sea. Expect to spend $1,300-plus a night. In terms of activities, you can explore the island’s deep-sea life in a submarine with Substation Curacao. Dives start at around $275 a person.

The downside: Curacao is hotter than most other Caribbean islands, which means even the sea water is warm.

Consider Orlando for an affordable summer vacation

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The Jurassic World VelociCoastercameramanvic/Handout

There’s a misconception that Orlando is expensive and only for people with kids. But with some great beaches only 45 minutes away, plus plenty of budget attractions, even adults without littles ones in tow will find lots to do.

To get a lay of the land, head to ICON Park, where you’ll find the Wheel, a 400-foot-tall observation wheel that gives you epic views of lakes, downtown Orlando and the theme parks. If you prefer to stay grounded, the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium and Museum of Illusions are always fun – and at $35, far less than a visit to Disney.

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Winter Park’s scenic boat tourVisit Orlando/Handout

For a taste of culture, take a scenic boat tour in Winter Park, located just 10 minutes from downtown Orlando. While cruising through lakes and canals, you’ll learn about the local history, see subtropical flowers and possibly spot an alligator. A short drive away is Orlando’s Mills 50 District. This area has quickly become popular for its diverse culinary and art scene.

Other inexpensive things to do include swan-boat rides on Lake Eola, the Orlando Science Center, the Crayola Experience and the Orange County Regional History Center. If you’re craving a chill day, New Smyrna Beach is about one hour from downtown.

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Orlando offers swan-boat rides on Lake EolaVisit Orlando/Handout

How much to budget per person: A return flight will cost you about $700 from Toronto, but add $200 if you’re flying from anywhere else. Moderate hotels (think Hilton and IHG brands) are around $200 a night (sleeping up to four). If you mix grocery stores trips with restaurant dining, food will cost you about $50 a day. Budget $40 a day for attractions, but add $200 if you plan on going to a theme park such as Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort. Rental cars average $75 a day, but don’t forget to factor in gas and parking.

How to stay within budget: Discount airline Lynx Air now flies from Toronto and is typically cheaper than the major carriers (as of press time, return flights costs approximately $400 before any extras). If you want to stay close to the theme parks, Universal’s Aventura Hotel is budget-friendly and gives you complimentary transportation and early access to the parks. Check out for the latest offers. also lists deals, including Canadian exclusives.

If you want to upgrade: Head to Universal Orlando Resort for thrills. One-day park tickets start at US$109, but you’ll want to add a Universal Express Unlimited Pass (from US$119.99) since you can skip the line at most rides and attractions an unlimited number of times. Staying at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel or the Hard Rock Hotel is worth the splurge since all guests get a complimentary Universal Express Unlimited Pass (theme park admission required). Hotel prices start at $430 and comfortably sleep up to four people.

The downside: Summer is one of Orlando’s busiest tourist seasons, so expect packed restaurants and long lines at some attractions. Things do calm down in the last half of August, but that is peak hurricane season for Florida. While Orlando itself doesn’t get hit hard often, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re hoping to visit other parts of the state. Finally, if you are tempted by amusement parks, don’t underestimate how much it will cost: A family of four could easily drop US$800 a day when you factor in tickets, parking, food, merchandise and other add-ons.

Consider the Algarve, Portugal, for an affordable summer vacation

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The Algarve is about a four-hour train ride from Lisbon.Algarve Tourism Board/Algarve Tourism Board

The Algarve is the southernmost region in Portugal, and is famous for its beaches and coastlines. You’ll also find colourful cliffs and rock formations that will make you think you’re on another planet.

Most travellers will fly into Lisbon, where you can get a feel for Portuguese architecture, history and Fado music, but you don’t need much time in the city. The Algarve is about a four-hour train ride from Lisbon, and you’ll want to rent a car once you get down to the Algarve since there’s limited public transportation.

Praia de Dona Ana by Lagos is the most popular beach, but it’s worth beach hopping to Praia da Rocha, Praia de Sao Rafael and others for a change of scenery. For a more active day, you can hike many of the cliffs for a better vantage point. It’s also worth exploring some of the small towns, such as Ferragudo and Carvoeiro. There you’ll find traditional homes, fishing boats, narrow streets covered with flowers such as antirrhinums (snapdragons) and lavender, and some of the best seafood in Portugal (cataplana, a fish stew, being a regional favourite).

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Odeceixe, Algarve Portugal.Algarve Tourism Board/Algarve Tourism Board

How much to budget per person: Flights from eastern Canada will set you back about $1,300. If you’re flying from the west, budget $1,600. Hotels can easily be found in the $150 to $200 range and sleep two people at that rate. Food will cost you around $50 a day.

How to stay within budget: Instead of heading to the Algarve, budget-conscious travellers could opt for smaller beach towns closer to Lisbon, such as Cascais and Ericeira. If you do head to the Algarve, you’ll pay less for hotels the further you stay from the beach.

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A tunnel at the medieval-area Castle of Lagos in Lagos, Portugal.Russell Contreras/The Associated Press

If you want to upgrade: Located in Quinta do Lago, the Conrad Algarve is a luxury property designed to look like a Portuguese palace. With multiple pools, restaurants, a spa and access to a private section of Vale do Lobo Beach, you may never want to leave. The hotel also organizes local experiences, such as winemaking and clam picking. Rooms start at $950 a night in the summer.

The downside: The summer is high season in the Algarve and prices will be more expensive – although still cheaper than many other places in Western Europe. But be prepared for crowded beaches and make sure to make plans well in advance.

Consider Belize for an affordable summer vacation

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El Castillo, Xunantunich, Cayo, Belize.Wikimedia

Home to some of the greatest outdoor adventures, it’s shocking that Belize isn’t on the radar for more people. The Belize Barrier Reef is just a few kilometres off the coast and is second in size to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. You can dive, snorkel or take a glass-bottom boat to enjoy the views. Another can’t-miss spot is shark ray alley, where you can swim along nurse sharks. Don’t worry; they don’t bite.

If you head inland, the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour is a must, as you’ll be able to traverse the cavern, waddle through the waters and visit a Mayan sacrificial site featuring a skeleton that has been crystalized into the cave floor. If you prefer to keep things low key, you can go tubing in other cave systems.

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San Ignacio Resort Hotel: Belize.San Ignacio Resort Hotel: Belize

Within walking distance of San Ignacio, a popular inland city, is Cahal Pech, a Mayan site that contains more than 30 structures. That said, if you only have time for one set of ruins, make it Xunantunich. It’s a short drive from the city and is estimated to have been built around 800 AD. The highlight here is El Castillo, a 130-foot-tall structure made from hand-cut stone that you can climb.

How much to budget per person: Flights will run you about $800 to $900 and hotels average $200 a night. A combination of restaurants and food stands will only set you back $50 a day – less if you visit grocery stores and markets. For excursions, $100 each is a good estimate.

How to stay within budget: August is the start of the low season, so hotel prices tend to drop. To keep your food costs down, eat at food stands where you can enjoy local favourites such as panades (fried dough with meat inside), pupusas, tacos and chicken with rice and beans. Group tours for excursions instead of private ones are always cheaper.

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San Ignacio Resort Hotel: Belize

If you want to upgrade: For intimate luxury, head to the Victoria House Resort on Ambergris Caye, where you can book a villa with multiple rooms and a private pool starting from US$950 a night. For those headed inland, the royal suite at the San Ignacio Resort is where Prince William and Kate Middleton stayed; rates start at US$495 a night. For an extra adventure, book a flight over the Great Blue Hole, a marine sinkhole located off the coast (US$200 a person).

The downside: It’ll take a stopover in Miami, Atlanta or Dallas to get to Belize City from Toronto. The total journey time will be about seven to nine hours. Those coming from Vancouver can expect the journey to take nine to 12 hours with a stopover in Los Angeles, Atlanta or Houston.

Consider Bangkok for an affordable summer vacation

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Bangkok street food vendor.Unsplash/Handout

Thailand may be famous for its temples and islands, but the cuisine is the star attraction for many visitors. The Michelin Guide recommends more than 400 restaurants in the country, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on food. Instead of booking a table at multistar restaurants where getting a seat will take months – and your meal will cost you hundreds of dollars – head to the malls.

In Bangkok, many of the large malls, such as Siam Paragon, CentralWorld and EmQuartier, have food markets where local and Michelin-recommended restaurants set up pop-up booths. This gives locals and tourists an opportunity to sample some of their menu items at a reasonable price. The restaurants rotate regularly, so there’s always something new to taste.

Some of the more popular dishes these days include oyster omelettes, bingsu (shaved frozen cream or milk with sweet toppings) and garlic-fried shrimp. Of course, you can’t go wrong with classics such as pad thai, mango sticky rice, khao pad and chicken skewers.

How much to budget per person: Flights in August are hovering around $2,500 from Western Canada or $2,800 from the east, but it’s easy to find accommodations that sleep up to four people for less than $80 a day. A reasonable food budget is $40 a day. Most attractions only cost a few dollars to get in.

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Woman preparing meals in Bangkok street food market.Unsplash/Handout

How to stay within budget: Plenty of meals are available from street vendors and markets for less than $5. Skip the taxis and tuk-tuks and instead, take the BTS (Skytrain), MRT (subway) or river taxi, where a ride will cost you less than $2 each.

If you want to upgrade: Just steps from the aforementioned malls, the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok has an outdoor infinity pool and a rooftop bar that will help you beat the heat while enjoying breathtaking views of the city. Make sure you check out the breakfast buffet, often called the most deluxe in the city. Not only will you find Western options, but you’ll also have the chance to sample Thai and Chinese dishes. Rooms hover around $400 a night for up to two people during the summer. You could also consider heading to one of the islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phi Phi, where there are fewer crowds and easy access to the water.

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Waldorf Astoria Bangkok’s rooftop pool.Masano Kawana/Handout

The downside: Besides those eye-watering flight prices, July and August equals rainy season in Thailand. The traffic and heat – which can reach the high 30s (more with humidity) – won’t be for everyone.