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If the daily barrage of bleak economic outlooks causes you to entertain flights of fancy, consider these budget-friendly vacations here and abroad. Frommers recently released its top destinations for 2009, focusing on international destinations that are affordable and seeking the newest "hot spots."
Washington, DC, USA
(Frommer's pick for the budget destination of 2009)
Change has come to the nation's capital, and the influx of new blood and governing energy isn't the only reason to visit. Wait until after the millions leave on January 21, and you'll discover one of the world's great budget cities. Almost every major attraction Washington has to offer—from the Smithsonian Museums to the National Monuments to the National Zoo, home to the giant pandas—is free. Leisure travelers are ideally situated to snag great deals on hotel rooms on weekends, when business travelers clear out and hotels are eager to fill rooms. New for 2009: the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.
Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Located in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, Waiheke Island is located about 17.7 km (about 35 minutes by ferry) from Auckland.
At the forefront of New Zealand’s massive wine and olive industry, Waiheke Island still retains a lot of the summer holiday, beach quality Europeans and creative types come to expect. And for all the new modern, expensive housing being developed here, there are still plenty of deals to be found.
The vast ancient burial ground site of this huge necropolis, which was attached to the ancient city of Memphis, includes a massive step pyramid. Built by a prolific innovator named Imhotep for the 3rd-dynasty King Djoser (2667-2648 B.C.), the structure represents a number of important developments in engineering without which the later, and now more famous, pyramids in Giza would not have been possible.
Like the pyramids in Giza, Saqqara sits on the edge of the desert looking down at the river valley. Whereas the megalopolis of Cairo sits at the foot of the monument at Giza, Saqqara is surrounded by greenery and appears as it might have many millennia ago. Saqqara is very refreshing compared with Cairo—lots of space, with far fewer visitors and vendors. A more relaxed visit, and well worth the effort.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA
Located 180 miles north of Sacramento, California, and 165 miles west of Reno, Nevada, Lassen National Park is filled with hot springs, heat vents, sulfur ponds, and dormant volcanoes whose activity helps set it apart from more pedestrian parks.
Open year-round, there’s only one place to stay within the park that’s not a campsite, of which there are eight, and everything from B&Bs to chain motels surround the park with more bed options.
The park offers swimming, boating, fishing (there are dedicated fishing and boating lakes), and 150 miles of trails for hiking.
Whether you stay in a primitive campground or a nearby hotel, it’s cheap and you’re unlikely to pay above $100, even in high season.
Representing Istanbul’s up-and-coming arts scene, the European City of Culture 2010 (a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year) has already started its build-up with street theatre, art and music galore.
Istanbul’s new W Hotel and Witt Istanbul Suites have put boutique hotels firmly on the city map. And you can throw off that old image of a kebab-laden diet, with sushi bars that would do Tokyo proud and cocktails perfect for chic rooftop bars.
Civil Rights Trail, USA
(Selma to Montgomery, Alabama)
What happened 40 years ago between Selma and Montgomery—the antecedent for the Voting Rights Act—is why the U.S. will welcome Barack Obama into the White House this year. It’s additionally important because the U.S. Southeast is rich both historically and culturally, and the Trail provides a very accessible window to what it has to offer. The Civil Rights Trail both captures a moment in history through its many small museums—both in Selma and Montgomery—but in the journey visitors take to travel from place to place. For families, it’s a well-marked trail that offers changing views, numerous stops, and the type of generational discussions that great journeys are made of.
After years of strife and violence owing to the drug cartel wars, Colombia has begun to emerge as a safe and vibrant travel destination. (Crime rates in major cities are now no higher than what you'd find in an average large American city like Philadelphia or Milwaukee.) Cartagena has a highly developed tourist infrastructure, making it easy to reach—only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami. With gorgeous 17th century colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, an emerging foodie scene, and a throbbing bar and club nightlife, there are things to do that suit a variety of interests.
Cape Town, South Africa
A city situated on the water where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, Cape Town will host the 2010 World Cup and promises to have one of the grandest venues for the event. Take the kids to visit the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach, along False Bay, or to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. In a symbol of the reconciliation that South Africans have undertaken since the end of apartheid, tours at Robben Island are led by both former political prisoners and former guards.
Whether you're after nights filled with hedonistic dance parties or sipping decadent cocktails in the born-again area of Kreuzberg, Berlin seems to offer something for almost anyone.
Visit the vast Tiergarten park with lakes, canals, palaces and the eco-aware zoo (home to superstar polar bear Knut) at its heart. Green seekers can continue to stroll the oriental gardens at Marzahn.
Almost 20 years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin is still riding the waves of "Ostalgia" (nostalgia for former East Germany). Tour Karl-Marx-Allee in an authentic Trabant car and walk the remaining stretch of the Wall at the East Side Gallery and find your own chip off the old Bloc in souvenir shops.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from feared city into hot destination. The army checkpoints that once encircled the city center are a thing of the past; today you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from Teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords. Or, for the ultimate treat, stay at the luxury Merchant Hotel, sip bubbly among the chandeliers in Cafe Vaudeville’s champagne bar and savor Michelin-starred dining at Deanes.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Tourism is taking off as a countrywide industry, and most people who contemplate Cambodia do so for a visit to Angkor Wat, the famed ruins in the jungle. But Angkor's tourist infrastructure is growing faster than the site itself can support, and travelers now must be mindful of the impact they are having on the site. We recommend casting a net beyond the limits of Angkor Wat and seeing a bit more of the country.
Among the highlights are boat trips up the Mekong River and through the jungle to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins; or perhaps spending some time in vibrant, energized Phnom Penh.
Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada
Tucked neatly away in the southwest corner of the province, Waterton is the least-traveled of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Parks, and quite possibly the most spectacular. That’s saying a lot: The other two, Banff and Jasper, are among the world’s leading international tourist destinations. But Waterton is positively otherworldly, with its abrupt shift from prairie to mountain terrain, as well as its icy-blue lake that fills an ancient gully surrounded by mountains and glaciers. Given the fact that its quaint, tiny town site vanishes after a few steps down any of the many trails here, it’s one of the only places in the Canadian Rockies where you can feel apart from the modern world. Plus, its relatively sparse traffic means most things are as much as 30 percent cheaper than Banff.