1. Go Farther Stay Longer
Extra-long trips don’t require extra-deep pockets—a handful of outfitters offer extended itineraries for surprisingly little. Intrepid Travel runs some 25 trips that last three weeks or more for less than $100 a day (intrepidtravel.com). You might take a four-week spin through Thailand ($1,937) or venture across India for 36 days ($1,995). “Overhead is the same to us whether you book a four- or 40-day trip,” says Intrepid co-founder Darrell Wade. “As a proportion of a longer trip those costs become less, so we just pass the savings on to you.” Staying low to the ground is also key. “Most companies see a three-hour bus ride as a downside,” says GAP Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip (gapadventures.com). “But we’ve always seen that as an opportunity.” He admits his adventures aren’t for everyone, but if you keep an open mind, “cost-effectiveness comes as an additional bonus.”
Lindblad Expeditions’14-Day British Isles Voyage
2. Plan Ahead…or Procrastinate
When the economy started to slip, adventure travel companies goosed business with last-minute discounts. Top outfitters like Lindblad Expeditions and Abercrombie & Kent have reduced some trip prices by 25 percent or more. “When travelers were more flush with cash, it was a seller’s market,” says Kurt Kutay, president of Wildland Adventures. “The whole game has changed.” The last-minute strategy has been successful—perhaps too successful—and outfitters are now beginning to counter the late rush with early bird bargains. “We’ve always had early booking incentives, but we’re definitely offering more now,” says Wilderness Travel marketing director Barbara Banks. Expect to see more deals for trips that are four months out and beyond—particularly those that require special permits, like Arctic cruises and Himalayan treks.
3. Use Sweat Equity
Voluntouring (donating a portion of your travel time to a local cause) will land you cheap room and board, plus an insider’s look at a faraway place. Biosphere Expeditions sends wannabe scientists on conservation adventures around the world, including a two-week trip to Peru’s Amazon rain forest to survey jaguars (about $1,700; biosphere-expeditions.org). For the culturally curious, i-to-i mixes local community projects like working in a Kenyan orphanage with adventurous activities like gorilla trekking (14 days, $2,095; i-to-i.com). And then there’s Sierra Club Outings, which offers unbeatable deals for outdoor purists. For less than $600 you can spend a week exploring stunning areas like California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness—clearing some trails along the way, of course (sierraclub.org/outings).
4. Recalibrate Your Costs
When perusing an outfitter’s website, keep an eye out for multitiered pricing. Backroads, for example, lets you choose from three accommodation levels for most of its active trips: “premier inns,” “casual inns,” and “deluxe camping.” Often the camping is plenty plush, and in Europe the casual inns are especially great (backroads.com). “Move down a notch from premier lodging and you’ll save about 30 percent in Europe,” says Massimo Prioreschi, Backroads’ VP of sales and marketing, “and 20 percent in the U.S. and Canada.” Luxury outfitters are also beginning to offer shorter, cheaper versions of existing trips. Check out Asia Transpacific Journeys’ new line of “Affordable Journeys,” ten-day adventures that can be customized at different price points, starting at $1,720 per person (asiatranspacific.com).
5. Follow the Dynamic Dollar
The dollar is 15 percent stronger than it was last summer. To make the most of favorable exchange rates, Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, advises avoiding touristy areas. “The overall strategy is to buy local. If you go where the locals go, you’ll spend less.” At press time, the dollar was almighty when compared to these ten currencies.
6. Find the Local Option
There’s no question that booking a soup-to-nuts itinerary with a global adventure travel company is more convenient than planning one alone. But if you’re willing to do some extra legwork, you can often put together your own trip for less money. The trick is finding a reputable outdoor guide in your country of choice. Ask local tourism offices for the names of their top in-country outfitters (towd.com lists national bureaus around the world). Or browse National Geographic adventure’s Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth database (ngadventure.com/ratings), which lets you search outfitters by destination and price. Here you’ll find local heavyweights like Costa Rica Expeditions (costaricaexpeditions.com) and Trinidad and Tobago’s Paria Springs Eco Community (pariasprings.com).
7. Think Like a Luddite
Everyone might be logging on to Priceline, but here’s an even better tool: your telephone. “Individual hotels are offering unprecedented discounts, which decreases the advantage of opaque bidding sites,” says Bjorn Hanson, associate professor at New York University’s Tisch Center. “Just call a reservation agent and ask what he or she can do for you. People are landing spectacular deals out there.” Before dialing, Hanson suggests searching for the lowest rates online. Armed with this info, call a hotel and say, “I found a rate that was $X, but that’s more than I can spend. Is there any kind of special package?” These days, the answer is almost always yes.
Yampu’s 11-Day Lima and Cuzco Tour
8. House Swap
You might not be able to sell your home anytime soon, but trading it has never been easier. “The economic downturn has been a huge boost for the home exchange market,” says Ed Kushins, founder and president of HomeExchange.com. “It used to be considered an alternative way to travel, but now that people are looking for more value, they’re seeing home exchange as a legitimate strategy.” Swapping homes with other adventurous travelers means you can stay almost anywhere in the world for free. “You have to be okay with the idea of strangers in your space,” says longtime exchanger Sue Bogin, who has traded her family’s suburban home near Seattle for a 20-acre vineyard in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. “And you have to trust that your stuff will survive” (like most house-trading companies, HomeExchange does not offer an insurance plan). You also need to get your place exchange-ready: Bogin cleans top to bottom, then puts away things she cares about. But for her, the extra prep work is worth it. “House trading is an unbelievable deal—and you’re staying in an actual neighborhood, having a real experience, as opposed to being isolated in a hotel.”
Abercrombie & Kent’s 11-Day Zambia Rivers & Walking Safari
9. Travel in Packs
It’s no secret that traveling with friends is cost-effective—the larger the group, the less each has to pay. But finding a big enough base camp for everyone can be a thankless task. Which is why software developers Baer Tierkel and Mike Giles decided to launch otalo.com. “We thought it would be really helpful to have a single website that would search all the different vacation rental sites for you—there are hundreds out there—in a quick, easy way,” says Tierkel. Think Google, but for vacation homes. Another good resource is Vacation Rental by Owner, a favorite among second homeowners looking to rent out their dream houses (vrbo.com). Here you’ll find options like a brand-new cabin eight miles from Yellowstone ($1,500 a week; sleeps five) and an 18th-century villa in Argentina’s Sierras de Córdoba, close to mountain biking, trekking, and horseback riding galore ($2,400 a week; sleeps 12).
10. Know the Seasonal Advantage
Summer and winter temperatures in the Caribbean are nearly identical, yet the islands receive far fewer visitors from May through November, causing hotels to slash rates. According to Expedia travel expert Ian Jeffries, off-peak Caribbean trips tend to cost about 20 percent less than December–March trips, and this year’s summer savings promise to be especially high. Around the world, adventure hotbeds have developed false off-seasons with significant lodging discounts. Here’s where and when to go.
Whislter, British Columbia: May-June; 40% savings.
Summer and winter overlap in late spring. Ski in the morning, then hit the mountain bike park after lunch—or go wakeboarding on Green Lake (whistler.com).
Finmark, Norway: October-February; 20-30% savings.
Norway's northernmost county sees little winter sun, but the northern lights are out of control—as are the reindeer sledding and orca spotting (finmark.com).
New South Wales, Australia: May-June 15; July 15-August; 25% savings.
Sydney is cooler and slightly rainier in winter but by no means quiet. Cycle the city's Centennial Park bike path or venture into the Blue Mountains (australia.com).
Tahiti: April-May; 15-25% savings.
April marks the end of Tahiti's muggy season. Expect mostly sunny days, temps in the high 70s, and dive sites teeming with reef sharks and rays (tahiti-tourisme.com).