Best Budget Vacations: Nearcation or Can You Afford a Caribbean Island Getaway?
One can only put up with so many snowfalls, seasonal colds, and polar vortices before a little sun, sand and relaxation is needed. In fact, no matter the season, it’s always a good time to start planning your next vacation. You deserve a little exotic in your future.
But let’s be practical. Vacation planning inevitably involves budgeting. And invariably, budgeting rolls around to the topic of affordable vacation destinations, nearcations (places you can drive to), and even staycations (vacations in your town). But what you may not know is that certain far-flung vacation spots can be less expensive – and that’s including airfare – than ventures just a short drive from home.
A little secret in the travel world? Florida is not the most affordable vacation destination in town. In fact, even if you live a few hours’ drive from the state’s sand-rimmed shoreline, it’s still not the cheapest beach spot – not by a long shot.
Allow me to introduce you to a completely exotic, white-sand-fresh-seafood-Caribbean-Sea-spectacular-sunset kind of budget vacation spot: the ultra affordable, teeny tiny, secluded island of Grand Turk.
Making Cents of Budget Beach Vacations
For sand-lovers and island-hoppers in the U.S., the Caribbean is the go-to pick for cheap beach vacations. Even so, according to TripAdvisor, the average cost of a one-week Caribbean vacation for a family of four is $7,152 – including $3,253 in flights and $2,772 in hotel accommodations – for an average trip cost of $1,788 per person.
Some of the most interesting findings from the TripAdvisor data? The average rate for a Caribbean hotel is $396 per night (March-April) and the average Caribbean flight comes in at $813 per person, round-trip. St Bart’s was the priciest destination indexed, topping out at a sky-high $12,486 for a week’s getaway, while Puerto Rico was dubbed the most affordable at just $5,109.
Savvy vacationers, of course, know how to lower the cost of travel: cash in airline rewards, travel during shoulder season, and trade the pricey hotel for a vacation rental. (Not only are rental homes less expensive per night, but they’re self-catering, which means you can prepare easy meals to save on restaurants.)
But all things being equal, how do the most affordable Caribbean vacations stack up to the southern U.S. nearcation/staycation favorite – Florida? And how does tiny Grand Turk compare to TripAdvisor’s budget island pick of Puerto Rico?
The short answer: Favorably. Very affordably, in fact. Believe it or not, Grand Turk beats out both Florida and Puerto Rico for the title of cheapest, most secluded beachfront Caribbean vacation. And we have the numbers to prove it.*
Inexpensive Destinations By the Numbers: Florida, Puerto Rico and Grand Turk
When evaluating budget vacation options, it’s important to compare similar offerings. After all, you could escape to your nearest state park for a week of camping, all for the cost of a couple of gallons of gas, campfire cooking ingredients, and park fees. But comparing camping to a seaside escape would be like comparing apples to tulips – both colorful and enjoyable, but not at all the same.
So let’s start by defining our parameters. We’ve chosen to compare oceanfront vacation spots in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos – two destinations known as cheap-and-popular beach getaways, and one tiny-but-affordable island in the middle of the aquamarine Caribbean. All three destinations offer seclusion, spectacular beaches and adventure. And at all three destinations, we’ve chosen beachfront (or beach-adjacent) vacation rentals that feature coastal-cozy décor and oceanfront seclusion.
As food and activity costs vary by traveler, we have included just one tour (snorkeling) as reference in our calculations.
The quaint town of Seaside, Florida, is a favorite destination for good reason: it’s just a five-hour drive from Atlanta; Seaside’s Emerald Coast beaches are clean and beautiful; and the town itself is completely charming. However, you’ll pay a premium for Seaside’s charm and may have a difficult time finding beachfront rentals. (The same is true of Rosemary Beach, another popular choice for Florida beach vacations.) Also be aware that Florida’s waters can be murky and sometimes teem with jellyfish – far from ideal swimming conditions!
Round-trip drive for 4: $464 (600 miles, calculated at 77.3 cents per mile for SUV driving)
Travel time: 5 hours (one-way)
Beachfront, 2-bedroom vacation rental: $4,835 (example; Note: not oceanfront)
Snorkeling tour for 4: $152 ($38 per person)
Total Cost: $5,451
Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is one of the Caribbean’s best deals for Americans: it’s close, it’s a U.S. territory (you won’t lose $ on exchange rates), and airfare is generally inexpensive. We’ve chosen to highlight Vieques Island, a Puerto Rican out island that is quiet and peaceful, and offers plenty of privacy.
Round-trip flight for 4: $2,795 ($1,631 to San Juan + $1,164 to Vieques on Cape Air)
Travel time: 4 hours (plus layovers)
Beachfront, 2-bedroom vacation rental: $2,631 (example)
Snorkeling tour for 4: $220 ($55 per person)
Total Cost: $5,646
Grand Turk is the quiet and isolated capital island of the Turks and Caicos. Here, the Caribbean scenery is worthy of a postcard – an electric turquoise so clear, you can count the sun-bleached grains of sand on the sea floor. And while neighboring Provo, the most visited island in the Turks and Caicos, is crowded with hoards of tourists, little Grand Turk welcomes visitors to deserted beaches, pastel-painted homes, and colonial charms.
Round-trip flight for 4: $2,488 ($2,208 to Providenciales + $280 to Grand Turk)
Travel time: 4 hours (plus layovers)
Grand Turk Vacation Rental: $2,507
Snorkeling tour for 4: Free – in the backyard or bike to a great location
Total Cost: $4,995
*Costs were calculated based on a round-trip flight (Saturday-Saturday in May 2015) for four (2 adults, 2 children) from Atlanta to each destination, and include one week (7 nights) at a secluded, beach-casual 2BR, 2BA oceanfront vacation rental comparable to Beachside Bungalow’s Sea Gull.
Save Money on Your Next Vacation: Escape to Exotic Grand Turk
The numbers speak for themselves, but if you’re still wondering whether Grand Turk is an affordable Caribbean destination, try these facts on for size:
Grand Turk is just 6.5 miles long. If you like to walk or bike (free bikes with our Grand Turk vacation rental!), you won’t need to rent a car.
The island’s best fish market – local fisherman, beached on the shoreline to hawk their catches of the day – is a 2-minute walk from our bungalow. Think fresh-caught tuna, mahi-mahi, and deliciously flakey grouper… And the lobster? It’s just $12/pound for sweet, meaty lobster tail!
Our home comes with a fully equipped kitchen, and we’re walking/biking distance to the island’s best grocery store. You can dine island-style on cheap but exotic eats, like Grand Turk’s famous conch fritters, jerk chicken, passion fruit, peas & rice, fresh fish, crab and lobster, and other Turks & Caicos cuisine.
Some of the best things to do on Grand Turk are absolutely free: grab snorkel gear from the bungalow and head out to explore the Caribbean; walk along our shimmering, white-sand beaches; and stroll through colonial Cockburn Town to drink in the colonial charm. Relax and enjoy the languid pace of island life!
Gorgeous, exotic and inexpensive, too – Grand Turk is very, very tempting! And if that’s not enough, we’ll sweeten the pot with promises of our friendly island, picture-perfect beach, and light and airy home. Really, it’s paradise.
On your next vacation, don’t fight the tourist crowds (or the jellyfish) – jet off to a secluded island where your dollar stretches as far as the sandy beaches!