8 Destination Dupes for a Budget-Friendly Trip That Feels Bucket List-Worthy

Craving a bucket list getaway but don’t necessarily have the funds for it? You’re not alone. Traveling anywhere is undoubtedly expensive these days, and once you add up the cost of flights, accommodations, and all the rest of your expenses, your dream getaway can start to feel more and more out of reach. While you might be bummed that places like Santorini or Tuscany are out of budget at this stage of life, there are plenty of other less-frequented destinations that can give you the same vibes without the sky-high prices and crowds of tourists. Whether you’re in the market for a quick girls’ trip or a beach-front escape, these destination dupes are more affordable alternatives to highly coveted vacation spots.

1. Instead of Tuscany, try Virginia Wine Country

Source: Unsplash | Scott Pruett

Captivated by the rolling hills and rustic vineyards of Italy? Same, but jetting off to Tuscany isn’t always in the cards. For a U.S.-based alternative, try Virginia Wine Country. With picturesque scenery and more than 300 wineries to choose from, the state proves there’s no need to go all the way to Europe (or even Napa) when you can find vineyards to rival the Italian countryside on the East Coast. Being located between California and Europe practically ensures a healthy variety of wines, and the mix of rugged mountains and sandy coastline means you can experience (and taste) the best of both worlds. The unique wines that come out of this region are just as delightful as the stunning green landscape.

Although the vibes may be a little more colonial than Mediterranean, there are plenty of charming places to stay nestled right in the countryside. Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards is a great option because they offer accommodations as well as farm-to-table style meals and year-round wine tastings. It’s also located in the heart of Virginia’s wine country, so you can easily get to any of the other 10 distinct wine regions in the state.

2. Instead of Greece, try Catalina Island, California

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Source: Unsplash | Amy Vosters

Although they’re oceans apart, California’s Catalina Island and the Greek islands share a lot of similarities: natural beauty, ocean views, relaxation, and romantic vibes. If traveling to Europe isn’t on your summer bingo card (or in your budget), head to Southern California for a more affordable vacation that captures the same timeless allure. Between Catalina’s scenic views and opportunities for both adventure and relaxation, it makes a fool-proof destination for a couple’s getaway or girls’ trip.

The only way to get to the island is by ferry, which you can either board in Long Beach or Newport Beach. Cars are not allowed on the island, but you can easily get around by walking or renting a golf cart (which makes the experience so unique!). After a quick ferry ride, you’ll arrive in Avalon, a waterfront town lined with brightly colored restaurants, cute shops, docked boats, and a vibrant pier.

As far as places to stay, Hotel Atwater is considered to be one of the best lodging options on the island. Room rates range from $239 in the spring to upwards of $450 in the summer, which is the peak time to visit. To cut down costs, sharing a room with a friend or two is definitely the way to go. If you’re considering going to Catalina for a day trip (which is doable from many cities in Southern California), Descanso Beach Club has private cabanas you can rent. The beach club also has a variety of live DJs performing during the summer months, creating the ideal setting for a bachelorette party or birthday celebration.

3. Instead of Denmark, try Solvang, California

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Source: Unsplash | Alonso Reyes

Founded by Danish immigrants, the charming town of Solvang will transport you to a mini version of Denmark. From the architecture to the cuisine, you truly will feel like you’re in the heart of Europe while visiting this quaint destination.

Located just 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, Solvang makes for the perfect day trip spot if you’re local. Whether you’re visiting from Los Angeles or making a pit stop during a road trip along the California coast, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. You can easily fill your afternoon strolling the streets and admiring the European-style architecture or shopping around the one-of-a-kind boutiques. If you’re a history buff, consider stopping by the Old Mission Santa Ines, one of California’s 21 historic missions.

Before you leave, be sure to indulge in some traditional Dutch pastries. Birkholm’s Bakery & Cafe is known for their delicious Danish Kringle—you can taste the love and authenticity in everything made at this family-owned business.

4. Instead of Nashville, try Memphis, Tennessee

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Source: Unsplash | Heidi Kaden

When it comes to a girls’ getaway or bachelorette party, we all know that Nashville is a major hot spot. It has music, nightlife, sports, and so much more. But unfortunately, with all that popularity comes crowded venues, overpriced Airbnbs, and expensive flights. If you want a similar experience in a Tennessee city, consider a trip to Memphis instead.

Nashville may be known as the official Music City, but some heavy hitters came from Memphis, too, including Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, and even Elvis, who considered Memphis home for most of his life. In addition to the mesmerizing music coming from Beale Street, Memphis has many museums that are worth visiting. Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley, and The National Civil Rights Museum are two that definitely deserve a spot on your itinerary.

Oh, and of course, a trip to Memphis would not be complete without trying your fair share of BBQ. Memphis is one of just a handful of cities with its own style of barbeque named after it. A&R Bar-B-Que or The Bar-B-Q Shop will give you a taste of the signature sauce that this town is known for.

5. Instead of Iceland, try Sitka, Alaska

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Source: Unsplash | Austin Anderson

Are you as surprised as Sandra Bullock was in The Proposal to see Sitka, Alaska on this list? Sure, it may not have the glitz and the glam of other dream destinations, but if you’ve ever wanted to see the Northern Lights, it’s worth a visit. Sitka will remind you of a quiet Scandinavian fishing town while also offering you the excitement of an epic rom-com (complete with a cozy cottage and all).

This Alaskan town has no shortage of activities for outdoorsy travelers. You can see Sitka from a sea kayaking tour or get up close and personal with bald eagles at the Alaska Raptor Center. Other options include glacier tours, bear tours, fishing charters, dog sledding, and so much more. For a trip like this, I’d recommend looking into Airbnb options rather than a hotel or inn—that way you can use your funds on the many excursions and activities that will leave you with solid memories.

6. Instead of the Hamptons, try Ogunquit, Maine

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Source: Unsplash | Ruth H Curtis

Similar to the crowd-favorite Long Island destination, this small town in Maine also has picturesque beaches, a great shopping scene, beautiful cliff views, and local art, but with a more relaxed vibe than the Hamptons. The northernmost New England state has so many cute coastal towns that are overflowing with charm, lobster rolls, and chic boutiques—but Ogunquit’s beautiful white sand beaches and historic architecture make it particularly special. Also, it’s worth noting that the crowds and prices will be substantially better here than in other competing East Coast summer destinations.

For accommodations, consider The Admiral’s Inn, which has some of the best prices with great amenities right on the property. You’ll be within walking or biking distance from some must-see landmarks like Little Beach, Lobster Point Lighthouse (I mean really, that name exudes cuteness), and one of the most picturesque spots in southern Maine, Perkins Cove. While you’re in town, book tickets for a show at the legendary Ogunquit Playhouse. And for a more lively night out, local favorites include The Front Porch and Maine Street.

7. Instead of Germany, try Leavenworth, Washington

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Source: Unsplash | Rosalie Barley

A trip to Leavenworth will immerse you in the signs, sounds, and flavors of Germany, providing the charm of Bavarian culture with the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest. As you stroll through the streets, you’ll notice the timber-framed buildings bright with color, window boxes full of flowers, and steep rooftops that resemble traditional German villages. The shops along Front Street include the Hat Shop & Wood Shop, where you can get a custom hat fit for Oktoberfest or a hand-made wooden puzzle. After a day of shopping and sightseeing, Munchen Haus will transport your stomach to the heart of Germany with bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and pretzels—obviously served with a beer.

Another major perk to Leavenworth? It’s a great place to visit during any season. The winter months will transport you to a snowy village lined with Christmas shops and loads of sweet treats. And on the other hand, the spring and summer months offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor adventures that evoke the spirit of Germany.

8. Instead of Spain, try St. Augustine, Florida

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Source: Unsplash | Dan Cutler

If you’re craving some Spanish flair but don’t want to cross the Atlantic for it, try visiting St. Augustine, Florida. The winding cobblestone streets will remind you of Spain’s Mediterranean architecture while offering the perfect blend of a historic town and a bustling city. Aside from being right on the beach, St. Augustine offers tons of great ways to fill your itinerary. You can get lost in the narrow alleyways filled with shops, cafes, and art galleries—all of which boast a hint of Spanish influence. The town is also home to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and even if you’re not in your history-loving era, the views alone make it a must-see.

A quaint beach town like St. Augustine certainly has great Airbnbs to choose from, but if you prefer the ease of a hotel room, Casa Monica Resort & Spa is a highly-rated option. It has a luxury-meets-historic feel and is conveniently located in the heart of downtown, not far from popular attractions like the Old Town Trolley and great restaurants like Columbia (which is Florida’s oldest restaurant!).

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