News Once-in-a-lifetime trips you can actually afford now

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Once-in-a-lifetime trips you can actually afford now

The world’s most famous travel adventures often have a high price tag attached. But with a little knowhow, you can get a nearly identical experience for a fraction of the price.

Northern Lights in the sky above Tromso

The dream trip

Seeing the Northern Lights through the roof of your glass igloo

The cheaper alternative

Watch them on a well-timed excursion from Tromso, Norway

The nights may be getting shorter, but there’s still ample opportunity to see the aurora borealis. But if you want to save cash, forgo the popular aurora-watching igloos. They might look brilliant on Instagram, but they’re laborious to reach (usually two flights) and typically much more expensive than a normal hotel, starting around £400 a night. Plus, you’re in the middle of nowhere, so what do you do if it’s cloudy, with no chance of even experiencing starry nights, let alone northern lights?

It’s far better to stay in civilisation in Norway’s appealing coastal port city of Tromso (direct flights from the UK). Here, there’s plenty to do day and night, and you can then choose to put yourself in the hands of a dedicated Northern Lights professional only on the nights the forecast looks favourable. Experts like Chasing Lights https://chasinglights.com/ will take you out to the sky-watching locations they know work best. Stay in the centrally-located Thon Hotel. It may have compact rooms, but its breakfast buffet is lavish, and it has doubles from £168.

Find flights to Tromso from £89

Surfer heading into the water

The dream trip

A honeymoon escape in the volcanic islands of Hawaii

The cheaper alternative

A romantic island retreat in Lanzarote, the European Hawaii

A combination of spectacular volcanic landscapes, beaches and a benevolent climate has long made Hawaii a favourite honeymoon destination. But the flights are long, requiring a stopover, and rarely dip below £600 return, and most accommodation on the islands is aimed at the luxury traveller.

But we have our own Hawaii equivalent much closer to hand – and for much less outlay. Just like its American counterpart, the underrated Canary Island of Lanzarote has dormant volcanoes, lava badlands, black-sand beaches, excellent surfing and winter sun – plus unique vineyards and gleaming white cuboid architecture. The family resort of Puerto del Carmen and more upmarket Playa Blanca have long been sanctuaries for Brits who want to feel the sun’s rays.

The main volcanic action is in the Timanfaya National Park, a sea of jagged lava, where rangers demonstrate the heat that lies just below the surface. Stay in the island’s centre if you want to explore the extraordinary otherness of Lanzarote’s lunar landscapes. Try Casa Tomaren. Converted from an 18th century farmstead, it has self-catering suites from £91.

Find flights to Lanzarote from £42

A pod of four killer whales in the Pacific Ocean with mountains behind

The dream trip

Getting up close to wildlife in the Galapagos

The cheaper alternative

Seeing fearless animals in northern Canada

Haida Gwaii is a remote archipelago off the coast of Canada, and one that has been nicknamed the ‘Galapagos of the North’ because of the quantity and variety of its wildlife, including bald eagles and killer whales.

Its location on the edge of the continental shelf saw it secede from Canada earlier many millennia ago, which allowed Darwinian evolution of unique species to prosper. Several species, from huge Haida Gwaii black bears to hairy woodpeckers, are found nowhere else on earth.

Admittedly, Haida Gwaii isn’t an ultra-budget option, with flights here around the same price as flights to the Galapagos. However, the cost of touring is less than half as much, with seven days of kayak-based island-hopping with Green Coast from £1,150, compared to around £2,500 for a week’s boat trip in the Galapagos.

But not only is Haida Gwaii cheaper, but it also wins out over the Galapagos for its human history. It’s considered a likely spot where the first humans crossed into the Americas, and for centuries, the islands were home to an estimated 20,000 Haida First Nations people, who carved glorious giant totem poles and lived off the abundance of the sea and land. Their former settlements are preserved in a national park that can only be accessed by boat, with Haida Watchmen as guardians and guides.

Find flights to Sandspit from £639

Vietnam ocean view

The dream trip

Spending a night on the Orient-Express

The cheaper alternative

Vietnam’s Reunification Express or Britain’s Caledonian Sleeper

Everyone talks of the Orient-Express as a great railway adventure, and its style is undeniable. But paying from £2,000 for one overnight on a sleeper train is pretty steep. Instead, head off on the ‘Reunification Express’, a railway odyssey that is wonderfully exotic and with sleepers for less than £50 for the full 31-hour journey.

The Reunification Express is the generic nickname for trains that run from Hanoi in former North Vietnam to Saigon in the south, now that the country is all of one piece. The line passes rice paddy fields and beaches, and links in old imperial capitals such as Hue as it hugs the coast of the South China Sea.

But even closer to home, you can book a bed on the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Fort William from £170 return. Reclining in your berth, you’ll fall asleep among the city lights, and waking to soaring mountains and herds of red deer.

Find flights to Hanoi from £516

Mount Toubkal

The dream trip

Trekking the Himalayas

The cheaper alternative

Hiking Himalayan-style landscapes in Morocco

Trekking in Nepal, in the shadow of Everest, is a bucket-list adventure. But the season is short and getting there is laborious and costly. But there’s a look-alike alternative much closer to hand in the Atlas Mountains, which run for 1,600 miles through north Africa.

And you can hike them barely an hour’s drive from Marrakech. Here, the village of Imlil sits under the shadow of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in the Atlas, and while it’s nowhere near as tall as its Himalayan counterpart, it’s also imminently more accessible. And despite being so close to the souks of Marrakech, it feels so remote, you’ll feel like you’re in another time zone.

It’s in Imlil that the tarmac of modern Morocco hands over to the mule trains of the mountains. Like their Nepalese counterparts, the Berbers who live here lead a back-breaking existence based on goats, walnut groves and corn-crop terraces, and meeting them makes for a fascinating experience.

The ascent of the 4,167-metre Toubkal (not particularly difficult, but time-consuming) is a big draw, but many more people come here simply for the spectacular setting and to hike the precipitous pathways that link the mountain villages. Perched above and away from the village itself, stay at Kasbah Imlil, which has a wonderful terrace, doubles from £22.

Find flights to Marrakech from £53

A herd of zebras

The dream trip

A luxury Big Five safari at a private game reserve in Africa

The cheaper alternative

A self-drive Big Five safari in a South African national park

An African wildlife safari can be one of the most expensive holidays on the planet, especially for a family. But one of the world’s best safari destinations – South Africa’s Kruger National Park – offers a brilliant budget solution. While plenty of exclusive £500-a-night safari lodges are found on the edges of the park, many much cheaper hotels cluster just as close to the park’s 11 gates. Book one of these, then simply hire a car, and drive around the park yourself. And thanks to the park’s excellent network of well-maintained roads, you can even get away with an economy sedan – no need to splurge on a 4×4.

It’s true that you won’t be served a five-course meal with wine by a butler in your private lodge, but you’ll see just as many lions, elephants and hippos. And while you might not have the tracking skills of an experienced ranger (although you can hire them – ask at the gates), you’ll still see hundreds of free-roaming animals – from antelopes to zebras – all from the safety of your vehicle.

If you’re a first-timer, opt for the hotels in Hazyview. It makes for an excellent base, with plenty of shops, services and accommodation options starting from around £42 for a double room. Then wake up early and drive the 10km to Phabeni Gate to arrive just after sunrise, when the park opens. Within minutes, you can be sitting in your car gazing up at giraffes with your morning cuppa in your hand.

Find flights to Johannesburg from £410


Published March 2018. Prices and information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability .

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