Vacation remix: Three frugal swaps for popular destinations

Hankering to see the Big Apple? We humbly suggest Chicago instead. 

Jim Young/Reuters/File
An aerial view shows the skyline and lakefront of Chicago.

Everyone has their own idea of perfect vacation. Maybe it's a weekend in the Big Apple, or finally visiting Atlantis in the Bahamas. Well, I've got news for you: your ideal vacation is probably someone else's as well, and these popular vacation destinations are often over-priced, underwhelming, and not what was dreamed up in your head. Here are our suggestions for alternative destinations that will save you money, but still deliver on the experience of a lifetime.

For a city weekend: Try Chicago instead of New York.

Everyone wants that Big Apple vacation, but if NYC is a little too expensive for your liking, Chicago delivers that big city experience for less. Maybe we're a little biased here at Brad's Deals, but Chicago has everything a New York weekend's got, at a better price. According to a Hotels.com study, Chicago's hotel rooms are on average 40 percent cheaper, and features similar kinds of tourist destinations.

Are you a sucker for architecture? Chicago's got a reputation as the best city for buildings in the country (sorry, NYC), and is the location of the famed Architecture Biennial. Want theater? Chicago's sketch comedy scene is number one. And in this author's personal opinion, people in the Midwest are just plain nicer. If you want to save even more on a Chicago vacation, check out ourdefinite list of frugal Chicago hacks!

For a weekend at the water park: Swap the Bahamas for San Antonio, Texas.

Atlantis in the Bahamas has been on my list for a long time, and I finally had the chance to visit this summer. If you're not footing the bill for this vacation you'll definitely have a great time, but if you are, be prepared for serious sticker shock--this resort is expensive! What you do get for that price? A quality waterpark, to be sure, which is sadly overrun with day-pass toting cruise ship guests blocking your path to the Shark Tank Slide.

Instead, go straight to the source--San Antonio, Texas.  Or rather, a town a short drive to the north called New Braunfels. This is home to Schlitterbahn, the best water park in the world. Why all the German? The town was settled by German immigrants, and its location in the Hill Country of Texas could not be more idyllic. The water parks (there are THREE of them) are partially fed by natural spring water, and the designers of the parks also designed the rides at Atlantis.  Trust me, as a born-and-raised Texan, your family will love you for it, and so will your wallet.  One day admission starts at $50, and per-day visits go down the longer you stay.

For a desert/golf vacation: Swap Phoenix for Phoenix.

Not a typo. Phoenix and neighboring Scottsdale are famous for their resorts and spas, which are always stuffed to the gills during the very perfect winter months. Room rates at some resorts can reach into the $600+ range during the busy season, but if you opt for an off-season vacation, you can save a bundle. Summertime is extremely hot (try 110+ on some days), but in exchange for dealing with the heat, you can find room rates for under $100 at the same resorts! Pools will still be open, the golf courses will be 90 percent off and empty, and the relaxing spas will still be pumping out eucalyptus water.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals. 

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