Budget-friendly trips everyone can enjoy

by Katie F. Boltuch Contributing writer

One of the biggest concerns when planning any kind of trip is money. A 2013 CNN Global Tourism survey found that nearly 60 percent of people decide vacation destinations and activities based on price. Traveling can be expensive whether you’re single, attached or bringing the whole family. If you’re looking for a few unexpected locations that’ll give you a great vacation at minimal expense, the following five destinations might be just what you’re looking for.

The cities were selected by distance, activities and great value at a low cost. Travel times and train ticket prices are estimated from the Kaiserslautern area. There are no hotels listed below, as the prices will change depending on the size of the group. A few websites to consider for booking a room include: www.Booking.com, www.Airbnb.com and www.TripAdvisor.com.

Each location is broken down into five Ws and an H. When you’re starting to plan a trip, it’s important to think about WHERE (you want to go), WHEN (is the best time to go), WHO (is going), WHAT (is there to do), WHY (you should go) and HOW (to get there).

WHERE: Hamburg, Germany

WHEN (to go): Year-round. Hamburg is one of the friendliest towns in northern Germany and is a great destination for either a four-day weekend or a weeklong vacation.

WHO (should go): Singles, couples and families.

For families, City Strollers, www.citystrollers.com, is a great resource for families hoping to travel light. Started by a mother of four children ages three through nine, City Strollers takes care of everything and anything you might need on vacation. They even suggest activities, as well as help find budget-friendly places to stay.

WHAT (to do) and WHY (you should go): If you’re looking for some no-money fun, the beach on the river is a great place for everyone. When the weather is warmer, there are plenty of places to relax. Kids can build sandcastles and watch the ships arrive, as Hamburg is one of Europe’s busiest container and cruise-liner ports. Adults can visit some of the restaurants and beach clubs along the coast.

Miniatur Wonderland is another fantastic destination in Hamburg. Fun for everyone, this exhibit is a large, scaled-down model of parts of the world with miles of railway track, a sports stadium, a theme park, a working airport and a space station. Children have the chance to interact by helping to put out fires, chopping down tress, or operating the chocolate factory. Ticket prices: €13 for adults 16 and older; €6.50 for children under 16 years old; and free for children shorter than 3 feet.

There are plenty of art galleries and museums throughout the city, many of which include tours specifically geared toward children. Be sure to check out the Maritime Museum for a pirate-guided tour tailored to the age of the group. They also have treasure hunts running throughout the museum and a variety of workshops alongside the exhibits.

HOW (to get there): By car, Hamburg is just about a six-hour drive. If you would rather have someone else do your driving, the travel time will be about the same by train. Tickets start as low as €96 round trip.

WHERE: Bavaria, Germany

WHEN (to go): Bavaria is well-known for its skiing. But if you’re looking to save money, the best deals are from March through August during the off-season.

WHO (should go): Singles, couples and families.

WHAT (to do) and WHY (you should go): Castles and castles and castles! This region of Germany has some of the most famous castles in the world. Neuschwanstein Castle, Castle Hohenschwangau and the Museum of the Bavarian Kings are within walking distance of each other. Children under the age of 18 get in free, and depending on which attraction you go to, adult tickets range from €11 to €12. There are hiking and biking trails as well as many lakes. May through October you can rent rowing or pedal boats.

If you have toddlers or preschoolers, Linderhof Castle might be more your speed. Near the charming town of Oberammergau, this small, but ornate, palace is unique because of its underground Venus Grotto built by King Ludwig. Visitors can explore the cavern and king’s secret lair. Tours are available in English and last about 30 minutes. Tickets cost €7.50.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the site of 1936 Winter Olympics, is the place to be if you want to combine wintertime activities and warm weather. While there, be sure to ride the Rodelbahn, a fast, winding, wheeled sled ride on a paved bobsled course. It’s reasonably priced, €2 per ride, and fun for everyone!

If you want to get some exercise in, adults can hike the Partnachklamm, which is not recommended for kids under 14 years old. This gorge has steep limestone walls carved by the Partnach River. If you’d rather have the whole family, Mittenwald is not far. Close to the German-Austrian border, this area is great for hiking and has a trail specifically designed for children.

Lastly, don’t forget to take a train or cable car from Garmisch to the top of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, for stunning views of Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

HOW (to get there): By car, it takes 3 1/2 to four hours. There are no direct trains to this particular part of Bavaria.

WHERE: The city of Luxembourg, Luxembourg

WHEN (should you go): April through June are the best months for great deals and pleasant weather.

WHO (should go): Singles, couples and families.

WHAT (to do) and WHY (you should go): Conveniently squeezed between Germany, France and Belgium, the city of Luxembourg is the perfect location for a day trip or short weekend trip. A great way to save money is to purchase a Luxembourg Card. Whether you’re there for one, two or three days, this card gives you access to more than 70 museums and tourist attractions, as well as free use of public transportation. Individual cards start at €13 for one day; Family cards, covering two to five people, start at €28 for one day.

Luxembourg city center is one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Nearly 70 percent of the population consists of foreigners. In order to get the most out of your trip, City Promenade’s guided walking tours, offered in both German and English, can help familiarize you with your travel destination. Tours last about four hours and cost €12 for adults and €6 for children.

If you’re looking for some no-money fun, Casemates du Bock is right up your alley. Luxembourg’s beginnings were in the 10th century with the construction of a castle at the tip of the current Old Town. Although the castle is now in ruins, tunnels carved out of the rock below are open on both ends for panoramic views of the city. Nearby Petrusse Park is perfect for the casual walk and more breathtaking views.

Just outside the city center, thrill-seekers can find their way to the many adventure parks, climbing walls and ropes courses. Adventure Park Tree Climber allows visitors ages 5 and older to make their way through an outdoor ropes course. With the Luxembourg Card, you can get 30 percent off the cost. Several other attractions offer rock climbing and outdoor activities, as well. More information can be found at www.visitluxembourg.com.

HOW (to get there): By car, the city of Luxembourg is about 1 1/2 to two hours. If driving isn’t an option, the bus will get you there in about four hours. Tickets start at €44.

WHERE: Strasbourg, France

WHEN (to go): Known for its Christmas markets, many people think to only visit in the winter, but high season for tourism is during spring and summer.

WHO (should go): Singles, couples and families.

WHAT (to do) and WHY (you should go): Strasbourg is a lively city with plenty of activities. If you’re looking for no-money-fun, you’d be best suited wandering along the River Ill. The river runs directly through the city center and passes by many courtyards, parks, shops and bakeries. On your stroll, be sure to look for the two-decker carousel at the Place de Gutemberg. This area is well-known for wine, cheese and bread markets throughout the year.

It might not be Paris, but Strasbourg has it’s own Notre Dame Cathedral, located in the city center. Be sure to stick around to watch the cathedral clock’s mechanical procession and cock crowing daily at 12:30 p.m. The cathedral also has a tower with a winding staircase leading to a magnificent view of the city. Entry fees: €4.40 for adults; €2.20 for children 5 to 18 years old and students; and free for children under 5 years old.

If you need a rest from all that walking, a boat tour on the River Ill is a great way to see Strasbourg. Batorama offers four different river tours on their website, www.batoramashop.com. The best for site seeing is the 70-minute tour that includes individual headsets. There are even special audio programs for kids. Be sure to book this early in the day, as it fills quickly. Tickets prices: €12.50 for adults and children 13 and older; €7.20 for children 4 to 12 years old; and free for children under 4 years old.

One of the coolest adventures for everyone is likely to be La Montagne des Singes, which is a monkey reserve. More than 200 furry, medium-sized monkeys known as Barbary Macaques live on this 60-acre forested reserve. Visitors receive popcorn upon entry to feed the monkeys. The visit lasts about an hour and is only about a half-mile walk. Entry fees: €9 for adults and children 15 and older; €5.50 for children 5 to 14 years old; and free for children under 5 years old.

HOW (to get there): There are a couple ways to drive to Strasbourg. Both car trips take just under two hours. Depending on which route you take, there will be tolls. If you’d rather someone else do the driving, the train will take about 3 1/2 hours. Tickets start as low as €63.

WHERE: Zurich, Switzerland

WHEN (to go): April through June.

WHO (should go): Singles, couples and families.

WHAT (to do) and WHY (you should go): Zurich is a great city for people who enjoy the buzz of urban life while having plenty of family friendly activities. Before exploring, be sure to check the Zurich Tourism website for special activities and events, www.zuerich.com/en. Also, consider purchasing a Zurich Card, which will allow you access to all public transport in Zurich and free entry to most museums, as well as discounts at many shops and restaurants.

Animal lovers will love the Zurich Zoo. Opened in 1929 by The Tiergarten Society, its mission is to act as an ambassador between humans, animals and nature. The pride of this zoological garden is the Masoala Rainforest Hall. The 10,000-square-meter forest is home to a variety of animals, from lemurs to giant tortoises. The zoo also houses an 11,000-square-meter elephant park with indoor and outdoor viewing areas. A glass panel allows visitors to see elephants swimming and diving up close. Entry fees: €25 for adults 25 and older; €19 for ages 16 to 24 years old; €13 for ages 6 to 15 years old; and free for ages 6 and younger.

If shopping is what you’re after, visit Im Viadukt. Nestled under the arches of a railway viaduct built in the 19th century, there are more than 30 shops and a market hall for all your shopping needs. Rather than a traditional shopping mall, this area is a street with small and trendy shops lined up one after another.

Zurich is a city on the water. Take a 90-minute boat trip on Lake Zurich, use a Zurich Card, to see fantastic waterside homes, a statue of the Greek hero Ganymede, and the beach at Tiefenbrunnen.

One of the most charming parts of the city is Niederhof. From the cobblestone streets to quaint cafes and restaurants, what’s not to love? If you’re a people watcher, head down just before 11 a.m. and watch the area come alive. It’s also a perfect time for kids to investigate the surroundings since there are few people around. If the weather is warmer, be sure to bring an extra T-shirt or two. The large fountains are very enticing, and it’s not uncommon to see children playing in them.

The twin towers of the Grossmuenster are just around the corner from Niederhof. Visitors can walk up one of the towers, the Karlsturm. The top provides a beautiful view over the old town and lake. Entry fees: €3 for adults 17 and older; €2 for children 6 to 16 years old; and free for children under 6 years old.

HOW (to get there): This scenic route will take about 4 hours by car. Keep in mind that depending on which route you take, there may be tolls. By train, your trip will take between 5 1/2 and six hours. If you take the train, you will have to switch lines from Deutsche Bahn to Schweizerische Bundesbahnen between Germany and Switzerland. Tickets start at €98 one way.