Are you so desperate for a warm and sunny escape — and so convinced it’s beyond your means — that you’ve settled for tanning-salon sessions and homemade piña coladas?
Really, now: Jetting off to a sandy slice of heaven doesn’t have to send you to the poorhouse. There are plenty of budget-minded locales that are light on your wallet, but still heavy on balmy temperatures, swaying palm trees and beautiful beaches.
For starters, you’ll find alluring options right on U.S. soil — especially on Florida’s unfussy, west-coast barrier islands of St. Petersburg-Clearwater. The region’s wide, powder-white beaches range from happening hotspots edged with volleyball nets and al fresco bars to remote, empty stretches where your only sunbathing neighbors may be some egrets and pelicans. It’s also got an accessible hotel, dining and nightlife scene. Various carriers have round-trip flights from New York’s JFK to Tampa for less than $400.
Prefer to roam a bit farther from home? Head to the Mexican Caribbean, where you’ll find an affordable, laid-back alternative to Cancún at nearby Playa del Carmen, land of barefoot hipsters and palapa-topped lounges. It’s got excellent snorkeling, shopping and sunset-cocktail swilling — plus cool boutique hotels for under $100 a night. Airline flights to Cancún average $400 in April; airport car rentals are from $8 daily.
For about twice as much — still a bargain — you can go get pampered in Bermuda, with its quirky mix of African heritage, colonial history and a love for those famously preppy shorts. Here, pink-sand beaches, luxury resorts and water-view golf courses can be yours thanks to some current (and incredible) all-inclusive deals. The website cheapcaribbean.com is offering four-night packages including airfare from $699 per person, with options including Grotto Bay Beach Resort and Coco Reef Bermuda.
If you’d rather keep it simple, the Caribbean island of St. John has a pair of “luxury-camping” eco-resorts, Maho Bay Camps and Estate Concordia Preserve, with remote tent cottages overlooking the spectacular Virgin Islands National Park — home to hiking trails, soft-sand beaches and sparkling crystal waters. With perks including spa services, boat rentals, and yoga and art classes, “roughing it” has never felt so good. Round-trip flights from NYC to the nearby island of St. Thomas start from $500.
With a little looking, you may just wind up with a ticket to paradise.
© 2012 Forbes.com