American’s Dream Destinations
Where would you go if you had all the money in the world to spend? Would you stay in a 5-star resort, eat multi-course meals prepared at Michelin-starred restaurants and be pampered by butlers? Or would you head off to the farthest reaches of earth, sleep in a yurt and connect with wildlife?
Everyone has their bucket list of things they want to do and see before they die. When Americans were surveyed by Vrbo about the places they would travel to if money and time were no object, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers listed most of the same destinations, but with some intriguing departures.
No matter their age, all respondents thought alike when it came to what they wanted in their dream trips: relaxation, being with loved ones and exploring places anew.
Think you need to win the lottery to visit your dream destinations? No! We examine the places everyone is dying to see, and share how to turn dreams into reality.
Dream Ranking: #1 for Gen Xers and baby boomers
For ages 35 and up, Australia is the “dreamiest.” What makes the Land Down Under such a draw? Well, it's home to more than 10,685 beaches, 8,222 islands and 500 national parks, to start. From the Great Barrier Reef — the largest of its kind in the world — to beautiful metropolitan cities (where 85 percent of Australians live), this laidback and charming country has it all.
Interestingly, though, Australia is only the 18th-most visited destination by Americans, according to Expedia. This suggests Australia, which takes serious time and money to get to, remains just a pipe dream for many. (Per Vrbo, only 27 percent of Gen Xers and 15 percent of baby boomers will go into debt for travel, and going into debt can feel like the only way to make this trip happen.)
That said, with some planning, it is possible to enjoy Australia without breaking the bank...
How to Go
With a flight that takes 14+ hours from Los Angeles and 22+ hours from New York, Australia can be expensive to get to, no doubt about it. But airfare sales do happen, with roundtrip flights from Los Angeles, for example, sometimes found for under $700. These sales are rare, so enrolling in e-mail alerts with airlines that fly to Australia, as well as websites such as Airfare Watchdog and Skyscanner, can give you the heads-up when a sale does happen.
When it does, act fast! These fares sell out quickly.
Once in Australia, the dollar is .69 to the Australian dollar, so you can budget for hotels and dining out at a win. Some bucket-list activities — snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example — will be expensive, but sitting on Bondi Beach and watching the surfers is absolutely free.
Dream Ranking: #1 for millennials, #2 for Gen Xers, #3 for baby boomers
The country appearing in the top five for every age group — and in the top spot for millennials — is a dreamy destination through and through. The Vrbo survey reveals that most millennials travel for exploration (45 percent), while Gen Xers globe-trot to celebrate special occasions (20 percent). Italy is a perfect place for both.
The European nation’s regions provide a chance to explore beaches, mountains, islands and the famous Tuscan countryside, appealing to all ages and interests. And it can be more affordable than you might think.
How to Go
Why wait for a special occasion to explore Italy when it offers so many options for visiting on a budget? Airfare to the Mediterranean country is highest during the summer months, when the airlines know you’re hoping to get away (round-trip prices average between $800 to $1,200). But in the off-peak months, fares can drop to closer to $500 per person.
The majority of your budget will be used on visiting museums and attractions in this country filled with history, so seeking out combined ticket packages through operators like the Rome and Vatican Pass will help trim costs.
As for the fabulous, oft-raved-about food and wine of Italy? You’ll find that table reds and whites grown right in the region you are visiting can be enjoyed for 3 or 4 Euros a glass. And pastas and pizzas at an intimate mom-and-pop restaurant will be just as delicious as at a high-priced, top-rated restaurant, but cost you a third of the price (plus, you'll often have a chance to meet the owners).
Dream Ranking: #2 for millennials, #4 for Gen Xers and baby boomers
America may have fought for its independence from England, but its citizens are still drawn to the islands of our ancestors; the U.K. lands on the dream list for every age group.
England, Scotland and Wales beckon with their ancestry-driven vacations and rich histories. (Ireland is mistakenly grouped as part of the U.K., but only Northern Ireland is part of the kingdom; Ireland is an independent country.)
The main attraction here is London, one of the most-visited destinations by Americans, according to World Atlas. The city offers so many museums and historic attractions that you will need ample time (and lots of energy) to see them all. And you’ll certainly want as much time as possible to drive around the counties of Ireland, taking in the green landscape and coastal views around the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher.
All that, plus the entire U.K. is filled with castles, still owned by the ancestors of the families who originally built them, as well as ruins.
No wonder everyone wants to go!
How to Go
Thankfully, it’s easy to get to the U.K. from the U.S., with airfares between New York and London and Boston and Dublin often the cheapest and most direct. It is the conversion rate where Americans take a hit. At $1.27 to each British pound, it does cost more to eat, drink, shop and explore in the U.K. But don't be deterred.
To save on a visit, consider staying at an Airbnb rather than a hotel — you not only will find cheaper options, but will have a kitchen to help keep dining-out costs to a minimum. Fortunately, national museums in the U.K. are often free, allowing everyone to check out priceless works of art and historic artifacts at no cost.
Dream Ranking: #4 for millennials
Twenty-five percent of millennials care about design and architecture when choosing a place to stay, more than any other generation. So it makes sense that they also most prefer Spain, a country where the architecture — especially in cities like Barcelona and Madrid — is truly unique.
Millennials are also most likely to travel for a hobby like surfing and hiking (23 percent), which are popular in Spain. Surfers flock to both the northern Basque coast and the southern Mediterranean coast to ride the waves, while hiking can be enjoyed across the country.
One of the top hikes and bucket-list trips is walking the Camino de Santiago. Known as “The Way,” this pilgrimage mainly runs from France across northern Spain (there are additional routes) and has been made famous in books and films, enticing millennials to join in the walk to meet people from around the world.
How to Go
It’s not so much expense that makes Spain seem like an unrealistic dream, but the feeling that there's not enough time to fully enjoy its riches. Walking The Way doesn’t take a lot of money (many overnight stays are in hostels or even in tents), but it can be time-consuming, often taking walkers a month to complete.
However, visiting the cities on quicker jaunts is easier to do, with airfare sales between New York and Madrid offering rates below $500. As in Italy, eating at out-of-the-way, family-owned restaurants is cheaper than in the big cities, and going this route promises fantastic cuisine and wine.
Visiting off-the-beaten-path destinations is also better in Spain, where large cities are becoming so overrun by visitors, restrictions are being implemented to limit tourism. (Barcelona in particular has suffered from overtourism.)
Dream Ranking: #4 for millennials (tied with Spain)
It makes sense that millennials — a group seeking exploration, unique experiences, adventure and outdoor expeditions — would favor Peru.
That said, in the survey, millennials were also the most demanding: 72 percent said online access is a must, and 41 percent said having a TV was important — both of which are not a priority in the areas they dream of visiting in Peru, such as Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,507 feet.
How to Go
Peru itself is not expensive, with a conversion rate of 30 cents to every 1 Sol, but it does take multiple and expensive flights to get to the South American country.
Group tours to explore Machu Picchu make the ruins easy to see but cost a few thousand dollars. Granted, the tours include train and bus transportation, accommodations and any meals, as well as securing passes into the visitor-restricted areas.
Knowing the prices ahead of time can help travelers budget for this big-ticket adventure. Tour companies such as Intrepid Travel and Kensington Tours are already planning for 2020 trips, allowing you to pay in installments.
Dream Ranking: #5 for baby boomers
Baby boomers separate from the Gen Xers and millennials by adding New Zealand to their top five. Famous for its scenery, this island-nation boasts waterfalls, lush mountains and beautiful beaches, and is known for being an outdoor lovers’ paradise.
But while adventure reigns here, there are also plenty of ways to relax and take it easy; the country's Polynesian roots give it a similar vibe to the Hawaiian islands. This fits the boomer mentality perfectly: People ages 55 and older were the least likely to be active during their trip, with only 6 percent of respondents craving energetic activity.
How to Go
Just 3.5-hours by plane from Australia, New Zealand is often combined with its neighbor into one dream trip. For boomers looking to see it all while relaxing, cruises between Australia and New Zealand are also very popular.
Once again, a trip across the globe gets most expensive in terms of getting there, so add New Zealand to your airfare-deal alerts and strike when you can find an affordable price.
Dream Ranking: #2 for millennials (tied with U.K.), #5 for Gen Xers
On the same side of the world, the younger generations are most interested in visiting Japan. The land of the rising sun’s capital city of Tokyo is an exciting destination renowned for high-end shopping, dining and hotels. The countryside may not offer as much glitz and glamour, but it makes up for it in spades with a chance to truly immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
Witnessing thousands of cherry trees in blossom during the spring, partaking in a Japanese tea service in a pagoda, sampling sushi from the inventors of the delicacy and hiking to enjoy wonderful views from Mt. Fuji can all turn a vacation in Japan into one for the memory books.
How to Go
Flights from Los Angeles to Japan are 11.5 hours, but it's relatively easy to find discounted flights (compared to, say, Australia) because of the need for flights connecting Tokyo and American businesses.
While Tokyo offers much in the way of high-end selections, luxury is not the only option. Travelers will discover accommodations and dining at numerous price points. One way to save when eating out, street food, is a delicious way to sample Japanese cuisine.
Dream Ranking: #5 for Gen Xers (tied with Japan)
The main draw for Americans visiting France is Paris, the famed City of Light that welcomes more than 30 million visitors each year.
Filled with iconic sites, such as Versailles, the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, there aren't many who wouldn't want to see the city at least once.
Outside its star metropolis, France is home to wine-growing regions such as Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace and Provence. Visiting the countryside means enjoying fine French wines paired with even finer French foods.
How to Go
The biggest expenditure when it comes to visiting France is most often its attractions: The Louvre costs nearly $20 and the Eiffel Tower can be up to $30. Add up the number of outstanding museums and sites to see, and you can be spending much of your budget just to get in.
The good news is that you don't need to enter the sites to see how lovely Paris is. Plop down at the Champ de Mars park, just in front of the Eiffel Tower, to enjoy a picnic complete with wine (open bottles are allowed!), and you'll have the best view of the Eiffel Tower.
Or, for just $5, climb to the top of the Basilica Sacré Coeur to take in much of what you'd see from the top of the Eiffel Tower...but with the Eiffel Tower itself as part of the views!
You can also find discounted tickets when you purchase combination passes using the ParisPass. There are ways to manage Paris, as well as the rest of France, on a shoestring budget.
Dream Ranking: #5 for millennials
Young folks are on to something: The weak Greek economy is a win for Americans seeking a trip that is easier on the wallet, and despite some recent political turmoil, Greece is a safe place to visit and boasts plenty of attractions that daydreams are made of.
Ancient history, gorgeous islands filled with white-washed buildings topped with blue roofs to match the blue of the Aegean Sea, and cuisine that ranks as some of the healthiest in the world? Yes, please.
How to Go
Although the economy took a hit in Greece, airline carriers know Americans want to visit and keep flights at higher costs. Finding decent airfare typically means traveling off-peak. However, some savvy travelers are finding flights to nearby countries at lower fares, and then hopping on smaller, local, budget airlines to get into Athens.
Cruising into Greece is also a way to see the islands and Athens without having to fly into the country.
Dream Ranking: #3 for millennials and Gen Xers, #2 for baby boomers
Americans of all ages consider their homeland a dream destination, with every single age group listing the United States in their top five. Hitting the open road, visiting the national parks and landmarks, and enjoying so many cities that foreigners clamor to visit, right in our own backyard? But of course we want to explore all areas of the red, white and blue.
The U.S. is nearly the same size as Europe, making it more difficult to see it all. But without the need for a passport, it is also the easiest nation to see in all of its glory.
How to Go
The dream may be to pack up an RV and explore every nook and cranny, but until that day of retirement comes and nothing can come between you and the open road, there are other ways to take in America’s spoils.
Rather than taking long vacations, utilize long weekends for getaways, beginning with destinations easy enough to drive to and making stops at any roadside attraction that strikes your fancy.
There are many ways to save when it comes to travel in the U.S., with sites like Groupon and Living Social providing half-priced admissions and dining. (Many people focus only on local deals, without considering savings in places they want to visit.) Non-peak travel makes hotels desperate to fill beds with heads, so you can find comfortable prices under $100 per night.
Even if camping is not your forte, places like KOA Kampgrounds feature cabins with kitchens, Wi-Fi and beds, at lower rates than most hotels.