No need to be a billionaire to claim your own private island in the Philippines. Just hire a local fisherman to ferry you out to any one of thousands of islands (5,000 of the 7,000 are uninhabited) and plant your flag. Some food and a few simple camping supplies are all you’ll need to crash for the night (specifically, mosquito nets, rum and something to open coconuts).
The sea turtles never ask for tips, and cool, starry nights are free. If camping cramps your style, a stay at a beachfront resort like Camiguin Action Geckos Resort costs less than a Comfort Suites back home. The priciest part is getting here, but interisland flights are cheap and plentiful (though not always online), as are cold beer, local rum and simmering street foods such as the delicious noodle bowl called pancit bihon . All you need now is an insignia for your flag.
WHEN TO GO Avoid typhoon season, July through September. Deals can be had year-round.
SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON A guided climb up Hibok-Hibok volcano on Camiguin Island. — Nathan Myers.
HOW TO GET THERE: PHILIPPINES Non-stop to Manila for less than $700 on lower-cost airlines like China Eastern or AirAsia. Book as early as possible. The cheapest seats are always available first.
TORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
There’s nothing fancy about Sebastian’s hotel on Tortola. But each of the 26 rooms does put you within a 30-second walk (weighed down with a cooler and a few towels) from a pretty beach in Little Apple Bay on the quiet north shore (the cruise ships are 9 miles away in Road Town ). Do breakfast and lunch at the on-site Seaside Grille (the conch salad is wonderfully unchewy), and for dinner venture to local spots like D’Coalpot, where chef Evelyn arguably makes the island’s best roti — it’s enough to split.
WHEN TO GO Shoulder season (May and June) means the best weather for the best price, but don’t disregard low season (June to November) . Since 1944, a hurricane has hit the British Virgin Islands only once every 11 years , and the last one to cause significant damage was Hurricane Otto in 2010.
SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON sailing. Plan day trips from Tortola to the surrounding islands: flat, remote Anegada for the biggest, cheapest spiny lobster ever; mountainous Virgin Gorda for drinks and 360-degree views at Hog Heaven; and tiny Jost Van Dyke for the whitest sand and strongest cocktails around. Rates start at $89 per person for day sails. Ferrying between islands is a more wallet-friendly option. — Audrey St. Clair.
HOW TO GET THERE: No nonstops from the U.S. to the BVI. Fly to San Juan from
NYC for $200, but it’s at least $300 for the next short leg. Once there, island hopping by ferry is easy.
SAN BLAS, PANAMA
The native Kuna Indians govern the San Blas Islands, still traveling among the 378 isles by hand-carved canoes with sails. Still catching fresh fish and gathering fruit. Still sleeping in hammocks and building shelter with bamboo and thatch. This no-frills escape looks much like it did 1,000 years ago, and a stay at Kuna-owned Akwadup Lodge in one of seven overwater huts feels like it, save for a few welcome comforts such as ordering lobster from your private balcony (under which it was likely just swimming). Views of rainforest and ocean and a blanket of stars are unlike any you’ve seen.
WHEN TO GO These isles lie in hurricane country, so early spring is ideal.
SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON Traditional rainbow-hued fabrics called mola made by hard-bargaining Kuna women. The best have smooth edges and stitches so small they could be the work of Lilliputians . — AS
HOW TO GET THERE: Flights from LA to Panama City hover in the $400 to $600 range. Book the interisland flight ($50 to $100) to El Porvenir as soon as possible. Those 20 seats go fast.
No other Caribbean island offers a greater variety of DIY-style snorkeling and diving (first purchase the required $10 snorkeling pass; $25 for divers). Bonaire’s leeward coast, all 24 miles, is dotted with yellow rocks painted with numbers, each marking one of 60-some named reefs, home to sea turtles, squid and yellow-spotted moray eels. To see them, just park the rental car (Caribbean Club Bonaire includes a pickup truck in the room price), walk to the shoreline, don gear and go. Not a water baby? Mountain biking through Washington Slagbaai National Park means snuggling with donkeys or spotting flamingoes near the salt ponds.
WHEN TO GO Bonaire is outside the hurricane belt, so summer deals can be even cheaper given you can forgo travel insurance.
SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON a 90-minute lesson alongside pros at Kiteboarding Bonaire. — Brooke Morton
HOW TO GET THERE: Nonstops also depart from Atlanta, Charlotte and Houston. CheapAir says to plan Caribbean travel about 100 days in advance. From NYC to Bonaire, $500 is a great deal.
BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Walk the beaches of Kona and it’s like the rocks have eyes. That’s because those coffee-table slabs atop black sand are actually honu — green sea turtles. To see them elsewhere requires snorkeling or waiting till the wee hours when they nest, but here, when the sun shines, they’re everywhere. What’s not, though, are low-cost hotels and cheap eats. The Pineapple Park Hostel is a bit of a misnomer. Although mostly young people choose it, the place does have private rooms for $100 in the heart of town on Route 11, where free islandwide buses stop. Take one to Kailua-Kona and hit up Da Poke Shack for cubed raw tuna topped with avocado aioli, but don’t eat it there. Get it to go and walk 10 minutes south to Pahoehoe Beach. Poke (pronounced poh-KAY) is the perfect light lunch, so you can ignore that rule from Mom about waiting 30 minutes before swimming.
WHEN TO GO November to March is ideal — migrating humpback whales think so — and thus prices are higher. Summer brings better deals, so long as you don’t mind higher humidity.
SPEND WHAT YOU SAVE ON stand-up paddling. Invest $40 for a trip in Kealakekua Bay State Park and paddle among spinner dolphins. — BM
HOW TO GET THERE: Lower fuel costs could mean lower rates in 2015, with West Coast flights starting around $300, East Coast and Midwest about $600. Book three to four months out.