Posted March 10, 2012 by in Backpackology 101

Weekend Destination: Top 10 Free Vacations (3/5)

This article is part three of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.”

You can find destinations #10 & #9 in Part One, and destinations #8 & #7 in Part Two.

6. Kibbutzim in Israel

Who said labor camps can’t be fun? Certainly not the Israelis, the proud and ironic sponsors of number six on our list—the kibbutz. The concept of kibbutz (plural: kibbutzim) is as old as it is simple: The kibbutz functions as a utopian micro-society, founded on a curious cocktail of socialism and Zionism, that provides you the opportunity to cook, clean, fix cars, or feed camels in exchange for food and a decidedly Spartan living quarter. Everything is communal, everything is shared. At Kibbutz Ketura, in the heart of Israel’s Negev Desert, this includes a communal swimming pool, a bar, a basketball court, riding stables, a bar, a tennis court, a bar, weekly activities, and an impressive network of hiking trails into the surrounding desert scenery. And a bar. I reiterate the bar, because from my short experience at Kibbutz Ketura, I would describe it less as a vacation and more as an inebriated, socialist summer camp for grown ups.

While it may be a little quirky, a little offbeat, the experience of living and working alongside true Israelis provides the best source of insight into the culture and lifestyle of this fascinating, Middle Eastern nation. If you’d be keener to learn about Israel’s neighbors, however, you can do so during an allotted number of Free Days each month. The likes of Jordan and Egypt are but a bus ride away. For the less intrepid, you don’t need to go anywhere. There’s a bar. For more information on Kibbutz Ketura, check out


When to Go: For the best weather, go between October and March. If you go between June and August, it will be deplorably hot, but you’ll have twice as many drinking buddies—these are the most popular months to go.

Length of Time: Unfortunately, you need to apply and get accepted before joining a kibbutz, and how long you propose to stay affects whether or not you get in. Typically, the longer you plan on staying, the better, usually around three months. Before deciding to go, I suggest reading the following packet:

Cost: Typically free. Kibbutz Ketura requires a $200 deposit on the room, which is returned at the end of your stay.

Airfare Estimate: New York to Tel Aviv, $1,200 RT; Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, $1,500 RT

5. The Andaman Islands

Alright, I need to come clean… I lied to you. I lied to your face. And I’m not sorry in the slightest. There is nothing free about a vacation to the Andaman Islands. But, considering that it’s one of the best travel bargains on the planet, it still ranks in at number six. Why? Try to imagine that you’re lying back in your hammock, watching the sun dip beneath the horizon of vodka blue water. There’s not another soul in sight. You don’t see any sign of cruise-ships. No cruise-ship families, no mid-west, butterball soccer moms striving to subdue their shrieking offspring. Instead, the only noise you hear is the warm breeze rustling through palm trees, and the only responsibility is finishing the cold beer in your glass. Now imagine if all of this cost less than $20 per day. Surely the Caribbean would go green with envy.

Lucky for you, it does.

Welcome to the Andaman Islands, a hidden travel gem tucked adrift in the Indian Ocean. If you can clear the financial hurdle of the flight, your dream coco-hut awaits for roughly $3 per night. And after a long day of lounging on white sand, such exertions call for a feast. Simply stroll down the shore to any one of the beachside restaurants, where you can tuck into a legendary spread of Indian curry, rice, and naan for little more than $5. But wait. It gets better. If you’re not keen on whiling away a week in a hammock, you can don your swimmies and snorkel over vibrant coral reefs one day, trek through the jungle in search of elephants the next, or perhaps rent a bike and explore the island’s cultural interior. I promise you’ll never look at The Bahamas the same way again.

Weep, Caribbean. Weep in shame.

When to Go: December to early April.

Length of Time: For full mental decompression, give yourself a week.

Cost: No more than $20 per day, unless you drink like a champion. The ferry to Neil or Havelock Island from Port Blair shouldn’t run you more than $3. Getting to Port Blair is another story entirely. The cheapest way is the infamous 60 hour ferry from either Kolkata or Chennai. Tickets for the monastic-style “Bunk Class” set you back about $35-40, food included. If you have the funds, consider an internal flight from Kolkata or Chennai instead, which should cost about $250-400, depending on how early you book.

Airfare Estimate: New York to Kolkata, $1,400 RT; Los Angeles to Kolkata, $1,700 RT

To be continued next week, taking you from Italy to India…


For destinations #4 & #3, continue to Part Four.

This article is Part Three of the five part series, “The Top 10 Free Vacations.”

You can find destinations #10 & #9 in Part One, destinations #8 & #7 in Part Two, destinations #4 & #3 in Part Four, and destinations #2 & #1 in Part Five.


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