Make your birthday a vibrant chapter in your history book without bleeding your wallet dry. Plot a new adventure, round up the old gang to make new memories or find time for quiet reflection on the road ahead at destinations up in the hills or half a world away.
You've made years of memories, so spend the day walking back in time with some of the people who helped make life what it is today. If you'd like to relive days when the gang made s'mores and jumped into the pond at summer camp, try a trip in the woods with group cabin rentals or pitching tents at your local national park.
There's likely a getaway in your neck of the woods that can accommodate reunion parties for all ages. In tiny Red Oak, Va., the CornerStone Farm bed-and-breakfast specializes in hosting a range of private events tailored to a variety of budgets including indoor or outdoor birthday parties. The resident animals mean kids can get pony rides and a petting zoo, and the farm can put together an elegant adult party as well.
When looking to bring together pals from distant corners of the country, from a 21st birthday celebration to a sweet 70th, consider the bargain hotel rates in the casino destinations of Atlantic City, Las Vegas or Reno. Tribal gaming resorts also have great deals close to home, with many of the amenities and glitz of their Vegas cousins.
Bureau of Land Management campgrounds range from free to cheap, and there are more than 400 sites across the country.
Relax and Reflect
If your birthday is the time to reflect on where you've been and ponder where you're going, do it on the road. Consider a road trip through the wide-open West with the brilliant sunrises and one-horse towns as your only companions.
Find an oasis of hiking, rafting and climbing at one of the less-traveled national parks such as Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, which Outside magazine notes is larger than Switzerland. Rent a Smoky Mountains cabin for a week or relax with the Pacific Ocean and the stately redwoods on Northern California's Mendocino coast.
A birthday road trip can be for all ages. The Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort franchise has dozens of locations throughout the country, and most of them offer birthday party packages that can include a Yogi Bear visit, cake and a toy.
Finding something new and checking items off the list of things you've always wanted to do can be accomplished on any budget. Sit down and make a list of 10 places you want to explore over your next 10 birthdays, whether a souk in Morocco or Yellowstone National Park, and pick one off the list that fits your available time and how much you want to spend.
If international travel is in your budget, consider a location where turning a specific age has special meaning, such as the 15th birthday for girls in Latin America, the 18th birthday "coming out" for females in the Philippines or the 21st "crown" birthday in the Netherlands.
Even if something as exotic as an African safari is out of your price range, a must-do trip can be as all-American as retracing old Route 66. If taking a travel partner or your whole family, it's still possible to combine things you've always wanted to do with activities they'd enjoy as well. For example, an antiquing trip along New Hampshire's Route 4 -- a legendary trail with stops in the White Mountains, Concord, Portsmouth, the lakes region and the coast -- could culminate in a family vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee.
Daring Birthday Escapes
Throw caution to the wind, jump out of an airplane or simply spin the globe and plunk your finger on a random country. This sort of escape can be pricey if you want to race a car at the Dubai Autodrome or take a helicopter tour to active volcanoes on Reunion Island, Vanuatu or Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. But an off-the-charts birthday experience can be had at international destinations that aren't too expensive, from visiting tigers in Bangladesh to bungee jumping in Uganda. Join other mountain bikers with a reputable tour company as your guide on a descent of 15,000 feet on North Yungas Road, commonly known as the "Death Road," in Bolivia, with precarious drops and a lush rain forest setting.
Sign up with airline and hotel customer loyalty programs in advance to take advantage of discounts around your birthday. For example, Ukraine international Airlines gives a 20 percent fare discount for you and up to five traveling companions within one month of your birthday, while Delta offers birthday bonus miles and a vacation package discount.
Pick a destination that may be known more for its lore or colorful history than plush tourist accommodations. Just be sure to check with the State Department before booking a ticket to an exotic locale to ensure there are no travel warnings in effect.
Check the exchange rates when you're planning international travel to find dollar-stretching destinations.