There are plenty of year-end vacation package deals you can grab now to the Caribbean and elsewhere, but nothing beats free. So here are some free vacations for 2012 that cost nothing more than the time and effort it takes to enter a sweepstakes or contest, and hope you win the grand prize. Remember — by law in the USA, sweepstakes may not require a purchase, but these three require that you sign up on Facebook or for the company newsletter.
Japan — Win a trip to Japan four yourself and three friends with this sweepstakes sponsored by the Japan National Tourism Organization. It’s open to participants in the United States only, and requires that you sign up on the JNTO Visit Japan Facebook page with three other users who are also friends of Visit Japan’s page. Once your quartet is singing the same tune, you can apply to win the trip that focuses on one of four themes — food, tradition, adventure and pop culture. That may be the toughest task of all, since Japan is a world leader in all four areas. The Japan Party Express Sweepstakes was launched to build awareness for Japan among digital social network communities, and build interest in tourism, especially since last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Even if you aren’t planning to enter the sweepstakes, take a look at the Visit Japan Facebook page for the latest travel deals, travel related news and other Japan related topics. On my last visit, I toured the Toyota Museum in Nagoya, with historic vehicles and futuristic concept cars, and also the Noritke factory, to watch artisans hand-paint tableware and collectibles, and Tokyo’s the memorable Tsujiki Fish Market, a must-see for anybody who loves sushi.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador — This place is on just about everybody’s bucket list, a magical kingdom of sea lions, giant land tortoises, blue footed boobies, and a bounty of birds and volcanoes. Ecuador‚s leading hospitality company for active adventure, Red Mangrove Galapagos and Ecuador Lodges is running a sweepstakes for a five day/four night tour for two entitled Darwin’s Triangle to commemorate the day 180 years ago when Ecuador annexed the Galapagos Islands, naming them the Archipelago of Ecuador. Today these islands are a National Park, a Marine Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The sweepstakes is to promote land-based visits, instead of living aboard a ship. Red Mangrove operates comfortable lodges on the three main Galapagos Islands, Santa Cruz, Isabella and Floreana, and winners will stay at all three lodges. Visitors go on hikes with trained naturalists, plus there’s time for scuba diving and relaxing on the beach. You have to sign up for the Red Mangrove Galapagos Travel Blog newsletter to be eligible, before February 12, 2012, and travel in May, September or October 2012 if you win. Click here to enter the sweepstakes. Everything except national park entrance fee ($100) and international and in-country airfare is covered. The approximate value of this trip for two is $3,250.
Mexican Riviera — This sweepstakes from Orbitz gives recognizes people who make the world a better place with the gift of travel, with the three top winners receiving an all-expenses paid trip to top beach resorts on the Mexican Riviera, around Cancun and Playa del Carmen, including airfare and up to $800 in spending cash. The “Gift It Forward” contest requires you nominate a deserving neighbor, co-worker, family member, or friend for a well-deserved luxury vacation to Mexico. To nominate someone, you have to visit the Orbitz Facebook page and complete a short form describing why this person deserves to win, and your nominee has to nominate somebody else for the entry to be valid, and then Orbitz Facebook fans vote for their favorite, just like American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. Orbitz will award six travel packages — three each to the nominees and to the person who nominated them. There also are other awards of round-trip airline tickets throughout the contest just for submitting a nomination. Nominations are accepted now through December 9, 2011, and the prize winners will be announced just before Christmas. That will be some stocking stuffer!
For more money-saving travel deals that are not sweepstakes or contests, visit the Daily Deals page of NYC on the Cheap, my other website.