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Last-Minute Winter Break Trip Ideas for Every Budget
There's still time to snap up great deals in nearby and far-flung locales during the busy travel season.
If you're looking for warm weather and beautiful beaches this winter, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic can be a cost-effective option.(Getty Images)
With winter fast approaching, a time when cooler temperatures and seasonal discounts tempt us to skip town for a relaxing escape, chances are if you're not clamoring for a warm, sunny getaway, you're yearning to go on a more far-flung adventure. But while finding a reason to take a recess around the holidays isn't difficult, pulling off an affordable trip at the last minute is another task altogether. That's why we tapped industry experts to bring you winter vacation ideas that cater to a variety of tastes, interests and price points, along with tips and tricks to maximize savings during the high season.
If You Want to Visit Europe ...
"The euro has been down significantly against the dollar all year, making Europe a better value than it's been in years," says Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso's senior vice president of marketing. She highlights Germany and Spain as choice value destinations for budget-minded visitors, noting that they're typically more affordable than Italy, France and the U.K.
Colleen Clark, managing editor of Jetsetter, also suggests checking out low-cost budget carriers like WOW Air. While she cautions that you shouldn't expect any bells and whistles on the value-oriented carrier, she notes you can score great flight deals and fly out of convenient hubs, including Boston's Logan International Airport and Baltimore's BWI Airport to destinations such as Paris, Dublin and Berlin, she says. And as far as lodging is concerned, she advises looking for lower-priced hostel-hotel hybrids, which offer a mix of standard hotel rooms and shared multi-bed units to entice budget-conscious visitors seeking an inexpensive place to stay in popular destinations such as Paris, Barcelona and Rome. Clark points to Generator Hostels, as a great option for trendy yet reasonably-priced accommodations.
Best Bet for the Bargain-Hunter: Berlin
Sure, Berlin is an alluring place to visit year-round with flourishing culture, art and nightlife scenes, but winter offers travelers the chance to explore bright Christmas markets and eclectic galleries without heavy crowds. Currently, there are round-trip flights in December from Boston to Berlin for as low as $505 (excluding taxes); round-trip flights from BWI in December are as low as $540 (excluding taxes). Best of all, there are plenty of free and noteworthy attractions to explore, from the graffiti-sprayed East Side Gallery, the longest remaining sliver of the Berlin Wall, to the sprawling Tiergarten, a green space lined with cutting-edge stores and restaurants.
If You Are Longing for Sand and Sun ...
If you have your heart set on traveling somewhere with white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters this winter, you'll find competitive flight deals to sunny locales across the Caribbean, Miami, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico from hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City and Atlanta, says Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek. Plus, many of these cost-effective destinations offer affordable accommodations and attractions. Another piece of advice: "Always ask for a discount," Bason says, noting that if you decide to travel in early December, "Hotels are rarely, if ever, full that time of year, and your probability of getting a great upgrade for no or a minimal charge goes up significantly."
According to Hansen, it's also important to think holistically while organizing your trip. "Often an air or hotel deal will drive the decision to venture to a particular destination, but the cost of food and activities should be factored in," she says. She also suggests flying early in the day on a Monday, Thursday or Friday to land the best flight deals.
Best Bets for the Bargain-Hunter: Miami and Puerto Rico
With plenty of opportunities for beachside lounging, people watching and admiring iconic art deco artwork and architecture, Miami is especially enticing for winter-weary visitors craving a relaxing retreat. Plus, Clark points out there are plenty of free attractions and under-the-radar facets "off the well-trodden South Beach path." She highlights authentic Cuban meals in Little Havana, stand-up paddleboarding and strolling through the trendy Wynwood Arts District as must-do Miami experiences that won't break the bank. For cost-conscious travelers, she suggests checking out Freehand Miami, which sits nearby top attractions, like Lincoln Road Mall and Ocean Drive, and offer standard private rooms starting at $169 nightly for stays in December. For an even more budget-friendly getaway, check out Red South Beach Hotel, which goSeek lists for $79 a night from Dec. 7-14. Best of all, you can secure inexpensive airfare before Christmas, Bason says, highlighting that round-trip flights out of New York City start at $138 in December.
Powdery sands, turquoise waves and swaying palms are just a quick flight away from South Beach in Puerto Rico. Beyond the convenience factor of hopping on a direct flight out of major hubs like the District of Columbia, Boston and New York City to San Juan, prices drop in winter, with round-trip flights from New York hovering at around $218 in December. Plus, if you prioritize adventure over rest and relaxation, there's a bioluminescent bay to explore, a lush rainforest to hike and a 500-year-old fort to admire – all of which are easy on the wallet.
Best Bet for the Big Spender: The Dominican Republic
For a high-end winter getaway to remember, Clark suggests heading to the Dominican Republic. It's become a rising destination for luxury-seekers – and for good reason. Take the opulent Aman Resorts' new Amanera property, which opens on Nov. 23, 2015. Stretching out across 2,170 acres, the resort boasts clifftop casitas overlooking the ocean, a 400-acre nature reserve with lagoons and a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. A stay here will cost you, with standard prices starting at $1,792 a night in December, but as Clark put it, the unspoiled landscape and spectacular scenery might make you think you're on an island in Thailand. If that's too pricey, you can also find more cost-effective all-inclusive accommodations in Punta Cana, such as Secrets Royal Beach Punta Cana.
If You Are Itching to Go Even Farther Afield ...
"For a non-traditional winter getaway, skip the beach or ski slopes and head to the Southern Hemisphere," Hansen suggests. Another option: Destinations like Cuba and less-trafficked destinations across South America are ideal for a memorable, unconventional getaway, she says. "Seek out countries that still retain their untouched charm and heritage. Cuba is on everyone's radar now, with predictions that it will change significantly once it opens up to more travelers," she adds, highlighting Argentina, Chile and Peru as other must-see destinations right now. "In Argentina, you have everything from stunning Iguazu Falls to the culture and shopping of Buenos Aires. Chile offers plenty of options for adventure seekers as well as world-class wines. And Machu Picchu is another of those trips of a lifetime that must be experienced."
Best Bet for the Bargain-Hunter: Bogotá, Colombia
According to Clark, Colombia's storied capital as an incredible bargain this winter. Not only is the vibrant city easily accessible with a myriad of short, inexpensive flights from hubs along the East Coast, you'll also find cutting-edge dining establishments, a rich culture and fashionable shops in its bohemian neighborhoods. And Bason also recommends visiting this exotic destination thanks to its cost-effective flights this year. He points out that in early December, you can book round-trip flights from Atlanta starting at $298.
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