Sometimes a last-minute vacation can be exactly what you need. Although the COVID pandemic has impacted the current state of travel, it’s never too early to have some destinations in mind. This way, you can plan ahead while being spontaneous when the time is right.
Instead of focusing on cheap last-minute flights, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture. This includes not just the airfare, but a destinations events, accommodations, and entertainment, too.
Whether you’re looking to unwind or live it up in a new city, here’s a look at seven fantastic last-minute destinations that won’t necessarily break the bank.
Boasting near-perfect weather from spring through fall, Cancun is an ideal last-minute spot. Though it’s best to avoid that spring break influx, which typically runs from mid-February through mid-April.
The cheapest times to visit are anytime from May through November, with September and October being the rainiest time of year. Prices peak around mid-December though mid-January, so you might be able to find a good deal just outside that timeframe.
Outside of peak season, tickets will cost around $150-$200 per person, with a hotel running from $150-$250, depending on what you’re looking for. There’s plenty of beach to soak up, as well as strolls along Avenida Kukulkan, the city’s main drag. There’s also the city’s tallest structure, Torre Escenica, which costs $20 for admission, or $10 for children between 5 and 11.
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Las Vegas, Nevada
Looking for a city with great weather stateside? Las Vegas hovers in the 70s and 80s from March through May, then again in October. It usually cools down quite a bit in the winter months, and being in the desert means June through September is scorching hot.
Prices will vary depending on where you’re flying from, but round-trip tickets typically range between $150 and $250. Decent hotels can run anywhere between $300 and $400, though you might consider talking to a travel agent about looking for any sort of all-inclusive package. You might even be able to score a great deal looking for something at the last-minute. If you’re a Costco member, you may also be able to find good deals on flights and hotels to Vegas through their travel page.
A vacation in Vegas can be enjoyed at all price points. The infamous strip allows open containers (no glass!), so you can cut costs by bringing your own. You can also score discount show tickets through vendors like Tix4Tonight, or just enjoy the free entertainment, like the Bellagio fountains.
While there are plenty of family-friendly options, Vegas does have restrictions about where kids can be on the strip itself. Anyone under 18 isn’t allowed after 9 p.m. without a parent or guardian, and loitering in the casinos isn’t allowed for anyone under the age of 21.
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A Cruise to The Bahamas
Hurricane season in the Bahamas runs from May 1 to November 30 — peaking from late-August through September. This isn’t the best strategy for booking in advance, but it can be ideal for last-minute cruises, especially given you can monitor weather conditions and try to score a better rate if you’re feeling up for a gamble.
Five-day Carnival Cruises to the Bahamas will run around $300, with week-long stays costing between $500-$600. Meals, activities and even childcare is typically included in the cost of the ticket, so unless you opt for some add-ons, you won’t have to get your credit card out until you hit dry land.
Plan to spend around $150 per person flying to Miami, FL. If you’re flying in a day early, you can grab a room near the airport for $150. Of course, you’ll want to check Carnival’s COVID requirements before departing.
If you’re looking for travel deals any time between March and May, it’s worth looking into Orlando as a potential destination. This is the time of year when the weather is great, but is considered shoulder season given the lack of tourists. The latter part of hurricane season is from September to mid-November, which is also fair game, given that temperatures are moderate and a quick check of the weather can tell you if a storm is brewing.
Expect to spend around $250 or so jetting off to this family-friendly locale, and hotels will run around $150 per night.
One-day tickets to Disney World are just over $100 per person per day, with a price break kicking in around the five-day mark. Universal Orlando will cost about the same, though you can save a little money if you opt for Volcano Bay only. You’ll also want to check the parks’ respective websites, as many are currently operating on a reserve system given the pandemic, limiting overall availability.
There’s also shopping, dining and entertainment at Universal CityWalk and Downtown Disney, along with some lesser-known attractions. There’s a 50-acre botanical Harry P. Leu Gardens, which costs just $10 for adults, $5 for kids age 4-17 and nothing for anyone younger. The Orlando International Premium Outlets are a great place to find a bargain on name-brand clothes.
Camping in Yosemite, California
For those who are still approaching their travel with social distancing in mind, camping can be a great last-minute, family-friendly vacation. And few destinations are better for camping stateside than Yosemite National Park. The peak season comes during the summer months, although the campsites are currently running on a reduced-capacity basis, with a reserve system in place.
It’ll cost $35 for an entry fee to drive your car, pickup truck, RV or van into the park, which is also on the reservation system. Daily fees vary by campground, but are $6 per person at Yosemite Valley’s popular Camp 4 and $26 for a non-group site at Bridalveil Creek, South of Yosemite Valley.
Some campgrounds are tent-only, while others allow RVs, so decide just how much you want to rough it. Costs to prepare your campsite will be minimal if you already have camping gear or plan to stay in an RV. If you don’t already have all the gear you’ll need, stores like REI offer more affordable rental options.
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The famously weird enclave of Austin, Texas is another spot to consider if you’re looking for a fun, urban getaway. The hot months span from June through September, so focus on late March through May or September through November, when temperatures average in the 70s or 80s.
Budget around $150 per person for flights and between $120 and $160 per night for a three-star hotel guests rave about. Dubbed the live music capital of the world, the city’s venues offer a multitude of options, from outdoor arenas to dingy rock clubs to the state’s infamous Texas dancehalls. It also has scores of charming neighborhoods, from South Congress to Rainey Street to The Drag on the UT Campus.
Like Vegas, Austin has something for everyone, making it an ideal vacation for families, couples and friends. There’s Zilker Park, free guided tours of the historic Capitol building, and gourmet food trucks almost everywhere you turn. Weather permitting, you can also take a dip in one of the city’s many natural swimming holes. Of course, you’ll want to check ahead online, as many are operating at a reduced capacity due to the pandemic.
Summer is the warmest time of year in Budapest, which means plenty of awe-inspiring festivals. Book a flight in July and plan to spend around $1,500 on your ticket.
That might seem a little pricey for a last-minute vacation, but you can offset the cost of your airfare by booking any number of hotels in the heart of Budapest under $100 per night. Top attractions like Fisherman’s Bastion are almost entirely free — though entrance to the very top costs $4. There’s also a guided tour of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which starts at just under $30 per person.
A favorable exchange rate is one of the reasons Budapest is an affordable European vacation for Americans — one Hungarian Forint currently equals $0.0033 U.S. dollars. Keep this in mind when shopping at the Szimpla Sunday Farmers’ Market or treating yourself to the Budapest Pub Crawl Through the Ruin Bars, with tickets from $12.
Of course, requirements are constantly changing when it comes to international travel. You’ll want to make sure you’re up to speed on what you’ll need to do in order to travel safely.
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Laura Woods contributed to the reporting for this article.
All flights were priced from Expedia.com based on a Denver, CO, Chicago, IL and Austin, TX departures, with the exception of Las Vegas, which was estimated with a New York City origin. Prices were accurate as of August 17, 2021, and are subject to change.
Last updated: August 18, 2021