Tired of the winter weather and dreaming of getting away for a long weekend or a full-blown holiday, but worried the cost could break the bank? We've talked to some travel pros who say budget-minded travel is a possibility if you know where to look. (Be sure to redeem miles when you can, and keep in mind these credit card tips for traveling abroad if you are getting ready to book a winter vacation.)
1. Costa Rica
This Central American democracy is a budget-friendly destination all year long, offering a variety of hideaways even in high season that won't break the bank.
"Costa Rica is one of my favorite budget-friendly vacation spots to visit," said Anita Covic, destination specialist with TripTogether.com. "Instead of forking over a pretty penny on a hotel or resort on the Pacific side I recommend renting a whole house for the same price on the Caribbean/Atlantic side with full access to the beach, shops and amazing cafes. Playa Limon is one of the most popular Caribbean/Atlantic side areas in Costa Rica with great affordable food and activities."
There are a plethora of things to do to occupy everyone: The night life is great for couples, while daytime activities such as surfing and snorkeling are great family outings, Covic said. Another attractive feature is that the U.S. dollar is strong in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is generally considered one of the safer destinations in Central America. However, TripTogether.com recommends that travelers should avoid going out late at night alone. Always be cautious and alert.
Covic recommends a one- to three-month lead time when planning a getaway as many activities/excursions book up in advance, so it might not be ideal for a last-minute getaway, but is something to keep in mind as you comparison-shop for trips.
2. San Diego
San Diego doesn't require an international flight for U.S. travelers, and averages a mild 67 degrees in winter, making it a great in-country getaway. And hotel prices now are very affordable, Covic said.
"San Diego is a great travel location for couples or families," Covic said. "We recommend attractions such as Sea World, Legoland and the San Diego Zoo. The Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego provides a fun and exciting night life."
In terms of safety, note the surf advisories in San Diego, especially during the winter months.
Booking flights to San Diego is easy, so it's a great long-weekend destination, especially if you're able to find last-minute booking deals and/or airfare and hotel packages.
3. Puerto Rico
Winter in Puerto Rico is warm enough for visits to the beach, and you can avoid the large crowds that come here during the high season.
"Puerto Rico is a very romantic destination," Covic said. "However, families also can enjoy visiting the rain forest, the beaches … there's sight-seeing galore."
In terms of safety, as in any travel destination, be aware of your surroundings. If you do not feel comfortable in any area, you probably shouldn't be there.
Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, U.S. citizens don't need a passport to travel there, just the same photo ID you'd use to fly domestically. Last-minute travel deals can be found, but Covic recommends taking at least one or two months to plan the perfect trip.
Thailand is exceptionally budget-friendly no matter what time of year, Covic said, but noted that the off season from May to September is cheapest.
"Bangkok is a great place for couples looking to have fun, while there are a plenty of islands in Thailand that are great for families and couples looking to relax," Covic said.
In terms of safety, many tourists are subject to pickpocketing especially when browsing a crowded market, so it's a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and make sure your valuables are secured.
How to Save on Travel
If you aren't opposed to the idea of group tours, some companies offer great tour deals through Thailand and other countries. For example, SmarTours offers all-inclusive, two-week group tours of Thailand, South Africa, Colombia, Peru, and India for, in many cases, under $2,000.
"We always build in a lot of free time, so that creates the opportunity to 'escape' from the group if people would like," Greg Geronemus, Co-CEO of SmarTours, said.
You could also potentially save on travel by signing up for fare alerts, being flexible with travel dates and looking into alternative accommodations, like hostels or vacation rentals. You may also be able to save with a travel credit card — rewards can be put towards airfare and/or hotel stays and some offer ancillary perks, like a free checked bag on your flight or free hotel Wi-Fi. You can find a list of the best travel credit cards here. Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new plastic. You'll want to make sure your credit score can qualify you for the best terms and conditions and you should also see if it can handle the hard inquiry generated by a credit card application. You can view your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com.
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