They say there's no place like home for the holidays.
But with the kids out of school and a bucket list teeming with still-to-visit destinations, winter travel is enticing. Besides, who couldn't use a break from all the shopping, party planning, and general logistics puzzles the holidays suddenly turn into once you enter adulthood?
If you can manage to make your getaway in the sliver of space between Thanksgiving and mid-December, you'll be right in the middle of shoulder season – that magical time between high-traffic travel periods when destinations are less crowded and more affordable.
Plus, you'll still be home in time for the big day(s) after all — and with enough cash left to really enjoy yourself.
A win-win, right?
Here are some of our favorite winter destinations that won't destroy your holiday budget.
New York City
Okay, so the Big Apple isn't the thriftiest option on the map. But ice skating in the shadow of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is an experience not to be missed.
Save cash by steering clear of the swanky Times Square hotels, and stay at an Airbnb instead. They have more character anyway.
You can find listings for cozy, private apartments starting around $70-80* per night, even in midtown, or save more by bunking down in Brooklyn. The commute into Manhattan's easy, and you can score an unlimited seven-day MetroCard for $32.00*.
Besides, Kings County has a lengthy list of must-sees in its own right, especially during the holidays. Just after Thanksgiving, the Dyker Heights neighborhood decks itself out in a renowned, pilgrimage-worthy mass of Christmas lights. And if the nippy New York air has you aching to cuddle up and veg out, catch a flick at Williamsburg's Nitehawk Cinema. One worthy splurge, however: the $8.00* citrus-truffle popcorn. Trust me on that one.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Despite its opulence, Vegas boasts affordable rooms all year ‘round — and come winter, it won't be as jam-packed with revelers. It's also relatively warm; daytime highs hover around the 60-degree mark right through the holidays.
You'll have the best shot at scoring shoulder-season deals in late November or early December. A large number of parties mean the holidays themselves can get pretty crowded.
But no matter when you head to Sin City, you can have a lot of fun for free if you're not a high roller. Just walking around the strip inspires sensory overload rivaling dinner theater. The Bellagio, in particular, is a crowd pleaser, from its carefully-choreographed fountain show to its splendid interior, drenched in Chihuly glasswork.
Looking for a skiing destination that's not quite as boutique (or pricey) as Aspen?
While you can certainly find $300*-a-night rooms in any mountain town come powder season, Breckenridge has more to offer than spas and expensive restaurants.
"Most ski resorts are just that – resorts," as the Breckenridge website says. But "Breck" offers way more winter wonderland for your dollar — like the well-preserved Breckenridge National Historic District, with its cheerfully-painted buildings from the late 1800s gold rush.
After you work up an appetite on the slopes, pay a visit to Crepes a la Cart, a much-loved local joint where you can refuel on the cheap. Chef-designed sweet and savory crepes start around $7*. Or create your own for $5.45* plus the cost of individual toppings.
If you've been meaning to make it to "the most magical place on Earth," there's no time like the winter holidays. For one thing, you can walk around the Magic Kingdom without sweating through your clothes like you would in the high humidity of summer.
Of course, all the theme parks get in on the festive fun in some way or other — not just Disney World, which is as expensive as it is famous. While it's difficult to get into the mouse's domain for less than $100* per person, Sea World tickets start at only $79.99*. And unlike Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, Sea World's Christmas Celebration is included in the price of admission.
Don't have kids? Not theme park people? No worries. The beach is only an hour and change away, and Orlando's got a vibrant urban core filled with all the deliciously cheap eats you'd expect of a college town. Point of fact: It was the founding site of fast casual Tex-Mex favorite Tijuana Flats, which now boasts more than 130 locations.
New Orleans, Louisiana
A visit to the Big Easy is a lot easier in winter, when sky-high temperatures cool to perfect 70-degree days and the tourist slow-down drops hotel room rates, too. And although it's not quite as rambunctious as Mardi Gras — which, for many of us, is a selling point — NOLA doesn't hold back when it comes to yuletide celebrations.
Catch free holiday concerts at the stunning Saint Louis Cathedral, where performances range from blues and jazz to folk, country, and even opera. Or simply stroll through the Roosevelt to admire its impressive display of holiday lights. Having a sazerac at the Sazerac is (kind of) optional, but trying a bite of King cake is not. This is where it made its American debut, after all.
Our nation's capital is a frugal enough destination that it landed on this year's Backpacker Index, thanks in part to its multiplicity of free cultural attractions and museums. You could easily spend three entire days on the Smithsonian alone, and you won't pay a dime for your entry.
Come wintertime, the city gets all dressed up — as befitting its presidential status. Along with seeing the towering tree in front of the Capitol building, you can also meander the sparkling streets of the region's oldest neighborhood, which hosts the sprawling light art exhibition known as Georgetown Glow.
Santa Claus, Indiana
It might not top your list of dream vacation destinations, but can you think of a single city more thematically appropriate? Plus, it's hard to find a hotel room that costs over $100* in this midwestern town, which lies an hour west of Louisville, Kentucky.
If a small-town breather sounds just your speed, aim for the second weekend in December. That’s when the town holds its annual Christmas Parade and Arts & Crafts show. Bring your holiday greeting cards along — if you still write them — to get them stamped at the nation's one and only official Santa Claus Post Office, which will wield a special, high-school-student-designed picture postmark.
San Luis Obispo, California
A warm west-coast destination with a college town's abundance of affordable fun, San Luis Obispo is more than a thrifty answer to a costly Los Angeles vacation. Ranging from picturesque parks and a well-regarded botanical garden to quirkier attractions like Bubblegum and the Cal-Poly Architecture Graveyard, there really is something for everyone in this central coast stop.
Hoping to beat the winter blues by the ocean? With temperatures hovering in the 60s, it might be a bit too cold to get in the water — but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the breathtaking view of the coastline, which is an easy 15-minute drive from downtown.
The Dominican Republic
If your idea of a perfect winter is one spent with sandy toes and frozen cocktails, you'll have to head pretty far south. But fortunately, airfare to the Dominican Republic is surprisingly low between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the island is quiet, balmy, and no longer under the threat of hurricanes.
Depending on your departing airport, you could get to the DR and back for less than $300*. And once you get there, the living is cheap, especially if you ditch Punta Cana. The photo above was taken at Las Galeras, where rooms are available in late November starting at $60* or so.
But keep in mind that prices will start to climb as the holidays approach.
You may think Mexican tourism is all about Cancun and Playa del Carmen. And it's true that this central city is nowhere near a beach.
But with three-star hotels averaging $43* per night and a regional cuisine that's been praised by foodies like Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless, it's worth giving Oaxaca — pronounced: oh-AH-kah — a glance. It's tough to argue against a place that's famous, in part, for its cheese.
December weather hovers between 70 and 80 degrees, meaning you'll be able to take advantage of the region's many outdoor attractions – from hiking in its mountains to paddling in its rivers. Hey, you've gotta work off that turkey somehow.
Happy holidays — and safe journeys!
*Prices indicated in this article may vary according to season and guest demand. Please check corresponding website(s) for current pricing and availability.
*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Jamie Cattanach and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
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