Wintry weather is all fun and games with its delicate dancing snowflakes, sparkling icy branches, and cheery Christmas lights. Fast forward to mid-winter, though—when gray sludge lines the roads, schlepping your once-cute outerwear has turned monotonous, and spring’s green seems like a world away. When winter begins to feel downright dreary, it only makes sense to crave a little getaway. The good news is that you can escape winter on a budget without dropping tons of cash.
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Picture it now: you, on a boat, warm wind in your hair and beverage of choice in hand. It may sound impossible, but if you’re a flexible traveler who’s game for a last-minute getaway, a cruise is a great way to save some cash.
“Cruise lines and tour groups typically offer incredible last-minute deals because they don’t want to leave with half the capacity empty,” explains Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt. “Both industries took a hit the past two years, [and] there are tons of great deals happening. This is a great way to escape winter and get a tropical vacation package at a cheap price.”
He says the website CruiseSheet often posts cruises that cost as little as $50 per day, and Intrepid Travel often offers 15 percent to 30 percent discounts on last-minute tours as well.
You can also save lots of money by booking your winter travel on the least busy travel days.
“If you have any flexibility, try to book any travel for weekdays or other off-peak times when ticket prices will be less spendy,” says Bryn Culbert, travel expert at Wanderu. “For example, book a getaway for the weekend after Martin Luther King Day instead of trying to find a deal to get out of town over the three-day-weekend.”
She adds that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically less popular days to travel, so you can often find cheaper tickets departing on those days.
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Put on your adventure hat and consider traveling somewhere more off the beaten path.
“Forget Mexico and go to Guatemala instead. Skip Paris and head to Budapest. Forget Brazil and take on Bolivia,” Kepnes says. “There are so many cheap alternatives and budget destinations around the world if you explore the possibilities beyond the most popular destinations.”
The urge to getaway during the holiday season is enticing, especially if you’ve got family to see. However, if you hold off winter travel plans to January, February, or March you’re in for some serious savings.
Demand drops dramatically post-New Years, making flights, accommodations, and excursions far cheaper than they were even a week prior. In fact, you can expect to save over 50 perdent on some of these costs.
“January and February are some of the cheapest months of the year to travel,” says Kepnes. “So start browsing flights and see what deals you can find. Plus, you’ll enjoy destinations more because there will be fewer crowds.” A simple search on Scott’s Cheap Flights, Kayak, or Google Flights will populate a ton of tempting offers.
Many major U.S. cities are actually within a few hours’ drive of warmer destinations. Think heading south for tropical vibes or a bit west for some desert fun. While flights can often be expensive, taking a bus is significantly cheaper.
“If you’re in San Francisco, a bus to L.A. costs about $50 in December, and you can regularly find affordable bus tickets from D.C. or New York to Florida for under $100,” says Culbert. “Purchase your tickets at least two weeks before you travel for maximum savings, and add travel insurance to protect your trip in case of bus delays or cancellations.”
And if you book an overnight bus, you’ll get one more day in your warm destination while saving money on your hotel costs.
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Sometimes we just want to get to wherever we’re going, but if you’re able to embrace the process of getting to your destination as an essential part of your getaway it can make for an incredible trip.
“The experience of train travel can itself be the ultimate escape from frightful winter weather, especially for those who embrace a ‘slow travel’ mindset,” says Culburt. “Opt for a train journey in a sleeper cabin instead of booking a hotel in any of the stopover cities. Amtrak sleeper cabin tickets include meals in the price of the ticket, so you can save on food costs, too.”
Wanderu actually crafted a unique train itinerary that loops around the entire continental U.S. for under $1,000. You can enjoy the seven-day trip from a warm and cozy train car, while passing some of the country’s gorgeous wintertime landscapes from snowy New England scenes to southwest deserts and California coastlines.
The best way to save money on winter travel? Explore your own backyard. There’s a solid chance you haven’t seen everything your city has to offer, so put on your tourist hat and make a whole weekend of it!
“Check and see what unique activities you can do that you wouldn’t do otherwise,” says Kepnes. For example, EatWith can be found in cities all around the world. It offers unique, locally-created culinary experiences.” AirBnB Experiences are another great place to look for fun activities, and TripAdvisor is bound to spark a ton of ideas, too.
If you live in a large city, Kepnes recommends swinging by your local tourism office for a city tourism pass. “These cards allow you to see a wide range of local attractions for free or reduced prices and can be your way to see your local sites on a budget,” he says. “They aren’t just for outsiders!”