11 Budget Trips to Shake the Winter Blues
Instead of a typical haunt such as Miami or Orlando, head to inexpensive Naples. Known for its historic downtown and art galleries, the community is also home to a pier that dates back to the late 1800s and serves as a popular (and free) vantage point for dolphin spotting. Beach aficionados will appreciate the sugar-white sand. Budget hotel chains are plentiful, and rooms at the Bayfront Inn Fifth Avenue and some others start at about $180 a night.
Yuma holds the Guinness World Record as the sunniest city on Earth yet is far less well-known than Phoenix or Tucson. Budget-friendly activities include bird-watching and walking along the trails at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge (free) and tubing on the Yuma River (from $10 to $20). The Imperial Sand Dunes, a 40-mile reserve along the eastern edge of California, are a magnet for off-roading enthusiasts and have served as a backdrop for movies since 1913, including "Star Wars" movies and the 2005 film "Jarhead." Three-star hotels can be found for less than $120 a night.
Unless someone tips them off, visitors to Southern California rarely find their way to Temecula. About an hour north of San Diego, Temecula is a pared-down version of Napa or Sonoma -- think green, rolling hills with rolling hills with wineries, golf, and plenty of creative dining options (along with an average winter temperature of around 70 degrees). The suggested admission at Temecula Valley Museum is $5, or $10 for a family; exploring historic old town Temecula is free; and wine tastings can be as low as $15. A stay at a three-star hotel can be booked for less than $110 a night.
Even sleepier and more laid-back than nearby Naples, Bonita Springs offers pristine beaches without big crowds and a convenient jumping-off point for exploring nearby Captiva and Sanibel islands (Sanibel is known as the "shelling capital of the Western world"). Bonita Springs is also the home of the popular Barefoot Beach Preserve for gopher tortoises. A three-star hotel can be as low as $183 a night, but because this is a smaller community, the best deals can be found through property rental sites such as HomeToGo, VRBO, and HomeAway.
Skip the crowds and commercialization of tropical Cancún and drive two hours south to charming Tulum, a resort town on Mexico's Caribbean coast. It's home to a namesake Mayan archaeological site, Tulum National Park, which dates back to the 13th century, and inland are the pyramid-shaped temples of Cobá, with views of the surrounding jungle. Flights to the highly traveled Cancún airport are cheap, and all-inclusive resort vacation packages can be found on BookIt.com with hotel rates starting at about $129 a night for a single guest.
This up-and-coming, family-friendly coastal community outside San Diego provides a convenient base for exploring miles of beaches along historic Highway 101, seeing the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch ($16 for adults, $8 for children), and visiting the Museum of Making Music ($10). Guided, three-hour food tours ($59 for adults, $35 for children) include tastings at seven to eight restaurants and information about cultural, historical, and architectural highlights. The wildly popular Legoland amusement park is here too. Some beachfront or near-beachfront rooms at budget hotel chains start at less than $110 for a January visit.
Famous for its ornate antebellum architecture and cobblestoned historic district, Savannah is also a comfortably temperate destination in winter, making this perhaps a better time to visit then the humid summer months. Walk manicured streets and parks lined by oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, visit the Historic District's Forsyth Park, explore Bonaventure Cemetery and its sculpture garden, and stroll along River Street in the Waterfront District, running parallel to the Savannah River. A three-star hotel stay can be as low as $107 a night.
The name of this picture-postcard Southern California community elicits images of yachting, mansions, championship golf courses, and world-class spas. But there's a variety of free or inexpensive options for visitors, including public hiking and cycling trails, stand-up paddle boarding, and whale watching ($16 with winter and spring specials) and sunset, evening, and live-music cruises can be cheap as well. Lodging options are limited, but it is possible to find well-reviewed properties for less than $200 a night -- the Best Western Plus Newport Beach Inn starts at about $138. (Be alert to "Newport Beach" hotels that are actually in neighboring communities.)
Another Arizona option often lost in the shadow of the larger, better-known Phoenix, Scottsdale is favored by some for its boutique feel. It's a spa resort mecca for those looking to recharge and unwind, and offers free hiking trails through the cacti and rock formations of the McDowell Sonoran Reserve. House tours of Taliesin West, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's former home and studio, are pricey at $34 in advance. For a unique lodging experience, search VRBO or HomeAway. Visitors can find a two-bedroom apartment that sleeps six for about $167 a night, or a one-bedroom nestled in the mountains for an average of $149 a night.
Most of the Caribbean is a madhouse in the first few weeks of January. Wait until later in the month, when prices drop to high season from peak season, which pays off in Jamaica's Montego Bay. The destination is already competitively priced, because of the regularity of flights in and out, and it's a popular place for package offers. CheapCaribbean has been offering all-inclusive, five-night packages (including airfare) starting at $989 a person.
With a favorable exchange rate and weather that's hard to beat, Mexico is a favorite for winter travel. Mazatlán brings a variety of alluring free activities, such as strolling the charming streets of Old Mazatlán, including the four-mile malecón (boardwalk), and visiting the El Faro Lighthouse, with stellar views for those willing to trek to the top. CheapCaribbean offers a variety of affordable, all-inclusive packages. A seven-night getaway with airfare starts at $902.