There’s nothing like a little cold weather to get you pining for a trip out of town—no matter what the cost. But before you spend a year’s savings on a blowout getaway, consider these unexpectedly affordable destinations. Not only does visiting a prime location during the off-season get you deals on airfare and hotel rooms, you’ll also have the place to yourself without all the hassle of crowds and sold-out attractions—not to mention score the vacation you’ve always wanted during a time when most people are suffering from the winter blues.
Since there is no real off-season in Las Vegas (concerts, shows, and gambling are never on hiatus here), winter is just as good a time to visit as any—though we'd argue that there's no better season to visit. While Sin City may be hedonistic in all things, cost isn’t necessarily one of them this time of year. You can find cheap flights (we’re talking in the $100-300 round-trip range) from most major hubs, and hotel promotions sometimes dip into the low triple digits (think $150 per night at five-star places like The Venetian in January and February). Stay off the Strip and the savings are even bigger.
Behemoth all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, Tulum, Puerto Vallarta, and Cozumel always promise value for snowbird travelers, but you can also find money-saving airfare to Mexico City by flying mid-week (at press time, Delta offered a $250 round-trip from New York in late January). Mexico's high season—and its typically hot weather—doesn’t begin until the spring, so hotel rates remain low. If you’d like to hop around, a four-hour drive gets you to San Miguel de Allende, a 16th-century colonial city and UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its artisanal wares, romantic alleys, and authentic food trucks.
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To score a brag-worthy airfare to NOLA this winter, consider traveling in January, before Mardi Gras madness ensues. Average daytime temperatures that month hang in the mid 60s, making the city much more conducive to sightseeing than during its typically sweltering summers. Another bonus: the street performers and jazz dens of the French Quarter, Garden District, and Jackson Square remain as lively as ever. Accommodations are also appealingly cheap thanks to a wave of new hotel openings in neighborhoods throughout town (we like hip new motel concept The Drifter).
Winter is arguably the best time to visit the Eternal City. Streets aren’t teeming with tourists (you can actually nab a table at the best restaurants in town—and walk to them in peace), hotel room rates are lower, and fares from airports in the New York area were under $400 for select dates in January and February at press time. Though it’s not exactly warm—typical temperatures average around 46 degrees Fahrenheit during those months—there’s something incredibly romantic about bundling up for an atmospheric stroll down Rome’s cobblestone lanes decked out in festive holiday decorations.
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When the winter doldrums hit hard in late January and February, fly south to Cartagena, where summer is just hitting its stride. JetBlue’s affordable direct flights from New York and Fort Lauderdale are making this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s charming walled city (with its Spanish-colonial architecture and surrounding wildlife-filled rainforests) increasingly accessible, while remote natural wonders like snorkel-friendly Playa Blanca in the Rosario Islands archipelago, about an hour ferry ride from Cartagena, remain blissfully crowd-free.
There are few more inspiring sights than Dublin's St. Stephen’s Green covered in snow. With its cozy pubs, soaring libraries, and winding cobblestone streets lined with Georgian architecture, the Irish capital may be most beautiful in the winter, when flights drop to surprisingly reasonable rates (you can find nonstop airfare from most major U.S. cities for under $650—and significantly less from the east coast). While the city's grande dame hotels are known for luxury, rest assured you'll find just as much atmosphere inside its budget-friendly B&Bs and boutiques like The Dean.
With the exception of the Spring Break holidays in March and April, winter can be a surprisingly affordable time to visit Hawaii—especially Oahu and the Big Island—thanks to the availability of more mid-week flight paths (both direct and connecting) across the country. You can find especially enticing deals on hotel rates in Waikiki, where competition among its beachside resorts is stiff during the off-season, but places like Ko Olina and the North Shore also offer value for families who prefer a more natural setting. Consider arriving mid-December for the best value.
Over the last decade, everyone has read the headlines about the Greek economic crisis being a boon for travelers, but now airfares have finally caught up to the hype. (Round-trip flights from New York were less than $650 at press time.) While travelers most plan their vacations around the summer months to island hop between romantic destinations like Santorini and Crete, the winter is a quiet, often overlooked time to stay put in Athens to see classical ruins as well as the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, a Renzo Piano–designed compound that houses the National Library and more than 40 landscaped acres.
With an average winter temperature that rivals most regions’ spring seasons (days don’t get much cooler than 70 degrees), San Diego is an ideal place to escape the cold. Sunbathe or surf on the powdery beaches of La Jolla and Del Mar, tee off on world-class greens, watch for breaching gray whales offshore as they migrate south, or go on a domestic safari at the world-renowned zoo. Accessible airfares make getting there a breeze, with affordable options from most major airports.
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Generally regarded as one of the most expensive cities in the world, Hong Kong can be a daunting destination for many price-conscious travelers. But reasonable airfares can be found, especially in the cooler winter months, if you do your research (at press time, direct flights from LAX in February hovered around $500). Though it’s tough to find cheap hotel rates once there, free hiking trails, bargain noodle shops, and outdoor markets help you make the most of the city without breaking the bank.