Woman on the shore of a tropical lagoon in Goa, India
Trip Ideas

The Most Affordable Places to Escape to for the Holidays

Come holiday season, we could all use a break (including our wallets). Despite what you might think, winter travel doesn’t have to be expensive—if you know the right places to go. Here, nine trips you can take for the holidays without blowing your budget this year.

See recent posts by Emma Speckman

Quebec City outdoor ice rink in winter
old church and building in Quebec City
view of Quebec City in winter

Quebec City, Canada

Want to spend your holiday in a French winter wonderland—without the Paris prices? Quebec City's annual winter carnival, a local staple since 1955, draws thousands of visitors each year and offers family-friendly activities like sleigh rides and ice sculpture contests, while holiday decorations another layer of charm to the already-adorable Old Quebec neighborhood. For a more natural scene, head to Parc de la Chute Montmorency for spectacular views of the frozen waterfalls, then drop by the famous Ice Hotel (reopening January 2020) for a cocktail before spending the night at Hotel 71 along the Lawrence River. Come morning, be sure to take advantage of the hotel's bikes on loan for a scenic ride along the river path.

snowy ruins in Rome
snowy street in rome, italy

Rome, Italy

While it’s certainly possible to blow your budget on delicious Italian food, fabulous clothes, and pricey art in Rome, it’s also a surprisingly easy city to do on the cheap. After all, some of the best things to see and do in the Eternal City are totally free—like touring its ancient architecture. You can’t miss the classics like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain, but it’s also worth exploring smaller, artsy neighborhoods like Monti (the vintage market is phenomenal). Enjoy a coffee or gelato on the famed Spanish Steps, then people-watch at Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio, an outdoor flea market on Via Galvani. Avoid Rome's high-priced sleeps with a stay at Smooth Hotel, which is located right next to the Termini Station and close to the gardens of Villa Borghese, the Borghese Gallery, and the Baths of Diocletian.

RELATED: Hidden Rome: 9 Incredible Under-the-Radar Gems

Hindu Temple on the water in Goa
Woman on the shore of a tropical lagoon in Goa, India
beautiful view of the water from high cliff in Goa, India

Goa, India

With some of the most beautiful beaches in India, the coastal state of Goa is a must for travelers. The destination is especially lovely in the winter—rainy season has ended and temperatures are cooler than the blazing summer months but still warm enough to lay out on the sand. Because Goa has a large Christian population, Christmastime is especially festive. In Old Goa, dazzling churches like Basilica of Bom Jesus and Church of St. Francis of Assissi are decked out with decorations, and stalls are set up along the streets selling holiday goodies. Vivanta Goa, Panaji, with its rooftop infinity pool and proximity to Cocoa Beach, makes the perfect home base. After a long day spent exploring, nothing beats the Sammardana deep tissue massage at the hotel’s Jiva Spa.

diver in blue waater of a cenote
centoe in Tulum
sandy beach and wooden lounge chairs in Tulum
sandy beach in Tulum

Tulum, Mexico

Is there anything more relaxing than a holiday spent by the water with a cocktail in hand? There's a lot to love about Mexican beach town Tulum, famous for its white sand and boho vibes. Between naps on the beach, there are a ton of ways to stay active: if you rent beach cruisers to explore town, make sure to stop along the ultra-zen Beach Road South, which is peppered with vegan restaurants, yoga studios, and cool boutiques. Of course, your trip wouldn't be complete without a trip to Tulum's thousand-year-old ruins, one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites. As for where to stay, laid-back boutique hotel Zamas and eco-resorts like Papaya Playa Project are perfect alternatives to the area's pricier all-inclusives.

RELATED: Tulum's Best Boutique Hotels Take Boho-Chic to a New Level

Welcome to Las Vegas sign
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas, Nevada

It should come as no surprise that Las Vegas goes all out for the holidays. What’s less expected is how affordable a visit can be—if you plan it right. Soak in the holiday spirit just by wandering the Strip, where you can take in the over-the-top Christmas decorations at the Bellagio, the ice rink at the Cosmopolitan, and the Chocolate Factory Holiday Cactus Garden. Did you know some of the best hikes on the West Coast are just a couple of hours away from Las Vegas? Spend another day or two hiking: Frenchman Mountain, the Calico Tanks, and the Las Vegas Viewpoint are all great options for a challenging and scenic trek. Rest your legs at the casino-free Vdara Hotel and Spa, a reasonably priced sleep with a standout spa.

Irazu volcano in Costa Rica
Landscape of the Arenal volcano surrounded by tropical rainforest on a sunny summer day near the cities of La Fortuna and San Jose, Costa Rica, Central America.
Cityscape of San José in Costa Rica
Hanging bridge at natural rainforest park in Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica

Flights to Costa Rica are much more reasonable in December and January than in the summer months, making San José a perfect place to spend the holidays without breaking the bank. This time of year also marks the start of the dry season, with average temperatures hovering in the upper 70s. Costa Rica’s renowned coffee tours, like the Britt Coffee Tour and Chocolate Tasting, are a fascinating—and affordable—way to experience the country’s world-class beans. For a bite to eat and some inexpensive shopping, visit Mercado Central, where stalls brim with spices, souvenirs, and hand-crafted goods. On rainy days, browse over 1,600 historical treasures (including Pre-Columbian gold and Costa Rica's first minted coin) at San José's Museo de Oro Precolombino. Bed down nearby at the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose,  colonial resort on a former coffee plantation with a beautiful pool and spa.

RELATED: The 9 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica

Exotic views through the jungle to uninhabited beach. Blue lagoon. Picturesque bay. Laem sing beach.
Elephant in jungle crossing a river.
Pileh Lagoon in Ko Phi Phi Island - Thailand
Beautiful sunset at tropical sea with long tail boat in south thailand

Phuket, Thailand

For a high-energy holiday vacation, set your sights on Phuket, Thailand's island city famous for its nightlife. In December and January, popular beaches like Patong Beach and Karon throw wild, fun-filled bashes come sundown while beach clubs like Cafe del Mar or Catch Beach Club are known for their outstanding New Year’s Eve celebrations. For something more laid-back, head to Phi Phi Island, where you can lay out under the sun, pop into the shops and grab a coffee along Bangla Road, or hike to Kathu Waterfall or Khao Sok National Park for out-of-this-world views. While dozens of resorts and bungalow hotels dot the island, for couples looking to escape the crowds, we recommend the adults-only Mangosteen Ayurveda and Wellness Resort. A romantic candlelit dinner is included in your stay, and there’s a private terrace with a hammock in every suite.

ceviche in Cartagena
View of Cartagena and water
a local in Cartagena standing in front of a yellow wall in a beautiful colorful dress


View of a charming street in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

Christmas season in Colombia kicks off on December 7, known as the "Day of the Little Candles," when Colombian families light hundreds of candles and place them in the streets to honor the Virgin Mary. It creates a dazzling runway effect across the city. Throughout the month, Cartagena remains well-decorated for Christmas, and the Old Town is especially lovely. Before hitting the beach, be sure to stop by the bustling marketplace, Mercado de Bazurto, where you’ll find all types of delicious and affordable foods (a two-course lunch here will set you back less than a Starbucks latte). When it’s time to turn in for the night, we recommend the centrally-located Radisson Hotel Cartagena Ocean Pavillion. The spa offers rejuvenating massages, body treatments, and facials, and the poolside bar is the perfect place to relax in Colombia's summer heat.

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