The Best Destinations (and Times) to Visit for Budget Travelers
We all have those vacations we'd book immediately if we were ever to win the lottery: a stay in an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora, a beachfront retreat in the Hamptons, a whitewashed cliffside getaway in Greece... But travel smart – during off-seasons and shoulder seasons – and these destinations don't have to be the stuff of daydreams. Read on for the best destinations (and times of year) to visit if you're a budget traveler.
Mexico and the Caribbean
Mid April - mid December
Traveling to Mexico and the Caribbean during off-season (read: cheap season) can be tricky thanks to these little things called hurricanes. No surprise here, but the most affordable time to travel south – mid April through mid December – also coincides with the official hurricane season – June 1st to November 30th. But if you plan carefully and hit the window right before, or right after the worst of it, you could take advantage of shockingly low all-inclusive rates at some of the best resorts around. If that makes you too nervous, just carefully work your getaway around holidays and North America’s winter (right on into February) – Mexico and the Caribbean’s highest (and most expensive) season. As for finding the cheapest flight, fly out on a Tuesday and return on a Wednesday – midweek departures and arrivals deliver the most cost-efficient fares.
RELATED: Caribbean On a Budget
New York City
January - early April
NYC doesn’t have a super discernible off-season, but sneak a peek at hotel rates throughout the year, and you’ll find the best travel deals rollout in winter. Between January and early April, you’ll find the hub vibrating at a slightly lower frequency, as long as you carefully avoid dates surrounding big events and holidays like the annual February fashion week and Valentine’s Day, of course. Know that this is a great time to visit art museums (plenty offer free admission), eat divine prix-fixe menus for a fraction of the price during NYC Restaurant Week (winter 2017 dates forthcoming), and hole up in the city’s top discounted sleeps.
September - May
Mention a vacation in the Hamptons (that is Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Montauk, Amagansett and a number of other villages and hamlets) and it may summon images of seaside mansions, off-duty supermodels on private beaches, and a whole lot of Vineyards Vines. But the summer colony does have plenty to offer during off-season – September through May – like wineries (yes, they exist outside of the North Fork), history, art and deeply discounted hotels (to the tune of 50 percent off!). Budget travelers, rejoice.
July - August & December - January
Las Vegas is most affordable in the late summer months, when temperatures in the Mojave Desert test thermometer limits and the lasting power of SPF 100, but if you plan on kicking it indoors – at 24/7 casinos, live shows and late-night dance clubs – then the AC will serve you just fine and you’ll save a pretty penny. When it comes to airfare, departing on Sunday and returning on Tuesday usually saves the most dough. Regardless of when you visit, be sure to check ahead for conventions which can cause room rates to surge (even if they’re during off-season). The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is your go-to guide – you'll want to consult it before setting your dates in stone.
November - March
Winter is off-season for Europe, and if you start looking for hotel and airline deals in August and September, you’ll be in good shape. While it’s easy to be blindsided by flashy London, Paris and Venice, if you’re willing to branch out and explore second-tier cities and non-central European locales like Budapest, Prague and Dubrovnik, you can save extra bank. When considering airfare, keep in mind the cheapest airports to fly in and out of: Copenhagen, Moscow, Stockholm, Oslo, Dublin, and Shannon; and like many other destinations, midweek flights – Tuesday and Wednesday – will always snag you the best deal.
November - April
The good news about Napa is that the city’s weather is wonderful nearly year-round, so you won’t have to deal with inclement forecasts or rampant natural disasters when you hit the scene during off-season. That said, November through April is definitely the best time to find hotel deals and thin crowds. If you’re visiting for wineries (let’s be real, who isn’t) then consider going the tour route for additional savings; that way your transportation is taken care of and you’re shuttled (safely) everywhere you need to be for a flat rate. If you rather do it all on foot, you can take a super cost-effective walking tour of Downtown Napa’s tasting rooms with a $30 tasting card that covers seven different venues.
March - May & September - November
A lot of good things happen in unison come spring and fall in LA; mild temperatures and manageable crowds descend on the city, while at the same time, summer's suffocating smog begins to subside and moderate hotel prices start to pop up around town. To keep the rest of your trip's budget on par, plan on buying flights at least two weeks in advance. If you can, try to fly in on Friday and out on Monday as that’s when you’ll often find the lowest fares possible.
April - May & September - mid December
When to visit Hawaii is really best determined by when not to visit Hawaii. You’ll want to avoid the tropical state’s busiest season, December to March, when mainlanders everywhere try to flee the flurries and brisk temps sweeping over the majority of the rest of the country. Hitting Hawaii in spring and early fall are your best bets for finding reasonable hotel prices, and since the islands don’t experience any drastic weather changes season to season (summer to winter is a mere dip of 5 to 10 degrees), you’ll find favorable conditions year-round. Good news on the airfare front: recent route additions from Virgin America – this summer debuted two direct flights from LAX and SF to Honolulu and Maui – mean more carrier competition and lower prices. No matter who you fly, always keep in mind that weekends are most popular, so try to be flexible and plan for Monday through Thursday flights.
September - October & April-June
July and August spell out peak season for Greece. Spring and fall deliver more reasonable hotel rates and airfare. Additionally, you can save yourself some cash by staying in lesser-known locales, like the Peloponnese islands or on the northern mainland, and make day trips to Santorini and Mykonos, rather than staying right in town. Wherever you end up, just consider that in off-season there may be less frequent ferry service – something you’ll want to plan ahead for.
May - November
Prices dip to their lowest from May to November in the Maldives, but keep your eyes peeled on the forecast as the southwest monsoon season makes an appearance from July to August. While it may not seem the case, visiting during the wet season does have its benefits (and more than just monetary): snorkelers and divers will find much more active wildlife, and surfers will benefit from ideal waves. Other ways to save on your Maldivian retreat? When going on excursions or traveling to and from the airport, do so by public ferry. Commuting like a local (for as little as 2USD in the case of Maafushi to Male), rather than arranging private transport through your resort, can help you save big.
April - June & September
Thailand operates under three seasons: hot, cool and wet. It’s during the country's dry summer months, October through February, that you'll see the highest surge in prices. That's your cue to look to shoulder season. It's quick – just the month of June – but if you can swing it, you’ll catch Thailand right before it swells with tourists (and travel-related inflation), and just as temps start to cool. Rainy season runs May through November and while the nearly-guaranteed downpours can be intimidating, if you’re planning a northern getaway, like Chiang Mai, you’ll fare just fine (as opposed to southwestern destinations like Ko Samui and Ko Phi Phi which get it way worse). When it comes to flights, Mondays and Tuesdays are the most affordable, and Bangkok is the cheapest airport to fly into.
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