Tis the season to break out the credit cards and gift until your heart bursts. But we are here to put a little damper on all of that holiday cheer. You see, the average American will spend $885 on Christmas gifts this year, according to Gallup. And while warming the hearts of others is nice and all, getting on a plane and getting out of town can be just as fun. With that in mind, we’ve put together five amazing trips for two that you can take for what you’d spend on holiday gifts combined (that’s $1,770 to be precise).
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5-7 Days in Andalucia, Spain
If Spanish sun and a historic atmosphere sound better than holiday carols, Andalucia is calling you. In fact, much of the culture we’ve come to think of as Spanish — veiled women wearing mantillas, flamenco, bullfighting, and some of the nation’s most famous festivals — all have their home in this southern region. It’s packed with beautiful natural landscapes and some of the world’s most famous architectural sites, and justifiably draws millions of visitors a year. Within Andalucia, Seville and Granada are the most famous destinations, though other towns also merit your attention if you’re flexible with your itinerary.
Like much of Spain, you’ll score some serious bargains on everything from hotels to food — especially if you avoid visiting during peak times, like Semana Santa. Average hotel rates in Seville come in around $60 per night in the low season, while Granada and Cordoba are even cheaper. Check out cheap and cheerful Hotel Murillo in Seville or Puerta de las Granadas in Granada. When it comes to food, opt for light breakfasts, a menu del dia for lunch, and tapas bars or casual joints for dinner. You should be able to spend around $75 per day for two people. Some attractions, like the Alhambra in Granada and the Alcazar in Seville, do require tickets, but these are rarely more than $10 to $15 each.
Getting here will be your biggest cost, as direct flights from the U.S. to Andalucia are essentially nonexistent. We recommend finding the cheapest flight possible to Madrid, then booking a budget airline to Seville or hopping on the high-speed train. Booking these in advance will save you more money. If you time it right and look far enough in advance, you can nab the entire round-trip journey for around $450 per person from major cities in the U.S. (Tip: Look for bargains with Norwegian Air and TAP for the transatlantic haul.) Once you’re in Andalucia, opt for cheap intercity buses between the three cities.
Five full days in the region comes in under budget, and if you want to extend your trip for a full week, just choose cheaper digs and fewer frills in your hotels. In any case, if you travel in the low season and score your hotel and flights at the prices listed above, you’ll have over $500 to burn on food and attractions.
A week in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico
We’ve already told you why the coast of Oaxaca is Mexico’s next must-visit beach destination, so take our advice and spend all of that holiday gift money on a trip there now. What two average Americans would spend on Christmas presents will go incredibly far in the region. Stick to the towns that cluster east along the coast from Puerto Escondido to Zipolite. You’ll find hotels in Mazunte — a town famous for its beach turtles and sunsets — and Puerto Escondido for $50 per night or less (check out Hotel Paraiso Escondido for a proper budget-friendly option). You can even upgrade your stay to artsy hotels like Villa Mozart y Macondo or the cute Hotel Santa Fe — and still be well within budget.
You’ll find an awesome mix of high-end foodie spots and low-key beachside seafood stands all along this stretch of Oaxaca’s coast. And while meals at the more elevated establishments cost a bit more than the casual restaurants, lunches and dinners in these towns are still far more reasonably priced than other famous beach destinations like Cabo and the Riviera Maya. In any case, one person could easily feed themselves on $25 per day by sticking to humble street food or market meals plus one nice dinner per day. If you limit yourself to street food, mercados, and local cantinas, this number can be as low as $15 per day per person.
To save money on flights, opt for flying into Mexico City, and then catching a short domestic flight to Puerto Escondido. If you’re savvy, you can find these for around $350 per person, with connecting flights rarely costing more than $80 each. You should also set aside about $100 for taxis on the ground, though this will vary depending on where you choose to spend your nights. Zipolite — Mexico’s only true nude-friendly beach town — and Mazunte are a bit farther from the airport, while Puerto Escondido has its own airport.
A long weekend in the Grand Canyon and Sedona
The American southwest is a place of mind-boggling beauty, and some of its prettiest spots can be found in the northern reaches of Arizona. The Grand Canyon and Sedona — when paired together — provide a magical landscape overload. In the case of Sedona, that landscape may literally be magical, as the town is home to so-called vortexes where various energies align to create spaces for communing with, well, whatever intangible thing it is you’re seeking. But don’t let that distract you from the red rock buttes and cliffs that jut out of the ground at almost very turn. The Grand Canyon, of course, needs no introduction, and the popular South Rim entryway is a scenic two-hour drive from Sedona.
Get here by flying into Phoenix and renting a car — you’ll find incredibly cheap deals on the latter, and Southwest plus a number of other domestic low-fare carriers fly to Phoenix for $250 or less per person. There are any number of ways to tour the Grand Canyon, and if you’re hoping to do multi-day treks, rafting trips, and the like, your budget will rise significantly. Keep in mind that the park itself costs $35 to enter per vehicle, and if you’re planning on taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, it’s an additional $15 per person. Sedona itself has numerous hiking trails that are all free to access, and you should also make time to visit Slide Rock State Park or Oak Creek Canyon. The former has a $10 vehicle entry fee, while the latter has some paid areas and parking lots with fees.
Hotels aren’t cheap in this part of Arizona. If you settle for slightly more humble digs, you can snag rooms for under $200 per night in Sedona. Check out Los Abrigados Resort and Spa, which has a pretty creekside setting, or the Sky Ranch Lodge, where the red rock views are amazing. Meals here, like other popular tourist destinations in the U.S., aren’t cheap. But if you balance some store-bought meals with a few meals out, the remaining budget — just shy of $350 — should be enough to feed a couple for four days. That’s the perfect long-weekend trip needed for this part of the country.
5 days in Cartagena, Colombia
While people often think of vacationing in the tropics as a wallet-busting prospect, the reality is different. And that doesn’t mean you have to post up at some run-down, aging all-inclusive resort either. Cartagena is easily one of Colombia’s most famous destinations — and for good reason. The city is blessed with an achingly beautiful historic district — the photogenic Walled City — as well as an artsy, bohemian vibe and one of the most famous beach districts in Latin America (even if it doesn’t have the white-sand and aquamarine-sea combo you may have in mind when you think of the Caribbean).
Cartagena is by no means the cheapest destination in Colombia, but its combination of cultural highlights and warm weather mean that shelling out a little more is well worth it. You can also score incredibly cheap flights here on U.S. budget airlines like Spirit (if you’re brave) or JetBlue (if you’d like more reliable service). From most major cities in the U.S., you’ll spend around $450 for a round-trip ticket. On the ground, meals in the Walled City are definitely more expensive than in budget-friendly Latin American destinations like Mexico City and Buenos Aires, but you’ll still get more for your money here than in touristy European and American places. By mixing handful of local joints, street food, and just a few cool foodie spots, you’ll get by on around $60 per day for two people.
Hotels are reasonable as well, with tons of boutique options packing both the Walled City and Gethsemane. Small properties like Hotel 3 Banderas and Hotel Kartaxa Cartagena can both often be found for less than $100 a night, while slightly more modern properties like Delirio Hotel are a bit pricier. Five nights in the city, including all of the above, will come in under budget if you’re smart about spending on food and lodging, and book your flights ahead of time.
4 days in Copenhagen, Denmark
If you’re willing to travel in the off-season, visiting the quaint city of Copenhagen is easy to do on a budget from most major cities in the U.S. We promise Denmark’s winter weather isn’t nearly as bad as you imagine — in fact it’s often milder than those in the northeastern U.S. Thanks to budget airlines like Norwegian, tickets to the Danish capital can be as low as $400 per person, often with nonstop itineraries (and yes, this includes West Coast hubs like Los Angeles).
Like most European tourist magnets, hotels aren’t generally cheap in Copenhagen, though you’ll benefit from off-season discounts. Also, unlike many of their American counterparts, most major European cities do have cheaper budget hotels if you’re willing to forsake some frills. Thankfully, in design-mad Copenhagen, you can still score chic style at reasonable rates. We like the retro Hotel Alexandra, which is just north of Tivoli Park and the train station, and within walking distance of trendy Vesterbro and the touristy Nyhavn. Rooms in the winter are around $120 a night.
You’ll spend the most of your cash on food and drink, and — be warned — they aren’t cheap. However, if you’re visiting when the daylight hours are few and far between (the sun rises after 8 a.m. and sometimes sets before 4 p.m. in the winter), you’d be foolish not to indulge in the city’s comfort food. Of course, pastries are a must-have and are relatively cheap (just a couple of dollars), as is coffee. Lunches can be a bargain if you aim for the smorrebrod — Denmark’s traditional open-face sandwiches that are piled with veggies, seafood, and other delectables. You shouldn’t spend more than $8 to $10. Dinner is a costlier affair, and the city is packed with trendy casual spots — allot around $40 per person.
(Editor’s note: Oyster.com is an independent hotel review site that does not have any financial arrangement with the individual hotels reviewed.)
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