10 Affordable Destinations for Spring 2019
Rates at your favorite seaside destinations are rising. But why fight the crowds and do the same old-same old when you can head to these affordable, creative spring travel destinations?
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1: Beijing, China
It's time to check the Great Wall of China off of your bucket list. According to Google Flights, March, April and May round-trip flights to Beijing from New York and Chicago are currently available for under $700. The deals get even sweeter on the West Coast, where passengers can score transport for under $500 from San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. Even the South is getting in on the action, with sub-$600 routes through Atlanta and Dallas. The U.S. dollar is currently trading at a nearly one to 7 ratio with the yuan, which makes travel in China even more affordable for U.S. citizens. Expect to spend about $150 per day for top-end accommodations in China, including meals, or if you're willing to skip on a few luxuries, you can even make it work for around $50 a day.
Know before you go: Cameras are not permitted at Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. You can; however, take them elsewhere in Tiananmen Square.
2: Melbourne, Australia
Thanks to an ongoing bidding war between American, United, and Qantas, flights from the West Coast to Australia are on a fire sale for spring. It’s possible to grab a round-trip seat from Los Angeles to Melbourne for $500. From many U.S. airports, this is a savings of over $1,000. Melbourne is a gateway to road tripping along the country’s southern coast or island hopping to Tasmania. While you’re in town, be sure to check out Melbourne staples like Queen Victoria Market, the Flinders Street Railway Station, and Luna Park. Don’t miss out on the city’s booming food scene or the Healesville Sanctuary, where you can get face-to-face with a koala. (You know you want to.)
Know before you go: U.S. visitors to Australia are required to file for an electronic visa at least 72 hours prior to departure through the ESTA website.
3: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
A bevy of airlines are offering deals on flights to Southeast Asia this spring. Still interchangeably dubbed Saigon, the airport code (SGN) carries the initials of the city’s former name. Flights from Los Angeles are on sale for $429 from some carriers. East Coast travelers can fly out of New York for a still-friendly $600. The deals are expected to last through April. Modern Ho Chi Minh City is dramatically different from the images you’ve seen of it on newsreels from the 1960s and '70s. It’s now a bustling city with an impressive skyline and an even more impressive conversion rate for travelers with U.S. currency. Here, one dollar will net you 23 Vietnamese dong. This friendly rate serves to make the Vietnamese city an even more affordable destination than Bangkok, Thailand. Five-star accommodations can be had for less than $130 per night year round.
Know before you go: Cheap drinks can be found at almost every bar in Saigon. We mean cheap. Like $5 for a tower of beer. The lone exceptions here are the rooftop bars, which charge Western prices for cocktails and a view. Hit up But Vien street at night to see people breathing fire.
4: Havana, Cuba
The time to go to Cuba is now. Flights from Miami to Havana are averaging $300 from multiple airlines, less than the cost of most domestic flights. Passengers from major U.S. cities like New York, Denver and Los Angeles can usually fly to Miami for $300 or less, making the entire package a good deal. You won’t be getting Southeast Asia-like currency deals in Cuba. There are two forms of currency accepted throughout the island—the Cuba Peso Nacional, used by locals, and the Cuban Convertible Peso, used by tourists. The Peso Nacional converts at 25 pesos for every U.S. dollar. You can use it for street food, some local restaurants, and tipping. However, the Convertible Peso, used at most restaurants, bars, museums and for taxis matches the U.S. dollar one for one. You'll be using the latter almost exclusively. We recommend exchanging currency at a major hotel, BFI or Banco Metropolitano bank, or with your Airbnb owner. This can net you closer to 95 cents on the dollar instead of the 75 cents typical at airport exchanges.
Know before you go: Americans are still required to apply for a special visa to travel to Cuba. Most tour companies include packages that qualify as cultural exchange opportunities to get you through the process. The U.S. Embassy in Cuba has a list of the 12 categories that qualify you for travel to the island.
5: Honolulu, Hawaii
Southwest Airlines recently celebrated the launch of its first route to Honolulu by dramatically dropping rates. Those hyper-discounted rates are now gone, but spring and early summer between mid-April and mid-June is still a great time to visit Hawaii before the official tourist season begins. Oahu is filled with adventure activities and cultural immersion opportunities for veterans and first-time visitors alike. See our guide to Oahu for a list of top things to do while you’re visiting the island.
Know before you go: You’ve probably seen Instagram photos of Oahu’s Haiku Stairs. Don’t climb them. It’s illegal, and you’ll face a hefty fine ($1,000) plus potential jail time if you’re caught. Instead, try the Stairway to Heaven. This hike is legal, and leads to a viewpoint of Haiku Stairs.
6: Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
A flight to Reno, Nevada will put you near the shores of Lake Tahoe in the middle of the spring shoulder season. With ski lifts closing and waters at the lake too cold for swimming, you’ll take advantage of slimmer crowds and lower rates at area hotels and resorts. Sure, you might not be able to hit the slopes or swim, but you can soak in some of the best natural beauty in the Sierras. A regular $380 room at the lakeside Hyatt Regency could run you under $150 per night during April and May. Meanwhile, those with a taste for champagne on a beer budget will find rates at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe—which recently opened a lakeside clubhouse and hosts weekly stargazing tours—at $200 lower than the going price during busy season.
Know before you go: Late snowfall can close some trails at higher elevation even into May. Check trail conditions with U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit before setting off on popular hikes like Cascade Falls or Freel Peak.
7: Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand tops the bucket list for adventure travelers for its stunning landscapes and wide range of unique activities. But it often lingers on the list far longer than other destinations, due to regular flights from the U.S. mainland hovering in the $1,100 range. That’s not the case right now. Skyscanner reports round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Auckland for as low as $257 in April and May. Those rates are likely to rise as the spring window closes; however, you’re still likely to find a deal for significantly less than the going rate for the time being. Booking one will put you wheels down in Auckland, where you can explore seaside mountains at Waitakere Ranges Regional Park or road trip south to Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, seen here.
Know before you go: The Hobbiton movie set is located 116 miles southeast of Auckland, en route to Whakarewarewa. It hosts the country’s only remaining structures from the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbiton is a touristy, kitschy paradise for your inner nerd.
8: Key West, Florida
Spring in the Florida Keys is a time for locals to rejoice. When temperatures begin to rise in New York, the snowbirds fly back to their roost. This leaves the islands relatively quiet until the summer tourists arrive. Off-season in Key West runs from March until May, so it’s now that you’ll find the most affordable hotel rates and the least amount of westbound traffic on the Overseas Highway. By April and May average hotel rates in Key West can drop $150 per night from winter highs in December and January. And temperatures still typically remain in the 70's and 80's for most of the day.
Know before you go: Ernest Hemingway’s home and its six-toed cats are the biggest draw on the island, but make time to book a ferry or float plane to Dry Tortugas National Park. You won’t get any closer to one of the country’s least visited national parks by land, and you can camp there for free.
9: Cartegena, Colombia
The Colombian coastal city of Cartagena is home to imposing historic architecture, a vibrant night life and top-notch cuisine. It’s also just a short journey by boat from the gin-clear waters off the beaches of Playa Blanca, which are just a bit nicer than those found in a typical spring break destination Panama City Beach, Florida. Average round-trip flights from the U.S. are currently clocking in at $550 from United from origins like Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston. American Airlines can get you there for about $25 more on average. And those with a little more time and a lower budget can frequently find flights from Spirit in the sub-$400 range. A single U.S. dollar is worth about 3,100 Colombian pesos, so you’ll have a highly favorable exchange rate once you’re there. Expect to pay about $6 per meal and $50 per night for a nice hotel room.
Know before you go: Colombia is home to some of the world’s best coffee, and Cartagena is no exception. Stop by Juan Valdez Café inside Cartagena’s old walled city—Cartagena de Indias—for a primo cup of the nation’s finest.
10: Madrid, Spain
If Spain has been on sitting idly on your bucket list, now is the time to scratch it off. Round-trip flights to Madrid are currently booking for as low as $287 from some carriers through April and May. According to The Points Guy, travelers in New York, Bostin, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco can all take advantage of the deal, through prices fluctuate some depending on your origin and travel dates. Booking a flight will land you in the Spanish capital during festival season. Locals celebrate a victory over Napoleon on May 2 during Fiesta Dos de Mayo. The San Isidro Festival on May 11 pays homage to the patron saint of Madrid. Hostel and Airbnb rates run from about $30 per night to $65, which should leave plenty of change in your pocketbook for making the most of the city's legendary nightlife.
Know before you go: Siesta time is real. Many small shops close between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. It's commonplace for restaurants to close after lunch service around 4:30 p.m. and reopen for dinner around 8:00 p.m.