10 Cheap Ways to Get Away This Winter
The long, dark winter months make many of us pine for a brief reprieve. Fortunately, this is one of the best times of year to travel -- especially for your wallet. Cheapism.com identified nine types of cheap winter getaways that will help you burn off the winter blues and get you through until spring. From family fun at a waterpark to an adults-only wine tour, from a group confab in the woods to quiet time in the sauna, there are plenty of options for a quick and budget-wise break from the cold weather grind.
Ignore the snow on the ground and head for the cozy warmth of an indoor waterpark, an especially appealing winter getaway when the kids are restless. Many waterparks are connected to hotels, so everyone can wear their bathing suits all day, regardless of the temperature outside. Family-friendly specials are not hard to find. In Ohio, for example, there has been a consistent spate of Groupon deals worth 50 percent off at Fort Rapids in Columbus, 63 percent off at Maui Sands in Perkins, and 58 percent off at Coco Key in Cincinnati. An overnight stay at an indoor waterpark, including passes to all the action, runs about $150 for the family; a day pass for local residents costs about $40 a person. (Note: At many venues, waterpark access is limited to hotel guests.)
You likely won't be hiking, biking, and telling stories by the campfire during the winter, but there is plenty of fun to be had at a big house that sits in the middle of nowhere. These types of rentals often have game rooms, hot tubs, grills, and all the comforts (plus some) of home. Property owners tend to slash prices significantly to keep the houses rented at this time of year; rates run as low as $100 a night for a two-bedroom cabin in places like Gatlinburg, Tenn. Special deals may include offers of a third night for $30 or a 25 percent discount on a four-night stay. Another benefit of a winter getaway in the woods is that some houses can hold 20 people and more. Grab your friends, neighbors, or family members and split the already discounted price. Bring along movies, board games, and hot dogs for the grill.
You don't have to go anywhere to give yourself a break from the dreary winter. Book a room at the hotel down the road and let yourself drift away in the heated indoor pool, the sauna, and the spa. If you live in or near Pittsburgh, you can stay at a downtown Holiday Inn with an indoor pool, shuttle service to the local casino, and close proximity to big-city happenings for about $100 a night (parking adds $14); treat yourself to dinner at Fat Head's Saloon or Piper's Pub for less than $50 for two (including drinks). Load up the car with snacks, drinks, and entertainment to minimize outlays on these extras. When looking for winter getaway deals, remember to use discounts available through membership in organizations such as AAA and AARP.
Spring and summer are the most popular times to hit the wine trail, but wineries are open for visitors year round. Because they aren't as popular an attraction in the colder months, many wine trail tours and hotels offer specials worth as much as half off. Niagara County, in upstate New York, is an especially good deal in the winter -- taste ice wines made from frozen grapes and get a trail tour of multiple wineries for as little as $30. Lodging at hotels such as Holiday Inn Express and Days Inn Niagara at the Falls comes in under $100 a night. The Sonoma and Napa regions in California offer huge discounts during the winter off-season, including lodging deals for a third night free or half price for week-day stays. Still, figure on rates edging up to $200 a night.
There are steep markdowns to be had in locales that draw crowds during the warmer months. Setting out for the beach in February may sound nonsensical, but you'll be able to relax in a beautiful spot. Cash in on hotel specials, as well as other tourist attractions such as restaurants and shops that are eager for business in the winter. In Destin, Fla., where the average daytime high during December, January, and February hovers in the 60s, you'll find accommodations for less than $100 a night -- a fraction of the summertime price. While most beaches in Florida, North Carolina, and California will feel far from toasty, you can bask in rays that are warmer than home while strolling along the ocean's edge.
Skiing can be pricey -- or not. If you venture to smaller, less glamorous skiing destinations, such as Saddleback Mountain in western Maine or Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah, you can save big time. Mid-week rates at the former for a ski-and-stay package are $69 a person with a two-night minimum while one-day adult lift tickets at the latter go for $26. Cutting down on other costs associated with skiing -- transportation, lodging, and equipment rental, to name the obvious -- also helps to keep your skiing getaway within budget territory. A resort close to a major airport or highway minimizes travel expenses while a slope located near a family member or friend who could put you up for a few days eliminates lodging fees.
If it's not the cold you're trying to escape, choose a city that is a popular tourist hub when the temperatures hit the upper ranges. Chicago is a prime example. Hotel rooms can run as little as half of the high-season price during January and February; the Sheraton Chicago currently charges about $120 a night compared with well over $200 in June, for example. With some minor sleuthing, you'll find weather-appropriate activities that will keep you busy without busting your budget. Ice skating at Chicago's Millennium Park is free; admission to the Adler Planetarium costs $12 a day for adults and $8 for kids; the Chicago History Museum charges $14 for adults and nothing for children 12 and under.
Plan an educational trip that includes tours of museums, cultural sites, and historical landmarks. Depending where you live, this could be an especially cheap winter getaway. Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are two cities packed to the brim with history that is both easily accessible and affordable -- much of it is even free. Tour any of the Smithsonian museums in the nation's capital without spending a dime, and take a self-guided walking tour of the historical monuments. Philly offers many low-cost enrichment activities, such as "pay what you wish" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the first Sunday of every month and every Wednesday after 5pm. Don't forget to pay a free visit to the Liberty Bell.
A getaway to Mexico or the Caribbean may not qualify as cheap, but it's definitely more affordable during the winter months. Although escaping the colder parts of the world is quite popular at this time of year, many resorts make traveling south in search of warmth even more enticing. You can enjoy three days and three nights at the Iberostar in Cozumel, Mexico for $739, including airfare; the Holiday Inn Resort Aruba is offering up to 55 percent off and a freebie for up to two children, aged 12 and under. Resorts with all-inclusive rates are especially good deals because you know upfront exactly how much you'll be spending and can leave your wallet (locked away) in the room for the entire trip.
Sometimes the best deals will fall into your lap. If you have the flexibility, and the patience to wait, you can cash in on significant winter getaway discounts. Check out Last Minute Travel or Expedia for packages to locales such as Las Vegas, Cancun, Paris, or wherever. For example, we found a mid-January weekend deal for two people, flying from Chicago to New York City, that includes four nights at a 3-star hotel near Central Park in Manhattan for less than $400 a person.