Tax season is the perfect time to take a trip. With a little bit of planning, you can maximize your return by taking a much-deserved getaway. The key is to pick affordable destinations such as Playa del Carmen, Mexico or Bangkok, Thailand. Stay at vacation rentals in these great cities which provide all of the benefits of tourist hot spots, but without the high price tag.
1. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
If you’re dreaming of a beach vacation in Cancun but can’t manage the high prices, head just an hour down the coast to Playa del Carmen. This lively, charming town offers pristine beaches, a huge selection of restaurants, and a fun vibe. The ruins of Tulum are close by, as are the legendary Mexican cenotes. Choose from a range of comfortable vacation rentals, and don’t worry about transportation; you can walk almost everywhere. The best time to visit is during April and May, when prices and crowd levels are low.
2. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest delivers a serious dose of European charm – spend your days exploring castles and cathedrals, riding bikes by the Danube, and soaking in Roman thermal baths that have been around for centuries. The city also booms with funky cafes, cheap bars, and excellent restaurants; don’t miss the funky ruin pubs, which are built inside ruined or abandoned buildings. Best of all? This luxurious atmosphere is surprisingly affordable, particularly during the spring and fall.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
Packed with grand architecture and fascinating history, Prague is a dream destination. It’s packed with once-in-a-lifetime sights: tour Prague Castle, listen to live musicians on the dramatic Charles Bridge, and watch the stunning astronomical clock. Interested in the arts? Catch an opera or ballet at the spectacular National Theater for a shockingly low price. Even with its popularity and awe-inspiring beauty, Prague is a bargain destination, especially if you book vacation rentals outside of the Old Town area and make use of the great tram system. Visit during the spring and fall to avoid the summer and Christmas crowds and price hikes.
4. Antigua, Guatemala
Immerse yourself in Mayan culture in Antigua, a charming town packed with colorful Spanish colonial buildings. Antigua is popular with travelers to Central America, so it has a tourist-friendly infrastructure and an excellent selection of vacation rentals, restaurants, and tours. When you’ve had your fill of gorgeous churches and street markets, book a day trip to hike the Pacaya volcano and soak in the natural hot springs. Antigua is affordable year-round; book flights to nearby Guatemala City and take a convenient shuttle from the airport.
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
If you want to stay in the United States, Myrtle Beach is a great, budget-friendly option. Don’t let the town’s party reputation scare you away – outside of March and April, there’s not a spring breaker in sight. The rest of the year, this oceanfront town offers beautiful beaches, affordable vacation rentals, and plenty of family-friendly activities. Ride the SkyWheel, try the Family Kingdom amusement park, or catch the sunset from the boardwalk. You can find the best prices in the late spring, fall, and winter.
6. Hong Kong
Glamorous Hong Kong might not seem like a budget destination, but you might be surprised. It’s a breeze to find cheap flights from Los Angeles, and there are a huge number of affordable vacation rentals scattered around the city – in fact, many are cheaper than hotels in major U.S. cities. While you’re in town, climb the stairs to the enormous Tian Tan Buddha, see spectacular views of the city from Victoria Peak, and watch the boats in Victoria Harbor. The city is packed with inexpensive noodle shops and street food stalls, and the cheap subway, ferry, and tram systems make it easy to get around.
7. Cartagena, Colombia
Immerse yourself in the vibrant, fun-loving Colombian culture in Cartagena, one of the country’s most beautiful cities. The ocean makes the perfect backdrop for brightly colored colonial buildings and cobblestone streets, and the nearby white-sand beaches ensure you come home with a tan. The city is great for groups, since apartment rentals are cheap. Be sure to take a day trip to the Rosario Islands and explore the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fortress. Cartagena is an easy – and often inexpensive – flight from L.A., Miami, Chicago, or New York, and since it’s in the Central time zone, you don’t have to worry about jet lag.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
See where the East meets West in Istanbul, a thrilling city that spans the Europe/Asia border. Marvel at the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, go underground at the Basilica Cistern, and take a cheap boat ride down the Bosporus trait. There are plenty of great bargains at the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, and inexpensive Turkish street food keeps you full. Vacation rentals are affordable, even in the popular Sultanahmet area, and the cheap tram system makes it easy to get around.
9. Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is known for its legendary high real estate, but it’s a surprisingly cheap vacation destination. The city is loaded with free attractions: all of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, and the National Gallery of Art are free year-round. If you want to see the country’s most famous buildings, take free tours of the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Don’t worry about car rentals; the Metro subway can take you anywhere you need to go. For the best deals, visit outside of national holidays and the annual cherry blossom festival.
10. Bangkok, Thailand
Although Bangkok is far off, regular flight deals from L.A., Chicago, and New York make this destination a budget-friendly option year-round. Once you’re there, costs are shockingly low; you can rent a beautiful city apartment with a pool for less than a U.S. hotel, and fantastic Thai street market meals usually cost just a couple of dollars. Cheap transportation aboard tuk-tuks, river boats, the MRT subway, and the air-conditioned Sky Train make it easy to get to the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.
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