Save Money This Winter By Travelling Off the Beaten Path
Canadians sure love warm-weather getaways, eh? And considering how we suffer through our winters, we deserve them. Every year we curse the sub-zero temps and plot southbound pilgrimages, where our driveways of frigid white snow are replaced by stretches of white sand.
But why do we always flee to the same old stomping grounds? Word gets around quickly when a spot is good, and it doesn’t take long for our serene sun havens to turn into noisy, overpriced tourist magnets.
But worry not. There’s whole hemisphere to explore in our search for winter respite, and I’ve come up with a list of fantastic alternative destinations to the usual spots. And they’re not only less travelled, they’re often cheaper than their more famous cousins.
Dominican Republic instead of Jamaica
The Dominican Republic hasn’t created a massive tourism PR machine like some of its Caribbean neighbors, leading to lower tourism demand and a whole lot of value—if you know where to look. In Puerto Plata you can stay at the all-inclusive, five-star resort, Grand Bahia Principe San Juan from USD $50 per night. Try finding that in Jamaica.
As for things to do, Santo Domingo, the 500-year-old historic capital city, is full of culture and good eats. Nature lovers will gush over the spectacular waterfall Salto El Limón (which also happens to be free), and Parque Nacional Los Haitises, a filming location for the movie Jurassic Park, which boasts 618 square miles of jungle and caves.
Gulf of Mexico, Florida instead of Miami
Canadian hockey fans will salivate over the super-cheap ticket prices for an NHL game in the US. March 2018 will see the Tampa Bay Lighting face off in their home stadium against the Canadiens, Senators, Oilers and Maple Leafs, all within a 10-day period. The cost of the cheapest seats? Try around $40 CAD for the Maple Leafs game.
If you want to relax by the water in between games, get out of Tampa and head over to nearby Clearwater or St. Pete, where there’s no shortage of white sand real estate for you to set up your beach chair. Sure, the Gulf Coast of Florida won’t have quite the massive crowds that South Beach has, but isn’t that the point?
4,000 Air Miles should be enough to get you there, which is pretty easy to rack up considering some rewards cards offer the lion’s share of that amount as a sign up bonus.
Taipei instead of Hong Kong
Although Taipei and Hong Kong are similarly metropolitan, the two cities have different vibes. Note that Taipei is arguably the most gay-friendly city in its region, so it’s a great LGBT travel destination for those that want a taste of East Asia without the more conservative attitudes that they might find in the likes of Hong Kong.
Like Hong Kong, Taipei has great food (especially at the night markets), excellent bars, and cool lounges. Taipei 101 (the fifth-tallest building in the world) provides stunning views of the city, while the National Palace Museum offers a massive collection of imperial Chinese art.
I recommend choosing a hotel that’s subway station adjacent, as that will make getting around the city a lot easier. Canadians with the Starwood Preferred Guest card can use their 20,000-point welcome bonus for nearly three free nights at the Aloft Taipei Zhongshan, located next to two subway stations for easy mobility.
Depending on which airline you fly with, you could get a stopover on Hong Kong so you can get the best of both worlds. Find airfare to Taipei from the following destinations in March as low as:
Toronto – $947
Montreal – $962
Vancouver – $573
Banff instead of Whistler
Banff should definitely be on your radar if you prefer to hit the slopes rather than lounge on the beach.
Winter is considered the low season in Banff, whereas it’s the peak season in Whistler. You’ll still get access to some world-class ski hills, but you’ll pay much less for your hotels and lift tickets. And there are plenty of other winter activities to enjoy when you’re not on the slopes. Ice skating on Lake Louise while it’s snowing is like being in a real life snow globe, while the winter mountain adventure program offered by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a unique way to learn about the local area.
Just remember that unless you’re from Alberta, you need to make sure you have out-of-province medical insurance before you hop on a ski lift or lace up your skates. Winter sports are a tad more dangerous than getting on and off a beach chair and sipping margaritas.
Calgary has the closest international airport, which is about a 90-minute drive from Banff.
Lisbon instead of Barcelona
Barcelona has long been a favourite European city for Canadians, but Lisbon is deservedly getting more attention as of late. Increased flights to Lisbon (and aggressively cheap fares) are luring more visitors, and it also helps that hotels throughout Portugal are moderately priced and food is much cheaper compared to Spain. A classic Mediterranean dinner of grilled fish and vegetables will cost you no more than €8 ($12 CAD).
But what really makes Portugal appealing is the variety that the relatively small (and therefore easily travelled) country has to offer. Head south to the Algarve if you’re looking for a more relaxing vacation, or north to Porto and the wine country if you want culture. While in Lisbon, be sure to take a side trip to Sintra where the palaces and castles feel like a real life fairytale.
San Diego instead of Los Angeles
Let’s be clear, it’s impossible to compare San Diego to Los Angeles, but it’s a good alternative if you’re looking for a warm West Coast destination that’s more laid back. Lay your beach towel down on the shores of La Jolla, where the soft sands rival any beach in LA. If shopping is your thing, Fashion Valley Mall in the Mission Valley has all the top brands to help you get your fix. Those travelling with children should make their way to the San Diego zoo, where more than 3,700 animals reside, including adorable giant pandas.
Thailand instead of Hawaii
Although flights to Thailand are more expensive compared to Hawaii, your ground costs will be much, much lower. You should be able to find nice accommodations for under $60 a night in Thailand, whereas you’ll pay closer to $200 a night in Hawaii. Thailand offers a nice mix of cities in Bangkok and Chiang Mail, as well as beach life on the islands of Koh Samui or Koh Phi Phi. Food is ridiculously cheap, with pad thai from street vendors costing you no more than $3 Canadian. If you do plan on travelling around Thailand, taking a bus or train is cheaper than flying, but you’ll spend more time to get to your destinations.
Playa del Carmen instead of Cancun
Cancun has long been a favourite sun spot for Canadians, but the massive tourist crowds can be overwhelming. If you head an hour south by car to Playa Del Carmen instead, white sand beaches and a laid-back vibe await you there. Resort prices in Playa are similar to Cancun, but the real value is booking a private rental home. You can save money and cook some meals at home or head into town, where cheap food and drink can be found along 5th Avenue. Parque Fundadores has charming buskers who perform daily, and it also leads to the free public beach.
Playa del Carmen shares an airport with Cancun so there should be easy air access from your home airport. Find airfare to Playa del Carmen from the following destinations in March as low as:
Toronto – $350
Montreal – $400
Vancouver – $400
Regardless of where you end up, know that travelling outside of Canada doesn’t need to be expensive or repetitive. It may be tempting to just trek back to those familiar, tourist-trodden getaways that Canadians flock to en masse. But there’s a whole lot of summery spots to explore while Canada suffers in winter, so why not try something new?