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5 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Winter Getaway

With 100-plus days of winter looming on the horizon, it’s not too late to start planning a warm weather getaway. And, with a wealth of bargain travel websites at your fingertips and these useful tips, you can escape to Florida, Mexico, or the Caribbean without blowing your budget.

Timing Is Everything

Lucky for us Midwesterners, the months of January and February, when sub-Arctic temperatures are regular occurrences at home, are usually gorgeous in Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Unless you have your heart set on a seven-day cruise or a week-long resort package, consider a quick, cost-effective mid-week getaway, as many hotels, resorts, restaurants, beaches, and attractions are less pricey (and less crowded) than they are on weekends.

Location, Location, Location

With flocks of Midwestern snowbirds descending on Naples, Sanibel, and other popular destinations on the western side of Florida, winter prices can be high. To save money, head for smaller beach towns on the Atlantic coast such as colorful Jensen Beach on Hutchinson Island, once known as the “Pineapple Capital of the World,” or New Smyrna Beach, named one of the 15 “World’s Coolest Surf Towns” by Travel + Leisure magazine. And if Mexico is your thing, Cancún is always a good bet, and with hundreds of hotels and resorts to choose from, prices are competitive. If you’re craving a cost-effective Caribbean vacation, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic offer more bargains than pricier St. Thomas, St. John, and the Bahamas.

Explore Your Options

For great deals on hotels, restaurants, car rentals, spas, shows, and other attractions, visit lowfares.com, travelzoo.com, and hipmunk.com. Not quite ready to buy? Check out yapta.com, a website that tracks airfares, hotel rates, and availability and lets you know the best time to buy.

If you have a flexible schedule, check out cruisecritic.com and vacationstogo.com for bargain prices on last-minute bookings on Carnival, Norwegian, and other cruise lines. For fast, easy flights with friendly, hometown-style service from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean, as well as convenient, cost-effective vacation packages, visit Sun Country Airlines® at suncountry.com.

Be Adventurous

If you have an adventurous spirit, think outside the suitcase. If you’re headed to Florida, check out floridastateparks.org and reserveamerica.com, where you’ll find an array of colorful and unusual accommodations. At Jonathan Dickinson State Park, just west of pricey Jupiter Island, you can rent a cabin near the Loxahatchee River that sleeps four to six people and features a kitchen and a bathroom for $95 a night. If you enjoy meeting new people and discovering new experiences, check out airbnb.com and vrbo.com, where you can find apartments, condos, studios, and houses in Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean to rent by the day, week, or longer. Unless you don’t mind sharing space with other people, be sure to filter your search by entire home/apartment.

Do Your Due Diligence

With countless airlines, hotels, resorts, and car rental companies to choose from, taking the time to compare prices can really pay off. Visit kayak.com to compare the cost of bundled air/hotel packages versus purchasing each item separately. Look for hotels that offer free airport transfers, free parking, complimentary breakfasts and social hours, as well as free accommodations and meals for kids. If you’re on a tight budget, look for all-inclusive resorts, where meals, snacks, most drinks, and other services are included in the total price. All-inclusive resorts are fun, especially if you’re traveling with kids, because they can visit the poolside snack bar as often as they like. Once you find a hotel or resort that appeals to you, visit tripadvisor.com to read reviews and get tips and insights from other travelers. When you’re booking a rental car, pull out all your membership cards, as most companies give discounts to members of AAA, Costco, and other clubs.