Bah! Winter! Bah humbugs all round! Perhaps you’re like me; you came from somewhere that isn’t completely frigid in the winter and now live in a place that would give Scott of the Antarctic the chills. Well, that’s what happens when a Brit transplants to Minnesota I guess – and being British, I will never stop complaining about the weather.
When it comes to winter here, I yearn for warmer climes but with the holidays at the tail end of December, I can’t be spending vast wads of cash on flights or hotels, because that money is needed for presents and Christmas goose!
There’s gotta be a solution, right? You betcha! There’s a ton of places you can travel to in winter to escape (or embrace) the cold without costing an arm and a leg.
Read on to find out more about some of the best places to travel in December on a budget in the US and other countries too. Just remember to book early, beat the holiday rush and save money!
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1. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Sure, I’m trying to escape Minnesota in December but some of you folks might live somewhere that never sees snow and want your winter holidays to be *extra* wintery this year! If so, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are some of the best places to travel in December on a budget.
This is a place that truly understands winter and how best to while away the colder months, ergo it is the perfect place to enjoy winter in a truly wintry setting. Domestic flights to MSP are pretty cheap in general and will plant you right next to the action.
When you land, you’ll be a stone’s throw away from the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the US, perfect if you need to do some last-minute gift shopping.
Then there are the cities themselves. Saint Paul has the sort of chill vibe and holiday postcard setting that you’d find in a Charles Dickens novel or a Norman Rockwell painting. Take a walk along Summit Avenue or downtown Saint Paul to immerse yourself in the traditional festive aura.
But it’s not all cozy vistas, this is the state of hockey, so head on down to the Xcel Energy Center to watch the Minnesota Wild go wild! Minneapolis is definitely a party town, filled to the brim with incredible restaurants, bars, pubs, breweries, and nightclubs, and is the perfect place to ring in new year’s eve.
That said if you’re after culture, try the Walker Arts Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden next door. If you want to take part in winter sports and ski resorts, look no further, as they are legion in Minnesota.
Hockey, ice fishing, snowshoeing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, broomball, whatever you do, just be sure to bring warm clothes to combat sub-zero temperatures in this winter wonderland!
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Minneapolis?
2. Las Vegas, NV
Viva Las Vegas! Now that’s what I’m talking about! With almost perfect weather all year round and cheap domestic flights, Las Vegas is definitely one of the best places to travel in December on a budget for anyone who loathes the cold as much as me.
In December you’re likely to find great deals on rooms at most of the big-name hotels/resorts/casinos to have cash left over to enjoy this amazing city to the full.
It’s about as hard to find souvenirs in Vegas as it is to find a bad meal; i.e. everywhere sells some sort of trinket or keepsake and Vegas is famous for having great food for all tastes and budgets on every corner.
We haven’t even gotten to the best bits yet! Aside from the excitement, glitz, and glam of the casinos on the strip and the party atmosphere Fremont Street is bathed in, Vegas is home to tons of attractions for the whole family to make your trip a memorable one.
Take in one of the many immaculate theaters, dance, comedy, or music shows – there are tons of choices every night. Learn about organized crime at the Mob Museum, admire the famous fountains at the Bellagio as well as its terrific conservatory, or see sharks up close at Mandalay Bay’s amazing aquarium.
If you want to escape Vegas’s 24/7 buzz, there are several beautiful national parks to explore just outside the city, like Zion National Park, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the Grand Canyon – some of which can be explored from a helicopter or hot air balloon; that’s right, you can fly into the Grand flippin’ Canyon!
For real adventurers, try the Grand Circle Road Trip for truly unforgettable vistas.
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3. Los Angeles, CA
Another city famed for its near-perfect weather all year round, Los Angeles is one of my favorite cities and surprisingly one of the best places to travel in December on a budget. Prices of domestic flights to LA are at the lower end of the scale in December, as are most of the hotels.
That said, hotels can be a little pricey in general, which is why I’d recommend an AirBnB for a cheaper and more unique stay – there are hundreds of incredible options out there for less than $100 a night.
LA is a great place to unwind and chill under sunny skies, even in winter, heck, maybe especially in winter because many of the locals feel that the “mild winter weather” of 65 Fahrenheit is cold!
In keeping with the relaxed vibe, LA is home to several famous museums and galleries to wander through, such as LACMA, The Getty, and the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, right next to the (slightly whiffy) La Brea tar pits.
Being the entertainment capital of the world, you’ll find no shortage of live shows and events if you’re looking for something a little more lively.
The food is one of my favorite things about LA, being home to a really eclectic mix of cuisines and some innovative restaurants and chefs – prepare for a Christmas dinner like no other! Staying a while, check out this guide on if you need to rent a car in Los Angeles or not.
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4. Puerto Rico
The US territory of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea is another spot for fun in the sun and one of the best places to travel in December on a budget from the US, with flights as low as $150 to this tropical paradise.
The hotels and beach resorts on this incredible destination are also pretty cheap almost any time of year, but a budget hunter’s dream in the low season!
Sandy beaches are one of the biggest draws to Puerto Rico, with pristine beaches in all shapes and sizes, colors, and luminosities.
Think I’m kidding? Puerto Rico has at least one pink beach on Isla Verde (green island, pink beach, talk about a clash), and one that glows in the freaking dark at La Parguera – I double-dog-dare you to find a place more magical to celebrate the holidays!
Along with unique beaches, Puerto Rico is home to more examples of outstanding natural beauty and is an ideal vacation spot for hikers.
For Americans, if you ever wanted to experience a taste of Spanish culture without getting a passport (or splurging on flights to Europe), Puerto Rico is the place to be. The beautiful architecture around Puerto Rico’s larger towns enjoys a Spanish colonial flavor, as does the marvelous cuisine.
The seafood here is especially good, with most of it being caught the same day it’s cooked and served. Puerto Rico’s lively nightlife is also a source of excitement and salsa dancing in the open streets at midnight is one of the most romantic ways you could celebrate New Year’s Eve. Read our full post on the best things to do in Puerto Rico if you plan on visiting this fantastic island.
See Related: Best Vacations in the United States
The cheapest time to fly to Hawaii is during the winter season, which is why this normally pricey state is on my list of best places to travel in December on a budget. If you’re hungry for warm weather, emerald valleys, sparkling seas, and black sand beaches from the world’s most active volcanoes, there’s no place on Earth like Hawaii.
There are six major islands to visit in Hawaii, consisting of Maui, Lanai, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and the namesake island of Hawaii – all the perfect getaway for anyone keen to avoid getting snowed in.
Snorkeling and scuba-diving are some of the top activities to do in the gorgeous Hawaiian Islands, but by far the favorite aquatic pastime here is surfing, known as “he’e nalu,” in native Hawaiian.
Whale watching is another popular and unforgettable experience in Hawaii. Every winter, around 10,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters, starting in November and lasting through the winter months until May.
These majestic, gentle giants are a breathtaking sight to behold up close and will certainly make a great gift. Golf is huge here, and Hawaii offers an incredible golfing experience with some of the most heavenly courses in the world and scenic views amidst unparalleled tropical beauty.
Hawaii is home to a fusion of Polynesian cultures, many of which haven’t touched the continental US, making Hawaii that much more special for anyone really looking for something different over the holiday season.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the United States
6. US Virgin Islands
Although the US Virgin Islands was brutally battered by Hurricane Irma in 2017, they are now bouncing back in full force. A side bonus here is that in order to encourage tourists to pay the islands a visit, prices for flights to the Virgin Islands and the cost of accommodation are extremely low, making for incredibly cheap good deals all around.
These Caribbean islands are tiny specks of rock amidst crystal azure seas and are the perfect island getaway for anyone who wants to get some of that tropical island feel, without having to spend (what feels like) days on a plane to Hawaii.
It’s home to a fascinating and storied history, dating back to at least 1500 BC, and a fantastic Caribbean culture. Plus, Americans don’t need to bring a passport with them; bonuses galore!
Experience wonderful cuisine in the form of fresh seafood and Caribbean classic with an American twist. There’s also a surprising amount of decent shopping opportunities here for anyone looking for some retail therapy.
One of the best things you can do in the US Virgin Islands is snorkeling around the coast, where there’s a good chance you’ll get to swim alongside turtles, which is a life-changing experience.
See Related: Cheap Places to Travel in the US
7. Austin, TX
Everything’s bigger in Texas, especially the savings when planning the best budget-friendly vacations in December, with flights sometimes as low as $100, making for a super affordable vacation!
This zany, bohemian corner of the Great State of Texas is chockablock with brilliant attractions, incredible food, and a wonderfully weird art scene full.
The capital city of Texas is home to over 2,000 musicians and performers contributing to the ever-growing live music and theater scene, as well as internet giants Rooster Teeth, making Austin hallowed ground for any Red vs Blue, Achievement Hunter, or RWBY fans.
As well as the hopping live music and comedy scene, the street theater is quite prevalent in Austin and you might catch yourself a show from just wandering around the city center or one of its sprawling public parks.
Austin is particularly famous for its delicious food, typically served in Texas-sized portions, which are laaarge, except for the price, meaning you’ll be getting way more bang for your buck at mealtime.
The drink scene here is pretty awesome too, with several highly regarded breweries, distilleries, and vineyards to tour.
With mild winters fewer tourists and something for everyone, from the Austin Mural and glorious HOPE Outdoor gallery, to the comprehensive Texas Military Forces Museum, Austin is one of my favorite budget-friendly places to visit in winter.
See Related: Best All-Inclusive Resorts Without a Passport
8. Ottowa, Canada
But it’s coooold in Decembeeeeer! Well, I suppose I can put the cold aside for a drop of culture. If you’ve ever been torn between visiting the United Kingdom or France, or maybe just want a taste of both without getting homesick, the Canadian city of Ottowa is the choice for you and one of the best places to travel in December on a budget if you’re looking for some snow.
This grand old city features a stunning and eclectic array of buildings, heavily inspired by classic British and French architecture, as well as sleek, modern examples that one would find in cosmopolitan Europe and skyscrapers you’d find in the US of A. It’s also delightfully divided up into charming boulevards and beautiful public parks, which are particularly romantic in winter, and free!
Apart from being a favorite among budget travelers for cheap flights and winter vacations, Ottowa is the ultimate place to learn about our beloved northern neighbors and a good place to bone up on some knowledge and Canadian history.
Perhaps the most famous (and equal parts romantic and imposing) landmark in town is the vast Château Laurier. You can tour the Canadian Parliament Building, (which is incredibly similar to Britain’s Houses of Parliament) even while it’s in session. You can enjoy orchestral performances and unique Native theater performances at the National Arts Centre.
My favorite museum in Ottowa is the Canadian War Museum, Canada’s premier military museum, the largest in the nation, and one of the best of its kind in the world, with a collection of around 500,000 artifacts.
Although hotel rates here aren’t the cheapest, plenty of terrific cheap accommodations can be found through VRBO.
See Related: Warm Places to Visit in US During Winter
It’s true that the US and Cuba didn’t have a great relationship in the latter half of the 20th Century, but the US owes a lot to Cuba; if it weren’t for Cuba, Miami would be a shadow of what it is now!
The off-season is the best time to book a winter vacation to Cuba. Why? While the flights are pretty average at around $200-300, Cuba’s Airbnb scene is off the chain in terms of brilliant affordable lodging with insanely affordable prices – think $35 per night budget-friendly.
Airbnb might be the best way to go as the State Department lists several Cuban Hotels as restricted – book one and you might face some embarrassing questions when you come home.
It might also be a bit of a hassle to visit Cuba as an American, but not if you visit with the “Support for Cuban People” as your reason for your winter travel.
PRO TIP: There are several other ways to visit Cuba without Uncle Sam throwing a fit, but this is the easiest for tourists
Obtaining this unique “license” (hint: it’s not a real license) means you do not need to request permission or documents from the US Government to travel to Cuba, so long as you frequent Cuban-owned businesses during your trip.
That’s easier than easy since most businesses in Cuba are locally owned and really cheap places, meaning you can sample mouthwatering Cuban cuisine, find unique souvenirs to take home, and experience the incredible nightlife, worry-free, all for basically pennies.
Among the coolest things to do in Cuba, aside from enjoying seaside cervezas in your beach chair, is wandering around Havana (or other major cities and beach towns with lots of traffic), admiring the Spanish architecture and 1950s-era American cars which the locals are masters at keeping in running order.
Even if you don’t plan on partaking you should absolutely tour a cigar factory and/or a rum distillery if you get the chance. These famous delicious Cuban vices are made using traditional methods and the process for both is fascinating to watch.
10. Costa Rica
Another tropical paradise for anyone with an adventurous streak, round-trip flights to Costa Rica rarely ever rise above $300 in winter, making this stunning land of unspoiled jungles and idyllic beaches one of the best places to travel in December on a budget, and not for the faint of heart! There are great adventure sports to be enjoyed here.
Ecotourism is thriving in this amazing country in Central America, with over 2 million species of native flora, and fauna, including tamarindo trees, Lechon pigs, and Costa Rican green turtles.
It’s also home to the odd volcanic eruption from time to time! The topography guarantees there’s always something to explore, whether you’re snatching views of the majestic Arenal Volcano, swimming in the vibrant, coral-studded seas of the Pacific or Caribbean (the former on the west coast, the latter on the east coast), or zip-lining through the misty rainforest at breakneck speed.
The best part about these natural wonders is that many of them can be enjoyed for free – considering the sights, that’s a heck of a deal when looking at places to visit in December on a budget.
For culture vultures, there’s a lot to be enjoyed about Costa Rica. A unique blend of Spanish colonial influence and indigenous heritage creates a vibrant culture that spills over to the local’s laid-back temperament and traditional food.
While flights are pretty cheap in December, hotel prices are still a little pricey, which is why it’s a good idea to check out Costa Rica’s growing Airbnb market for a good deal and a more unique experience.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best places to visit in Costa Rica to make the most of your getaway.
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James is a British-American writer and editor for Via Travelers who has been writing since he was wee. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably, and has every intention of helping VT’s readers do the same!