6 Tips for Budget-Friendly Sunny Escapes from Winter Weather

With snow falling across the United States, the only thing on my mind is a sunny escape.

With snow falling across the United States, the only thing on my mind is a sunny escape. But with so many options and having just spent a little too much money over the holidays, picking a location and making it fit your budget can be tricky.

Here are 7 tips for planning a budget-friendly escape:

1. Take advantage of off-peak destinations and pick a destination that fits your definition of fun.

Travel isn’t very heavy for the first part of the year. This is your chance to find some affordable travel options.

Are you wanting a fresh passport stamp? Are you a pool or a beach person? Do you want a spot with a great nightlife? These are all important questions to ask as you map out your destination of choice.

If you want an island escape, Belize is extremely affordable this time of year and only a 2:30 minute flight from Houston. If nightlife is of importance, try Las Vegas or New Orleans.

Other great alternatives for those on the coasts are California and Florida. Check out the San Diego Zoo or enjoy the elite steak experience at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa.

2. Use Kayak for cheap flight alternatives but also check out low cost carriers.

Kayak is my go-to for all things flights. I have the app and religiously play with their map-based deal finder when I’m at my computer. Kayak shows you lots of airlines and the cheapest prices with a flexible dates search function that can help you snag the best price possible.

But, don’t just go with what you see on Kayak. Airlines like Southwest and Allegiant don’t pay the overhead fees to be included on this search engine platform. So check out their sites separately.

Also, consider driving to a hub like Atlanta if you’re in the south as a flight from smaller airports can drastically drive up the price.

3. Find affordable hotels and consider alternatives

Hotels.com is a great website for pricing your stay. I was fortunate last weekend to be able to enjoy a girl’s weekend with a few of my pharmacy friends. We researched options to get away from the snow and enjoy the sun.

We decided to splurge on a nice room at the

Pink Palace, the Legendary Loews Don CeSar Hotel

in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Splitting it 4 ways made it much more affordable. Hotels.com

also gives you a free night for every 10 nights you book through their site.

Other sites like Expedia and Travelocity are worth looking over, but I recommend finding a favorite and sticking to it so that you can reap the benefits.

Until the recent merger with Marriott, my daughter who travels for work was all about racking up stays at Starwood properties and would exclusively book on their website to get her much-loved SPG points. She still plans to use those points for her honeymoon and has until 2018 to use them. Loyalty goes along way for travelers.

Look at alternatives to expensive hotel stays that give you a taste of the local culture like AirBNB options. You can stay in your own place or rent a room with this program, but whatever your choice, the experience is always interesting. If you know where you want to stay in a particular city, AirBNB can be a great option. Also, you are way more likely to find a full or partial kitchen when renting from a website like this, so if you’re open to prepping food on your own this can save some money.

The final choice for the adventurous pharmacist who is bogged down with school loans is CouchSurfing. While I haven’t personally tried the app, my daughter used it while backpacking in Southeast Asia and still keeps in touch with those she met along the way. I am still not sure I recommend it, but I will confess she had some great experiences. Basically, like any social media platform, you build a profile and use the app or website to find unique places to stay. The platform is review-based and users can find anything from full apartments to crash in for free to a simple couch as your bed for the night. What she loved most was exploring the city with the locals that hosted her.

4. Use package deals to get the best price on experiences.

Are you hoping to knock out a number of activities on your trip? If so look for combination deals. We regularly buy city passes when exploring new cities. They give you optional outings and usually 4 or 5 experiences for your trip.

Typically when you visit a museum or highlight in a city, they list deals and bundles with other locations. If you know you want to take in another site and they offer a combo deal that lets you save a few dollars, go for it!

5. Look for deals on websites that offer package trips or all-inclusive vacations.

From Groupon to Costco, travel deals are out there just waiting for you to explore them. If you have a general idea of where you want to go, you can snag up a great vacation without hurting your wallet.

My friend recently used Costco to plan her honeymoon. She left from LAX and island hopped Hawaii, all while taking in the sites. This program is great because it offers hotel transfers, rental cars and just about anything you may need. In the checkout section, you can tailor the trip toward your interests and add discounted experience.

Groupon and other discount sites tend to be a bit more set in what they offer. You’ll get the hotel stay and flights and can select a tour or all-inclusive resort to tack on a bit more for a good deal.

6. Eat like a local and plan your meals in advance.

If you’re like me, you love trying new food in new places, but that can get expensive. Plan for a hotel that includes breakfast or buy some extra granola bars when you get there to skip out on a costly morning meal.

Do a quick search online to find those hole-in-the-wall cheap eateries that pack a punch for the taste buds. TV Food Maps is a great app to check on affordable recommended restaurants from shows like $40 A Day, and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Not only will you save money by looking for these local haunts, your inner foodie will be in heaven!

If you know you want to splurge one night at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant or for the best steak in town, plan to do it. Perhaps that means a lighter, more affordable lunch or a cheaper option for dinner the next day.

We had hoped to try the famous Bern’s Steak House that devotes a whole floor to just deserts. Since it was so last minute there were no open reservations, so we opted for

the Maritina Grille restaurant. The highlight of the evening was the “Reveal” a white chocolate egg that dissolves when they pour hot caramel on it revealing banana cake and icecream. We timed it just right because they are changing the menu and it was the first night they were offering a dark chocolate version. Our table was split about which one was our favorite, but we all agreed it was worth the splurge.

Remember, you’re escaping the winter cold, so enjoy the summer fruits, treats and sun while you can!

Visit this link to learn more about travel.