Sunshine on a shoestring budget

Did you skip your winter getaway last year? With all of the economic uncertainty, plans for sunshine getaways often didn’t survive the household budget cuts. The tourism industry worldwide saw some gloomy times in 2009.

No one is quite sure what’s in store for 2010, but industry watchers and the World Tourism Organization predict that tourism could be down again this year (or at least for a little while). What does that mean for travellers? Many of the discounted rates and promotions will stick around for a few months more as destinations continue to lure in precious tourist dollars.

Canadians also have an advantage this year: lower exchange rates. Last winter, the U.S. dollar was higher — hovering between $1.22 and $1.30 CDN, according to the Bank of Canada. This year, the balance has once again tipped in our favour, making the U.S. and many destinations that rely on the U.S. dollar more affordable.

These days everyone wants the best value for their dollar. If you can’t wait until summer for a warm, sunny day, here are some places to start looking:

The United States

For many Canadians, sunny destinations are within a couple of days’ driving distance, and many people can nip across the border to save money (and hassle) on a flight. Many popular tourist spots didn’t see the recovery they wanted last year so they’re still offering some attractive deals. (And did we mention the exchange rate?)

That means a trip to hedonistic hotspot Las Vegas is still in the cards according to many top 10 lists for 2010. Fewer tourists visited in 2009, and conventions were down as well — but now there are an extra 14,000 more rooms to fill thanks to hotel and resort openings.

And is your family still dreaming of Disney? Walt Disney World is also rolling out the deals, including 25-40 per cent off accommodations at its resorts or gift cards up to $750 for five night/six day stays. The company’s “Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.” campaign is also open to Canadians — register, volunteer for a day and get free admission to a Disney park for a day.

If you’d rather hit the beach (or the golf course or spa), there are packages for that too. has a Hot Deals for Canadians section. (But be forewarned — if current weather trends are any indication, temperatures may not be as toasty as in the Caribbean or countries further south.)

Even Hawaii — which isn’t known for being easy on the budget — is still recovering from last year’s slump. While the weather is typically nice all year round, winter is regarded as the low season so there are still deals around. The islands are a great place for a scenic road trip, and there are many free and inexpensive experiences to be had. At the resorts, watch for additional incentives like free credits for food, activities and spa treatments. (See 10 best Oahu experiences and Maui & Molokai for ideas.)

The Caribbean

It’s no surprise that it’s peak travel season in the Caribbean, but all-inclusive packages can make these sunny destinations worth your while when you factor in flights, food and drinks.

Some of the most popular destinations will be offering the deals during winter, according to’s Deal Detective, Kate Hamman. In other words, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are a good place to start. (And Cuba too, for Canadian travellers.) Less-travelled places, on the other hand, like Grenada and Martinique may not have the special promotions. (For more details, click here.)

If the islands are your favourite place for an escape, do some careful research and price comparisons that take into account all the costs, like food, amenities, flights and excursions. Also, make sure to check out the weather. Some islands, like Grand Bahama in the Bahamas, are cooler in the early winter months but still offer a break from the snow and cold.


It’s usually a popular destination for North Americans — but Mexico took a beating in 2009 despite attractive exchange rates against the U.S. dollar. If economic woes and organized crime weren’t bad enough, it was also “ground zero” for the H1N1 pandemic. This year, it’s looking to make up for lost time with deals and discounts to lure travellers back to its resorts.

If you’re looking for bigger deals, be sure to compare popular tourist spots like Cancun and Ixtapa with up-and-coming areas like Zihuatanejo or Tulum. Experts note that some of the smaller locales have lower costs, there’s more local flavour and the atmosphere is more relaxed. However, many larger resorts have more space to fill — and may be offering better deals.

For more information about Mexico, see

Central and South America

Suddenly it’s summer! Or at least that’s how it will feel when you step off the plane where the seasons are opposite to ours. The spotlight continues to shine on many eco-travel and adventure destinations like Costa Rica and Honduras — the latter of which is known as one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive, according to Forbes’ Traveler.

And if it’s culture you’re after, you’ll find more of it for less than you might pay in the Caribbean. Among Lonely Planet’s “Top 10 Countries for 2010” are El Salvador and Suriname, where you can find a rich history and interplay of cultural traditions — along with beautiful beaches, of course.

While it’s not a bargain destination, some experts are recommending a visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the near future before prices go up. Rio will be in the spotlight for the World Cup in 2014, and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. Rio’s world-famous Mardi Gras is always a hit, and this year, the country’s capital city Brasilia is celebrating its 50th birthday.


Bad news for would-be cruisers: 2009 was the year of the deal but prices are on the rise in 2010, according to review and news website Cruise Critic. There may still be some deals out there, but don’t expect the fire-sale rates to last long. On the upside, there are new ships and new perks (like onboard attractions), and companies are still working hard to capture first-timers.

Another trend to watch: many companies are changing their tipping policies — meaning passengers can choose what and when to give rather than receive a bill.

The bottom line: while prices won’t be as low, you might just find more excitement for your money. (See Cruise Critic’s Top 10 Cruise Trends for 2010 for more information.)


These tips provide a good place to start your search, but there are many other deals to hunt as well. While you’re losing yourself planning your trip, don’t forget to:

Look at the total package. All-inclusive resorts and cruises are still a popular way to go for many travellers, but make sure you know what is included and what isn’t. Spa treatment and day excursions off the resort may not be covered, but there may be some room for negotiation when you book.

Watch out for scams. There are a lot of attractive discounts out there, but vacation scams are targeting bargain hunters. Read more about vacation scams to learn how to spot the frauds.

Check the weather. If you’re seeking heat, make sure your destination can deliver. Find out the average temperatures and weather conditions for where and when you plan to travel so you won’t be disappointed.

Beware of new security measures and carry-on requirements for traveling to (and through) the United States. Check with your airline and departing airport for more details.

Protect your health. Experts warn that H1N1 hasn’t made the rounds at many tropical destinations yet, and there are the usual illnesses like typhoid and hepatitis A and B to watch out for as well. (Read more about travel health and what mistakes to avoid.)

Keep an eye on the costs. Prices may continue to fall after you’ve booked your trip. Find out if you’re entitled to a refund on the difference.

Book last minute. If you’ve got some flexibility and a sense of spontaneity, you can take advantage of seat-filling discounts. (See Last minute travel deals for more information.)

Above all else, don’t let that shoestring strangle you — hunt for the best value as well as the best price. A cheap vacation won’t be worth your time if you don’t like the location or hate the food. The best advice from experts is to shop around for value — and that might mean looking for discounts from mid-range providers too.

Sources:, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2010,,

Photo © ArtmannWitte