Where should I go for vacation?
August 21, 2015 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Solo mid twenties female traveler living in the south east with a budget of $2000 and 1-2 weeks off of work. I need suggestions for what to do and how to get the most out of my money and time!

I've been planning to take a proper vacation for a while, but it just hasn't happened. I'm ready to do it, for real this time, but I need some help figuring out where I should go and what I should do.


Said vacation will likely be in March of 2016.

Budget is a flexible $2000. I'm able to spend more if it's great, but definitely no more than $2500.

My schedule is fairly flexible. I'd feel most comfortable taking a week off of work, but could take up to two depending on the destination.

I'm coming from Athens, Georgia. The nearest major airport is in Atlanta. I could take Megabus if it made sense and I have access to a car.

I'd prefer to get out of the southeast, but if it doesn't make sense with my budget my current thought is to spend time in Tennessee, as I have not spent much time there. I would not be interested in spending time in NC, SC, or GA, as I've traveled, lived, and vacationed there extensively. I have spent some time in the northeast, very little time in the midwest (except for Chicago), and have never been to the west coast.

I'll be traveling solo. I've traveled abroad (China, Ireland) with friends/family and within the US (Boston, NYC) alone, but wouldn't consider myself an experienced traveler by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm pretty easy to entertain--I like some outdoorsy stuff (biking, hiking, lying on a beach somewhere), but also really enjoy spending time people watching or enjoying local cultural activities (museums, plays, etc). For context, at some point I'd love to spend time in Yosemite and Yellowstone and it's a huge dream of mine to hike and camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I'd also love to go to Las Vegas and hang out and people watch.
posted by lucy.jakobs to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Since Las Vegas is a social trip with friends and I probably wouldn't suggest camping in the Grand Canyon alone, why not go to Yosemite or Yellowstone if that's something you've always wanted to do? When I read your question and that you are allowing yourself up to two weeks, I was thinking of maybe a two-leg trip that involved two cities, but what about one city and national park? Like, you could do Yosemite and San Francisco. Or you could perhaps do Yellowstone and Seattle or Vancouver. Any of these cities have thriving urban centers with cultural activities and beautiful scenery/water/hikes just outside the city.

If you don't want to do the national park thing, I still think a two-leg or even three-leg trip up the west coast would be cool since you've never been. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver are cities to consider. A little further south, San Diego would work too. (I personally don't think LA is an enticing vacation spot, but maybe others will disagree.) If you're going to just go to one city for a shorter trip, I'd probably recommend San Francisco.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:22 AM on August 21, 2015

So hit the Grand Canyon and then Las Vegas to L. A. to San Francisco (all by bus, on the cheap) and fly back home from there. Just seeing the mountains and deserts and coast up close (with great culture and cuisine in between) would be fantastically packed and unforgettable. I don't think you'd have time for Santa Fe and Taos (ski season!) before unless you can stretch your vacation.
posted by cleroy at 11:25 AM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

How exciting!

All of the national parks you mention would be good options, but once you fly to either California or Arizona, you'd have to rent a car to get to them. Factoring in airfare, car rental and lodging during that time of year, your budget should fit (book everything online well in advance!). If you find a cabin or room that has an attached kitchenette, you could make your own food and thus save on meals - or splurge on one fancy meal towards the end of your stay in a neighboring city.

Northern California (San Francisco - hella $$$$, or Monterey/Carmel a little further south) is great for beach/ cultural activities plus a trip to Sequoia or Kings Canyon national parks, or if you go further north there's Lassen and Shasta as well but you may need more than a $2k budget for all of that (you do have plenty of time, though, as two weeks would be perfect). If you'd like to stick to hiking and camping (camping would save you $$), Utah - Zion, Bryce, Arches and Canyonlands are breathtaking. I'd also recommend Oregon - Portland is great for people watching, dining and brews, with Crater Lake as an amazing hiking and camping option. March will be quite cool in all of these places, and less crowded than in the summer - while this is a good thing, I probably wouldn't attempt long hikes when you're traveling solo.

Since you're from the South, I think a visit to the great wild West is in order :) I've traveled this country pretty extensively, and while I am a resident of California and some may call me biased - I truly think California is hard to beat for such a diverse variety of vacation options and the ability to hop from one to another with relative ease. Unlike Grand Canyon and/or Utah, the national parks here tend to attract more people, and therefore may be a bit more engaging for you.

MeMail me if you'd like more information on specific trip details, and TripAdvisor also has good trip plans if you Google specific destinations like 'San Francisco-Yosemite trip', etc. You're going to have so much fun!

P.S - Something to keep in mind - beaches in March, even in Southern Cal, tend to be cold and overcast because of the marine layer.
posted by Everydayville at 11:39 AM on August 21, 2015

March is still often very wintery for Yellowstone and Yosemite - I am not sure if that's the kind of vacation you're looking for- still pretty, but very different, and roads will be closed. I just checked Expedia - you could do Honolulu or Puerto Rico for your budget with five hundred bucks to spare after hotel and flight.
posted by umwhat at 11:43 AM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Came back in to say that airfare to Europe is pretty darn cheap these days, and with $2k you could manage quite a nice little trip on Norwegian Air to somewhere in Europe. However, it will still be winter/spring, and rainy... so the Caribbean or Hawaii may suit you better as mentioned previously.
posted by Everydayville at 11:51 AM on August 21, 2015

Staunton, VA looks like a good home base for a combination of cultural and outdoorsy things. It has a lot of history/museum stuff and the American Shakespeare Center with lots of cool plays. It's right by Shenandoah, and while March might be a bit cold for camping it should be a fun time to hike and see the very beginning of spring.
posted by earth by april at 11:54 AM on August 21, 2015

March wouldn't be a good time of year to go to Yellowstone and it looks like much of Yosemite is still under snow then. But it wouldn't be a bad time to go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. If your plan for hiking in the Grand Canyon would be to use popular campgrounds and trails, then there's no reason not to go by yourself. You'll never be very far from other people.

You could fly into Phoenix, where you'll have plenty of opportunities to watch people, enjoy cultural activities, and go on day hikes in the surrounding area, then drive up to the Grand Canyon (maybe stopping in the Sedona area on the way.) You'll need to reserve backcountry camping spots at the Grand Canyon months ahead of time to be sure of getting them. Check the park website for information on making reservations.

Even if you don't like the idea of hiking alone in the Grand Canyon, there are lots of things to do in Arizona, both cultural and outdoorsy. It would be pretty different from the places you're used to and March would be a really nice time of year to visit.
posted by Redstart at 12:01 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, BC trip.

The weather won't be hideous, as we have very mild winters and springs. Both Portland and Vancouver, BC are within a few hours of Seattle (depending on Customs in terms of Vancouver, BC), and all three have safe Hostelling International hostels to stay in. There's also easy bus/train transportation to all three cities via Amtrak and Bolt Bus.

Plenty of opportunities for both outdoors activities, and people watching!
posted by spinifex23 at 12:13 PM on August 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your budget is certainly enough to take you out of the southeast. The main issue with March is that the weather in the Northern half of the US can be dicey. Even if you don't mind a colder vacation, flight delays with spring storms are no fun. Do you have driver's license and credit card to rent a car? Some places will take debit, but insurance is easier with a credit card.

Since you've never been to West Coast, I vote California. Really anything in the Bay Area or south is going to be okay weather and there is so, so much to do. Part of what I like about California is that there are plenty of both urban activities and natural wonders so you can fit at least one of each into a single trip. San Fran/Yosemite, San Diego or LA/Joshua Tree, and Vegas/Death Valley would all fill a week and a half pretty easily.
posted by soelo at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2015

March is the perfect time to visit the desert, especially given that its wildflower season. I'd fly in to Tuscon, Phoenix or Albuquerque and do a loop incorporating:
Tuscon, AZ (a great artsy town -- if you like Athens I expect you'd enjoy it)
Grand Canyon
White Sands National Monument
Big Bend National Park (a bit far away from the rest of these, but really worth it and I think you can easily fit it in if you have 2 weeks. It is so beautiful and uncanny; you feel like you're on Mars or something).

Alternately, you could visit Austin TX & San Antonio plus the surrounding hill country, which has many lovely natural areas to explore.
posted by veery at 12:17 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Las Vegas area is beautiful in the early spring-- the desert comes to life and blooms. Watch out for spring break though.
posted by BibiRose at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2015

How about DC? Do the monuments, Smithsonian, etc. Then head over to the C&O canal and Great Falls area to hike,bike,wildlife watch.
posted by PJMoore at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2015

Response by poster: These are great ideas. I'm liking the Arizona/Grand Canyon plan, but I am concerned about some parks being too cold and that's why I am surprised to see so many people suggest them. Worth looking into. PJMoore--I love DC and have been many times. Totally forgot to write that up.

I'd love other suggestions as people think of them but this is definitely helping!
posted by lucy.jakobs at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2015

March is off-season for much of Europe. Atlanta is the major hub for Delta and it's partner airlines like Air France. I've been to Paris/Normandy and also Rome/Florence/Venice in March and, although cool and sometimes rainy, there were almost no crowds. Some of the monuments (Trevi Fountain, for example) were emptied for cleaning.

Some good package deals available on TravelZoo which is where I look if I don't have specific travel dates (or locations) yet.
posted by jillithd at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2015

Have you been to Austin, TX? It's fabulous for outdoorsy things as well as cultural stuff in the city. The weather in March is fantastic. SXSW is March 11-20 in 2016, and would most likely make your budget untenable or at least unpleasant, but if you can avoid those dates it would be wonderful!
posted by telegraph at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2015

I came by to suggest Tucson, AZ. The Grand Canyon in March can be hot or cold -- I was there once in 2 feet of snow in March. Tucson, on the other hand, will be beautiful and the wildflowers will be in bloom. Find a small resort for a home base, stay a few days in Bisbee, do some hiking. It sounds like a great trip.
posted by OrangeDisk at 12:38 PM on August 21, 2015

Have you thought about a cruise? You live close enough to travel to one of the major cruise terminals in FL and go from there. Lots of exploring and people watching!

Also, New Orleans?
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, definitely true that Grand Canyon could be chilly then. But if you head south, Big Bend will be in the 70s/80s. And it has hot springs.
posted by veery at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2015

What about heading further south? Costa Rica, Mexico, Central America?
posted by slateyness at 2:21 PM on August 21, 2015

You can take a look at this chart of average Grand Canyon temperatures and see if you think March will be too cold for you there. It should be pleasant at the bottom of the canyon but could be chillier than you want up at the rim. Late March would probably be a better bet than early March. There's a pretty big range of temperatures across Arizona as you move from north to south or from higher elevations to lower elevations, so you should be able to find a temperature you like somewhere in the state.
posted by Redstart at 4:24 PM on August 21, 2015

Have you thought about the Caribbean? When I asked a very similar question some years ago, I got the recommendation for a Slickrock trip. I went and it was a great experience (although somewhat more rustic and challenging than I'd anticipated. The tropics are HOT and full of bugs.) But the experience was extraordinary and I was glad I'd gone. And the Caribbean is so easy to get to from where you are. You could easily pay for a plane trip and the Slickrock all inclusive 5 day for under $2K.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:45 PM on August 21, 2015

Look into Colombia (the country, not the city). Spirit airlines has cheap flights if your dates are somewhat flexible. Colombia is one of my favorite travel destinations...the people are lovely and the country is absolutely beautiful.
posted by btkuhn at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2015

The desert parks in Southern Utah and Arizona are really pretty with a dusting of snow in the distance or in shaded spots. March will be nippy in places but not freezing winter temperatures.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:29 PM on August 21, 2015

I was going to say Big Bend but others have already mentioned it.

It's remote, which can be a challenge. But it's quite beautiful and when I visited in March (many years ago) I remember the desert being in bloom. The temperature and weather were lovely that time of year and the terrain is spectacular.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:46 AM on August 22, 2015

Sara_NOT_Sarah beat me to it but you should really take a look at New Orleans if you haven't been. It has this fantastic alternate reality history to the rest of the U. S., the food is spectacular, and it's laid-back in a way that's fun and relaxing.
posted by cleroy at 12:51 PM on August 22, 2015

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