My girlfriend and I (both college students) want to go on an extravagant vacation this January for $600 each. How should we do it?
December 4, 2007 4:31 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I (both college students) want to go on an extravagant vacation this January for $600 each. How should we do it?

My girlfriend and I are students on a budget. We live in DC and Chicago respectively. We would really like to go to London or Madrid, but the plant ticket prices are terribly expensive for our budget. Oh lordy! But, we still want to go somewhere special and interesting together. We are interested in architecture, music, and walking.

Have you had any success with this before?
posted by peetle to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Plenty of exciting things to do on this side of the Atlantic. How about going to Mexico instead? Or to Canada? What about a city that you haven't been to in the US?
posted by chrisamiller at 4:36 PM on December 4, 2007

Road trip to Quebec City?
posted by seldomfun at 4:37 PM on December 4, 2007

The exchange rate will leave you faint in Madrid, and comatose in London.

I know it will be cold, but what about Quebec? Cool architecture, everyone speaks French, and the food is great. The CD$ is about on par with USD, so that shock shouldn't be too great. Mexico is less expensive once you're there, but getting there will cost (although how much more or less than getting to Quebec, I don't know).
posted by rtha at 4:41 PM on December 4, 2007

San Francisco? New York City? Montreal? Quebec City?
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2007

Florida. Gulf Coast, Miami or the Keys. You can drive there.
posted by gnutron at 4:47 PM on December 4, 2007

the dollar isn't worth shit vs the euro, stay in the US. your 600 dollars are worth 400 euros. go bunjee jumping in Mexico or something.
posted by matteo at 4:49 PM on December 4, 2007

$600 each is going to make flying impossible -- you'll want to save all your cash for lodging, food, and gas.
Quebec could be great, though I don't know what your lodging options are, plus it's January. How about loading up a tent and heading down to the Florida Keys? You can stop in America's oldest city, St. Augustine, which is beautiful and has very interesting architecture. Start from DC and follow I-95 ( and say hi to Pedro for me at South of the Border!).
posted by rouftop at 4:52 PM on December 4, 2007

Puerto Rico via Spirit Air. Stay in Old San Juan.
posted by ZackTM at 4:59 PM on December 4, 2007

San Francisco? It's domestic, has interesting walking, avg temp in the 50s, and as a major airport area, you should be able to find affordable flights.
posted by fings at 5:03 PM on December 4, 2007

Nthing the suggestions that you stay domestic -- with the dollar these days (combined with astronomic prices to begin with), $600 each will not cover plane tickets plus even the most basic lodging and food for a week. (I spent more than that in a week in London a couple of winters ago, and I was staying on a friend's floor and spending most of my time at museums.)

What about Santa Fe? You'd need to fly to Albuquerque and arrange for a shuttle to SF -- I think they run about $40 roundtrip, last time I looked, which is obviously a lot cheaper than renting a car. Once you're there, it's a very walkable little city (assuming you stay centrally -- someplace like the Travelodge near the Plaza). Santa Fe in the winter is really beautiful, and there's lots of good food, art, history, boutiques, architecture, etc. to enjoy.
posted by scody at 5:13 PM on December 4, 2007

Maybe a cruise? If you can be flexible on dates looks to have some options around $500, but I haven't used them.
posted by bystander at 5:23 PM on December 4, 2007

Asia's cheap but the airfare might kill you. There should be plenty of student deals though.
posted by divabat at 5:27 PM on December 4, 2007

Oh, one more thing to consider about flying overseas: do you both have passports already? If not, they'll cost you $97 each -- more if you want to use an expeditor to guarantee you have them in hand by January, given the significant delays in passport processing these days.
posted by scody at 5:30 PM on December 4, 2007

A week in California. Tacos, beaches, no snow. Perfect.

1) You fly to LA, SF, or San Diego and meet up. Southwest, JetBlue, something like that. On Southwest: Chicago Midway to Oakland for $108, with tax, one-way on January 16, and San Diego back to Chicago Midway is $109, with tax, on January 23. But wait, you say, how do I get between these places?

2) Megabus. Please tell me you've heard of Megabus; a one-way ticket from SF to LA on January 16 is $1.50. ONE FREAKING FIFTY.

I've taken them in both Britain and America; they are totally legit and only bookable online, so the sketchiness often assigned to bus trips is, uh, not really there. You get an e-mail/text message confirmation which you show the driver when you show up at the bus stop (which is just that, a bus stop - not even a shelter, really, so bring an umbrella), you get on, and you go. A ride from Chicago to Milwaukee (also $1.50) featured commuters and college students, a clean bus, and on-time departures and arrivals. Way, way, way better than Amtrak.

3) Hostels. LA, SF, San Diego. Check their individual websites and make sure they let Americans stay there - as you're both from out-of-state, I can't see it being too much of a problem. Not more than $20/person/night.

4) Taquerias. OMG.

*misses home*
posted by mdonley at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2007 [6 favorites]

OK, here we go - you gotta move FAST on this one.

Virgin America is offering a 2-for-1 deal on tickets between DC, NY, SF, LA, San Diego, and Vegas. Link is here. Catch is you have until December 7 (Friday) to order your tickets. Prices start at $129 so that's just $65/person if you get lucky. That would leave you with $1000 to spend between the two of you.
posted by junesix at 6:38 PM on December 4, 2007

i second what a few people said,

Montreal & Quebec - very cool place to visit, if you drive it will be cheap

What about camping/cabin & whitewater rafting in the Poconos?

An ex once surprised the hell out of me once and took me to a b&b a few hours away, it was an awesome surprise...i hope another girl does it for me.

i dont know how much it runs, but i bet it would be cool to try and get on a house boat for a few days (go south though).

Its almost snowboarding time, maybe drive up north and get some time on slopes in.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 6:45 PM on December 4, 2007

I'm sorry i can believe i said whitewater rafting even i was getting snowed on here in NYC....try that in spring.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 6:47 PM on December 4, 2007

I did a cruise for that much last year per person in the dead of winter. Including flight from DC. It took a fair amount of research and planning though. If the ships aren't sold out, they start offering deals less than 60 days before departure because they want to sell out the ship.

Seems like New Orleans has what you're looking for. I wouldn't call it extravagant, but it fits the other requirements for the most part. The weather should be fairly nice right now. At least not as cold as DC and Chicago, that's for sure.

Whether you pick New Orleans or a different city, you might know some students (or friends of friends, etc) there that would be willing to let you crash on their couches for free (or you could try couchsurfing). That way all you're really paying for is flight, meals, etc.
posted by ml98tu at 7:12 PM on December 4, 2007

Quebec or Montreal are beautiful, cosmopolitan, awesome. Great food, French, architecture, romantic. Very cold in January. Drive (Montreal is closer, more a modern city and easier on English speakers; Quebec is smaller and more "old worldy"). If you don't have a passport: look into whether you will be able to cross the border with driver's license plus birth certificate - be sure to check what you need to get into Canada and also what you need to get back into the US.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2007

Ottawa is also stunningly beautiful downtown. There's ice skating on the Rideau Canal. It's an English speaking city, and also very cold in winter, but with great food and lots of young people. Another plus of Canada is the drinking age is 19, if that appeals to you guys.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:53 PM on December 4, 2007

I live in Montreal and I would not particularly recommend coming here in January unless you think you'll come back at a more hospitable time of year. It's just a place that's best visited between April and November. I hate the idea of someone coming here and really not seeing it at its best and then never wanting to come back.

Quebec City has its winter carnival in February if that sort of thing floats your boat.

I dunno, I kind of think it takes a particular sort of person to enjoy a holiday in Quebec in January, and as your girlfriend's from Chicago she probably would like to get away from the cold, no?
posted by loiseau at 8:18 PM on December 4, 2007

LobsterMitten: Ottawa is also stunningly beautiful downtown. There's ice skating on the Rideau Canal. It's an English speaking city, and also very cold in winter, but with great food and lots of young people. Another plus of Canada is the drinking age is 19, if that appeals to you guys.

In most provinces, yes. It's 18 in Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta.
posted by loiseau at 8:19 PM on December 4, 2007

Everyone who tells you you can't do Europe on that budget is unfortunately right. London is the most expensive city I've ever been to and I *live* in Manhattan. You add the exchange rate and they're coming *here* to do Christmas shopping (i.e. you add up the plane ticket and the lodgings and they're still saving money).

I would second the Quebec recommendations if it weren't January. It's undoubtedly pretty but must be bone-chilling this time of year.

New Orleans is great if you can get lodgings. The food can be spectacular.

San Francisco is another great food town, great walking city, and I would imagine they have some kind of hostel/student place to stay.
posted by lackutrol at 8:36 PM on December 4, 2007

Another vote for Montreal. Beautiful.

You should be okay with a driver's license and birth certificate. I never have any trouble going INTO Canada, I'm pretty sure they'd take a piece of paper with your name and country of origin written on it and wave you through. Getting into the States is understandably harder.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 8:50 PM on December 4, 2007

All good ideas, but people are forgetting to calculate gas at $3/gallon. Depending on the vehicle and destination, it becomes a not insignificant expense. Sometimes flying to a destination is actually cheaper, especially if the destination itself will require a lot of driving once they get there.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2007

What about a last-minute vacation at an all-inclusive resort? Maybe a little insular for your tastes, but if you're flexible you can get some great deals.
posted by lindsey.nicole at 9:47 PM on December 4, 2007

I've done the LDR thing, to death. And I've done a lot of mutual vacation planning, for people with different home cities in the U.S., in your budget range. My tips for practical time together?

1) Moving one of you a long ways is nearly always cheaper and easier than moving both of you, even shorter distances. Money spent on transport is forgotten, quickly (very few people have "lifetime" memories of a really good flight, etc.). Unless you have a dire need to both leave your home grounds, one of you "hosting" the other is generally far preferable, cost wise, to trying to both get away. When you move 2 people, transportation eats your dreams, quickly, even in the Internet age, on a 4 figure budget.

So, decide, soon, if you are going to DC, or she is coming to Chicago (or thereabouts, as end points). Whoever is making the major trip can then bargain for solo transport, whilst the other does the research and locality planning.

2) January around DC isn't usually great, vis-a-vis weather, but January in Chicago is brutal. I strongly suggest you go to DC. DC in January is no picnic, but it has architecture, music and lots of possibilities for walking, and with some lead time, you should be able to get to DC from Chitown, and back, reasonably, for under $300, leaving you $900 for your mutual adventure.

3) A merged, post-transportation budget of $900 is hardly extravagant, but it's not nothing. You won't be dining at the Four Seasons DC, but you needn't skip any meals.

You can have a good time together in DC, for a week, on $900, even paying for lodging. But obviously, lodging is generally your biggest expense on a pleasure trip, so thinking about lodging, and choosing carefully, according to your mutual needs and preferences, is important. Particularly if you plan to spend time together, alone, in your lodgings ;-)

Being in DC in January can help with this. Do the Priceline thing, and bargain hard, knowing that vacancy rates in DC in January are pretty high.

But, know your companion. In my experience, a hungry girl who delights in architecture or status, in a great hotel, is an entirely different proposition than a well fed girl, who is a foodie, in a cheap hotel, and, by God, vice versa. Neither, surprisingly, being the logically better alternative ;-). While I think of hotels as forgettable necessities, and restaurants as memorable and worthy extravagances, I've learned, through hard experience, that the amenities in bathrooms often mean something. YMMV, depending on your girl.

4) Taking a vacation opportunity, in a LDR, to "join" the other person's life, can be a great thing to do. You can become a "face" for all her friends and acquaintances, and this can really mean a lot in her day to day life. But if you're going to do that for her, on her home ground, do it with a generous spirit, and a glad heart. Get a haircut, and dress up a bit. Be cordial to all the people she can introduce . Make a point of getting their names, and asking about them in future e-mails. Ask her to say "Hi!" on your behalf. But most of all, be interested in her daily life, based on the personal connections you make, and the memories you thus share. This can fuel your long distance communication, for months.
posted by paulsc at 11:15 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd fly to Mexico City and then go up to San Miguel de Allende.
posted by cali at 11:27 PM on December 4, 2007

I'm going sea kayaking in Baja for spring break, and my buddy and I are renting a kayak and gear for $150 for the week. Transport to get there for your price may be a little tough though.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:34 AM on December 5, 2007

I sent a long email to you, but apparently the email in your profile bounces back after several hours. Here's a summary;

for your price range you could easily fly into cancun and immediately get
out of town - skip the horrible tourist mecca itself, and instead spend a
few days in Valladolid, Merida and the other pleasant colonial towns down

Tulum is nice as far as lying on the beach vaca goes by 2 days of that,
snorkeling (not the ocean snorkeling; the cenote / cave snorkeling is some of the best in the world, though, and you'll really be impressed with it) and checking out the ruins on the beach, and you'll have had
enough. The food throughout the region is fantastic, a mix of simple Mayan dishes and various mariscos.

Merida is very pleasant.
posted by luriete at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2007

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