If you’re planning a vacation right now, you have plenty to consider — including varying health restrictions and safety concerns as COVID-19 infection rates go up and down around the world. Then there’s your budget: Do you need to save money or are you able to splurge? We have some ideas for either scenario, and for different interests. Just be sure to check local COVID-19 restrictions and, when considering international travel, keep current on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest country-specific travel advisories for your destination.
If you’re considering ...
A beach vacation in the U.S.
Save: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach, to be sure, isn’t just a “beach” — it’s a vacation mecca. The area, essentially 60 miles along the coast of South Carolina (known as the Grand Strand), includes 14 different communities. So there’s beach-going, yes, but also golfing, outlet shopping, strolling the boardwalk, and visiting two beautiful state parks, among other diversions. It gets crowded in summer, but you can still find good deals, particularly during the shoulder season.
Where to stay: Lined with condos, Myrtle Beach offers value vacations via bargain timeshare rentals that start at about $50 a night through the service Redweek, a marketplace timeshare owners use to sell their weekly stays. For about $100 a night, you might get a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the Ocean Enclave by Hilton Grand Vacations, which has two pools and an onsite restaurant for when you don’t want to cook. There are also loads of big chain hotels that aren’t too pricey (depending on the time of year).
Fun activity: Ditch the crowds at Vereen Memorial Historical Gardens in Little River, just north of Myrtle Beach, to explore the salt marsh and spot shorebirds (free).
Dining tip: Make a pilgrimage to Little Pigs Bar-B-Q, which has been dishing up fall-off-the-bone ribs and pulled pork sandwiches since 1963.
The Big Island (about 4,000 square miles) is especially rich with natural beauty. Must-sees include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and some spectacular waterfalls on the island’s east side.
Where to stay: Set on the white sand cove on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel keeps guests engaged on-site with an array of activities and amenities, including outrigger canoeing, night snorkeling with manta rays, tennis and pickleball courts, an 18-hole golf course, hula lessons and art tours (rooms from $1,100). Or spend less for a luxe experience on the same coast at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, which has two golf courses, three pools, a water slide and a spa (rooms from $685).
Fun activity: Get a bird’s-eye view of the volcanic island, including the active Kilauea volcano, by air with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters ($649 per person).
Dining tip: The resort’s own Manta is renowned for its macadamia nut-crusted mahi-mahi, but it’s also worth considering a trip to nearby Merriman’s in Waimea, the flagship restaurant of chef Peter Merriman, a champion of farm-to-table fare.
A beach getaway abroad
Save: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Stretch your travel budget in Mexico, where a dollar gets you about 21 pesos. In the resort town of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast, beautiful beaches and a distinctly Mexican feel are the main draws. Adding to its appeal: wonderful restaurants, lively bars and quirky boutiques, especially in Old Vallarta, a bustling area just south of downtown with winding cobblestone streets.
Where to stay: You can chill at expansive beachfront pools and enjoy sunset views at many different resorts here without spending a bundle, including at Banderas Bay at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa (rooms start at $149).
Fun activity: Take a break from beachcombing to explore Puerto Vallarta’s thriving art scene on a free two-hour public sculpture tour offered by Galeria Pacifico every Tuesday.
Dining tip: Explore the city’s taco scene with Vallarta Food Tours, which offers a tour that stops at seven food stands you can trust (about $50).
In this tiny, sleepy British overseas territory, you can settle into a beautiful resort for a big dose of pampering or a low-key beachfront villa, then spend your days relaxing on a gorgeous beach (the island has 33, many of them isolated). Come nighttime, enjoy one of the Caribbean’s best live-music scenes.
Where to stay: Luxury choices abound. One option is the new, 300-acre Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club, with 178 whitewashed suites, a hydroponic farm supplying produce to five restaurants, and the island’s only golf course (rooms start at $999). Or try a spacious one- or two-bedroom villa-style apartment with a kitchen at the cozy, 27-unit Carimar Beach Club on mile-long Meads Bay, a lovely beach locals favor (units from $275).
Fun activity: Take part in a sea turtle night patrol to safeguard nesting turtles through the National Anguilla Trust ($50).
Dining tip: Blanchards Restaurant (a two-minute walk from the Carimar Beach Club) set the island’s culinary standards high when it opened in 1994, blending Caribbean and global flavors in such dishes as grilled Anguilla crayfish and red curry mussels. For more casual fare right next door, Blanchards Beach Shack serves up soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers to eat at beachfront picnic tables.
A golf getaway in the U.S.
The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail strings together 26 golf courses at 11 sites across the state, the largest golf course project ever built. Most of the courses are near major highways, and most have greens fees well under $100. The trail begins up north in Appalachian country, in Muscle Shoals, and stretches all the way down to Point Clear on the Gulf Coast. When you want a golfing break, you’ll find plenty of enticing diversions near the courses, including the Muscle Shoals recording studio where the likes of Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Wilson Pickett churned out hits, and a museum near Birmingham that has the world’s largest collection of motorcycles.
Where to stay: Customize your own travel package along the trail, with hotel rates averaging $52 per person nightly in a shared room.
Where to play: There’s no need to travel the entire trail unless you want to; many of the locations have 54 holes, including Magnolia Grove near Mobile and the Grand National on Lake Saugahatchee in Opelika. Winter rates start at $70 a day for two days of golf, including a cart.
Dining tip: Most of the clubhouses cater to hungry golfers, but when you’re in Mobile, don’t miss Wintzell’s Oyster House, a Gulf Coast tradition since 1938.
Splurge: Monterey Peninsula, California
For sweeping coastal views, perfectly manicured courses and a date with golfing history, tee up on the Monterey Peninsula, home to famed Pebble Beach, about 75 miles south of San Jose.
Where to stay: Explore the region from the 500-acre Carmel Valley Ranch, which pampers guests with three saltwater pools, hilltop yoga and its own Pete Dye golf course (rooms start at $325). Also popular: The Lodge at Pebble Beach and The Inn at Spanish Bay.
Where to play: The country’s most lauded public course, the Pebble Beach Golf Links, offers visual drama along the coast with challenging headland greens ($575 a round). The rates drop a bit at the affiliated and similarly esteemed Spyglass Hill ($415) and the Links at Spanish Bay ($295).
Dining tip: Pacific Grove’s Passionfish Restaurant, an early advocate of sustainable seafood, keeps it lively with smoked trout ceviche tostadas and spicy fish stew.
A golf getaway outside the U.S.
Save: Niagara Falls, Ontario
Kitschy attractions border the thundering falls on the Canadian side of the border, but the area is also home to destination-worthy golf courses that can be had at a bargain, helped by the favorable exchange rate.
Where to stay: Consider stay-and-play packages that start at about $260 a person for two nights’ lodging (at hotels like Sheraton on the Falls or the Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa) and three rounds of golf.
Where to play: Niagara Parks, a public provincial agency, manages the 54-hole Legends on the Niagara, which features golf courses by esteemed architects Douglas Carrick and Thomas McBroom and the renowned Whirlpool Golf Course by Stanley Thompson that overlooks the namesake whirlpool on the Niagara River. Greens fees start at about $32.
Dining tip: The Whirlpool Restaurant, overlooking the 18th hole of the Whirlpool course, serves regional fare, from Lake Huron trout tacos to Niagara region wines.
Splurge: St. Andrews, Scotland
Fifty-two miles north of Edinburgh, tee up at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to play the world’s oldest course, established in the 15th century and filled with notorious bunkers. After your round, toast your play at the Road Hole Bar in the nearby Old Course Hotel, where you can sample more than 260 whiskeys from distilleries throughout Scotland.
Where to stay: Consider the Fairmont St. Andrews, which boasts two golf courses, an elaborate spa and hiking on the Fife Coastal Path (rooms from $199), or the Old Course Hotel, overlooking the 17th hole of the famed Old Course, where rooms average about $385 a night.
Where to play: Golf the seven courses managed by the St. Andrews Links Trust, including the Old Course, which will host its 30th Open Championship in July 2022. Greens fees start around $130 and drop to about $11 at Balgove Course.
Dining tip: Between bites of haggis croquets and fish-and-chips, bask in the golf memorabilia in the Jigger Inn pub at the clubhouse of the Old Course.
A city getaway in the U.S.
Save: Albuquerque, New Mexico
New Mexico’s largest city often takes a back seat to the state’s celebrated capital, Santa Fe. But Albuquerque offers a rich mix of Native American culture, Route 66 lore and access to the Southwest’s gorgeous outdoors.
Where to stay: Base yourself at the adobe El Vado Motel, a thoughtful restoration of a 1937 Route 66 motor court, with a pool and an in-house tap room (rooms from $139). Or try Hilton’s Hotel Andaluz, a boutique downtown property that has rooms starting as low as $133.
Dining tip: New Mexico has its own distinct culinary traditions, such as enchiladas smothered in red or green chile sauce. Sample its famed foods at an iconic spot: Duran Central Pharmacy, a drugstore-diner on Route 66.
Splurge: New York City
If you’re going to splurge on a fantastic city getaway, how can you not choose the Big Apple?
Where to stay: Despite the pandemic, luxury development rolled on, giving Manhattan its latest status destination at Casa Cipriani, an exclusive 47-room hotel and club in a beaux arts ferry terminal that once served commuters from Brooklyn (rooms from $700). Too much? The five-star Marmara Park Avenue offers style and comfort with rates sometimes starting below $300.
Fun activity: Engage a private guide through Context Travel to show you the blockbuster hits, hidden treasures and mob-free galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (from $280).
Dining tip: Indulge in a dinner at restaurateur Danny Meyer’s latest, Ci Siamo, where chef Hillary Sterling earns raves for her homemade pasta and wood-fired fish and veggies.
A city getaway abroad
Save: Montreal, Quebec
The art- and food-centric metropolis of Montreal offers sophistication at entry-level prices (just ask the 185,000 students attending universities and colleges here).
Where to stay: Check into a converted Victorian mansion at downtown’s Hotel Manoir Sherbrooke. Rooms from about $100
Fun activities: Visit the impressive Montreal Museum of Fine Art, which features a fascinating First Nations collection (admission about $19). Catch the modern light show at the Notre-Dame Basilica, which brings 19th-century architecture to life through sound and music (about $25).
Dining tip: Graze your way through Montreal’s famed food markets, including Jean-Talon. In the city’s Old Port neighborhood, line up with locals for unparalleled sandwiches — try the Cuban — at Olive + Gourmando.
In 2022, England will celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, marking her 70th year as monarch. Festivities will culminate from June 2-5 with a parade, horse races and a Jubilee Lunch that is expected to prompt neighborhood block parties throughout the kingdom.
Where to stay: Bask in Anglophilia at London’s Dorchester; the grand 1931 Mayfair hotel will unveil a top-to-bottom renovation in September (the hotel remains open during the work), with rooms from $985. There’s also the super-stylish new NoMad Hotel London in Covent Garden, with rooms starting at around $400.
Fun activity: Visit London’s historic markets on a private Tours By Locals itinerary to Spitalfields, Leaden Hall and Borough markets, the latter founded in 1041. A three-hour tour costs $226 for up to six people.
Dining tip: A seven-hour ride through the countryside in a 1920s vintage British Pullman train car with Belmond Tours includes a five-course lunch (about $595).
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Elaine Glusac, a Chicago-based journalist, writes the Frugal Traveler column for The New York Times.