Last week, I shared some easy international weekend trips for Americans on the East Coast. Since so many people complain about a lack of time as an excuse for not traveling internationally, I felt it was important to show people that international travel is possible, even with a limited amount of time. Although more than a third of the US population lives on the East Coast, I’d be remiss to not provide some ideas for my friends on the West Coast. Because of time differences, that big ol’ pool of water called the Pacific Ocean, and the International Date Line, international weekend travel can be a little trickier from the West Coast, but it can be done. Here are 5 options for international weekend trips from the West Coast that (probably) won’t break the bank:
Rugged mountains, innumerable islands, and modern skyscrapers make Vancouver one of the most picturesque cities in North America. Just over the US border, Vancouver is an ideal weekend getaway for those living in the Pacific Northwest and easily doable even for those further south. The city is a mecca for outdoors enthusiasts, but it’s also a great cultural hub with tons of museums and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America.
Getting there: The city is easily within driving distance of both Seattle and Portland and just a quick flight for those looking for less time on the road. Most major airlines fly direct from the major cities on the West Coast: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and LA. Flight times are all under 3 hours and tickets can easily be purchased for $200-300. There is a rapid transit line that runs from the airport into the city center, getting you there in a half hour or less. Exploring the city can easily be done over a 3 day weekend, even with some side trips to some local parks.
On a budget: Vancouver may not be the cheapest city, but one of its best assets is free: nature! The city is known for its outdoors-iness and for good reason; there are tons of beautiful hiking trails, parks, and beaches surrounding the modern skyscrapers and most of these are free. There is a public transportation system that can keep in-city travel costs down, but biking may be an even better option for getting around downtown. 4-star hotels can run you about $200 per night in the city center, but there are several more affordable options if you look a little outside the city along the public transportation routes.
For more information on Vancouver, check out Fodor’s Vancouver & Victoria: with Whistler, Vancouver Island & the Okanagan Valley (Full-color Travel Guide)
Think of Cabo and you probably picture pristine white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and margaritas. What’s not to love? Better known as “Cabo”, the cities of Cabo San Lucas and neighboring San Jose del Cabo cap the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and host some of the most gorgeous resorts in the world. The region is known for it’s fishing and nightlife, but there are many other things to see and do from sea kayaking, to shopping, to just lounging around.
Getting there: Major airlines fly into Cabo’s airport (SJD) from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego and flights can be found for $400 or less, depending on the time of year. Flights from these cities take about 3 hours or less, so leaving after lunch on a Friday can get you to the beach by dinner time. Two days in Cabo is enough time to get in some fun and some relaxing before heading back to work Monday morning.
On a budget: Cabo is known for being a luxury resort town, but deals can be had. This might be a no-brainer, but the farther away from the water, the cheaper the hotel. Of course, if you’re going to Cabo for some sun and surf, it may be worthwhile to splurge a little and stay on the beach. Some all-inculsive hotels can be a great option for saving money as all of your food and drinks are included. Do the math – sometimes this is a better deal than budgeting on your own. Cheapcaribbean.com often has deals for Cabo hotels on their website. Finally, avoid too much driving around as taxis can be pricey and aren’t metered.
For more information on Cabo, check out Fodor’s Los Cabos: with Todos Santos, La Paz & Valle de Guadalupe (Full-color Travel Guide)
So, technically, Bogota is closer to the US East Coast than the West Coast, but it’s still an easy weekend trip from the West Coast because of the relatively short flight time and great budget travel options. Bogota has had a bad rap for years, for some good reasons, but it’s really come around in regards to safety and being tourist-friendly. The city sits high up in the Andes mountains, with beautiful views to be had all around. But the city isn’t just great views and cheap accommodations, it also has a rich history and unique culture, with numerous neighborhoods and museums to explore.
Getting there: Sorry West Coasters, but you’re going to have to connect; there aren’t any direct flights from the West Coast. But, connections through Mexico City, Houston, and Dallas won’t add too much time to your travels, getting you to Bogota in about 8 or 9 hours. Because of the longer travel times, Bogota is probably better done as a four day long weekend trip.
On a budget: As with most of Latin America, Bogota is a budgeter’s dream. Mid-range chain hotels are easily found for under $100/night while hostels can run as low as $10/night. Consider taking a tour of the city. Although tours can typically be pricey, bike tours of Bogota run only about $20 and provide a great way for exploring safely. Taxis throughout Bogota are pretty cheap, but make sure you hire regulated taxis from your hotel or an official service for safety reasons. Grab some arepas or empanadas from a street stand for lunch to eat deliciously and save on money.
For more information on Bogota, check out Moon Spotlight Bogotá
Calgary has undergone a boom in recent years with the help of the oil industry, turning a quiet cowboy town into a thriving metropolis. Although Calgary is a fairly young city, there are many things to see and do, including the famous Calgary Stampede, an awesome zoo, and a thriving downtown district. Feel like something more outdoorsy? Head just an hour down the road to Banff National Park, one of the most stunning regions in the world.
Getting there: Major airlines fly direct from the West Coast cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, among others. Nonstop flights are under 4 hours and typically cost between $300 and $400. With such short flights, it would be easy to leave early on a Friday morning and fly back Sunday night, burning only one vacation day. For trips to Banff, you might want to tack on an extra day to have more time for hiking.
On a budget: Calgary has an easy to use light rail system for getting around downtown, but driving in the city may be your best bet. Aside from downtown, Calgary is fairly sprawling and best accessed by car. Plus, renting a car gives you the option to head west to Banff for a day or two. Mid-priced hotels run just over $100/night in Calgary, but can be much pricier if you head to Banff. If staying in Banff overnight, consider the neighboring town of Canmore with more affordable hotel and dining options.
For more information on Banff, check out Lonely Planet Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks (Travel Guide)
5. Mexico City
First she suggests Bogota and now Mexico City?? I know, I know. But with 20 million people there, Mexico City must have something attractive about it, right? Mexico City is rich in history, culture, and nightlife. In fact, the city has the highest number of museums of any city in the world. Impressive, huh? Plus, Mexico City has worked hard to clean up it’s image with improved air quality and safety. These days, there’s no good reason to avoid this major metropolis.
Getting there: With multiple flights under 4 hours out of just about every major West Coast city, Mexico City is extremely accessible as a weekend trip. You can easily get a flight out on a Friday morning and return Sunday afternoon, burning only one vacation day.
On a budget: Mexico City is considered one of the pricier Latin American cities but it’s still easy to do on a budget. Mid-price hotels typically run between $100-$200 per night with numerous cheaper or more expensive options available. Being the mega world city that it is, it offers options for all sorts of travelers on all sorts of budgets. Like hotels, restaurants can vary dramatically in price and offerings. Stick to locally owned restaurants and street vendors to save some money. Mexico City does have a safe subway system that’s reasonably easy to use. Taxis are also a relatively affordable way to explore the city. Just make sure you hire official, regulated cabs.
For more information on Mexico City, check out Moon Mexico City (Moon Handbooks)
There you have it – 5 easy international weekend getaways for US West Coasters. Yes, we’d all love to be able to spend weeks or even months exploring each place and I get that these quick trips aren’t everyone’s idea of how they want to vacation, but the reality of limited time and money too often prevents us from being able to travel how we’d like. So, West Coasters, instead of just giving up and making excuses for not traveling, change your way of thinking and do one of these quick trips. I promise you won’t regret it.