One of the biggest excuses I hear from people about why they don’t travel internationally is, “I just don’t have enough time.” To which I doubtfully reply, Really? I know we get shorted on vacation days in the US, but it’s not like you need a year off to visit another country. In fact, depending on where you are, another country can be just a quick drive down the road. I know I’m closer than most, but it only takes me a little over an hour to reach Canada. Less than a tank of gas and boom! I’m in another country.
But even if you don’t have the convenience of a short drive to Canada or Mexico, it’s not hard to visit another country for a long weekend. This is especially true for those of us on the East Coast of the US. We have much of the world right at our finger tips. AND, you don’t have to burn through your savings to do it. Don’t believe me? Here are five easy international weekend trips you can take from the East Coast of the US without breaking the bank:
Being only an hour and a half drive from Niagara Falls and the nearest US border, Toronto is one of the most accessible international cities to visit for East Coasters. Toronto sometimes gets a bad rap as a boring city, but I have to disagree. There’s so much to see and do – not just the CN Tower and Hockey Hall of Fame. Toronto has some fantastic historic neighborhoods, a great arts scene, and some of the friendliest people around. Plus, did you know the UN recognized Toronto as the most multicultural city in the world? It’s true! With all the diversity, arts, and history, what’s not to love?
How to get there: From New York State, parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, Toronto is easily within driving distance (under 4 hours). Not within driving distance? Direct flights from New York, Washington, and Boston can be found for around $200 and they get you there in less than 2 hours. You could fly out Friday evening after work and return Sunday evening, leaving almost two full days to explore.
On a budget: Toronto is relatively affordable for a major world city. Three star hotels can be found for just over $100/night. Transportation around the city is a breeze. Toronto has a fantastic streetcar system to take you around downtown and a subway if you need to head further out. It’s also a very walkable city (well, at least in the summer months) and the diverse neighborhoods are great for wandering. With the large arts scene, there are always cheap or free performances or exhibits to check out. It really is a city for any budget.
For more information on Toronto, check out Fodor’s Toronto: with Niagara Falls & the Niagara Wine Region (Full-color Travel Guide)
What? All the way to Europe for a long weekend? Are you crazy?! Why not? Dublin is definitely doable as an international weekend trip. One of the advantages of flying to Europe from the US is having the time differences work in your favor. Flights to Dublin are almost always red-eyes on the way there and the way back is like a time warp – you leave at 10 in the morning from Dublin and get into the US at noon. You hardly lost any time! There’s so much to see and do in Dublin – from the Guinness Storehouse to Kilmainham Gaol to some evening trad in Temple Bar. Plus, it’s a small, walkable city, making it perfect for a short visit.
How to get there: Major airlines fly direct from the hub cities – New York, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Most of these flights leave later in the evening or at night, so it may even be possible for you to get an early evening flight out from your non-hub city and not have to burn a vacation day. The transatlantic flights are red-eyes. Fall asleep in the US and wake up bright and early in Dublin. Fly out on a Thursday evening and back on Sunday afternoon and you will have more than two full days to experience Dublin, having only burned one vacation day.
On a budget: Not only is Dublin one of the most affordable Western European cities, it’s also one of the most affordable to get to. Flights from the US to Dublin are almost always one of the cheapest transatlantic flights, with $600 airfares not uncommon. Aer Lingus offers a number of affordable flights out of New York and Boston and often has budget packages that include hotel stays and car rentals. Hotels in Dublin are very affordable; It’s easy to find mid-range hotels for around $100/night and budget hotels for much less. Yes, the pints of Guinness can run up your budget, but the craic is free!
For more information on Dublin, check out Lonely Planet Pocket Dublin (Travel Guide)
3. Panama City
Looking for something a little warmer? Panama City may be just the place for you. This booming metropolis is full of history, diversity, and all the chaotic fun that comes from a Latin American city. With all the money flooding into the city these days, there are skyscrapers and luxury shops popping up left and right, leading some to call Panama City “The Dubai of the West”. A weekend is the perfect amount of time to set aside for exploring the Panama Canal, old towns of Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo, and relaxing on the Amador Causeway.
How to get there: There are multiple direct flights from the east cost out of Atlanta, Miami, Newark, and Dulles with flight times ranging from 3-6 hours. A Friday afternoon flight out and Monday return would give you plenty of time to explore the must-see attractions of Panama City and come back with a tan your co-workers will envy.
On a budget: Most cities of Latin America are great for budget travel and Panama City is no exception. Nice chain hotels (Marriott, Sheraton, etc.) will only run you about $150/night and there are many more affordable options if you’re looking to save. Avoid some of the trendy new upscale restaurants and shops and stick with the local restaurants. Not only will you get a better feel for the local culture, you’ll also save a good deal of money. It isn’t hard to find dinner for under $10 per person. Be careful with the taxis – negotiate fares before you get in and expect to be ripped off as a tourist. If you’re going to be doing a lot of driving around the city, consider hiring a driver for the day and foregoing taxis.
For more information on Panama City, check outLonely Planet Panama (Travel Guide)
Want a little taste of Europe without having to red-eye it? Head north to Montreal! This French Canadian city has so much culture and cuteness to offer, making it a perfect place for a quick international weekend trip. Wandering the streets of Old Montreal and listening to the locals speak French will make you think you’ve been transported to Europe before the cheers for the hockey team bring you back to Canada. The city has a fantastic public transportation system, making it easy and affordable to navigate.
How to get there: Montreal is just north of the New York and Vermont borders and, therefore, a quick drive for much of New England and Upstate New York. If you’re not in driving distance, there are several direct flights from the East Coast hub cities (New York, Boston, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta) that can get you there in under 3 hours. With such short flights, it’s easy to see Montreal in a weekend without burning any vacation days.
On a budget: Montreal isn’t the cheapest city, but it’s relatively affordable compared to New York or London and easy to do on a budget. Mid-range hotels typically run about $150, depending on the time of year, but there are options for every price range. Getting around Montreal is cheap due to the great public transportation system and wandering the quaint streets of Old Montreal is free. The city is known for its gourmet restaurants, but that doesn’t mean you need to splurge. Pull up a chair at a little sidewalk cafe and do some people watching instead.
For more information on Montreal, check out Lonely Planet Montreal & Quebec City (Travel Guide)
Is Montreal not French enough for you? Then head to Paris! Paris may be the least budget-friendly destination on this list, but it’s Paris! And, yes, it’s do-able in a long weekend. Although Charles de Gaulle airport sits a ways outside the city, there are several easy transportation options to get you into the heart of Paris quickly and easily. Once there, Paris is one of the easier European cities to navigate by foot or public transportation. Between the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Louvre, you won’t run out of things to see or do. But do set aside some time to sit at a cafe, sample some delicious French bread, and watch the world go by.
How to get there: Not unlike Dublin, flights to Paris from the US are copious and can be affordable (under $1000). Although summer months can see high fares, fall and winter months are a great time to visit on the cheap. Flights to Paris are red-eyes, meaning you fall asleep in the US and wake up bright and early in France with a full day to explore the city. Fly out on a Friday night after work, spend Saturday and Sunday exploring, and fly back Monday to only burn one vacation day (and not have to deal with a Monday at work).
On a budget: The great thing about Paris is that you could just wander the city for days and not get bored. Taking in the sights of the Eiffel Tower, wandering along the Seine, and visiting Notre Dame Cathedral are all free. Get lunch from a crepe stand or take a picnic to a park to save some money on food. Hotels can be pricey, so shop around and don’t rule out alternate accommodations like hostels or apartment rentals.
For more information on Paris, check out Rick Steves Paris 2016
There you have it – 5 awesome international cities that can easily be done as a weekend trip from the East Coast. Each of these cities is not only easy to get to, but easy to navigate and see in a short amount of time. 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, East 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.