The average tax refund for 2017 is around $3,000. While you might be tempted to spend your surplus on the latest gadget, the truth is that these purchases go out of fashion fast. Instead, consider splurging on something you’ll have for the rest of your life: the memory of an incredible vacation.
From the beautiful beaches of Greece to the wide-open skies of Texas, here are some adventure-filled and affordable trips you can take with your tax refund this year.
Hit the Beach in Greece
Greece has a well-deserved reputation as a budget beach destination. Five nights in a four-star hotel will cost you as little as $266 on Santorini, a crescent-shaped island in the Aegean Sea boasting rugged seaside cliffs, sweeping black sand beaches and towering mountains. You can book a round-trip flight from New York to Santorini for just $728. This affordable trip leaves you plenty of leftover dough to sip drinks and sample the local cuisine in seaside villages like Oia and Fira.
Take a Cruise to Alaska
Alaska comes to life as the weather warms up, making this the perfect time of year to make a sea voyage to our northernmost state. An eight-day cruise starts at $929 per person, departing from Seattle ($245 round-trip airfare from New York) and making stops in beautiful Alaskan ports like Juneau and Skagway before returning to Seattle.
The highlight of the journey is Glacier Bay, where you can see some of North America’s most spectacular tidewater glaciers, along with wildlife like brown bears and sea lions. You might want to book in advance to get the best deals. But no need to rush — the weather in Alaska stays pleasant well into September.
Live It Up in Las Vegas
The last thing you want to do with your tax refund is blow it all at the roulette table. But with cheap airfare and reasonable hotel rates, you’ll be able to spare a few bucks from your tax refund for a little (responsible) gambling in Las Vegas. Plus, there’s a lot more to Sin City than casinos.
Las Vegas offers everything from golf courses and spas to concerts and exciting nightlife. And thanks to the comfortable weather and relatively light tourist crowds, spring is the perfect time to visit. Expect to pay $644 for a week in a four-star hotel and $335 for round-trip airfare from New York. You can use these insider tips to save a ton of money on your trip to Las Vegas.
Backpack Across England
The United Kingdom offers everything from historic cities and shop-lined streets to sweeping ocean views and rolling farmlands. And there’s no better way to experience it than on your own two legs.
Backpacking around the U.K. allows you to save on accommodations — hostels typically go for $20 to $30 per night or less in smaller towns — which frees up your budget for meals and activities. A flight from New York to London goes for $475 round trip, and two weeks’ lodging will cost you under $400. Before you head out, learn more about how to pack for your backpacking trip.
Sit by the Sea in Tulum, Mexico
Less touristy than Cancun but growing fast, Tulum is the perfect affordable trip to chill along the Caribbean coast of the Riviera Maya. The town offers pristine white sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins and plenty of bars and eateries to suit every budget. Plus, you can stay at a cozy bed and breakfast like La Chan Cabañita Tulum, which is close enough to the beach that you can see the water from your balcony.
Plan on arriving on a Monday and heading home on Friday to beat the weekend crowds, and expect to pay just $444 for your four-night stay. A round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Cancun International Airport, about an hour and a half from Tulum, costs around $256. A rental car at the airport will run you about $24 for the entire trip.
Spend a Weekend in Paris
Paris isn’t cheap, but you can still enjoy a wide range of experiences with your tax refund. Fly out of New York on a Friday and return the following Monday for $738. With a little smart shopping, you can book a three-night hotel stay for as little as $255.
To cram as many sights and attractions as possible into your visit, consider the Paris Pass. This three-day pass costs about $163 and gives you access to more than 60 attractions and tours throughout the city, including an Ô Château wine tasting, the Louvre, Notre Dame and a day-long “hop on, hop off” bus tour.
See America by Train
Watching America roll past the window of your train car is the perfect way to experience our stunning natural landscape, and Vacations By Rail offers a wide range of options for a discount. The Classic Coast to Coast by Rail tour is hard to beat, carrying you from New York to San Francisco over six days with a stop in Chicago.
The cost of the entire trip is $1,761, including meals on the train and two nights’ hotel accommodations, with the other three nights spent aboard the train itself. Catch a plane from San Francisco back to New York for $343.
Go Rafting in the Grand Canyon
One of the most thrilling whitewater adventures in America, rafting through the Grand Canyon, is an experience like no other. A four-day, three-night guided trip through this natural wonder along the Colorado River starts at $1,699 per person through Western River Expeditions.
Trips depart from the Las Vegas Marriott, and it’s a good idea to spend the night ($161) before your trip there, so you don’t feel rushed. The rafting trip package includes a flight from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, along with meals and lodging for the duration of the trip. Round-trip airfare from L.A. to Las Vegas is just $79.
Experience the Nightlife in Bangkok, Thailand
Day or night, Bangkok is one of the most exciting cities in the world, but it really comes alive after dark. The city’s nightlife is second to none, ranging from ritzy rooftop bars and cocktail lounges to the party scene along Khao San Road. And for a late-night bite, the city’s many nighttime street markets offer up delicious local cuisine.
A four-night stay at a five-star hotel in the heart of the city will cost you $565, and round-trip airfare from Los Angeles goes for $664. Keep in mind that, while Bangkok is considered a safe city, it’s always wise to travel in groups and use due caution when heading out at night.
Fly-Fish in Yellowstone
With a ravishing view of the Rocky Mountains, Montana’s Yellowstone Valley Lodge is the perfect setting for the fishing trip of a lifetime. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also mere steps from the Yellowstone River, one of America’s truly great trout streams. A three-day, four-night trip costs $1,955 per person and includes meals, lodging in a rustic cabin, guided fishing excursions and all the tackle and tools you could need.
A round-trip flight from Los Angeles to nearby Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport costs $334. The lodge will also provide shuttle service from the airport to the river for $250, round trip, for two anglers — $40 extra per angler beyond two.
Explore the Canary Islands
Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, the Canary Islands offer an ideal getaway well off the beaten path. The rugged and largely undeveloped island of La Palma is arguably the best of the bunch, boasting miles of pristine beaches surrounding an interior of towering peaks and lush rainforest. Fly round trip from New York to Santa Cruz de La Palma, on the island’s eastern shore, for as little as $470 and book a week at a hotel just minutes from the beach for $474.
Related: 9 Cheap Island Getaways
Experience the Midnight Sun in Iceland
Boasting mild temperatures and almost endless daylight, June is arguably the best time of year to visit Iceland. Reykjavik, Iceland’s largest city, is the ideal home base for your visit, thanks to its great restaurants and shops and easy access to activities and adventures. Hostels, of which there are many, offer the best budget accommodations in Reykjavik, as long as you don’t mind bunking with your fellow nomads. A four-night stay in June can cost as little as $324.
Summer is the most popular season in Iceland, so book now before rooms disappear. Round-trip airfare to Reykjavik is an affordable $450.
Go Whale Watching in California
For the best whale watching on the California coast, visit the Channel Islands, located just off Santa Barbara. Whale watching tours with Condor Express depart from Santa Barbara every day from May 15 to Oct. 1, and offer the chance to see humpback whales, porpoises and — depending on the time of year — blue whales.
The cost is just $99 per person, leaving you plenty of leftover cash to book a swanky hotel by the beach at $718 for two nights. A flight from New York to Santa Barbara will cost about $486.
See the World’s Greatest Art Fair in Switzerland
Art Basel is the world’s most prestigious art fair, bringing together modern and contemporary works by more than 4,000 artists from around the world. Running from June 15 to June 18 in Basel, one of Switzerland’s great cultural cities, the fair is the perfect destination for anyone with a love of the arts.
The arrival of the festival tends to drive up the cost of lodging in Basel, so you’re likely to pay $1,095 for a five-night stay. But the festival itself is fairly inexpensive: $130 for the entire event if you purchase in advance online. Throw in $712 for round-trip airfare from New York, and you should still have enough spare change to dine out and explore this beautiful city.
Experience Dark Skies in Texas
Nestled among the craggy mountain peaks and desert valleys along the Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park is home to some of the world’s most stunning night skies, making it an absolutely essential stargazing destination. An International Dark Sky Park, Big Bend shares the distinction with three other national parks of having the least light pollution in the lower 48 states.
Four nights at the picturesque Chisos Mountains Lodge will cost you $636, or you can camp in the park for four nights for just $56. Expect to pay $423 for round-trip airfare to El Paso, located about four hours from the park. The easiest way to complete the journey is to make the last leg a mini road trip; you can rent a car at the airport for $103 for four days.