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The best places to take a holiday after the holidays

SmarterTravel

It may seem counterintuitive to take a mini-break in January: You’ve just finished the holiday rush, the post-gift-buying bills have arrived, and the cold weather makes you want to cocoon at home. People are more depressed in January than any other month, because the mix of broken resolutions, post-holiday funk, and horrible weather create the perfect conditions for gloomy moods.

However, with all those reasons in mind, January may be the ideal time to take a vacation. A break—done on the cheap, of course—can provide something to look forward to, such as sunny skies and entertaining activities. It may be just the thing to get you back to your pre-holiday spirits. Here are five possibilities for fun on a budget.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico offers vacationers sandy beaches, exciting nightlife, and blissful January temperatures in the 70s and 80s. And because no passport is required to visit, it’s an easy, cheaper alternative to other Caribbean destinations.

While you may be tempted just to soak up some sun on the island’s countless beaches, there are plenty of events to keep a January visitor entertained. Three Kings’ Day (Dia de los Reyes), held annually on January 6, is a gift-giving celebration throughout the island that features dancing and lots of presents. The Le Lo Lai Festival, ongoing across the island throughout the year, showcases Puerto Rico’s African, Indian, and Spanish heritage through food, music, and dance. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company has a complete listing of activities, events, restaurants, and more to help you plan your trip.

When checking airfares, round-trip prices for January started at $164 for New York departures, and $214 from Chicago. Be sure to check SmarterTravel.com’s price-comparison tool to research the lowest airfares for your trip.

Ft. Lauderdale

The cure for winter blahs may be found in Ft. Lauderdale. The region’s sun-filled days, many beaches, and festive events make it a great place to re-experience summer weather for a spell.

“Football fans will be flying south in droves to catch the two biggest games of the season,” says Denise Reynolds, a Ft. Lauderdale-based travel writer. “Super Bowl XLI and the Orange Bowl both kick off at Dolphin Stadium, Ft. Lauderdale’s backdoor neighbor.” While the Orange Bowl took place on January 2, the pro AFC and NFC champions will vie for the Super Bowl title on February 4.

Artsy travelers will find plenty to occupy their time as well. Choose from the 19th Annual Las Olas Art Fair, January 6 and 7 on Las Olas Boulevard; the Dania Beach Art & Antique Festival from January 20 and 21; or the Ft. Lauderdale MODA 2007 Fashion Week January 25 through 28.

Reynolds also recommends taking a water taxi ride. Contributing to Ft. Lauderdale’s nickname as the “Venice of America,” the water taxis enable visitors to explore the region’s many miles of waterways, making stops along the way for restaurants, attractions, and more. Captains also point out homes of celebrities and noteworthy Floridians throughout your trip.

At press time, round-trip airfares were priced from $93 for travel from Chicago and $163 from New York.

San Diego

Whale watching, gourmet dining on a budget, and beaches—there’s a lot to love about San Diego in January. Early 2007 brings plenty of reasons for a post-holiday visit.

San Diego’s whale-watching season runs from late December through March, when more than 26,000 gray whales pass through the area en route to Baja, California, from the Arctic Sea. A plethora of whale-watching tours and excursions is available, by land, air, and sea; you can also see the creatures by visiting the observatory at Cabrillo National Monument.

Foodies may want to visit San Diego during January 7 through 12, for the city’s third annual Restaurant Week. More than 125 restaurants have signed up to provide three-course prix-fixe menus for $30 or $40 per person, varying by restaurant. A full listing of participating restaurants (with menus) can be found on SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com.

Additionally, if you want to see your favorite celebrity golfers compete in person, the Torrey Pines Golf Course hosts the annual PGA Buick Invitational Golf Tournament from January 22 through 28. The first day of the tournament is free; individual tickets start at $15 per day.

And San Diego has more than 70 miles of beaches to explore, all free. Whether you want to sunbathe or surf, swim or sail, there’s a beach for it.

Round-trip airfares to San Diego began at $183 for travelers from Chicago and $223 from New York for travel in January.

Charleston, South Carolina

While January is typically Charleston’s coolest month, its average temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees may feel positively balmy to those traveling from the frigid Northeast and Midwest. And with a host of festive events planned, Charleston is perfect for kicking your January blues. Best yet, it’s an affordable destination, too.

“Anyone visiting Charleston on a budget can easily spend a day just walking around the city,” says Holly Burns, former editor at Charleston magazine. “It’s a breeze to traverse on foot and promises free surprises and glimpses of history around every corner.” She recommends free activities such as window shopping on King Street, seeing historic homes on the Battery, and relaxing in the beautiful outdoors.

“The Angel Oak—an enormous 65-foot tall tree thought to be over 1,400 years old—is certainly worth the drive out to Johns Island for the sense of awe it commands,” says Burns. “And there’s always the bracing walk or bike ride over the new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant to witness the sweeping views over the Cooper River. It’s not quite the Golden Gate, but it’s pretty close.”

January brings a host of festivals to Charleston. The popular Lowcountry Oyster Festival, held January 28, features 65,000 pounds of oysters, the “World’s Largest Oyster Roast,” and both shucking and eating contests. The Charleston Music Fest continues with a performance on January 12, and Savor South Carolina, a weekend of cooking, shopping, and golf, is planned for January 11 through 14.

At press time, round-trip airfares started around $200 from cold-weather cities.

Boston

Boston for a winter getaway? With frigid winter temperatures and gray skies, it may seem at first glance like a fool’s idea of a great destination this time of year.

But travelers and locals in the know understand that winter can actually be a highly enjoyable time to visit Boston. If you don’t mind a little wintry weather, January is one of the most festive and value-oriented times to come to the city.

“You’d think after the December holidays, the city would slow down, but that’s not the case,” says Kim Foley MacKinnon, managing editor of Boston Spirit magazine and a Boston guidebook author. “Foodies and wine lovers look forward to the annual Boston Harbor Hotel wine festival in January, which runs through April and has dozens of dinners and programs.”

She also notes that many available discounts make the trip worthwhile. “Most of Boston’s museums have free or discounted hours once a week, which can be a huge savings for families. For example, after 4 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, the Museum of Fine Arts has a voluntary donation policy. And Boston has the advantage of a great public transportation system, which makes getting around so much easier when roads are treacherous.”

Boston hotel rooms are typically cheaper in January than other times of the year, due to lower tourism demand. As such, you may be able to find a steal at a normally pricey property such as the Langham or Four Seasons. Additionally, more than 35 properties throughout Boston and Cambridge are participating in the Warm Winter Specials promotion, featuring discounted rates and breakfast for two.

And winter brings many entertaining activities you can’t find at other times of the year. MacKinnon recommends ice skating at the Frog Pond on Boston Common. “The rink, located in the heart of the city, with a view of the gold dome of the State House, is an experience that can’t be duplicated.”

Airfares are typically affordable, too. Round-trip prices from Chicago were quoted from $123, while departures from New York started at $115.

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