10 Best Last-Minute Columbus Day Getaway Deals

Columbus Day weekend is still a long weekend for many workers in the U.S., which makes it a great time for last-minute travel.

Columbus Day was instituted as a federal holiday in 1937 after the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic organization, and Italian-born business owners in New York City lobbied president Franklin Delano Roosevelt for it. Catholics and Italian-Americans, who were considered "other" to the point that they were banned from certain jobs, lodgings and establishments and even lynched in Louisiana, latched onto Christopher Columbus as a means of assimilating themselves into white U.S. culture. Never mind that Columbus wasn't the first to set foot in this neck of the woods, wasn't the first to cross the Atlantic and wasn't even the first to set foot on territory that is now the United States: he was Italian (though employed by the Spanish), and that was good enough for Italian Americans at the time.

Today, roughly 30 of the 50 states observe Columbus Day -- but not all of them do so for Columbus's sake. In South Dakota, it is known as Native American Day in honor of the folks who just happened to be here when Columbus made his "discovery" and bore the brunt of the consequences of his actions. Numerous cities across the country -- including Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Minneapolis -- celebrate it as Indigenous People's Day. It means so little in Tennessee that the governor can just move it to the day after Thanksgiving instead.

Still, there are many places where state workers and others get it as a paid holiday on October 9 this year. That gives a bunch of folks a long weekend and ample opportunity to take a last-minute, off-peak trip. According to a new survey from AAA, more than one in four Americans (28%) expects to take a vacation this year between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. The majority cite smaller crowds and fewer children after school resumes (68%), milder weather (63%) and less costly trips (55%).

"We have seen strong demand for travel throughout the course of the year, and Americans are discovering that traveling during the fall season is a best kept secret," says Bill Sutherland, AAA's senior vice president of ravel and Publishing. "Travelers increasingly prioritize immersive travel experiences and autumn offers more opportunities for them to explore a destination's local culture."

Those fall excursions are more diverse than you'd image. AAA notes that road trips are the preferred activity for 62% of fall travelers, with fall festivals and visits to national and state parks are proving particularly popular. Some 26% of those who are planning a fall vacation will take a trip to view fall foliage in the northeast (New England in particular), to the mountains of North Carolina and Colorado.

Though the majority of fall travelers will stay within the United States, about one third are planning an international vacation. As experts point out, the combination of strong exchange rates and falling airfares and lodging rates makes fall particularly appealing to folks who squirreled away some days off. Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel site FareCompare.com, notes fall bargain travel season kicked off on August 30 and sent prices plummeting.

"As for airfare prices, they can drop as much as a third or more over summer airfare," Seaney says. "For my money, autumn is the best time of the year for a vacation: it packs the one-two punch of great weather and great airfare prices."

In June, travel site Hopper noted that projected airfare peaked at an average of $259 in June, but steadily slides to $218 by October. While you're no longer within FareCompare's recommended booking window of 30 days to three months before departure, there are still options for discounted flights. If you book online on a Tuesday at about 3 p.m. Eastern, you stand the best chance of hitting an airline sale and getting the best price on tickets. Meanwhile, if you fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, you stand to get a better deal than at any other time of the week.

With help from AAA we've found ten destinations that you can visit at cut-rate costs this Columbus Day weekend. While it isn't comprehensive (and leaves a lot of the globe out of the equation), it's filled with a fair amount of options for the frugal fall traveler.

Snag these Columbus Day deals!

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Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 4.

Cancun
Cancun

Spring break may be long gone and the temperatures may be just slightly south of unbearable, but -- like Jamaica -- the prevalence of all-inclusive vacation spots with all of the comforts of home cements Cancun's appeal around this time of year. Fall is your best bet for avoiding the crowds, simply by taking schoolkids and their parents out of play and sneaking in before the snowbirds and spring breakers.

According to TripAdvisor, this is also a great time to hit Riviera Maya, a stretch of resort towns along the Yucatan Peninsula south of Cancun, while you can. Formed in 1999, Riviera Maya includes Playa Del Carmen, the walled Mayan city of Tulum, Puerto Aventuras and other destinations fairly well known to U.S. tourists, and lies just West of the island of Cozumel.

Boston
Boston

You could just park your luggage here while you go leaf-peeping in Vermont, New Hampshire or the Berkshires, but you'd be missing one of the best times to visit this town. The Emerald Necklace ring of parks turns gold and copper all the way from Franklin Park to Boston Common. The Esplanade along the Charles River is a gorgeous splash of color and fairly quiet after the summer festivals have cleared out. A Red Sox playoff run may make things somewhat rowdy, but the crisp air gives you plenty of excuses to duck into pubs and coffee shops or get out a jacket and wander the Freedom Trail past Boston Common and the Founding Fathers' burial sites. This is one of the states that marks Columbus Day, so you won't exactly be alone if you try to get cannoli in the North End. But if the locals are north and west of you taking in the foliage, it's best to enjoy the city they're leaving behind.

Dublin
Dublin

It's going to be gray, gloomy and cool, but what of it? You're coming here to tread the sod, read the literature, hear the music and drink a pint or two. This is exactly the time to do all of that.

Ireland is on the euro, but that isn't exactly working against you at this point -- with the exchange rate still roughly $1.20 per euro. Go to Trinity College and the gold-leaf Book of Kells, wander St. Stephen's Green and Phoenix Park (which has a zoo), mull the merits of visiting the Guinness Storehouse and pop over to Temple Bar to hear great trad music at the many pubs. None of that is going to empty your bank account. Neither will driving out to Connemara, Waterford or Galway.

London
London

The only English city that didn't go for Brexit has been reaping the benefit with tourists.

London is a cosmopolitan center. It has the British Museum, war museum and Buckingham Palace, sure, but it's always been global in nature and has resisted tethering itself to the sheltered mentality of the surrounding countryside or the isolationist attitudes of England's post-industrial cities. It isn't all West End shows and take-away, but it is a place worth seeing even if you'd rather give the rest of England a chance to cool off and consider what it's done.

Hopper suggests that a Brexit-weakened British pound and plummeting post-Brexit fares make this a good time to hop the pond and hit London, Edinburgh and other UK hot spots. Round-trip fares from the U.S. plummeted below $700 recently and the pound still goes for $1.35, which is amazing considering it was worth $1.80 just three years ago.

Las Vegas
Las Vegas

Ask any cabbie at McCarran Airport and they'll tell you the same: this is Vegas's low season.

With the pirates stripped off of Treasure Island, the tiger shows and arcade out of the Mirage and the reinvention of Vegas as Orlando with slot machines now almost 20 years in the rearview mirror, this just isn't a holiday destination. For folks without families or with families they'd rather avoid, however, this is a great time to be in town. Circus Circus and Excalibur -- kiddie hotels by Vegas standards -- are throwing in two buffets with their $130-$148-a-night rates.. Granted, casino hotels including the Luxor, Excalibur, New York New York, Treasure Island, The Flamingo and The Mirage all see rates dip into less than $600 for a three-night stay. The kids are gone and the "What Happens In Vegas" decadence of the 2000s has faded into today's post-recession Mall Vegas, but this is still a great time of year to get a deal in this town. And in light of the recent tragedy there, it is a meaningful time to stand in solidarity with the city and not give in to fear.

New York City
New York City

There are whole songs written about autumn in New York, and perhaps the largest Columbus Day parade in the country still happens here. However, this is still one of the best times to be in the city. The summer crowds are gone, the new Broadway shows are opening and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is still a month away from reeling in the first hordes of holiday tourists. Perhaps Central Park doesn't quite look like a color-saturated scene from When Harry Met Sally at this point on the calendar and maybe you could've had a better time if you'd waited a few weeks and went to the Village Halloween Parade instead. However, considering what the city will look like two months from this weekend, it's best to sneak in while you can.

Honolulu
Honolulu

Hawaii considers this day Discoverers' Day, but it has nothing to do with Columbus. This day commemorates when Polynesians first set foot in Hawaii. Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and Waiamea Bay are still going to be there for your enjoyment and the average high temperature is still going to hover between 80 and 90 degrees, but Hawaii's story is much different than that of the mainland and its legacy makes it extremely unlikely to throw a party on Columbus' behalf anytime soon. Maybe while you're there on this weekend, you could visit 'Iolani Palace and Queen Kapl'oani Park and consider why a state would celebrate its first discoverers and why it might no think so kindly of someone who "discovered" a place where people with their own culture and traditions already resided.

Anaheim, Calif.
Anaheim, Calif.

Maybe you're staying here as a cheap alternative to Los Angeles proper. Maybe you're just more of an Angels fan than a Dodgers fan. Maybe your personality is just more Orange County than Los Angeles County.

More likely, you're going to Disneyland. Local government will argue that you're also going to Adventure City, the GardenWalk, MUZEO, the various golf courses and other non-Disney attractions, but Disneyland, the Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney are the main draw here. They're the city's largest employers by far and are the biggest selling points when homeowners want to rent out their homes. With the kids back in school and California not inclined to give anyone a day off on Columbus Day, it's a great time for folks with a three-day weekend to sneak into Disney attractions after the bulk of the tourists have gone.

Rome
Rome

The unbearable heat has passed, but the U.S. winter hasn't driven the masses here quite yet.

It'll still be about 70 degrees as you stroll the Spanish Steps and crowd around Trevi Fountain. Even in a city filled with museums, stone historical sites and cafes... it's a wonderful time to stay outside, take long strolls through living history and make the most of the shoulder season. It's still warm enough to ride a Vespa, and with the dollar at roughly 84% of the euro, as opposed to 62% as recently as 2007, Rome is more affordable to U.S. travelers than it's been since the days of the lira.

Orlando, Fla.
Orlando, Fla.

Do we really have to explain why people would come down here in the offseason? No, not for Orlando FC matches or giant malls. Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, Legoland... these facilities themselves are all massive, sprawling uses of former swampland that have been branded and monetized down to the last cent and marketed to the point that just about every local restaurant chain east of the Mississippi has their one far-flung location down here. While people come here from all over the world, Orlando is almost inevitable for any family along the Eastern Seaboard. However, from roughly May through September, Orlando is absolutely brutal. Temperature, humidity and a steady stream of thunderstorms make it an absolutely awful place to be. However, as citizen who dealt with Hurricane Irma can tell you, you're taking your chances coming here during hurricane season. When it works out, it can be wonderful. When it doesn't, you're putting a lot more than money on the line.

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