easier than you thought
Have Tax Refund, Will Travel
If the IRS cuts you a check, a vacation may suddenly seem doable. Get inspired by our seven fully itemized, long-weekend itineraries, starting at $895 for a family's complete expenses. That's far less than the average tax refund of about $2,700.
Freebie: Point Reyes National Seashore is free, so the hard part is choosing which of its spectacular beaches to visit. With its white-sandstone cliffs, Drakes Beach is quite popular; sandy Limantour Beach invites long walks past seals and shorebirds, and along its sand spit between the Pacific and a mix of grasslands, dunes, and mudflats.
Get There: Round-trip tickets to nearby Oakland in July recently started at $139 from Seattle, $280 from Orlando, and $316 from Minneapolis. Rental cars from Fox Rent A Car recently started at $50 a day. From the Oakland airport, Olema is 50 miles; gas for the trip might set you back about $25.
*This sample budget is based on a couple flying from Seattle and spending $120 on meals, plus a rental car and estimated fuel expenses.
The Audit: 3 nights + live bands + the American Parthenon + BBQ + other meals + car rental + airfare = $1,126 per couple*
Shelter: Base yourself at the 2-year-old Homewood Suites by Hilton Nashville-Downtown (doubles from $169 a night in July). Your extended-stay studio suite will come with a kitchen, but it's not likely you'll do much cooking in it, given the free full breakfast daily in the hotel restaurant. For other meals, walk a few blocks to the joints on Lower Broadway. At Jack's Bar-B-Que, try the Tennessee pork shoulder sandwich ($3.50).
Fun Right Off: The Parthenon is one of Nashville's strangest and most surreal must-sees. The full-scale replica of the Athens temple was built for the state's 1897 Centennial Exposition. Now it houses the city's art collection ($6).
Freebie: Your hotel is close to honky-tonk bars that showcase free live music. So many acts perform downtown that you are sure to find appealing songs. But consider branching out and listening to something unfamiliar. For instance, on Friday and Saturday nights, Robert's Western World on Broadway regularly hosts Brazilbilly, a band that plays Latin-infused country music.
Get There: Round-trip tickets to Nashville recently started at $118 from Chicago and $195 from Providence. Rental cars from Thrifty recently started at $46 per day. From Atlanta, Nashville is a four-hour drive; according to the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator, gas for the round-trip ride in a late-model sedan would set you back about $27. Self-parking at the hotel's lot is $9 per day.
*This sample budget is based on a couple flying from Chicago and spending $120 on meals and $40 for gas.
The Audit: 4 nights + Biodôme + fireworks + meals + cabs + airfare = $1,866 per couple*
Shelter: A 15-minute walk from the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites has unusually spacious guest rooms, which come with kitchenettes, high-definition TVs, and free high-speed Internet. Rooms start at $130 (Can$162) per night.
Fun Right Off: Jump on the subway for a 25-minute ride to the Montreal Biodôme, presenting four re-created ecosystems with more than 230 animal species, including two-toed sloths, golden lion tamarins, and yellow-crested macaroni penguins ($13).
Freebie: Every Saturday between June 13 and August 15, colorful explosions light up Montreal's nighttime sky during the L'International des Feux Loto-Québec, an annual fireworks competition. The festival charges admission, starting at $21, to watch the show at La Ronde amusement park, but you can make like a local and score a spot on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which closes to traffic during the events to welcome pedestrian observers.
Get There: Round-trip flights to Montreal in mid-June recently started at $525 from L.A., $592 from Chicago, and $622 from Denver. An airport taxi for two will cost about $40 each way.
*This sample budget is based on a couple flying from L.A. and spending $180 on meals and $30 on subway fare.