Why: As the gateway city to celebrated tourist destinations like the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Pompeii, Naples is finally getting its well-deserved time in the spotlight and intrepid travelers are flocking to the stunning southern city in droves. Naples is one of the oldest cities on the European continent and filled to the brim with intriguing cultural sights and monuments, from seaside castles and underground catacombs to show-stopping Baroque architecture and a plethora of contemporary art. It also boasts one of Italy's most cherished cuisines and is well-known as the birthplace of pizza, which you can enjoy for as little as €4 ($5), accompanied by views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius (free). Neapolitan pizza making has just been recognized by UNESCO as part of its Intangible World Heritage list, so now is a great time to visit and enjoy its effervescent energy and fabulous cuisine.
Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.
Why: Santa Fe is a creative vortex that thrives at 7,200 feet, at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, attracting artists and healers from around the world. It’s an ideal getaway for nature lovers, art enthusiasts and spa seekers. Surrounded by natural beauty, the city’s roots go deep with a Native American, Hispanic and Anglo heritage. This year, the city is 407 years old and is the oldest capital city in the United States. It's home to 250 restaurants, more than 300 art galleries, at least a hundred boutique shops and a dozen festivals and fairs. Some of the highlights include strolling along Canyon Road and visiting a mile of art galleries. Visit the oldest house in the U.S. and attend mass at the oldest church in the U.S. — the San Miguel Chapel. See over 130,000 folk art objects from more than 100 countries at the Museum of International Folk Art for $12 admission. Check the Santa Fe Tourism Office Calendar for events and festivals, as well as historic walking tours (only $14), cooking classes and more. Don't miss the pulled pork sandwiches at Whole Hog Café (from $3.99) and be sure to sample their six signature sauces. On Saturdays, stop by the Farmer’s Market and try local dishes at food stands. Find winter promo rates at La Posada de Santa Fe, a luxury hotel starting at $99 per night. Fly into Albuquerque and rent a car to drive to Santa Fe (Hertz has deals as low as $13.99 per day), so you can take day trips to Taos and Chimayo or go hiking at Bandelier National Park.
Why: Slovenia is in the heart of Europe and borders the alps and the Mediterranean Coast. It’s a country that has a little bit of everything — mountains, beaches, pristine lakes, 11,000 karst caves, castles, a Pannonian Salt Plain, healthy water springs and city life in Ljubljana, European’s Green Capital. No wonder it’s been called the New Zealand of Europe. One of my favorite towns to visit is Piran, located on Slovenian’s Istria on the Adriatic Sea. Explore this coastal town — a little Venice — and savor a fresh seafood meal for under $10. It’s the perfect place to visit on foot. Meander through the alleyways and visit the market. Climb up to the city walls and to the top of the bell tower for spectacular views. Or rent a bike and cycle through the countryside. It’s an easy day trip from Ljubljana, but if you plan to stay the night, check into a luxury four-star hotel like Hotel Piran for just $80 a night. How to get around? Visit GoOpti for airport transfers as low as $9. If you want to carpool from Slovenia to Italy or Croatia, check their site for great deals. For example, you can carpool from Ljubljana to Venice for as low as $18. Round About Slovenia offers deals for tours around the country and even Croatia (how about a $45 half-day tour to Lake Bled?).