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 you should go: Goa’s coastal-scapes are sumptuous, wrangling the perfect balance of untouched beauty and clean, cared-for strands. Tourist creature comforts abound: jungle parties, seafood feasts, drop-in yoga on the beach. But you’ll get the gratification of skipping off the beaten track too. Spending another $18 a day will get you a motorbike and unlimited access to backwoods lagoons and hidden beaches, where it’ll be just you and the sea turtles bathing.
Why: Encircled by massive stonewalls, this Adriatic gem is hard to resist. With its old-world charm, the city’s streets are paved with limestone giving it a cool feel during hot summer days. Its well-preserved homes and monuments range from baroque St. Blaise Church to renaissance Sponza Palace and Gothic Rector’s Palace. It’s a perfect day excursion when island hopping along the Adriatic coast. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the stunning medieval fortresses, Lovrijenac and Bokar, which tower over Dubrovnik.
Why: With so much to see in Namibia, Windhoek, the country’s capital, is just the jumping point. Best of all, the U.S. dollar is strong enough to make travel, accommodations and activities all relatively inexpensive in the country — even for some luxury experiences. Windhoek is cheap in itself and has plenty of see, between exploring the local scenes like at the Namibia Craft Centre and checking out the city's German influence like at the Christuskirche church. Five-star properties, such as the Hilton Windhoek and The Olive Exclusive All-Suite Hotel can be booked for less than $150 per night, thanks in large part to the preferable exchange rate to Namibian dollars. But some of the best sights to see are located outside the city limits. Consider day or multi-day trips to get your outdoor fix and to see the stunning scenery and dunes that makes up the majority of the country. Tours, which often include meals, camping, activities and more, can be found for reasonable prices. If you’re more interested in seeing the beautiful country on your own, consider renting a car and driving to all of the sights. Entrance fees to national parks, such as the Etosha National Park, go for as little as $6 per day. Throughout the country, don’t anticipate spending a lot on food — you can find good, local dining for less than $10 per meal.
A portion of all travel booked on American Airlines may be American Eagle® service. American Eagle service is operated by Compass Airlines, LLC, Envoy Air Inc., ExpressJet Airlines, Inc., Mesa Airlines, Inc., Republic Airline Inc., SkyWest Airlines, Inc., or Trans States Airlines, LLC. American Airlines, the Flight Symbol logo, American Eagle, AAdvantage and AAdvantage Million Miler are marks of American Airlines, Inc.
According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau files well over 1,000 complaints in a single year from victims of “free” cruise scams. Other “too good to be true” deals may not be actual scams, but may require you to participate in a sales presentation, commonly for a time-share. Be alert, be skeptical, and be willing to put in the time to verify anything that doesn’t feel right.
Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.
The all inclusive package usually contains the price for the room, hotel taxes, 3 meals a day, access to various activities on the hotel’s or resort’s premises, and airport transfers. Some hotels include the drinks, tips, and other perks in their packages. The rule of thumb says that the more luxurious the hotel is, the more services are included in the all inclusive package.
Why: Did you know that Lake Tahoe is one of the oldest, tallest, largest, deepest and purest lakes in the world? The southern shore of the lake, known as South Tahoe, straddles two states and is known to be the livelier shore. There is a booming craft beer scene, and they even have a beer map for visitors. Some standouts are locally owned Lake Tahoe Ale Worx and the Cold Water Brewery. Not too sure what’s in the water out there, but the southern shores of Lake Tahoe also produces world-renowned athletes. South Tahoe is home to a couple of Winter Olympian Gold Medalists and several 2018 Olympic hopefuls. (Check out my interview with Hannah Tetter, Maddie Bowman and Kyle Smaine, who all train on Sierra, the “locals” mountain.) In October 2017, an 11-foot bronze sculpture by artist, Gareth Curtiss, was unveiled at Champions Plaza called the “Spirit of Competition," inspired by local Olympic athletes. Heavenly is a mountain that's great for families. The resort has a village with shops and outdoor fire pits. Check out dinner and magic show at The Loft, and for the best sunset views (and steaks) in South Tahoe, go to Friday’s Station. Stay at the Lake Tahoe Resort at Heavenly, where rates start at just $109 and its location in the middle of the village means you can walk right to the gondola — nice when lugging skis or a snowboard. But South Tahoe isn’t all about the powder; in fact over two-thirds of tourist arrivals are in the spring and summer months for hiking, biking and golf. Wildlife lovers won't want to miss a visit to meet Emma, an American bald eagle rescued by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.
Fiji - Exclusive $300 OFF per booking offer: Valid on new bookings made 9/24 - 12/9/18 for select travel 9/24/18 - 7/31/19. Minimum 7-night hotel accommodations at participating hotel, resort or cruise provider and roundtrip transpacific airfare required. Offer not combinable with all specials and may be changed or withdrawn at any time. Savings is per booking, taken at time of booking and reflected in rates shown.
Why you should go: Don’t let the name fool you; Isla Grande is an intimate, gorgeous Caribbean island just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena, full of exceedingly friendly locals and all the hallmarks of a tiny paradise. You’ve got your idyllic beaches, your lagoons of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water bright blue, your fresh seafood and multiple options for diving and canoeing. The chance to visit such a place is probably why you bother to earn money in the first place. - Daniel Cole, Thrillist contributor
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