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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.
Why: A genuine bucket list trip for many, a visit to Australia and New Zealand can be super-pricey. Cities are spread out, way out, which means a lot of hopping on planes to get from one place to another. And for top level accommodations, not to mention simple daily necessities like a flat white, you’ll shell out big bucks. What’s good about a cruise itinerary that includes visits to both countries is that the big expenses are included in fares – onboard meals, accommodations, entertainment and transportation from place to place. On Oceania Cruises, which offers a New Zealand/Australia itinerary, for instance, the per diem is $350 a night, but you pretty much don’t have to whip out a credit card beyond that (do note that it’s priced at per-person, based on two sharing a cabin). Consider that in super-expensive cities like Auckland and Sydney, a hotel stay at a four-star place like the Hilton and Westin respectively will run you $350 or so. And that’s for the room only — you’ll pay out of pocket for food, entertainment and bars. One tip: Look for a cruise line that arranges its itineraries to spend maximum time in port, whether it’s long days or plenty of overnights, so you can have as much time to explore as possible. As well, you’re better off, in most cases, avoiding cruise-line shore excursions, which can be overpriced and epitomize group cattle travel, and engage a travel agency specialist in the region to plan private tours for your days in port. Bottom line, though, is when experiencing Australia and New Zealand by cruise ship, especially on your first visit to the region, the biggest plus is not just the convenience of unpacking once and keeping short-hop plane trips to a minimum. It’s also that, depending on the itinerary you choose, you can visit some pretty special somewhat off-the-grid places in between marquee stops at Auckland and Sydney. New Zealand’s Akaroa, Dunedin and Wellington, and Australia’s Eden, Burnie and Melbourne, might otherwise be missed — and shouldn’t be.
Just how cheap is it? The aftershock of the debt crisis can still be felt at plenty of Greece’s tavernas, restaurants, and supermarkets (though not so much in touristy areas). On a popular island such as Mykonos, you’re likely to spend at least €25 or more on a lush evening meal -- but you can also get a bottle of godly nectar and cook at your Airbnb or hotel kitchenette for a sliver of that. On smaller, less touristy islands and in some parts of Athens you’ll feel less of a wallet pinch, especially when it comes to accommodation.
Playa de los Muertos is one of the most popular beaches in Puerto Vallarta for good reason. Kick back on the clean sands before taking a dip in the crystal waters. Local vendors stroll the sands with grilled shrimp on skewers, perfect for a post-dip snack. If you think this place is phenomenal by day, just wait until sunset, when it comes to life with music and dancing.
Why you should go: Too few Eurotrips include Poland, despite its sharing borders with Germany and the Czech Republic. Warsaw is a hotbed of glamor and flash, while Kraków is the epitome of charming hipster enclaves, but the truth is that both of these cities are of crucial historical importance -- and what happened here should never be forgotten. Millions of Poles died or fled during the Nazi invasion. Warsaw was basically burned to the ground. The country’s long history is rich and fascinating, set in what is today a peaceful and beautifully scenic land.
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.
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
Cook Islands - Exclusive $200 OFF per booking offer: Valid on new bookings made 9/24 - 12/2/18 for select travel 9/24/18 - 7/31/19, except for Little Polynesian Resort, which is valid for select travel 4/1 - 7/31/19. Discount is per booking, taken at time of booking and reflected in rates shown. Minimum 5-nights' accommodation at a participating hotel or resort and roundtrip transpacific airfare required. Offer not combinable with all specials and may be changed or withdrawn at any time.
Couchsurfing connects would-be travelers with hosts around the world who are willing to offer up a modest amount of space in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). As a matter of policy, Couchsurfing does not allow hosts to charge visitors money. However, it is common for visitors to thank their hosts by reimbursing the cost of groceries, or perhaps buying a gift equivalent to the extent to which they cleaned out their hosts’s wine cabinet.
How cheap is it? The UK saying “laters” to the EU may be bad news for Brits, but it’s proving to be great news for travelers. Brexit tied a brick to the already-sinking pound; overall it’s down 30 percent against the dollar since summer of 2014. Airfares, too, have dropped. And the UK is, for the next couple of years at least, formally in Europe -- so super cheap air and train fares that currently operate between the UK and the continent still run post-Brexit, pre-exit. You can be in Paris in 2.5 hours by train. Boom! Take that European trip you’ve been dreaming about since your student days, as it may never be cheaper.
Chosen By: Emily McNutt, associate editor at The Points Guy, where she is responsible for reporting on travel news across a range of topics — from aviation to loyalty programs, general travel news and credit cards. At TPG, McNutt is not only an expert in the travel and points and miles space in the newsroom, but also puts that expertise to work by reviewing aircraft products for the site. With a lifelong passion for travel, McNutt has visited more than 40 countries.