Beach Oddities Travel Etiquette

What Not to Do at a Nude Beach

From Hawaii to Mexico, Greece to Croatia, and even to the coastal shores of New Jersey, nude beaches abound. These hot spots are great if you want a carefree and clothing-optional getaway. But before you hit a nudist beach, know that strict etiquette reigns supreme. In fact, most clothes-free destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know—and what you shouldn’t do—at a nude beach.

Don’t Assume That a Beach Is Clothing-Optional

Reading somewhere that a beach is clothing-optional does not mean that the beach is actually clothing-optional. Do your due diligence and ensure that the area is truly safe for your naked patronage. To get you started, the American Association for Nude Recreation supplies a short list of nude beaches in the U.S. (there aren’t many), while SmarterTravel has rounded up some of the world’s top nudist destinations.

And if you’re ever unsure as to whether a nude beach is a nude beach? Keep your clothes on. In many places, public nudity is a serious crime that could lead to a fine (or worse).

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Don’t Forget to Research Naturist Resorts

Naturist resorts cater to completely clothing-free vacation seekers, so if you want to go all in (or off), consider these options rather than a one-time visit to a nude beach. From family-friendly campgrounds in the Poconos to luxe all-inclusives in the Caribbean, there’s likely a nudist resort option that suits your style and budget.

Rules at each of these resorts differ, and many are adults-only. As with any hotel stay, read the resort’s policies closely before you book.

At a Nude Beach? Don’t Stare

Once you’re on a nudist beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously, you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. But play it cool: Most nude beach insiders insist that it’s easy, and that at a certain point, you simply stop noticing all the bare skin.

Can’t handle the realities of polite naked society? That’s okay, but stick to clothing-required beaches for the sake of everyone’s comfort.

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Don’t Expect Too Much at Nude Beaches

Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a Playboy Mansion memoir. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and are far more likely to veer into dad bod territory than to look like Channing Tatum in the buff. So don’t expect models at a nude beach and then be disappointed when you see, well, normal humans in all their hirsute glory.

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Don’t Take Pictures at a Nude Beach

A good rule of thumb: Never, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission. This goes for all tourist destinations—from nude beaches to theme parks to UNESCO World Heritage sites—but it’s especially true when the subject of your photo is naked. Always ask explicitly if you may take a photo and make sure photography is even allowed where you are. (Many nudist beaches prohibit it.)

Furthermore, even if you’re okay with someone snapping a pic of you, keep in mind that you have little control over where that photo ends up—from travel review sites to social media to less pleasant parts of the internet.

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Don’t Go Naked in Certain Public Areas

Due to local regulations, many areas at nudist beaches or resorts may, in fact, require clothing, including parking lots, cafes, shops, and so on. Consult any posted signs regarding clothing-required venues and follow them closely. Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist beaches and resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.

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Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

While this doesn’t fall squarely in the etiquette department, it’s still a critical piece of information to have at a nudist beach: Yes, those sensitive areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a slather of sunscreen, preferably one that’s gentle on sensitive skin. Test it a few weeks before you hit a nude beach to ensure that you don’t end up with an unsightly rash somewhere that you definitely don’t want one.

Women's Nude Beach Outfit

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.


Thailand’s Best-Kept Secrets

Thailand sees millions of visitors every year, so it’s no surprise that almost anywhere you go, you’ll encounter a crowd, from the beach bunnies of Phuket to the bustling masses in Bangkok. But the crowds don’t preclude a truly authentic Thai vacation. Some of the nation’s best sights are far afield from cities, tucked into rural inland provinces or Treasure Island-like atolls afloat in the Andaman Sea. All it takes to experience them? A sense of adventure and a few baht for transportation.

Here are some of the country’s best-kept secrets, whether you are backpacking on a buck a day or embarking on a luxurious journey.

Nakhon Si Thammarat

Nakhon Si Thammarat, or simply Nakhon to locals, may not look like a destination in and of itself. It’s a small, unprepossessing city without world-class restaurants or postcard-perfect beaches—at least at first. But look again. One of Thailand’s oldest and most important temples (or wats) makes its home here. UNESCO designates Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan a World Heritage site for its early 13th-century architecture and massive scarlet pagoda. A quick tour costs just a handful of baht.

Elsewhere in Nakhon, a shadow-puppet theater provides family-friendly diversion, and in the waters off the small district of Khanom, pink dolphins can be spotted on a boat tour (yes, they really are bubblegum-pink!). Of course, this being Thailand, there are gastronomic gems to be uncovered. Kopi, a local Nakhon chain, dishes out the best Thai iced coffee and steamed buns in southern Thailand; I am only half kidding when I suggest the iced coffee is worth the drive alone.

Bangkok’s Best Markets

When visitors want Bangkok’s best street food, they flock to the wobbly metal tables and busy food stands of Soi 38. But the heavily trafficked district is not the only game in town. The Pak Klong Talad flower market is a favorite not just for its colorful mounds of flowers, fruits, and vegetables but for its food sellers as well. Amid tables piled high with orchids and marigolds, food vendors serve spicy papaya salad, pad thai, sweet confections, and other dishes.

Another oft-missed must-do is the Bang Nam Pheung floating market on the eastern outskirts of the city. It’s smaller and more low-key than other floating markets frequented by travelers, with just a few traditional boats bobbing along the Chao Phraya under a velvety green canopy of trees. Here, among locals, sample smelly jackfruit or a strange, spiky gac fruit. You will feel like you’re in a traditional Thai village, despite the noise and crowds just a few miles west.

Andaman Coast Kohs

Once a backpacker’s backwater of deserted beaches and cheap huts for rent, the Andaman Islands are now both posh and very popular. But they’re well worth your time, especially on a day trip, and they’re far less frequented than Phuket and Koh Phi Phi to the north. Some of these tiny islands are inhabited, but most are not.

From Pak Meng Pier, set off on a tour of the small karsts, or limestone formations that rise steeply out of the sea. Snorkel around the outer fringes of Koh Kradan or Koh Mook, where schools of tropical fish trawl the vibrant fan corals. Watch out for spiny sea urchins that tuck themselves into the shallows. At Koh Ngai, find a small resort and a stretch of white sand facing out to the sea. Colorful longtail boats floating on the glassy sea are one of many Instagram-worthy moments just waiting to be captured.

Finally, ask your captain to stop at Morakot Cave, or the Emerald Cave. Don a swimsuit and life jacket (if you’re not a strong swimmer). Dive into the warm turquoise water and swim through a pitch-black cave opening. The sea is calm but the cave ceilings are low, so guide yourself along the rock wall or follow a rope line in. After a short, dark swim, you’ll emerge in a perfectly clear and shallow pool. Look up! You’re in a protected cove inside a koh. A steep rock wall, hundreds of feet high and topped by rainforest, protects a small beach. If you time your visit to avoid the large boats of tourists that stop by on the hour, you’ll have this spot of paradise to yourself.


I’ve already written about the near-endless buffet of dim sum you can find in this southern province, and the islands mentioned above provide the most seaworthy adventures in the Trang and Krabi provinces. But what of mainland Trang itself? Aside from its kohs, Trang has national parks and wildlife preserves to explore, from Khlong Lamchan’s waterfalls to Mu Ko Phetra, where tropical birds build their nests in protected cliffsides. (These spots are best accessed via tour guide; signage can be hard to find and is usually in Thai.)

Trang city itself is a commercial hub whose Chinese and Malaysian traditions are reflected in its architecture, cuisine, and old-school markets. In many ways, this is the “real” Thailand: small and busy, a little rough around the edges, the air redolent of cooking oil, spices, and motorcycle exhaust. Traditional religious and cultural festivals dot the calendar, but perhaps the city’s strangest is the Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony, in which brides and grooms are married under the waves each February—scuba gear and all.

Chiang Rai

In Thailand, if you sit still long enough, you will get no fewer than 10 recommendations for where to go and, more importantly, what to eat. This usually leads to a friendly debate among expats, the exchange of contact information, an offer to call one’s friend to meet you, and a long list of no-name food stalls to visit via confusing directions like “past the skinny tree, next to the blue or green boat.”

On my second-to-last night in Thailand, an expat, skin browned long past the shade of shoe leather, tells me that Chiang Rai is the new Chiang Mai (the latter being the popular stop for elephants and raucous night bazaars that Anthony Bourdain made famous). This recommendation happens several times throughout my visit, and indeed, it’s true: About five hours from its more famous neighbor, Chiang Rai is a compact culinary haven with its very own night market. Brimming with eats for the adventurous, such as deep-fried insects and Laotian curries, as well as souvenirs from local artisans and cheap trinkets from abroad, the night market is widely considered Thailand’s best. Tribal villagers sell intricately woven textiles and antique bits and bobs. Bars pour plenty of cold beer. And, under strings of fading twinkly lights, everyone eats cheaply but well.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island

5 Exotic Places Where You Don’t Need a Passport

Longing for a long-distance getaway but don’t have a passport? No problem! Here are five tropical destinations that offer warm weather, gorgeous beaches, and inviting culture that Americans can experience without a passport.

Exotic Places Where You Don’t Need a Passport

From Caribbean favorites to lesser-visited South Pacific gems, these five overseas destinations offer all the vacation glory with none of the passport requirements for U.S. citizens.

Puerto Rico

Puerto rico

The island of Puerto Rico has long been a favorite of travelers from the contiguous 48. Inexpensive airfare from low-cost carriers makes Puerto Rico an economical option for East Coasters. It’s also one of the easiest Caribbean destinations to visit, since you can explore its many wonders without a U.S. passport.

Stay: The boutique Malecon House in Vieques offers ocean views and an ideal location for a relaxed beach vacation.

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United States Virgin Islands

Puerto rico

The U.S. Virgin Islands lie mere minutes away from Puerto Rico by plane. Made up of three main islands—St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John—plus a scattering of smaller isles, the U.S.V.I. relies heavily on tourism, and has slowly made a comeback after hurricanes in recent years.

Each island has its own unique appeal. St. John, with its national parkland and legendary diving, will charm true escapists. St. Thomas is a shopper’s dream, with countless boutiques and jewelers, as well as two bustling cruise terminals. And Danish-flavored and diverse St. Croix is a favorite of luxury-seeking honeymooners.

Stay: Find accommodations of every stripe including the smart Ritz-Carlton on St. Thomas.

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Northern Mariana Islands

Puerto rico

These Micronesian islands have been governed by many in their long history: first by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, then Japanese forces during WWII, and finally, the United States since the Battle of Saipan in 1944.

The islands rely heavily on tourism from their northern neighbors Japan and Korea as well as the United States. History buffs will find much to see in Saipan, the largest island of the Marianas, which is home to several war memorials and museums. Adrenaline junkies can dive the Grotto, a limestone cavern whose 70-foot-deep waters are home to sea turtles and reef sharks, or take a boat to the nearby lagoon surrounding Managaha Island.

Stay: While the Mariana Islands are relatively remote, several major hotel operators, including Hyatt, run four- and five-star properties on Saipan.

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Puerto rico

Much like the Northern Marianas, Guam to the south was colonized by the Spanish, changed hands during WWII, and is now a tourist destination for Japanese and U.S. nationals. (Its second-largest source of income is the U.S. military, whose navy, coast guard, and air force bases make up about one-third of Guam’s total land area.)

Military aside, there is much to do on this vivid island: Tumon’s beaches are known for great snorkeling, and Guam’s teeming seas are famous among divers for visibility up to 150 feet. Two Lovers Point, a cliff-side lookout, offers some pristine panoramas from 400 feet above the Philippine Sea (plus a dramatic legend of star-crossed lovers).

Stay: while flights to Guam don’t come cheap, accommodations do; resorts in Tumon and nearby Tamuning average around $200 per night.

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American Samoa

Puerto rico

Rounding out this list is the unincorporated territory of American Samoa, a collection of five volcanic islands and two atolls between Fiji and the Cook Islands. A truly off-the-beaten-path destination, there are only a handful of hotels on Tutuila and the neighboring islands, scant tourism infrastructure, and, beyond the fast-food restaurants, few commercial distractions to remind you of home.

Find coral-filled waters, craggy coastlines sculpted of lava, and untouched beaches whose only other sunbathers are the seabirds. And unlike highly trafficked Polynesian destinations, the native Samoan culture is still undeniably authentic here. In the village of Alega, drop into Tisa’s Barefoot Bar for a drink, a meal (the chef will grill your fresh-caught lobster for you), or a night’s rest in the fale (a traditional Samoan hut).

American tourists can fly into Pago Pago via Hawaiian Airlines.

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Traveling? Consider These Carry-On Options

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Holiday Travel Miscellany Theme Park

North America’s Top Christmas Markets

The cozy smell of chestnuts roasting on open fire pits. A warm cup of mulled cider cradled in your mittened hands. Soft flecks of snow falling as you walk among shop stalls filled with glittering merchandise that just begs to be gifted.

Europe, and Germany especially, are famous for their traditional holiday markets, but the scene above can be relived right in your own backyard. Take a seasonal spin through this showcase of 10 amazing Christmas markets around North America to find one near you.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.


Arts & Culture Cities Holiday Travel

Happy Hanukkah: Celebrations Around the World

Make the most of the spirit of Hanukkah and celebrate the Festival of Lights, which commemorates the restoration of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Here are some of our favorite public Hanukkah celebrations across the world.

New York City

world largest menorah at grand army plaza in brooklyn

In Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, across the street from The Plaza Hotel, onlookers watch as the World’s Largest Menorah (clocking in at 32 feet high and 4,000 pounds) is lit after sundown. In Brooklyn, head to Prospect Park to see a similarly giant menorah that’s lit each night of Hanukkah.

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Jerusalem Old City, Israel

Traditional menorahs (hanukkah lamps) with olive oil candles, placed near the entrance, in jewish quarter,

During Hanukkah, traditional menorahs with olive oil candles are often placed near the entrances of homes in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The annual Torch Relay, in which people line the road and pass a flame that will eventually light the menorah at the Western Wall, marks the beginning of the festival.

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Madrid, Spain

A young girl and the luna alfon (r), director of ibn gabirol estrella toledano school, lighting candles during hanukkah celebration

Madrid has been home to a Jewish community since the ninth century. Each year since 2008, city officials and members of the Jewish community celebrate the Hanukkah Festival of Lights with the lighting of candles, music, and food.

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Berlin, Germany

Hanukkah menorah at pariser platz (paris' square) in front of brandenburg gate night

Berlin lights the Hanukkah menorah at Pariser Platz in front of Brandenburg Gate, in the same area where anti-Semitic rallies were held before and during World War II.  This is the Europe’s largest menorah, at a height of 33 feet.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Family Travel Holiday Travel Senior Travel

Christmas Celebrations Around the World

Pack up the sleigh and wrap yourself in your coziest scarf. Here’s a photo tour of 10 Christmas celebrations around the world, from citywide parties to cheery holiday markets.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul christmas festival 2018 in cheonggyecheon stream at seoul, south korea

A tree twinkles with lights in South Korea, where Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays.

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London, England

 leadenhall market in london with christmas decoration. victorian arcade of the market, built 19th century london

A Christmas tree sits in London’s Leadenhall Market, one of the oldest markets in the city.

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Rovaniemi, Finland

Racing on reindeer sleigh in finland lapland winter

Reindeer pull sleighs in Rovaniemi, Finland’s capital of Lapland.

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Strasbourg, France

Streets and facades of houses, traditionally decorated with toys teddy bears for christmas

Streets and facades of houses are traditionally decorated with toys and teddy bears for Christmas in medieval city of Strasbourg.

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Orlando, Florida

Toy soldiers parade down main street, u.s.a., at magic kingdom during “mickey’s once upon a christmastime parade.”

Each year, Disney World decks out its castle and Main Street in Christmas finery. Special parades, live stage shows, and more mark the Christmas season.

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New York City

hundreds of costumed revelers filled times square to muster for the 17th annual santacon pub crawl

During New York’s SantaCon, you’ll see Kris Kringle everywhere you look.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Fireworks during the inauguration of christmas tree rodrigo de freitas lagoon

Fireworks erupt during the inauguration of the Christmas tree of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Ban Tha Rae, Thailand

Star parade,christmas festival,star parade to celebrate christmas ,caravan star lamp,is a celebration of christians in sakon nakhon and ban tha rae,thai.

Tha Rae in northeastern Thailand hosts a yearly multi-day Christmas Parade Festival, featuring performances and parades.

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Paris, France

The christmas tree at galeries lafayette

In the City of Light, les cadeaux are suspended above Galeries Lafayette.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.


Fashion & Beauty Packing

7 Small Ways to Boost Your Travel Wardrobe

Avoid wardrobe fatigue on the road by making your travel clothes go the extra mile. With just a few tweaks—such as wearing neutrals or purchasing garments that perform double duty—you can pack less and get more out of what’s in your suitcase. So get creative: Optimize your closet and wander light with these seven simple steps for enhancing your travel wardrobe.

Buy a Basic T-Shirt


women purple short sleeve shirt.

If you learn only one thing today, let it be this: T-shirts are the savvy traveler’s secret weapon. A quality, tailored T-shirt (I’m a fan of the Michael Stars jersey V-neck number, which I own in a wide range of colors) is indispensable. The “tailored” part is important: A baggy tee will do you no favors; however, one that fits well to your body can be worn tucked into a pencil skirt for a dressy or business-friendly look, with jeans for a casual day of sightseeing, or with shorts for a long, lazy day at the beach. For men, a tailored tee can even be worn under a blazer. Rollable and relatively wrinkle-free, the basic tee will extend your wardrobe by days, no matter the destination.

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Wear Reversible Clothes


reversible skirt

Reversible clothes can add color to your travel wardrobe and give you plenty of options, all in one garment. Look for pieces that have bright patterns on one side and basic neutrals on the other for maximum use, such as this one from Colorado Clothing. Add versatility (and endless outfit permutations) to an otherwise basic garment.

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Neutrals Are Your Friends

When in doubt, pack a palette of neutrals: White, black, creams, and grays are generally good base colors for summer or winter vacation wardrobes. Then you can mix and match within that palette all week long. But you needn’t stick to solids alone: Think bold stripes in black or gray or subtle patterns that can be re-worn unnoticed.

Invest in Versatile Footwear

All right, Imelda Marcos, you don’t need to pack every shoe you’ve got. Multi-purpose shoes that can perform double or even triple duty will easily lighten your load. Pack ballet flats that are comfortable for walking around museums but also look elegant enough for a cocktail party (I’m crazy about TOMS). Pull-on riding boots can be worn with jeans or dresses and are a great option for airport security lines since they slip on and off. In general, high-quality shoes with solid soles are your best bets for traveling; investing in quality will guarantee long-lasting shoes that hold up for multiple uses.

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Bring Smart Accessories

white sierra bug free scarf

When you’re wearing basics on the road, you might want to liven up your outfit with some smart accessories. I like to pack chunky, colorful necklaces in single strands that won’t tangle and bright but lightweight scarves to give my travel outfits a bit of pop without weighing down my carry-on. (Added bonus: Scarves keep me warm on frigid flights.) Avoid one-off pieces of jewelry that you’ll wear only once, if at all, such as a fancy strand of pearls, a cocktail ring you’re likely to lose in the mess of your hotel room, or a bulky sun hat.

Look for Garments That Perform Double Duty


Smart explorers know that clothes should have more than just aesthetic value, so look for multi-purpose pieces to accentuate your basics. Travel outfitters offer lines of vacation-friendly but stylish separates with a whole slew of side benefits, from sun and bug protection to ample hidden storage. Check out these sun-blocking shirts (they would make great foundations to any ensemble). Convertible bags will also extend your wardrobe and lighten your carry-on load; this option converts from a flight-friendly backpack to a tote bag for everyday use.

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Get Inspired

It’s easy to get stuck in a style rut, especially when traveling and living out of a suitcase. You may not want to take advice from their public behavior, but celebrities’ fashion sense is worth emulating. The internet is bursting with bloggers and fashion reporters who stalk celebs’ best jet-setting outfits. Prowl Pinterest for an outfit muse or explore the stylish lookbooks on SSENSE to see how the fashion-savvy (and constantly traveling) maximize stylish separates for that other runway.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Family Travel Food & Drink

13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

I know, I know—what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But if you’re not careful, it could be the contents of your wallet, savings account, and retirement fund that stay in Vegas, too.

The Top 13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

While hotels come cheap in Las Vegas, the attractions and shows do not. That’s why you should supplement your trips to the Las Vegas casinos, roller coasters, Cirque du Soleil shows, and other expensive endeavors with these free attractions. Here are 13 fun, free things to do in Las Vegas on your next trip.

Bellagio Fountains and Conservatory & Botanical Garden

bellagio fountains las vegas.

The Bellagio fountains pop up in just about every Las Vegas movie ever made, including the iconic ending to Ocean’s Eleven. Create your own crime caper or rom-com ending and catch the Fountains of Bellagio in action; the free show plays every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day, and watching it is one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Thrillingly synced to pop and classical music, hundreds of separate fountains and water features shoot up into the air with the Italianate hotel facade as their stunning backdrop. When you’ve had your fountain fill, take a leisurely stroll through Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden, where horticulturalists maintain an ever-changing array of florals, gazebos, bridges, and ponds.

The gardens are also free for visitors and provide a nice respite from the relentless desert sun.

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Fremont Street Experience

fremont street experience las vegas.

Equal parts mall, concert venue, and light show, the Fremont Street Experience takes everything that Las Vegas is known for (glitter, lights, and gambling) and rolls it into one five-block area. The main attraction here is a barrel vault canopy aglow with 12.5 million LED lights that lead pedestrians to vintage casinos such as the Golden Nugget and the Four Queens. Guests can also enjoy free concerts from hard-rocking headliners all summer long.

Art at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

cosmopolitan las vegas lobby.

And you thought Las Vegas had no culture. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has amassed one of the most exclusive art collections in the country, providing a highbrow break from the Strip’s bare skin and penny slots.

You’ll find fascinating installations throughout The Cosmopolitan’s public spaces, including the lobby, the stairwells, and even the parking garage.

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CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand

cbs television city research center.

You might not be a network exec, but you can still have your voice heard. At the CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand, you can sample brand-new TV shows and opine on potential pilots during the hour-long screenings. It’s one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Head into one of the studios to sample program offerings by CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other Viacom-owned channels. Register your opinion on a test monitor and consider yourself part of television history before returning to your regularly scheduled vacation.

Circus Acts at Circus Circus Las Vegas

circus circus act las vegas.

Looking for free shows in Las Vegas? The whole family will approve of the circus acts at Circus Circus. This special spot on the Strip has long entertained guests with its Carnival Midway and countless circus acts. In fact, the resort contains the largest permanent circus in the world.

A rotating cast of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, and roller-skating stuntmen delights kids of every age (and the cash-strapped parents toting their new carnival prizes). Cap off the entertainment with a rousing show from Circus Circus’ resident clowns on the Midway’s main stage. Let the fact that all this entertainment is free assuage any lingering clown phobia.

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Downtown Container Park

praying mantis downtown container park las vegas.

A giant mechanical praying mantis welcomes visitors into this open-air park made from repurposed shipping containers. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, and a stage for free live music performances. Kids can enjoy The Treehouse, a play area with a slide and building blocks, up until 9:00 p.m. each day (when the park becomes adults only).

Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas

flamingos in las vegas.

You’ll likely encounter a variety of colorful creatures on the Las Vegas Strip, from partying bachelorettes with anatomically correct lollipops to celebrities on their baddest behavior. Catch a glimpse of a different kind of flamboyance at Flamingo Las Vegas, with its habitat chock-full of the pink-hued birds.

A flock (actually called a flamboyance) of Chilean flamingos is on view at the free exhibit, which also features an array of swans, ducks, koi fish, and turtles who live among the foliage and waterfalls. The habitat is located next to the pool area and is one of the great free things to do in Las Vegas for hotel guests and non-guests alike.

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Volcano at The Mirage

mirage volcano las vegas.

Well, this spot has really blown up. With a soundtrack by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian table drummer Zakir Hussain, the heart-pounding audio/visual attraction at the Polynesian-themed Mirage spews fire into the air beginning at 8:00 p.m. every night, making it one of the most memorable free shows in Las Vegas.

The smoke that the volcano spouts more than 100 feet above the water is actually perfumed with a pleasant pina colada scent (to cover up the odor of natural gas). The spectacle rivals the well-known fountains at Bellagio, another free Las Vegas attraction, just a half-mile up the Strip.

Pinball Hall of Fame

pinball hall of fame.

This nonprofit please-touch museum is actually the world’s largest pinball-machine collection. In 10,000 square feet of space, you’ll find an assortment of more than 200 pinball machines and arcade games from a half-century of gaming history. And every game is playable, from a 1992 Super Mario Bros. machine to the wooden 1947 Heavy Hitter.

Admission is free, although the games are coin-operated (25 or 50 cents per play). Just arm yourself with the knowledge that all excess revenue goes to charity. Who knew doing good could feel like such good old-fashioned fun?

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Aquarium at Silverton Hotel and Casino

aquarium at silverton hotel and casino.

The only sting here is from jellyfish. Consistently ranked one of the top free things to do in Las Vegas, the massive saltwater aquarium at the Silverton Hotel and Casino will transport you from the parched desert to a vast tropical oasis. Around 117,000 gallons of saltwater house thousands of fish, sharks, stingrays, and reef plants. Interactive feeding demonstrations and a mermaid show round out the offerings.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

welcome to fabulous las vegas sign.

A selfie with this famous sign is a must-have for your Instagram feed, and it won’t cost you a dime. Located at 5100 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign has marked the beginning of the Strip since 1959.

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Ethel M. Chocolates

factory workers at ethel m chocolates

Located in nearby Henderson is one of the Vegas area’s most delicious attractions: Ethel M. Chocolates, where you can enjoy free samples, stroll through a botanical garden filled with cacti, and take a complimentary self-guided tour through the factory to see how the staff prepares pecan brittle, caramels, and other tasty treats.

First Friday in the Arts District

first friday las vegas.

On the first Friday evening of every month, from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Arts District of downtown Las Vegas opens its streets for wallet- and family-friendly fun. Find a variety of artists and vendors hawking their wares, plus live music, activities for kids, and a fleet of food trucks for peckish revelers. Each month’s event features a different theme.

What to Wear in Vegas

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Adventure Travel Beach Experiential Travel Family Travel Romantic Travel

10 Best Things to Do in Hawaii

Writer Paul Theroux famously said that Hawaii is not a state of mind but a state of grace. I’m inclined to agree. From its natural wonders immense in size to its sheer breadth of things to do, there’s a reason that the Aloha State is often the trip of a lifetime, a destination that tops bucket lists and inspires exhaustive research. I’ve done some of the heavy lifting. Here is my list of the 10 best things to do in Hawaii.

Sail the Napali Coast, Kauai

napali coast boat ride

Native islanders say the Napali Coast nourishes the soul. This 17-mile stretch of rain-carved cliffs and emerald valleys is punctuated by thin, ribbonlike waterfalls, secret beaches, and sea caves teeming with aquatic life. Hike the spectacular Kalalau Trail or access the cliffs by sea. Imagine standing on the deck of a catamaran beneath 4,000-foot cliffs to soak in mana, or spiritual power, before sliding into the water for snorkeling among green sea turtles and schools of eel and angelfish. When the trade winds are smooth, expect your catamaran to cruise around or even through the sea caves, its sails flapping the mast and spinner dolphins leaping at its stern.

How to Do It: Take a five-hour sailing and snorkeling cruise, or get up even earlier for a full-day adventure.

[st_related]10 Best Things to Do in Kauai[/st_related]

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

The mutable Big Island is still molding itself: Its coastlines continually expand and erode, its mountains come alive, and its topography undergoes perpetual sculpture in a medium of fire and lava. Witness firsthand the birth of a new landscape at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where volcanoes Kilauea (one of the world’s most active) and Mauna Loa (one of the world’s most massive) alter the world in which we live. Eruptions and earthquakes closed the park for several months in 2018, but select hiking trails and scenic are now open again for visitors to learn about this fascinating ecosystem.

How to Do It: Before your arrival, visit the park’s website to find the latest information on safety, educational programs, closures, and trail options.

Visit Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Each year, nearly 2 million people visit this memorial, officially part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This solemn, gently sloping structure, accessible only by boat, straddles the sunken USS Arizona and memorializes those who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941. According to Alfred Preis, the memorial’s architect, “The structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, express[ing] initial defeat and ultimate victory.” Each rising end is a testament to the optimism during times of peace. Eerily—but beautifully—the sunken ship’s oil can still be seen bubbling up from the wreckage and pooling in concentric rainbows on the water’s surface.

How to Do It: Visiting the memorial is free, though a timed entry ticket is required. Many travelers choose to visit Pearl Harbor as part of a half-day tour from Honolulu.

Land a Helicopter at Jurassic Falls, Kauai

Imagine sitting in a helicopter that is swooping and darting through the green-velvet valleys of Kauai. Just below you, a flock of plump jewel-toned birds descends to the trees. The seemingly impenetrable jungle parts suddenly like stage curtains to reveal the falls from Jurassic Park, 400 feet high and spraying the windshield of the helicopter like rain. Now imagine the epic John Williams score playing in your headset. You land in the thick of the jungle, and your pilot guides you along a misty path to the remarkable and completely remote falls, the rushing water making the only sound in a humanless world.

How to Do It: Only one tour provider is cleared to land a copter here: Island Helicopters. During its 75- to 80-minute aerial tour, you’ll land at Manawaiopuna (the falls’ official name) before lifting off on a full circuit of Kauai, including Waimea Canyon and the center of Mt. Waialeale. Dinosaur sightings not guaranteed.

[st_related]The 10 Best Kauai Hotels for Every Budget[/st_related]

Drive the Road to Hana, Maui

There’s road tripping, and then there’s road tripping on this 50-mile highway that unfurls like ribbon through the taro patches and coastlines of Maui. A two-hour journey (or three or four, depending on how many times you pull over to admire the view) brings you to the peaceful, tiny town of Hana, which offers a taste of a historical Hawaiian settlement—complete with its original general store and courthouse—alongside the natural wonders for which Maui is famous. Step into the water at gray-sand, half-moon-shaped Hamoa Beach, and then stay the night in one of the 1940s cottages at luxe Travaasa Hana.

How to Do It: If you want to travel independently, buy an audio guide and navigate the Road to Hana at your own pace. (Pro tip: Gas is expensive in starting-point Paia, so fill up elsewhere before beginning the journey.) If you’d rather have someone else behind the wheel, consider a full-day tour that hits all the gorgeous highlights.

Try New Flavors, Oahu

Oahu is the very belly of the on-the-rise food-and-wine culture in Hawaii, a place where outsiders’ experiences of “local eats” were once limited to Spam and imported pineapple. These days, Honolulu plays host to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival—where local chefs highlight the state’s bounty of produce, beef, and seafood—as well as a slate of Zagat-approved eateries.

Of course, visitors can’t step foot on this island without sinking their teeth into one of Oahu’s sweetest imports, a fluffy malasada. The yeasty Portuguese donuts rolled in sugar were traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday but are now available year-round (somewhat misleadingly masquerading as breakfast food). Leonard’s Bakery has been churning out malasadas under its hot-pink awnings since 1952, stuffing the deep-fried confections with haupia, Hawaiian coconut custard. Grab a few to go and follow up with a brisk calorie-killing walk along the beach. Other homegrown favorites include poke, lau lau pork, and, to cool off, shave ice with azuki beans and sweetened condensed milk.

How to Do It: Discover our 10 favorite places to try Hawaiian food in Honolulu, or take a Honolulu food tour on foot or by bike.

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Attend an Old Lahaina Luau, Maui

A Hawaiian vacation is hardly complete without a luau, and the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui is oft considered the most authentic of the bunch. Since 1986, the Old Lahaina, with its backdrop of flickering torches, coconut palms, and crashing waves, has presented its luau to an adoring public of visitors and kama’aina (Hawaiian residents) alike. An aloha greeting with a cocktail and a colorful lei kicks off the evening, followed by craft-making workshops and the unearthing of the kalua pig from its imu, or underground oven. At sunset, the evening’s entertainment begins: a lineup of traditional Hawaiian music and expressive hula dancing that outlines the islands’ history, from the earliest Polynesian settlers through the arrival of the missionaries.

How to Do It: Make reservations on the Old Lahaina Luau website or through SmarterTravel’s sister site, Viator. You can choose either table-and-chair seating or a spot on a cushion around a low table.

Have an Adventure at Kualoa Ranch, Oahu

kualoa ranch

Away from the heavily trafficked resorts and shopping malls of Waikiki, the 4,000-some acres of Kualoa Ranch spread from mountain to valley to ocean, with Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) resting on a shelf of distant horizon. The working cattle ranch is a sort of all-inclusive Hawaiian experience, but with few touristy trappings. Knowledgeable guides lead a series of tours—by boat, on horseback, and in various vehicles—focusing on different aspects of this former sugar plantation’s history. Explore the lush Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa valleys and the latter’s famous filming sites (Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-O all were shot here) and set sail on an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. Then trek to a secret beach with wide-angle views of sacred Mokoli’i to see how Hawaii’s landscape has evolved through innumerable eras, ancient and modern.

How to Do It: Book tours on Kualoa Ranch’s website or try a package of adventures with transport from Honolulu.

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Stargaze on Mauna Kea, Big Island

Amateur astronomers, rejoice. Fourteen thousand feet up the dormant volcano of Mauna Kea, beneath a bowl-shaped ceiling of sky, sits one of the best places on Earth for inspecting the heavens: the massive Mauna Kea Observatory. Here, high altitude, low humidity, and dark skies create perfect stargazing conditions. Acclimatize at the informative Mauna Kea visitors’ center at 9,200 feet before taking a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the summit, where freezing temperatures and high winds cool sunburnt skin. Then scan the night sky: Guides will help you identify clusters of major constellations and other celestial bodies. While you likely won’t be able to peer inside the Observatory itself, tour providers can furnish you with equipment of your own.

How to Do It: Mauna Kea Summit Adventures leads the way, providing trekkers with portable telescopes, Arctic-style parkas, a full meal, and hot cocoa. You can book a similar experience on Viator.

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Hike to Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach), Maui

maui red sand beach

Kaihalulu means “roaring sea” in Hawaiian, but the wild, rolling waves are just one feature of this magical crescent-shaped beach. Almost Martian in appearance, the sand is rich in iron, while the sheer cliffs that abut the beach are uniquely striated with red and russet strokes (the result of an eroding cinder-cone volcano). The red sand leads to relatively choppy waters, so visitors are cautioned against swimming or diving. However, a thrilling hike and the otherworldly setting more than make up for the lack of aquatic activities, and the peace and quiet of a people-free spot can be stunning. (If you should stumble upon another soul, don’t be surprised to find your fellow suntanner in the buff; clothing is decidedly optional at this secret beach.)

How to Do It: A short trek is required to reach Kaihalulu. Find directions and tips on The hike can be slippery and slow-going, but sights along the way (the trail passes an ancient Japanese cemetery) are worth it.

[st_content_ad]So that’s my list, readers. But tell me—what are your favorite things to do in Hawaii?

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Editor’s Note: This story was first written in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.


Beach Budget Travel Island

The 9 Best Cheap Hotels in Hawaii

Hawaii is a bucket-list destination not just for its natural beauty and big waves but also for its price tag. Getting there is expensive, especially for travelers who don’t live on the West Coast of the U.S., and spending multiple nights can get pricey for everyone. Good weather year-round means there’s no true “off season” in Hawaii, and these days even “budget” hot spots like Waikiki Beach are getting more expensive.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? You can still totally afford Hawaii.

I’ve uncovered several cheap hotels in Hawaii that offer some real savings, plus easy access to all the magic the Aloha State has to discover, leaving you more money for things like mai tais, luaus, and catamaran cruises with dolphins.

I compared prices for November and December stays at a number of affordable hotels in Hawaii and picked those that offer a unique Aloha State experience.

Cheap Hotels in Oahu

Although it’s pricier than in years past, Oahu’s Waikiki Beach is still the best place to find cheap hotels in Hawaii. While some bemoan it as a manufactured paradise—and it can definitely get crowded and touristy—it offers lots of value, a great location, and an amazing beach at your fingertips (or toes).

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

aston waikiki beach hotel

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel is a great place to start. The hotel itself is fun and modern, with surfboards in the lobby and a relaxed but lively atmosphere geared toward the younger crowd at the pool and bar. Most rooms have ocean views, which generally come at a premium on this stretch of Waikiki.

Book it: Get prices for Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

Vive Hotel Waikiki

vive hotel waikiki

Rooms at the Vive Hotel Waikiki may be on the small side, but its location—just two blocks from Waikiki Beach—and moderate rates make up for it. You can relax in the welcoming lobby, where you can borrow a book from the library, play one of the hotel’s board games, or grab a drink from the 24-hour tea and coffee station. Towels, chairs, and boogie boards are available to take to the beach, and each room has a tablet for guests to use.

Book it: Get prices for Vive Hotel Waikiki

Coconut Waikiki Hotel

coconut waikiki hotel

Located about a 10-minute walk from the beach, the family-friendly Coconut Waikiki makes up for its less convenient location with fun extras such as a game room and a popcorn machine in the lobby. Most rooms have kitchenettes, so you can save even more money by making a few of your own meals. Even if you’re in a room without a kitchenette, you can grill up a quick dinner in the hotel’s communal BBQ area.

Book it: Get prices for Coconut Waikiki Hotel

Cheap Hotels in Maui

With golden-sand beaches and the twisting Road to Hana, Maui is an exciting destination for outdoorsy types and romance seekers. The sheer diversity of things to do is what draws visitors to its shores—luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot to be among their numbers. I found two hotel possibilities on Maui that offer surprising savings.

Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

ka'anapali beach hotel room

The Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, on 11 acres alongside Ka’anapali Beach, is a good jumping-off point for your island adventures. Located near Lahaina, the resort earns its four stars from TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) for convenience and price alike. Also worth mentioning? A great reef just offshore gets you a priceless personal encounter with sea turtles, rays, and tropical fish in a rainbow of colors. The hotel is on the older side, but rooms are spacious, clean, and bright—in every way, traditionally Hawaiian.

Book it: Get prices for Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Napili Shores Maui by Outrigger

napili shores outrigger

Outrigger, a Hawaii-based retailer of inexpensive resorts in tropical places (Guam, Fiji, Mauritius, and so on), operates Napili Shores in Lahaina. Studios and one-bedroom condos have full kitchens and private lanais, perfect for getting wide-angle views of the Pacific and the islands of Molokai and Lanai on the horizon. The resort has pools, BBQ facilities, and even a giant checkerboard game.

Book it: Get prices for Napili Shores Maui by Outrigger

Cheap Hotels on the Big Island (Hawaii)

Home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Big Island is the place to be for hikers, trekkers, campers, and explorers. There’s a lot of legroom on this large island, with a sense of wide-open spaces among the extreme geological features.

Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel

courtyard by marriott king kamehameha's kona beach hotel

If you want a beachfront resort experience without paying a mint, consider King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, a Marriott property. It’s conveniently located within walking distance of the shops and restaurants of downtown Kona. The hotel recently added an Adult Fun Zone that features a variety of complimentary games such as bocce ball, corn hole, and table tennis. Also on site are a yoga studio, tennis center, infinity pool, and hot tub.

Book it: Get prices for Courtyard by Marriott King Kamahameha’s Kona Beach Hotel

Kohala Village Inn

kohala village inn

For travelers who prefer intimate accommodations to big resorts, the Kohala Village Inn is an appealing and affordable option. The 18 plantation-style guest rooms are clean and simply furnished, with mini-refrigerators and free Wi-Fi. The inn is part of a nonprofit organization that also includes a pub serving food grown by local farmers and a center for community activities such as dance, fitness, and art classes. A stay here offers a peek into life in a laid-back town in the northern part of the Big Island.

Book it: Get prices for Kohala Village Inn

Cheap Hotels in Kauai

The “Garden Island” is impossibly lush and green, with outdoor adventures ranging from hiking and zip-lining to surfing and biking. It has a more rural, less developed feel than the islands above.

Garden Island Inn Hotel

garden island inn hotel kauai

A friendly motel near Kalapaki Beach and the Lihue airport, the Garden Island Inn Hotel packs value into every stay. All rooms include kitchenettes, free Wi-Fi, and daily fresh-cut flowers from the inn’s gardens. There are plenty of goodies for guests to borrow, including golf clubs, beach chairs, ice chests, DVDs, and beach towels. You can walk to restaurants and the beach, and nearby attractions include Wailua Falls and the Kauai Museum.

Book it: Get prices for Garden Island Inn Hotel

Castle Kaha Lani

castle kaha lani

Looking for a little more space? Consider the one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos at Castle Kaha Lani, also in the Lihue area. All units include full kitchen facilities and private balconies, and laundry machines are available on site. The property is next door to Lydgate Beach Park, which has two protected lagoons where children can swim safely. There’s also a 2.5-mile paved coastal path for walking, jogging, or bike riding.

Book it: Get prices for Castle Kaha Lani

For more ideas, see The 10 Best Kauai Hotels for Every Budget and 10 Best Cheap Hotels in Honolulu.

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Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s Note: This story was first written in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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America’s Best Wine Destinations for Fall Trips

Autumn is prime time to tour the vineyards that dot the nation’s every corner, when temperatures are cool and foliage is at its most flamboyant. From the rocky coast of New England to the lush valleys of Washington State, find grape-stomping events, harvest festivals, cook-offs, and more. Here are 10 wine destinations to get your (grape) juices flowing.


8 Secret New England Towns Perfect for Fall

Winding roadways … packed with cars. Cider donuts … you’ve been waiting three hours to eat. Trees afire with red, orange, and yellow blooms … that you can’t really see over someone else’s selfie stick. If you love New England in the fall, but hate the crowds, then head to these hidden gems where you can actually enjoy the foliage and explore the outdoors unfettered by the tourist hordes.

Search for: Vacation Packages | Hotels | Flights | Car Rentals

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Adventure Travel Island

10 Best Snorkeling Spots in the World

Snorkeling is one of the most enjoyable aquatic pursuits for travelers. It’s affordable, kid-friendly, and relatively easy to master. And who doesn’t want to experience life as a fish once in a while? Not everyone chooses their vacation destinations based on the opportunities for snorkeling, but for those who do, the choices are many. So in that spirit, here are 10 of best snorkeling spots in the world, selected for their unique locations, variety of marine life, and commitment to preserving the underwater world. You’ll want to see them all.

(Photo: Snorkeling with a Hawksbill Turtle via Shutterstock)


Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Budget Travel Cities

10 Best Places to Go in Costa Rica

Rich in natural wonders, surfing meccas, and big-city culture, Costa Rica has long been a popular tourist destination. From family-friendly adventure to luxurious beach lounging, this Central American paradise offers much to do. Here are the 10 best places to go in Costa Rica for adventure, luxury, beaches, relaxation, and so much more.

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The Best Places to Go in Costa Rica

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on July 18, 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the best places to go in Costa Rica.

Beach Island

10 Ultra-Affordable Caribbean Resorts

Nothing beats the Caribbean when it comes to blissful beach days, and nothing compares to an all-inclusive for convenience. But prices can be all over the map, with some resorts topping out at thousands per night. So we went on the hunt for top-quality resorts with awesome amenities that offer surprisingly affordable rates.

Nightly rates are accurate as of press time. Keep in mind that while all-inclusive prices are generally higher than rack rates at regular hotels, these prices include meals and activities; some even cover alcohol.