If you’re worried your carry-on could be gate-checked on your next flight, check out these 10 top-rated underseat carry-on bags. Whether you’re a chronic over-packer or tried-and-true business traveler, there’s an underseat luggage option for every type of flyer.
Samsonite Spinner Underseater with USB Port
This underseat carry-on bag from Samsonite is divided up into two main compartments, one larger section for clothes and shoes and one smaller section for your electronics and other in-flight essentials. This bag also has a USB port (battery not included) so you can charge your phone on the go, as well as 360-degree spinner wheels and a 10-year warranty from Samsonite.
This simple and affordable underseat carry-on bag comes in 10 color options and textures. It’s on the smaller side, weighing less than five pounds. It has more than 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, and travelers love it for its value and thoughtful design.
The Samsonite Wheeled Underseater (available in both small and large sizes) is one of the top-rated underseat carry-on bags on Amazon—and for good reason. The difference between the two sizes is a few inches in height, plus about $25.
Both bags have in-line skate wheels and a retractable handle, internal packing compartments, a removable 3-1-1 pouch, a hanging organizer pouch, and a side water bottle pocket. Reviews say both sizes comply with all major domestic carriers for underseat carry-on luggage requirements (and yes, that includes Spirit).
Aerolite Carry-on Underseat Wheeled Trolley Luggage Bag
If you’re looking for a compact and lightweight bag that fits under your seat, look no further than Aerolite’s Carry-on Underseat bag. This bag is stylish and has multiple outer zipper compartments for essential travel items, plus a strap to hook over a larger suitcase. Both styles meet the underseat carry-on luggage requirements on American, Delta, Southwest, United, and Frontier.
Travelon makes an anti-theft underseat carry-on bag that fits a decent amount in the main compartment and has a retractable handle. It has an RFID-blocking pocket for cards, technology pockets, a laptop sleeve, and locking zippers to prevent theft.
The Travelpro Maxlite5 Rolling Tote is the perfect investment if you’re looking for a long-term and durable carry-on bag that fits under your seat. It comes with Travelpro’s lifetime warranty and has a water- and stain-resistant coating. Reviews note how much fits inside despite the bag’s small size. It has plenty of pockets to keep you organized.
This Olympia Rolling Overnighter is perfect for business travelers who are looking for a carry-on bag that fits under the seat. It is extremely durable and can handle items like folders, binders, and laptops. It has a separate padded laptop compartment and a roomy main compartment, as well as a front zipper pocket and two side Velcro pockets. Available in five colors, it has an option for every kind of traveler.
This top-rated bag on Amazon is great for travelers who are super organized packers. The Lucas Wheeled Under the Seat Cabin Bag has a large main compartment with a zippered fold-down flap for organizing items. The bag also comes with a hanging toiletry case, travel slippers, and a travel neck pouch. It’s on the larger side, so if you’re an over-packer, this is a great piece of underseat carry-on luggage.
Some reviews say the bag doesn’t always fit under an aisle seat, so be wary when selecting your seat on some airlines. Read the SmarterTravel review on the Lucas Wheeled Under the Seat Cabin Bag here.
The Delsey Quilted Rolling Underseat Tote has a roomy main compartment coupled with lots of interior and exterior pockets for organization. It’s also a stylish, rolling carry-on bag that fits under your seat and has two shoulder straps as well as a sleeve on the back so it can attach to a larger suitcase.
The High Sierra Endeavor underseat carry-on bag has superior organization features as well as extras like an expandable zippered side shoe pocket, a fully padded laptop compartment, and a mesh beverage pocket. The in-line wheels don’t take up precious space either, so this underseat bag is larger than most.
If you booked a trip between the mid-March start of the epidemic (now pandemic) and sometime later this spring, current travel bans and shutdowns mean you face the requirement to reschedule or cancel your trips. And future trips later in the year still might meet the same fate of a COVID-19 cancellation.
SmarterTravel has already shared the major airline and hotel players waiving fees for travelers who booked directly—but what if you booked through a third-party online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia? The general recommendation is typically that you contact the OTA for rescheduling. But the situation is a bit more nuanced than that.
Two major parent companies, Booking Holdings (also known as Booking.com) and Expedia, control around 86 percent of the worldwide OTA business through their many subsidiaries. Here’s which company ultimately owns each of the following third-party booking sites:
Here’s a rundown of policy statements from OTAs that focus mainly on air travel and accommodations regarding a COVID-19 cancellation. Most start out with instructions to go to the OTA’s app or website and select the trip(s) you are canceling for more information about the conditions. Whether or not you’re eligible for a refund or credit will typically depend on both the third-party site in question and the company that the stay or service is with.
According to Agoda: “If your booking is eligible for free cancellation, you will see the message: ‘This booking may be affected by a current emergency or developing situation. Due to these exceptional circumstances, Agoda will waive all fees on cancellation for your affected booking.’ You may then proceed to cancel through this self-service option without contacting customer service.”
Booking.com states: “We understand you may need to change your travel plans. To get the latest info, contact the property you booked to check if they can accommodate you. You can also visit our Help Center for support with making changes to your booking.” The posted statement applies to accommodations bookings only; selecting “airfare” redirects users to Priceline (see more below).
For air tickets, Expedia suggests that you first try to cancel online from within your trip record. If a fee applies, the website provides two airline dropdown menus: (1) links to the airlines you’re most likely to use and on which you can cancel through Expedia, and (2) a longer list of airlines less used that you have to contact directly.
Expedia contacted SmarterTravel with the following updated hotel cancellation policy on April 2: “For customers that booked and paid for a non-refundable rate prior to March 19, 2020 using Expedia for a stay between March 20 and April 30th 2020, an email will be sent their way providing them with an option to keep or cancel their existing booking. If the customer decides to cancel, they will be eligible for a full refund, or in some cases, a voucher allowing them to rebook the original property at later dates. There is no need to call Expedia, however you must cancel your booking a least 24-hours before check-in to be eligible for this offer. For customers who booked a property with a refundable rate, they can visit our customer service portal to change or cancel a reservation.”
HomeAway and VRBO (Expedia)
The Expedia-owned rental sites state: “To cancel or change an upcoming reservation due to travel restrictions, you can do so right from your traveler account. If you are making changes outside the cancellation policy window, please contact the property owner or manager to discuss their cancellation and refund policies. If you don’t see a button to cancel your reservation, please contact the property owner or manager directly for assistance.”
Hotwire states: “The fastest path to canceling your booking is through one of our self-serve tools” which can be found here. “Hotwire follows the policies of our partners, which means any credit, refund or change is at the discretion of the airline, hotel, cruise line or other travel provider. The quickest way to find out if travel plans can be changed without a penalty will generally be to check the airline, car, or hotel website directly.”
The site goes on: “Many of our partners are updating their policies to align with changing travel restrictions, so make sure to check back regularly. Note: Some suppliers, like American Airlines, are also providing self-serve capabilities on their website. If your booking qualifies and you are able to submit a self-serve claim through a supplier directly, you will not need to also cancel your booking through Hotwire.”
The Hotels.com COVID-19 “travel advice” page states “we are waiving change fees for many hotels based on where you are traveling to or from. For international bookings in the following countries (and domestic bookings, where noted), you are eligible for a full refund. Please click the blue Contact Us button above to speak to an agent … Except for travel to/from the destinations listed below, we follow the policies of our travel partners.” The listed destination countries are many, and available here.
For flights, Priceline urges you to complete your COVID-19 cancellation online if you can. “Your ability to change or cancel your ticket depends on the type of ticket you purchased and varies by airline. If a cancellation is permitted, you will see a link within your itinerary. Express Deals-Priceline deals, in which the full itinerary is revealed only after you book, are non-changeable and non-refundable.”
“Other reservations may be more flexible. You can view your flight’s fare rules on the contract before you book, and on your itinerary after you book. You can find your itinerary by going to check status on the Priceline homepage. If your flight’s fare rules allow changes and you’re ready to make a change, please refer to Exchange Guidance for additional information.”
As a metasearch provider that only provides price comparisons and not bookings, Trivago advises users to check with the OTA that actually handled your booking. The same general wisdom goes for other price-comparison OTAs that don’t handle bookings, including Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company).
General Information on OTAs and COVID-19 Cancellation Policies
Clearly, the general advice to get a refund through the OTA is not always correct. Although the final money transfer might come through the OTA, they urge travelers to use whatever online COVID-19 cancellation systems they have to deal directly with hotels and airlines.
If you’re booking a future trip rather than adjusting existing bookings, most major OTAs direct you to airlines and hotels with flexible refund policies. Keep in mind, however, that if you book a nonrefundable service (even with a company that has a liberal refund policy) the supplier has your money and the full-value refund or credit may limit your future choices.
All the OTAs suggest that anyone traveling within 72 hours can use the agency’s phone; other travelers should refrain from calling for now, and stick to the Internet or an app to get information and make changes. All OTAs also seem to recognize that the travel restrictions are a moving target, and travelers should therefore check often to make sure they have the latest information.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
While you’re stuck daydreaming about your next bucket-list vacation, why don’t you get a hold of your finances and make it a reality by first budgeting out your travel expenses? Whether it’s a road trip or international vacation that you’re planning, easily forgettable items like parking fees can add up. That’s why you should use a travel-specific budgeting app to help streamline your costs on your next trip. Here are 12 budget apps to help you plan your expenses.
Link all of your financial accounts and cards to this app, and it will automatically update and categorize your spending in real time. It then tells you what spending money you have with the “in my pocket” feature. It also automatically builds you a spending budget based on income, bills, and the goals you set. It even finds ways to lower some of your monthly bills for you … sign us up.
Tripcoin lets you enter in your expenses per day and even works offline. It then processes your spending to give you a spending summary of your trip, which you can export for other uses. This lets you see how much you’re spending on each category of your trip, broken down by day, so you can monitor your vacation expenses in real time.
The Trip Expense Manager app is ideal for large traveling groups that need help planning and monitoring travel expenses. For each trip you take, you can add Google users, a list of places to go, and expenses, and even mark who paid which bill.
I love TravelSpend for its easy-to-use features and simple design. How it works: You add expenses as they happen (the app works offline and even converts foreign currencies) and the app tracks your spending by total and by day. You can even follow your spending on a map throughout your vacation.
Wally connects to your current financial accounts and tracks your spending so you can get a handle on your cash flow and spending by category. Wally is useful because unlike some of the other budgeting apps, it lets you use private groups for managing trip spending or other budgets. You can even add reminders, notes, lists, documents, and comments.
Users love TripMate for its simplicity and easy-to-use features, plus it’s all free. This travel expense tracker app lets you create a trip and then add and remove users as needed. You can add expenses, receive a personalized summary, and even get hotel, and other booking-related information.
If you’re looking for a travel-specific budget tool and expense tracker, this is your best bet. Input your expenses into Trail Wallet and the app will split them up based on category so you can get a closer look at your spending. Note that only the first 25 items you enter are free.
This travel expense app makes splitting costs a breeze. Simply invite your travel partners to the trip you’ve created on the app, and each person can enter in his or her expenses. Once the trip is over (and all expenses have been entered) you can see who owes whom what amount.
Splitwise is another useful cost-tracking platform that easily lets you split group expenses while traveling. You can split by percentage or shares, and it’s even available in offline mode. It’s great for international trips, too, as the app is available in seven languages and over 100 currencies. Plus, it’s integrated with Venmo and PayPal for easy payback.
Mint is so much more than just a travel expense app—it connects with all of your bank accounts to give you an overall summary of your cash flow. You can then easily create a budget for different categories, like saving for a vacation.
For those who have been involved in the planning of a bachelor or bachelorette party, you know the trials and tribulations that come with splitting large group expenses. This app was created specifically for those organizing large group trips and includes building an itinerary, polls, and chat features as well as ways to track payments and bar tabs within your group.
YNAB (You Need a Budget) is a popular software used for budgeting. While it’s slightly pricey ($84 annually), the positive reviews are endless. On the app version, you can set savings goals and itemize your vaca expenses. There is a free 34-day trial to get you started.
Going stir-crazy? Release pent-up energy without leaving the house with these free online workouts.
You don’t need a bike to utilize Peloton’s app. The fitness company offers live and on-demand streaming classes in strength training, running, cycling, yoga, meditation, walking, cardio, and more—and it’s currently offering a free 90-day trial to new members.
Planet Fitness is now offering a daily online workout class that’s free for everyone (no gym membership required). These workouts will be streamed on Facebook Live every night at 7pm ET, and also saved for later viewing.
The classes will be 20 minutes or less, and might even feature a celebrity guest or two.
With Core Power studios closed temporarily, the company is giving everyone (including non-members) free access to a collection of online classes. New classes will be added every week, and include a variety of practices.
A yoga mat is all you’ll need for most classes, but there are options for those who have weights and blocks as well.
Participate in group workouts or one-on-one training on your own schedule with Daily Burn’s wide variety of classes. Sign up and take a quick quiz, and Daily Burn will customize a program for you (including which workouts to do and nutrition plans to follow), or you can choose from the library of classes yourself.
Classes are available for all levels and include strength training, Pilates, cardio kickboxing, stretching, and more. Click here to sign up for a 30-day free trial.
Yoga instructor Adriene Mishler has a cult-like following, with over six million subscribers to her YouTube channel. Here, you’ll find tons of free videos to stream. Classes are easily sorted by length or goal (such as weight loss or to relieve back pain) and can be done with just a yoga mat.
Want more? Yoga With Adriene’s Find What Feels Good Membership offers classes without ads, plus monthly membership vlogs from Adriene—and you can get a 7-day free trial here.
The Dailey Method
The Dailey Method, a barre/core conditioning type workout, is currently giving away free 14-day trials to access its extensive library of online classes. Modifications are available to do the exercises without any equipment, although balls and resistance bands are recommended.
Women's Home Workout Outfit
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I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket, and until recently I had never been unable to fly due to medical reasons. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.
But sometimes, it doesn’t. Like the time I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that I would be unable to fly due to illness. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.
Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons? Get a Letter from a Doctor
Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $200, but the airline was among those that would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.
I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unable to fly due to illness. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.
Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $200 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline confirming I was unable to fly due to medical reasons, at which point the $200 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.
How to Ask for a Cancellation Fee Waiver with a Doctor’s Note
If you need to cancel a flight due to a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:
Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
Be in touch with your doctor so that he or she can vouch for you.
Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
Ask your doctor (or a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely, and make it as easy for them as possible to provide a doctor’s note.
Provide the airline with as much information as possible about your medical condition, ask nicely, and follow up to check on the process of your cancellation fee waiver claim.
It’s also worth mentioning that Southwest is the only U.S. airline that doesn’t charge cancellation fees.
How to Know If You’re Too Sick to Fly
If you’re wondering if you’re too ill to fly, you’re probably too ill to fly. Need more concrete advice? The CDC has answers: Its Before You Travel Tips page is packed with specific advice about symptoms and special considerations. For instance, if you have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a sinus infection, or any disease (including flu) that can spread easily, you should cancel your travel plans. At that point, you can reach out to the airline and reach out to your doctor to see what you can do about trying to get that cancellation fee waived.
Loading up on bread at restaurants isn’t the only way to eat for free while traveling. With a little planning, resourcefulness, and, yes, shamelessness, there are other ways to grab a free bite on the go. Here are 10 of them.
Go Freegan and You’ll Eat for Free While Traveling
The freegan culture grew out of a movement for people to eat discarded food. Participants do this for varying reasons, be it to reduce waste or because they don’t participate in the conventional economy. The legality of the practice—better known as dumpster diving—is a bit blurry, as most supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants, and other shops that throw out food at the end of the day (not necessarily because it’s “bad,” but because it’s past the sell-by date) do so in a receptacle that is still technically their property.
Beyond that, health safety can be a concern, and there can be a stigma attached for those who can afford food but choose this option. Depending on your germ tolerance, you can swipe leftovers, instead. The app OLIO (iOS | Android) lets you find surpluses nearby.
Tip: In areas close to nature, foraging may be the best way to participate in freeganism. The app Wild Edibles Forage ($5.99 on iOS | $4.99 on Android) helps you identify wild plants that won’t upset your stomach (also available as a free lite version for IOS).
Attend an Event
Look into local events happening when you travel that will allow your entertainment budget to double as your food budget. Gallery open houses, conventions, grand openings—you’re sure to find snacks. Or pop by local food sellers—grocery stores, fromageries, ice cream parlors, chocolate shops, farmers’ markets—where you can often find free samples of the wares.
It also pays to look into “holidays.” National Cheesecake Day, National Doughnut Day, National Ice Cream Day—the list is seemingly endless. And the number of eateries participating each year only seems to increase.
Many large hotel chains offer complimentary breakfast with an overnight stay. These breakfasts may not scream amazing (a little creativity will go a long way, though), but they’ll give you the fuel you need to take on the day—and give you more money to splurge on an epic lunch or dinner.
And while free food in any form is fantastic, bed and breakfasts tend to be the best option for something warm, home cooked, and frequently made with local ingredients that give you a taste for the region you’re visiting.
Tip: Opt for protein-rich options to help you feel full longer. Stock up on the free continental breakfast options and carry them with you for a light midday meal or snack.
Take Advantage of Hotel Freebies
Beyond breakfast, hotels large and small offer a range of edible freebies—you just have to do your research ahead of time or ask the front desk for any extras they may offer.
DoubleTree Hotel’s cookies are perhaps more famous than the accommodations themselves, and communal pantries made for late-night raids are catching on at places like Hotel 41 in London and the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, Washington. The hefty overnight rates will ensure you eat your money’s worth.
The Draycott Hotel, also in London, goes a step further. In addition to an honesty bar, guests receive tea and biscuits at 4:00 p.m., Champagne at 6:00 p.m., and hot chocolate at 9:30 p.m.
Tip: Forget hotels that charge $10 for a bottle of in-room water or $5 for a candy bar. Look for hotels with free minibars—they do exist.
Attend Happy Hour
Manager’s reception, evening social, wine hour: No matter what you call it, a slew of hotels are stepping up their happy hour game. Often the free alcoholic beverages are accompanied by light bar snacks.
Embassy Suites is renowned for its Evening Reception, which includes alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, plus snacks. Kimpton‘s Wine Hour is similar, and members of its Elite IHG Rewards Club program—free to enroll—get “Raid the Bar” privileges: a $10 credit for in-room snacks or purchases at the bar at most locations. Work higher up the ranks to get more perks like a free “Chef’s Taste” in on-site restaurants and welcome amenities customized to your preferences. Other hotel reward programs offer free snacks at check-in (not to mention extras like free Wi-Fi).
Tip: Even non-chain local inns and hotels do their own variation on happy hours. Down south, you may even find sherry in your room. Check the hotel website before you book—and make sure you know what time it starts.
Mention Special Occasions
Signing up for restaurant rewards programs can score you coupons. Even smaller local restaurants may offer special deals, including everything from a free dessert to free dinner on your birthday. Always opt in if you don’t mind sorting through a few extra emails. You never know when you may end up back in a given location—and when it may score you a free meal. Following eateries on social media is another way to stay in the know about exclusive offers.
At the very least, if you’re celebrating a special occasion, mention it to your server or when making a reservation. Whether an anniversary, birthday, celebration of a new job, or a big move, the restaurant may surprise you with little extras.
Tip: Student or senior? AAA or military member? You may already have freebies and discounts waiting for you even if it’s not a special occasion—at least when it comes to domestic travel. It never hurts to ask.
Visit the Grocery Store
Depending where you’re traveling (agriculture products typically can’t cross borders), load up your luggage or car with edibles. You’re still ultimately paying for the food, but shopping at home may save you money on a few meals at your destination. Plus, with the cost already taken care of, it’s less of a burden when you come back from vacation to a credit card bill a mile long from eating out three meals a day.
When planning your trip, look for hotels or vacation rental options that have a kitchen or kitchenette, and prepare options ahead of time that are easily packable for picnics. After all, you don’t want to be doing too much work if you’re trying to relax.
Tip: Instead of packing food, opt to shop at a grocery store at your destination. You can still save a lot over restaurant meals and purchasing local foods is the one of the best ways to experience a culture—particularly when you don’t know what the labels are saying. And reusable shopping bags from your destination make practical souvenirs.
Eat at the Bar
Even outside of happy hour, bars are a great place to nosh, with many moving beyond simple peanuts and party mixes (though there’s nothing wrong with that!).
In Madrid, look for bars that offer a free aperitivo or tapa with a drink purchase; bar hopping rewards those that want to drink. And in places outside the U.S. where alcoholic beverages are cheaper than water, it’s a win-win. Look to late-night menus, too, as establishments slash prices and offer free food as a way to keep a steady flow at times the crowds often wane.
Tip: Before you leave on any trip, search the Internet with “free bar snacks” and your destination. You’ll likely find places vetted by locals with a rundown of what’s on offer. Also look to new eateries that offer freebies to lure in customers.
Take the Kids
Family-friendly resorts often lure families in by offering free kids’ meals with the purchase of adult ones. It’s a great way to bring the whole family without spending more than you would if you went as a couple. To find examples, see 15 All-Inclusive Resorts Where Kids Stay Free.
Tip: As with bar snacks, do an internet search before you leave with “kids eat free” and your destination. You’ll be able to see what days of the week and times various establishments offer deals.
Scan the Local Newspaper
Purchase a newspaper at your destination or pick up a local free publication and check the ads and any inserts, looking for restaurants promoting buy-one-get-one deals or free appetizer coupons. The town or city’s tourist office may also have books with deals and discounts. Not into going into tourism offices? Look at their websites before you leave to find discounts and freebies.
Tip: If you can’t find coupons, consider making lunch your main meal. Even Michelin-starred restaurants offer lower prices for the midday meal, with innumerable eateries offering deals on daily three-course menus. Load up on lunch and you may not even need dinner.
When you’re planning out the cost of a trip, you probably budget for the big stuff: airfare, accommodations, car rental, tours, cruise fares. But while that back-of-the-envelope estimate will get you into the ballpark of what your trip will cost, there are plenty of other smaller travel expenses that could make a big impact on your budget. If you’re sick of coming home to unexpectedly high credit card bills after every vacation, check out this list of hidden travel expenses to anticipate and budget for.
Souvenirs and Gifts
Some travelers pick up a couple of fridge magnets or other tchotchkes on every trip, while others splurge on expensive wines and local handicrafts to bring home for themselves, friends, and family members. Know your shopping style and budget accordingly.
Leaving your furry friends behind? Don’t forget to budget for their care. The average cost of boarding a dog ranges from $40 to $60 per day, while cats are a little cheaper at $20 to $30 on average. On longer trips, these travel costs can be significant—so you’ll want to plan for them.
Bottled water at the airport. A mid-morning coffee break at a museum. A couple of beers at the pub. These beverages might only cost a few dollars here and there, but it all adds up, especially if you’re traveling with a companion who’s also running up a tab. Consider adding a small daily cushion into your budget for these types of incidental drink purchases (and throw in a few extra bucks for snacks as well).
Transportation Around Your Destination
Most of us budget for major transportation costs such as a rental car or lengthy train trips, but where we often fall short is in smaller expenses such as gas, public transportation, rideshares, or taxis. And have you accounted for how you’re going to get to and from the airport? Build these travel costs into your budget, too.
Not much comes free with your airline ticket these days—some carriers are even charging for carry-ons. Consult SmarterTravel’s ultimate guide to airline fees to get an idea of which extras you might end up paying for, from snacks and meals to seat selection.
The scope of this expense depends on where you’re traveling, the local tipping culture, and the type of trip you’re taking. For example, it’s customary to tip both your guide and your bus driver on multi-day group tours in many parts of the world, and most cruise lines charge a per-day gratuity that is split among the staff. You may also want to leave a few dollars a day for your hotel housekeeper or give something to the bellhop who carries your bags.
Aside from tips to various members of the staff, you may also need to shell out for other hidden travel expenses at hotels. Wi-Fi, parking, minibar purchases, laundry, and resort fees are just a few of the unexpected things you might find yourself paying for during your stay. To see more possibilities, read about the most common hidden hotel fees.
ATM and Currency Conversion Fees
When traveling abroad, you can expect to pay a few fees here and there to get access to the local currency, either when withdrawing cash from an ATM or using your credit card to pay a larger bill. Even if your own bank doesn’t charge a flat fee or a percentage for foreign ATM withdrawals (and many do), the local bank that operates the machine often will.
Into this category falls everything else—like the time I caught a cold in Australia and had to buy medicine, and the time I didn’t pack warm enough clothes and had to buy a thick, cozy sweatshirt in Canada. You can draw up the world’s most detailed budget, but there will inevitably be a few items that crop up without warning.
I like to budget an extra $25 a day for “miscellaneous” expenses on every trip. While I rarely end up spending that much, it gives me some wiggle room—and some peace of mind.
When you travel a lot, it’s natural to develop habits that work for you. For me, the few days before a trip tend always to follow the same pattern: I review my itinerary, make a mental list of what I want to pack, plan accordingly, and make my bed before I leave the house. Unfortunately, I’ve also developed a few bad travel habits along the way.
Bad Travel Habits and How to Quit Them
One habit that’s proven particularly hard to break is refusing to splurge on cabs when I’ll be out all day. Because I try to walk everywhere to save money, my feet are the ones paying the price at the end of the day.
We’ve all got our bad travel habits, but the good news is that you can break them with a little bit of effort. Whether you’re a workaholic walker like me or a packing procrastinator, here are some ways to break even your most persistent travel habits.
Not Learning Basic Vocabulary
If you frequently land in a new country and realize you never learned how to say hello or thank you, you’re probably with familiar with how silly it makes you feel. Learning new languages is difficult and might not seem worth it if you’re passing through many different countries or staying for a short amount of time, but knowing the basics can make all the difference when it comes to how comfortable you feel and how well you connect with local people.
Solution: Of course, there are plenty of language apps and tutorials you can use to learn a language, but there’s an easier solution if you don’t think you’ll have time to practice. Instead, make it a point to look up the basic words of the new language at least once before your trip and write them down. Keep them somewhere handy, like saved on a note on your phone, and when you get there, you’ll have them at your fingertips.
Booking at the Last Minute
You can tell yourself that you’re waiting for the prices to drop, but unless you’re very flexible, that can backfire: The longer you wait, the fewer options you’ll have. Whether you’re booking flights, accommodation, or a tour, you’re almost always better off booking well in advance and having everything organized before your trip.
Solution: If you still want to hold out for low rates, set a “book by” date for yourself at least a week or two before you leave for your trip. Consider it a self-imposed deadline and do whatever you need to do to hold yourself accountable. I like to schedule my personal deadlines into my calendar to make them feel more official.
Not Giving Yourself Enough Time to Pack
If you’ve got packing problems, it’s likely you’re a repeat procrastinator. This is one of the most common travel habits and it can be tough to break when life is busy. If packing lists have no effect on you, there’s one thing you can do that you probably have to do anyway.
Solution: A few days before you leave, do your laundry. Instead of putting your clothes away in your closet, pack the fresh clothes right into your suitcase. Not only will this ensure that the clothes you wear most often are fresh and clean, but it will also help you get a start on planning your outfits before and during your trip. After you put in your first load, pull out your luggage and start researching the essential items for your destination.
Packing More Than You Need
If you’re a chronic overpacker, you’ve probably had your fair share of struggles with the check-in luggage scale and bags that just won’t close. You might think you need to take advantage of your airline’s full luggage allowance, but the truth is you shouldn’t be filling up your luggage just because you can.
Solution: Use a smaller suitcase. Take into account how long you’ll be traveling and how many of your outfits can be reused, and then find the appropriately sized luggage for the length of your trip. You’d be surprised how little you’ll need.
Not Splurging When You Should
This one varies from traveler to traveler, but everyone has that one thing they hate to spend money on. Personally, I’m very stubborn when it comes to paying for cabs or public transportation and often choose walking instead. The downside of this is that I’m often too tired to enjoy a night out or I suffer from aching feet. For others, being too stubborn to spend might mean booking accommodation far from the center of town or missing out on a special food because it’s a little pricey.
Solution: Give yourself a budget to splurge. This small act of premeditation can make a huge difference in your travel experience. Knowing you’ll have a little money set aside to live a little will help you feel more comfortable spending spontaneously. Remember, this should be a set budget totally separate from your emergency fund to remove any guilt you might have.
Not Learning the Exchange Rate Ahead of Time
If this is one of your bad travel habits, you’ve probably found yourself wondering over and over again if you’re paying a fair price whenever you’re confronted with a new currency.
Solution: Keep a currency exchange app on your phone. Take out all the uncertainty at the cash register by keeping a reference ready. What’s great about the apps is that they are constantly updating, which means you’ll always know the most recent rate.
Ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? It’s probably because you’re signing on for too much. When you’ve only got a set number of days somewhere, it’s tempting to try and do it all, but that’s no reason to treat your vacation like one long to-do list.
Solution: Make peace with not being able to see everything. And if you can’t do that, make a list, identify your priorities, and book only those priorities. Leave everything else up to the moment. Trust me: That cooking class probably won’t seem like such a good idea after you’ve actually completed the three-hour walking tour.
Waiting for a really good airfare deal for a specific destination you know you’d like to visit? Your best bet is to subscribe to alerts from a flight price tracker that will tell you when a fare drops or when an especially good deal appears. These types of airfare alerts are not the same as the many general “deal” bulletins you can receive. Instead, they’re keyed to specific travel dates, air routes, and sometimes even airlines—a kind of “set it and forget” for travelers who don’t want to go hunting for the cheapest airfare.
The 5 Best Flight-Price Trackers
Several options generally rise to the top of most evaluations. Here are the top five, in no particular order, plus what makes each one stand out, followed up by some broader flight-tracking options:
KAYAK (part of the Booking.com empire) is a robust flight price tracker. You can tailor the tracking filters as tightly as you want: by destination, class of service, number of stops, and more. As with many online search systems, it does not include Southwest in its fare searches. KAYAK can also track prices of hotels. Both are possible by selecting the “Price Alerts” switch on the left side of the results page once you’ve searched for your specific dates.
Skyscanner, a London-based metasearch system, operates in much the same way as KAYAK. The “Get Price Alerts” button on the search results page enters your trip(s) into the system, and you can manage your account for details. As with KAYAK, this flight price tracker doesn’t include Southwest fares. And although it can search hotels, it does not offer a tracking function for them. Skyscanner’s “Get Price Alerts” option on the left side of the results page allows you to choose from email, Facebook, and Google to easily create an alerts account and start getting emails—all you have to do is enter an email address for them to be forwarded to.
Hopper is a mobile app for both iOS and Android phones. (Note: Hipmunk, often previously cited as one of the outstanding search system with a tracker function and a competitor for Hopper, recently went out of business.)
Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, distinguishes itself from the others by including Southwest in its airfare searches. That’s because it uses a combination of online search and searches by real people—airfare analysts—to dig out the best deals. Otherwise, it’s functionally similar to the others, and it also covers hotels as well as airfares.
Yapta, owned by independent software company Coupa, alerts users about price drops on airfare or hotel bookings that could get you a partial refund. It’s “powered by Skyscanner” (so shares most Skyscanner features) and its high ratings are based, in part, on the ability to notify travelers of refunds they might be due following fare cuts. But that’s of more useful to business travelers on flexible tickets than to leisure travelers on nonrefundable ones. (Unlike Skyscanner, it doesn’t track or even list hotels.)
Lastly: Not a website so much as a broader platform built into the internet giant Google, Google Flights provides an outstanding range of choices for tracking flight prices. For any trip of interest you can enter an origin/destination, travel dates, how many tickets you want, class of service, plus screening for the number of stops and other variables to track as many individual flights as you want. notifies you if the fare goes below the value when you first entered the search. It covers most airlines except for Southwest, which does not provide its fares to any metasearch systems. It notifies you by email on as many specific searches as you set it to. Google Flights does not include hotels. As an added bonus, Google Flights will also tell you the cheapest time to fly to a given destination, or the cheapest place to fly in a given time period, if you’re unsure of where and/or when to travel.
For premium fares (premium economy, business, and first class) you can use any ITA Matrix-based sites, which cover all fare classes. Those who want more detailed information on first- and business-class deals, however, can subscribe to several paid sources like First Class Flyer and Notiflyer, starting at $99 per year. Read more about where to find deals on premium airfare here.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
A week of sun and sand may be priceless for your mental health (and your tan), but you don’t need to pay a fortune to get it. We gathered data on airfare, hotel rates, and package deals to unearth the cheapest Caribbean islands to visit, along with reasonably priced places to stay on each one. To qualify, the destination also must be ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel’s index of the cheapest Caribbean islands.
This small island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is known for its white-sand beaches, colorful marine life, and the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. While you can fly directly to Cozumel from a handful of U.S. airports, including Dallas and Charlotte, you can often save hundreds of dollars by flying to Cancun instead and then taking a ferry to Cozumel from nearby Playa del Carmen.
“Regularly under the $300 mark, nonstops to Cancun can be found from most major U.S. airports at any time throughout the year,” advises Tracy Stewart, Content Editor at Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.
You’ll likely find cheaper hotel nightly rates between August and November. (Note that this falls within Caribbean hurricane season.)
Where to stay: Past guests rave about the friendly service and quiet, homey vibe at Casita de Maya Boutique Hotel, where rates are regularly below $75 a night. If you’re looking for a beachfront resort experience, try the Blue Angel Resort, where you’ll usually pay less than $150 a night.
Eco-adventurers will find plenty to do in Jamaica, from swimming in waterfalls to zip-lining through the rainforest. Only-in-Jamaica spots to visit include the Bob Marley Museum and the Rastafari Indigenous Village. And, of course, there are plenty of beaches to relax on between excursions.
With three main tourist areas—Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril—you can price-shop for the best rates for your Caribbean vacation. Again, travel between May and October may offer lower rates because of hurricane season.
Where to stay: For hotels, try the budget-priced Westender Inn, where you can look out over the ocean from an infinity pool.
In Puerto Rico, you can split your vacation between the lush El Yunque Rainforest, the island’s wide sandy beaches, and the vibrant colonial streets of Old San Juan. A boat trip into one of the island’s bioluminescent bays is another must-do.
“If departing from most East Coast major cities, San Juan is consistently low (under $300) and [has] plenty of flight options,” says Stewart of Airfarewatchdog.
It’s easy to budget for expenses in Puerto Rico, as the local currency is the U.S. dollar. Bonus: You don’t need to pay for a passport to get there. And with a variety of hotel options all over the island, it’s not hard to find one in your price range.
Where to stay: The laid-back, beachfront Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn is a convenient jumping-off point for trips to El Yunque or San Juan, at rates typically under $150 a night. Even cheaper are the clean, no-frills rooms at Dreams Hotel Puerto Rico in the outskirts of San Juan.
The Dominican Republic is probably the cheapest Caribbean island to visit if you’re looking for affordable all-inclusive deals. You’ll find dozens of packages in Punta Cana on CheapCaribbean.com, with prices such as $499 per person for air and four nights’ accommodations. Activities in the area include snorkeling, zip-lining, and off-road ATV tours through the jungle. You can also go hiking and swim in clear lagoons at the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve.
You’ll have plenty of popular resort areas in the Dominican Republic to compare prices at which include La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Samana.
Where to stay: The Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort & Spa offers a beachfront all-inclusive experience for less than $200 to $250 a night on a recent search. If you’re not up for a big resort, consider the NH Punta Cana, a boutique hotel with breakfast included and a beach within walking distance.
You can’t go wrong with a visit to the “C” of the ABC Islands, especially during the spring or fall shoulder season, when you’ll find even more savings. And since Curacao falls outside of the hurricane belt, you can book a trip here without worrying about the storm season. Whether you visit for the numerous festivals or the pleasant beach weather year-round, on a Caribbean visit to Curacao you’ll fall in love with the local food trucks, colorful Dutch architecture, unparalleled snorkel spots, and secret beaches.
With nonstop flight options from major U.S. cities like Charlotte, New York’s JFK, and Miami, Curacao is accessible from the East Coast.
Where to stay: The island has plenty of hotel inventory with competitive nightly rates. Check out ACOYA Curacao Resort, Villas, & Spa in downtown Willemstad, which averages $133 per night. Or try the Boho Bohemian Boutique Hotel in the Pietermaai District, one of the hottest areas to stay in Curacao; it has nightly rates starting at $105.
Trinidad & Tobago
Get two Caribbean islands for the price of one: Trinidad and Tobago are connected via a fast ferry that takes about three hours. And like the ABC islands, Trinidad and Tobago are located outside of the hurricane belt and you can experience even more savings in the late spring and fall months. Enjoy the vibrant culture, serene beaches, and rainforest landscapes.
While most nationals live on the island of Trinidad, more than half of the country’s resorts are on Tobago. North Americans can enjoy nonstop routes to the main airport, Port of Spain on Trinidad, from cities like Dallas, Houston, New York, Newark, Miami, and Toronto. (New Yorkers also have a nonstop option to Tobago.)
Where to stay: Hotel prices are well below average expectations for Caribbean resorts, with many chain properties in Port of Spain posting under $200 nightly rates. Blue Waters Inn, Half Moon Blue Hotel, and Native Abode are three wallet-friendly options on Tobago within a short distance of beaches.
Bonus Destination: Bahamas
While this destination isn’t ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel Index, it’s worth considering a trip here to help put money back into the economy post-Hurricane Dorian … and it doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny.
This Caribbean-adjacent strand of tropical islands is a popular getaway just an hour-long flight from Miami. Most visitors fly into Nassau (on New Providence Island) or Freeport (on Grand Bahama Island); it’s worth checking fares to both airports to see which is cheaper. Consider Grand Bahama Island for a quieter, more laid-back vacation, while high-energy Nassau suits travelers looking for lots of activities and nightlife.
Traveling to Australia is a pricey proposition—the airfare alone could bust your budget, and the sheer length of the flight encourages most visitors to stretch their visit for well over a week (it’ll take you that long just to get over the jet lag). So is it really possible to travel Australia for cheap?
It may not be as difficult as you think. Below are 25 ways to help you save money on every aspect of your trip to Australia, including info on cheap eats, discount cards, fun freebies, and more.
How to Get to Australia for Cheap
1. Do your homework. One of the biggest expenses of any Australia trip is the airfare to get there. As you hunt for bargains, be sure to check a variety of flight search sites for comparison shopping purposes, and consider signing up for fare alerts from Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, to get notified when prices drop.
2. Time your visit. Airfare is typically most expensive between December and February, which is summer in Australia and the most popular time to visit places like Sydney and Melbourne. You’ll likely find lower fares during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) or during the winter off-season.
3. Consider a flight package. Qantas offers Explorer fares that include round-trip airfare to Australia as well as several domestic flights within the country. Prices are based on season and how far you plan to fly within Australia.
Australia Trip Planning
4. Keep your focus. Australia is enormous—nearly the size of the continental U.S. You wouldn’t try to see the entire U.S. in two weeks, so don’t attempt to do it in Australia either. If you have limited time for your trip, fix your sights on one or two regions and explore them thoroughly—you’ll have a more relaxing experience, and save both time and money on transportation.
5. Consider a cruise. If you’re looking to see a variety of destinations without having to unpack more than once, a cruise is a cost-efficient and convenient option. There are Australia cruises that cost less than $100 per person, per night; these rates include accommodations, meals, entertainment, and transportation from each port to the next. Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Holland America are just a few of the lines you could consider. See the best sites to book a cruise for comparison shopping.
7. Buy a discount card. You can purchase an iVenture Card for popular tourist destinations like Sydney, Melbourne, and Tasmania. The cards include free entry to many area attractions, as well as special offers and discounts, for a single price. These cards may save you money if you’re doing a lot of sightseeing in a short period of time.
Money Management in Australia
8. Lock in your rate. International exchange rates are constantly fluctuating, and they’re not always in your favor. The best way to control costs and stick to your budget is to prepay for your hotels, airfare, and tour packages in advance—preferably in your own currency—so that last-minute fluctuations don’t send your budget ballooning.
9. Skip the exchange counter. You’ll get the best exchange rates by using your credit card or withdrawing money from an ATM; that’s because you’ll be exchanging money at interbank rates, which tend to be better than the rates exchange bureaus charge. ATMs can be found just about everywhere in Australia except the most remote towns and villages, and credit cards are accepted at many stores and restaurants. But beware of fees—many banks will charge you to withdraw money at a foreign ATM or make a purchase in a foreign currency. One exception is Capital One, which doesn’t charge its American cardholders a fee for foreign purchases. For more information, see The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas.
11. Get a refund. If you purchase $300 AUD or more in goods from a single retailer, you are eligible for a refund of the goods and services tax (GST) that you paid on those items. You must get an original tax invoice from the store where you made the purchase and present it when you depart Australia. For more information, click here.
How to Save on Australia Transportation
12. Check the discount airlines. Thanks to Australia’s sheer size, the quickest way to get around the country is by air. Australia has a number of discount airlines that provide affordably priced domestic flights, including Jetstar, Regional Express (REX), and Tigerair. (Be sure to check which baggage fees and other charges might apply on these airlines, as they could cancel out any fare savings.)
13. Take the bus. If you’ve got time to spare or if you’re focusing your travels on a relatively small region, hopping on a bus to your next city may be your cheapest option. Greyhound Australia offers a variety of specials, including discounts for seniors, kids, and students. For extended travel, consider a bus pass.
14. Get a free campervan rental. Traveling by campervan is one of the most popular ways to see the country, but one-way rentals can be expensive if you’re traveling from one part of Australia to another. Use Transfercar to find vehicles that need to be relocated, and you can often drive one for free.
16. Travel at a discount. If you’ll be spending time in Australian cities, keep an eye out for public transportation discount cards such as Sydney’s Opal card, which offers discounts and a cap on your maximum daily and fares, no matter how many times you use the transit system. These passes can save you money over individually priced tickets.
17. Think outside the tour. Why pay for a pricey sightseeing cruise around Sydney’s harbor when you could enjoy the same scenic views from a Sydney public ferry for about a third of the price?
How to Save on Meals in Australia
18. Go grocery shopping. Buy your food where the locals do: at supermarkets. Instead of paying for your hotel’s pricey breakfast, pick up a loaf of fresh bread at the local market and keep it in your room for a morning meal. Add some meat and cheese and you’ve got yourself a picnic lunch.
19. Don’t overtip. Tipping is generally not required in Australia, though it’s growing more common in restaurants. If you’re pleased with your waiter or waitress, a 10 percent tip will be appreciated. Tipping is not necessary at bars, though you can round your bill up if you’d like.
20. Find cheap eats. Skip the touristy restaurants and follow the locals to places where you can find great food at a great value. Think ethnic restaurants—Thai food is cheap, plentiful, and popular in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, as is takeaway sushi. Department store food halls are also a good bet for quick, inexpensive meals. In smaller towns along the coast, look for little joints offering the ubiquitous fish and chips.
How to Save on Australia Lodging
21. Consider a home- or farmstay. Staying in a family home or on a working farm offers a wonderful way to interact with locals and get a genuine feel for what it’s like to live Down Under. Find farmstays on sites such as FarmStayPlanet and Downunder Farmstays. You can find rooms in people’s homes on Airbnb or Homestay.com.
22. Consider a vacation rental. Particularly if you’re traveling with a family or group, a vacation rental could save you money over a hotel stay by giving you more space for less money, and by offering a kitchen where you can cook your own meals instead of eating out. Find one on these vacation rental sites.
23. Look into hostels. Contrary to popular belief, hostels aren’t just for 21-year-old backpackers. Many Australian hostels offer private rooms and even private bathrooms—so if you don’t mind basic accommodations, they can be a cheap and comfortable alternative to fancier hotel rooms. See Hostelworld.com.
24. Swap your home. A home exchange is perhaps the cheapest way to stay in Australia—you stay in an Australian’s house for free while he or she stays in yours. Often you’ll have use of your exchange partner’s car during your stay, which will save you money on transportation. Read more in SmarterTravel’s article on home exchange.
25. Go camping. Australia has some of the world’s most scenic and well-maintained campgrounds and caravan parks. Renting an RV gives you the freedom to drive yourself around the country, as well as a cozy and inexpensive place to sleep each night. Find campsites at AustralianCampsites.com.au.
Booking a flight, hotel, and rental car together doesn’t just save you time—it can often save you money, too. But before you make such a significant purchase, it’s important to find the best travel package sites for booking your vacation.
I tested more than a dozen vacation package sites to see which ones had the lowest prices and best user experience. I discovered that many of the best vacation package websites allow you to book any combination of flight, hotel, and rental car, while others are more limited (flight + hotel is often the default). Fortunately, some sites will let you add a car onto a hotel+flight package, even if a car isn’t listed on the initial booking page.
It’s also important to compare the price of a vacation booked as a bundle to that same trip booked a la carte as separate components. Booking a package isn’t always cheaper, and sometimes you’ll get better flight options to choose from if you search for your airfare separately. In some searches, I discovered that the flight options included by default with my vacation package had ridiculously long layovers or undesirable departure times (4:30 a.m., anyone?).
Keep a sharp eye out for resort fees; many of the best vacation booking sites don’t count them in their initial per-person price estimate because they’re collected separately by the hotel, but they can drive up the final cost of your trip. Similarly, optional airline baggage fees can also increase your total bill, especially if you book a flight in basic economy, and some vacation package sites don’t disclose these fees as clearly as others.
Finally, it’s important to know that many of the best sites for vacation packages are owned by the same parent company, so you’ll often find similar inventory and prices from one to the next. Knowing which sites are mostly interchangeable can save you some research time.
The Best Travel Package Sites
We put them to the test to compare prices, inclusions, and more. The following are the best websites to book vacations, listed in no particular order. Scroll down for more in-depth analysis of each one.
This well-known site is one of the best travel package sites for a reason. Expedia offers a full complement of bundle options (flight/hotel, flight/car, hotel/car, and flight/hotel/car) as well as trips to just about every corner of the globe. It’s reliable when it comes to pricing, too: Expedia offered the lowest price in two of my five tests, and was cheaper than average in all but one test booking.
That said, the amount the site said I was saving on a given package didn’t always match up to the actual price difference when I added up the cost of the trip’s individual elements. In one of my test cases, it was actually cheaper to book my flight, hotel, and car separately. So take those supposed savings with a grain of salt (or even better, price out the components separately on your own to be sure you’re getting the best deal).
Expedia has plenty of useful filters to help you find what you need. You can sort hotels by price, distance from a city’s downtown, guest rating, package discount, and property class, while flight options are given a rating “reflecting the duration of the flight, the type of aircraft, and the quality of amenities the flight offers.” There’s also a map view so you can check out the location of each hotel. I appreciated that the site clearly showed extra baggage fees that might apply on a given flight.
Best Feature: The breadth of choice and consistency of pricing make Expedia perhaps the best site for vacation packages. You may not always get the absolute lowest price here, but chances are you’ll pay a fair rate and have plenty of options to choose from.
Expedia’s Sister Sites: Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets
Many travelers don’t realize that Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets are all owned by Expedia Group, and typically have very similar inventory and pricing to Expedia. Each of these sites has similar layouts and filter options, too. Like Expedia, these three sites offer every possible vacation package combination involving a flight, hotel, and/or rental car.
It was rare for any of these sites to beat out Expedia’s prices in my tests; in general, the rates were identical (especially on Travelocity, where I didn’t find any deviations from Expedia) or a little bit higher. However, Orbitz and CheapTickets did offer slightly cheaper packages on one flight/car itinerary.
Because the pricing is so similar, it’s probably not worth searching all three of these sites in addition to Expedia unless a difference of a few dollars will make or break your travel budget.
Best Feature: Travelocity, Orbitz, and CheapTickets all offer a checkbox on their main booking page to specify “direct flights only”—a feature that isn’t currently available on Expedia. This saves you a step when filtering your flight options on later screens.
Note: Expedia Group also owns Hotwire, which I didn’t find quite as reliable as the other three in my tests. For one itinerary, a nonstop flight that the other sites offered was not available when booking a Hotwire package (though it was available when booking a separate flight on Hotwire), and the pricing on some searches was a little higher than on the other sites.
Like Expedia and its partners, Priceline also offers every possible combination of flight, hotel, and rental car. Its search results pages are easy to navigate, with plenty of filter and sort options, plus a map view for hotels. Priceline offers numerous hotel options in popular vacation destinations at every price point.
One quirk to prepare for: Priceline’s flight result page lists departure and return flights together as a pair rather than letting you choose each one separately. This cuts down on the number of screens you have to click through but could mean extra scrolling while you try to find the exact two flights you want. Not all flights that are available when booking airfare separately on Priceline seem to be accessible to those booking a package—so it’s worth checking both.
Priceline was in the middle of the pack as far as pricing was concerned. It won one of my tests but was the most expensive option in two others; overall, it offered cheaper-than-average prices 60 percent of the time. To help you save money, the site offers “Express Deals” for rental cars, an opaque option in which you don’t know which rental car brand you’ll get until after you’ve booked. If you’d rather choose which company you’re renting from, standard car rentals are also available.
Best feature: Once you’ve selected your flight and rental car preferences, the site will keep them the same as you click through alternate hotel possibilities—saving you the hassle of having to select them over and over again.
As its name suggests, CheapCaribbean.com has a more limited scope than other sites on this list, but it’s worth checking if you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean, where package trips such as honeymoons are particularly popular. The site turned up cheaper-than-average prices for both of my Caribbean tests.
CheapCaribbean.com is one of the best vacation websites for all-inclusive packages; there’s a checkbox for “all-inclusive” right on the site’s homepage. Once you’ve entered your trip information, you can also filter your results by “only adults,” “family friendly,” and “luxury.” Each hotel-specific page includes a list of good features (“What’s to Love”) and not-so-good ones (“What We’d Change”).
In some ways CheapCaribbean.com isn’t quite as sophisticated as other travel package sites. There’s no map available to compare locations of the listed hotel options, and having to use a drop-down menu to enter your departure and arrival cities feels a little old-school. (Also annoying: not being able to group Houston’s two airports into a single search, though you can select “all airports” for Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.) But the affordable deals are worth a few snags, as long as you’re only looking for a flight/hotel package—there’s no option to add a car or create any other package combinations, though you can add travel insurance and transfers, at least for the destinations I checked.
Best Feature: The “Deals of Fortune,” or bookings where you know the destination but not the exact resort until about a week before the trip. This is a fun feature for value-conscious travelers who aren’t set on a particular island or property.
A popular meta-search site, Kayak saves travelers time by searching many of the best travel package sites with a single click. Unfortunately, you can’t specify which elements of your trip you’d like to bundle; it searches flight + hotel by default. You can add a car later on some of its partner sites, but if you’re looking for a flight/car package, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Results list the cheapest available packages from sites such as Priceline (Kayak’s parent company), Expedia, and CheapCaribbean.com. There’s a map view available, and the results page shows both air- and hotel-related filters to make it easy to find nonstop flights, free breakfast, or a specific hotel.
I found that the prices listed on Kayak didn’t always match the price on the source site when I clicked over to find the deal—a fairly common problem with meta-search sites. But I also occasionally discovered that I got a different price after clicking from Kayak than I did when searching the same itinerary from the booking site’s home page. For example, a Las Vegas package was $819 per person on Priceline when I clicked over from Kayak, but just $783 when I booked the same package from the Priceline home page. Another test offered the opposite result, with the price being cheaper after clicking from Kayak than it was when booking directly on Priceline. The lesson: Test both options when using a meta-search site.
Best Feature: Being able to search some of the best vacation booking sites in a single place is a major time saver. Though Kayak doesn’t always find you the lowest possible price, it’s a good place to start your search and get an idea of what’s out there.
The Funjet home page gives you two only vacation package options: flight/hotel and hotel/car. However, you can work around this by adding a rental car on at the end of a flight/hotel or individual flight booking.
There are plenty of sort options for your results, including price, hotel name, rating, distance, and location. While the map view isn’t immediately obvious and is a little low-tech (you can’t zoom in or out), it is available, and you can filter your results to properties within a certain distance of popular landmarks.
One annoyance: Travelers with multiple gateway airports have to search each one separately—there’s no option to search all New York or Chicago airports, for instance. And Funjet’s prices aren’t the most consistent, ranking as the cheapest in one test and the most expensive in another. Still, the site is worth comparing to others when booking your vacation.
Best Feature: Rather than making you scour the web for coupons, Funjet automatically applies any relevant promo codes to your search.
Note: If you’re headed to the Caribbean, Central or South America, Hawaii, or Mexico, try your search on Funjet’s sister site, Apple Vacations. The destinations it covers are more limited than Funjet’s, but I found that the prices were often a little better. CheapCaribbean.com is also owned by the same parent company, Apple Leisure Group.
The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.
The Best Places to Go in Florida
From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.
Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:
Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.
Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.
With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.
South Beach, Miami, Florida
Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.
On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.
Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).
Everglades National Park, Florida
A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.
Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.
Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.
Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.
But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.
Key West, Florida Keys, Florida
The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.
While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.
Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.
Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.
Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.
You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”
With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.
Sanibel Island, Florida
The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”
Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.
While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.
You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)
St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.
Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.
Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.
All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.
Amelia Island, Florida
Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.
Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.
Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.
Tipping in Portugal is not expected but is appreciated. How much should you tip? Use our Portugal tipping guide for the answers.
Tipping in Portugal
There is no obligation to tip at restaurants, hotels, bars, or spas in Portugal, but how much should you tip for exceptional service? You can’t go wrong by leaving a little extra when service exceeds your expectations. This could be as simple as rounding up to the nearest euro at a cafe.
When dining out, leave up to 10 percent when service exceeds expectations in upscale dining establishments. Be aware, however, that some restaurants include service in the final bill, so keep an eye out for that language at the bottom of the receipt before tipping extra. It is common for servers not to receive tips included on a credit card, so try to leave cash whenever possible.
As for tipping other services, there is no set standard for how much to tip but a little goes a long way in showing appreciation. This Portugal tipping guide will help you navigate when/where you can leave a little extra for great service.
Portugal Tipping Guide
Cafe Server: If there is a tip jar, it’s a nice gesture to leave the change. For good table service, round up to the nearest €1.
Restaurant Server: It is not customary to tip at a cheaper restaurant, but a tip of up to 10 percent is acceptable at more upscale establishments. The tip is sometimes included in the final bill, but not always. Check the bill first for these inclusions before deciding what to tip. Servers sometimes don’t receive tips included on a credit card, so tip in cash whenever possible.
Bartender: It’s not necessary to tip a bartender, but you can round up to the nearest €1 for good service. Table service is considered to be separate than the bar, and it is considerate to round to the nearest €1 or €5 (depending on the size of the bill) for great service.
Tour Guide: Have a wonderful time on your tour? Tip €5 to €10 per half-day tour and €10 to €15 for a full-day tour. If taking a free tour, tip at least €10, as this is the only way the guides make money.
Taxis: Tipping in Portugal taxis isn’t expected, but is appreciated. A good rule of thumb is to round up to the nearest €5 or up to 10 percent of the final fare for good service.
Airport Shuttle: It is not necessary to tip your driver, but feel free to give €1 per bag if they help with your luggage.
Doorman: Gratitude is always welcome when a doorman assists with luggage or hailing transportation. A simple thank you is appreciated, but feel free to offer €1 for extra help.
Bellhop: It is customary to tip €1 to €2 per bag, depending on size, but no more than €5.
Housecleaning: Feel free to leave €1 per night for a spotless stay.
Concierge: If the concierge goes above and beyond with helping you book reservations, giving you directions, and providing insider recommendations, it’s considerate to tip €5 to €10.
Stylist: Tipping in Portugal is considerate, but not expected, so tip 5 to 10 percent of the final bill if you’re satisfied with the results.
Spa Service Provider: A tip isn’t expected, but you can leave up to 10 percent for anything that goes above and beyond your expectations.
Bright Yellow Dress for Lunch in Italian Cafe
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Spring brings melting snow, budding flowers, warming temperatures, and a hidden season of traveler opportunity. Visiting before the rush of summer means avoiding the crowds … and the corresponding high prices. Our cheap spring destination picks offer a variety of cultural activities, seasonal events, and affordable prices to make a trip worth both your time and budget.
Whether you’re looking for a cheap spring break trip or just an affordable spring vacation, these spots around the world offer great value.
Pro Savings Tip: Sign up for airfare alerts from our sister site, Airfarewatchdog, to monitor the best flight prices from your home airport for cheap spring break flights. And for accommodations, use an app like HotelTonight for last-minute savings, or consider a vacation rental.
March: Best Cheap Spring Vacations
Take your pick among Anaheim, Los Angeles, Orange County, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, or even San Diego—historically, all of these SoCal hotspots make for a cheap springtime getaway when you look at average round-trip airfare and nightly hotel rates.
Historical spring temperature averages show a good chance at warm weather to enjoy the beaches, amusement parks, and hotel pools before the summer heat sets in. For the best spring travel prices, avoid peak travel dates like school breaks and popular music festivals. Spring also brings wildflower season (blooms vary year-to-year) to destinations like Palos Verdes, Antelope Valley, and Malibu.
While you’ll miss the crowds of foreigners by coming in the spring, you won’t miss out on local festivals and attractions. Saving money is a big perk of spring travel to Southeast Asia, too. Hotels reduce rates, airfare prices drop, and vacation packages may be hundreds less.
Take Bali for example: You’ll be able to explore Bali’s wild interior and witness locals performing traditional music and creating art with little competition from other tourists. Other Southeast Asia hotspots that make for a cheap spring break include Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Malaysia. For savings on Southeast Asia trips in spring, check tour operators like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
South America’s Southern Hemisphere location means it experiences fall during the Northern Hemisphere’s spring, with many of its countries offering pleasant temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Although spring weather is preferable to the area’s cooler winter (our summer), fewer tourists from the north visit at this time. So, if you can break away from work or school a little earlier than everyone else, you can take advantage of better weather and lower prices.
Consider a trip to Argentina, where the peso typically fluctuates in favor of the U.S. dollar. Capital city Buenos Aires boasts a strong European flavor, with cobbled streets, chic restaurants, festivals, and a lively atmosphere. Make the most of your time on the continent and extend your trip to Patagonia and Chile.
For a beach spring break trip, look to affordable Colombia, Guyana, and Brazil, particularly Sao Paulo.
April: Best Cheap Spring Vacations
Costa Rica’s high season stretches into April, but if you can wait to visit the Central American country until late in the month, or even in May or June, you’ll find deals worth your while. Expect savings on airfare starting in mid-April, and similar trends at hotels and resorts.
The trade-off? More rain, though the tropical showers are often limited to afternoon or evening. And more than in other destinations, Costa Rica’s “green season” actually has a following of visitors who prefer the lush landscapes and smaller crowds of the spring and summer months. It really is the perfect backdrop for zip-lining in the Cloud Forest or spotting three-toed sloths.
While Hawaii never really experiences a low season, winter and summer tend to be more popular times to visit the islands, so the spring (as well as the fall) tends to be a cheaper season to come. And, the weather between April and June is actually better than the in winter, with less rainfall and pleasant temperatures ranging from about 68 to 86 degrees. In springtime, water temps are higher and the waves are calmer.
Accordng to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, spring airfares average about half the price of summer or winter airfare, and hotel rates drop $15 to $20 per night. Plus, thanks to plenty of new air routes, you have more nonstop flight options than ever before to get here. Now all you have to do is decide which Hawaiian island you should visit for a spring vacation.
Lounging on beach, surfing, and exploring the islands’ undersea and volcanic wonders are always in season, but visit in the spring to see unique events like the Big Island’s Merrie Monarch Festival in April, and the Waikiki Spam Jam (Oahu). Check out this article for more springtime events in Hawaii.
Another destination with almost guaranteed cheap airfare this time of year is Florida. Of course, you’ll want to avoid peak travel dates to amusement parks and cities like Orlando, but in general, round-trip flights to Florida can be inexpensive this time of year.
Consider a trip to Miami, where you can compare flight deals to both Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale. If you’re renting a car, you can search for Florida flight deals farther afield: West Palm Beach Airport is about two hours away and sometimes yields better prices.
Pro Savings Tip: Instead of staying on South Beach, stay downtown to avoid the Miami Beach resort tax.
Or plan a cheap spring vacation to Florida to a lesser-known destination. With a top-rated beach, cute surrounding towns, and access to nature activities like forest walking trails and kayaking, Navarre Beach is an underrated Floridian spring break spot.
Off-peak but not off the radar—that’s the case for most of the Caribbean in spring. Starting in mid-April or early May, prices for airfare and hotels drop after the winter high season. Since hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until June, there’s a window of fantastic beach weather and good prices. Check CheapCaribbean.com and cruise lines for last-minute deals.
Based on past years’ trends, stand-out destinations in the Caribbean for a cheap spring break vacation include Cancun (and most of Mexico), the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Check out our hotel finds in the Caribbean with nightly rates under $100.
May: Best Cheap Spring Vacations
The Pacific Northwest
If Seattle or Portland are on your bucket list, spring is one of the most affordable times to experience either or both. Especially, if you make the most of these cheap airfares and go road-tripping.
Shoulder season also brings deals to both the city of Vancouver and its alpine neighbor, Whistler Blackcomb. From cherry blossom spotting to spring skiing, there are plenty of reason to book an affordable spring break to these two British Columbia destinations.
Thanks to shoulder season, spring (New Zealand’s fall) is the best time to go.
A favorable exchange rate and abundance of free outdoor activities make a trip here affordable once you step off the plane. As a bucket-list adventure destination, you’ll have no shortage of activities on both the North and South Island, plus amazing vineyards to visit.
May is the ideal time to visit almost any spot in Arizona. Hotel rates tend to drop in popular locations like Phoenix and Scottsdale just before warm-season temperatures start to spike, and places that are popular in summer—like the Grand Canyon and Sedona—don’t have their crowds yet.
Also, don’t discount “second cities” like Mesa. Popular spring activities in Mesa include hiking in the Tonto National Forest, tubing on the Lower Salt River (public access starts in May), exploring the Fresh Foodie Trail, and visiting the Mesa Arts Center. Mesa’s tourism board has tons of budget-friendly itineraries to help you plan your perfect spring break. You can even glamp in a vintage Airstream trailer on a peach farm, at Schnepf Farms. Mesa Airport serves over 45 nonstop destinations, so if Phoenix fares are high, consider flying to Mesa instead.
Where to Go Cruising in Spring: Alaska
According to our sister site, Cruise Critic, cruising in Alaska in May is the best time to save. This is right after the ships arrive in the region to start the busy season, which kicks off in early summer. While you might luck out with less rain during May, the temperatures are still a bit cool.
Bonus Affordable Spring Destination
Spring is one of the best times to visit this North African country. Even as early as mid-March, the weather can be mild and dry—ideal for market wandering and desert camping.
Traveler’s Note: Ramadan occurs during the spring months and may result in some closures due to the religious holiday.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019 and has been updated with the latest information. Ashley Rossi, Christine Sarkis, Jessica Labrencis, Molly Feltner, and Sarah Pascarella contributed to this story.
What to Pack
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