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9 Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms We're Dreaming About

You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.

The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms

Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Spring flower blooms

Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.

Death Valley, Southern California

spring flower blooms

Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.

The California Parks Department offers a poppy live-stream here.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

spring flower blooms

If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.

Western Australia (September)

spring flower blooms

Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.

Valley of Flowers National Park, India

spring flower blooms

India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.

Monet’s House and Gardens, France

spring flower blooms

Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.

Texas Hill Country, U.S.

spring flower blooms

Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.

Kew Gardens, London, England

Spring flower blooms

Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.

Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

washington monument with cherry blossoms tidal basin.

Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Healthcare Abroad: How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor or Clinic

Sweaty, squinting, and red-eyed, I exited the cool waiting room’s automatic sliding glass doors. I got in the DiDi rideshare car outside the international clinic, preemptively thanked the driver, and opened my heavy paper bag of new medications: antibiotic eye drops to use every five hours, saline solution to use every six, antibiotic tablets and painkillers to take every 12, and cough medicine for whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. A receipt listed the out-of-pocket prices of my bloodwork appointment plus the medicines: $3,000—which I luckily didn’t have to pay thanks to the travel insurance that covered my unexpected need for healthcare abroad.

Pulling away from the small storefront of the Nanjing international clinic, we idled in traffic about a block away. I stared up at a behemoth building, a black glass skyscraper marked by red neon Chinese symbols that flashed and changed on its glass every several seconds. The parking lot was jam-packed with both cars and people.

“What’s this building?” I asked my local guide, who was accompanying me in the back seat. “A movie theater?”

She looked at me and smiled slightly: “That’s the hospital.” I felt my swollen eyes widen, and redirected them to my bag of medicinal loot.

I don’t recommend getting sick in China (as I did in mid-2019). But if you’re going to come down with bronchitis and a bacterial infection on vacation, somewhere with ample tea and warm hospitality is not a bad place for you to be. I unequivocally do recommend, however, having travel medical insurance—preferably from a company with a user-friendly app you can pre-download on your phone. It’ll afford you the luxury of entering and exiting a clinic to see an English-speaking doctor abroad in a fraction of the time that a 3,000-bed hospital would ever be able to see you.

How to Find the Right Healthcare Abroad

Because I have a medication allergy, I felt it was crucial I saw an English-speaking doctor so I could be confident in the prescription I received. While navigating the many international clinics in the college city of Nanjing, I learned a lot about how to responsibly find covered healthcare abroad. Here’s how to purchase and navigate medical travel insurance, find a good doctor or clinic, and ensure you won’t be stuck with the bill.

[st_related]17 Things Your Travel Insurance Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

Plan Ahead

Researching your insurance options and purchasing medical travel insurance coverage for your specific needs is the first step to being able to find healthcare abroad, and there are a number of things to consider. If you’re going to be participating in adventure activities like kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking, make sure you purchase a policy that doesn’t exclude “dangerous activities.” Travel insurance policies with good medical coverage will also include worst-case scenario expenses up to and including emergency medical flights home and repatriation of a body, which would otherwise cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

You’ll also want to know the general state of medical services in your destination so you can make an informed decision in an emergency. For example, I knew public hospitals in China often have hours-long wait times, so instead I pounced on an available appointment at a private international clinic that my insurance covered.

If you aren’t familiar with the country you’re visiting, the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see what type of medical services will be available to you once you’re there. Select your country and look for the “Health” section. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has destination-specific health information, and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides free destination-specific health information as well.

Know Your Medications

Knowing the generic/medical names of common medications can be helpful when you’re talking to a doctor about your prescriptions or hunting for over-the-counter remedies in a foreign country. Many doctors abroad speak English, but they might not know what the brand-name medication you take contains since it’s not available to their patients. Keep in mind the following generic medication names in case you need to purchase them from a pharmacy:

  • Advil/Motrin= ibuprofen
  • Aleve= naproxen
  • Tylenol/Excedrin= acetaminophen
  • Bayer, others= aspirin
  • Benadryl= diphenhydramine
  • Dramamine= dimenhydrinate
  • Bonine= meclizine
  • Pepto-Bismol= bismuth subsalicylate
  • Robitussin= dextromethorphan
  • Antacids= calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
  • Imodium= loperamide

Choose a High-Tech (and 24-Hour) Medical Insurance Provider

Keep your standards high when it comes to purchasing travel medical insurance—you are paying for it, after all. Straightforward insurance that gets you healthcare abroad doesn’t need to be pricey to come with a high-tech app and 24/7 support: It’s easy to weigh options and seek out one that has both thanks to search-and-compare options like SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.com. (Also note that, like most private insurance companies in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover healthcare abroad.)

The specific insurance provider you choose will probably depend on your preferences and possibly your home location, but there should be options available that have high-tech features like an app no matter where you are. My coverage for healthcare abroad was with GeoBlue, which offers an app with covered doctor listings by country and fast 24/7 phone support. If you have a credit card that offers travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure it offers the medical support you could need; if it doesn’t, buy your own separately.

[st_related]How to Buy International Medical Insurance, the Other Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Locating the Right Doctor Abroad

The CDC lists some resources that can help you locate a doctor abroad, and states that the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination should also have doctor recommendations. But the only way to see a list of providers in your destination that are covered by your insurance is typically via the medical insurance company’s app or customer service line—which should offer 24/7 contact, in case you’re visiting somewhere with a tricky time difference. International travel clinics are usually named as such, and when in doubt you can call the office to confirm; those with bilingual doctors typically have an automated recording that will prompt you to select a language.

Payment Approval and Proof of Insurance

Approval of funds from your insurance company can be referred to as “direct payment approval” or “direct deposit approval,” and you might need this authorization sent before you even set foot in a doctor’s office. It guarantees that the insurance company will pay the provider directly so you don’t have to. Whether or not you’ll need one varies depending on the destination and type of doctor/clinic you’re visiting, but it was necessary for me in China—so I was happy to have an insurance provider that was readily available to confirm coverage to the clinic I was visiting, especially because it was 2:00 a.m. at home at the time of my appointment.

You’ll probably also need proof of insurance. Keep your insurance card, or at least a digital copy of it, handy in case you need to provide a policy number or contact info to the office you’re visiting. Many clinics require both proof of insurance and an accompanying payment approval before letting you see a doctor. And if direct payment isn’t required or doesn’t occur via your insurance provider for the healthcare you received abroad, you’ll likely need to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can—don’t wait too long to file one and risk finding out you’ll be billed.

Know It’s Worth It

Travel insurance can feel like a waste of money if you don’t end up using it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future. The slight chance that you might need emergency or even routine healthcare abroad makes travel medical insurance a necessity for every international trip. No one can anticipate if and when they’ll have a medical emergency, and not having coverage when you need it can be the difference between going on vacation and letting a doctor’s visit put you into debt.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Single Travel: Essential Tips for Planning a Solo Trip

People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience. To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes, or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Solo travel gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.

Of course, traveling alone has its perils too—such as safety concerns, loneliness, and the dreaded single supplement. But a little preparation and common sense can save you money and get you through the rough spots.

Why Travel Alone?

Solo travel can be the ultimate in self-indulgence; you can rest when you want and pour it on when you’re feeling ambitious. Another benefit is that your mistakes are your own, and your triumphs all the more exciting. There’s no worrying that your insistence on trekking all the way across town to a museum that was closed ruined your partner’s day; it’s your own day to salvage or chalk up to a learning experience.

Also, you can do exactly what you want to do—all the time. Always wanted to try surfing? Sign up for a class and go for it; there’s no one sitting on the beach feeling bored while you have the time of your life. Have no desire to see Niagara Falls? Just drive right by. For more benefits of solo travel, see 11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once.

How to Travel Alone Safely

A young traveler with a map stands by the railing and looks at the historic city.

It’s perhaps the foremost question of the solo or single traveler: “Is solo travel safe?” Without a companion to watch your back, you are more vulnerable to criminals and scam artists, as well as simple health worries. But the saying “safety in numbers” isn’t always true—a solo traveler can blend in more easily than a group, and not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist is one way to stay secure.

Here are a few safety tips for traveling alone:

Do your homework before you arrive. Know how long it takes and how much it costs to get from the airport to your hotel or to the city center. Solo travelers are more likely to be “taken for a ride,” so ask the taxi driver for an estimated fare before you leave. If it’s considerably different from what you know to be true, take a different cab (or opt for a rideshare instead).

Choose the right accommodations. Book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk if you’ll be arriving late, so you don’t end up sleeping in your car or worse.

Trust yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Carry good identification—in more than one place. If you choose to wear a money belt, use it for storage and not as a purse. Constantly reaching under your shirt for money draws attention to it and defeats the purpose. Instead, keep your passport, extra stores of money, and other important documents tucked away, and use a theft-resistant bag or purse for carrying daily spending money.

Stick to open and public places, especially at night.

Exude confidence. Whether you’re on a street at home or 7,000 miles away, walking confidently and with direction is an effective technique for deterring unwanted attention, since appearing lost or confused can make you vulnerable. If you are lost, walk into a shop or restaurant and ask for directions there.

Avoid appearing like a tourist. Ditch the Disney T-shirt and don’t walk around with your face in a guidebook. (See 10 Things Not to Wear Abroad for more thoughts on this one.)

Leave valuables at home. Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy clothes or jewelry.

Lie a little. When asking for directions, don’t let on that you are alone: “Can you direct me to the museum? I have to meet a friend.”

Check your maps and transportation schedules before leaving your hotel/train/rental car/tourist office. A solo traveler who’s too absorbed in her phone can be a mark for unsavory types.

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member at home, and stay in touch regularly via phone, text, video chat, or email.

Register with the State Department. For U.S. citizens traveling internationally, consider signing up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which could help the State Department assist you in case of emergency. If you’re from outside the States, see if your home country has a similar program.

Arrive during the day. Areas around bus and train stations can be scary and/or deserted, and small towns tend to shut down early. Veteran solo traveler Mara Rothman of San Francisco notes that plenty of beautiful towns can appear eerie at night, and locals who are genuinely trying to help you can appear unnecessarily threatening. Arriving during the day means you’ll be able to find a place to stay and get your bearings before dark.

Trust everyone and no one. One of the best reasons to travel alone is to meet new people, but this also makes you more vulnerable. It’s okay to hang out, travel, and share with new friends, but you might not want to ask them to hold your money. Scam artists can often be the most charming companions you’ll find; you want to be open-minded, but keep your guard up enough to ensure your safety.

Top Travel Safety Products for Solo Travelers

How to Travel Alone as a Woman

portrait of young stylish hipster woman walking on the street, wearing trendy outfit, straw hat, travel with backpack

Though some tips apply to just about every solo traveler, women traveling alone have their own set of safety concerns that most men don’t have to face. Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself.

Exercise hotel safety. At check-in, consider asking for a room near the elevator so you won’t need to walk down long, potentially ill-lit hallways to reach your room. When filling out guest registration forms, consider using your first initial instead of your name, and skip the “Mrs./Miss/Mr.” check box. Additionally, make sure the clerk writes down your room number instead of saying it out loud. This will prevent anyone in the vicinity from knowing where to find you later. Consider packing a door stop to wedge under the door in case the lock is unreliable.

Dress to blend in. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, dress as conservatively as the women you see around you. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning the traditional dress, but a good rule of thumb is to dress modestly. Think knee-length or longer skirts. Bare arms, shoulders, and legs are considered risqué in some countries, so do the research before you go and once you’re there. Note which body parts the local women cover and do the same.

Know when to buddy up. Seeking out company can help you have a safer and more enjoyable experience. Smaller hotels and hostels are great places to find like-minded travelers to explore new places with. And even when you can’t find someone to buddy up with, there are often ways to associate yourself with others so you’ll be less likely to be bothered. In some countries, there are women-only sections in trains and women’s waiting rooms at train stations. Sticking close to families on public transportation and in unfamiliar public markets is another technique some women use.

Combat harassment. Having a repertoire of harassment deterrents can be as important to women travelers as a sturdy pair of shoes and a passport. Not engaging with people who are bothering you can make you a less interesting target. If you want to avoid being approached during lulls in activity, such as while waiting for a train, carry a novel or keep your eyes on your phone to make yourself look busy and involved.

If a situation of harassment escalates, making a scene can sometimes be effective. Many societies place a high premium on respecting social norms, so drawing attention to harassment in a loud and clear manner may solve the problem. The sentence for “leave me alone” is a handy one to learn in the language of your destination.

Avoiding the Single Supplement

Emerald Single Cabin on Emerald Star

Frequent solo travelers are all too familiar with the single supplement, which tour operators and cruise lines often tack onto your bill to make up for the fact that they’re not making money off a second occupant. The supplement can range anywhere from 25 to 100 percent of the trip cost, meaning that you could end up paying twice as much as someone traveling with a partner.

There are several ways to get around the single supplement. You can avoid it altogether by booking with a tour operator that doesn’t charge single supplements on most trips, such as Overseas Adventure Travel.

Many other tour operators, including G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, Exodus Travels, REI Adventures, Adventure Women, and Road Scholar, offer roommate matching. By finding you a roommate, the company maximizes its own profit off each room and saves you the single supplement. The catch is, of course, that you’ll have to share a room with a stranger. If you’re concerned, contact the tour operator and see what kind of procedures it uses to match roommates. Some pair people off at random, while others will try to put travelers of similar ages together.

Several cruise lines offer single staterooms on select ships, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, and P&O Cruises.

You can sometimes save money by booking at the last minute. Tour operators eager to sell out their last few places may be willing to reduce their usual single supplement. Insight Vacations and Road Scholar are two companies that regularly discount or waive single supplements.

It’s not for everyone, but you may also want to consider staying in a hostel, which charges per bed rather than per room. Hostelling International properties tend to be reliably clean and secure, and they’re open to travelers of all ages. You can find more hostels and read reviews at HostelWorld.com.

Tips for Solo Dining

People are sitting at the outside terrace of a small cafe in the historic centre of Faro

Eating alone isn’t so bad. Many solo travelers (and frequent business travelers) hate dining by themselves, worried that they appear like some worn-out Willy Loman of the road. There’s even a name for it: solomangarephobia. (Occasionally the fear is justified—see Terror at the Table for One.) The following tips can help you overcome what for many travelers is the most unpleasant aspect of going it alone.

Chat with the service people. Waiters and waitresses are some of the best local color you’ll find.

Choose the right eatery. Cafe or outdoor dining is often attractive to single travelers; sitting alone with a book in a cafe isn’t as unusual as a table for one at a fancy restaurant. You can also opt for a counter seat or a seat at the bar. A restaurant booth can also provide some privacy.

Bring reading material. If you start to feel uneasy sitting alone and staring down at your food, you can crack open a book, whip out your phone, or read a magazine.

Eat in. If you don’t want to endure yet another public meal alone, use room service or order carry-out from a restaurant nearby.

Eat well. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time for sit-down meals, a leisurely cup of coffee, or a decadent dessert.

When You’ve Had Enough of Single Travel

The constant sensory input and vigilance of traveling alone can wear you down. If you feel your attention or your body flagging, don’t be afraid to back off your ambitious itinerary, slow the pace, and kick back for a bit.

When traveling abroad, seek out an expat bar—locals will often know where these are—where you can hang out and speak your native tongue with some fellow expatriates and travelers. When traveling in more familiar locales, a hot shower and a night in front of the tube in a nice hotel room can often give you enough of a reprieve to send you out eagerly the next morning.

The Best Solo Travel Websites

Best Single Travel offers vacations, cruises, and weekend getaways for solo travelers of all ages.

Flash Pack leads small-group trips of single travelers in their 30s and 40s.

GAFFL, which stands for “Get a Friend for Life,” lets you find travel buddies to meet up with in your destination.

Intrepid Travel has dedicated solo trips as well as a roommate-matching program on the rest of its offerings, so you never have to pay a solo supplement if you don’t want to.

One Traveller is a U.K.-based company leading trips for the “mature single traveller” (aged 50+) to destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Singles Travel International offers trips for solo travelers with an average age of 48 through 65. If the company can’t find you a roommate by the time you make your final payment, you can have a room to yourself for free.

Solos is a U.K.-based company offering a wide variety of solo-only trips around the globe.

Solo Traveler offers tips, resources, and destination guides for solo travelers.

Women on the Road offers tips and advice for women traveling alone.

Women Traveling Together is for women travelers age 50+, most of them unaccompanied, who prefer to be with a group of like-minded women. The company offers tours, retreats, and other getaways, complete with roommate matching.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter and Christine Sarkis contributed to this story.

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10 Best Places to Go in Florida

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

Disney Magic Kingdom

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.

With multiday passes, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket’s flexibility: Admission to Magic KingdomEpcotDisney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is included.

For some Florida visitors, it’s not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass. You can also combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an additional fee.

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

lincoln road miami beach.

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.

Actually the southernmost tip of Miami Beach, South Beach is one of the best places to go in Miami Beach and home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City BalletNew World SymphonyHolocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you’d be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach’s world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach’s celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

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

everglades national park

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.

Fort Lauderdale

canals with large boats in florida

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

Key West Florida street.

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

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
(Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

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

Sanibel Island

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, 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 MonumentCastillo 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

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
(Photo: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida via Shutterstock)

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

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.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 1, 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the top attractions and best places to go in Florida. 

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Food & Drink Group Travel Health & Wellness Historical Travel Island Outdoors Solo Travel Women's Travel

12 Amazing Solo Vacations to Take in 2020


Don’t have anyone to travel with in 2020? That’s no reason to stay home. Solo travel is on the rise, and tour operators are expanding their offerings to meet the increasing demand. Below are the 12 best solo vacations for 2020, covering every corner of the globe. Some of these trips made the list because they’re specifically designed for solo travelers; others offer discounted single supplements or roommate matching so you don’t have to pay extra fees for traveling alone.[st_content_ad]

Note that all trips and single supplement discounts were available at the time of publication, but they could sell out at any time. If you’re interested in these solo vacations, it’s best to book early.

Explore Madeira, Portugal, on Foot

Exodus Madeira Portugal Hiking Excursion

Sweeping coastal views, sleepy fishing villages, and sheltered forests await on Exodus Travels’ Walking in Madeira itinerary. The seven-night trip includes leisurely walks of up to nine miles a day along some of Madeira’s most breathtaking hiking trails. The trip ends with free time to explore Funchal, the island’s historic capital. Exodus will match you with a roommate, or you can pay a modest single supplement for your own room. Departures are available every month throughout 2020.

See Morocco from the Mountains to the Desert

Camel Back Ride Sahara Desert Morocco

Overseas Adventure Travel is one of the best tour operators for solo vacations, thanks to free single supplements on most trips. That includes one of its most popular tours, the 14-night Morocco Sahara Odyssey, which takes you through the narrow streets of ancient medinas, over the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the dramatic peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. Unique experiences include lunch in a Berber home and a couple of nights under the desert sky in a private tented camp. This trip has available departures between April and December 2020.

Explore Northern India’s Icons

Amber Fort Jaipur India.

See the Taj Mahal and much more on this dedicated solo trip to India from Intrepid Travel. The seven-night itinerary starts and ends in bustling Delhi, where you’ll discover the city’s oldest mosque and have free time to explore on your own. Then you’ll head to Jaipur to visit royal palaces and soar above the city in a hot air balloon before visiting the 14th-century village of Karauli and touring the magnificent Taj Mahal. Intrepid will match you with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid paying a single supplement. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.

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Take a Hiking Vacation in Vermont

hiker on long trail vermont.

Escape to the pristine mountains of Vermont on a wellness getaway, hiking each morning and enjoying spa treatments and fitness classes each afternoon. New Life Hiking Spa is the perfect retreat if you need a little R&R, drawing numerous solo travelers (mostly women) of all ages. Small-group hikes, communal meals, and friendly public spaces offer ample opportunity to get to know fellow travelers. New Life’s 2020 season runs from May 14 through October 5 and is held at Killington Mountain Lodge.

Discover Ireland Your Way

cliffs of moher ireland sunset.

Not big on group tours? Consider Great Value Vacations’ Irish B&B Getaway package, which includes airfare, a rental car, and accommodations at bed and breakfasts around Ireland, allowing you to wend your way through the countryside at your own pace. Highlights include dramatic coastal roads, lively villages, and historic castles. The itinerary can be customized for six to nine nights, and you may depart any month of the year.

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Have an Adventure in Colombia

colombian coffee REI adventures.

REI’s Experience Colombia tour showcases the breadth of the country’s landscapes, from the lush green highlands where world-class coffee is grown to the sandy beaches of the Caribbean coast. This eight-night itinerary starts in Bogota and finishes in Cartagena, with plenty of adventures along the way—like mountain biking through coffee plantations, hiking to a rare tropical glacier, and sea kayaking to a colorful coral reef. If you’d like to avoid a single supplement, REI will pair you with a same-gender roommate. This trip is available between June and December 2020.

Live Like a Local in Nepal

g adventures nepal living like a local.

Get an intimate glimpse of what life is like in rural Nepal on a fascinating six-night journey with G Adventures. After a night in Kathmandu, you’ll travel to the farming village of Panauti to meet your host family. You’ll spend the next few days learning to make dumplings, tasting local wine, hiking to villages and monasteries, and even playing volleyball with the locals. G Adventures will pair solo travelers with a same-gender roommate so you don’t need to pay a single supplement. This trip is available on select dates through December 2020.

Eat Your Way Through Central Mexico

Oaxaca City Street Mexico.

Flash Pack targets solo travelers in their 30s and 40s, matching each person up with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid single supplements. If you love good food and unique culture, give Flash Pack’s Cultural Journey into the Heart of Mexico trip a try. The eight-night itinerary features tequila tasting in Mexico City, a cooking class in Oaxaca, and lunch aboard a vibrantly colored trajinera boat in Xochimilco. You’ll also go swimming in natural thermal pools at the foot of the world’s only petrified waterfall. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.

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Spot Rare Wildlife in Madagascar

black and white ruffled lemur madagascar.

Keep an eye out for lemurs, chameleons, boa constrictors, and numerous rare birds as you travel with Explore! through Madagascar: The Lost Continent.  In addition to wildlife-watching treks through the island’s national parks, this itinerary also features a walk along a spectacular canyon, a visit to Madagascar’s oldest palace, and a stay in a local community guesthouse. Explore! will match you with a same-gender roommate if you don’t wish to pay a single supplement. This trip has departures between April and November 2020.

Go Off the Beaten Path in Nicaragua

granada cathedral Nicaragua,

Less visited than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua has its own magic to discover. Road Scholar puts some of the nation’s most intriguing spots on display in its seven-night Exploring Nicaragua: Colonial Towns to Countryside package, with highlights such as a visit to a rum factory (complete with tastings), a cooking workshop in Leon, a walk through a cloud forest, and an expert talk on Nicaragua’s history by a former guerilla. Road Scholar is currently offering single rooms at no added cost on this itinerary. This trip has several departures between September and December 2020.

Discover the Best of Tuscany and Umbria, Italy

tuscany italy winding road.

There’s a reason Tuscany and neighboring Umbria are two of Italy’s most beloved regions. Discover them for yourself on Insight Vacations’ Country Roads of Umbria & Tuscany tour, an eight-night voyage to destinations such as Florence, Assisi, Siena, and San Gimignano. You’ll dine in the kitchen of a local chef in Orvieto, then learn about traditional textile weaving in Perugia and visit a family-run olive mill in Assisi. Single supplement discounts up to 90 percent are available on select departure dates between May and October 2020.

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Have an Adventure with Fellow Women

woman standing above dubrovnik.

If you, like many female travelers, feel safer and more comfortable in the company of other women, consider booking a trip with Adventure Women, which offers active, women-only tours to destinations around the world. Most of the company’s clients come alone, so you’re sure to find common ground with your fellow travelers. Solo vacations for 2020 with availability at press time include a nine-night Tanzania safari, an eight-night sailing trip around Croatia, a nine-night culture-focused trip to Oman, and more. You can choose to be matched with a roommate or pay a little extra for your own room.

For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

More from SmarterTravel:

Sarah Schlichter wants to take every one of these solo vacations. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

10 Best Things to Do in Aruba

The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.

The Best Things to Do in Aruba

Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.

Visit Arikok National Park

boca prins aruba.

Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.

Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.

Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.

Explore Caves

guadirikiri cave aruba.

At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.

Discover San Nicolas

baby beach aruba.

Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.

The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.

Go Snorkeling

sea turtle and snorkeler in aruba.

The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.

The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.

Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.

Celebrate Carnival

carnival performers in aruba.

Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.

Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.

Taste Aruban Flavors

mahi mahi meal in aruba.

The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.

For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.

Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.

Learn About Aruban History

fort zouman aruba.

Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.

Go Sailing

tranquilo tours sailboat aruba.

Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.

Hit the Beach

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.

Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.

Buy Local Goods

shopping in oranjestad aruba.

A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.

Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.

More from SmarterTravel:

Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on Aruba.com.

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Solo Travel

11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once


Traveling with family and friends can be incredibly rewarding, offering experiences and laughs that can bind us for a lifetime. So it might seem that going on vacation alone would be a less enriching experience; without our favorite people to share it with, how could it compare?

And yet many veteran travelers have memories of extraordinary, eye-opening solo trips, of glorious days when they set out alone and found and saw and noticed things they might never have done otherwise.

Why travel alone? Consider finding out for yourself. Here are 11 reasons why you should travel alone at least once in your life.

You’ll Focus More on the Destination

When you’re on vacation alone, the lack of familiar people to interact with forces you to engage much more directly with your surroundings—on where you are rather than who you’re with. This is probably why many travelers report more vivid memories from solo trips; their attention is absolutely focused on their surroundings.

You’ll Meet More Locals

Unable to rely on your traveling partners to buy breakfast, use their better language skills to get things done, or distract you during a boring train ride, you’ll have to turn to the locals—whether you’re looking for human interaction or not.

A solo traveler can also seem more approachable. If you’re with a partner or friend, it’s tempting to talk mostly with each other, and outsiders might not want to impose. But if you’re by yourself, it’s often easier for someone else to strike up a conversation with you (or vice versa).

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Not Every Choice Has to Work Out

When traveling with others, we are often selective about suggesting activities that we hope everyone will enjoy and find a good use of precious vacation time. If one of these activities doesn’t work out, it can be a source of guilt and conflict.

If you make the wrong choice on a solo trip, there’s no one to worry about other than yourself, and you won’t feel guilty for ruining someone else’s travel day. Plus, it’s easier to ditch your itinerary and move on, which brings us to…

You Can Change Plans on a Dime

When traveling in a group, changing plans can be rife with interpersonal, financial, and other concerns. When on a vacation alone, you can simply make a decision and move on. This can apply to decisions both small and large, from deciding where to eat to choosing whether to rent a car and leave town.

You Have Complete Financial Control

Want to blow a ton of money on a waterfront room? Go for it. Want to spend next to nothing on food? Fine. Want to go only to free museums, events, and attractions? Keep your money. As a solo traveler, you have the last (and only) word on every dollar you spend.

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There’s No Insulation from Experience

When we are with friends and family, much of our experience is a shared one, which can offer rich rewards but can also create a buffer between us and the world around us. Traveling alone makes remaining in the bubble of your own comfort zone nigh on impossible—which can lead to more intense travel experiences.

You Can Find Your Own Rhythm

Perhaps the most striking thing about traveling alone is that your schedule is entirely yours to decide. Our everyday lives can be a tyrannical grind of accommodating other people’s schedules, and this can easily carry over to leisure time as we try to pace our vacation days to adapt to the preferences of the group.

Traveling alone, you can walk out of a movie you don’t like, stay for hours in a museum no one else you know would care about, ride an elevated subway to the last stop just for the sights, read a book in your hotel room, or whatever you can come up with that would seem a waste of time to almost anyone else. Following your own rhythm without compromise might not be possible in daily life, but it’s great, indulgent fun on a solo vacation.

Traveling Alone Builds Confidence

SmarterTravel Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter notes that her first solo trip, originally a source of trepidation, ultimately offered a wellspring of confidence.

“I remember how scared I was the first time I traveled by myself—and sometimes I still am,” she says. “It can be lonely and unsettling not to have anyone else around for backup. But being able to get yourself out of a jam or figure out where you are when you’re lost can give you a new sense of confidence and faith in your own resourcefulness. For me this carried into not only other trips but also into my life at home.”

Track Your Journey With an Intimate Journal

Cloth Journal from Amazon

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It Opens Up More Travel Possibilities

Schlichter found her newfound abilities liberating, especially when deciding if and where to travel.

“When I was younger I thought that if I couldn’t find someone who wanted to visit a place with me, I couldn’t go,” she says. “Now, if no one else is interested or available, I just shrug and go anyway, knowing that traveling by myself isn’t a big deal.”

Some Sensations Seem Unique to Solo Travel

Solo travelers often report instances of mundane happenstance offering up strong and memorable emotions. Imagine waking up in an empty hotel, where nearly no one knows you are there, with the hours ahead lying entirely unscripted and your sense of possibilities is nearly exploding. As Freya Stark once noted, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” It is a unique and heady experience.

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You Can Learn More About Who You Are

When you venture out into the world on your own, you eventually need to face who you are, what you care about, and what you want to do with your time. Certainly the literature of our species bears this out, with a journey at the center of many of our greatest and most significant myths, novels, and memoirs. Traveling with others you will find great friendship, diversion, and fun—but traveling alone you might find yourself.

Have you ever gone on vacation alone? Share your experience in the comments.

Outfits for Any Solo Travel Excursion

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

Traveling? Get a Carry-On That Does More

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

Three words: lightweight, durable, and multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Solo Travel

How to Meet Other People When You’re Traveling Solo


A former partner’s loss of interest in travel and a desire to see the world sent Domini Clark into the world of solo travel. That was two dozen trips ago and she has no plans of stopping. “My solo trips became a necessary part of life,” says Clark, a 40-year old editor in Toronto. “While they started off as being purely for fun, the time alone gave me the perspective I needed to make sense of my fast-changing circumstances.”

Being able to go where you want, when you want is also part of the draw for food and travel personality Pay Chen. “As much as I love travelling with a friend, coordinating schedules can mean pushing off a trip for a long time,” says Chen. “So, if I really want to go away, I won’t let the lack of a travel companion stop me.”

These women are far from alone. A Global Solo Travel Study conducted by British Airways in 2018 found that almost 50 percent of women globally have taken a trip on their own and another 75 percent are planning to do so in the next few years. And if you pop the term #solo travel into Instagram, you’ll find more than 5.4 million posts dedicated to the idea.

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But leaving home solo doesn’t mean you’ll be isolated. Here are five ways you can maximize your friend-making potential while travelling by yourself:

Don’t Underestimate the Role of Serendipity

If you’re doing the things you like to do, chances are you’re going to meet other people who like them too.

“As with most things in life, I find I meet the best people and have the most interesting experiences when I’m not actively seeking things out,” says Clark. “I went to a concert once—completely content to be alone in a crowd—and ended up meeting some people. Three years later I’m still good friends with one of them.”

Stay Social

Choose your accommodations wisely. Choosing places to stay that have social areas where you’ll feel comfortable mingling (think lobby seating areas or rooftop bars) offer the chance for a quick chat with someone new.  Caleigh Alleyne, a media consultant and lifestyle writer, who spent part of her twenties on studying abroad in Switzerland, says that staying in a hostel meant she was constantly meeting new people. She says the shared surroundings made it easy to join fellow travelers for a quick trip across Europe or a local outing.

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Travel Solo … Together

Travel Adventure companies are also recognizing the need to help solo travelers connect. Many larger, traditional outfitters offer solo trips; but Flashpack, a company based in London, England, takes it one step further. The company offers small group tours (maximum of 14 people) for urban professionals in their 30s and 40s to more than 50 countries. And more than 98 percent of the people who join the trips are solo travelers.

Lee Thompson, who co-founded the company alongside his life and business partner Radha Vyas, says the key is making sure each trip builds in time for travelers to go off and do their own thing, while also offering them chances to connect.

“Almost every Flash Pack adventure starts by taking travelers out of their comfort zone. We do this to set a level playing field that forces the group to trust their fellow Flashpackers, and encourages them to support one another,” says Thompson. “Whether it’s canyoning in Jordan, abseiling down Table Mountain or Sumo Wrestling in Japan, we believe that adventure is a great social lubricant, and we regularly see it turn a group of strangers into friends, and much more quickly than a round of cocktails.”

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Join a Group … But Only for a Little While

If the idea of a seven-day group tour gives you the shivers, consider leaning into something shorter. A cooking class, bike tour or art walk could introduce you to the new friends you didn’t know you needed.

“The great thing about these short adventures is there’s no pressure to follow-up or maintain contact with people,” notes Chen. “But if you meet someone that you click with or who has similar interests, you may have found someone to do another activity with during your stay.”

Talk to Strangers

Everyone, from the person at the front desk to the person at the table next to you at breakfast, holds the potential for friendship.

“Ultimately that’s the secret: Just talk,” says Clark. “Open your mouth and say ‘hi.’ As a traveler, you have every reason to ask someone for directions or restaurant advice. Take advantage.”

These five tips, along with a hearty curiosity and openness to new friendships, will help make sure that your next solo trip isn’t a lonely one.

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.

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15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo


Solo travel is a growing and compelling mode of travel in the 21st century. As our daily lives become more fragmented and sometimes isolated, it may seem counterintuitive that solo travel can be an antidote to how alone we find ourselves in many ways. But the very fact of being alone forces solo travelers to burst their own solitude to find companionship among strangers in a foreign and exhilarating land.

When travelers talk about solo travel mistakes, it’s usually to cover important safety considerations, as well as advice for saving money, finding deals and eating alone without feeling awkward. But solo travel can offer rich rewards that are both different and sometimes more expansive than those found when traveling with other people; with a little thought and care, it can be a life-defining or life-changing event. To help you get the most out of your solo trip, check out these 15 mistakes to avoid.

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Don’t Feel Obligated to Stay in Hostels

Backpacker using her phone in a hostel at Varanasi, India

It seems that the most common advice you will find when researching solo travel online is to stay in a hostel or other communal living establishment, as these lend themselves to meeting people quickly and relatively easily. I agree to an extent, but also find value in the occasional more traditional lodging. These can offer a safe zone when needed, a bit more comfort when you are tired, and a place to unwind and desensitize from hard travels or constant sensory input. It can also be a more secure place to leave your belongings while you’re out exploring.

What hostels and guesthouses are great for is meeting other folks doing the same thing that you are—true fellow travelers. But you don’t have to commit to them unrelentingly; your choice of lodging is just another tool in your solo traveler bag. When in need of comfort, safety and convenience, choose a reputable hotel; when in need of companionship, think about hostels and other alternative lodging options.

Don’t Get Too Ambitious at the Beginning or End of a Trip

A lesson I have learned after many years of travel is to reel in my ambitions on the first and last nights of my trips. At these times, you need things to go well; you are at your most vulnerable when you are just arriving in a place (and most laden down with luggage and stuff), and at your most stressed when you are trying to get on a plane or train on time. On these nights, take it easy on yourself; you might stay near the airport or train station, or splurge on a well-known hotel, or take a cab when you might otherwise save money by taking public transit.

[st_related]10 Things to Do in the First 24 Hours of Your Trip[/st_related]

Don’t Run out of Cash

Asian woman with no money in coffee shop she looking empty pocket

Having no money in your pocket and no way to get any is a problem for any traveler, but even more so when traveling solo. Asking strangers for help, sleeping on a bench or any number of last-ditch tactics may be doable when traveling with others; traveling solo, you definitely don’t want to be asking for free rides and crash pads with no one to watch your back. I used to put a $100 bill under the sole of my shoe on all my trips; I used it only once, but man, did it save me.

Don’t Avoid Your Own Company

Many solo travel tips focus on how to meet people, but this can be counterproductive—there was a reason you chose to travel alone, after all. Many folks who travel in big groups yearn for a moment or two by themselves; you don’t have that problem, so enjoy it!

Don’t Forget to Figure out What You Really Want to Do Alone

As an extension of the item above, even if you have met some great people, there still may be things best done on your own. These might be things that relate to niche interests of yours that not everyone will appreciate (an extended visit to a specialty museum, perhaps), or physically demanding outings on which not everyone may be as goal-oriented as you might be (such as surfing lessons).

[st_related]11 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once[/st_related]

Don’t Resist Your Impulses

One tremendous benefit of traveling alone is that you can change your plans without consulting anyone else about anything. This is a luxury you should not resist, as it is almost non-existent in regular day-to-day life; if you like an idea, go for it.

Don’t Get Over-Intoxicated

Nightlife at popular historical part of the city - Temple Bar quarter in Dublin

Similar to keeping some cash on you, keeping tabs on your bar tab is probably a good idea as well. If you are not in control of yourself, you become a mark for thieves and other bad people, and with no wing person to help you out, you could get in trouble. Teetotaling is not required, but getting hammered might not be your best option.

Don’t Ignore Potential Danger

As is becoming clear, there are potential risks when traveling alone that might not be as prevalent when traveling with other people. A good rule of thumb: If your internal alarms are going off, listen to them.

Don’t Over-schedule

Over-scheduling can be a trip killer under almost any conditions, but as a solo traveler this can really leave you wrung out. You are responsible for all the planning, all the execution, and all the mundane and tedious tasks as well—finding a store to buy a razor and toothpaste, figuring out train schedules, searching for an ATM, waiting out a bout of traveler’s tummy. Even without considering these small hassles, the ability to go with the flow is part of the reason to travel alone, and over-scheduling can make that impossible.

Don’t Skip Reservations

Standing in long lines is a drag, but standing in long lines alone is almost unendurable. If you are going to popular attractions, museums or anywhere else that will require some waiting, get online ahead of time to see if you can make reservations or purchase tickets in advance to avoid a long wait. This goes for trips that aren’t solo as well, but it can be particularly rough to wait in a long line without a friend.

[st_related]How to Save Money on Solo Travel[/st_related]

Don’t Let Time Tyrannize You

Asian man lying down on the beach relaxing and seeing beautiful sea view on his holidays on paradise island.

Another great benefit of traveling solo is that you alone set the pace and schedule. This might be one of very few times that you decide what time to get up, what time to eat, what time to go to sleep, when to hustle and when to dally. Get up early, get up late, take a nap midday—whatever. Your time is yours; make sure you make it yours.

Don’t Be Hard on Yourself

Traveling alone can be as grueling as it is exhilarating, so I recommend choosing your battles well. Some simple but carefully chosen times to take the easy way out might be to get a rental car upon arrival at the airport to avoid hauling your stuff around on multiple shuttles; to go for hotels that don’t require long commutes to your preferred attractions; to book direct flights or at least avoid tight connections; and to take some of the tips mentioned above like the occasional hotel upgrade and unscheduled afternoon.

Don’t Be Shy

If you want to meet and talk to people, to find out who they are and how they live, traveling alone is going to require some courage. Most people have a bit of a shy streak, and in many of the types of people inclined to travel alone, this trait might be even more pronounced. To get the most out of your encounters, you are going to have to suppress your shyness once in a while.

One way to get started on this might be to refrain from ending casual conversations that spring up in shops, when asking directions, in a restaurant, in a line. Instead of cutting short these unexpected exchanges, ask a simple question about someone’s family, or the neighborhood, or almost anything really; this can often lead to a longer conversation, and you are under way and getting some practice talking to strangers. As you go along, it will become easier all the time.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Out Familiar Company

Many big cities have expat bars or even folks offering lodging who might have an accent like your own. Don’t feel like you need to avoid anyone from back home, as sometimes these brief interludes with the relatively familiar can energize you as you venture back out to find folks and customs very different from your own. CouchSurfing.com is a good place to start on these, and many guidebooks offer information about where the local “American bar” can be found.

Don’t Fail to Have a Plan B

Having a fallback plan if things go sideways is a good idea in general, but an even better one when traveling alone. Most importantly, it can be helpful to have someone who knows where you are, where you are headed and what you are up to. Smartphones, email and social media make this very easy to do today; leave some breadcrumbs as you go along to let folks know when to start worrying—and when just to be jealous at the great adventures you are having while they are stuck at home staring at Facebook.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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8 Best Mancations for Every Type of Guy


No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.

San Diego, California

three men surfing in san diego california

Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.

Where to Stay: If you want to golf, stay at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines for a guaranteed tee time at the legendary course every day. Or opt to stay closer to downtown at Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter for a more urban experience.

[st_related]10 Fun Things to Do in San Diego[/st_related]

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Rome, Italy

Outdoor view of the colosseum or coliseum, also known as flavian amphitheatre

For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.

Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.

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Phoenix, Arizona

Man holds a bike in the air phoenix arizona

Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).

Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.

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Bali, Indonesia

tourists walk through the gate of a hindu temple in bali

If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.

Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.

Maine

man hiking in the woods of main

If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.

Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.

[st_related]9 Epic Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trips[/st_related]

Louisville, Kentucky

a bourbon flight in louisville kentucky

Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.

 Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.

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Killarney, Ireland

view of canoes on lake in killarney ireland

You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.

Where to Stay: The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.

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Lake Louise, Canada

man paddles on lake louise in canada

Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.

Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.

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

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These Are the Airlines That Actually Care About Customer Service


There will probably never be one carrier that everybody agrees has the best airline customer service, but there are plenty that travelers despise for their lack thereof. Sometimes it feels like certain airlines outright dislike travelers, and it’s hard to get a bad customer experience out of your head.

But it’s not just the niceties: Different travelers value different airline customer service features—some like the “hard product” factors like service inclusions, some prefer a high on-time service performance, others note and judge upon the general attitude of airline personnel and their responsiveness to passenger needs.

Nevertheless, when you look at the various surveys and compilations that rate all of these factors, the same few airlines seem to rise to the top of just about every scoring, while the same few reliably sink to the bottom.

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How to Measure Airlines for Customer Service

I looked at five different scoring reports to create my own definitive ranking of the best airlines for customer service. That’s because they typically measure different things: Some concentrate solely on U.S. airlines while others include worldwide lines, and most evaluate different scoring factors. (Although some scores include the regional lines such as those that are part of larger airlines, I have left them out.)

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) uses among the most rigorous methodologies to develop customer satisfaction ratings across dozens of industries in the U.S., including airlines. ACSI rates Alaska, Southwest, and JetBlue as the top three airlines (in a virtual tie, at scores of 79 to 80). Among the giant legacies, Delta outscores American by a bit and United by a lot. Spirit and Frontier took the bottom positions.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) publishes monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports that focus mainly on operational performance rather than satisfaction. But those reports do include tabulations of the number of passenger complaints (and the number per 100,000 travelers) that presumably reflect customer satisfaction failures of one sort or another. For the period of January to September 2019, Southwest recorded by far the fewest complaints, at 0.35 per 100,000, followed by Alaska and Delta, both at 0.51, Hawaiian at 0.83, and JetBlue at 0.99. All others recorded 1.00 to 2.00, with Frontier (2.61) and Spirit (2.97) well below all others.

J.D. Power, like ACSI, routinely publishes composite customer satisfaction ratings for a broad range of industries including airlines. Top scoring North American lines in the latest 2019 report are JetBlue and Southwest, tied at 817, followed by Alaska at 801. Delta outscored American, WestJet, Air Canada, and United, with Spirit and Frontier at the bottom. Power also scores foreign-based lines flying to and from North America, with top ratings to Turkish, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, followed by Delta, KLM, and ANA, with American, Air Canada, China Eastern, and United at the bottom.

Skytrax continues to generate a lot of ink and pixels with its annual worldwide airline ratings, including a much-disputed “world’s best” airline list. Although many in the industry criticize Skytrax’s methodology, few deny its impact. In North America, Skytrax rates the big lines, from the top down: Air Canada, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, WestJet, Air Transat, United, American, and Porter. Internationally, nine of the top 10 Skytrax lines are from the Pacific and Gulf regions, with Lufthansa the lone outrider. This has been the case as long as I can remember; this year, the top lines are Qatar, Singapore, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, EVA, Hainan, Qantas, Lufthansa, and Thai.

TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) compiles composite airline scores and also publishes component scores specific to customer service. Currently, for customer service, TripAdvisor contributors collectively rate Alaska and Southwest at 4.5 (out of five) Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Porter, and WestJet at four; Air Canada, Air Transat, Allegiant, American, and United at 3.5; Frontier and Spirit at three. Among international lines, TripAdvisor lines up with most other sources: For overall excellence, Air New Zealand, Qatar, and Singapore score 4.5; Air New Zealand, ANA, Azul, Emirates, and Jet2 score four balls, and Air France and Air Transat come in at 3.5.

The Overall Best Airlines for Customer Service

Overall, the following airlines (in no particular order) tend to do a better job than other North American lines at satisfying customers:

  • Alaska
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest

Alaska takes care to treat its customers well, JetBlue combines good treatment with a top hard product, and travelers love Southwest’s free-baggage and no-fee cancellation policies as well as its outstanding staff. It’s hard to beat these three airlines.

But Delta comes close on many scorings. The airline is the clear leader among the three giant legacy lines. Delta’s reputation in the industry supports this conclusion: Just about everyone in the business believes Delta runs a better operation than its giant competitors. American and especially United have a lot of catching-up to do, and generally some pretty bad reviews when it comes to airline customer service.

The Overall Worst Airlines for Customer Service

Among the very-low-fare lines, these two are just about everybody’s nomination for worst airlines:

  • Frontier
  • Spirit

Allegiant, which used to be in the same boat, seems to be getting its act together a bit with its fleet renewal. In Canada, WestJet seems to out-perform Air Canada and Air Transat in most comparisons.

The International Airline Customer Service Paradox

Among the international lines, my take is that there’s a huge bias toward the Gulf and Pacific lines in almost all survey-based ratings. And there’s a paradox for international flights anyways: On any line, passenger service is better on long-haul flights than on short hauls.

Travelers are most likely to have flown the Gulf and Pacific lines on long haul flights and the domestic lines on short-haul flights. But the good news is that no matter which line you choose, you’re likely to have a better experience on a long flight than on a short one.

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Editor’s note: SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon contributed to this story.

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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 abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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The Airbnb Nightmare That Could Happen to You


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I was packed and ready to board my red-eye, transatlantic flight to England when I got the e-mail: My Airbnb had been canceled 11 hours before I was set to check in. There had been a “plumbing issue at the property,” the host told me, and staying there would be impossible given the lack of running water and necessary repairs.

“We’re happy to help you select another property to stay at!” a cheery Airbnb representative told me via phone as I frantically pulled up an Airbnb search page to see that only a handful of properties in London-proper were still bookable at 9 p.m. England time. “I’m not sure what that means,” I flatly replied.

My answer was icy for a reason: This was the second time an Airbnb host had canceled on me less than 12 hours before my arrival. “Plumbing issues” were cited for both. A measly 10 percent discount on a new booking was offered for both.

[st_related]11 Things to Look for in an Airbnb Before You Book[/st_related]

As Airbnbs go, most people choose them for one of two reasons: affordability over local hotel options (this was my case, as I was visiting London in summer on set dates for a wedding), or for the advantage of staying in homey digs with amenities like a kitchen and laundry. But recent reports uncovering Airbnb scams paired with the company’s fuzzy cancellation/refund policies are reason to consider the possibility that your rental might end up costing you more money, and for far lesser lodging.

In my experience, I had no choice but to rebook one of the few Airbnbs left—a seedy option that was far from the area I had originally chosen to stay in, and that was more expensive than the original, larger, nicer listing I had booked months in advance. The hotels left by then were both astronomically expensive and no better than the second-rate rental option. Sitting on my six-hour flight after the mere hour I had to rebook, I increasingly began to feel like I should be owed something. It wasn’t until I complained to Airbnb multiple times via email (which went ignored) and then on social media that the company refunded me anything.

In a spate of recent reports, Airbnb customers detail being canceled on for similar reasons (plumbing, in many cases) even later in the process than I was. Vice.com reporter Allie Conti recently detailed her Chicago listing being canceled 10 minutes before check-in time and talked to a slew of other customers with similar horror stories. Ultimately, she uncovered an Airbnb scam that spans cities and relies upon fake listings.

Note: I don’t think either of my canceled listings abroad seemed similarly fake, as Airbnb processed the rebooking rather than the owner—but I can say that Airbnb shrugged responsibility for the cancellation and my incurred cost until I publicly called them out on social media.

“For every person who doesn’t receive a complete refund, Airbnb makes money,” Conti said in her story on Airbnb scams. Airbnb is valued at $35 billion, and plans to go public next year. For comparison, hotel chains Marriott and Hilton are valued at $43 billion and $25 billion, respectively.

[st_related]What Customer Rights Do Hotel Guests Have? Not Many[/st_related]

Yet last-minute Airbnb cancellations seem to be a grim reality for many travelers: A recent poll by airfare deal site Airfarewatchdog.com (SmarterTravel’s sister site) found that 32 percent of over 1,000 respondents had experienced a last-minute Airbnb cancellation, with half of them saying they were given less than 24 hours of notice. That’s 160 cancellations.

If a hotel ever canceled a room on a customer who prepaid with just hours to spare, it would most likely put the customer in an upgraded room, or in a different hotel at no extra cost (if no rooms were available at the original hotel). That’s generally what you’re owed as a paying customer with a binding contract—equal or greater value for what you paid. Or your money back in full.

But Airbnb has long told victims of last-minute cancellations that they simply need to rebook a new property on their own, using the prepaid amount toward a new reservation, or be refunded their money—”which could take several weeks.” I did request a simple refund in my prior Airbnb cancellation, but in the London case I couldn’t because of the red-eye-flight logistics involved.

When all was said and done, for a second time I wished I had just booked a hotel. And next time I will.

Airbnb’s CEO recently announced that the company will take a more hands-on approach to vetting its “verified” listings to guarantee accuracy and safety—without providing many specifics about how. According to travel website Skift’s response to the move: “Guarantees aren’t really anything new to the world of online travel; Travelocity has offered a 100 percent guest guarantee to customers for years, for instance. Platforms like Airbnb, however, have played off a lack of guarantees and skirting local regulations to help grow its platform over the years.”

What to Wear this Season

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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9 Tips for Surviving the Middle Seat


On a typical commercial flight within the United States, about 50 unfortunate souls will be relegated to the dreaded middle seat. What can you do if one of those tortured passengers is you? Here are nine tips to make it to your destination with your sanity—and your comfort—fully intact.

Take a Tray-Table Nap

airplane-tray-table

Aside from occasionally holding a drink or a meal, the tray table doesn’t have much to do during a typical flight. Make use of it by taking an in-flight nap. No need to invest in an embarrassing Ostrich Pillow, however. Roll your jacket into a makeshift pillow, fold forward at the waistline, and snooze away. Whatever you do, though, don’t place your face directly on that petri dish of bacteria (a.k.a. the tray table), or at least disinfect it first.

Sleep Upright

sleeping-airport-travel-pillow

If a tray-table nap isn’t your speed, sleeping upright is also a possibility—even in the middle seat. It starts by picking the perfect travel pillow for your body, whether that’s a standard neck pillow, a shoulder-wrapping Travelrest Pillow, or even a candy cane travel pillow. Though they may not be as cuddly as their foam-filled counterparts, consider blow-up travel pillows for their space-saving qualities.

[st_related]8 Neck Pillows That Won’t Embarrass You on the Plane [/st_related]

Invest In Noise-Canceling Headphones

For just a few hours, a pair of good headphones can be a middle-seat passenger’s best friend. The right set tuned to a good movie or music can take your mind off the otherwise muscle-contorting rigors of the middle seat.

Claim Your Territory

front of plane

Even if you’re sandwiched between fellow passengers, your personal space needn’t be too limited. Board quickly at your first opportunity so as to make it to your seat before your seatmates, and then mark the armrests as your own. Don’t feel too guilty: It’s widely accepted that the middle passenger gets both armrests. But it’s important to claim them early, lest you find yourself next to a passenger who doesn’t buy into common courtesy.

[st_related]Heading to the Airport? Use This Pre-Flight Checklist [/st_related]

Make the Most of Your Knee Space

man sitting on airplane headphones and phone

Speaking of claiming space, do so for your knees as well. In such close quarters, every little inch counts. Consider politely asking your neighbor to refrain from leaning back if it really causes you discomfort. You’ll be surprised how considerate people can be when asked politely.

Keep Busy

Ever notice how time seems to fly by when you’re busy? Watch a movie, read, or play a game. Whatever your time-kill, just keep yourself entertained and before you know it the “fasten seatbelt” sign will go off and the pilot will announce your arrival.

[st_related]The 15 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights [/st_related]

Bring an In-Flight ‘Survival Kit’

woman using traveling pillow and sleeping mask in plane

Regardless of which seat you occupy—but especially if it’s the middle seat—keep the following items handy for in-flight sanity (or make up your own in-flight packing list): an eye mask, electronics (a tablet, laptop, or handheld game console), headphones, non-electronic reading material or a puzzle book, a sweater or jacket, and snacks.

[st_related]10 Tasty Snacks You Can Bring on the Plane [/st_related]

Ask to Be Reseated

Just because you were assigned a middle seat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be stuck with it. Inquire with the gate staff about any remaining, available window or aisle seats. They may seat you in a more preferable location if one is open.

If you missed your opportunity at the gate, you have yet another shot at a better seat location by asking the flight attendant. Once everyone’s boarded and the plane’s cruising at a high altitude (but before the drink trolley comes out), politely ask the flight attendant if a window or aisle seat is open. Chances are, the empty seat will move you to the rear of the plane, but at least you won’t be the meat section in a seat sandwich.

Do Better Next Time

suitcases with plane in background

The best way to survive the middle seat, of course, is to avoid it altogether. Book early and, if you can, select your seat during the booking process. For airlines that don’t allow advanced seat selection (like Southwest), check in for your flight as soon as you can (in Southwest’s case, as early as 24 hours in advance). Because Southwest assigns boarding groups based on when you check in for the flight, the earlier you check in, the more likely you are to score your favorite seat.

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Senior Editor Patricia Magaña Figueroa writes about travel. Follow her @PatiTravels.

This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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The One Thing You Need to Add into Your Phone Before Traveling Abroad


Looking up your destination’s emergency phone number isn’t a standard vacation-planning step. But the old adage of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” rings true —no one who finds themselves in an emergency situation abroad expects it to happen to them. We’re all familiar with 911 in the U.S., but what number do you dial when you’re in a foreign country? Emergency numbers around the world aren’t something you want to be trying to figure out in the midst of extreme danger.

It only takes a few minutes to find the number that may save your or someone else’s life, thus making it the one thing you should be adding to your phone before a trip abroad. Consider it part of your itinerary research process.

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Emergency Numbers Around the World

Here are some popular English-speaking destinations’ emergency numbers around the world, and how to find any other ones you need.

  • Australia uses 000, and New Zealand uses 111.
  • Canada and Mexico use the North American standard of 911, as do all American territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands) and much of the Caribbean including Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bonaire, Belize, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Turks and Caicos.
  • The European Union has created a universal number of 112. Several non-E.U. countries in Europe, including Russia and Switzerland, have also adopted the 112 standard. Outside of the E.U., India also uses 112, as well as South Korea. However, in South Korea, use 1339 for medical emergencies; this number is specifically for foreigners in Seoul.
  • Jamaica uses 110 and 119.
  • The Philippines uses 166 and 177.
  • Japan uses two numbers: 119 (ambulance and fire) and 110 (police).
  • South Africa seems to be the only English-speaking country to use more than three digits: 10177 and 10111.
  • The United Kingdom uses both 999 and the 112 E.U. standard.
  • In Hong Kong, the emergency number is 999.
  • Brazil uses 190 for police, 192 for ambulance, and 193 for fire.
  • China uses 110 for police, 120 for ambulance, and 119 for fire.

In non-English-speaking countries, there’s no guarantee the operator will speak English. However, the Department of State provides a list of emergency numbers around the world (organized alphabetically)—and it’s a good idea to have your destination’s number saved regardless.

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Once you have the number for the country you’re visiting, take the time to store it in a place that’s easily accessible (such as your mobile device), but you should also remember it in case your phone isn’t readily available in an emergency. Even if you do have your phone handy, you’ll be able to dial the number faster if you know it by heart rather than fumbling through your contacts and wasting precious time. It only takes a minute, and it really is better to be safe than sorry.

As a back-up to the 911 equivalent, consider saving the nearest U.S. Embassy’s direct and/or emergency line into your contacts. This could be helpful in less urgent emergencies, like a lost passport or an evacuation situation—each of which could require official assistance.

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Editor Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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10 Incredible Trips Under $1,000

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These days, finding vacations under $1,000 seems like a tall order. But it’s far from impossible. There are plenty of places, and types of journeys, that fit the bill. To help kickstart your travel planning, here’s a roundup of spectacular getaways that let you keep your trips under $1,000 per person—or sometimes even per couple.

Paris, France

orange car on paris cobblestone street.

At press time, winter flights to Paris from San Francisco or New York City were available for less than $350 round-trip on Priceline. To save money on accommodations, you can sleep in a hostel dorm room for as little as $20 per person, per night, or book an Airbnb room in someone’s home for a similar nightly rate. Alternatively, most hostels have no-frills private rooms that don’t cost too much more per person than a bed in a dorm.

If you’re a member of HomeExchange, you can take a two-week vacation to Paris with your whole family, and accommodations would run you just $150 total (the cost of an annual membership on the site). Et voila! A full French vacation for ridiculously little.

When it comes time to eat, pick up a baguette, a slab of brie, charcuterie meats, and a bottle of inexpensive but delicious local wine. Then find a place at Champs de Mars or in Bois de Boulogne, spread out a blanket, and enjoy a memorable pique-nique. Street vendors and outdoor markets offer cheap but delicious fare throughout the city. As for getting around town, the Metro is easy and affordable, and there are few better cities for walking than Paris.

Luckily, Paris boasts loads of free and timeless attractions, including Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries, the Musée d’Art Moderne, and the Fragonard Perfume Museum. Admission to the Louvre is just 15 euros. And strolling through the fancy boutiques of the Champs d’Elysee, the art stalls of Montmartre, the bridges over the Seine, or the romantic scenery of the Left Bank all cost absolutely rien.

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Japan

tokyo at night.

Japan doesn’t exactly top most people’s mental lists of places to vacation affordably—but it’s possible to find surprisingly cheap flights there from the West Coast, including some for less than $500 round-trip on sites like JustFly. (Avoid the spring and fall high seasons for lower fares.)

If you’re not opposed to sleeping in a capsule hotel—hostel-like facilities with tiny private rooms and shared bathrooms—you can nab nightly rates around $50. And if you’re willing to put in some elbow grease, like cleaning or gardening, some hostels let you stay for free.

Are you a fan of sushi or ramen? Good. Eating in Japan will be easy and cheap. And Japan’s version of dollar stores are the famous “100-yen” shops, where you can also pick up meals.

Getting around Japan is a bit trickier on a budget. Avoid taxis and high-speed trains, unless saving time is more important than saving money. You can buy a Japan Rail Pass for about $275 per week, which will grant you access to some, but not all, of the country’s high-speed trains.

A Grutt Pass—less than $20—buys you affordable access to many of Tokyo’s museums and temples. Many of Japan’s other museums are free or almost free.

(More interested in traveling to Southeast Asia? Use frequent flyer miles to get there. “Once your tickets are taken care of,” says Gary Leff, who cofounded InsideFlyer and runs the popular View From the Wing blog, “you want to fly far away to where costs are low. That way you can stretch your dollars without feeling like you’re stretching your dollars. Indulgences like spa treatments can cost around $35 an hour if you go to the better local places in Bangkok, and meals, lodging, and transportation are comparatively cheap.”)

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Finland

finland lake.

If it’s a quieter vacation you’re after, take a trip to Finland—a country that has “silence, please” as one of its slogans. Flights from New York to Helsinki were $320 in mid-September, a lovely time of year to visit, though airfare is often even cheaper in January, if the cold never bothered you anyway.

Finland is famous for its natural attractions, so if that’s your thing, you’ll find campgrounds around the country, offering accommodations that cost less than $30 per night. Otherwise, stick to hostels or Airbnb rentals, where you can book a night’s sleep for as little as $20 per night.

Buy a Helsinki Card (less than $80 for a three-day card), which covers all your public transportation needs, entrance fees to popular attractions, and bus and boat sightseeing tours. Buffets are a great way to get a lot of food for not a lot of money in Finland—for about $15 you can load up on traditional all-you-can-eat fare, helping you stick to your goal of keeping your trip under $1,000.

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Portugal

pena palace sintra portugal.

Portugal is one of Europe’s most affordable countries for travelers. Lisbon’s hotels and restaurants are markedly less expensive than those in other iconic European cities—and you can slash your travel expenses even more by staying at a hostel or family-run inn called pensão.

Those looking to keep their vacations under $1,000 should keep in mind that the most affordable time to visit Portugal is outside of its summer high season. These months are also less crowded, though the weather remains lovely through much of spring and fall. And even winter offers warm-ish days; January is the cheapest time to fly into Lisbon, though it’s not a stretch to find mid-September flights there from New York for around $325 round-trip.

Portugal offers plenty of worthwhile free attractions, including churches. Many of the country’s museums are free on Sundays and occasionally at other times as well; check in advance to find out when. The country has 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites, with generally affordable admission fees.

Portuguese transportation options, including buses and trains, are efficient and budget-friendly. It’s also easy to get around on foot or by rental bike as well. Add all this up, and you’ve got a European slam dunk for those who refuse to let their strict $1,000 budget interfere with having an amazing vacation.

(Tip: Whenever you’re in Europe, EasyJet is a fantastic way to get from city to city or country to country—the company offers flights from $40 all over the continent.)

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Puerto Morelos, Mexico

puerto morelos sunset.

Fly into Cancun—round-trip fall fares from Houston were less than $180 in a recent search—and head 15 minutes south to Puerto Morelos, where great beaches and affordable food await.

Velas Condos offers accommodations for two starting around $60 per night, or stay at Posada Amor from just $43 per night. You’ll be close to one of the world’s great dive sites, so pack bring your own snorkeling equipment or rent a set for $8, then prepare yourself for the dazzling underwater sights.

While you’re here, go ahead and skip the touristy restaurants. Instead, walk or take a cab to where the locals eat and enjoy full meals of tacos, burritos, and pizzas for less than $10.

(If you prefer the Baja California side of Mexico, the Black Bass Lodge in Punta Abreojos rents rooms for less than $150 a night. The property is known for offering legendary surfing and fishing adventures.)

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Los Angeles, California

hollywood boulevard los angeles.

Even if you’re not driving in from elsewhere on the West Coast, Los Angeles can make for an affordable vacation. The City of Angels offers an official list of 100 free things to in Los Angeles, which includes some truly rich cultural experiences, like the Getty, the Broad, the California Science Center, and the Griffith Observatory (yes, of La La Land fame), as well as some more fun touristy things, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It’s not difficult to find round-trip flights from New York City to LAX for less than $270; pair that with a two-night stay at a property like the Westin Los Angeles Airport, the Westin Pasadena, or the Westin Long Beach (all around $170 per night), and you’ve got yourself a dynamic couples’ vacation under $1,000, especially if you stick to cheap eats and the aforementioned free activities. At prices like these, even a family vacation is more affordable.

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West Virginia

rafting in west virginia.

You may have never considered taking a trip to West Virginia—but you should. Especially if you’re on the hunt for the best vacations under $1,000. And especially if you’re a fan of riding rivers.

A resort called Adventures on the Gorge offers the chance to raft Class IV rapids during an all-inclusive vacation under $1,000. Less than $600 gets you two nights in a cabin, plus most meals, a half-day of stand-up paddleboarding, a zip-line canopy adventure, and a full day of rafting Lower New River’s wild rapids.

In early June, American Airlines flies from Washington Dulles to Charleston, West Virginia, for around $340. But nearly half of the United States population is within driving distance of the Mountain State, so it’s a great option for a budget-friendly road trip—especially when the trees turn vivid colors in the fall and the waterfalls roar.

Along the gorgeous 180-mile Route 60 Midland Trail is a beachy, laid-back restaurant called Tricky Fish, serving up tasty seafood entrees for less than $15. On Interstate 64, Kenova’s Famous Griffith Pumpkin House is a vintage attraction that gets decked out with more than 3,000 jack-o-lanterns come October, and admission is free.

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Hawaii

maui beach.

When you think of all-inclusive vacations under $1,000, Hawaii probably doesn’t come to mind first. But a round-trip flight from LAX to Honolulu or Kahului can actually cost as little as $350, while high-quality hotels like Honolulu’s centrally located Aqua Skyline at Island Colony—housed in Waikiki’s tallest building—offer sweeping ocean views, not to mention nightly rates starting as low as $109. Add up the flight and a two-night stay, and Hawaii starts to reveal itself as one of the most attractive vacations under $1,000 for couples.

More interested in staying on the Valley Isle? The Aston at Maui Banyan has rates starting around $170 per night, plus a swimmable beach within easy walking distance, two pools, a tennis court, and guest rooms with kitchens and laundry machines, helping to keep their guests’ trips under $1,000.

Tip: Both hotels listed above offer Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that make it even easier to keep vacations under $1,000. Book on either of those days of the year and get 30 percent off the properties’ best available room rates.

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A Cruise

cruise ship in caribbean.

When you’re looking for vacation packages under $1,000, don’t rule out cruises. There are plenty of ocean journeys that fit the bill, especially if your embarkation port is within driving distance of your home, allowing you to avoid shelling out for airfare. As a result, you can turn any cruise deal that you find into an all-inclusive vacation under $1,000.

At press time Princess Cruises was offering Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale starting at just $299 per person, as well as autumn trips to Canada and New England from New York City starting at $537 per person. These prices include all meals, select beverages, and a wide range of entertainment from theater productions to Zumba classes.

Or you can consider a cruise aboard one of the Maine Windjammer Association’s ships, which are perfect for solo travelers and start at $675 per person, a rate that includes lodging, all meals (including a lobster dinner), a daily hors d’oeuvres-packed happy hour, and the chance to steer the vessel.

To find great prices on cruises, and for your best chance at booking all-inclusive vacations under $1,000, plan to sail when kids are in school, or wait for last-minute deals when cruise lines are looking to fill empty cabins.

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A Volunteer Vacation

volunteer reading to children.

Your travels shouldn’t just be about you. Ideally, your explorations should leave the places you visit—and the planet as a whole—better, not worse.

Enter International Volunteer HQ, a volunteer organization that has helped more than 100,000 travelers improve more than 50 places around the world, including Colombia, Croatia, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Fiji, and Nepal.

If you’re trying to plan trips under $1,000, this is a wonderfully meaningful way to do it. IVHQ’s journeys start from just $180 for a full week (plus a registration fee of $299). A weeklong program in Lima, Peru, for example, costs around $480, while a similar setup in the Philippines costs around $560.

The price includes lodging, food, airport transfers, and an orientation event to help you succeed in your volunteer work, which might involve teaching kindergarten, childcare, animal care, or construction work. Participants have the weekends free to explore their host countries at leisure.

The trick here is to get affordable airfare to wherever you’ll be headed, so don’t hesitate to call the airlines or a travel agency to help you find the best deal. To keep your vacation under $1,000, research the high and low seasons for travel in your desired destination; you’ll find cheaper fares if you fly at a time when most tourists aren’t visiting. See The 10 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare for guidance on where to search for flights.

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