The Big Sur Is Perfect For Ocean Lovers Everywhere

Big Sur is not just a destination, it’s a state of mind. Stretching 90 miles between Monterey Bay and San Simeon on the west coast of central California, Big Sur’s remote location, peaceful nature and incomparable beauty entices visitors to change gears, both figuratively and literally. Pacific Coast Highway, which was built less than 100 years ago, is the main road that runs through the region and becomes the most scenic in Big Sur. Sitting high above the surf, the highway clings to the edge of the area’s cliffs, providing spectacular views as it weaves in and out of the seemingly endless coastline. Driving conditions aside, Big Sur’s calming culture is contagious, and has been known to attract minds of all kinds seeking inspiration, refuge or transformation. It was Jack Kerouac who took off to Big Sur in search of inner peace, as recounted in his novel “Big Sur.” Fellow writer Henry Miller called Big Sur the first place he felt at home in America, later penning the memoir “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.” Since then, countless musicians, artists, writers and photographers have chronicled Big Sur’s powerful presence in their work, yet travelers say its grandeur remains indescribable.

Today, Big Sur draws millions of visitors every year, but it still hasn’t lost its sense of place. Independent art galleries dot the highway, sharing space with wellness retreats and cliffside eateries. But the diverse landscape trumps all of the area’s amenities by a landslide, with state parks and beaches reigning supreme as the main attractions. Mountains, beaches, rivers, valleys, creeks, coves, wildflowers and wildlife linger at every turn. That is, if you can find them. Some of Big Sur’s natural attractions are intentionally unmarked to preserve the sense of seclusion that the region is so famous for. Some areas, believe it or not, still don’t have electricity. Big Sur, however, is meant to be an experience rather than just a typical vacation. So kick back, unwind, and open your eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of Big Sur.

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Visit The Immaculate Lakes And Dazzling Scenery Of Yellowstone

Why Go to Yellowstone

With dramatic peaks and pristine lakes, Yellowstone is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Multicolored pools swirl around hot springs; verdant forests weave past expansive meadows; and volatile geysers launch streams of steaming water toward the sky. With so much unspoiled natural beauty, it’s no wonder everyone suspected John Colter (a scout for explorers Lewis and Clark) was embellishing when he first described Yellowstone’s geothermal curiosities in 1807. Nowadays, there’s no doubt that the park is indeed extraordinary. While you traverse the park’s 3,000-plus square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers and waterfalls, be prepared to share the trails with permanent residents like buffalo, elk and sometimes even grizzlies.

Although Yellowstone attracts about 3 million visitors every year, chances are — unless you spend your entire trip at Old Faithful — you won’t see much of them. Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres creep from the northwest corner of Wyoming into the edges of Idaho and Montana, offering plenty of untouched territory to explore. Carve out a day or two to take in the view at Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs. But save some time for the trails through lesser-known regions, like the hot springs of the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the untamed wildlife dotting the Lewis River Channel and Dogshead Loop. While the sheer number of trails and wildlife-watching opportunities may seem daunting at first, remember: You can always come back.

History Buffs, Hipsters, Culinary Arts And More!

Quaint mountain town. Hipster haven. Beer City USA. Outdoorsman’s retreat. College town. Bluegrass home. Culinary destination. Try as you might, it’s impossible to give Asheville just one label. Located in western North Carolina just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the city is an unexpected gem, where a vibrant arts scene intertwines with Southern traditions and beautiful scenery. It’s safe to say, no matter what your interests, Asheville has something to offer you.

While history buffs get lost on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, epicureans can sample from a culinary smorgasbord and test their taste buds at one of the city’s many breweries. Culture hounds can wander through the River Arts District while adventure seekers go full-throttle hiking, biking, zip lining or whitewater rafting in one of the numerous parks and forests. Asheville meshes together these personalities to make something uniquely its own, with an identity that is always changing, but somehow stays true to its roots.

The South’s Many Charms Come To Life In Charleston

Centuries-old mansions, Spanish moss-draped trees, spooky cemeteries, cobblestone walks: in a word, Charleston. As you walk the gas lamp-lit streets at night, past horse-drawn carriages and the antebellum architecture, you just might think you’ve traveled back in time. But just because this South Carolina city is proud to celebrate its heritage doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past: Charleston boasts innovative restaurants, interesting shops, contemporary art galleries and the world-class Spoleto Festival USA. This is the place to experience the genteel South – after all, it was the home of suave “Gone with the Wind” character, Rhett Butler.

History pervades almost every aspect of the Holy City, from the majestic homes-turned-museums to the landmarks that promote the city’s role in United States history. Civil War buffs should head to Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the War between the States was fired. Meanwhile, shopaholics looking for locally made goods should peruse the Charleston City Market. When you’re ready for a day at the beach, the city’s got you covered there, too. Several beach towns, including Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palm and Folly Beach, offer sun, sand and gentle waves.

Trek Through Yosemite!

One of California’s most formidable natural landscapes, Yosemite National Park features nearly 1,200 square miles of sheer awe: towering waterfalls, millennia-old Sequoia trees, daunting cliff faces and some of the most unique rock formations in the United States. But despite its enormous size, most of the tourist activity takes place within a 7-square-mile area of Yosemite Valley. Here you’ll find the park’s most famous landmarks – Half Dome and El Capitan – as well as excellent hiking trails through the natural monuments. Even inexperienced hikers can enjoy Yosemite: Guided tours and climbing lessons are available from local adventure outfitters. Just don’t expect to experience it by yourself. Like so many other American tourist destinations, crowds are the biggest obstacles to an enjoyable Yosemite vacation – at least 4 million people visit each year. But if you go at the right time (and start your day a little earlier than usual), Mother Nature’s wonders will reveal themselves to you in a miraculous and serene way.

Island Getaways

1. SEYCHELLES

Spread across 175 square miles of the Indian Ocean, this chain of 115 islands has become (slightly) more accessible with the introduction of Crystal Cruises’ first small-capacity yacht, Crystal Esprit. The 62-guest, all-suite ship will spend its maiden season sailing into some of the smaller ports of call in the Seychelles, departing from Dubai. If you prefer to remain on land, The H Resort Beau Vallon Beach debuted this past August as the only five-star beachfront hotel in Mahé, the archipelago’s largest island. And come spring, Six Senses Zil Pasyon will open on its own 640-acre isle; even if you don’t opt to stay in one of the 47 villas that make up the resort, you can still boat over for meals or drinks. When to go: Year-round; the islands sit outside the cyclone belt.

2. COZUMEL

In 2016, travel to this Mexican isle will be easier — and less expensive. A new ferry company, Barcos Caribe Cozumel, will shuttle travelers from Playa del Carmen, raising the total number of boat companies serving the island to three. Once on Cozumel, wander through the revamped gardens and fountains at Parque Benito Juarez, which offers free Wi-Fi, and breathe deeply at the world’s first underwater oxygen bar, Clear Lounge Cozumel. Also underwater: new exploratory dives to sites with pristine reefs are being led just north of the island. After dark, stargaze from the astrological observatory at the new Cha’an Ka’an Cozumel Planetarium. When to go: January through July, but avoid spring break.

3. HAIDA GWAII, CANADA

Off the coast of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) houses some 5,000 people on its 150 islands. Accommodations are limited to just two of these, Graham and Moresby, which together see about 24,000 visitors a year. Annual tourism to Gwaii Haanas National Park, however, is capped at just 2,000. Enter Steppes Travel, with an easier, more comfortable way to explore the destination. Its brand-new, May-to-July itinerary includes seven nights on Swell, a century-old tugboat turned six-cabin, 12-passenger expedition cruising ship. You’ll observe a variety of wildlife — humpback whales, black bears and bald eagles — and visit several cultural sites, including SGang Gwaay Haida village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see its hand carved memorial totem poles. When to go: May to September.

4. ARUBA

With a geographic position just north of Venezuela and just south of the hurricane belt, Aruba boasts nearly perfect weather, making it an ideal year-round locale. Adding to that appeal for 2016? New and improved resorts and an event foodies will love. A total of $100 million was invested in new hotels and enhancements to existing properties. The all-inclusive Riu Palace Antillas opened late last year; the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino updated the rooms in its adults-only Marina and family-friendly Ocean Suites areas; and both the Marriott Aruba Hotel and Holiday Inn Resort Aruba received face-lifts. The former Radisson Aruba, a historic Morris Lapidus-designed beachfront property, recently became the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino, and by year’s end, a trio of Divi Resorts will have completed their upgrades. On the food scene, Aruba is getting a taste of the farm-to-table movement. Its first-ever Eat Local Aruba Restaurant Week, during which some 55 eateries created special wallet-friendly locavore menus, debuted last fall and will return in late September. But the island celebrates great local food any time of year; it won the 2015 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice award for the best fine dining in the Caribbean. When to go: June through November, when most of the region’s weather is unpredictable.

SCOTLAND’S NORTH COAST 500 IS A ROAD TRIP TO RIVAL ROUTE 66.

5. SCOTLAND

The launch of Scotland’s North Coast 500 loop has opened up the country’s Highlands and northernmost shores in a new and much more accessible way. Intrepid travelers can now explore its rural and rugged landscapes by car, bicycle or even on foot. An added boon: Recently added flights to Aberdeen on Icelandair make it easier than ever to get to nearby Inverness, the capital of the Highlands and the perfect place to start the trip. The scenic 500-mile route — which can be driven in its entirety in as little as three days — combines nature and adventure, food and drink, history and culture. You will pass towering mountain ranges, centuries-old ruins and monumental castles. And you can see what all the Hollywood buzz is about with a side trip to the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s northwest coast. Its wild, weathered, windswept landscapes have recently been featured in Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and J.J. Abrams’s just-released Star Wars epic. When to go: High summer, when daylight stretches until 11 p.m.

6. AZORES, PORTUGAL

Last spring, Ryanair and EasyJet began offering low-cost flights to connect the Azores’ capital city of Ponta Delgada, on the main island of Sao Miguel, to London and Lisbon, raising the profile of this nine-island chain dramatically. Americans will also find them surprisingly easy to reach, thanks to four-hour direct flights from Boston on SATA. Reasons to visit: A 450-mile network of hiking trails recently debuted on the island of Santa Maria, where the soon-to-open Charming Blue will offer 15 residential-style rooms. On Sao Miguel, the striking volcanic stone and concrete Arquipelago Contemporary Arts Centre just bowed, as did Design Hotels’ 55-room Furnas Boutique Hotel, featuring a spring-fed thermal spa. When to go: Mild climate year-round, but rainy season is November through March.

 

Young Children Will Love Their Oceanic Adventure On This Cruise

Princess’ ships include expansive programs, facilities and accommodations for parents and children. Princess’ newest and largest ships, Royal and Regal Princess, have even more great additions for families, including expanded kids club spaces, more dining options, a batting cage and laser shooting range, a bigger pool deck with a water and light show and poolside cabanas.

Further, as part of the expansion of its partnership with Discovery Communications, Princess is revamping the youth spaces on several of its ships to include lively, modern decor. Although only some ships are receiving physical renovations, the programming itself, which includes fun and educational activities — think science experiments and destination-immersive pursuits — has rolled out fleetwide.

The Program

Dubbed Camp Discovery, the rebranded kids’ clubs include The Treehouse (formerly Pelicans) for ages 3 to 7, The Lodge (formerly Shockwaves) for ages 8 to 12, and The Beach House (formerly Remix) for ages 13 to 17. In addition to activities that inspire learning, children, tweens and teens will find story time, video game tournaments, movie nights, Skee-Ball play, scavenger hunts and themed parties on the agenda.

Kid-Friendly Features

On Grand-class ships (Ruby Princess, Crown Princess, Emerald Princess), there are two large pools that are suitable for families (Calypso Reef and Pool and Neptune Reef and Pool), and there’s a splash pool dedicated to kids. Royal and Regal Princess have outdoor play areas with a jungle gym for kids ages 3 to 7, and another for teens with a teens-only hot tub and space for outdoor parties.

Movies Under the Stars is the line’s huge outdoor movie theater that plays poolside features on the top deck after the sun sets. The 300-square-foot screen broadcasts kid- and teen-friendly movies, as well as fun-for-the-whole-gang blockbusters, and live sporting events and awards shows. Another cool offering: Parents are welcome to attend the Jr. Chef@Sea Program, a hands-on chef-led cooking class that takes place in a shipboard kitchen, alongside their budding-chef kiddos.

Princess offers an Adventures Ashore tour program with shore excursions appropriate for families. Plus, the line’s Discovery at Sea program features special excursions and activities inspired by programming such as Shark Week. For example, families can embark on a search for Big Foot on select Alaska sailings (a la “Finding Bigfoot”) or enjoy “Shark Week” programming in cabin TVs.

You’re Never Too Old To Go Out To Sea!

Silversea Cruises is best for: Mature cruisers

Why: Upscale Silversea attracts a dedicated following of mature travelers (in fact, it’s a rarity to find a child onboard). Its all-inclusive pricing model allows for a luxury experience without lots of unexpected expense, with Silversea inclusions like room service, wine and spirits, gratuities and transportation into town from port all bundled into the upfront fares. The line’s nine small ships — accommodating just 100 to 596 guests — are well-suited to guests seeking easy camaraderie, as well as for those with limited mobility. Plus, Silversea’s itineraries propose access to more off-the-beaten-track worldwide ports (they sail to 800-plus locales across all seven continents) that hold special appeal for seasoned travelers looking for new horizons to explore.

The Perfect Cruise For First Timers

Best for: Value hunters

Why: Carnival is the line for “everycruiser,” appealing to a broad spectrum of vacationers who share one common trait: They all want a super-fun escape without going bankrupt. The combination of Carnival’s sizable fleet (25 ships), emphasis on popular destinations (Caribbean, Bahamas and Mexico) and dedication to accessible three- to seven-night itineraries translates to low prices and frequent deals. Cruises typically start around a reasonable $80 per person, per night, and can be nabbed for lower still with promotional fares. Carnival keeps its cabins simple, with plenty of standard insides and outsides, and does not go overboard with fee-extra venues onboard (access to specialty dining venues like Guy’s Burger Joint, Serenity adults-only retreats and Punchliner Comedy Club shows, for instance, are all free of charge). For the best budget rates, avoid holiday periods (especially school vacations).

Best Cheap Travel Destinations Around the World

1. Uganda

Kampala is one of the cheapest cities in the world, and Uganda, known as “The Pearl of Africa,” hosts Lake Victoria, which is the second largest lake in the world. The official language is Swahili, but English is widely spoken, especially among the staff at hotels and tour companies.

Kampala is at the top of my travel bucket list because it’s a hub for adventure activities such as whitewater rafting on the Nile River and bungee jumping. The city of Jinja also offers quad biking and river boarding (boogie boarding down the river).

2. Jamaica

Jamaica has plenty of luxury options, but thanks to the island’s new international airport, deals on 3,000 new hotel rooms, and clean beaches, Budget Travel has rated Jamaica one of the top budget travel destinations for 2011.

International airfare has been pretty affordable lately. I checked Kayak.com and round-trip flights from the eastern U.S. are under $400, which is cheap enough for me to justify a visit to an affordable hotel for a long weekend. Homemade Jamaican jerk chicken is a great plus too!

The only reason Jamaica isn’t number one on this list is because I avoid hurricane season (July and August), but I’d rather visit during the winter when I’m craving some sunshine anyway.

3. Bangladesh

Bangladesh was rated Lonely Planet’s number one value destination in 2011. According to Lonely Planet, you can buy meals for under a dollar and enjoy river cruises for rates lower than what you’d spend in nearby India. Bangladesh may be a non-traditional travel destination, but don’t overlook it.

With the exchange rate, I’ll be able to stretch my travel budget enough to sail by the Irrawaddy River Dolphins and see tigers in the Sunderbans National Park outside of Khulna. Bangladesh also has a wide range of handmade crafts such as coconut masks, bamboo sculptures, and folk dolls. Leatherwork and pearls are also popular exports.

The U.S. State Department warns that tourist visas granted upon arrival are usually only valid for 15 days, so you shouldn’t expect to have an extended stay without a fine or special permission.

4. Hungary

I’m not sure exactly when Hungary came onto my travel radar. Budapest has gotten a lot of publicity lately for its beauty as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Fortunately, Hungary is also an affordable travel destination. You can get huge meals in markets for $5, public transportation via train for $1, and hotels for $20 a night.

The city seems like a curious mixture of 14th century architecture and modernization. Highlights include the gorgeous architecture of the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Buda Royal Palace, and the tranquil Margaret Island.

5. Ecuador

I spent an entire summer in Quito, and there’s still so much I haven’t seen. With just $3 for lunch, I bought soup, rice, chicken, juice, and Jell-O. A bus across the city cost 50 cents, and because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, I didn’t even have to worry about losing money in the exchange. I wish I had time to explore beach towns like Montanita and cloud forests like Mindo.

The beauty of Ecuador is that it has a rich natural ecosystem, from the Andes Mountains running through the country to the amazing coastal rain forest, yet you’re also near incredible major cities like Quito and Guayaquil.

6. Thailand

I’ve heard that the street food in Thailand is world-class. Blogger Richard Barrow tried a Thai Food Challenge and ate street food in Thailand for every meal for an entire month. His spending averaged less than $4 a day on food. At the end of the challenge, he had tried one hundred different meals. How can you beat the price, variety, and deliciousness?

It’s no surprise, then, that Thai cooking classes are so popular, but there are plenty of things to do for budget travelers as well: relax on the beaches, explore elegant Buddhist temples, shop at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, and check out the busy colorful city of Bangkok.

7. Peru

Don’t be misled by the prices at Machu Picchu; Peru is really a very affordable travel destination. I lived in the Ancash region, just north of Lima, for almost four months last fall. A typical three-course lunch was as low as $2 in the town of Huaraz. Hostels throughout the country are budget-friendly as well. A typical bed in a dorm room cost $8 to $10, which usually included a simple breakfast of juice, bread, and fruit.

I also found public transportation to be affordable, although airfare within the country is expensive. For example, a bus from Cusco to Lima cost me $37, while the cheapest round trip plane ticket I found was $160.

8. Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is an attractive budget travel destination for baseball fans and suntanners alike. Santo Domingo, the capital city, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site because there are still colonial elements from Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1492. The island comes alive during Carnaval Dominicano in February and Semana Santa in April.

The Dominican Republic is home to a wide range of lodging options to fit any budget, from luxury resorts to affordable hostels. Although it’s not the cheapest country in the region, there is a good mix of sun, safety, and affordability.

9. Croatia

AskMen named Croatia one of its Top Ten Cheap Vacations, and they say hostels go for about $10 per night. I visited the city of Dubrovnik a few years ago, and I remember being able to see my toes while swimming in the crystal-clear water. I also remember seeing the bright orange roofs on buildings showing which of them were bombed in the Yugoslavian War from 1991 to 1995.

While food and lodging were both relatively cheap in the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” I did have a problem finding shop owners and waiters who spoke English. I should have bought a Croatian phrase book.

10. Argentina

I took part in a college study abroad program in Buenos Aires, so Argentina holds a special place in my heart. The cost of living is cheaper than in similar cities in the United States, but inflation is an issue with prices rising for the past few years. For example, I noticed that groceries were cheaper when I was there in December 2009 than when I visited exactly one year later. A bottle of Coke cost 3.50 pesos then and rose to 6 pesos in 2010. However, public transportation remains affordable as does lodging.

There are other equally exciting cities that are cheaper than Buenos Aires like Cordoba, Salta, and Jujuy.

Final Word

I’m grateful that I can still fit international travel in my budget. When I save up for a trip, I plan my itinerary accordingly. Choosing destinations with a lower cost of living allows me to explore new destinations for a longer period of time.

These are just the top 10 places on my list. How about you? Have you been to any of these countries? Are there any affordable places on your travel bucket list?