Cheap Off-Peak Destinations for Fall

Posted September 11, 2015 by

  France-Eiffel Tower During Fall-DD

We've rounded up some of the sweetest deals available to autumnal travelers searching out a solid bargain. Beside the generous shoulder-season savings, also advantageous is the relaxed feel of fall with its uncrowded streets, shorter lines, yet bountiful number of exciting events.

San Diego, California

It may be starting to get balmy in your neck of the woods but perennially pleasant San Diego maintains its average temperature in the 70s during fall, and that makes for perfect weather to peruse the many celebrations taking over the city.

Peruse San Diego Restaurant Week during September 20 – 27 to get a savoring of the city's 180-plus participating restaurants.

If Italian cuisine is your favorite or if you like festivals, make sure to attend San Diego's 21st annual Festa—the largest Italian festival in the nation. Sunday, October 11 will be filled food, live music, bocce ball tournaments, and a flag procession, among other Italian-themed activities.

And on October 25, the Lodge at Torrey Pines will host the 13th annual Celebrate the Craft—a food festival showcasing Southern California's finest chefs, wine and craft beer makers, and food artisans. Proceeds of the event's earnings will be donated to the Slow Food Urban San Diego.

Throughout the month of October, the San Diego Museum Council invites families to explore the city's museums, gardens, and galleries—free of charge for tikes 12-years old and younger. Find among the more than 40 sites complimentary entry to the Japanese Friendship Garden, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the New Children's Museum, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

Search more low prices on San Diego packages here!


Las Vegas, Nevada

With all its excesses, you can find yourself leaving Las Vegas burnt out and broke. But it doesn't necessarily have to be so to have a great time. Enrich your Sin City experience by taking advantage of all its world-class freebies.

It's easy to forget you're on the Strip when in the Bellagio. Close your eyes and you're suddenly transported to the Italian countryside and all of la dolce vita's fine indulgences, including musical fountains, botanical gardens, hand-blown glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly—all gratuito.

Make it to the Mirage at after the sun sets to be wowed by its Polynesian-themed fire show—Vegas-style.  Complete with explosions, fireballs, heart-pounding music, and piña colada-misted air, the volcano show erupts at 8 and 9 p.m. Sundays – Thursdays and also 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.  

Free attractions abound in Las Vegas; you just have to walk away from the craps table to easily locate them.

RELATED: Best Buffet in Las Vegas

Search more low prices on Las Vegas packages here!


Boston, Massachusetts

Visitors to the Boston area during fall enjoy more than just gorgeous scenic foliage—they can also partake in all of the autumnal-themed festivities.

Not content with a single day, Witch City USA celebrates Halloween all month long. Among the treats you'll find throughout the month of October during the 34th annual Salem Haunted Happenings are parades, carnival rides, haunted houses, and bone-chilling tours. Salem, Massachusetts, is just a half-hour drive up the shore from Boston.

Fall festivals take on all forms in the Boston area. There's the popular and historic (nearly 200 years old!) agricultural Topsfield Fair running 10 days starting October 2; the Cape's annual cranberry bog harvesting festivities at the Nantucket Cranberry Festival on October 10; and Oktoberfest at Wachusett Mountain's Applefest during the third weekend in October.

The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism does a great job of listing out the area events, filtering by date, type, and region.

RELATED: What Not to Do in Boston

Search more low prices on Boston packages here!



Americans looking to visit Europe this fall are sitting pretty right now. It's been nearly a decade since the dollar has been this strong against the euro, and all signs point to continued parity through at least the end of the year.

The most-affordable European cities this year are Bucharest, Romania; Sofia, Bulgaria; Kiev, Ukraine; and Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic—all riding around the $50 mark for daily expenditures at three-star living. But even ultra-popular cities like London, Paris, and Rome are more affordable this year as a result of the dollar's strength against the euro.

Search more low prices on Bucharest packages here!

Search more low prices on Athens packages here!

Search more low prices on Rome packages here!


Atlanta, Georgia

Home to the largest aquarium on the hemisphere and listed in the "1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die," Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium houses tens of thousands of sea animals in its 10 million gallons of water. Among the most popular attractions are the whale sharks, beluga whales, and dolphins. Enjoy all this marine-life viewing at a 20-percent discount if you book online or via the call center (404-581-4000) though the month of September.

Search more low prices on Atlanta packages here!

Toronto, Canada

Toronto is suddenly very affordable thanks to the strength of the U.S. dollar.

This fall, Toronto's newest and tallest hotel, the Delta Hotels and Resorts, is discounting 25 percent off the best available rate for visitors attending sports, music, or cultural events.

Also load up on freebies like walking tours offered by the Royal Ontario Museum and musical performance from fall through spring at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

RELATED: 8 Things That Prove Toronto Is the Coolest City

Search more low prices on Toronto packages here!


National Parks, United States

The National Park Service will be commemorating its 100th anniversary in 2016, but it doesn't take a birthday to celebrate, and it certainly doesn't have to be summer to visit any of its parks.

Visit during fall and crowds thin out as seasonal demand slows. For accommodations options consider in-park hostelries, too, for even greater affordability.  

RELATED: 10 Secret Spots in America's Top National Parks

Search more low prices on vacation packages here!


Sofia, Bulgaria

Travel to Bulgaria's capital city to unearth its many secrets. Find below Sofia the 1,800-year-old Roman city that lies beneath. At eye level, however, find some of Europe's most-affordable accommodations options, cheap transport, and free entertainment.

Search more low prices on Sofia packages here!


Vancouver, Canada

Due to the U.S. dollar 20 percent stronger than its Canadian counterpart, but also because the peak season's over, now's the time to visit Vancouver. Check out the bountiful travel deals at HelloBC, among them for mine expeditions, rafting excursions, and hotels stays.  

Search more low prices on Vancouver packages here!

10 New World Heritage Sites That Should Be On Your Bucket List

Posted September 10, 2015 by


Centuries ago, the steep, densely forested Blue Mountains of Jamaica were a sanctuary for indigenous people and African slaves who’d escaped their colonial owners. The rugged landscape is still honored by the descendants of those people and will now gain widespread recognition as Jamaica's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of 24 new inscriptions worldwide.

This summer, UNESCO granted protected status to a wealth of inspiring sites including the Champagne and Burgundy wine-producing regions of France, the Alamo and four other Texas missions, the iconic Forth Bridge in Scotland, and the site in Jordan where Jesus was believed to have been baptized. Your bucket list just got longer.

Ephesus, Turkey

For centuries Ephesus was one of the most important cities of the Mediterranean, its bustling seaport sending goods from Asia to Greece, Italy, and beyond; and its streets an important marketplace for ideas. (Alexander the Great, Antony and Cleopatra, and the apostles John and Paul were some of Ephesus’ storied guests.) Only about 20 percent of the city—home to as many as 300,000 people in the 2nd century A.D.—has been excavated, but even so the city has one of the largest collections of Roman ruins in the region. Little is left of the famed Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but the elegant Library of Celsus and Great Theater are just two of the buildings that make this among the most visited tourist sites in Turkey.

RELATED: Disappearing Wonders: World Heritage Sites in Danger

Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, Mexico

This canal system, built between 1553 and 1570 on the Central Mexican Plateau, was recognized by UNESCO for its intertwining of two different cultural influences: The European method of Roman hydraulics and traditional indigenous and Aztec building techniques, including the use of adobe. The aqueduct was planned by Franciscan friar Francisco de Tembleque, who wanted to develop a dependable source of drinking water, and built by the native peoples. It towers over the ravines, towns, and farmlands for 28 miles on its way from the Tecajete hillside to the town of Otumba.

RELATED: 10 Best Things to Do in Mexico

Blue and John Crow Mountains, Jamaica

This nearly 200,000-acre national park marks Jamaica's first World Heritage Site inscription. The steep, rugged, mountains— which dominate the Eastern part of the island—are home to 200 species of native and migrating birds, one of the largest butterfly species in the world, and an abundance of endemic plants. But the mountains are perhaps most famous for the refuge that they provided for the native Tainos, and later runaway African slaves (Maroons), who fled to the heavily rainforested mountains to escape colonization. From a vast network of trails, hiding spots, and settlements, the Tainos and Maroons maintained independence from the Spanish and then the English, and lived in free communities for generations.

RELATED: 6 Things Everyone Should Do in Negril, Jamaica

Al Maghtas, Jordan

By all accounts, Biblical and archaeological, this site on the east bank of the Jordan River is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The river itself has been a sensitive geopolitical boundary since Israel became a nation in 1948, so it’s only been within the last 21 years, after Jordan signed a peace accord with Israel and the Palestinian Territories, that the area has been open to visitors and excavation. Among the structures unearthed have been a 3rd-century church where pilgrims came to be baptized and a cave where John the Baptist is believed to have lived, as well as other Roman and Byzantine remains.

RELATED: Travel Back in Time to These Amazing Ancient Cities

Champagne and Burgundy, France

Two of France’s celebrated wine- and bubbly-producing areas were the toast of this year’s meeting: The regions of Champagne and Burgundy were both designated new heritage sites because they illustrate a centuries-old tradition of cultivation, production, and distribution of a masterful artisanal product. The protected areas in Champagne include not just the vineyards but the production sites, cellars and “Champagne Houses,” such as Mumm’s, Tattinger, and Veuve Clicquot. Burgandy’s designation includes the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune, just a few miles south of Dijon; the town of Beaune; and the historic wine-producing center in Dijon.

RELATED: 10 Amazing Wine Towns in Europe

Great Burkhan Khaldun Mountain, Mongolia

Even though Ghengis Khan asked to be buried in an unmarked grave, and it’s said that his funeral party went to great lengths (including killing anyone who came across the procession) to conceal where he was interred, legend has it that this is where the great Mongol ruler was laid to rest. It’s also believed to be his birthplace, and as such is considered the most sacred mountain in Mongolia. Mountain worship was an important theme in Khan’s successful efforts to unify the many native Mongol tribes, and to this day visitors can find sacred rock-and-wood piles known as ovoos dotting the mountain and surrounding landscape.

RELATED: 10 Cool Nature Retreats With Unbelievable Views

Forth Bridge, Scotland

As iconic to Scotland as the Golden Gate is to San Francisco, this bright-red Victorian-era bridge is still carrying passengers and freight over the estuary of the River Forth 125 years after it was completed. The committee took note of the bridge’s innovative style, materials, and scale in adding it to the list: It was the world’s first multi-span cantilever bridge, the first major bridge made entirely of steel, and at 8,296 feet, remains one of the world's longest.

RELATED: 17 Photos That Prove Scotland Is the Most Beautiful Place on Earth

Hail Region Rock Art, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia wasn’t always a desert; as recently as 6,000 years ago the region was a grassland savannah that supported cattle as well as humans, who left their record carved into the rocks. Saudi Arabia’s new heritage site is composed of two areas, one of them being the Neolithic sandstone petroglyphs near Jubbah. The second area, near the village of Shuwaymis, was known to the Bedouins for centuries, but only discovered by the outside world in 2001. Among the finds were carvings depicting camels, Arabian horses, cheetahs, dogs, oryx, ibex, and humans, and hunting scenes etched into black volcanic rock.

RELATED: 15 World Heritage Sites You Haven't Heard of Yet

San Antonio Missions, USA

UNESCO remembered the Alamo—and four other nearby Franciscan mission complexes along the San Antonio River—when it added this National Historic Park in Texas to its list. The 300-year-old missions and the communities that grew around them were cited as important examples of Spain’s attempt to colonize and defend its northern frontier in the New World. In addition, the missions were noted for integrating the culture of the native Coahuiltecans—who sought protection in the missions from their historic enemies, the Apache and Comanche— into decorative and architectural elements of the churches.

RELATED: Amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North America

Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore

Singapore makes its debut on the World Heritage list with its 183-acre botanic garden in the heart of this bustling city. Established by the English in 1859 to conduct trials on various crops, visitors today can find trees tested almost 150 years ago for their timber quality and see the garden that still serves as a research and scientific facility. It’s also a longtime social gathering spot (open from 5 a.m. to midnight every day of the year) and is free of charge to visit, except for the National Orchid Garden, which houses 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids.

—Deb Hopewell

Read the original story: 10 New World Heritage Sites That Should Be On Your Bucket List by Deb Hopewell, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

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(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

How to Have the Worst Family Vacation Ever

Posted September 10, 2015 by


It's a nearly impossible mission: Put multiple generations in unfamiliar surroundings and expect everyone to have a great time the whole time. But against all odds, family vacations often yield joy and lasting memories. The pitfalls are deep and many, however. So we're sharing with you the top family vacation mistakes we won't be making again. Learn from our blunders, dear readers, and thrive on your next family trip. Your children, parents, aunts, and nephews will thank you.

Mistake # 1: You Eat Questionable Food

What's worse than food poisoning? Being one of four people in a hotel room with food poisoning. Even if you're a hardcore street-foodist who thinks of the occasional food-borne illness as a hazard of the game, you do not want to get into a single-bathroom battle with your nearest and dearest. Some of the risky foods to avoid while traveling include tap water in certain places, anything surrounded by flies, and food that's been sitting out but hasn't been kept either piping hot or nice and cold.

Mistake # 2: You Don't Meet Everyone's Basic Needs

Vacation is not the time to start skipping naps if your toddler still needs them. Nor is it the time to power through meal times because you don't want to pull over the car for a break. Travel creates situations of novel stress, and in order to capitalize on the novelty and minimize the stress, kids and adults need to get enough sleep and eat good food. Laying the foundation for a great vacation means keeping everyone well-fed, hydrated, and rested as much of the time as possible.

RELATED: Tips for Traveling With Kids

Mistake # 3: You're Inflexible

Love to be disappointed? Then you should definitely head into a family vacation with a rigid plan of what should happen every day. From youngest to oldest, everyone on your trip is going to have a different travel style, and not everyone is going to appreciate being marched around day after day as you tell them what to look at and where to eat. Create room for spontaneity and make everyone happier.

Mistake # 4: You Forget That You're on Vacation, Too

We can call this one planner syndrome. When you, as the primary planner, have put your heart and soul into a vacation, it's all too easy to forget to actually be there and experience things rather than monitoring everyone else's joy level and thinking ahead to the logistics of the next activity. If you're going to continue to wear the planning hat (and let's face it, you probably are), at least make it a beach hat and create room to enjoy the vacation you've spent so many hours preparing for.

RELATED: 7 Mistakes That Will Make You Miss Your Flight

Mistake # 5: You Spend All Your Time Together

Deny it if you will, but we know better: No matter how much you love your family, you don't want to spend every minute of every day with them. Everyone needs a little down time, so build some into each day and give everyone time to recharge.

And don't make every activity all-hands. If a few people really want to head to the beach and the rest of the group is ready to climb a volcano, respect everybody's version of vacation. You'll get to come back together and the end of the day and share stories.

Mistake # 6: You Don't Get a Big Enough Place

More room tends to be more expensive, but you're already investing in the vacation, so it's likely worth investing a bit more to make it a good trip. Avoiding cramming everyone into a single bedroom is nice, but the real key to a comfortable stay is having a common area that's separate from sleeping spaces. Because you know what doesn't feel like vacation? Lying in a darkened room three hours before your usual bedtime because you're trying to let the kids sleep. Or camping out on the hotel bathroom floor with a book until you're tired enough to sleep.

If a hotel suite is too pricey, consider a vacation rental. Not only do they offer more space, but they often come with handy amenities like grills and washing machines.

RELATED: 8 Things You Need to Pack for Your Vacation Rental

Mistake # 7: You Make Age-Inappropriate Choices

It's not that there aren't family-friendly activities in Las Vegas. It's that adults in Vegas tend to want to enjoy the less kid-friendly charms of the city.

When you're choosing a family vacation, think hard about the destination. Weigh activity options and any physical demands against the ages of those in your travel group. This goes both ways—make sure to be realistic about the physical limitations of older family members before booking that fourth-floor walkup vacation rental or taking off to a steep hillside city.

Mistake # 8: You Set Yourself Up for Servitude

Finding yourself saddled with the same responsibilities you have at home can be the perfect recipe for stewing resentment. Instead of defaulting to the roles you have at home—which likely reflect work schedules and after-school activities—shake it up and give every able family member a chance to pitch in. After all, you're all on vacation, right? Dividing and conquering chores like meal prep and laundry will go a long way toward giving everyone equal leisure time.

RELATED: Tips for Traveling With Kids

Mistake # 9: You Don't Involve Others in the Planning

According to a Wyndham Rewards study, 53 percent of kids think they could plan a vacation better than their parents. For many travelers—but not all, we admit— planning is part of the fun. In fact, according to every travel happiness survey we've ever seen, the delicious anticipation of a trip is a huge part of the overall enjoyment.

When you get the whole family involved in planning, you end up with an itinerary that reflects what people actually want to do, not just what you think they should do. There's pride in ownership, too: Kids tend to be more patient doing what other people want when they know they'll get a turn.

Mistake # 10: You Don't Stay Connected

Picture it: You're in Rome, it's 97 degrees, and your cousin was supposed to meet you in front of the Colosseum 45 minutes ago. She didn't get an international plan on her phone, so you've got no way of contacting her. Feel the creeping irritation? Let that feeling ease any reservations you have about being pushy in the planning stages about making sure everyone in the group finds a way to stay connected.

Help them prepare their cell phones for the trip, or suggest a carrier such as T-Mobile that offers free international data (for texting) and free Wi-Fi calling abroad. If you happen to be related to a quorum of Luddites and you'll all be in fairly close proximity, consider walkie talkies. Will you look a little weird? Yes, but it will be worth it.

RELATED: How to Spot Your Ideal Travel Companion

Mistake # 11: You Rent the Wrong Vehicle or Home

If you're traveling with a large family group, don't automatically opt for one large vehicle. Two smaller cars give you more flexibility and allow for different schedules and interests. Similarly, if you're opting for a vacation rental but kids have different sleep schedules, it's not a bad idea to consider renting two neighboring smaller units.

—Christine Sarkis

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis has gone on family vacations as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, aunt, and parent. Follow her on Twitter@ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Read the original story: How to Have the Worst Family Vacation Ever by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Creatas)

9 Last-Minute Summer Deals Under $150

Posted August 14, 2015 by

People-Woman Popping Out of Car Sunroof-DD

Summer's fleeting, but you can create more memories before you have to hunker down for the fall by getting in one last getaway. Check out these nine deals—all offering steep last-minute discounts in major metropolitan cities.


Las Vegas: 20 Percent Savings at Popular Strip Resorts

Get your last hurrah in before summer's end—and what better place than in the Strip! Alaska Airlines is currently offering 20 percent off hotel-night stays at eight popular Las Vegas resorts. Among the accommodations options are top-rated popular hotel/casinos, including Caesars Palace (awarded TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence in 2013), the Francophile-fave Paris Las Vegas, Rio All-Suite Hotel (each room option is a suite and all promise great views), and the centrally located LINQ Hotel and Casino.

Stays are valid through June 30, 2016, but all bookings must be made by 11:59 p.m. PT on August 25, 2015.

Search more low prices on Las Vegas packages here!


Walt Disney World Vacations: Air, Stay, Play at 30 Percent Savings

Delta Vacations is offering savings of up to 30 percent off room rates whenever booking hotel-and-flight Walt Disney World vacation packages. The trip bundles include round-trip airfare, onsite Disney report accommodations (which come with extra theme park hours and transportation), Magic Your Way tickets, and Delta frequent-flyer bonus miles.

Tickets must be booked by August 31, and are applicable for travel through October 3. To get an idea of what pricing looks like, we sampled round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Orlando from $773 per person, which includes three-night stays, three-day theme park tickets, and taxes and fees. Other departure cities are available.

Search more low prices on Orlando packages here!


San Antonio: Riverwalk Stays from $143/Night

Need one last summer fling before you can bid the sunny season farewell? Then say "hello" to the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, which is offering 30-percent savings on two-night stays. Rates (before discounts) start at $143 per night.

According to TripAdvisor, the Valencia is the fourth-ranked hotel in all of San Antonio, and one right in the middle of the Riverwalk action.

Search more low prices on San Antonio packages here!


Honolulu: 4th Night Free on the Shores of Waikiki Beach

The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, on the picturesque shores of Honolulu's Waikiki Beach has welcoming promotions right now, one of the best of which is the "Sunsational Savings" offering every fourth night free and complimentary buffet breakfast.

The room category selected must be SUN and accommodations must be booked by December 22.

Search more low prices on Honolulu packages here!


New Orleans: 15 Percent Off Historic Hotel, Free Wi-Fi

Enjoy savings of 15 percent and complimentary Wi-Fi at the 4.5 blubble-rated Omni Royal Orleans. The historic St. Louis Street hotel ranks within the top 10 of all New Orleans accommodations and has received the TripAdvisor 2015 Certificate of Excellence award. August hotel stays start at $143 per night.

To get the 15 percent discount and free Wi-Fi, use code CRPTRP by December 31.

Search more low prices on New Orleans packages here!


New York City: 20 Percent Off Midtown Hotels

The official New York City tourism organization, NYC & Co. has teamed up with several hotels to offer discounts throughout the city. In Midtown, find Sanctuary Hotel New York discounting 20 percent off room rates, plus free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and gym passes; DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Metropolitan—New York City, also with 20-percent discounts off room rates and sightseeing cruises; and two free tickets to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck with stays at New York Marriott East Side. Various other hotels are available.

Search more low prices on New York City packages here!


Chicago: 20 Percent Off Summer Stays

The "Slammin' Summer" deal at Chicago's Hard Rock Hotel on North Michigan Avenue promises 20 percent savings off the best available rates, plus two free welcome cocktails. For the promotion to take effect, redeem code PROTRIP by September 30.

Search more low prices on Chicago packages here!


San Francisco: 25 Percent Off Summer Rates

Save 25 percent from the Best Available rate when spending two or more nights at the Days Inn San Francisco Downtown/Civic Center. Bookings must be made by August 31, and check-in must happen between Sunday and Thursday—perfect timing for a last-minute summer getaway.

Search more low prices on San Francisco packages here!


Seattle: 35 Percent Off Hotel Stays

Save up to 35 percent hotel rates at the four-star Westin Seattle. Discounted rates are applicable during select dates in August and September, but they must be booked by August 31.

Search more low prices on Seattle packages here!

How to Check a Bag for Free

Posted August 13, 2015 by

How to Check a Bag for Free

Dodging bag fees is getting harder and harder. Ever since American introduced checked-bag fees in 2008, nearly every major U.S. airline (and plenty of international airlines) have followed suit. Checked-bag fees are now the industry norm. Even industry darling JetBlue broke our hearts and added the dreaded surcharge.

But not all hope is lost! Checking your bags for free is still doable. Here are seven ways you can avoid checked bag fees on your next flight.

Fly Southwest

Southwest is the only major U.S. airline that lets you check a bag for free. Repeat: Southwest is the only major U.S. airline left that doesn't charge a bag fee. Heck, they'll even let you check two bags for free. Like most airlines, Southwest does levy a surcharge for overweight bags, but with two free bags available to you that shouldn't be an issue.

Related: There's One Big Problem with Southwest's New Seats

Be a (Really) Frequent Flyer

Elite status is difficult to earn for a reason, but if you manage to fly, say, 25,000 miles a year, a whole world of perks opens up to you. In addition to a free checked bag, elite travelers often enjoy access to upgrades, reduced fees, priority boarding, and more. Unfortunately, 25,000 miles per year is unattainable for many leisure travelers (though good for you if you travel that much).

Explore Different Fare Tiers

Many people simply grab the cheapest ticket possible, but these tend to be nonrefundable base fares that entitle you to a seat and nothing more. Higher-priced tickets are often refundable and offer additional perks such as "free" checked bags.

For example, JetBlue introduced an entire new ticketing system when it unveiled its bag fees, and its BluePlus and BlueFlex fares include one and two checked bags, respectively, along with reduced change and cancellation fees. Other airlines, including Virgin America and Frontier, offer similar fare tiers, so it's worth investigating your options. Of course, the price difference can exceed the cost of a single checked bag, so do the math.

Related: How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Flight

Go Minimalist and Carry It On

This one's obvious, but while checked-bag fees are now the norm, most major airlines have resisted adding carry-on bag fees (with notable exceptions including Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier). So if you can travel light, this is one of the simplest ways to ditch the bag fee—plus you know your bag won't get lost in transit.

There are countless ways to get the most out of your carry-on, from vacuum bags that compress your clothes to ingenious organization solutions for your electronics to the suitcase itself. Remember, too, that you get a carry-on and a personal item with most airlines, so use that second bag wisely and you might find yourself able to handle a four- or five-day trip on carry-ons alone.

Get an Airline-Affiliated Credit Card

Many airline-affiliated credit cards grant cardholders free checked bags in addition to other perks and (of course) the ability to earn miles. There are, naturally, a few catches associated with these cards. For example, most airline-affiliated credit cards carry hefty annual fees of around $100, though some waive the fee for the first year. With the typical first-bag fee hovering around $25, you'll need to check a few bags just to break even, and a few more to really benefit from the perk. Also, airline-affiliated cards by nature lock you in to a particular carrier, so you'd better be a fan of American if you pick up its credit card.

Related: Best Credit Cards for Every Type of Traveler

Play the Gate-Check Game

If you're the gambling sort, you can always try the ol' gate-check trick, which involves bringing a carry-on that—oops!—is a bit too large for the overhead bin and has to be gate-checked. There are a few pretty good arguments against doing this, first and foremost being that it will slow down the boarding process while you and a (likely irritated) flight attendant try to cram the thing into the overhead bin on a crowded plane. You don't want to be that passenger, do you? More importantly, airlines have gotten wise to shenanigans like this and are cracking down on oversized carry-ons, meaning you may end up paying a fee anyway. Hardly seems worth the effort, but air travel has a way of making people do strange things.

Related: 7 Things That Are Cheaper to Buy Than Pack

Ship It, But at What Costs

Shipping your bags is a popular tip among the bag-fee averse, but there are a lot of factors to weigh when considering the option, starting with price. I priced out shipping a 45-pound suitcase from my home in Massachusetts to Seattle and got a one-way estimate of $75 from UPS. That's considerably more than just about any bag fee, and in fact is more than I'd pay in bag fees for both legs of my journey. For a trip to Chicago I was quoted $44, still more than a bag fee but closer in range. For a trip to Philadelphia I was quoted $31.

Beyond raw dollars, you also have to consider time. For my Seattle trip, UPS estimated 5 days via its basic ground shipping (faster options were substantially more expensive). Chicago and Philadelphia were both estimated at two days. This means you'll need to pack earlier and make an extra trip to drop off your suitcase a few days before you leave. It also means you'll have to make a drop-off trip at the end of your vacation as well and then wait around for it to arrive (hope your keys aren't in the suitcase!). If you do decide to ship, see if there's a drop-off at the airport you'll be traveling through. You can also ship in one direction and check your bag in the other.

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Read the original story: How to Check a Bag for Free by Carl Unger, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Happy Businessman via Shutterstock)

One Weird Way to Relax on a Plane

Posted August 12, 2015 by

There are many ways to distract yourself on a flight: Read, watch something, listen to music or a podcast. But if you're seeking a more dynamic activity—one that keeps you busy and imparts a least a small sense of accomplishment—we have an idea.

Get some crayons. Get a coloring book. Get coloring.

You may have already heard about the millennial-fueled adult coloring book craze, which various media outlets have covered over the past year. We're talking about adults using coloring books—not adult-themed coloring books (though those do exist).

Coloring helps cut stress, experts say. Psychologist Antoni Martínez tells the Huffington Post, "I recommend it as a relaxation technique. We can use it to enter into a more creative, freer state. We can also use it to connect with how we feel, since depending on our mood we choose different colors or intensity. I myself have practiced that. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the color and the lines flow."

Related: Stop Manspreading on Planes

Think of it as a little art therapy while you're stuck in a plane seat.

Since coloring is an acceptable pastime for adults now, you can find plenty of designs appropriate for your advanced age group. There's no need to resign yourself to black-and-white outlines of Disney princesses and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (unless that's your thing). There are lots of adult-coloring books for sale at bookstores everywhere. Here is a Ryan Gosling coloring book. Here is the Hipster Coloring Book for Adults. Here is a Star Wars coloring book with accompanying 3-D glasses that is certainly not for adults, but no one is stopping you from wearing 3-D glasses that have the Star Wars logo on them on the plane. YOLO.

As far as crayons go, we recommend traveling light with a modest set featuring mostly primary colors. A small pack of good old Crayolas is a good bet. This eight-pack set costs $2. Or just steal your supplies from the hostess station at a local Red Robin.

Would you color in a coloring book while on a plane?

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Read the original story: One Weird Way to Relax on a Plane by Caroline Costello, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

Summer and Early-Fall Getaways for Under $200

Posted July 10, 2015 by


Ft. Lauderdale Vacation Fun from $103/Day

Soak some sun and do so while saving with Priceline’s air-and-hotel deals. We found rates from $102.33 per person, per day ($614 for six days) from Philadelphia (other departure cities available) at the beachside Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Beach hotel.

For even bigger savings, take advantage of the useful Ft. Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau lengthy list of two-for-one offers.

Search more low prices on Ft. Lauderdale packages here!

Denver: Deeply-Discounted Vacations Offer $125 Savings

Savings on flight-and-hotel Denver vacations are as high as, well, a mile. Use promo code 125TRIP at Orbitz and save $125—a steep discount, but only applicable for bookings made by September 30 and with a minimum-four-night stay.

We found early-fall vacation-package deals from Syracuse starting at $115.63 per person, per day ($925 total per person) at the Inn at Cherry Creek. Other dates, hotels, and departure cities are available.

Search more low prices on Denver packages here!

 New England Air/Hotel/Tours from $192/Day

From sights that mark this nation’s infancy to museums that depict all-things Americana, experience a bit of everything-New England with this offer. Among the monumental sites toured in this 10-day vacation are Plymouth Rock, Boston’s Old North Church, Herman Melville’s and Normal Rockwell’s homes, and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory.

The Gate 1 Travel package is priced at $1,919 round-trip ($191.90 per person, per day) from Chicago, and includes air, hotel, motorcoach transfer between sites, 12 meals, taxes and fees, and entrance fees. Other departure cities are available, as are land-only packages.

Search more low prices on Boston packages here!

 Chic Chicago Vacations from $135/Day

Five-day vacations through Travelocity at the chic 4-star Chicago Athletic Association start at $134.60 per day ($673 per person)—that includes airfare during early August.

This rate is priced for departures from Boston during August 6 through 10, but other departure cities, travel windows, and even other hotels are available.

Search more low prices on Chicago packages here!

London Fly & Drive Vacation from $94/Day

Explore England at your pace with Go-Today’s “England Fly & Drive” package, including round-trip airfare from the U.S. to London, England, a car rental with unlimited miles for seven days, and airfare taxes and fees. What’s more, use promo code GTUK715 to save $50 off the package.

Search more low prices on London packages here!

 Minneapolis: 20 Percent Off Hotels

TripAdvisor and the Millennium Hotel Minneapolis have teamed up to bring guests 20-percent savings off rack rates this summer. The centrally located hotel is rated four out of five TripAdvisor bubbles. Use promo code TRIPAD by August 31.

Search more low prices on Minneapolis packages here!

Puerto Rico Air-and-Hotel Vacations from $65/Day

JetBlue Vacations has worked out an exclusive deal with San Juan’s four-star Condado Plaza Hilton for four-day air-and-hotel vacation packages from $259 per person ($64.75 per person, per day). What’s more, the fourth night-stay is free; but for this added perk, a four-night minimum stay is required, and blackout dates exclude travel on July 3, 4, 17-19, 24, and August 21-27.

Prices are per person based on double occupancy, and include accommodations, round-trip airfare, and taxes and fees. The promotion’s travel window falls between July 20 and August 15. The cited rate is for travel from Boston on July 23, though many other departure cities and dates are available.

Search more low prices on San Juan packages here!

Atlantic City: 30 Percent Off Hotels

You’ve just hit the jackpot and you haven’t even stepped into a casino yet! Available through August 18, Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City is running its Semi Annual Sale for stays through March 31, 2016. The promotion discounts rates by 30 percent whenever using code SEMI15.

Search more low prices on Atlantic City packages here!


Free Things You Can Get at Hotels

Posted July 9, 2015 by

Cover Service Bell-GL

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Add this to your list of Golden Rules of travel: You don't get what you don't ask for. Hotels don't necessarily offer all they have to give, so it's up to travelers to know what's available. Ask and you can receive everything from workout gear and kids' toys to vegan toiletries and flat irons. Even better, if you know what to expect in advance, you can trim your packing list and borrow upon arrival. Now that's what we call smarter travel.


Nightlights. Super Glue. Fashion tape. Collar stays. Welcome to Kimpton's magical lending closet. The Forgot It We Got It program offers both the standards (dental floss, mouthwash, etc.) and other items that you may not even know you need until you suddenly need them urgently (for instance, Super Glue). Extension cords, stain-remover wipes, even re-sealable plastic travel bags solve problems of all kinds for guests in need.

Related: 10 Free Things Hotels Provide in Case You Forgot

Candlewood Suites

Candlewood Suites focuses on the extended-stay experience, so it makes perfect sense that its Lending Locker is geared a little less to forgotten toiletries and more to the comforts of home away from home. The locker is stocked with items like reading lamps, board games, small kitchen appliances, and even hand tools. The initial pilot program was such a success that now, all Candlewood Suites have Lending Lockers, stocked and ready for guests in search of crockpots, desk fans, and Monopoly.


Whether you've got sensitive skin, prefer certain brands, or simply don't like the scent of the default toiletries in your room, Conrad Hotels has you covered. Conrad Hotels offer all guests a range of toiletries brands, including Tara Smith Vegan Hair Care, Aromatherapy Associates, Shanghai Tang, and geared-to-men Refinery. According to Roys Laux, vice president of marketing for Gilchrist & Soames, many hotel brands are expanding their toiletries offerings, though guests often have to know to ask in order to sample them. This is good news, particularly for guests looking for "clean" products. Laux says, "Hotels have largely adopted the 'good for you, good for the Earth' mindset that is so prevalent now, meaning that having products readily available for environmentally conscious guests has become a necessity."


No longer will hotel guests in the know have to settle for bad television. Marriott has just debuted a partnership with Netflix that allows guests to sign in (or sign up) to their Netflix accounts on the hotel's internet-connected guest room televisions. By the end of the year, Marriott will offer in-room streaming Netflix at 100 hotels, and plans to offer it at nearly every property by the end of 2016. Wondering if your Marriott is one of the first hotels to debut service? Ask.

Related: 10 Hotel Chains with the Best Free Bath Amenities


If you are a forgetful person who travels a lot, you should consider a close relationship with Hyatt. Its Hyatt Has It program offers an impressive list of complimentary items to borrow. In addition to the standards such as mouthwash, sewing kits, and combs; you can call for deodorants, hairspray, lint rollers, nail polish remover, sanitary products, and makeup remover. Hyatt also has you covered on laundry soap, baby shampoo, curling and flat irons, free weights, humidifiers, power adapters, steamers, tea kettles, yoga mats, and more. Really, there's more.

Related: Top Hotel Loyalty Programs

W Hotels

If you're the type of traveler who has to try every pillow in your hotel room just to find the least uncomfortable option, the Pillow Menu at W Hotels is your dream come true. Designed for princes and princesses in the pea who just don't sleep as well without a great pillow, the Pillow Menu program is part of W Privileges, a set of comfort- and convenience-oriented offerings. Simply make your request to receive a body pillow, neck roll, firm foam PrimaLoft pillow, or 100 percent goose-down feather pillow.

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Read the original story: Free Things You Can Get Just by Asking at SmarterTravel.

10 Dream Trips You Can Actually Afford in 2015

Posted July 8, 2015 by

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(Photo: Adam Burton/Visit Faroe Islands)

This is the year to go someplace epic. In 2015, exotic places are trending and new destinations are emerging. And several of them are more affordable than you might think. Catch a total solar eclipse in the Faroe Islands, see The Hobbit movie set's Hobbit holes on a New Zealand farm, or check out the new ecotourism hot spot dubbed "the next Costa Rica." This roundup of dream trips also takes you to Cuba and a few other emerging destinations where travel restrictions are loosening and the U.S. dollar goes a long way.


(Photo: Romtomtom via flickr/CC Attribution)


Travel to Cuba has been off-limits to American tourists for decades, but U.S. government restrictions are loosening, giving the curious a first glimpse at the country just 90 miles to the south. Last month, President Obama announced that—for the first time since the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in the 1950s—talks have begun to restore full diplomatic relations. For now, Americans can travel to Cuba only with a tour company that holds a special government cultural-exchange license through the newly established People-to-People program. Take a trip sooner rather than later to see Cuba in its most authentic state, before McDonald's and Starbucks find their way onto street corners.

If You Go: Natural Habitat's Undiscovered Cuba tours give you the chance to experience Old Havana's restored architecture, lively salsa music, and big 1950s American cars cruising the streets. You'll tour tobacco farms and hike virtually unknown national parks as you talk politics and issues with Cuban scientists, naturalists, academics, farmers, community activists, artists, business owners, and more.

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(Photo: Adam Burton/Visit Faroe Islands)

Faroe Islands

About halfway between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are one of only two places in the world where you'll be able to see the 2015 total solar eclipse from land. On March 20, the moon will appear to block out the sun and enshroud the islands in darkness for a few minutes at 9:41 a.m., just as it did in the year 1612, according to the old Faroese legend. The remote archipelago country governed by Denmark will mark the event with a major celebration, featuring the symphony orchestra, choirs, dancing, tours, activities, and local cuisine specialties.

If You Go: Ask a local to tell you about the legend of the eclipse. Also keep an eye out for the aurora borealis in the Faroe Islands' clear winter sky. Located near the Arctic Circle, the islands are popular places to spot the lights. This year also debuts a new knitting festival in the small village of Fuglafjørður, the first knitting festival in the area that takes place in people's homes.


(Photo: Christopher Eden via flickr/CC Attribution)


On the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula next to the United Arab Emirates, Oman is a peaceful Middle Eastern gem with stunning beaches, mountains, forests, and deserts that stretch for miles. Only since 1970 has the oil-exporting country established an infrastructure of roads and ports, and then resorts, gradually emerging as a tourism destination. Visitor statistics show a 32 percent jump over the past few years, and Oman tour operators expect to see more growth with several recent new developments: the Opera House in Muscat, international standard golf courses, the Alila hotel opening, luxury catamaran boat trips, and luxury tented beach and desert camping.

If You Go: Get an authentic Arabian experience with Mountain Travel Sobek's Oman Explorer tour, one of the tour operator's new bucket-list trips for 2015. The trip takes you "Wadi bashing" along rocky river beds in a four-wheel drive. You'll also camp in luxury tents on the beach and stroll through Omani villages without a trace of Western influence.


(Photo: Getty Images/esboon images)


In 2015, this Asian country of 63 islands celebrates 50 years of independence since separating from the Federation of Malaysia, and the nationwide commemoration lasts all year long. Golden Jubilee events in Singapore began with a New Year's Eve fireworks display in Marina Bay and continue with a 50th-themed parade in February and a National Day Parade in August. In the fall, the new National Gallery Singapore opens and the National Museum of Singapore will revamp its permanent galleries. As a lasting tribute to the year, a new Jubilee Walk is under construction to connect and mark historic monuments in the civic district and Marina Bay area. A new pedestrian bridge will link Merlion Park to Marina Promenade. Singapore is also the host of the 2015 Southeast Asian Games/Para Games.

If You Go: Between 50th anniversary events, save time to sample the country's national dish: stir-fried chili crabs with tangy gravy. Another authentic food experience is at the open-air hawker center's food stalls. Don't miss Singapore's Chinatown trishaw night tour.


(Photo: Paul Arps via flickr/CC Attribution)


As this isolated Southeast Asian country has begun opening up to visitors over the past few years, tourism has exploded. "We believe that 2015 might be the last year to see a more innocent Myanmar that hasn't been strangled by overdevelopment," says Elias Garcia of Global Basecamps tours. Garcia says you can still visit some areas and be the only foreign traveler, a rare experience in the world today. Although it is quickly modernizing, Myanmar has held onto its traditions. Locals still wear sarong-like longyi attire and prefer to travel by canoe or horse-drawn carriage. The temples of Bagan are a true must-see, on par with the pyramids in Egypt or Angkor Wat.

If You Go: Both the Global Basecamps' Trekking & Temples tour and the Go Ahead Tours' Myanmar: A Cultural Journey through Burma tour take you to Bagan to see one of the world's largest collections of Buddhist temples. The tours also include visits to the gold-plated Shwezigon Pagoda, an important Buddhist pilgrimage site where sacred relics are enshrined.


(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)


Tour companies are calling Nicaragua the next Costa Rica. This verdant ecotourism hot spot has untouched rainforests for hiking, an active volcano where you can go "ash boarding," and quiet beaches that draw international surfing competitions. In Nicaragua, you'll avoid the crowds of neighboring Costa Rica and find prices that are nearly half of what you'd pay across the border. The country also just opened its first five-star resort, Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa, and ocean-view villas are surprisingly affordable. In spite of Nicaragua's war-torn past, perceptions of the country are changing. Nicaragua scored the highest for security levels among Latin American countries in a 2013 Gallup poll.

If You Go: Wander the charming Spanish colonial city of Granada, home to the new boutique Tribal Hotel. The Inn at Rancho Santana opens on the southwest coast this March. In November, the new Emerald Coast Airport opens, offering connecting flights to the beach from Managua's international airport.

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(Photo: Robben Island, South Africa via Shutterstock)

South Africa

A perennial bucket-list favorite, South Africa shows up on the travel radar this year because 2015 marks 25 years since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. Honor the hero with a visit to the Apartheid Museum or Robben Island (where he spent 18 years), and you'll feel South Africans' sense of pride in their progress. Once you pay for airfare, this country is an excellent value destination, especially as the U.S. dollar is strong against the South African rand. Last year, Cape Town was named the 2014 World Design Capital and was transformed by more than 460 design projects. The initiative spurred tremendous growth in the city's arts and culture, says Shaheed Ebrahim of Escape to the Cape tours. Don't miss the new iconic sites, revamped public squares, quaint neighborhood markets, and design quarters.

If You Go: The smarTours South Africa Highlights & Safari tour hits the Nelson Mandela sites as well as Cape Town, Table Mountain, and Kruger National Park. It also includes a safari experience in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve.


(Photo: Shiraz, Iran via JPRichard/


Iran is still an unexpected destination for most Americans, but the tide is definitely turning. With the 2013 election of a new president in this Persian country, visa restrictions have relaxed and more tourists are visiting Iran. Last year, the inaugural rail journey to Iran with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains sold out in three weeks, prompting the company to add several new departures in 2015. Michigan-based Journeys International also added three guided trips to Iran for 2015 in response to increased demand. "Experienced world travelers are planning trips to Iran as a destination that will help them understand the world more clearly," says Will Weber, founder of Journeys. "Until recently, there was no way to gain firsthand knowledge of Iran."

If You Go: Don't miss Shiraz, the city of poets and gardens. The ancient city of Yazd, known for high-quality silk weaving, rises out of the high desert plateau with homes made of mud brick. Both places are stops on Journeys International's Persia Past & Present tour.


(Photo: Vilnius, Lithuania via Shutterstock)


The European Union welcomed Lithuania into the Eurozone on January 1, 2015, when the country became the last of the three Baltic states (after Estonia and Latvia) to officially adopt the euro. Now that it's easier to make electronic payments and access cash via ATMs, tour companies anticipate that an influx of travelers will visit this relatively undiscovered gem. "Lithuania is like a piece of Old World Europe you haven't seen before, yet it's very sophisticated, fresh, and new," says Barbara Banks of Wilderness Travel.

If You Go: Wilderness Travel will debut a new cruise route this year that includes Lithuania: Summer in the Cities of the Baltic. It will stop in Klaipeda, a center for amber jewelry and home to one of the largest amber museums in the Baltic. If you're touring on your own, take a side trip to the country's capital city of Vilnius to see the beautiful architecture in Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the European cities that was never bombed in World War II.

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(Photo: Sara Orme)

New Zealand

Last December, a week after the third Hobbit film in the popular series debuted worldwide, London's Daily Telegraph announced that New Zealand (the real Middle-earth) was voted "Best Country" by readers in the newspaper's annual Travel Awards. Tourism officials expect to see an upsurge in travel to the country and its filming locations, as they did with the release of the first two movies. Also highly anticipated this year, the Cricket World Cup will take place in New Zealand in February and March, and a new luxury Sofitel hotel will open in Wellington to fill a hole in the five-star market.

If You Go: On a picturesque farm, you can tour the Hobbiton movie set, kept intact from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. See Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, the Mill, and other gardens and structures that appeared in the movies. Then go meet New Zealand's indigenous Maori people, learning their customs and sharing a traditional feast. Collette's A Down Under Adventure and Audley Travel's New Zealand tours include these experiences.

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Read the original story: Best Dream Trips for 2015 at SmarterTravel.

10 Secret Spots in America's Top National Parks

Posted July 1, 2015 by

America's National Park Service runs more than 405 sites, including national seashores, recreation areas, historical sites, and national parks. Collectively, these sites receive about 70 million visitors a year—with more than 10 million of them heading to just one national park in particular (Great Smoky Mountains).

Short of visiting in winter and hiking deep into the backcountry, the parks' popularity can make it tricky to find your own slice of solitude. Tricky, but not impossible. Here are 10 scenic spots you can have all to yourself inside the country's most-visited national parks.

Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw more than 10 million visitors in 2014. That's more than the Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined. But given that the majority of those visitors saw the park from the scenic highway that winds its way through the mountains, you'll have an easier time finding your own area of the park if you're willing to get out of the car.

More than 800 miles of hiking trails carve their way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sprawls across North Carolina and Tennessee. One of the best secret gems is the short, moderately steep trail to the hidden Spruce Flats Falls. The trail, not shown on most park maps, begins behind the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. After parking at the visitor center, head up the gravel path that leads toward the staff housing area. When the trail splits, head right and make your way downhill to the base of the falls. You may pass school groups, but the quick two-mile round-trip hike is worth it to see the nearly 30-foot multi-tiered waterfall.

Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park

Nearly 5 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. About 90 percent of them head to the South Rim, while the remaining few drive the extra distance to the North Rim. But just because you head north doesn't mean you're out of the woods (or crowds) yet. Finding a secret slice of Grand Canyon National Park requires you to think beyond the developed rims.

One of the best spots, kept secret mostly because it requires navigating 60 miles of the unpaved Country Road # 109 and has no services, is the Toroweap Overlook. Located in the northwest of the park, abutting the just-as-remote Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, the Toroweap Overlook (also known as Tuweep) offers visitors to the primitive area views of one of the narrowest and deepest portions of the inner canyon. In addition to the Colorado River 3,000 feet below, you'll see remnants from the area's volcanic activity.

A high-clearance vehicle is must for the last three miles, and it's worth booking one of the nine campsites (available by permit) so you can take in the view at sunrise and sunset while still having time to explore the area's two hiking trails.

Related: 10 Must-See Natural Wonders Near the Grand Canyon

Artist Point, Yosemite National Park

While nearly 4 million visitors come to Yosemite National Park each year, most of them never leave Yosemite Valley. Granted, the seven-mile-long canyon—carved from a river and later enlarged by glaciers—is worth the visit because of its views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. But the real beauty of Yosemite National Park lies in the acres of unspoiled nature it preserves.

Let the hordes of tourists unload for a quick photo op at Tunnel View. You can use this as your parking area to reach the just-as-spectacular view at Artist Point. The trailhead starts on the uphill side of the road. You'll walk along the Pohono Trail for about a half-mile before hanging left when it meets up with the old stagecoach road that leads into Yosemite Valley. After another half mile, you'll know you've arrived when you hear yourself inhaling deeply. Return the same way you came.

Point Sublime, Yellowstone National Park

The world's first national park attracts just over 3.5 million annual visitors, many of which unload from tour buses, wait on Old Faithful, and depart shortly thereafter. Depending on your crowd tolerance, it may feel like there are 3.5 million people sitting right around the geyser at any given point. But with more than 2.2 million acres and over 900 miles of hiking trails, Yellowstone National Park holds a ton of hidden-in-plain sight trails that remains relatively unused despite their easy access.

Travel just over half a mile on the South Rim Trail before heading the additional half-mile to Point Sublime. You'll arguably have better, more expansive views of the yellowy, pink, and orange-striped canyon, the Yellowstone River, and the Lower Falls than you can find at any of the made-for-car viewpoints.

Whatever you do at Yellowstone, as long as you get out of the car and head away from the roads, you'll likely find wildlife, aquamarine pools, mudpots, and waterfalls that the majority of park visitors didn't even know existed.

Related: 10 National Parks You Never Knew Existed

Lulu City, Rocky Mountain National Park

Of the hundreds of trails available to hikers, most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park opt for summit hikes (the park has 60 peaks that tower more than 12,000 feet) or trails that lead to lakes or waterfalls. The trail to Lulu City doesn't lead to any of these, but it gets bonus points for taking you to the site of a late 1880s mining camp.

You can find the ghost town by starting at the Colorado River Trailhead. You'll parallel the river and, if you're looking, will spot tailings from the Shipler Mine about two miles into the hike. Pass by meadows before reaching remains of cabins and old building foundations on this fairly easy 3.7-mile one-way trail.

To extend your hike and see Little Yellowstone (the park's miniature version of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone), stay right when you come to the fork for Lulu City. Once you're at the canyon, follow the Grand Ditch until you meet the stage road that will take you to Lulu City for a total loop of nearly 14 miles.

Beach 1 and Beach 2, Olympic National Park

Most visitors stick to the rainforest and mountains—Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Quinault—when they visit the Olympic National Park. Those that do opt to visit the coast usually head to well-known beaches like Kalaloch, Ruby, and Shi Shi. All of these places have, indeed, earned their reputation and demand a visit. But for your own strip of sand with easy access that doesn't require a miles-long trek, pay a visit to Beach 1 and Beach 2 before Kalaloch when heading north on Highway 101, or Beach 3 and Beach 4 after Kalaloch (but before Ruby Beach).

Don't confuse these with First, second, and third beaches near The Forks, unless you want to hang out with rabid Twilight fans. Look carefully on the right side of the road for small pullouts where you can park. Some may mark which beach you're at, but it's easy to drive past. Short trails through the woods open up to vast expanses of some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Washington (and sandier than some of their more famous counterparts). As with any coastal visit, check the tides beforehand, look for any signs marking overland trails, and watch for high waves that make the tree trunks scattering the beach quite dangerous.

Related: 10 Crowd-Free National Parks

Petroglyph Canyon, Zion National Park

Most visitors to Zion National Park come for the natural wonders as seen from popular hikes like Angel's Landing, the Narrows, and even the lesser-known-because-it's-so-hard-to-get-a-permit Subway. But if you're not most visitors, consider adding a visit to one of the park's cultural wonders: Petroglyph Canyon.

The canyon is very hush-hush—even if you ask a ranger about it—likely because touching has already eroded some of the other areas in the park known for petroglyphs. Plus, deliberate vandalism continues to threaten the delicate rock art. This particular archeological site features more than 150 figures, nearly all petroglyphs (incised images) with one small red triangle pictograph (painted image). Instead of giving convoluted directions to the site, we urge you to respect the preservation efforts of the National Park Service and consult a park ranger at the visitor's center if you're interested in this piece of history.

Bradley Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Fortunately for visitors to the Grand Tetons, Grand Teton National Park sits below Yellowstone, drastically reducing the number of people that actually stop. For a relatively flat hike leading to iconic Teton scenery, head to Bradley Lake. You can opt to start from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead or the Taggart Lake Trailhead. From either trail, there are multiple paths that stray off, so it's easy to get lost. But the beauty in this is if you have a map, you can make it to Bradley Lake and shake off some of the other hikers—if there are any.

From the Taggart Lake Trailhead, you can make this into about a six-mile loop hike or opt to go a bit further and look for the Avalanche Canyon trail. Unmarked on maps, enough people travel this trail that it's fairly noticeable, despite debris from avalanches sometimes blocking portions of the path. Look for the trail on the north shore of Lake Taggart. As you move up the canyon, cairns mark the path that eventually leads to Lake Taminah. However, if you've made it that far, you have (hopefully) planned for an overnight trip and have bear canisters—this is grizzly country, after all.

Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park

Most people associate a visit to Acadia National Park with a visit to Mount Desert Island. But even though the majority of the park is located there, opt to visit the only section of the park that's connected to the mainland. The Schoodic Peninsula, in particular Schoodic Point at the peninsula's tip, offers quintessential views of waves throwing a salty spray into the air as they crash against granite cliffs.

The park also includes several islands, many favored by birds for nesting, including Little Moose Island, visible from Schoodic Point. Rent a kayak to paddle there, or access it by foot at low tide (just make sure you head out before the tide turns). Paddling to the Porcupine islands—off the coast of Bar Harbor—is another great option.

Related: 27 Places That Will Restore Your Faith in Travel

Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road is considered by many to be one of the world's most spectacular drives. But off this road (the main highway through Glacier National park) you can find one of the most remote sections of the park: Bowman Lake.

Don't get discouraged based on the long trek down pothole-laced roads. The ride is worth it, with a campground at one end of the eight-mile lake and a backcountry campsite at the other. Use the spot as a launching point for day hikes like the Numa Ridge Lookout trail that leads to a fire watch cabin and views of several area peaks and lakes. Or just use the off-the-beaten-path location as an excuse to zen out.

But perhaps the biggest secret of Glacier National Park is to visit now: Fewer than 25 of the park's 150 glaciers remain, with the lingering glaciers expected to permanently disappear by 2030.

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Read the original story: 10 Secret Spots in America's Top National Parks by Kate Sitarz, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Glacier National Park, Montana via Shutterstock)

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