MONEY Travel

A Month-by-Month Guide to the Best Places to Travel in 2015

Use our new travel calendar to make this your best vacation year yet.

Cold weather got you down? Perhaps you’d like to get away someplace warm this winter. Or maybe you’re already thinking about your summer vacation destination. No matter when you’d like to escape, this 12-month calendar will help you find the best getaway—and the best deals. (Also check out these travel resolutions that can help you save time, money, and hassle all year long.)

  • January: Cruise the Caribbean

    Sun Seekers aboard The Caribbean Princess
    Sun seekers aboard the Caribbean Princess Jordan Confino—Flickr

    Why Now: January is the ideal time to sail the balmy Caribbean, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com. “You avoid the December holiday crowds, and pricing is quite affordable,” she says. Indeed, many cruises are 50% or more off peak rates.

    What to Do: For a small island and beach-oriented trip, book a sailing in the eastern Caribbean, which includes destinations like Turks and Caicos, as well as the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. Or, if you prefer to visit ancient ruins, scuba-dive, or do some ziplining, check out the western route, where you may stop in Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Roatán, Honduras; and Belize City, Belize.

    How to Save: Starting at $309 per person, Princess Cruises’ four-night eastern Caribbean trip, which departs Jan. 22 from Fort Lauderdale, is up to 50% off its holiday price. (All rates are as of January 8.) The ship offers a poolside movie theater, history lectures, and yoga, and stops in the Bahamas and Princess Cays, the liner’s 40-acre private island.

    For a more luxurious pick, Peter Lloyd of Century Travel recommends a 10-day western Caribbean sailing on the Oceania Riviera. Departing from Miami on January 14, the ship stops in Key West, Cozumel, and Belize City. Onboard, indulge in a treatment at the Canyon Ranch spa and dine in any of nine restaurants. The trip starts at $2,699, about half off holiday and summer rates.

  • February: Ski Lesser-Known Mountains

    A snowboarder enjoys the fresh powder at Montana's Bridger Bowl
    A snowboarder enjoys the fresh powder at Montana's Bridger Bowl. Ben Pierce—www.benpiercephoto.com

    Why Now: Skiing on the edge of the season can mean bargains, but it’s hard to predict whether the snow will play along. Instead, pick a smaller-name resort in-season; you’ll find reliable conditions and savings of 20% or more (avoid Presidents’ Day weekend).

    What to Do: Some of the country’s best powder falls in Colorado, Utah, and Montana. Fortunately, you don’t need to pay through the nose to ski it. Just find the right mountain, buy your lift tickets online and in advance, and go hit those slopes.

    How to Save: In Colorado, try Monarch Mountain, three hours from Denver and located in a microclimate that gets hammered with snow, says Colorado-based travel writer Jayme Moye. Advance lift tickets start at $57 a day, vs. $110 for Vail.

    Thinking about Park City? Visit Ogden’s Powder Mountain, which gets over 500 inches of natural snow a year, instead. Lift tickets are $69 (vs. $105 in Park City)—or free when you book a package at the Ben Lomond Suites (from $144).

    Big Sky, an hour south of Bozeman, is Montana’s most high-profile resort. However, many locals prefer to head north to Bridger Bowl, where lift tickets are just $52. (They’re $103 at Big Sky.) Plus, since you’re only 20 minutes from the city, you can stay in Bozeman, where boutique properties like the C’mon Inn start at an affordable $99 a night.

  • March: Escape the Spring Breakers in Oahu

    Couple look across the Pacific from Makapuu Trail
    A view of the Pacific from Makapuu Trail Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Autho—Tor Johnson

    Why Now: Since many schools go on spring break in March, it’s a tough month for deals in fair-weather destinations. The Hawaiian island of Oahu is a surprising exception. Waikiki, the popular beach neighborhood in Honolulu, on the island’s south side, sees an average rate dip of 10%, vs. July and August, according to hotel research firm STR.

    What to Do: Oahu is Hawaii’s most populous island, but you can find open countryside and quiet beaches outside Honolulu, says Marilyn Clark with Lighthouse Travel. Take the five-mile hike at Kaena Point, the westernmost tip of the island, where you’ll see albatross and whales.

    Check out free events such as the Honolulu Festival (March 6-8), a cultural celebration that highlights Hawaiian art, dance, and music. Stay up for the Honolulu Night Market on March 21, when local designers and chefs line the streets of the city’s Kakaako district with food and fashion stalls.

    How to Save: Rooms with partial ocean views at Honolulu’s Sheraton Princess Kaiulani are $225, half off the high season. Farther inland, rates are even lower: the Coconut Waikiki hotel, a 10-minute walk from the beach, has rooms from $169 (vs. $209).

    Visiting in March could mean airfare savings as well: As of early December, nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Honolulu started at $660 in March, vs. $810 in July.

  • April: Hike Peru’s Sacred Valley

    Andean weavers in Cuyuni, a village outside of Cuzco
    Andean weavers in Cuyuni, a village outside of Cuzco courtesy of Paragon Expeditions

    Why Now: April marks the end of the low season in southern Peru’s popular Sacred Valley region. If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the sun rise over Machu Picchu, now’s a great time. April’s short but frequent showers limit crowds and keep prices slightly lower than usual. Plus, the markets will be overflowing with harvest-time bounty, and the countryside is vibrant from the past few months of rain, says Holly Wissler, a trip expert for tour operator Paragon Expeditions.

    What to Do: Obviously, you must visit Machu Picchu, the Incan emperor’s estate dating to the 15th century. A limited number of people are allowed in daily, so go with a tour group or buy your entrance tickets at least three months in advance.

    In Cuzco, the region’s largest city, enjoy historic sites like the Plaza de Armas, which dates to the Incas, and there are more modest delights too, like a glass of chicha, a fermented-corn drink, at Picanteria and Chicheria Valia.

    How to Save: Paragon’s eight-day Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley tour is $3,298, $500 less than in peak season. You’ll tour the iconic ruins, meet Andean weavers, and visit the strangely beautiful tiered salt mines outside of Cuzco.

    Another eight-day trip, the Classic Machu Picchu from Knowmad Adventures, is a manageable $2,160 in April ($200 off regular price). Standout outings include a visit to Sacsayhuaman, an Inca fortress of massive rock walls, just north of Cuzco, and a chance to browse through the artisan goods at the Sunday Urcos Market.

  • May: Safari in Kenya

    Rhinos in Nakuru National Park in Kenya.
    Rhinos in Nakuru National Park in Kenya. Luis Davilla—First Light

    Why Now: May, the tail end of the green, or rainy, season, is one of the best and most affordable months to take a safari. While the dry landscapes of high season make it easier to spot big game, visitors arriving this month will enjoy wildflowers and lush scenery, says Kent Redding of Africa Adventure Consultants. Even better, he says: “It’s birthing season, so you’ll see baby animals.”

    What to Do: Safari, of course! Depending where in Kenya you go, and what outfitter you choose, you could see everything from elephants and rhinos to zebras and impalas. Another important consideration: Will you travel by land or air? Air is speedier and more convenient, while staying earthbound will save you the biggest bucks.

    How to Save: For a splurge, pick Africa Adventure Consultants’ Kenya Unforgettable safari, a private nine-day trip by small plane. You’ll stay at camps such as Amboseli National Park, famous for its huge elephant herds, and Samburu National Reserve, where you’ll see northern species such as Grevy’s zebra and the reticulated giraffe. This once-in-a-lifetime getaway totals out at $7,494 per person, a $1,785 savings from the high season.

    For a more manageable price tag, opt for smarTours’ 12-day Kenya Wildlife Safari; it’s $3,599 for May departures, $1,000 below peak season. This group trip drives from camp to camp, visiting gems such as the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park, home to a rhino reserve and massive flamingo flocks.

    Airfares, too, tend to be affordable in May, according to flight search site Momondo.com. Recently, roundtrip flights from Chicago to Nairobi started at $765, vs. $1,542 in July.

  • June: Road-Trip Along Coastal Maine

    The first rays of sun after sunrise reach the Portland Head Light, built in 1791, which protects mariners entering Casco Bay. The lighthouse is located in Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine, USA.
    Portland Head Light, a historic lighthouse Clarence Holmes—First Light

    Why Now: While much of New England is shifting into summer mode by June, it still feels like spring in northerly Maine, with highs in the low 70s, long sunny days, and fields of wildflowers coming into bloom. Vacationers won’t start flooding into the state in earnest until July, so you’ll find fewer crowds and reasonable prices. At many of Maine’s coastal lodges, June rates are up to 35% lower than in peak summer, says Greg Dugal of the Maine Innkeepers Association.

    What to Do: Take advantage of the relatively clear roads with a drive along scenic Route 1, which runs up the coast toward New Brunswick. Not sure where to start? The 158-mile stretch between Portland and Acadia National Park is particularly pretty. Along the way, be sure to put down several of the state’s famous lobster rolls (Hilary Nangle, author of the Moon Maine guidebook, recommends McLoons Lobster Shack on Spruce Head Island).

    Make time for a couple of leisurely detours. Stop in Boothbay to see the lovely Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens ($16). Further north, drive down St. George peninsula to take in the views from Marshall Point lighthouse.

    How to Save: Point Lookout Resort, located in Northport, knocks $45 off the peak-summer price of its gorgeous pine cabins, complete with porches and fireplaces (from $206). In Rockport, check out the Samoset Resort. The property, on 230 waterfront acres, has an 18-hole golf course, spa, and pool, and a wide range of outdoor sports courts. June rates start at $239, compared with $339 in August.

  • July: Visit Mexico’s Heartland

    Inmaculada Concepcion Church, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
    A sunset view of San Miguel de Allende Luis Davilla—First Light

    Why Now: While you could also head to Mexico’s Caribbean coast for July deals, San Miguel de Allende, located in the Bajío Mountains, is a better choice. Rather than suffer the humidity of the coast, you’ll enjoy daytime temps in the mid-70s and cool evenings. Still, tourism to the area does slack off in the summer, so there’s plenty of cheap lodging to be had.

    What to Do: San Miguel is famous for its colonial architecture. Get your design bearings with the House & Garden tour (Sundays, $20), which takes travelers inside many of San Miguel’s historic homes, suggests Zachary Rabinor, CEO of Journey Mexico. The city is also home to a range of superb restaurants, serving up everything from traditional enchiladas to newer spins on the classics, like short ribs in mole sauce. Then there’s the street food: you’ll find cheap eats—bean soup and stewed pork or chicken ($4) at Mercado el Nigromante, a relatively tourist-free market, says Alberto Aveleyra of Artisans of Time tours. For gifts, visit Mercado Ignacio Ramírez for brass handicrafts.

    How to Save: For an ultra-affordable stay, book Casa Gutiérrez, a colorful guesthouse where rooms with private baths start at $32, down more than 40% from spring rates. According to CheapAir.com, you’ll get the best fares to Mexico by booking three months out. And don’t forget to check fares into Mexico City, three hours away, as well as the closer Querétaro airport.

  • August: Unwind in the Maldives

    A sea turtle in the Maldives
    A sea turtle in the Maldives Courtesy of Coco Bodu Hithi

    Why Now: This island nation, off the tip of India, is one of the world’s most striking—and expensive—vacation spots. During the summer rainy season, though, resort prices drop by 30% to 40% and some hotels start throwing in free extras, says Justin Parkinson, a Maldives specialist with Linara Travel. While travelers can expect three to five showers a week in August, he says, storms are typically short and clear quickly.

    What to Do: The diving and snorkeling in the Maldives are world-class. The crystal-clear waters are home to whale sharks, rays, sea turtles, and more. In most cases, your resort will arrange for a dive (typically $80 to $150).

    How to Save: Is staying in a private overwater bungalow on your bucket list? Seven nights at Coco Bodu Hithi, located on an island in the northern atoll, costs $4,900—still a whopping sum, but more than 30% cheaper than in high season. All villas are tricked out with their own terraces and private pools.

    Guesthouses, legalized in the Maldives in 2011, are a more affordable alternative, says Guesthouses-in-Maldives.net founder Raki Bench. He suggests the Arena Lodge on Maafushi, a South Malé atoll, priced at $119 a night, including meals and snorkeling gear. A caveat: The Maldives is a Muslim country, so alcohol is banned in residential areas, and people cover up on public beaches. However, many guesthouses have day rates with resorts (from $30), where guests can have a cocktail and break out their swimwear.

  • September: Hit the Beach on the Emerald Coast

    Riding bikes on the watersound boardwalk
    Riding bikes on the watersound boardwalk Jean Allsopp

    Why Now: There are few places more picturesque than Florida’s Emerald Coast, especially the section edged by Highway 30A, east of Destin. The 28-mile road links a series of sugar-white sand beaches and manicured towns, both of which are packed throughout the summer months. But come September the families clear out, prompting hotel prices to drop and leaving you plenty of room to enjoy the clear blue-green ocean and 80° days.

    What to Do: Explore the various coastal towns, each with its own vibe. In Seaside, known for its pastel houses (you may recognize them from The Truman Show, which was filmed here), visit Modica Market to stock up on essentials. Then, stroll to the beach for a pleasantly sandy picnic. For a more active afternoon, hike along dune-flanked trails in deer lake State Park (entrance fee: $3), next to WaterSound Beach. Nearby Rosemary Beach is known for its New Orleans–style houses and charming shops.

    How to Save: Lodging prices typically dip 10% to 20% in September. For a splurge, rent a one-bedroom cottage in Seaside, where starting rates fall 17% in September to $350 a night. Or choose one of the area’s affordable inns. Rooms at the Hibiscus Coffee and Guesthouse in Santa Rosa Beach start at $125, down 15% over August rates. Plus, you’ll get a dynamite free breakfast; past visitors rave about the cinnamon-roll French toast and spinach frittatas.

  • October: Tour Artsy Toronto

    Toronto downtown panorama view from Centre Island, restaurant in foreground.
    Toronto downtown panorama view from Centre Island, restaurant in foreground. Andrew Rubtsov—Alamy

    Why Now: Fall temperatures can be cool in Toronto (think highs in the low 60s), but for culture vultures, October is an ideal time to visit. Oct. 3 is Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, a contemporary arts festival when cultural institutions, from museums to artist-run centers, open their doors and offer free access to their collections. Plus, arrive before mid-month and you’ll catch some beautiful fall foliage.

    What to Do: Learn your way around with a free walking tour of downtown, offered by the Royal Ontario Museum. Or, for something a bit more neighborhoody, explore the city’s Queen West district, known for its galleries and independent boutiques, says art consultant and city guide Betty Ann Jordan. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Stephen Bulger Gallery, where you’ll see historical and contemporary photographs by the likes of Vivian Maier and André Kertész. The space includes a 50-seat theater and hosts free films on Saturdays at 3 p.m.

    Music fans should also plan to visit the steel-and-glass Richard Bradshaw amphitheatre, which hosts biweekly performances by the Canadian Opera Company.

    For a break from the city, take in the fall colors on Centre Island, a residential isle just a 15-minute ferry ride ($7) from downtown.

    How to Save: In October, hotel rates dip by 10% or more compared with the summer high season. Rates at the 586-room InterContinental, for example, are 30% lower at $166. At the Gladstone Hotel, a redbrick Victorian on Queen Street West, industrial-style rooms with exposed brick walls start at $131 (vs. $197).

  • November: Take In Savannah’s Southern Charm

    A row of classic Savannah homes.
    A row of classic Savannah homes. Bill Stamatis—Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Why Now: Savannah is best known for its 19th-century architecture and oak-lined streets. However, the city also has an impressive modern design scene, thanks in large part to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which has campus buildings all over town. The crowds that flood the city earlier in the year start to thin in November, yet the weather stays pleasant, with highs in the low 70s.

    What to Do: Immerse yourself in the region’s design history with a walking tour from Jonathan Stalcup, founder of architectural Savannah. His in-depth itineraries ($30) detail Savannah’s progression from Georgian buildings (when we loved the English) to Greek Revival mansions (when we loathed the English).

    The city is also a shoppers’ paradise, stocked with one-of-a-kind delights, says editor Heather Henley of DoSavannah.com. Check out Satchel for unique leather handbags and Folklorico for crafts from a range of countries.

    Finally, be sure to sample the city’s culinary scene, which ranges from Low Country classics to newer additions, like Florence, an Italian spot recommended by Stefanie Dasher, who blogs about the city on Lifeonthesquares.com: “Try the black bucatini pasta with a pork sausage ragu ($20).”

    How to Save: Savannah’s popularity as a convention destination keeps hotel prices relatively stable, but, according to STR, the average rate does slide 10% in November as tourists head to even warmer climes. Look carefully, and you’ll find more impressive deals: At Brice, for instance, a new property with four- poster beds and a chic, all-white library, rates start at $179, down from a peak of $399. The no-frills Holiday Inn express, ideally located in the historic district, has rooms from $125 (vs. $172 in April).

  • December: Spend the Holidays in Madrid

    A giant Christmas tree illuminates the Puerta del Sol in the centre of Madrid.
    A giant Christmas tree illuminates the Puerta del Sol in the centre of Madrid. Gerard Julien—AFP/Getty Images

    Why Now: Madrid rings out the year in high style. Serrano, a top shopping street, shows off lights and festive window displays, and the city’s many churches set up glowing nativity scenes, says Virginia Irurita, founder of travel company Made for Spain. Madrid is already a steal compared with other European capitals (the average hotel rate is about $100, vs. $179 in Rome), and lodging rates dip 20% in December.

    What to Do: Get in the holiday spirit with a choral or organ performance at the Almudena Cathedral or one of the free Christmas concerts hosted by the Prado Museum, says Irurita. Then, indulge in the other thing Madrileños worship—food—at the cozy new Ultramarinos Quintín, part market, part restaurant. Don’t miss the bacalao-stuffed croquettes, shrimp, and fried potatoes.

    Shopping for holiday gifts? Skip the weekend crowds at the city’s famous Sunday Rastro flea market; the best vendors are open all week long, says Madrid-based journalist Andrew Ferren. Among his favorites: La Recova, which carries home-decor items, and la Brocanterie, the place to find mid-century furnishings. Afterward, duck into Lhardy for a cup of hot caldo, or bouillon, mixed with sherry, Ferren says.

    How to Save: For affordable accommodations, check out room-matehotels.com, a Madrid-based chain of unique properties throughout the city. Simple double rooms at Room Mate’s centrally located Mario hotel cost $73 in December, compared with $98 in summer. Planning a holiday splurge? Opt for Urso Hotel & Spa, housed in a former palace. The property has gotten a lot of attention for its elegant custom furnishings and hydrotherapy spa pool. Rates start at $205, down about 20% from March.

    Read next:
    6 Ways to Be a Savvier Traveler in 2015

MONEY Travel

6 Ways to Be a Savvier Traveler in 2015

150108_EM_TravelResolutions
Roy Hsu—Getty Images

This year, resolve to be the smartest traveler you can be. Start with these strategies.

1. Get carded. Thinking about applying for a travel rewards credit card—or switching the one you have? Check out the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite, which lets you put your points toward any type of travel you book, rather than limiting you to a single airline or hotel chain.

2. Check your miles. If you bank your frequent-flier points with a single airline, review its latest policies, says Ryan Lile of the Frequent Flyer Academy. United and Delta, for example, have altered their programs this year, reducing the value for many members. You may want to switch.

3. Be promiscuous. Sign up for every major loyalty program (including car rental firms). They’re free and may provide perks.

4. Reap the rewards. Airlines free up more award seats as the departure date nears, so try booking about a month out, says Brian Kelly of ThePointsGuy.com. Just remember: Many carriers charge extra for booking within 21 days of travel.

5. Search on Sunday. Use Sundays to research flights. “It’s the best day of the week to find low airfares,” says Lile.

6. Pick your day. When you book a ticket, choose the cheapest departure day. According to Kayak .com, that’s Friday for domestic trips, and Tuesday or Wednesday for international.

Read next:
A Month-by-Month Guide to the Best Places to Travel in 2015

MONEY Travel

3 Group Trips Even a Loner Could Love

Thinking about getting away this winter? You can save big on some beautiful places by booking with a group.

Group trips can be a deal, since operators get discounts for booking in bulk. The key is finding the right one for you. The best tours pair a great itinerary with compatible travelers. Try these strategies to get both:

  • Don’t assume smaller is better. Tiny groups aren’t for everyone, says Peter Grubb of ROW Adventures. Big tours can be daunting, but small ones mean lots of time with a few people.
  • Read the crowd. Honeymooners may not want to tour with retirees and vice versa. A good operator will tell you about the type of folks who typically take the trip, including ages and travel styles.
  • Know yourself. Most tours mean following a schedule and accommodating others, says Greg Geronemus of outfitter smarTours. Control freak? Pick a self-guided trip or one with free time.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are three great destinations to check out.

  • For Adventure Seekers

    Costa Rica courtesy of G Adventures

    Toronto-based G Adventures specializes in thrill-centric trips with a twist: The firm offers similar itineraries in a range of styles and prices. So travelers looking for a pulse-pounding Costa Rican vacation can opt for the “Classic” 16-day trip ($1,599) and save 20% over a similar 14-day “Comfort” outing, which includes more private transfers and high-end lodging. The cheaper trip may use more modest hotels, but it doesn’t skimp on activities. Participants hike the Arenal Volcano, tour Monteverde’s cloud forest, take a boat ride to Tortuguero National Park, and hang out in surf- and kayak-friendly Manuel Antonio.

  • For Independent Travelers

    Napa Valley vineyard
    Napa Valley William Curtis Rolf—Gallery Stock

    Does sticking to a daily schedule sound like the opposite of a vacation to you? Try a self-guided tour, like Country Walkers’ six-day trip through -Sonoma and Napa Valley. On this trip, you can go at your own pace, using an itinerary and maps provided by the tour operator, says travel agent Carol Steffens of Travel Leaders–Discovery. You’ll explore wine country on foot, stopping for tastings and cellar tours along the way, eventually rejoining the rest of your group at the same hotel that evening. (Your luggage will be transferred.) Don’t mind cool spring weather? Book a March departure for $1,798 and save 20% over high-season rates.

  • For Outdoorsy Folks

    141030_TRA_BigBend
    Big Bend, Texas Witold Skrypczak—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

    Taking a trip with a nonprofit rather than a standard tour operator has two advantages: Your money goes to a group you support, and you’ll cut the cost of your vacation. Willing to rough it? A seven-day trip through Texas’s Big Bend National Park with the Sierra Club Outings starts at $945, while a similar seven-day itinerary from a for-profit operator costs $2,795 or more. Travelers on the Sierra Club’s tour will visit hot springs, hike through natural wonders like the limestone canyon Devil’s Den, and camp out under the Texas sky.

    More money-saving travel ideas:
    4 Ways to Visit Europe for 33% Off
    3 Awesome Cruise Deals to Book This Fall
    The Best Sites for Booking Last-Minute Travel

MONEY

3 Awesome Cruise Deals to Book in October

October is a smart time to book a river cruise, as companies scramble to fill 2014 sailings and get a jump on next year. Here are three destinations offering terrific deals.

  • 1. The Mississippi

    Courtesy of American Queen Steam

    You don’t have to leave the U.S. to cruise. Popular domestic destinations include the rivers of the Pacific Northwest and the mighty Mississippi, says Mark Murphy of TravelPulse.com. Book by Oct. 31 for half off December sailings from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Miss., and back with American Queen Steamboat Co. The firm has two eight-day options for $1,275 a person (down from $2,550). Stops include the Oak Valley Plantation in Louisiana and the Old Natchez Trace trail in Mississippi. Onboard, dine in one of two restaurants and watch the river from the deck-mounted swing.

  • 2. The Rhine

    Courtesy of AmaWaterways

    You’ll find holiday deals on this Western European river. AmaWaterways is offering up to 40% off cruises from Basel to Amsterdam in November and December. The 13-day trip starts in Zurich, then heads up the Rhine, stopping along the way so you can tour local Christmas markets and sip mulled wine in cities like Cologne, Germany, and Strasbourg, France. The trip, typically $2,800 a person, drops as low as $1,680 if you book before Oct. 15. Prefer to wait for warmer weather? Snag a balcony room on more than 90 AmaWaterways 2015 sailings by the end of the month and get up to $1,500 off.

  • The Mekong

    AAA-10244001761
    Courtesy of Viking River Cruises—B SCHMIDa collection

    This 2,700-mile river runs through Vietnam and Cambodia, passing lush farmlands as well as metropolises like Ho Chi Minh City. A 15-day trip with Viking River Cruises is a great way to explore the area, says Ruth Turpin of Cruises, Etc.  You’ll explore the temple of Angkor Wat, see dance performances in Phnom Penh, and take a culinary tour of the floating markets of Cái Bè. Viking recently slashed its 2015 prices; this cruise, which launches multiple times each month, is now $3,500 (regularly $7,000) when booked before Oct. 31, and includes intracountry airfare and hotels.

  • Don’t Get Caught Short by Extra Costs

    While river cruises are often billed as “inclusive,” you will need to shell out for some expenses. Here are the big ones.

    Getting Aboard
    Budget for flights to and from your cruise, as well as for lodging the night before you depart (you don’t want to miss the ship!) and transportation from your hotel to the boat, says Adventure Life Journey’s Mary Curry.

    Extra Drinks
    Before you imbibe, read the fine print: Rates often include beer and wine with lunch and dinner, but you’ll usually pay extra for premium liquors or any drinks outside of mealtimes, says Scott Kertes of Hartford Holidays.

    All Tips
    Gratuities for staff and guides aren’t usually included, though there are exceptions, such as trips with Tauck. Not sure how much to give? “Budget about $100 per person per week,” says Murphy of TravelPulse.com.

MONEY Travel

Where to Leaf-Peep for Less This Fall

Choosing a lesser-known foliage spot will help you save money and dodge crowds. Here are three great places to enjoy fall colors without spending a lot of green.

  • The Eastern Townships, Quebec

    Remi Boucher

    While neighboring New England is overrun by leaf spotters—tiny 625,000-person Vermont, for one, expects 3.5 million visitors this fall—this charming cluster of towns gets closer to 1 million tourists during the same period. Outside North Hatley, visit the Jacques Robidas Equestrian Center to ride through groves of maples and birch on horseback ($61). Nearby ski area Mont Sutton opens its lifts on fall weekends; soar over colorful canopies, then take a free guided hike.

    Replenish yourself with freshly made cider at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac abbey, says Jake Beers of the Sherbrooke Record. Bed down at Le Pleasant Hôtel & Café, where rooms start at $128. Game for something more rustic? Try the cabins and yurts on the 70-acre La Vallée Heureuse du Mont Élan ($73 for two).

  • Chattanooga

    140905_EM_LeafPeep2
    Ian Dagnall—Alamy

    Skip popular Asheville, N.C., and head to low-profile Chattanooga, nestled in the Appalachians. In October the typical hotel rate in Chattanooga is just $81, vs. $149 in Asheville. Hike the Cherokee Trail in Stringer’s Ridge Park for a scenic overlook of the city. Or relax on a cruise along the Tennessee River Gorge aboard the Southern Belle riverboat ($36, with lunch). Mark McKnight of outdoor outfitter Rock/Creek suggests renting a kayak (from $25) to paddle around the 19-acre Maclellan Sanctuary on Audubon Island.

    Like hip, modern design? Book a private room ($75) at “boutique hostel” the Crash Pad. For a more traditional stay, choose the historic Sheraton Read House Hotel (starting at $119).

  • The Dallas Divide, Colo.

    140905_EM_LeafPeep3
    Getty

    This stunning section of Highway 62 packs a scenic punch. You’ll see red aspens, scrub oak, and flowered rabbitbrush, plus the snowcapped peaks of Mount Sneffels. Ditch the car for a bit and stroll along the Uncompahgre River in nearby Ridgway State Park, says park manager Kirstin Copeland.

    Fall is peak season in many foliage destinations, but ski-centric Telluride is actually cheaper in autumn. Save 30% over winter rates when you book at the New Sheridan Hotel in September (starting at $175).

  • A Fall Foliage Checklist

    No matter where you’re headed, use these strategies for the best peeping:

    Time it right. Check sites such as OregonFallFoliage.com or Foliage-Vermont.com to see when color will peak, says Steve Jermanok of ActiveTravels.com.

    Get the download. Use the Audubon Trees app ($4) to identify leaves. RootsRated (free) lists foliage hikes and other outdoor activities.

    Find the best route. Many state tourism websites suggest local foliage drives. In New England, YankeeFoliage.com offers a curated selection.

    Related:
    4 Ways to Visit Europe for 33% Off

MONEY Travel

Tips for International Travelers

Combining destinations for a grand tour? Try these tips for intra-European travel.

Planes

Flying on European discount airlines can be surprisingly affordable. However, be sure to factor the (many) fees into the price, says George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com. On Ryanair, lose your boarding pass and you’ll pay $20 for a new one.

Trains

For the best fares, book directly through railway websites, not U.S. ticketing agencies, says Thomas Meyers of Eurocheapo.com. Buying your ticket more than two months in advance can save you as much as 60%.

Automobiles

Most European cars are manual, so request an automatic if you need one—and be prepared to pay a premium, says Ellison Poe of Poe Travel. If you’re crossing international borders, read up on each country’s laws. France, for example, requires you to carry warning reflectors.

Related:

4 Ways to Visit Europe This Fall—for 33% Less!

MONEY Travel

4 Ways to Visit Europe for 33% Off

True, the Continent is expensive, but choose an unexpected location, time it right, and you’ll be surprised by just how much you can save. Here are four great alternative choices that offer all the amazing attractions of the most popular destinations -- for a whole lot less.

  • Budapest (Instead of Prague)

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    A sunrise illuminates the Danube River and Chain Bridge, which connects Budapest's East and West sections. Douglas Pearson—Getty Images

    How Much You Can Save: 25%

    Why Here: Like Central European capitals Prague and Vienna, Buda­pest is known for its glittering ­riverfront, coffee culture, and ­classical-music scene. “Still, it’s one of the more affordable large cities on the Continent,” says Roger Wade, founder of Priceof­Travel .com. Food and wine are about 75% cheaper in Budapest than in Vienna, and the Hungarian city offers amazing deals on lodging; the average room rate in Buda­pest is $104, vs. Prague’s $138, according to hotel comparison site ­Trivago.com. The city is also evolving at a startling pace, says Ellison Poe of Poe Travel: “Even last year’s guidebooks are as stale as week-old angel food cake.”

    See and Do: Start with a tour of the old city, which is divided by the Danube River. For a bargain option, Wade recommends the “Original” walk from TripToBudapest Free Walking Tours. This three-hour stroll passes sites such as the Danube Promenade, lined with iconic 19th-century buildings, and the neoclassical St. Stephen’s Basilica. Want a more in-depth take? Context Travel is known for its scholar-led tours; topics range from Budapest’s 19th- and 20th-century golden years to a look at the city’s current politics ($50).

    Head back to St. Stephen’s for $21 Thursday concerts, or get dolled up for an opera at the Hungarian State Opera House. With good matinee seats as low as $20, prices are a fraction of those in Vienna, says Poe. Later walk along Falk Miksa, Buda­pest’s antiques street, to window-shop for paintings, glassworks, jewelry, and more, says Daniel Göczo˝, a guide with JoAn VIP Travel.

    Eat and Drink: Sample authentic Hungarian dishes, such as layered potatoes or duck breast, for $12 at Café Kör, says Attila Dankovics, concierge at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. Or try the Great Market Hall for traditional street foods such as lángos, flatbreads topped with sour cream and cheese, or kürto˝skalács pastries.

    Dankovics also suggests enjoying a $3 glass of wine at one of the city’s “ruin bars,” which are housed in buildings abandoned during the communist years.

    Stay: In Budapest, as in many European cities, you’ll miss out on great bargains if you dismiss anyplace with “hostel” in the name. The Maverick Hostel, housed in a renovated mansion, has private rooms for just $37 a person (unless other­wise stated, all rates in this story are for October). Or for an affordable indulgence, book the Lánchíd 19 Design Hotel, where some rooms overlook the iconic Chain Bridge (from $110).

  • Lisbon (Instead of Rome)

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    A street car pauses in front of Lisbon's Triumphal Arch. Sylvain Sonnet

    How Much You Can Save: 38%

    Why here Like classic ­European capitals such as Rome and Madrid? Then you’ll love Lisbon. The city can go toe to toe with the big names on food and wine, architecture, and museums, but at a fraction of the cost. A three-course meal runs $42 (vs. $61 in Madrid), according to cost-of-living index Numbeo.com, and at $120 a night, average hotel rates are 38% lower than Rome’s, says research firm STR.

    See and Do: Take a peek into the city’s history at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo ($7), housed in a former convent. The museum has a stunning collection of azulejos, the hand-painted tiles that cover buildings throughout Lisbon. For something a bit more modern, there’s the industrial-­looking Museu da Eletricidade (entry is free). Fashion lovers should hit the Museu do Design e da Moda (MUDE), another free option, this one stocked with more than 1,200-plus haute couture masterpieces.

    Want an ensemble you can take home? Explore the shops in Príncipe Real. Lisbon-based blogger José Cabral of oalfaiatelisboeta .com recommends Espaço B for smart designs by European designers. Many stores offer a VAT refund, which you’ll redeem at the airport, for savings of up to 23%.

    Take a break from the bustle at the 18th-century, rococo-style National Palace of Queluz, 20 minutes outside the city. Admission is $10 if you arrive at 3:30 or later. Be sure to see “the fountain-dotted gardens,” says Your-Lisbon-Guide .com founder Mary H. Goudie.

    Eat and Drink: The cuisine at Mini Bar is reminiscent of the food at Spain’s late El Bulli, which was known as one of the world’s most experimental restaurants, says Joel Zack of Heritage Tours Private Travel. But while El Bulli’s tasting menu was about $320, the six-course prix fixe at Mini Bar is a more palatable $53.

    Prefer something traditional? Try Cantinho do Bem Estar ($32) in Bairro Alto, known for generous portions of codfish and black pork, says Anja Mutic, Everthe­Nomad.com travel writer. For a nightcap head downtown to 1930s-era bar Ginginha do Carmo for a $2 ginginha, a traditional sour cherry liqueur.

    Stay: In the riverfront area of Cais do Sodre, seek out the hip LX Boutique Hotel ($135), says Mutic. Request a room with views of the Tagus River. Or try the simple rooms at the nearby Lisb’on ­Hostel. Rates drop slightly after Oct. 15; book a private room for $90, including breakfast.

  • Dalmatian Coast (Instead of the Amalfi Coast)

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    Sun worshipers lounge on a beach outside Dubrovnik's city walls. LifeStyle—Alamy

    How Much You Can Save: 19%

    Why Here: Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast cities of Split (to the north) and Dubrovnik (to the south) have a lot in common with the Amalfi Coast of Italy. There’s the stunning scenery, sea-to-table cuisine, olive oils, and, of course, fantastic wines. Yet Croatia, while pricier than it once was, is still the more affordable. Last year the average hotel rate in Amalfi was $315, vs. Dubrovnik’s $254, according to Hotels.com.

    See and Do: Pick up the Split Card (complimentary if you’re staying three days) at the tourism bureau for local discounts and free access to museums. Split is a great city to explore on foot. Start by wandering the café- and market-packed streets of Diocletian’s Palace, built in the early fourth century. Next explore the Riva promenade, which is flanked by stately palms and yacht-dotted waters. For a dose of nature, visit Marjan, a reserve just a 20-minute walk from the city center.

    In Dubrovnik soak in the view from the top of Mount Srdj. You could take an $18 cable car, but consider hiking the 40 or so minutes to the lookout point, says Croatian private city guide Anada Pehar. Warm day? Take a dip in the Adriatic at Banje Beach, just outside the old town. The UNESCO-protected Lokrum Island (ferry: $12), with its beautiful grounds and free-roaming peacocks, is a good alternative if it’s not quite swimming weather.

    Later, stroll the 1.24-mile wall that circles the old city ($18). You’ll see St. Savior Church, where bullet holes from the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik are still visible, and the Friars Minor Pharmacy, one of Europe’s oldest.

    Eat and Drink: Make an excursion to Mali Ston, 50 minutes north of Dubrovnik by car. There, take the $27 Bota ˆSare tour, a boat ride through a family-owned oyster bay, which includes wine, grappa, and oyster tastings. Back in Dubrovnik, snag a table at Bota Oyster & Sushi Bar in the old city (dinner: $16) for sushi made with local fish, says Pehar. In Split you’ll find hearty homestyle Dalmatian cuisine—grilled calamari and stuffed peppers—at the charming Villa Spiza (dinner: $20).

    Stay: Croatia’s low-season rates don’t kick in until November, when you’ll find deals like 36% off at Dubrovnik’s stunning five-star Hotel Dubrovnik Palace (­regularly $296).

    Similarly, rates at Split’s centrally located Hotel Luxe drop from $224 to $95 in November. Going earlier? Look to Tripping.com— an aggregator for sites such as FlipKey.com and HomeAway.com—to find convenient apartment rentals for as little as $60 a night.

  • Berlin (Instead of London)

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    Berliners hang out at Gürlitzer Park. Weller—Anzenberger/Redux

    How Much You Can Save: 50%

    Why Here: Germany’s largest city is also its capital of cool. Packed with contemporary art, indie music, and innovative restaurants and lounges, the vibe is reminiscent of London at its most swinging. The prices, though, couldn’t be more different: The average Berlin hotel room is about half the cost of those in England’s capital, according to Trivago.com. Plus, while the euro is no bargain for Americans, it beats the pound.

    See and Do: Skip the touristy sightseeing buses, which charge more than $23 a head, and board public Bus 100 ($3.50). You’ll get the same great view of sites such as the stately Reichstag and the neoclassical Brandenburg Gate.

    Spring for a $33 three-day Museum Pass. With access to 50 institutions like the Jewish Museum Berlin ($12), housed in Daniel Libes­kind’s striking steel-and-glass building, and architectural gem Bauhaus-Archiv ($8), you’ll make up the cost in as little as two visits.

    Berlin’s gallery scene (there are over 400) is not to be missed. Start in the Scheunen­viertel neighborhood or the historic Jewish quarter, says Andrea Schulte-Peevers, author of Lonely Planet Berlin. “Stop in Kicken Berlin for its avant-garde photography from the 1920s.” The neighborhood is also known for its street art, so keep your eyes peeled as you walk.

    Eat and Drink: At Der Hahn ist tot!, which focuses on rural German and French cuisines, you’ll find a $26 four-course menu that changes weekly, says lifestyle guide Henrik Tidefjaerd of berlinagen­ten.com. Check out Markthalle Neun, a mix of food trucks and stalls that sell curry wurst, homemade pasta, and German wines on Thursday evenings.

    Berlin’s nightlife is legendary, but you don’t have to stay out until 5 a.m. to enjoy it. Chef Kolja Kleeberg of Michelin-starred Restaurant Vau suggests cocktails like the Rum Traders Rum Sour at Le Croco Bleu (drinks: $12). The rooftop Monkey Bar at the 25hours Hotel is great for sips with a view (drinks from $5). Order a Hugo, made with sparkling wine, mint, and elderflower.

    Stay: “Hotels are a bargain in Berlin, with rates at top properties priced close to $100 a night,” says Bob Diener, co-founder of Getaroom .com. Doubles start at $130 at the stylish and centrally located Circus Hotel. For an even better price, try the Motel One. Branches of this hotel are located throughout the city, and start at $94 per night.

    Read More:
    Tips for International Travelers

MONEY Travel

7 Great American Vacation Spots (That Won’t Bust Your Budget)

Our mission: to find a geographically diverse group of top U.S. destinations where your summer travel dollars can — with a little bit of planning — go a very long way. Then: recommend particular attractions, eateries, and places to stay that will make the most of your visit without breaking the budget.

Nashville, TN

If Bristol, Tennessee, is the birthplace of American county music, Nashville is where it moved after growing some sideburns (or curves). Soak up live performances any night of the week and spend your days investigating Nashville’s many other artistic, gustatory, and historical delights.

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Johnny Cash Museum

Do: During the daytime, get heady on harmonies at the Johnny Cash Museum — where you can see the singer’s handwritten lyrics and Martin guitar ($15 entry) — and the Country Music Hall of Fame, which just underwent a $100 million expansion ($25; $2 off with a visitmusiccity.com coupon). Then hit a Grand Ole Opry live radio show (from $29.50, three days a week) for big names like Blake Shelton, as well as old-school and up-and-coming performers. For a taste of Nashville’s noncountry scene, check out the Stone Fox for the nightly live performances, many with no cover charge, and $1-off happy-hour specials. If visual art is more your speed, you can enjoy works by Goya, Hopper, and Wyeth at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located in a renovated Art Deco post office ($10), and take tours of 135-year-old letterpress shop Hatch Show Print — during which you make your own print to take home ($15).

Eat: Go for a handmade pasta, like garganelli verdi with heritage pork ragout ($17), at Rolf and Daughters, which opened last year in a 100-year-old factory building in Germantown. Then there’s Pinewood Social, a restaurant/karaoke bar/bowling alley, great for treats like hot sweetbreads ($13) and pork-belly salad ($12). But no matter what else you eat, don’t leave town without trying Prince’s Hot Chicken, which is nothing short of a buttery, crunchy, fiery revelation ($7.65 for a half chicken). It’s a few miles northeast of downtown, on the way back from Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate. Newcomer 400 Degrees, near the Hall of Fame, is a close second ($5.86 and up).

Sleep: If your timing is flexible, you can snag discounts at hotels that reward you for longer stays. The Hutton, where rooms typically range from $200 to $300 per night, offers 15% off three-night stays and 20% off four-night stays this summer. Save even more by staying farther from downtown: A new branch of Homewood Suites in the Vanderbilt area, just west of center city, costs 30% less than the downtown Homewood Suites in August — $180 a night compared with $260.

Splurge: Good cowboy boots ain’t cheap, but you can allay the sticker shock by checking out the bargain section of French’s Shoes and Boots. Before bed, grab a nightcap at The Patterson House, a gorgeous speakeasy (and celebrity hangout) serving up class, sass, and incredible cocktails.

 

Portland, OR

Portland has a well-earned hipster rep, but it’s also become a buzzy culinary hotspot. Isn’t it time you went to taste the hype for yourself?

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Danita Delimont—Alamy

Do: Get your bearing with a free walking tour from Secrets of Portlandia, billed as a “stand-up comedy about Portland’s history and culture (twice a day through September 3). You’ll get a rundown of various neighborhoods, see the city’s best known street art, get bar and restaurant recommendations, and more. Still feeling a little of that World Cup fever? Get tickets for the Portland Timbers, the popular local Major League Soccer team. Of, if you’re after a more intellectual pursuit, head to Powell’s City of Books, the flagship of the world’s largest independent chain of bookstores. The store is always hosting interesting readings and book clubs, so check the calendar to see what’s on while you’re in town.

Eat: Portland is a foodie favorite known for two things: creativity and affordability. Start your noshing with the city’s famous food carts. Go to Foodcartsportland.com (or download their 99 cent app) to get the scoop on where to find the most mouthwatering options. One to try: Gastro Mania, home of the $8 foie gras burger. Check Under the Table with Jen, a local food blog run by Jen Stevenson, for sit-down eats. For an evening of wine, cheese, and charcuterie, Stevenson recommends Cyril’s: “It has a ‘secret’ patio, and they just added a bocce court.” Finally, don’t leave town without a stop at the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the originators of the creative doughnut craze.

Sleep: Portland has some great hotels, but if you’re traveling mid-summer, you’re unlikely to find a well-located place for less than $250 a night. For a more affordable option, try the Everett Street Guesthouse, which is an easy walk to many restaurants and cafes and a six-minute drive from downtown. Rooms start $100, including breakfast.

Splurge: If you’ve ever watched IFC’s Portlandia, the Portland-based comedy starting former SNL cast member Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein, you remember the “Put a Bird On it” sketch. That scene was filmed at Land, a store/gallery that carries a range of affordable gifts and artworks made by local craftspeople. No matter your taste, you’ll likely find a goodie worthy of a spot in your suitcase.

 

Santa Fe/Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico perfectly captures the spirit of the Southwest — and is full of fun, affordable activities. Start in Albuquerque, then drive an hour northeast to Santa Fe, home to one of the most vibrant art scenes in the country.

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http://www.visitalbuquerque.com

Do: With among the highest concentrations of Native Americans in the country, New Mexico is a great place to learn about Navajo and Zuni Pueblo culture. In Albuquerque, catch a dance performance and read about the history of the state’s 22 tribal communities at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center ($6 admission). If you’re visiting in August, try to catch the Santa Fe Indian market, where more than 170,000 people gather each year to learn about and buy contemporary Native American arts and crafts. For a dose of 20th century Americana, check out Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum ($12 for adults, free for youth under 18) — and don’t leave the state without catching a dramatic sunset on North America’s longest aerial tram, the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque ($20).

Eat: Enjoy the kitchy décor and savory diner-food-with-a-twist at Owl Cafe in Albuquerque; try the sumptuous green chili cheeseburger ($5.25) and the onion loaf ($4.95) — a plateful of thin, golden rings piled high. Up in Santa Fe, there’s something for everyone at Harry’s Roadhouse, where the saucy and delicious tacos, burritos, and enchiladas can all be made vegetarian. Generally, top-rated Mexican food abounds, so you just have to remember one rule: Dip those sopapillas in honey.

Sleep: Even nicer hotels in Albuquerque are much less expensive than their counterparts in other cities: The Hotel Parq Central, top-rated on TripAdvisor, charges less than $150 a night for stays in August. Santa Fe is considerably pricier, so go for a bed and breakfast instead, like the whimsically decorated El Paradero Inn, where rooms are available from $155.

Splurge: Take advantage of the hot-but-dry desert weather at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera, which shows original works alongside classics like Carmen. Ticket prices range based on dates and seats from $30 to $300.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

Don’t be misled by the Jersey Shore GTL stereotype. While there is certainly plenty of fist pumping in some New Jersey beach towns, Long Beach Island is more of an old-school family getaway, complete with salt water taffy, mini-golf, and 18 miles of beach.

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Do: Climb the 217 steps of the Barnegat Lighthouse for panoramic views of the island and Barnegat Bay ($3 entry fee). You may even be lucky enough to be in town when the lighthouse is open for a “night climb,” which happens just a few times per summer (check the schedule). When you’re ready to hit the water, try a lesson at LBI Surfing. Non-surfers may want to try an SUP—stand-up paddling—class instead. Group lessons are $55 per person. Finally, don’t forget to grab a beach pass; they start at $5 a day.

Eat: You’re on vacation, so eat some fried food. Locals like The Clam Bar in Beach Haven. Try the fried flounder and fry platter for $12.95 or go old school with Clams Casino ($9.95). The line can get long, but you can always call ahead for take-out (and no matter what you do, mind the no cellphone policy!). For another fun indulgence, head to the infamous Chicken or the Egg, once featured on the Man vs. Food show on the Travel Channel. You’ll have plenty of egg dishes to choose from, of course, but the casual eatery is also known for its chicken wings, which come with a choice of 16 sauces.

Sleep: Rather than overpay for a funky beach hotel, look into renting your own place. A recent search of AirBnB turned up 1-bedroom condos starting at $160 per night, and a 4-bedroom cottage for a manageable $190 a night. Bonus: Many rentals come with bikes, grills, and beach chairs.

Splurge: Go to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, opened in 1961. You know you want a new pair of board shorts or sunglasses, so pick them up at this massive, wonderfully cheesy beach emporium.

 

Yellowstone National Park, WY

America’s national parks are a shared treasure — and Yellowstone is the granddaddy of them all. Check an important item on your domestic bucket list and pitch a tent here.

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Neal Herbert—NPS

Do: Swim, hike, and horseback ride through the two-million-plus acres of our country’s first national park, containing the world’s largest collection of geysers and hot springs — which come in every color of the rainbow. Bring binoculars to get the best view of Yellowstone’s wild fauna, including bison, elk, bobcats, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, wolves, and bears. And of course, catch a glimpse of Old Faithful erupting. The park’s $25 entrance fee is good for a week’s stay, and seniors older than 62 (and their families) and military families can get in for free.

Eat: Nothing beats the smell of barbeque mingling with the fresh outdoor air, so cook outside in one of the park’s designated picnic areas for pleasure — and savings. If you need a break, grab a seat in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, located right next to the famous geyser, and order the smoked bison and pheasant and chicken sausage ($15.95) or make your way to Roosevelt Lodge for some farm-raised trout ($18.75).

Sleep: Hotels and cabins are available within the park, but you should decrease the hit to your wallet and up the excitement by pitching a tent in one of Yellowstone’s tent and RV campgrounds. Whereas a room at the Old Faithful Lodge can go for $124 a night in August, camping sites are only $21. There are five grounds where you can reserve spots online, and seven that are first-come, first-served.

Splurge: Bring along some high-quality thermal underwear — the park is surprisingly cold at night, with average lows in late August dipping below 40 degrees. And if you make any gift shop purchases, avoid this book, unless you want to spend your evenings dreaming about bear attacks.

 

New Orleans, LA

Despite its reputation as a party city, New Orleans is much more than beads and bachelor bacchanals. The city is rich with culture, food, lore, and one of the most American of musical genres — jazz.

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Viewminder—Flickr

Do: Get to know New Orleans and its history intimately with one of Free Tours By Foot’s two-hour walking tours, after which you tip the guide whatever you’d like. Start with the French Quarter tour, where you’ll learn about the city’s founding (details are delightfully macabre and salacious) and see historic spots like the Tennessee Williams house. Then branch out with the cemetery or Garden District tours, where you might glimpse a celebrity pet. In the evening, unless you are a dead serious jazz enthusiast, forgo the long line and $30 ticket prices at Preservation Hall and enjoy a live performance at effervescent (and free-of-cover) Fritzel’s.

Eat: Trying the sweet, fluffy beignets at Cafe du Monde ($2.65 for three) is a crucial rite of passage for NOLA visitors, as is ordering a po’boy from one of the city’s many worthy shops. Wash down the grease with the quintessential New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, at the quintessential New Orleans bar: the Napolean House ($7).

Sleep: Skip chain hotels like the Marriott or Hyatt, where prices typically top $200 a night, and soak up local charm by staying at a family-owned bed and breakfast. At the 1830s Creole-style Bourgoyne Guest House on Bourbon Street (just north of the hubbub) you’ll pay only $95 a night for studios overlooking a quiet inner courtyard. The plates in the attached kitchenette come in handy to collect crumbs from a late-night muffaletta.

Splurge: Reward yourself for hours of walking — or dancing at The Spotted Cat — with dinner at romantic, atmospheric SoBou. An appetizer of sweet potato beignets is fancied up with foie gras fondue, duck debris, and chicory coffee ganache ($12).

 

Chicago, IL

Always one of America’s most exciting cities, Chicago really comes alive in summer, when residents can finally shed all those layers and get out and enjoy their town.

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Stephanie Lamphere—Flickr

Do: No matter what part of the city you’re itching to explore, you’ll find an intriguing itinerary at ChooseChicago.com. The site runs down a weekly calendar of what’s going on, and suggests routes through 51 different areas. You’ll also find a bevy of free activities throughout the city this summer, including 30 concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. For more culture, seek out one of the dozens of shows put on by small theater companies every weekend. Tickets usually range from $15 to $35 and Chicagoreader.com offers current listings. Finally, no one with even a passing interest in America’s Game should skip Wrigley Field. Check the schedule and get tickets—some at as little as $20—at the Cubs’ website.

Eat: Start with the classic: a Chicago-style hot dog topped by sport peppers, tomato slices, and bright green relish from Hot Doug’s on the North Side. Or, for the type of neighborhood joint locals love, Stephanie Callahan, of food blog Stephanie Eats Chicago, suggests Home Bistro in Lakeview. “It’s a cozy, BYOB place that always has the best ingredients and freshest flavors,” she says. Want a $20 a person dinner (including tax and tip)? Get away from the downtown Loop for a range of ethnic food, including Mexican, Indian and Vietnamese.

Sleep: Hotels in the city center are pricey in summer, but you can save by choosing a B&B. Check out options in Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, such as Andersonville, Old Town, or Wicker Park. The Wicker Park Inn, for instance, has rooms in July for $159 a night and occasionally offers special rates as low as $99.

Splurge: Reward yourself for a day of serious sightseeing with an al fresco cocktail at Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula Hotel. A Green Tea Mojito or Sour Cherry Old Fashion goes down even easier with a cool breeze and sweeping skyline view.

Need more ideas for summer sojourns? Take our quiz: Which Movie Matches Your Travel Style — and Dream Destination?

 

 

MONEY Travel

3 Ways to Get the National Park Experience—Without the Crowds

Visit these state parks to trim your vacation bills and avoid the summer swarms.

Our national parks are awesome. Too bad you’re not the only one who knows it! This year, try one of America’s more than 7,000 state parks instead.

To start planning your state park getaway, download the free Pocket Ranger app, says Eugene Swalberg of Utah State Parks. You’ll find maps and info for every state park, as well as trail, activity, and campground suggestions. If you’re going on a prime weekend—like, say, the 4th of July—be sure to make reservations. Some parks accept bookings as far as 11 months out, says Joe Elton of AmericasStateParks.org. It’s also worth seeking out any pass options available for locals. In ­Idaho, for example, a resident pass is $10 a year and includes some camping fees.

Still need some inspiration? Here are three stunning state parks that give the big names a run for their money.

Adirondack State Park, New York

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Matt Champlin—Getty Images


Cost:
Free Entry

At roughly the size of Vermont, this patchwork of state and private lands makes up the country’s largest state park. Another plus: It’s an easy drive or Amtrak ride from most of the Northeast. Rather than heading to pricier Lake Placid, make Saranac Lake your jumping-off point; get a lake-view room at Gauthier’s ­Saranac Lake Inn starting at $99. Avoid the summer hiking crowd of the High Peaks region by going east to Split Rock Mountain Wild Forest, says InsidetheMap.com outdoor guide Elizabeth Lee.

Crystal Cove State Park, California

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Calamy—Alamy

Cost: Free Entry; $15 parking

The highlight of this park, located an hour south of Los Angeles, is its 3.2 miles of uninterrupted Pacific coastline. Spend a morning spotting sea lions and bottlenose dolphins, then refuel with some ahi tacos at the Beachcomber café, suggests Janelle Naess of Laguna Beach Walks. Or rent snorkeling gear from nearby Laguna Sea Sports ($20 a day) and try to spot the fluorescent orange garibaldi fish. Avoid the expensive hotels near the park and save up to 84% at the on-site Crystal Cove Beach Cottages (from $42 for two people).

Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming

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Rock outcrops, Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming Tim Fitzharris—Getty Images

Cost: $6 entry ($4 for state residents)

This 5.3-square-mile park 30 minutes from Cheyenne is a mountain biker favorite, with more than 35 miles of trails. To explore on two wheels, Wyoming State Parks’ Todd Thibodeau suggests Stone Temple Trail, which winds through lodgepole pines and aspen groves. Rather keep your feet on the ground? Hike the alpine and canyon terrain of Waterfall Trail. Choose from 12 campgrounds (permits from $11) or head east to Terry Bison Ranch, where four-person cabins are $90. Cheyenne has the closest airport, but you could save more than 40% by flying into Denver, two hours south.

 

 

MONEY

4 secret wine-tasting destinations

You might not know about these low-profile vineyards. Here’s why you should.

  • Middleburg, Virginia

    Thomas Jefferson tried — and failed – to grow grapes at Monticello. Fortunately, Virginia has had plenty of winemaking success since then.

    The state has nine major wine regions, but Middleburg, located about an hour outside Washington, D.C., is a great place to start. The area is home to six wineries, not to mention a charming horse-and-hunt culture.

    Where to sip: Begin at the 21-acre Boxwood Estate, the grand dame of Middleburg vineyards, open Friday to Sunday. For $10 you can taste Boxwood’s four wines, including Topiary, a Decanter World Wine Award-winning Cab Franc and Merlot blend ($25 a bottle). An extra perk: Keep your glass as a souvenir.

    This winery was designed by Jacobsen Architecture, a D.C.-based firm also known for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s home in Martha’s Vineyard. Boxwood is one of the most elegant vineyards in the region, so don’t miss the chance to explore. The circular cave, where wines age in a ring of French oak barrels, is especially striking.

    At Chrysalis Vineyards, six miles away, you can sample wines made from native Norton grapes; the vineyard is the country’s largest grower of this American varietal. The owners of the sprawling 412-acre property invite visitors to stick around after their tasting to drink in views of the Bull Run Mountains and use the Chrysalis outdoor grills. If you like, wash down your BYO burgers or shish kebabs with one of the winery’s best value bottles, like the 2011 Mariposa rosé, $15.

  • Shop main street

    Where to stay: While you could drive back to D.C., you’ll save by staying local. According to research firm STR, the average hotel in Middleburg’s Loudoun County is 66% cheaper than lodging in the capital.

    The Middleburg Country Inn (from $105 weekdays and $120 weekends) has rooms decorated with period Southern charm and one of the best complimentary breakfasts in town, says Jackie Brown-Saunders with Visit Loudoun.

    For a bit more, you could also opt for one of the eight Easter-egg-colored rooms (or the freestanding cottage) at the Briar Patch B&B, where fall rates start at $150.

    Take a vineyard break: Stroll down Middleburg’s main drag, Washington Street. In shop David Ladd & Co., you’ll find handsome highball and gimlet glasses decorated with the town’s unofficial mascot, a very posh fox. Drive to Upperville, a few miles away, to the Hunter’s Head Tavern, suggests Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter Trevor Baratko. If it’s warm enough, snag a table in the stone courtyard (lunch, $20).

  • Augusta, Missouri

    Any guesses as to America’s first federally certified wine region? Nope, it’s not in California. In fact, the honor goes to this Midwestern spot, located 45 miles west of downtown St. Louis. (Augusta beat Napa to the punch by eight months.)

    The area can credit its vino bona fides to its German immigrants, who started producing wine more than 150 years ago. These days Augusta’s 11 wineries range from small mom-and-pop shops to sprawling vineyards, all spread across a compact 15 or so miles of lush, rolling hills.

    Where to sip: Start your tour at Mount Pleasant Estates, a 10-acre winery that overlooks the Missouri River Valley. On April through October weekends, take the complimentary tour of the original 1881 limestone cellars, suggests Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, contributor to Missouri Life magazine. You’ll learn that Mount Pleasant was established in 1859, making it the oldest winery in Augusta.

    Head to the tasting room for samples ($6 for five) of $20-$40 wines, many of which have won medals at the World Wine Championships Awards. Along with traditional Cabernets and Chardonnays, try the Tawny Port. The rich dessert wine, $28 for a half bottle, takes 15 years to produce and has attracted a cult following.

    Sommelier Glenn Bardgett of St. Louis area restaurant Annie Gunn’s recommends the Chambourcin, a $12 dry red, at Augusta Winery. “A sip takes you to the South of France,” he says.

    The winery, located in town, also has good $12 or less wines made with French varietals such as Seyval Blanc. With a flight of 2012 vintages in hand — these wines benefited from a particularly great growing year, notes manager Jessica Cahill — make your way to the property’s wine and beer garden. There, settle in to snack on homemade pizza and sip in the shade of the vines.

  • Rent a cabin with a view

    Where to stay: Among the local lodging options, the H.S. Clay House (from $150) stands out: The B&B has a pool, a hot tub, and breakfasts that go beyond the usual eggs and muffins — think custard French toast. Or go rustic by opting for one of the six basic cabins, starting at $65, in Augusta’s Klondike Park.

    Need more creature comforts? Old Dutch Hotel & Tavern, located 20 minutes east of town in Washington, offers freshly renovated contemporary rooms for $85 a night.

    Take a vineyard break: Start with a stop at Johann’s General Store, a former feed mill, to stock up on picnic provisions. Then drive about 15 minutes east to Katy Bike Rental, where wheels are priced at $5 an hour. Once you’ve picked your ride, Steve Henry, author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: St. Louis, suggests an afternoon pedaling some of the 240-mile Katy Trail State Park, the country’s longest rail-to-trail conversion.

  • Southern New Mexico

    Too hot for grapes? That’s where New Mexico can fool you. In fact, some areas have altitudes of up to 6,000 feet, which produce cool nighttime temps that refresh heat-sensitive vines.

    Gruet, in Albuquerque, is New Mexico’s best-known winery. For a unique, off-the-beaten-trail trip, though, try the Deming area, located about an hour west of Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city.

    Where to sip: Choose from 38 samples — more than half of which retail under $12 — at St. Clair Winery and tasting room, located on the edge of town. You can also play winemaker by blending the four wines on tap; fill a half-gallon growler for under $10. St. Clair’s tasting room is set on 15 grassy acres, with two shaded patios. (The 260-acre vineyard itself is located 50 minutes away.)

    Across town, visit the 300-acre Luna Rossa, owned by Italian-born Paolo D’Andrea and his wife, Sylvia. The vineyard is known in part for its 2009 Shiraz, which took home a big award at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.

    Tasting room sips are complimentary; try the Italian Nini table wine and sangria.

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