Image courtesy of Likuliku Lagoon Resort Sleep above a soothing lagoon in Fiji For the ultimate relaxing vacation, these overwater bungalows offer postcard-perfect locations to fully immerse yourself in a … Continue reading “Our Favorite Dreamy Overwater Bungalows”
After you’ve explored the honky-tonks and legendary hot chicken scene, a day trip from Nashville offers an array of history, food, music, and fun.
The cities and towns that are just an easy drive from Nashville (between a half-hour and three hours) are full of natural and historical wonders that are ripe for a quick adventure. Whether you find yourself sampling some Tennessee whiskey from a powerhouse distillery or exploring the mysterious depths of an underground sea, here are eight of our favorite day-trip destinations.
All of these locations can be reached in three hours or less from Nashville via car. Just be sure to check their websites and/or call ahead of time for any weather-related closures.
1. Brush up on your Civil War history in Franklin
Drive time: 22 miles south of Nashville; 30-minute drive
What to do:Franklin has come a long way since its days as a Confederate stronghold and site of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles (The Battle of Franklin). Today, the small town manages to preserve its historic past while stepping into its new role as a welcoming, suburban city brimming with quaint, locally owned shops and lively eateries.
Start off by exploring three of Franklin’s most important Civil War sites – the Carnton Plantation, the Lotz House and the Carter House – through a local tour operator or venture out on your own on a self-guided tour. Later, head to downtown Franklin’s charming Main Street for boutique shopping and delectable Southern eats at Gray’s on Mainbefore capping off the day with a bottle of honeysuckle wine at the nearby Arrington Vineyards.
2. Drink some Tennessee whiskey in Lynchburg
Drive time: 75 miles south of Nashville; one-hour and 40-minute drive
What to do: Jack Daniels is practically synonymous with Tennessee whiskey, making Lynchburg – the home of Jack Daniels Distillery – a veritable mecca for fans of this storied brown spirit. Interestingly, the distillery is located in a dry county, but you can still sample whiskey drawn from individual barrels during one of their informative distillery tours.
The town of Lynchburg itself is also worth exploring. If wine is more your speed, pop into the Lynchburg Winery before indulging in a slice of rich Southern gastronomic history at Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House Restaurant. If souvenir shopping is on the list, the surrounding shops are stocked with a delightful assortment of handmade crafts.
3. Go whitewater kayaking at Rock Island State Park
Drive time: 87 miles east of Nashville; one-hour and 40-minute drive
What to do: Within Rock Island State Park’s 883 acres, you’ll find a day full of nature excursions that cater to both laid-back explorers and adrenaline junkies alike. The park is both majestically craggy and verdant, boasting a 30-foot horseshoe waterfall that once powered the 19th-century cotton textile mill located above it. You can opt to hike past this powerful water feature on one of nine trails located below the dam, or, if you’re experienced with a kayak, you can take to the rushing stream and paddle your way downstream.
Fishing, swimming and birding are also popular options here, with osprey, belted kingfishers and great blue herons in the area.
4. Visit an underground national park in Cave City, Kentucky
Drive time: 93 miles northeast of Nashville; one-hour and 30-minute drive
What to do: With its underground rivers, glittering crystals, jagged stalagmites and rare wildlife, Mammoth Cave National Park provides shelter for some of the most unusual ecosystems in the world. But the 400-mile surveyed passageways also have their fair share of fascinating tales to tell – including the cave’s turn as a tuberculosis hospital and the prehistoric mummies that inhabited its depths. You can spend a day learning about this U.S. national park through cave tours and experiences that range from an hour-and-a-half to six hours.
After you’ve peeked at the blind beetles and eyeless fish inside the cave complex, go topside for an afternoon of hiking, fishing and ziplining through 53,000 acres of lush forest.
5. Explore space travel and breweries in Huntsville, Alabama
Drive time: 110 miles south of Nashville; one-hour and 53-minute drive
What to do: Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsvilleis quite literally a town full of rocket scientists. As such, space-themed adventures are the order of the day, and there’s no better spot to explore the skies than at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum contains the world’s largest collection of space artifacts, including rocket and shuttle components. Both kids and adults alike will get a kick out of a walk-through replica of the International Space Station and the resident G-Force simulator.
Huntsville has also come into its own as an arts and culture hub. Case in point: Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment, the nation’s largest privately owned arts facility. Inside this former cotton mill, you can watch artists at work from over 148 studios, dip into one of the six galleries or watch a performance in the facility’s theater.
After an afternoon of the arts, wind down with a beer inside one of Huntsville’s many up-and-coming breweries, like the Salty Nut Brewery, Yellowhammer Brewing and Straight to Ale. Certain areas around town are designated open container, making it easy to continue exploring Huntsville with a to-go cup in hand.
6. Ride the rail up to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga
Drive time: 134 miles southeast of Nashville; two-hour and 10-minute drive
What to do: Six miles from downtown Chattanooga lies a nature-based triple threat: Ruby Falls, Rock City and the Inline Railway. It’s an all-day, all-ages adventure based in Lookout Mountain, a mountain ridge running through Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Start with a guided cave tour or a 700-foot zipline adventure through Ruby Falls, home of the world’s largest underground waterfall, before strolling through the diverse flora and fauna of the Rock City Gardens.
Wrap up your day with a mile-high ride on the Incline Railway, one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. At the top: a bird’s eye from the Lookout Mountain observation deck.
7. Navigate the Lost Sea in Sweetwater
Drive time: 170 miles east of Nashville; two-hour and 53-minute drive
What to do: Tennessee may be land-locked, but that doesn’t stop the state from boasting its very own sea. Designated a registered natural landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior and listed as ‘America’s largest underground lake’ by Guinness World Book of Records, the Lost Sea is a massive body of water located in a historic cave system known as the Craighead Caverns. The true size of this body of water is unknown, but you can glide across its four-acre surface and catch a glimpse of the crystal formations and colossal rainbow trout that inhabit the caverns on one of the daily boat tours offered.
Nearby, Sweetwater’s revitalized Main Street offers a bake shop full of indulgent Southern sweets, galleries and plenty of antique shopping.
8. Tour Elvis Presley’s stomping grounds in Memphis
Drive time: 215 miles west of Nashville; three-hour drive
What to do: Clocking in at just over 200 miles, the drive from Nashville to Memphis stretches the definition of a day trip, but if you’re a devotee of ‘The King’, you know that it’s all about taking care of business… in a flash. And there’s no other place that brings the legacy of Elvis to life quite like the kitschy and wonderfully bizarre Graceland. The full Elvis Experience tour takes about three hours, which still leaves you time to fill up on some that transcendent low-and-slow Memphis pulled pork at Central BBQ before heading back to Music City.
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Launched in 2018, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a self-guided “Fred Rogers Trail” marks 15 stops throughout Western Pennsylvania.
While you can watch the legacy of Mister Fred Rogers on film – with a 2018 documentary and a November 2019 release starring Tom Hanks – why not make a trip to where you can learn more about the man who liked you just the way you are?
Launched in 2018, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a self-guided “Fred Rogers Trail” marks 15 stops throughout Western Pennsylvania. It connects Latrobe, where Rogers was born, to Pittsburgh, about 40 miles away and where Rogers made a great local impact.
Marketed as a three-day itinerary, here are some places along the trail that teach more about the man who known for his cardigans and tennis shoes.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Mister Rogers had been a major supporter of this north side Pittsburgh Children’s museum since its inception in 1983. As a thank you to their friend and mentor, Rogers is remembered here through his show puppets and other belongings. In its Nursery exhibit, find King Friday XIII, Queen Sarah Saturday, Henrietta Pussycat, X the Owl, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Daniel Striped Tiger and Gran Pere. A Roger’s sweater is on display outside of the MAKESHOP space, a place where children can learn how to create things.
James H. Rogers Park
Named for Mister Rogers’ father, this park in Latrobe has a statue of Rogers seated on a bench. The public can sit down and join him, keep him company and take a selfie with him. The park also is the site of a historical marker signifying Rogers’ connection to Latrobe and his work as a puppeteer, TV show host and an ordained minister.
Senator John Heinz History Center
A Smithsonian Institute affiliate, the Senator John Heinz History Center along Pittsburgh’s Strip District welcomed in the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” exhibit in its special exhibitions gallery in 2015. It has the largest collection of original set pieces from the show on public view. Select objects on display are the entryway and living room set that Rogers walked through to begin each show, along with King Friday XIII’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree and other props from “Neighborhood of Make-Believe, plus Picture Picture and Mr. McFeely’s “Speedy Delivery” tricycle. Be greeted by a life-like Mister Rogers, complete with his sweater, necktie, khakis and sneakers.
Ace Hotel Pittsburgh
This trendy hotel is not only a place to spend the night on your route but also another Mister Rogers’ connection. Based in a century-old building in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood, this Pittsburgh ACE Hotel location was a former YMCA where Rogers was a regular member and swimmer.
“Tribute to Children”
While it’s easy to say The Mister Rogers Statue, this memorial at Pittsburgh’s North Shore is officially titled “Tribute to Children.” It was designed by the late American sculptor Robert Berks (other works include the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial and the Albert Einstein Memorial, both in Washington, D.C.). Dedicated in 2009, this 7,000-pound bronze sculpture depicts Rogers sitting down and tying on his sneakers. Placed on a Manchester Bridge pier along the Allegheny River, as a nod to Rogers’ love of swimming, the memorial has a circular walkway and an accompanying sound system playing Rogers’ musical compositions.
Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning & Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College
In Latrobe, this center carries out Rogers’ vocation of fostering healthy child development and houses a multimedia exhibit on its namesake. This exhibit chronicles Rogers’ life and work, from his roots in Latrobe, to his early years and subsequent decades in television, up through his vision on children’s education and growth through the century. See wall panels with photos and narratives, video screens with program and interview clips of or about Rogers, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood related articles. Have fun at a “Speedy Delivery” letter-writing station.
Pay your respects to Rogers at his place of burial within this cemetery in Latrobe. Rogers lies here in a family mausoleum along with his father, James Hillis Rogers, and his mother, Nancy McFeely Rogers, among other relatives. The mausoleum sits atop a hill near the back of the cemetery, with prime panoramic views of the Chestnut Ridge of the Laurel Highlands.
Idlewild & SoakZone At this amusement park in Ligonier, visitors can take a trolley ride through Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an attraction based on the animated children’s TV program that was inspired by the original Mister Rogers program.
With two stunning national parks, four gorgeous western states, and incredible locations to savor along the way, the Yellowstone Loop may be the ultimate summer road trip.
If you’re looking to combine a unique road trip with two of America’s most epic national parks, look no further than the Yellowstone Loop. While many visitors to Yellowstone National Park fall into a rush-rush routine—flying into Salt Lake City, UT, renting a car, and racing straight to the park—the Yellowstone Loop invites you to slow it down and take a scenic and enjoyable path to the park. It’s the ideal way to experience everything this region has to offer. Here are our favorite nine stops between your arrival in Salt Lake City and the loop up to Yellowstone and back.
1. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, UT
Detour into the Bear River Wild Bird Refuge for the 12-mile driving tour. This 74,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge is an important resting, feeding, and nesting area for migrating birds. Depending on what time of year you visit, you’ll get to see American avocets, white-faced ibis, Tundra swans, American white pelicans, Snowy plovers, and Black-necked stilts.
2. American West Heritage Center, Logan, UT
Photojournalist Amanda McCadams hones her axe-throwing skills. (Courtesy Amanda McCadams)
Step back in time 100 years and take your turn at hatchet throwing, spinning wool, or have tea while playing parlor games. This living history museum inspires visitors to learn, live and celebrate what life was like in the Cache Valley between the years of 1820-1920. Spread across nearly 300 acres of open space are a historical farm, pioneer settlements, native American exhibits, a mountain man camp and more.
3. Bluebird Candy Company, Logan, UT
The Bluebird Candy Company has been creating hand-dipped candies and treats in their factory since 1914. Walk through the door and immediately the sweet smell of chocolate will beg you to start looking for the samples (FYI: they are by the register). After you’ve grabbed a taste, turn your attention to the picture window and watch the chocolates being hand dipped. Their irresistible clusters, caramels, truffles, and chocolates are made using locally sourced ingredients, which don’t have any preservatives or waxes, and their candy centers are made daily. Each are hand dipped then given a unique signature.
4. Lava Hot Springs, ID
When you are ready to relax, head to the natural thermal springs of Lava Hot Springs. Every day over 2.5 million gallons of natural, chemical-free water courses through five soaking pools before being diverted in the Portneuf River. The pools range in temperature from 102 to 112 and are laden with minerals. And, thank goodness, this mineral water does not contain sulfur, so you won’t have to endure the rotten egg smell while you unwind from being on the road. The springs are open year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
5. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, West Yellowstone, MT
You might not see a grizzly during your visit to Yellowstone National Park, but you can get up close to one at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, MT, just a short drive from the park’s western entrance. All of the grizzlies, wolves, owls, eagles, and hawks that reside here are unable to survive in the wild, so instead they serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts. Throughout the day naturalists on staff lead a variety of demonstrations, including how to properly use bear spray (hint: you DON’T spray it on like bug spray) and general bear safety. Kids-only programs include helping a naturalist hide food in the bear habitat, then watching how a bear uses the sense of smell to find food.
6. Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT, ID
You could spend weeks in Yellowstone National Park and never still see it all. Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Springs, herds of buffalo, are all the high-points you’ll definitely want to see. Our advice here is to drive slowly through the park, take your time and visit during shoulder season (it’s also beautiful in winter, though most roads are closed). Following this advice, you’ll see more, the crowds will be smaller, and the cooler temperatures will have the wildlife still at a lower elevations, along the primary roads.
7. Grand Tetons National Park, WY
Grand Tetons could be an entire, epic trip all by itself, but if you are thinking of “saving it for another time,” while you focus on Yellowstone it’s a good idea to just drive through it on your way back to Salt Lake City. The scenery is breathtaking and it’s no wonder this park is a magnet for photographers, painters and landscape enthusiasts. Along your route you should definitely make a stop where Ansel Adams made his famous “Tetons and Snake River” photograph. There is even a marker there, so you too can test your photography skills and shoot where the master did.
8. Bear Lake, Garden City, UT
Bear Lake is known as the Caribbean of the Rockies. After seeing the stunning turquoise water and white beaches, you’ll understand why. There is no shortage of recreational activities that happen year-round here. There are thousands of square miles of fun that include beaches, boating, fishing, water sports, hiking, snow skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, exploring, history, and so much more.
9. Conestoga Ranch, Garden City, UT
Located on 18 acres along the shores of Bear Lake is Conestoga Ranch. This is glamping at its finest. Stay in a modern version of a covered wagon (with a plush king-sized bed and electricity), or a traditional (yet very roomy) tent. Each spot comes with campfire valet service (s’mores kit included) and there is resort-wide wifi. Some tents have their own shower and bathroom facilities, but if yours doesn’t, there are private shower rooms available 24/7 (none of that public bathhouse stuff with a flimsy curtain and lukewarm water). The on-site Campfire Grill restaurant offers upscale yet casual dining and a wine and craft beer list to go along with it.
Here’s a guide to the gear you’ll need for your first camping trip and a few camping hot spots around the country.
Camping will open up your world to a new side of adventure travel. Forget your worries, pitch a tent and enjoy nature. Here’s a guide to the gear you’ll need for your first camping trip and a few camping hot spots around the country. You may have to alter this packing list depending on whether you’re camping at a campsite, “glamping” or going totally off the grid in the middle of the woods.
Campsite & Sleeping
Preparing your campsite and sleeping arrangements is the most important part of planning for your camping trip. It’s how you’ll be protected from the elements, mosquitos and any other wildlife. This Dagger Tent is a good option for novice campers; it dries quickly, has two doors, and can fit up to three people.
You’ll also want to think about what kind of sleeping bag you’ll need for the temperature you’re camping in (Alaska vs. Florida have drastic differences in temperature). You can find this information on the label when you’re shopping. Sleeping pads that go under your sleeping bag will keep you comfortable and ensure a good night’s sleep. Pillows and blankets are also optional items. Or maybe just a poncho that doubles as a blanket, like this one?
Consider bringing a camping chair since you’ll be on your feet all day. Find a chair made out of a lightweight material for quick drying. Also, bring a simple tarp and rope are a great way to create an enclosure for cooking in case it rains. You can buy a tarp that keeps the sun, rain and bugs away too.
Gear & Gadgets
When you’re camping you can run into basically any scenario. That’s why the boy scout motto is about always being prepared. The gear you bring on your first camping trip is what’s going to make your trip go smoothly. While you don’t have to pack the kitchen sink, here are some basics you’re going to want to pack on your first camping trip.
The Osprey backpack is lightweight and has a compartment for all of your gear. For lighting, using a headlamp can be convenient or the myCharge Power Lumens is a portable charger that doubles as a bright LED light. They also have a solar charger for when you need to recharge, but are nowhere near an electrical outlet. A simple knife is always handy or you can go all out and bring a Leatherman tool that encompasses a firestarter, hammer, one-handed blade and an emergency whistle.
Shoes & Apparel
Your clothing and shoes should go along with the idea of being prepared for anything. Blundstone has hiking boots that will last you for years, taking you up mountains and through creeks. While Keen and Bogs also have awesome footwear for camping, like work boots and water shoes that you can wear in rocky waters or beaches.
United by Blue is an apparel brand that was specifically made for camping with clothing to keep you warm in the winter with flannels and cool in the summer with lightweight garb. For every product purchased, the brand removes one pound of trash, making it a brand you want to support. Another tip is to take care of your feet and bring extra socks; Smartwool has socks that are made for hiking in all seasons.
Cooking, Eating, and Hygiene
On your first camping trip, you’ll want to bring a lightweight stove to cook a hot meal. Unless you plan on cooking a classic hot dog dinner followed by s’mores over the campfire. In that case you’ll need to bring matches and a hand ax or saw to gather firewood. But if not, pick a stove that can accommodate what you’re cooking and the type of fuel you prefer (coal or fuel). Or try out this camp stove that turns fire into electricity. It can cook your meals and charge your gear, all at the same time. Pretty amazing, huh?
Depending on what you’re cooking up you’ll need a cooler for perishables, cookware, a coffee pot (a warm cup of joe in the morning is worth carrying the extra weight) and a water bottle. This kit can be used as a food container, bowl and vessel to heat food up in.
If your campsite has water you don’t need to worry about bringing a water jug or purifier, but if you’re camping more “Naked and Afraid” style, than think about where you’ll be getting your water supply. Also, if you’re going to bear country you should confirm if your campsite has a lockbox for food items or bbring a secure container to keep the bears away!
They are a lot of prepared food for campers, so if you want to keep it simple, this may be a good choice for you. Good To Go offers meal options cooked up by a chef. Kale and white bean stew anyone? While Taos Bakes and OHi Bar have energy bars when you need an emergency snack. Hey, camping can be exhausting.
Most campsites have showers and bathrooms, but definitely check this out first. Then you plan for what you’ll need to bring. Some basics to bring either way include a quick drying camp towel, hand sanitizer and a first aid kit.
Now that you have a list of equipment, here comes the fun part. Planning where you’re going to camp! While you can’t go wrong with any of the National Parks across the US, consider these lesser known campsites for your first journey.
Hither Hills State Park; Montauk New York
Hither Hills State Park has 1,700 acres set in the hills of the Hamptons, offering visitors breath-taking views of the beach from the campground (sounds chic?). Allowing campers to go fishing (saltwater and freshwater), swimming and you can even try your hand at surfing at Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk. While hiking the “walking dunes” of Napeague Harbor on the eastern boundary of the park is another popular activity in the area. Be careful to stay on the trails because the ticks thrive in this area.
The campsite offers space for 168 tents and trailers and has showers, a store, playground and horseshoes. The fee starts at $35 a night per tent and $70 if you’re not a New York resident.
Castle Rock State Park; Almo Idaho
The challenging landscape of Castle Rocks State Park attracts rock climbers from around the world. There is also excellent hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding against a dramatic backdrop that dates back 2.5 million years.
Enjoy a stay at the park’s campgrounds, yurts or the century-old ranch house. Camping is year round and a standard campsite costs about $20-$27. The weather gets up to the low-90s in summer; cooling to the 50s at night and high-30s in the winter and teens at night, so prepare your sleeping bag arrangements accordingly!
Garner State Park; Concan, Texas
There are few places as beautiful as Garner State Park AKA the Texas Hill Country River Region for a family looking to go on their first camping trip. The park is open year round and offers just about every outdoor activity you can imagine from hiking and biking to boating and fishing.
At night, campers can sleep under the stars in one of the only places in the United States where you can still see the Milky Way! Overnight visitors can stay in screened shelters, cabins or campsites for $15-$35 per night. Among the basic amenities, you can expect to find concessions, a seasonal grocery store, hot showers and restrooms.
The travel authority and activist announces a massive initiative to help address the effects of climate change around the world.
When Rick Steves talks about the condition of the planet, people listen. The author of more than 50 travel guidebooks and host of a PBS travel series, Steves has witnessed firsthand the effects of climate change around the globe, from rising sea levels to extreme weather events to overall global warming.
Introducing the Climate Smart Commitment
Steves is now using his considerable platform to help slow the effects of climate change. His Climate Smart Commitment will donate $1 million annually to fund climate-smart agriculture, agroforestry, and conservation projects in underdeveloped countries, with a portion of the funding going to climate advocacy organizations in the U.S.
The Climate Smart Commitment is noteworthy not only for its $1 million annual price tag but also for rejecting the conventional “carbon offset credits” approach that some businesses adopt, which often focus on funding clean energy projects in North America and Europe. Instead, Steves has chosen to work with organizations that are directly addressing climate change in developing countries, with an emphasis on projects that empower women to take leadership roles as they strengthen communities and help protect their environment.
Addressing the Global Effects of Travel
If Steves’s climate commitment sounds like an act of pure altruism, guess again. That $1 million annual investment is actually what Steves estimates he “owes” to the environment due to the carbon emissions created by the 30,000 travelers who take his European tours each year.
“Right now, our goal is simple,” Steves tells Budget Travel. “We aim to mitigate the carbon emissions created when people fly to Europe and back for a Rick Steves tour. Funds for meeting this goal will come straight from our profits.” Scientists estimate that the carbon emissions from a single traveler on one of Steves’s tours requires $30 in careful investment to offset.
“We don’t see this program as particularly heroic,” says Steves.“It’s simply ethical. We believe every business should bear the cost to the environment of their activities. That’s just honest accounting. We hope this program will inspire everyone who buys or sells tours to practice the same environmental ethic. This way, long after we are gone, our children will be able to enjoy the same happy travels we have.”
What Every Traveler Can Do
“Every flight or bus tour we take burns fossil fuels, and all travelers need to do their part to address this,” Steves says. “Fortunately, there are lots of simple ways to curb your carbon footprint when traveling.” Some suggestions, available at www.ricksteves.com/climate, include:
- Make sure your home isn’t wasting energy while you’re away — turn down the thermostat, unplug as many appliances as you can, and suspend print subscriptions.
- When possible, travel by train — rail travel is very energy efficient. And in Europe it’s also generally fast, easy, and comfortable.
- If you rent a car, rent the most fuel-efficient option, and decline any free “upgrade” to a model that’s bigger than you need.
- In cities, enjoy the thrill of getting around by bike if you can, and take advantage of Europe’s fantastic public transportation rather than relying on taxis. (And remember that Europe’s airports are all well-served by easy, frequent transit.) Before taking a bus tour, look into a bike or walking tour instead.
- Be conscious of your energy consumption in hotels. Turn off the lights and air-conditioning when you leave the room. (Many European hotel rooms help you do this already: The power turns on only when the key is in a slot.) On warm days, close the window shutters or curtains before you leave in the morning, and you won’t need to blast the air-con when you return. Because room service generates needless laundry, I hang the “Do not disturb” sign on my door and reuse my towel.
- Most of Europe is flowing with great tap water, often available in fountains around towns and cities. By reusing a plastic water bottle or bringing your own refillable water bottle, you not only save money, but also avoid consuming bunches of plastic and reduce demand for water that’s shipped overland in trucks and trains.
- Cut down on other wasteful consumption as much as possible. Travel habits prompt many of us to use disposable items much more often than we do at home, but you can reduce this with a little prep: Pack a lightweight shopping bag and keep it in your day bag, and bring a set of reusable picnic ware. Don’t pick up brochures, maps, or other materials that you don’t need to keep — consider taking photos of them instead. (The fewer brochures that get picked up at tourist offices, the fewer they’ll print next year.) Avoid using the individually packaged, itsy-bitsy toiletries supplied by hotel rooms. A single bar of soap and squeeze bottle of shampoo from home can last an entire trip.
- Eat locally: Food that hasn’t been trucked long distances is easier on the environment (and tastier). Picnic shop at farmers markets when you can, and avoid chain restaurants. Look for restaurants that use mainly local and organic ingredients (more likely with smaller family-run places; “bio” is shorthand for “organic” in many European languages).
- Patronize hotels and travel companies that promote and practice sustainable traveling practices.
- Notice how Europeans seem to live more while consuming less, and how they live as if their choices can shape a better future. And take home a little of that sensibility as a souvenir.
(Tips courtesy RickSteves.com)
From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from New England to Southern California, America’s beaches stay open long after Labor Day. It’s the same sun and surf—oh, except the crowds are gone and hotel rates have come back down to earth.
To tell the truth, here at Budget Travel we’ve never signed off on the notion that beach season ends on Labor Day. Balmy beach breezes, warm sun, and lobster rolls remain available well into October. And one of the benefits of hitting the shore in autumn is affordable hotel rates, putting dream destinations like Hilton Head, Montauk, Laguna Beach, and even Nantucket within your reach. Here, 10 of our favorite American beach towns with fall rates that say, “Welcome!”
1. HILTON HEAD
Warm beaches, warm welcome—plus pirates!
With fall temperatures in the 70s and 80s, miles of pristine lowcountry beaches, and the utterly unique Gullah culture, Hilton Head is truly like no other beach town in America. Learn more about what makes the island special at the Coastal Discovery Museum, or discover it for yourself on a quiet beach. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss Pirates of Hilton Head Island, with its ride aboard the Black Dagger ship. Or take a deep breath and explore the island on ZipLine Hilton Head’s two-hour sky-high tour!
Step back in time in this sleepy Lake Michigan town
Picket fences, a 19th-century vibe, and not a chain restaurant in sight. Saugatuck is one of the places savvy Chicagoans go to get away from the big city. Before you can plant yourself on Oval Beach, you’ve got to hop a hand-cranked ferry across the Kalamazoo River.
Live the SoCal beach dream
No, you don’t have to surf just because you’re on an iconic seven-mile stretch of Southern California sea and sand, but you can take a group surfing lesson for $75 with a guarantee that you’ll “get up” on your board. Nearby Laguna Village offers excellent art galleries and shops, a nod to this gorgeous beach town’s roots as an artists’ colony.
4. BAY ST. LOUIS
Gulf beaches, fresh seafood, and art galleries
One of Budget Travel‘s Coolest Small Towns in America 2013, Bay St. Louis was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has done more than recover since then. Explore Historic Old Town, go fishing, and take a walking tour of 19th-century homes, Creole cottages, and galleries, or just take Main Street straight down to the beach.
5. POINT PLEASANT BEACH
The lines for the roller coaster and zeppoli are way shorter in September!
One of Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Towns in America 2018, Point Pleasant Beach is, well, pleasant enough in summer if you enjoy being part of a major scene, rubbing elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love Jenkinson’s Boardwalk and the lovely stretch of beach here. But come September, the rides stay open, the cotton candy is just as sweet, but rates for hotel rooms just a block from the beach can be literally a third of the summer price.
6. PORT TOWNSEND
Old-timey seaport in the Pacific Northwest
We love the harbor and the foodie scene in this Victorian-era Olympic coast seaport, which was one of our Coolest Small Towns last year. A sea kayaker’s dream town, Port Townsend also boasts nearby mountains for hiking and biking, and is an especially great place to cast for fish.
7. KEY WEST
You can’t go any farther—or ask for a more beautiful location—down the East Coast
Well-known as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite locales—with a party reputation to match—this gorgeous spot at the waaaaaaaaaay bottom of the U.S.’s East Coast boasts a much wider variety of activities, including tours of Victorian homes, nature kayaking, and unique art galleries. Sunset-watching here is not mandatory, but thoroughly recommended. No matter how cliché, it never gets old.
Parkland and board shorts at the very end of Long Island’s East End
Sure, this dreamy beach town at the tip of New York’s Long Island has gone a bit more upscale over the years, with some classic motels closing and serious eateries moving in. But with only 17 square miles bounded by water and 40 percent of the land devoted to state and county parkland, this place is still pretty wild, and one stop at the Ditch Plains beach and its surfing scene will make you feel as if you’ve traveled back to the days when trekking the 100+ miles from NYC kept most folks away.
A hoppin’ main street in paradise
For some people, the words “beautiful beach” and Maui are synonymous, and it’s difficult to argue. But you’ll also find a beautiful town—Hawaii’s former capital, Lahaina—on the unparalleled island, with one of the U.S.’s most thriving main streets, the result, in part, of the 19th century whaling industry, for which Lahaina served as something of an unofficial capital as well. Nearby Kaanapali Beach, mountains you can almost reach out and touch, and a tranquil harbor make Lahaina a perfect town for kicking back.
Eighteenth-century architecture meets 21st-century style
“See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse,” wrote Herman Melville about Nantucket in Moby-Dick. This charmingly whale-shaped island still holds its lonely position off the coast of Cape Cod, but of course these days the whaling captains, sailors, and harpooners who made the island home two centuries ago have been replaced by captains of industry who can meet the sky-high summer rates. But things cool down literally and figuratively come September, when you can have perfect beaches, 18th-century cobblestone streets lined with contemporary galleries—and a table with a view—to yourself. (And don’t miss the Nantucket Historical Association, with its beautifully designed whaling exhibits and exceptional docents, in the heart of downtown.)
Interstate 94 and 90 are ideal for cruise control with long stretches of highway straight as an arrow. The prairie landscape goes on forever, dotted with cattle, crops, and badlands as you cruise along Interstate 94 and 90 in Southeast Montana. Break up the drive with stops at national monuments and state parks, not only to stretch the legs but to discover the fascinating stories that shaped the West.
This corner of Montana has been home to prehistoric people, dinosaurs, homesteaders, and one epic battle between the U.S. Army and Native Americans fighting to preserve their way of life. The gateway to these parts is the city of Billings. The pace of life is slower in these parts of Big Sky Country – enjoy the ride!
1. Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
Start your journey in Billings, armed with a picnic lunch, then head east 30 miles on I-94 to Pompeys Pillar, a sizable rock outcropping. You’ll see first-hand the only physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from their epic two-year journey to the Pacific Ocean from St. Louis. Part way up this 200 ft. high sandstone rock, Captain William Clark carved his name and date, July 25, 1806. Clark named the rock “Pompy,”a nickname he had given to the son of Sacagawea, the only woman to take part in the expedition. A boardwalk leads to the top of the rock for sweeping views of the Yellowstone River and valley and a chance to view Clark’s signature. The interpretative center is a must stop to learn about this grueling journey. Picnic under shaded cottonwood trees adjacent to the mighty Yellowstone River, the same waterway Clark and his men would utilize on their return trip via dugout canoes.
2. Makoshika State Park
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
Continuing east on I-94, dinosaur lovers will delight in Makoshika, an 11,538-acre badlands park located within a stone’s throw of the town of Glendive. The word Makoshika comes from a Lakota Indian phrase, meaning ‘bad land’ or ‘bad earth.’ Imagine hiking over the playground of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops. Back in 1889, a researcher scouring the area by horseback documented 500 triceratops skulls. The topography, from cap rocks, hoodoos, wrinkled hillsides, deep ravines, and boulders tossed about, begs to be photographed, especially at sunrise and sunset. With over 12 miles of trails, crowds will not be a problem in Makoshika. If your journey is via a motorhome or more adventurous with a tent and sleeping bag, this is the place to spend the night with both designated camping sites as well as backcountry camping. Add to this birding, an archery site, disc golf course, summer programs for kids, an amphitheater, mountain biking, visitor center, scenic drives – Makoshika has you covered!
3. Medicine Rocks State Park
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
It’s a bit off the beaten path but worth seeking out this otherworldly gem. To reach Medicine Rocks, exit I-94 at Wibaux, then head south on Hwy 7 for approximately 70 miles, passing through the town of Baker. The entrance is clearly marked. The area is characterized by sandstone rock formations, thousands of years in the making, shaped by wind and water, and peppered with holes and caves. It was a vision quest site for Native Americans, who would camp and scour the landscape for buffalo. Charging Bear, a Sioux Indian, described the site as a place “where the spirits stayed, and the medicine men prayed.” Their stories remain in the petroglyphs carved into the rocks. Cowpunchers and settlers of the old west left their names carved into the rocks as well. Don’t be tempted to carve your name on the rocks, as its both illegal and degrades this historic site. Hike it and camp it, and keep your eyes peeled for mule deer, antelope, and sharp-tailed grouse.
4. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
Some say there are days when you can hear the war cry of the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians riding into battle against the U.S. Army back on June 25-26, 1876. Often referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, it was one of the last armed efforts by the Plains Indians to protect their land and culture. By the end of the bloody battle, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, along with over 260 men, would lose their lives. Between 60-100 Native Americans were killed, according to estimates. The Little Bighorn Battlefield memorializes the site of the battle. Interpretive signage along the 4.5-mile drive provides an insight into how the action unfolded. The road ends at the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, where additional troops, under the direction of Major Reno and Captain Benteen fought. A visitor center, museum, and Indian memorial, along with a national cemetery, make up the complex. In addition to the drive, walk the Battlefield on the various pathways scattered around this historic site. The Battlefield is 65 miles southeast of Billings on I-90.
5. Pictograph Caves State Park
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
Think back 2,000 years and imagine prehistoric people painting on the walls of one of three caves at this historic state park. Little did these artists know, working in black and white pigments, they were creating a history book of sorts for future generations to understand life in ancient times. Later images, estimated to be 200-500 years old, were created with red pigment and featured rifles, horses, and other animals. The park is a short 15-minute drive from Billings on Coburn Road. The park is day use only and makes for a sweet spot for picnicking. Check out the visitor center and gift shop. Bring binoculars to get an up-close look at the pictographs. Those keen on birding should be amply rewarded with sightings at the park.
6. Chief Plenty Coups State Park
Courtesy Donnie Sexton
It’s a 40-minute drive via Hwy 416, then 418 to Chief Plenty Coups State Park, the home and farmstead of one of the great leaders of the Crow Tribe. Chief Plenty Coups started as a Crow Warrior, but through his visions, could see the white man taking over the Crow land. He felt it best to adapt and work with the whites so the Crows and their culture could survive. His wisdom and leadership would result in him being appointed chief of the Apsáalooke (Crow) tribe by age 28. He became one of the first Crow to own a farm and work the land on the Crow Indian Reservation. His efforts to bring harmony between his culture and that of the white people resulted in Plenty Coups being honored by his people as their last traditional tribal chief upon his death. If your visit coincides with their Annual Day of Honor, this year falling on August 31, you can enjoy a free buffalo feast.
With low alcohol and a high refreshment factor, these drinks are perfect for summer.
Summer drinking is a funny thing. Between vacationing, spending time with friends and family, and just enjoying the warmer weather, we tend to eschew heavier drinks—like whiskeys, red wine and even straight-up martinis—for lighter, brighter, less alcoholic fare. And though rum and gin are still seasonal crowd pleasers, cocktails mixed with lower alcohol aperitifs, like the popular Negroni, are making a strong showing in bars and restaurants across the country.
Meant to stimulate the appetite and usually dry rather than sweet, an aperitif is also a refreshing way to help stretch out drinking on a hot, sunny day. Thankfully, mixologists are taking your day drinking into consideration and creating menus chock full of these delightful cocktails. So, here’s to you, summer.
1. The Beehive, San Francisco
This Mad Men-inspired cocktail lounge, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission district, is a unique conglomerate of old and new. And though its signature, namesake concoction is a laid-back affair of gin, honey, lemon and ginger, it’s the cocktails mixed with traditional Martini & Rossi Ambrato and bitter, like Bachelor #3 and Moda Royale, that caught our eye. For something tart, the Thunderbird is Campari-forward with a hit of lime, tonic, thyme and passion fruit, while the Quimbara is a celebration of an alcoholic slushie, swirled with Aperol, rum and lime. Nostalgia is served on all levels, with a retro food menu including fondue, though with these lighter drinks, you might want to gravitate towards the ceviche, coconut shrimp and fish sliders.
2. Peppi’s Cellar, New York City
Jason Scott, a Sydney native, has brought his speakeasy aesthetic to this brazenly retro-cool cellar bar in Nolita. Just down the narrow stairs in the back of sister restaurant Gran Tivoli you’ll find a long, wooden bar, exposed brick, carved out booths and a small stage advertising a piano, where live music is allowed one night a week (the bar doesn’t have its cabaret license). The GT Spritz was created to match the classic American Italian style of the food upstairs, using the bitter notes of white vermouth and falernum to mingle with the sweet of the Italian prosecco. The namesake Amaro-Palooza is a cavalcade of sweet, sour and bitter, combining, among other things, Campari, triple sec, egg white and orange juice over clinking ice cubes. A limited bar menu is also available for some light bites.
3. Urbana, Washington D.C.
Tucked away under Kimpton’s relatively modern Hotel Palomar near Dupont Circle, Urbana boasts a popular bar scene with a daily cocktail hour. In addition to $1 oysters and a satisfying raw bar, you can choose from an aperitif-heavy cocktail list. We especially like the Constituent Cup, an Italian spritz using Nardini Taglatello, fennel liqueur, lemon and sugar to mimic the flavors of an English favorite, the Pimm’s Cup—while the seasonal Piccola Perla infuses vermouth with chamomile and the Suits Get Crazy combines rum, tiki bitters and aperol. The bar menu also includes smaller, Italian bites and snacks to round out your experience.
4. Bar Clacson, Los Angeles
A neighborhood hangout in the city of angels, this airy, international spot boasts a bodega upfront, serving paninis and bruschetta, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards. Once you grab your snack, snake your way back to the long wooden bar or hang out at the full-size petanque court. A notable list of spritz and sherry-based drinks include Campari and whiskey forward Garibaldi and the Clack_Dack, shaken with Amaro Angeleno, cracked pepper, blood orange and lime. The bar’s riff on a classic spritz, served long, will help you get through the day, combining white wine, lemon juice, prosecco and water. A seven day a week happy hour offers $10 cocktails along with small bites.
5. Ticonderoga Club, Atlanta
Head to the back of dining and retail hub, Krog Street Market, and you’ll find this laid back, cocktail-forward restaurant. The lovechild of Greg Best, Paul Calvert and Regan Smith, three of Atlanta’s most renowned mixologists, it presents a rotating menu of exhilarating cocktails. Summer offerings include the Hootchy Cider Punch made with Amer Ticon, house bitter and dry cider, as well as a cocktail featuring Cognac du Peyrat, Dubonnet, and orange bitter, playfully dubbed the Space Ghost. And don’t forget to grab a bite from the eclectic menu, which boasts clam rolls and fish and chips as well as roasted moulard duck and a vegan noodle bowl. The one thing you’ll never be at the Ticonderoga Club? Bored.
6. Perch, Richmond, VA
A southern twist on laidback luxury, this homey restaurant features a stylish yet industrial bar serving up a long list of low alcohol cocktails. Housed in a long-running, former Chinese restaurant, owner Mike Ledesma falls back on his years as a chef in Hawaii as well as his Pilipino heritage in both food and décor—bringing the Pacific Rim to this little corner of Virginia. The Jugo de Puma is sunshine in a glass with its watermelon shrub, Aperol, Citadelle and Galliano, while the Shinosaka Golf Club combines Japanese whisky, apricot liqueur and Rainwater Madeira and the Mexican Peach Cobbler plays sweet and smoky with tequila, Manzanilla, lemon and smoked peach slices. A full list of bitters and amari is also available and a happy hour menu includes cocktail specials as well as a bar menu with nibbles like Furikake peanuts, fried lotus chips and fried chicken banh mi.
On your next vacation, learn how to forage truffles with an Italian family in Italy or explore the wildlife and cliffs on the coast of Wales
Educational vacations are becoming one of the most popular ways to travel. Tourists are requesting unique local experiences where they can learn a skill, sport or art from residents of that region. So whether you’re looking for an extreme quest or you want to learn an age-old skill, here is a list of activities to try around the world.
Sand-Boarding in Doha, Qatar
If you’re an adventure junkie, hit the dunes in Qatar because sand-boarding is the new sport for you. Similar to snowboarding (but with sand), this is a regular activity in Qatar for locals and a “must-do” for tourists.
There are plenty of tour operators that offer lessons in the desert about 90 minutes south of Doha, the capital city of Qatar. 365 Adventures offers half-day adventures for about $40 where you can learn how to sand-board, dune bash and take in gorgeous views of Khor Al Adaid (Inland Sea). Dust will be flying in that Arabian wind, so thrill-seekers can take a dip in the sea post sand-boarding escapade. By the way, don’t forget your sunscreen, it is the desert.
Truffle Hunting in Rome, Italy
Italy is the epitome of good food, so this may just be the perfect destination to learn about truffles and how to forage for them. The Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort offers guests the ultimate experience in truffle hunting in Umbria.
After a quick transit from the hotel, you’ll be greeted upon arrival by the family that has been truffle hunting for centuries and their pack of well-trained dogs. Spend the morning learning tips and tricks that have been handed down for generations as you join the hunt for the elusive truffle. After participating in the hunt, you’ll enjoy a truffle-filled lunch while learning about the best ways to prepare truffle dishes. Don’t worry; you’ll depart with a basket full of truffles and firsthand insight on where to find truffles and how to eat them. Mangia!
Coasteering in Pembrokeshire, Wales
Ever heard of coasteering? This was an activity that surfers in Pembrokeshire coined as they traversed rocky coastlines in the 1980’s. The term coasteering came from combining coast and mountaineering and you can expect just that.
A tour guide will take you on an aquatic nature-trail along the cliffs as you explore caves, rock-hop, jump off cliffs and maybe even swim with seals. This is a family friendly activity though, so cliff jumping is not a necessity, as the level of adventure is up to you and your tour guide will lead the way. You’ll be given helmets and life jackets as well, and as long as you’re over the age of eight and you can doggy-paddle this adventure is for you.
Glassblowing in Corning, New York
The Corning Museum of Glass offers “Make Your Own Glass” classes, where visitors are offered the chance to work with a range of glass techniques. Learn flameworking while making a bead, glassblowing while making a pumpkin or sandblasting where you’ll apply a frosted look design to a cup or dish.
These classes are open to all ages and do not require any experience as there will be glassmakers on site to assist and guide participants through the process. The class is up to 40 minutes long depending on the project booked. Your creation will be ready for pick-up the following day!
Wood Carving in Oberammergau, Germany
Experience an authentic wood carving experience in Oberammergau (located within the Ammergauer Alps), a natural alpine park in Bavaria, Germany. The craft dates back to the middle ages and today approximately sixty active wood sculptors live in Oberammergau carving and selling their pieces.
Each shop has hundreds of wooden masterpieces from intricate statues to birdhouses and every kind of figurine you can imagine. The hands-on wood carving experience is 90 minutes and costs approximately $44 per person. You’ll learn the basics of the art of woodcarving and take home your creation.
Fly Fishing in Provo River, Utah
Try your hand at fly-fishing in scenic Provo River, which is about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. You can count on the gorgeous flowing waters, along with Mend Fly Fishing to help you catch an abundance of fish on your first outing.
During the lesson, you’ll learn the basic concepts of casting, fly selection, reading the water and knot tying (to name a few skills). The Utah native guides all grew up fly-fishing these local waters, so by the end of the day you can expect to have fish swimming your way. A half-day guided tour is $275 and includes all your gear (flies, waders, boots, snacks, beverages, rod).
Surfing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Learning how to surf is every wanderluster’s dream. So pack your bags and head to Costa Rica for this one. Iguana Surf, located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica (along the North Pacific coast) is a surf camp and tour agency. There you can take a few lessons or enroll in a full on surf camp.
Iguana Surf caters to beginner surfers who want a local experience while they check out the beautiful sites of Costa Rica. The camp is a one-stop-shop destination that provides surfing accommodations in their picturesque beachfront hotel located directly in front of the most famous break in Tamarindo Beach. You can expect to learn about the art of surfing including, popping up on your board (in and out of the water), how to position your body, how to spot a wave to catch and a newfound respect for the ocean. Hang ten!
The “exclusive, one-time” offers keep rolling in, but which credit cards are really right for your travel style?
It seems like every day more credit-card offers pile up in our mailboxes and inboxes. All these benefits and bonus points may feel too good to be true, but as airlines keep adjusting their loyalty programs and finding new ways to skimp on travelers’ miles, the right travel-rewards card can help pick up the slack – and even deliver perks you’d never earn through miles flown alone.
Travel Credit Card Basics
Among the standard benefits to look for in a credit card (like decent interest rates, late fees, annual fees, etc.), there are a few basics that can make a travel-centric card right for you. For example, when opening a new account, go with a card that will grant you hefty bonus points – just look closely at the spending threshold to secure those points.
Another bonus, if you don’t already have Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, is a card that will credit you for the cost of enrolling in one of those secure-traveler programs. (If you take more than three international flights per year, go with Global Entry.)
There also can be key differences in benefits between an airline-branded credit card vs. a bank-issued card, like airport-lounge access, free checked baggage, and priority boarding. Plus, some cards may offer free airline companion tickets, though often that comes after the card’s renewal and annual-fee payment.
Even the most seasoned globetrotters and points earners get confused by all the deals and details floating around. Here’s a rundown of a few of the best cards for different sorts of travelers.
If you book plane tickets at least five times a year, versatile rewards may be the way to go. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a favorite, because it earns three times the points (points = dollars spent) on travel and dining worldwide. Granted, the card comes with a $450 annual fee, but you’ll automatically receive $300 in credits toward any travel purchases, which is a low figure for frequent travelers. This card also comes with free access to Priority Pass Select lounges in more than 1,000 airports around the world. Here’s the full deal:
- $450 annual fee
- 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- $300 annual travel credit
- $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- 3X the points on dining and travel worldwide (for non-travel purchases, earn 1 point for every dollar spent)
- Complimentary access to 1,000+ airport lounges
- No foreign transaction fees
- Enhanced travel protection benefits
- Booking travel through Chase Rewards and affiliate sites bring greater redemption rewards
- 1 Reserve Card point transfers as 1 point to select airline and hotel loyalty programs
Let’s say visit your family regularly, and there’s only one airline with a direct route between your home city and theirs. Consider getting a credit card devoted to that airline, so every dollar charged becomes a mile banked for a future flight. Many cards even come with a multiplier to earn extra points (or miles) for every dollar spent on their airline’s tickets, upgrades, and in-flight purchases.
Because of Delta Airlines’ extensive network of direct routes, it’s a favorite for many U.S. travelers who can rack up SkyMiles through spending, then buy flights with those miles. (Plus redemption is easy thanks to Delta’s excellent website and smartphone app.) The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card by American Express is a smart way to go, and will survive some of the lost benefits that 2020 will introduce to the Gold Delta card – which involves changes to how “Medallion Qualification” miles and dollars (MQMs and MQDs) are earned. The Platinum card’s annual fee is rising to $250, but the sign-up bonus softens the blow, and upon renewal you’ll get a free companion ticket; and this card can lead you to elite “status” perks sooner. Here are other benefits:
- $250 annual fee
- 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- $100 statement credit and 5,000 MQMs after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within the first three months
- Earn two miles per dollar on Delta purchases; earn one mile per eligible dollar spent on non-Delta purchases
- Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate upon renewal of your Card
- First checked bag free on Delta flights
- Main Cabin 1 priority boarding on Delta flights
- 20 percent in-flight savings
- No foreign transaction fees
- $39 per-person Delta Sky Club access for you and up to 2 guests when traveling on a Delta flight
Maybe you love travel but can only sneak away a few precious times each year. A flexible card like Venture Rewards from Capital One could be right for you, since you’ll get a big welcome bonus, earn two times the miles on every purchase, and as long as you keep the card, your miles never expire. Better still, Venture card purchases come with added benefits like travel-accident insurance, car-rental coverage, 24-hour travel assistance, and extended warranties on some products. You can redeem your earned miles for travel rewards booked through Capital One’s website, or for cash back or statement credits. Here are the perks to expect:
- $0 intro annual fee for the first year; then $95/year
- One-time welcome bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening (equal to $500 in travel)
- Earn 2X the miles on every purchase
- No foreign transaction fees
- Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus you can transfer your miles to more than a dozen leading travel loyalty programs.
- Miles won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how many you can earn
If shorter getaways are just the ticket for your travel style, there are good options to save money with the right credit card. Train trips are perfect for mini-breaks from many big U.S. cities, so you may consider two Amtrak Guest Rewards Mastercards (one with no annual fee, one with a $79/year fee) that will earn you bonus points, rebates, upgrades, free companion coupons, and “tier status” for even more perks.
If you prefer road trips, consider the no-fee Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card, which can rack up points for gas buying. The card lets you choose a category to earn three percent cash back—including gas at any station, or travel, dining, etc. Plus you’ll earn two percent at grocery and wholesale stores, and one percent on all other purchases. (You can redeem your cash rewards with statement credits or BOA account deposits.) The card also comes with a cash-reward welcome bonus, and zero interest for the first 15 months on purchases or balance transfers (just beware the three percent fee for that transfer).
No matter your travel style, paying with plastic can serve up cash back, free flights, comped hotel rooms, upgrades, and all sorts of other perks. Just remember to read the fine print, and once your card has arrived, adhere to the rules to maximize rewards on every dollar spent.