The 50 Best Beaches in America

Here are some of our favorite beaches in America.

If you’re planning a beach getaway this year, you may still be wondering where you want to go and what destination will offer the most bang for your buck. Or sand for your dollars. Or just sand dollars.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 50 of our favorite destinations from all over the country. (Beaches in Arizona? You bet!) There are party beaches and remote beaches, white-sand and pebble beaches, great beaches for snorkeling and great beaches for ogling. Whatever your preference, chances are there’s a beach here for you.

Just remember, before planning any vacation, it’s a good idea to make sure it fits into your budget. There’s little worse than stressing over money the entire time you’re trying to relax and unwind. We have plenty of tips for budgeting for your next vacation, and also some comparisons of travel rewards credit cards that can help pay for your next holiday. (Pro tip: Rewards cards often require really solid credit, so check your credit scores for free on Credit.com before applying.)

Now, without further ado, here are 50 of our favorite beach destinations in America and U.S. territories, broken down by East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, freshwater and island beaches.

East Coast

With a plethora of urban and rural beaches, picking our favorite East Coast beaches was tough, but we narrowed it down to these eight.

1. Montauk, Long Island, New York

On the far end of Long Island’s South Fork sits the town of Montauk. Its numerous beaches, crystal-clear-albeit-cold waters and plenty of nearby restaurants and accommodations make it a favorite destination for New Yorkers, especially surfers. In fact, Montauk has made numerous lists as one of the best places to surf in America.

2. Fort Lauderdale Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 

This beautiful city beach is not only easy to get to (it’s right on the road), it’s relaxed and beautiful. It can get a bit crowded, but the people watching can be part of the enjoyment.

3. South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida

If laid-back isn’t quite your thing, South Beach is an endless party with endless Atlantic views. And once you’ve had your fill of sun and sand, there are trendy restaurants, shops and unique hotels to enjoy just across the street.

4. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina 

Hilton Head is a great family destination that can be very budget friendly. And don’t even get us started on the delicious low-country cuisine you’ll find here.

5. Coney Island, New York

More spectacle than beach experience, the boardwalk, pier and amusement park make for a uniquely interesting day trip if you’re visiting the New York area. The beach is typically very crowded with local New Yorkers wanting a break from the heat of the city, and the water isn’t particularly nice. In fact, it’s kind of gross. Still, if you want a memorable New York City beach experience, this is the place to do it.

6. Asbury Park, New Jersey

If you like a good boardwalk, look no farther than Asbury Park. A wide expanse of beach, plenty of people watching, shopping and eating options make this a favorite among locals and tourists.

7. The Cove, Cape May, New Jersey

Farther south on the Jersey Shore, Cape May is more quaint than Asbury Park and offers an abundance of outdoor activities like birdwatching, surfing, kayaking and more. It’s a great family-friendly option.

8. Ocean City Beach, Ocean City, Maryland

Another great spot if you love a good boardwalk, Ocean City has 10 miles of sand and plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained.

9. Race Point Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

As Patti Page once sang, “If you like sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.” Situated at the very tip of the cape near Provincetown sits this lovely stretch of beach. It’s accessible by car and even bicycle, and don’t be surprised if you spot some seals or even whales in the chilly waters.

10. Ogunquit Beach, Ogunquit, Maine

Farther north, the waters get even colder, but this sandy beach is a beautiful place by the sea. In fact, that’s exactly what its name means in Algonquin, “beautiful place by the sea.” You’ll find charming villages, plenty of delicious fresh lobster and gentle rolling waves.

11. Hollywood Beach, Hollywood, Florida

Between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, you’ll find this lovely beach with a charming seawalk. It’s great for a romantic getaway and still offers plenty of nearby activities without all the hustle and bustle of, say, South Beach.

12. Virginia Beach, Virginia

A three-mile oceanfront boardwalk is one of this famed coastline’s signature draws, ideal for strolling, jogging, rollerblading and more and rife with people watching. South of the resort area, nature lovers will find Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, while those simply looking for more seaside solace might give peaceful Sandbridge a look.

13. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Most of the beaches on the OBX are just awesome, but Cape Hatteras is special. Its famous lighthouse makes for a nice break from the sun and sand, but one of our favorite things about this stretch of beach is that beach fires are still allowed, meaning you can have that clambake if you so desire, or you can just relax with friends and family while enjoying the warm glow.

14. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Home to Apache Pier, the East Coast’s longest wooden pier, and the SkyWheel, there’s a ton of fun to be had along this 60-mile stretch of oceanfront, not to mention plenty of world-class golf.

15. Folly Beach, South Carolina

This six-mile stretch of sand offers visitors a laid-back beach experience, which is probably why it’s a favorite among local surfers.

16. Ocracoke Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

If you want to get away from it all, Ocracoke is a great place to do it. There’s been minimal development along this part of the OBX, so the remaining wetlands are home to plenty of wildlife, including birds and turtles. Of course, that doesn’t mean the beaches are empty, though they’re certainly less crowded than more urban East Coast beaches.

Freshwater Beaches

If you live in a landlocked part of the country and don’t want to spend a fortune to get some time at the beach, these picks are for you. Hello, day trip!

17. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan National Lakeshore, Michigan

One of our favorite freshwater beaches is at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. After all, it was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America back in 2011. Lake Michigan’s beautiful clear water makes a stroll on these pristine beaches really enjoyable. And when you’re finished sunning and splashing, there are dozens of other nearby activities to enjoy.

18. Bradford Beach, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

On the other side of Lake Michigan is Bradford Beach, a lovely local favorite considered the city’s most popular spot for swimming. There are also sand volleyball courts and plenty of food and beverage vendors to make sure you don’t go hungry.

19. Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona

In the Four Corners region, where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet at a single point, there are a lot of outdoor activities to enjoy. And just a two-hour drive from the spot where you can stand in all four states at the same time are some seriously beautiful beaches along Lake Powell’s shores. There’s even overnight camping allowed in some areas.

20. Huntington Beach, Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland rocks, and so does Huntington Beach, where locals have been enjoying the water and views for decades. This was also the first Ohio beach to receive the Blue Wave designation from the Clean Beaches Coalition.

21. Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois

Chicago beaches can be crowded, especially on a gorgeous summer day, and Oak Street Beach is no exception. There are often volleyball tournaments taking place — both amateur and professional — but the people watching, cool breezes coming off of Lake Michigan and the striking Chicago skyline make it a favorite destination among locals and visitors alike.

22. North Beach, Racine, Wisconsin

Another Blue Wave-certified beach on the Great Lakes, this beach also gets a big thumbs up from Dr. Beach, a renowned beach expert whose picks are certainly noteworthy. North Beach’s 2,500 feet of shoreline offers plenty of room for summertime crowds to enjoy themselves without feeling cramped.

23. Park Point Beach, Duluth, Minnesota

Yes, we’re picking a beach in Minnesota. Why? Beautiful views, soft sand and bracing dips for those hot, humid days. There’s a park and a playground, which makes it a great destination for families.

24. Grand Haven State Park, Grand Haven, Michigan

Another beauty on the shore of Lake Michigan, Grand Haven offers camping, picnic areas, playgrounds and plenty of recreational activities.

25. Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

There are plenty of beaches to choose from here and each has its own attraction. Some are more sheltered and quiet, while others have concessions and volleyball courts. The choices alone make it a great family getaway.

Island Beaches

You’re going to have to fly or take a boat to get to these beaches, but you won’t need your passport.

26. Hulopoe Beach, Manele Bay, Lanai, Hawaii

Considered one of the most perfect beaches in the world, Hulopoe Beach, on Lanai, offers a designated marine preserve where the snorkeling and diving are considered among the finest in the Hawaiian Islands. There are also tidal pools filled with colorful marine life.

27. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

This somewhat isolated beach is described by beach expert Dr. Beach as a “beautiful, crescent-shaped, white-sand beach bounded by rocky anchors where good restaurants can be found.” Yes, please.

28. Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

Powdery sand, gentle breezes, palm trees and turquoise water make this beach the stuff of dreams. Plus it’s in a quiet residential area, so the crowds aren’t typically too bad.

29. Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands 

The island’s most photographed beach is also one of its prettiest, with over a quarter mile of powdery sand, clear water and short hiking trails.

30. Lindquist Beach, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Clear, shallow water, coconut groves and sea grape trees make Lindquist Beach feel dramatic despite its relative calm on the weekdays.

31. Boquerón Beach, Puerto Rico

Frommer’s says this beautiful stretch of sand brings to mind a “tropical Cape Cod.” Its white sand, palm trees and calm waters make it a wonderful destination for families looking to snorkel, swim or even fish. Boquerón Beach also is a state-run, public beach, which means there are picnic tables, barbecue pits, lifeguards, bathrooms with showers and lockers, plus a cafeteria and a shop for necessities like sunscreen.

32. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

This two-mile-long beach in the shadow of Diamondhead is one of the most famous beaches in the world, with more than four million visitors each year. While it can get quite crowded, its breathtaking beauty is worth sharing with others.

33. Poipu Beach Park, Hawaii

Golden sands, clear blue waters and spottings of sea turtles and whales make this a favorite beach among Hawaii’s multitude of beautiful spots. In fact, TripAdvisor named it a top 25 beach in its annual Travelers’ Choice Awards for 2017.

West Coast Beaches

34. Zuma Beach, Malibu, California 

The water may be freezing — thanks northwesterly winds — but the juxtaposition of mountains and ocean are something you rarely see here in the States. Bring a jacket and headphones so you can vibe out to one of the prettiest beaches along the Pacific Coast Highway.

35. La Jolla Cove & Shores, La Jolla, California

There’s kayaking, snorkeling, diving, swimming and communing with La Jolla’s famous sea lions and seals. What’s not to love?

36. Venice Beach, Venice, California

Like Coney Island on the East Coast, Venice Beach is more about spectacle than it is actually taking in the sand and surf. Still, it’s a great experience if you’re in the greater Los Angeles area and want to get a little salty air.

37. Coronado Municipal Beach, Coronado, California

Situated in front of the famous Hotel Del Coronado, the beach is wide and the gentle waves are perfect for swimming. It’s also a beachcomber’s paradise, with plenty of shells and sand dollars to be found.

38. Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

If you’re seeking a beach with amazing sunsets, look no further. The natural beauty of the rugged coastline makes a wonderful setting for a romantic picnic or stroll, but the rip tides and chilly water make swimming less than enjoyable.

39. Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Best known for its rocky beaches and driftwood, Rialto Beach is a part of Olympic National Park, so you’re likely to spot plenty of wildlife as you walk the shore. There are whales, otters, and even bald eagles.

40. Cannon Beach, Cannon Beach, Oregon

If you want to hang out with puffins at the beach, Cannon Beach is the place to go. There’s a plethora of wildlife along this four-mile stretch of sand, but there’s still plenty of room for swimming, picnicking and just lazing about.

41. Huntington Beach, Huntington Beach, California

If you’re a fan of surfing, you probably already know this beach is nicknamed Surf City, U.S.A. Known for amazing breaks, it also has good swimming and boogie boarding. You’ll also find lifeguards, food and sundry vendors, restrooms and even volleyball courts.

Gulf Coast Beaches

Last, but certainly not least, are the Gulf Coast beaches. Now, if you live on the East or West Coast, you’re probably thinking, “Eww, a Gulf Coast beach? No way.” If that’s you, you might be interested to know that the No. 1 beach in America as chosen in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards 2017 is …

42. Siesta Beach, Siesta Key, Florida

That’s right. This Gulf Coast beach was chosen as the No. 1 beach in the country. Siesta’s 99% quartz sand means your tootsies won’t burn even on the hottest days. Pair that with crystal-clear waters and warm, sunny days almost year-round, and you’ve got full-on beach bliss.

43. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola, Florida

The sand here just speaks to people. Literally. The sand is so powdery it often squeaks when you walk across it. Its beautiful waters and warm temperatures almost year-round make it a perennial favorite and a contender for most best-beaches lists.

44. Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel, Florida

If you love collecting shells and other treasures from the ocean, this could be the beach for you. It has some of the best shelling in the world. On top of that, there are no high-rise hotels and the sunsets are outstanding.

45. Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

White sand, gentle waves and turquoise waters with a lovely beach town make this a favorite for beachgoers. It’s darn near perfect.

46. Gulf State Park, Alabama

Not far from the Florida state line, this stretch of sugary white sand offers plenty of family-friendly activities to keep everyone entertained. The park offers air-conditioned restrooms, showers, a snack bar and and tables for eating.

47. South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre can get a little crazy during Spring Break, when droves of high school and college students descend on the pretty beaches here. In fact, it can be pretty crowded for most of the high season, and while you won’t get turquoise waters, there’s an abundance of birdlife, dolphins and sea turtles. There’s also plenty of fishing to be found if that’s your thing.

48. Matagorda Bay Nature Park, Matagorda Island, Texas

The water on Matagorda Island definitely seems bluer than a lot of water along the Texas coast, plus it’s not as crowded as a lot of the beaches. If you like a natural setting with plenty of birdlife, this is a relaxing spot to just chill with family and friends.

49. Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida

As the name implies, the water here is crystal clear. The sand is also powdery soft and white, making this a very popular beach. If you don’t like crowds, there’s another alternative nearby …

50. St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Florida

There are five miles of delicate sand and crystal-clear warm waters to enjoy on this beach situated on Florida’s Gulf Coast shore, so there’s a chance you won’t feel overly crowded even on busy days. You’ll find plenty of nearby activities as well, not to mention beautiful sunsets from the beach.

Trying to save up for the trip of a lifetime? Here are 50 things to stop wasting your money on now

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50 Ways to Travel Without Overspending

Travel is expensive, but there are plenty of ways see the world without blowing your budget.

Travel is expensive enough without compounding it by wasting money or overspending.

There are plenty of things you can do to make sure your vacation budget doesn’t go to waste, though. In fact, here are 50.

1. Make a Vacation Budget

Research how much you’ll spend on travel, accommodations and activities, save that amount and stick to it.

2. Get Your Documents Ahead of Time

It costs an extra $60 or more to expedite a passport application, so be sure to get yours in at least eight weeks before departure.

3. Camp

Four walls and room service are great, but a tent, a sleeping bag and campground fees are likely much cheaper than the average hotel. Many National Parks have campgrounds.

4. Stay at a Hostel

Hostels provide accommodations at reasonable prices for those who don’t mind staying in a dorm-like setting. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s a place to sleep.

5. Use Airbnb

You may have luck beating local hotel rates at your destination if you look for people willing to rent out rooms or their entire home for a few days.

6. Stay With a Friend

Visiting a friend is a great pretext for traveling and, if they have a comfy couch or spare bedroom, a way to save on the price of a hotel room. Try not to be a slob though, and offer to buy your host a meal or two as a way of showing your thanks.

7. Travel in a Group

A group of friends can split the cost of accommodations and perhaps score group discounts on activities.

8. Rent Out Your Home

You can also rent out your own home to make some money while you’re traveling. But you should let potential guests know you won’t be around to deal with any problems that arise.

9. Avoid Peak Tourist Season

There’s a reason everyone travels during the summer: The kids are out of school and the weather is usually nice. But you may save by traveling during times when demand is lower. For example, Disneyland advises on its website that prices may be lower outside of its high season, which starts in May.

10. Use a Travel Rewards Card

The right card can earn you miles or hotel points for your purchases. Here are a few of our favorite travel rewards cards. (Rewards cards often require solid credit scores. To see if you qualify, check two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

11. Don’t Pay Foreign Transaction Fees

Want to pay an extra 3% for the things you buy while abroad? No? Bring a credit card that doesn’t charge such fees, or use cash, which you can get if you…

12. Use an ATM

If you need cash abroad, an ATM should give you a better exchange rate than the kiosks in the airport. For added savings, find out from your bank if they or their partners have ATM locations that won’t charge a withdrawal fee.

13. Exchange Money Away From the Airport

If you don’t want to use an ATM, you still can find better rates from money-changers outside the airport.

14. Make a Packing List…

You know what’s a waste of money? Buying something you already own because you forgot it at home. Make a list and make sure you have everything you need.

15. … & Pack Light

You think your in-flight meal is expensive? Wait until you get slapped with an overweight baggage fee. Most airlines will let you bring a carry-on for free, so there’s extra incentive for careful packing.

16. Ship Souvenirs Home

You might think you’re stuck paying baggage fees if you’ve bought a ton of knick-knacks, but you can always ship them. Compare the price of shipping your souvenirs to paying an overweight or extra baggage fee. “It’s usually cheaper than the extra baggage fees to get your souvenirs home,” said Kelly Soderlund, content manager for Hipmunk, a travel deals website.

17. Be Flexible

If you’re willing to to make a stopover or land a longer distance away from your final destination, you may be able to get a cheaper flight.

18. Book in Advance

In general, airfares are at their lowest until a few weeks before departure, at which point they rise steadily. Some tickets will stay cheap if there’s low demand, but your best bet is to buy early. It’s also a good idea to sign up for a service that tracks flight costs to specific destinations and sends you alerts when prices drop.

19. Fly During Odd Hours

Flights that take off during the evening or the middle of the week tend to see lower demand than others, and can be cheaper to buy as a result.

20. Use a Low-Cost Airline

Airlines like Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit can offer cut-rate fares. Teresa Walsh, a marketing executive for Cazana.com, a startup in London, suggested passengers bring their own food and tablet or book, as in-flight meal and entertainment options may be limited.

21. Buy a Travel Package

You can sometimes save if you buy a vacation package including hotel and airfare from your favorite airline, a website like Travelocity, or even somewhere like Groupon or Costco.

22. Consider Cutting Out the Middleman

Booking sites make their money off commissions from accommodation providers. “Often if you contact the provider directly, you can negotiate a lower rate since you aren’t paying for a middleman,” said Nate Hake, a writer at travel website TravelLemming.com.

23. Use Public Transit…

Public transit tends to be one of the cheapest ways to get around home and the same is true abroad. There is a risk you’ll literally get lost in translation, but it may be worth saving on cab fare.

24. …Or Rent a Bike

Many cities have bike-share programs or rental services for tourists, offering an affordable way to see your destination up-close.

25. …Or Walk

It’s always free to walk and staying on foot can allow you to see parts of a new city you may have missed on a bus or in a car.

26. Do Your Research

Buy a travel guide or search online, not only to find out which attractions to visit, but also which overpriced tourist traps to avoid.

27. Find Free Attractions

Many museums are free certain days of the week, and in many cities you can find free walking tours. There’s no beating that price.

28. Book Activities in Advance

Door prices for tourist are are often higher than if you buy tickets in advance, said Pete Bahrenburg, president of the Last Minute Travel website.

29. Rent a Car Away From the Airport

Just as you shouldn’t exchange money at an airport kiosk, you should also look elsewhere for a car rental. Rentals tend to be pricier at airports, where agencies have to pay extra fees. Those fees can get passed on to you when you rent, but could still be cheaper than taking a cab to and from another off-site location, so be sure to find out how much it will cost to get to another location.

30. Rent a Car With Your Credit Card

Many cards offer rental car collision coverage if you use them to pay for your booking. Plus certain cards will earn you rewards.

31. Work on a Farm

If you don’t mind doing some work while seeing a new place, sign up for a cultural exchange program like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You’ll be able to travel to a new place and get food and accommodation from a host in exchange for working on their farm.

32. Sign up for a Loyalty Program

Hotel and airline loyalty programs are often free to join and can let you rack up points for discounted flights or stays.

33. Sign up for Newsletters

Airlines and travel agencies will occasionally send out discounts with their email newsletters. It’s free to sign up and it could lead to a cheap trip. Check up on social media accounts too.

34. Bring Food…

Just like at home, eating out all the time can add up. Bring snacks with you, especially to the airport, where your options are basically limited to overpriced mall food.

35. …And Entertainment

In case in-flight entertainment isn’t free, pack a book, download a podcast or movie ahead of your flight to pass the time.

36. Don’t Eat at the Hotel

Aside from a complimentary breakfast, your hotel is probably not the cheapest food option in the area. Better to head to a neighborhood eatery, said Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities in Virginia.

37. Splurge on Lunch, Not Dinner

Kathy James, who writes travel blog Walkabout Wanderer, pointed out that lunch is generally cheaper than dinner at restaurants. “So make a sandwich from the supermarket or grab a snack for your evening meal and [splurge] at lunchtime,” she said.

38. Haggle

This might be outside of the comfort zone for some Americans used to fixed prices, but the sticker price isn’t final in many cultures. If you find yourself in a flea market or bazaar, it’s not a bad idea to see if sellers have any wiggle room on their prices.

39. Bring Your Own Water Bottle

“Do your research beforehand and if the water is safe to drink in the country you are going to then take a reusable water bottle with you and save both the environment and your wallet,” said Walsh.

40. Don’t Use Your Phone Abroad

Your mobile phone plan may not cover international usage (though it’s worth checking on whether flat-rate, temporary international plans are available). Either grab a pay-as-you-go SIM card or wait until you have Wi-Fi to access the internet, said James Cave, author of the Portugalist travel blog. “If you need to make a phone call, use Skype or do the old-fashioned thing and buy a phone card,” he said.

41. Stay Local

A vacation doesn’t require a pricey plane flight. Check your state’s tourism website to see what adventures you can have at or near home.

42. Buy the Cheapest Gas

Taking a road trip? Use an app like GasBuddy or Google Maps to find the cheapest gasoline prices.

43. Use a Gas Rewards Card

If you are filling up frequently, a gas rewards card can help you earn some of your spending back.

44. Make Sure Your Car Is Travel-Ready

Just as you should check with your doctor before deciding to train for a marathon, make sure your vehicle is tuned up for a road trip. “It’s better to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic instead of risking a roadside breakdown and having your trip completely derailed,” said Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for TravelPirates, a travel deals website.

45. Remember, Kids Under 2 May Fly Free

Anyone age 2 and under counts as a “lap child” and can usually be carried on an airline free of charge as long as they don’t take up a seat. Be sure to check your specific airline’s policy.

46. Leave Your Pet

Many airlines charge fees for bringing your pet and some countries might subject them to quarantine. The price of boarding your pet or having someone feed them while you’re gone might be worth avoiding the headache.

47. Consider Travel Insurance

Your existing medical insurance may not cover an international emergency. A travel insurance policy may help fill the gap. It can also help you avoid a total loss of your travel costs if a personal issue keeps you from traveling. Check your credit card’s terms and conditions too, since some travel cards include similar coverage.

48. Be Discrete

Tourists are often targets for scammers and pickpockets. So be low-key and polite, especially while abroad. Leave your American flag hat at home and try to use the local language.

49. Pay Your Bills Before You Go

The last thing you want to come home to is a late-payment notice. Take care of any payments that will come due while you’re away.

50. Keep Your Documents Safe

Make sure your passport and any other important documents are secure, whether they’re locked up in your luggage or in a hotel safe. Spare yourself the headache and cost of replacing them on short notice.

Don’t have enough socked away to take that dream vacation? No worries. We have 28 ways to save up for your next big adventure here

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Take the Money Stress Out of Vacation With This Travel Checklist

Vacations can actually be pretty stressful. But if you lay the right financial groundwork beforehand, you'll be better able to enjoy yourself.

The vacations we take are often some of the most memorable times in our lives. But they can also be stressful. Leaving your life behind for a few days can be relaxing, but it takes planning and money. Luckily, there are a few basic steps you can take to ensure your vacation is the break you need and not another source of stress. Here are nine tips to follow.

1. Make a Budget

Know what you’ll need to spend. Do your research ahead of time, not only on the cost of travel and accommodations but also your activities and the meals you’ll eat. You may also be able to purchase tickets for certain activities ahead of time this way.

Add up your costs, and you’ll know whether you have enough saved up to afford your itinerary or need to scale back your trip. Check out our tips for saving money fast.

2. Make a Packing List

Don’t deplete your precious vacation budget to buy a rain jacket or swimsuit you forgot to pack. Check your itinerary and the weather forecast ahead of time and lay out exactly what you’ll need to bring. Here’s a list of 13 essentials you should pack.

3. Bring the Right Credit Card

You’re paying enough for your trip without adding foreign transaction fees to every swipe. If you’re not sure whether your card charges these fees, just check the terms and conditions.

If you’re thinking of applying for new plastic, check out a few cards with no foreign transaction fees here. In addition to saving on fees, some cards, especially those affiliated with airlines, will allow you to check your first bag free, among other perks. (Remember, you’ll need a solid credit score for many travel rewards cards. You can check two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

You’ll also want to make sure you know your PIN (or call your issuer to reset it), especially if you’re going to Europe. Many card readers there use a chip-and-PIN system rather than the chip-and-signature system that has become common in the United States.

If you’re going to bring your ATM card, check your bank’s website or call them up to find out whether they have ATM locations in your destination of choice. This way you can avoid paying hefty ATM fees if you need to withdraw cash.

4. Call Your Card Company

You should also call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’re traveling. They’ll be monitoring your card activity and the sudden appearance of purchases in a foreign land may lead them to think your card has been stolen and freeze your card. You don’t want the hassle of having to prove that you’re you while you’re on vacation. Call ahead to avoid it. Many banks and card issuers allow you to set a travel alert online or using their mobile app, as well.

5. Make Sure You’re Covered

Many health insurance plans don’t cover medical expenses while you’re abroad, so if you’re worried about paying for a potential health emergency, you may want to consider buying a travel insurance policy that covers such expenses. Some policies may also cover lost or stolen luggage. Before buying, be sure to check with your own insurer to see what they’ll cover. You should also check your credit card’s terms and conditions. Many offer travel insurance if you paid for the trip using your card.

6. Cover Your Bills

You may be able to ignore work emails for a few days, but you still have to pay your bills. If any payments for utilities, your credit card or rent come due while you’re away, make sure you find a way to pay them ahead of time. While missing one payment probably won’t get your power shut off, a late credit card payment could result in late fees and hefty interest charges. Your landlord won’t be thrilled about a late payment either.

7. Hold Your Mail

Don’t let your mail pile up in your mailbox, especially if it’s not secured. That stack of paper could be a treasure trove for identity thieves. Holding your mail temporarily is as simple as a visit to the Postal Service website. They’ll keep it safe at your local post office until you return.

8. Wait to Change Money

Most likely you’ll get a better exchange rate when you get to your destination. If you’re worried about having local currency once you get off the plane, most airports will have ATMs that offer better exchange rates than the ubiquitous cash-exchange kiosks in tourist areas. Just make sure you followed the earlier advice about calling your bank.

9. Get Your Passport Well Ahead of Time

If you’re going abroad, be sure to apply for your passport (or renew it) at least eight weeks before you leave. If you need it any faster than that, you’ll have to pay for expedited service.

It might seem like a lot of work, but taking these steps should help minimize your money stress before your big trip.

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Anatomy of an Airfare: What Determines Your Price?

Two people on the same flight in the same section of a plane can pay wildly different prices. Here's why.

Airfares are highly variable. You could be sitting next to someone who paid several hundreds more than you to be on the same plane even if you’re flying to the same destination.

What drives these price differences? Let’s break down the big factors.

Supply & Demand

Airlines respond to the same simple economics as any seller. They want passengers to pay as much as they’re willing for their seats.

“They charge what the market will bear, and hopefully that’s more than their costs,” said Robert W. Mann, an airline industry consultant and former airline executive.

Unlike many businesses, airlines know certain passengers are willing to pay more than others. Airlines also have the ability to charge different prices to different customers, thanks to sophisticated algorithms that help them ensure they fill — and sometimes overfill — each flight. On top of that, airlines aren’t selling just one product.

Say you buy a ticket from New York to Chicago. Many of the people on the plane with you may have bought tickets for different journeys, from New York to San Francisco or Hawaii or beyond. Airlines have to balance the number of seats they offer to someone making the shorter trip to Chicago against the number of seats they offer to people making longer trips who are often willing to pay much more for their seats, Mann explained.

“What you’re willing to sell and what you’re willing to show as available for sale depends on the network you’re selling,” he said.

Airlines think in terms of selling an entire network of trips, not just individual seats, Mann said. This can make setting prices complicated. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t factors that have a discreet impact on your airfare.

Location

The airport a passenger chooses matters a lot, said Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper, an app that calculates the best times to book flights. Airfares from airports that have multiple airlines competing over the same routes will often result in better deals.

Conversely, airfare might be higher at smaller airports or even bigger hubs dominated by a single airline because of a lack of competition.

Government fees also play a role. For example, the United Kingdom charges an Air Passenger Duty that can inflate the price of premium cabin seats flying out of Heathrow by upwards of $200.

Time

Airfares can vary widely by when they’re purchased. In general, night departures go for less than morning departures, Mann said.

Passengers can also save money by purchasing tickets far in advance of their trips, although the cheapest tickets are restricted, or non-refundable. Fares typically stay at their lowest until a few weeks before departure, at which point airlines typically increase prices until takeoff, Mann said.

However, that’s not always the case. If a flight is booking slowly, airlines may release more low-priced tickets, Mann said.

Location also affects how prices change over time, Surry said. Destinations that draw lots of business travelers who tend to book late and are willing to pay higher prices for unrestricted tickets will see airfares rise the most as takeoff approaches.

More touristy destinations with fewer business travelers, like Hawaii or Cancun, won’t see prices rise as much.

The airlines’ goal is to make the most money from a limited number of seats, knowing that the people willing to pay the most won’t book until days before the flight leaves. They have to fill up the plane enough to cover fuel and other costs while leaving seats to sell to last-minute buyers.

How to Get the Cheapest Airfare

Airlines have tons of data available that allow them to determine what to charge each customer.

“We’re trying to fight fire with fire,” said Surry. “We also have an army of computers.”

While price changes can sometimes seem random, there are certain predictable elements, Surry said. Prices are generally comparable during the same seasons each year, and they rise in a predictable way as departure approaches.

However, the best broad tip he had was for passengers to be flexible in their travel dates and destinations. A few years ago, he traveled to Europe with his family and found that he could pay much less by flying to Lisbon instead of London and Paris while still being able to visit via cheaper intracontinental flights or trains.

Booking vacations can be complicated because travelers have to account for not only airfare but also hotel rates and possibly car-rental prices, Mann said. Make sure to take all your costs into account when planning your trip.

Travelers can also save on their airfare if they use the right credit card. Many airlines offer co-branded credit cards that award points and miles for purchases. Just remember, many travel rewards cards require excellent credit, so be sure to check your free score on Credit.com to see whether you qualify.

Image: kasto80

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1 in 5 Americans Will Go into Debt to Pay for Summer Vacation

With summertime right around the corner, millions of Americans will pile into cars, planes, and trains and head off for summer vacation.

In the 2017 MagnifyMoney Vacation Debt survey, we asked 500 U.S. adults how they are planning to pay for their summer getaways.

Alarmingly, we found a significant number of vacationers are willing to drive themselves into debt for some fun in the sun.

Key findings:

  • The average American will spend $2,936 on their summer vacation in 2017

  • 1 in 5 vacationers (21%) will go into debt to pay for their summer getaways

  • People who already have debt are twice as likely to use debt to cover some vacation expenses as people who are debt-free: 30% vs. 13%

  • Vacationers who plan to use debt to pay for their vacation will also spend nearly twice as much as the average vacationer: $4,351 vs. $2,936

  • Summer vacation FOMO is real: 31% of people say they feel pressured to go on vacation even though they’d rather pay off debt.

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Summer Vacation: The Ultimate Debt Trap?

Summer vacation will set the average American back nearly $3,000 this year, according to the survey.

But an alarming number of travelers will be going into debt to finance their getaways.

One in five (21%) of respondents said they plan to go into debt to pay for vacation, according to the survey.

Among those who said they plan go into debt to pay for vacation, a whopping 71% admitted to already carrying some credit card debt.

People who already have debt are more likely to turn to debt to pay for vacation (30%) than those who are debt-free (13%).

 

Using debt to pay for a big trip may not seem like a big deal. But our survey shows using debt can lead people to spend more than they might spend otherwise.

When we looked at respondents who said they are planning to take on debt to pay for their vacation, we found that they were likely to spend significantly more on vacation than their peers.

On average, survey respondents said their vacations will cost $2,936 this year. And they plan to cover 20% of that expense ($595) with some form of debt.

On the other hand, people planning to go into debt said they will spend nearly twice that amount on their vacation — $4,351. And they’ll use debt to cover an even larger share of their total vacation expenses — 38% vs. 20%.

On the flip side, vacationers who have no debt will spend the least on vacation and plan to cover just 14% of their total vacation costs with new debt.

Vacation debt can easily stick around for months or even years to come, depending on how much debt a consumer already has to contend with.

Let’s say a person pays for their vacation expenses on a credit card with an average APR of 16%. They spend $1,670. If they make only minimum payments each month, it would take them over five years to pay off the debt, and they would pay $822 in interest charges.

When it comes to vacation, credit cards are king

The vast majority of respondents who said they will use debt to pay for some of their vacation expenses will use credit cards.

 

FOMO + Vacation Debt

It’s evident from our survey that outside societal pressure to take a big summer vacation can push someone to spend outside of their means.

Nearly one-third (31%) of people who already have debt say they felt pressure to go on vacation anyway.

The pressure is even worse for people who said they are planning to go into debt for vacation. Nearly half (46%) said they felt pressure to go on vacation even though they’d like to pay down some of their existing debt.

People who planned on taking on debt to pay for their summer vacation were also less likely to say they would be willing to skip a summer vacation to pay off their debt.

More than half (53%) of people planning to go into debt for vacation would be willing to skip vacation to pay off debt.

Meanwhile, 60% of people who have no debt said they’d be willing to skip a vacation to pay off debt.

Millennials Rack Up the Most Vacation Debt

Millennials may spend more on vacations than older generations, but it’s Gen Xers and Boomers who are more likely to fund their vacation expenses with plastic.

On average, 18-35 year olds said they will spend $3,163 on vacation and take on $725 of debt in the process. By comparison, respondents age 35 and older will spend $2,761 on vacation and cover $495 of it with debt.

Millennials were slightly more susceptible to peer pressure as well. Just under half (49%) of 18-35 year olds who plan to go into debt for vacation said they feel pressured to vacation rather than pay off debt. Comparatively, 44% of those age 35 years and older who said they plan to go into debt for vacation also said they felt pressure to do so.

Methodology: MagnifyMoney commissioned Pollfish to conduct an online survey of 500 U.S. adults who plan to take a vacation this summer and are responsible for most of the cost of the vacation. Responses were collected April 15 – 26, 2017.

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4 Easy Ways to Achieve Vacation-Level Relaxation Without Traveling

relax-without-traveling

Vacations can be expensive — there’s the cost of travel itself, as well as lodging expenses and all the money you drop once you get where you’re going. When it’s all said and done, you could potentially spend thousands of dollars on a getaway.

But aside from emptying our wallets, vacations can help us decompress and cut back on stress. But there’s a way to enjoy the same result without having to overspend on a vacation. Here’s how you can save money by achieving epic relaxation without ever leaving your hometown.

1. Disconnect From Technology

Modern technology keeps us continuously plugged in, something many people tie to causing high stress levels. Think about it: Your boss can now email you when you’re home, and social media can constantly bombard us with information.

It can be beneficial to step away from digital communications once in a while. To help you relax, consider turning off the TV, smartphones and computer at least a few evenings a week, if you can. At the very least, you can try to remove tech from your bedroom so that you can wind down before going to sleep, as research has shown that the light from screens throws off our sleep cycles and melatonin production.

2. Establish a Zen Place

There’s a reason we go on vacations to relax. Perhaps we find it easier to unwind in a place we don’t associate with work or home responsibilities. But you can establish a place at home that’s used just for relaxing and in time your mind can start to associate that place with a calm, tranquil mindset.

The exact nature of your relaxation space depends on your resources and preferences. You may have a backyard or room to devote to relaxing, or you may only have extra floor space. But whether it’s a garden patio, relaxation room or beanbag chair next to your bookshelf, you can designate a certain space at home for relaxation.

To help boost the relaxation vibe in that space, consider repainting calming colors on the walls, listening to tranquil sounds (relaxing music) or adding accessories such as plants or Zen sand gardens. You can also try to remove anything from that space that stresses you out – like phones, mail and other stressors.

3. Hire a Pro

Massages, spa days and yoga classes are just a few examples of services that can help you relax. Sure, a trip to the spa may be a seen as an unnecessary extravagance, but it is likely less expensive than a vacation and could be worth the investment. After all, relaxation professionals can help you recharge and refresh. If this is outside of your budget, there are less expensive alternatives you could consider, too, like finding free yoga instruction videos online or soaking in your tub at home instead of at the spa.

4. Revisit Your Own City

Relaxation doesn’t all have to take place within your home. In fact, you can reacquaint yourself with your own neighborhood. Whether you’re in the city, country or somewhere in between, your region should have some great attractions you may not have checked out before (or perhaps it’s just been a while). Try approaching your area from the perspective of a tourist: What would you recommend they try if they were visiting your area?

Whether it’s hiking, museums or fine dining, you can get a vacation-level experience by discovering (or rediscovering) the best your town has to offer. You could develop a new appreciation for your region and find new places to explore and enjoy to boot.

No matter how you decide to relax, whether through yoga, a zen garden or something else, it’s a good idea you don’t overspend — after all, you don’t want to find a good relaxation tool just to find out it’s landed you in credit card debt. To help you stay on the right track, consider using this free tool to see how your spending is affecting your financial goals, like maintaining a good credit score.

Image: m-imagephotography

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How We’re Planning Our Hibernation Vacation

We know we’re preaching to the choir when we say this winter has been rough. It’s for this very reason that we’re “leavin’ on a jet plane and don’t know when [we’ll] be back again.” We need sun, sand and warmth – like, now.

This is our strategy for keeping the costs of our trip down, or keeping it not-so-expensive (NSE).

Changing Course

When we first started this article, we were planning to head to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in early Spring. We were relying on the credit card miles we built through managing our business. Unfortunately, on our quest for flights, we learned that the number of miles required to fly to Puerto Vallarta has increased. Now, it would cost us as many airline miles to fly to Puerto Vallarta as it would to fly to Brazil or Italy. As we’ve used miles to fly to Puerto Vallarta before, this felt like a bait and switch.

We have miles on other cards, but they’re more conducive to European travel. To use the miles we want to unload now, we decided to rethink our vacation destination.

Now we’re headed to Palm Springs, Calif. This will let us use the miles we need to dump and keep our travel expenses low. Because we’ve chosen a smaller town that offers a lot in a centrally located place, we won’t need to rent a car. We may, however, rent bikes because that sounds fabulous. (It may sound less fabulous once we’ve imbibed in a few libations, but we digress.)

The other strategy we’re implementing is monumental planning. We always say that planning is key maintaining any budget and it will be the key to controlling our vacation expenses. First, we’re scouting the restaurants, coffee shops and bars that have online coupons. We’re also researching which establishments offer promotions and when. Hey, we’re not above the Blue Hair special.

We’re using tech, as well. Here’s how.

1. Vacation Alerts

We’ve signed up for alerts with sites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Jetsetter.com, which offer customized alerts. We choose the kind of vacation we want, where we want to go and what we want to do — and receive alerts tailored to these needs. These sites offer a lot of ingenious money-saving travel tips and share potential deals on social media as well.

2. Discount Codes

Sites such as RetailMeNot.com offer discount codes for just about everything. For our pending vacation, we’re looking for hotel options, but we can also search for airline tickets and car rentals. Discounts range from a few dollars to 40% off. RetailMeNot also offers vouchers for free meals at hotels and bonus rewards points and miles for hotels and airlines. If the stars are aligned, we may even be able to use our existing hotel and airline rewards with discount codes.

3. Planning Ahead

We want this vacation to combine relaxation with adventure. On vacation, everything costs money and expenses add up quickly. We’re using sites like Living Social and Groupon to plan our activities ahead of our trip. These apps and others let us change locations even before getting to our vacation destination so we can find discounts in that area.

To avoid luggage fees, we’ll each take one carry-on bag at the most. This vacation will only be one week. We survived 30 days down under with only two carry-on bags. Seven days will be a piece of cake.

4. Coupons

We’re downloading coupons for groceries, restaurants and other entertainment and activities in Palm Springs. Sites such as Coupons.com and TheKrazyCouponLady.com offer more coupons than one needs. Some coupons can be sent via text directly to our phones.

There are also apps, like The Coupons App, that can help you find discounts in your travel destination.

5. Gift Cards

Similar to holiday shopping, we can buy discount gift cards in advance and use them on our vacation. Sites such as Giftcard.com, Giftcardgranny.com and Plasticjungle.com offer a wide variety of discount gift cards including ones for clothing and other retail stores, movie theaters, spas, airlines and car rentals.

6. Travel Apps

Apps such as Travel Zoo offer discounts on hotels, airlines, entertainment and local attractions in both foreign and domestic cities. There are also apps, like Larky, that track your loyalty programs and membership benefits. Larky, for instance, notifies us when we’re near an establishment that offers a discount through a loyalty program we belong to.

This is our strategy for getting away from Old Man Winter and not succumbing to becoming Poor Richard in the process. Hopefully this gives you an idea how to lower the cost of your hibernation vacation so can still reach your financial goals. (You can monitor your financial goals like building good credit for free on Credit.com.)

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Image: Milan_Jovic

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