We travel for all sorts of reasons, but the best trips offer something new and different to enjoy. Adding another stamp in your passport is reason to smile, but the time spent stuck in customs can put a damper on even the best trip. Luckily, skipping the line and wait is easy for Americans. The list of places to go with nothing more than a driver’s license is long, and the activities and adventures so unique, you won’t miss that fancy stamp.
There’s no place in the U.S., let alone the world, quite like Hawaii. Each island is uniquely Hawaiian, making the hardest part of planning a trip to the 50th state, deciding which island to call home. Hawaii Island, often called the “Big Island,” is nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. You can tour the family run Hawaiian Vanilla Company farm, hike Akaka Falls State Park, and take in the lava glow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park all in one busy day.
Maui is an animal lover’s paradise offering migrating humpback whales, and sea turtles that can make for amazing swim buddies. Kauai has more beach per coastline mile than all the other Hawaiian Islands – more than 50 miles of beaches. Either by sea or by air, the towering cliffs of the Nāpali Coast never fail to impress. With a population of a bit more than 3-thousand people, Lanai has a quiet charm, without crowds. Like Lanai, Molokai doesn’t have any stoplights, so that feeling you’ve found somewhere special happens instantly upon arrival. You can’t see all of the Hawaiian Islands in one trip, so plan on coming back, again and again.
Where to stay in Hawaii
Less than an hour after your plane touches down in Puerto Rico you can be wandering the colorful streets of historic Old San Juan. Get your bearings by hopping aboard the free trolley that winds its way through narrow cobblestone streets lined with historic forts and ocean views. The Paseo de La Princesa, and the waterfront boardwalk, El Malecón are made for strolling and people watching. Before heading into the heart of the city at the San Juan Gate, look for slow moving sea stars at the end of the dock.
The island of Vieques is located just seven miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico will delight with its beaches, and the spectacular Mosquito Bay, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
Where to stay in Puerto Rico
U.S. Virgin Islands
Located in the eastern Caribbean, St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, are the three major islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Croix is the largest island, at just under 23 miles long and 8 miles at its widest point. Exploring Buck Island Reef National Monument, one of only three underwater national monuments in the U.S., is a popular island adventure.
Two-thirds of St. John’s 19 square miles, is national park land. In 1956, Laurence Rockefeller bought and donated the land and underwater preserve to the federal government, and the wild beauty of the island has been preserved ever since. Head to St. Thomas and take the Skyride 700 feet above the city or climb the 99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie for a workout with a view. (The 99 steps are actually 103 steps.) If you just want to relax on the beach, hop the ferry to Water Island. Go early and your only company will be feasting sea turtles.
Where to stay in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Visitors can fly directly into the Keys, but the string of scenic islands has all the makings for an amazing road trip. Key Largo, the first and northernmost of the Florida Keys, is only about an hour’s drive from South Florida’s two major airports, but it feels a world away. Home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, of the nation’s first undersea preserve, snorkeling and diving ranks high on the to do list here. Islamorada calls itself “the sport fishing capital of the world,” but visitors looking to stay on dry land, especially traveling families can get their fish fill, hand-feeding hungry tarpon from the docks of Robbie’s Marina.
In Marathon, travelers can take a guided tour of The Turtle Hospital, or spend a day at the Dolphin Research Center. Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys boasts a state park, a national marine sanctuary and two national wildlife refuges. Key West, the southernmost city in the continental US, is where Ernest Hemingway once lived and found inspiration. Visit his estate and the 40 polydactyl (six-toed) cats that call it home, then join in the spirited sunset party that happens nightly at Mallory Square.