You don’t need a passport to go on a memorable vacation this year.Travel experts have ranked the top U.S. vacation spots for 2013, and the list includes a dizzying array of options, from spectacular northern lights in Alaska to the gorgeous beaches of tropical islands.
No matter which destination you choose, you can make it easier on the wallet with tried-and-true travel tricks such as “flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Those are slow days,” says Clem Bason, president of the travel site Hotwire.com.
And reserve hotels and cars early, then rebook if you see a lower price.
If the initial price tag looks daunting, “Look at all the expenses, and see where you can save,” says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com.
“The airfare might cost a lot, but you might be able to save by booking a house instead of a hotel or eating meals in. And if you have your heart set on a certain time or destination, book early.”
Here are a few prime U.S. vacation spots to inspire your 2013 travels.
This story was originally published by Bankrate.
Nashville, Tenn., is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to the television show of the same name.
But look beyond TV to the real city, and you'll find a 'confluence of music, food and fashion,' Bason says. Chefs, fashion designers and musicians are flocking to Nashville because it's an affordable city for startups, making it a 'hot spot for live music, new restaurants and one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques. It's guaranteed to be a good time.'
In 2013, Nashville is christening a new Johnny Cash Museum and the new 16-acre Music City centre as well as several new hotels, which means you might be able to score a deal on a luxury room, Banas says. 'Hotels often offer low introductory rates to show off their new properties.'
Nashville's food, hotels and entertainment are overall more affordable than similar experiences in larger cities such as New York, Bason says. 'You won't pay out the ears during your visit.'
This year, the aurora borealis is reaching the peak of an 11-year upswing in activity, and Fairbanks, Alaska, is a good place to view it.
The northern lights 'are a Taj Mahal or a Great Wall of China,' says Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor of the website Lonely Planet.
'Seeing them should be on everyone's bucket list. It's the best fireworks show in the world.'
Fairbanks offers an excellent vantage point for about 240 days out of the year, especially in late summer when the daylight isn't as strong, Reid says.
But, there's more to do in Fairbanks than just sky watch. You can partake in the Great Fairbanks Pub Paddle, a bar crawl by kayak up the Chena River; take in a dog sled race; or sample local Native American Athabascan cuisine at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors centre.
'It's not cheap to get there, but it's worth it,' Reid says of Fairbanks.
The state of Florida is rolling out the red carpet in 2013 in honour of the state's 500th anniversary.
Juan Ponce de Leon first set foot in the Sunshine State in 1513, near St. Augustine, while searching for the Fountain of Youth.
The fountain has yet to be discovered, but 'There are special events planned across the state to celebrate, all year long,' Banas says. VivaFlorida.org is 'the one-stop shop for event listings.'
In addition to heritage trails, historic sites and cultural events, 'The space shuttle Atlantis will go on permanent display at the Kennedy Space centre Visitor Complex, and Universal Studios is opening its new Transformers ride next summer,' Banas says.
'Florida has beaches, theme parks, historic sites, (baseball) spring training, and it's affordable. There are so many low-cost flight and hotel options, and you don't need a passport to have a tropical vacation.'
Hawaii isn't the United States' only Polynesian paradise.
American Samoa is a U.S. territory -- consisting of five islands and two atolls -- with 'ridiculously gorgeous beaches, stunning scenery and few visitors.
So it's never crowded, and everything from lodging to food is less expensive than in Hawaii,' Reid says.
While on the islands, visitors can whale watch, hike through tropical rainforests, visit the United States' most remote national park, the National Park of American Samoa, or take in the pristine beaches.
The only hitch is getting there. Hawaiian Airlines is the only U.S. airline flying to American Samoa, and the flight takes about five hours from Honolulu, Reid says. 'But if you want to go beyond Hawaii on a once-in-a-lifetime trip or island hop, this is it,' he says.
'No one thinks of St. Louis as a destination, but that is about to change,' Bason says. 'There's more there than the Gateway Arch.'
St. Louis has a rich history of barbecue and beer brewing. 'There's a lot to enjoy if you're a foodie,' he says. Downtown and other areas of the city, such as the Warehouse District, are also in the midst of a hip makeover.
Then there is the music. St. Louis is home to a variety of jazz clubs, and Chuck Berry -- among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- still plays live once a month at the Blueberry Hill music club.
St. Louis, if anything, is a cheap vacation. 'It's affordable all year round,' Bason says. 'There is never enough demand to drive prices up, even on four-star hotels. You can really go there, have a good time and not spend a lot of money.'
Glacier National Park in Montana should be on your 2013 must-see list, as the glaciers that the park is known for are disappearing. 'Global warming really is affecting it,' Reid says.
But there are more reasons to see it than get-it-while-you-can. 'The park is rugged, wild and beautiful, and many visitors say it's their favourite national park,' Reid says.
Compared to other U.S. vacation spots, it's less busy than Yosemite National Park in California and the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, offers biking, boating and horseback riding, and it's 'easier to get away from the bustle' on the 740 miles of hiking trails, Reid says.
Summer is still peak season, but winter offers plenty of opportunities for exploring the park -- even by snowshoe -- and hotel rates are lower.
Not all island vacations need to be tropical. The San Juan Islands in Washington, a group of 172 islands between Seattle and Vancouver, have been nicknamed the 'gourmet archipelago.'
The islands are easily accessible by ferry and are a hot spot for the local-food movement. Many of the islands' eateries serve food grown or caught either on site or by nearby island farmers and fishermen.
They have their own wineries -- the San Juan Vineyards and Lopez Island Vineyards, Reid says. The islands were recently named one of the top spots for an adventure vacation and some of the best islands in the U.S.
But there is more to do there than just eat. San Juan Islands offer whale watching, kayaking and hiking. 'Unlike in Seattle, it doesn't rain all the time,' Reid says. 'It's sunny a good chunk of the year.'
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