Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. (Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc Getty Images)
Dara Continenza, SmarterTravel.com
Longing for a long-distance getaway but don't have a passport? No problem! We've found five faraway places overseas where, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you won't need to bring a passport.
The island of Puerto Rico (officially an unincorporated territory of the United States) has long been a favorite of travelers from the contiguous 48. Inexpensive airfare from Spirit, Southwest, and JetBlue makes Puerto Rico an economical option for East Coasters. And its Isla de Vieques, a TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice 2013 winner for best island in the Caribbean, offers visitors a bioluminescent bay to kayak and unspoiled beaches to explore. In a 2012 referendum on the territory's political status, a record 61% of Puerto Rico's voters were in favor of eventual statehood, so we may one day welcome the island as the 51st. Even so, right now, you can explore its wonders without a U.S. passport.
United States Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands lie mere minutes away from Puerto Rico by plane. Made up of three main islands-St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John-plus a scattering of smaller isles, the U.S.V.I. see some 2.6 million visitors each year. In fact, tourism and rum (things we think go very well together) make up the majority of the islands' economy. Each island has its own unique appeal. St. John, with its national parkland and legendary diving, will charm true escapists. St. Thomas is a shopper's dream, with countless boutiques and jewelers, as well as two bustling cruise terminals. And Dutch-flavored and diverse St. Croix is a favorite of luxury-seeking honeymooners. Find accommodations of every stripe, from St. Thomas' smart Ritz-Carlton to the luxe and immersive Caneel Bay resort on St. John.
Note: Travelers will need to have a passport to visit the neighboring British Virgin Islands.
Northern Mariana Islands
These Micronesian islands have been governed by many in their long history: first by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, then Japanese forces during WWII, and finally, the United States since the Battle of Saipan in 1944. Nowadays, the islands rely heavily on tourism from their northern neighbors Japan and Korea as well as the United States. History buffs will find much to see in Saipan, the largest island of the Marianas, which is home to several war memorials and museums. Adrenaline junkies can dive the Grotto, a limestone cavern whose 70-foot-deep waters are home to sea turtles and reef sharks, or take a boat to the nearby lagoon surrounding Managaha Island. While the Mariana Islands are relatively remote, several major hotel operators, including Hyatt, run four- and five-star properties on Saipan.
Much like the Northern Marianas, Guam to the south was colonized by the Spanish, changed hands during WWII, and is now a tourist destination for Japanese and U.S. nationals. (Its second-largest source of income is the U.S. military, whose Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force bases make up about one-third of Guam's total land area.) Military aside, there is much to do on this vivid island: Tumon's beaches are known for great snorkeling, and Guam's teeming seas are famous among divers for visibilities up to 150 feet. Two Lovers Point, a cliff-side lookout, offers some pristine panoramas from 400 feet above the Philippine Sea (plus a dramatic legend of star-crossed lovers). And while flights to Guam don't come cheap, accommodations do; resorts in Tumon and nearby Tamuning average around $200 per night.
Rounding out this list is the unincorporated territory of American Samoa, a collection of five volcanic islands and two atolls between Fiji and the Cook Islands. A truly off-the-beaten-path destination, there are only a handful of hotels on Tutuila and the neighboring islands, scant tourism infrastructure, and, beyond the fast-food restaurants, few commercial distractions to remind you of home. Find coral-filled waters, craggy coastlines sculpted of lava, and untouched beaches whose only other sunbathers are the seabirds. And unlike highly trafficked Polynesian destinations, the native Samoan culture is still undeniably authentic here. In the village of Alega, drop into Tisa's Barefoot Bar for a drink, a meal (the chef will grill your fresh-caught lobster for you), or a night's rest in the fale (a traditional Samoan hut). American tourists can fly into Pago Pago via Hawaiian Airlines.
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