The US dollar is near historical highs against currency in places you might want to roll like a trust-funder: Mexico, Great Britain, Europe. Domestically, gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in any summer since 2005. And the rise of cheap flight options and low-cost carrier price wars have led to bafflingly cheap fares to Spain and Italy, to name just two faraway places you might actually be able to afford right now.
In short, this is the year to feel rich when you travel, even if the rest of your regular ol’ life is simply cranking along. Our early predictions for the best places to go in the US and the best places to go abroad this year still hold up. But we refocused for this midsummer travel season and looked to the rest of the year for these picks to beat the pack, to save a buck, or to simply live the dream.
1. Exuma, the Bahamas
Why you should go: This year Exuma got the equivalent of a misspelled lower-back tattoo when the monumentally disastrous Fyre Festival came to town, sort of, and made it an international laughingstock. But clear off the schadenfreude, and Exuma is still a must-visit destination — it’s the Bahamas, after all. The district’s largest island, Great Exuma, is known for its sprawling, pristine white-sand beaches, crystal-clear blue waters, marvelous scuba diving, and vibrant Bahamian culture. None of that has changed. You can still soak in the sun on the world-renowned Tropic of Cancer Beach, where two of the Pirates of the Caribbeaninstallments were filmed, explore the charming city of George Town, and swim with feral pigson Big Major Cay, aka Pig Beach.
Why you should go right now: Fyre Festival, the biggest travel joke of 2017, unfairly stigmatized Exuma. So swoop in, friends. The island will likely be relatively free of crowds and, therefore, teeming with good deals. Plus, the Fyre Festival left many local Bahamian businesses with unpaid invoices; vendors are now owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. You, as the dollar-spending tourist, will be a local celebrity right about now. Not only would you be giving back to the local economy, but you would also help steer Great Exuma out of pariah territory with all your Instagram posts. May I suggest the hashtag #WeDidntStartTheFyre? — Alicia Lu, Thrillist contributor
2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Why you should go: Any normal summer brings a swell of climbers and trout fishermen to this beloved ski town. Its big, dark skies also make it one of the best places in the Lower 48 to get to know your galaxy. Nothing beats peering into the Milky Way with the massive Tetons in the distance. And you can go where the astronomy nerds gather — Wyoming Stargazing hosts stargazing events that are free and open to the public on Fridays throughout summer, and this year the organization is unveiling its new outdoor planetarium dome at Rendezvous Park.
Why you should go right now: This won’t be a normal summer, and a city in love with stars is planning a proper party for the August 21 solar eclipse. (They’ve even invited retired NASA astronaut Scott Altman.) Jackson Hole will go lights-out for about two minutes in the middle of that Monday as the moon passes in front of the sun, giving viewers a rare look at the sun’s corona. According to NOAA, Wyoming is one of the best states for a cloudless viewing experience. Of course, no promises, but if you want to go, plan soon. Flights, hotel rooms, and campsite reservations are going fast. Just make sure to pack your custom solar eclipse sunglasses, or you might risk some very serious retinal burns and possibly eclipse blindness. — Tim Ebner, Thrillist Travel contributor
3. Manchester, England
Why you should go: Locals refer to Manchester as “UK’s second city” and consider it a welcome antidote to the stresses of London. It’s the home of Premier League soccer team Manchester United, as well as numerous museums and art galleries, and the nightlife is top-notch. The bars, in particular, are a crowning achievement for locals. “The people here are really friendly, the music scene has been incredible for over 30 years, and the independent food and drink offering is on the up,” says Shane Kilgarriff, owner of Peggy’s Bar, a seasonal cocktail spot in Manchester that opened its doors in early June. “Manchester takes its beer seriously, too, so it’s not surprise we also have some of the best pubs in the country. Marble Arch and Gas Lamp are excellent, but my particular favourite is Briton’s Protection, where the whisky selection is more than a match for the beer.”
Why you should go right now: Because when someone gets knocked down, you help them up again. After the May attack that killed 23 and injured 119, you’d be doing your part to spend your tourist dollars at its hotels, bars, restaurants, and, yes, concerts. You’re going to find a strong-hearted bunch of locals who value music and a good pint. Late-summer flights are available for $500 from the East Coast, so book a trip, grab a drink, and be sure you know all the words to “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” — Emily Zemler, Thrillist contributor
4. North Bend, Washington
Why you should go: Driving east out of Seattle on I-90 is like traversing into some kind of alt-Jurassic Park, Pacific Northwest edition. In less than an hour you leave the shimmering depths of Puget Sound, and soon the highway is engulfed on either side by rich pine forest… and then you catch your first glimpse of the towering hump of snow-capped rock that looms above the beloved town of Twin Peaks. In reality, that’s Mt. Si (pronounced sigh) and the town is North Bend. Rather than a portal to some dark and inscrutable dimension, this place is the gateway to excellent outdoor recreation — climbing, backpacking, kayaking, fly fishing, hot-springing — in the wild and scenic Cascades.
Why you should go right now: Thanks to Twin Peaks: The Return, we’re in the midst of the much-anticipated revival of one of the most influential television shows of all time, and North Bend is at the epicenter. Summer and fall in the Northwest is about as good as weather gets, with light lingering past 10pm — plenty of time to explore town with fellow fans drawn by the cult classic’s return to TV after a 25-year gap. Visit Twede’s Cafe (the Double R in the show) purely for the kitsch factor and not the food; save your appetite for the Woodman Lodge in the neighboring town of Snoqualmie, which has all the rustic roadhouse ambiance of the Bang Bang Bar (minus Sharon Van Etten on-stage).
Take some pics at the newly erected replica of the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign on SE Reinig Road outside the town of Snoqualmie — right where David Lynch intended it. Check out raging Snoqualmie Falls and adjacent Salish Lodge and Spa, aka the Great Northern, which has good cocktails and delicious beer on tap, straight from Snoqualmie Brewery. Or hit Goldmyer Hot Springs, a short drive and 4-mile hike outside town. The 125-degree waters issue from inside a cave, which you can venture into if you’re bold enough. There’s great riverside camping right nearby, too. Just remember: The owls are not what they seem. — Jonathan Zwickel, Thrillist contributor
Why you should go: This Himalayan Buddhist kingdom is a stunner to behold: a legendary cliffside monastery, mesmerizing dzong architecture, colorful weekend markets, and rural idyll panoramas. What’s easily overlooked is its dedication to sustainable eco-tourism. The country’s governing philosophy puts environmental and cultural preservation above all else — yes, that includes profit and economic growth. Thus its tourism works on a “high value, low impact” concept. It’s just the ticket for mindful, eco-conscious, leave-nothing-but-footprints jetsetters who want to see a land and a culture determined not to let you change it for the worse.
Why you should go right now: Simply put, it’s going to be overrun before you know it. The country is gearing up for an influx of visitors with new tour packages, new experiences and new hotels. It’s also working to lead the world to take the long view. In 2016, Bhutan became the world’s first carbon-negative country. If you’re feeling defeated about the future of environment, it’s THE place to re-galvanize and regroup. — Michelle Rae Uy, Thrillist contributor
6. San Francisco, California
Why you should go: For the past five decades it has been a truism: If you’re going to San Francisco / be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. As some of its residents have since ’67, the city is throwing a continuous party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. The events kick off on the solstice, June 21, with a free concert in Golden Gate Park featuring members of Jefferson Airplane plus a groovy light installation. At the Marin County Fairyou’ll find bunnies, chickens, carnival rides, and plenty of macramé or join a Summer of Love Sing-Along at the Botanical Garden. Walk to Haight-Ashbury, where the counterculture movement began, and make a pilgrimage to the Grateful Dead house or celebrate Jerry Garcia’s birthday with other deadheads. And don’t forget to see the Painted Ladies.
Why you should go right now: Because its 2017, not 1967, and you can take advantage of the amazing food scene that now exists thanks to cold hard tech cash pouring into the Bay Area. (RIP, the counterculture.) Worth a visit: the new SFMOMA, gems like Leo’s Oyster Bar for seafood and cocktails, and the Tartine Manufactory, the bakery’s new 5,000-square-foot eatery for coffee, baked goods and ice cream. (Come early for the brioche jam bun, stay for the chocolate-banana bread pudding.) If food stalls are more your thing, swing by the Ferry Building, where you can sample the Bay Area’s best food including Blue Bottle Coffee, Cowgirl Creamery’s artisan cheese, and Acme Bread Company’s fresh sourdough. — Jennifer Mattson, Thrillist contributor
7. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Why you should go: Perhaps it’s a hangover from its days as Great Britain’s Gitmo, but Australia has a lot of “greats.” There’s the Great Australian Bight (which btw rhymes with “aight”), the Great Ocean Road, Great White Sharks. But none are more deserving of the title than our Great Barrier Reef. Stretching 1,800 miles along Australia’s east coast, the world’s largest coral reef system is roughly half the size of Texas and is the only living thing visible from space. Pick an island or a coastal town as your base, grab a snorkel, and get ready for an epic underwater safari. The place is swimming with all manner of marine life: whales, dolphins, dugongs, turtles, rays, giant clams, and hundreds of fish and coral species. And also some venomous sea snakes because this is Australia, after all, land of freaky animals that are trying to kill you.
Why you should go right now: Craving a beach vacation without the risk of contracting Zika? The Great Barrier Reef is in the state of Queensland, Australia’s answer to the Caribbean, only with first-world amenities like drinkable tap water and food delivery apps. It’s a tropical paradise of lush rainforests, pristine white sand beaches, and bogans (Australian rednecks — just think of it as Florida Down Under). But on a more somber note, if you want to see this Unesco World Heritage Site with your own eyes, you don’t have much time left. In the last two years rising sea temperatures have caused severe bleaching in two-thirds of the reef, and scientists have described the damage as “terminal.” So get over there now before global warming claims its latest, greatest casualty. — Sarah Theeboom, Thrillist contributor
8. Bangkok, Thailand
Why you should go: Bangkok is a foodie’s dream destination, where the feasting is fresh, complexly flavored, and gloriously cheap. In recent years the dining scene has exploded with avant-garde kitchens, speakeasies manned by mixology mavens, and incarnations of the Thai pantry that range from the ancient to the esoteric. Whether it’s molecular Indian restaurant Gaggan’s latest menu written entirely in emojis, a tiny Sri Lankan tea shop tucked into the Middle Eastern district Soi Arab, or a shophouse selling the same braised goose in secret sauce over four generations, the Thai capital is overflowing with gluttonous secrets to be explored.
Why you should go right now: A crucial aspect of Bangkok’s culinary pride is in danger: street food. Global media went berserk in April following a report that street food vendors would be axed from some major tourist areas. Authorities claim it’s not true, but clashing reports and a lack of clarity mean a lot of those cart-tugging heroes, peddling such Thai delicacies as fragrant noodle soups and juicy skewers and mango sticky rice dessert, are mighty unsure of their future. Thousands of vendors have already been evicted around the city under the auspices of alleviating congestion or making room for luxury real estate. The time to go is soon, if you want to ensure you get to revel in Bangkok’s best inexpensive street eats. — Barbara Woolsey, Thrillist contributor
Why you should go: Literally everything is bigger up in America’s last frontier. There’s our country’s tallest peak (Denali), four out of five of the largest national parks, and 22-hour-a-day sunlight that turns out 100-pound cabbages, among other state-fair freaks of produce. The small towns are quirky (here’s looking at you, Homer), the Siberian huskies love photo ops, and moose jerky galore.
Why you should go right now: By now we’ve read the news about Glacier National Park in Montana being mostly gone by something like 2030 (ugh), and that basically means one other scary fact: Glaciers are endangered. For now, Alaska has lots of ’em. Start in Kenai Fjords National Park, where you can hike and camp along the Harding Ice Field and catch views of Exit Glacier, which receded 252 feet in 2016, or, like, 75 million tons of ice.
More sentimentally, Denali National Park is celebrating its 100th birthday this summer. There you can book a seat on the Wilderness Express Dome Train and enjoy panoramic views on your way to this remote northern landscape. If spotting bald eagles, grizzly bears, and humpback whales just isn’t your thing, you’re in luck: Iggy Azalea is headlining this year’s Alaska State Fair in late August. In short, it’s gonna be fancy! — Ryan MacDonald, Thrillist contributor
10. Chanhassen, Minnesota
Why you should go: Some 30 miles from Minneapolis sits Paisley Park, the creative hub where Prince lived, recorded, and in early 2016, died. Driving through the stodgy suburb of Chanhassen, it’s easy to mistake the 65,000 square foot complex for a bland office building. But once inside, its true colors (mostly purple) emerge. Museum-goers are immediately thrust into the eclectic space where Prince spent most of his time, and where part of him still remains: The Ashes Formerly Known as Prince are in an urn perched high on a ledge, complete with real (if not audibly crying) doves hanging out nearby.
Why you should go right now: The museum is expected to become the Graceland of the Midwest — in fact, the same company that manages Elvis’ famed property is in charge of park tours. But for now it’s still under the radar: The property has been open to the public only since October 2016, so tickets are plentiful. Tour groups are small and feel deeply intimate as you notice the still-fresh grief on the faces of the many staff who once worked closely with the High Priest of Pop. To date, the curators have left the complex as Prince left it, from his meticulously designed recording studios right down to the Ocean Mist-scented Yankee Candle resting on the desk in his editing room. — Kylie Maxcy, Thrillist contributor
11. Dresden, Germany
Why you should go: Dresden had a rough 50 years there, to put it lightly. Anyone who read Slaughterhouse-Five knows Dresden as the site of a catastrophic firebombing in World War II. Then, the Soviets got it. But since the Berlin Wall fell, this German city of 550,000 has been rebuilding, with a Baroque-style city center that almost fools you into assuming it’s been that way forever. Across the picturesque Elbe River is the exhilarating neighborhood of Neustadt, marked by a strong counterculture vibe and a ripping nightlife scene with a tinge of nihilism.
Why you should go right now: Dresden is nearing the end of a serious construction and reconstruction boom. Its city center is just about completed. Some of the city’s communist-era buildings are undergoing revival renovations, like the just-updated Kulturpalast, a stunning example of Bauhaus updated to suit modern styles and to show off the Dresden Philharmonic. Other buildings have recently been updated as concert halls, theaters, nightclubs, and other fixtures of cultural life. While Europeans love Dresden for its low cost and reputation for hedonism, Americans seemingly have yet to discover it. Like everything else in Europe, the trick is hitting it before everyone catches on and prices jump. — Jackie Bryant, Thrillist contributor
12. Utah’s national parks
Why you should go: Only in Utah can you hike up the knife’s-edge rock of Angels Landing, then peer over the side at the green, red, and blue canyon of Zion National Park below. Only in Utah can you wake before sunrise and enjoy Corona Arch — near Moab but outside of Arches National Park — as the light begins to hit it, if you’re brave enough to climb a steel ladder and ropes over a small canyon. Only in Utah can you reach the top of the rock overlooking Chimney Rock in Capitol Reef National Park and remark, “Damn, Chimney Rock actually looked way cooler from about halfway up this sucker.” Only in Utah will you realize, while driving along the sheer barrier-less roadside of Scenic Byway 12, that you might drive off this cliff and die trying to take in all the natural bounty before you.
Why you should go right now: All of Utah’s five National Parks are best enjoyed in late spring and early summer. June is perfect. Moreover, the Utah Symphony is touring all of them this summer for performances in Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Bryce, and Arches. That means free summer concerts in God’s trippiest natural creations. The symphony is calling the event its “Great American Road Trip” and will perform on dates from August 29 to September 2. See the Utah Symphony’s website for full details. — Eric Vilas-Boas, Thrillist editor
Why you should go: There are no tourist traps in Wales, except the Welsh themselves. They’re relentlessly friendly and compulsively artistic — seriously, you can’t go two blocks without hearing a poem or catching a folk tune here. Cardiff, the capital, is entertainment central, with one of Europe’s top sports arenas and the BBC’s shiny new studios. History buffs can wander along the old port cities dotting the coastline, with their looming English castles and shiny steam engines. Enormous national parks offer killer hiking trails and huge zip-line courses, as well as thousands of baby lambs to coo over while you explore 11th-century ruins.
Why you should go right now: The best time to visit is mid-to-late summer, when days are mostly dry and mild. This year the country is flaunting the rustic filming locations you may have seen in Guy Ritchie’s big-screen King Arthur, and you, too, can live like a deposed king on the run: a pop-up hotel outfit Epic Retreats has mini-glamping spots in breathtaking Snowdonia, where it’s taking reservations through September. City slickers will find Cardiff’s nightlife in full swing, with a slightly less college-y crowd packed into excellent cocktail bars like the speakeasy-chic the Dead Canary, traditional and craft beer-focused pubs like Tiny Robot, and a stunning new opera house. Bonus: Brexit has taken the piss right out of the pound sterling, so enjoy that exchange rate while it lasts. — Meredith Heil, Thrillist contributor
Why you should go: To hallucinate without drugs. Eight of the world’s 10 highest peaks are in Nepal, and the incredibly warm and soulful locals will help you relax. If you’re keen on primetime trekking this fall, book before prices spike, as this otherworld is trending again. It’s the best place on Earth for an outdoor workout — either in the Himalayan foothills or their stunning midst. The country’s two key cities/kingdoms are hectic-but-lovable Kathmandu and chilled-out Pokhara. Even swank, boutiquey digs like Kathmandu’s Traditional Comfort or Pokhara’s Glacier Hotel won’t herniate the credit card.
Why you should go right now: Nepal is triumphantly moving past the devastation of the 2015 earthquake that leveled 600,000 buildings. The country that perfectly marries thrillseekers and freelance street-anthropologists is cooking again — yet remains a stellar bargain. Kathmandu’s New Everest Momo (momo=Nepalese dumpling) serves up 10 divine buffalo dumplings soaked in cheese coriander sauce for 80 cents. Catch Amy Winehouse-caliber Preety Manandhar (before she’s famous and out of reach) as she hypnotizes partiers in Kathmandu’s cozy Lhasa Restro & Bar or other nightly cover bands in the raucous Purple Haze Bar. The earthquake is history, but all-Nepalese guitar-driven bands like these are happily creating vibrations. — Bruce Northam, American Detour
15. Tampa, Florida
Why you should go: Sure, I’m biased (I am from here), but Tampa has always been one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Ask anyone you bring here who assumed it was all cow tipping and strip clubs, and their first reaction is: “Wait, it’s pretty awesome here.” And it really is! We have the history (the original Cigar City; the spot where Babe Ruth hit his longest home run), the sunny activities (you won’t find better tarpon fishing), and the laid-back New England-meets-Southern charm that separates it from the rest of Florida. Lately, we’ve even been holding our own in the craft breweries and live music scene — which is probably why we’re scoring things like BCS National Championship games and now the 2021 Super Bowl.
Why you should go right now: Two words: Armature Works. A formerly dilapidated warehouse for housing old TECO streetcars has been completely restored. Come September, the landmark space on the historic Hillsborough River will reopen as its own little badass urban village jammed with food, drinks and fun. The place is roughly the size of a football field and a half — and they’re packing it with one of state’s first food halls (Heights Public Market), which will house more than 15 food and drink vendors including a street-style taqueria, a ramen joint, a retro eatery with breakfast all day, a wine bar, and a nitrogen ice cream parlor. It’ll also have a rooftop bar and a couple signature restaurants including an upscale Southern steakhouse a dockside seafood and craft beer spot you can boat up to — or kayak next to, should you feel so inclined to rent one (which you totally can). While the next year may mean sharing our space with more tourists — we’re totally OK with showing you why we love it here. — Liz Newman, Thrillist contributor