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It’s the height of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means every time we look out the window we’re daydreaming about sun-splashed sands, turquoise waters, the sound of crashing waves, and the smell of salt air and sunscreen. If you don’t have your own beach vacation coming up, let the following photos take you on a mental escape to a few of the globe’s most beautiful stretches of sand.

beach boats koh lipe thailand

Koh Lipe, Thailand

coco beach guanacaste costa rica sunset

Coco Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

kauai beach chairs waves hawaii

Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.

beach innes national park australia

Innes National Park, Australia

beach brela croatia

Brela, Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

Which beach are you dying to be on right now?

How to Pack for a Beach Vacation
6 National Parks We Want to Visit Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

calendar, notepad, model airplane, camera, hand writing, various travel planning paraphernaliaThere’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying airfare. The good news: It is possible to time your flight for the lowest possible price. The bad news: That time will almost never be summer. According to a recent analysis of airfare data by Hopper, a flight search app, seasonal travel price drops can be predicted and taken advantage of — just start planning trips for fall, winter and spring.

Using the drop-down of the 15 most popular U.S. origin airports on Quartz, the cheapest time to fly to major worldwide destinations can be determined by seasonality, but also based on your domestic airport. We all know Europe is generally cheapest to travel to during winter, but for Dallas, a flight to London is actually cheaper in the fall.

Top Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Don’t believe prices can fluctuate that much outside of holidays and peak times? If you’re looking to head to Istanbul, you might want to reconsider that notion. Of all the major flight paths analyzed, three of the five with the largest seasonal price difference are en route to Istanbul — starting at a 50 percent price difference originating in Washington D.C. and totaling as much as 57 percent more on flights from Chicago in the summer. Flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona and London are 52 and 53 percent more, respectively, in the summer season.

If you’re set on one of the elusive flight paths that are actually cheaper in summer, Dallas is your best bet followed by the capital of Taiwan: Boston to Dallas, Houston (Bush) to Dallas (and reverse), Houston to Taipei, New York (La Guardia) to Taipei and D.C. (Reagan) to Toronto all run low in the summertime. (Think of the heat.)

Maybe this is a concept we always knew about air travel, but finding my familiar home airport, and watching the lists of destinations appear in conjunction with the cheapest season, is reassuring. With everyone already bemoaning “the end of the summer season,” it gives me three more seasons (and potential trips) to look forward to.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today, during my usual lunchtime sanity break, I peeled myself from my desk and ventured outside in search of food. The wall of hot air that greeted me was stifling. To the chagrin of several women in the knitting store across the way, I immediately stripped down to my underwear. Okay, not really — but I did seriously consider it as I watched a small child attempting to fry an egg in the parking lot.

The latest heat wave here in the Northeastern U.S. has brought temperatures in the 90’s for the past several weeks, and it’s constantly got me wishing I were anywhere but here — anywhere that’s cooler than here, that is.

Take a peek below for four places and activities that I’ve been dreaming about almost daily of late. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel cooler just looking at them.

Visiting Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

glacier bay national park

Swimming at Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

dunns river falls jamaica

Skiing in Queenstown, New Zealand

queenstown skiing

Touring the (air-conditioned!) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

metropolitan museum of art new york

Where would you like to cool off right about now?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

beachIf you haven’t noticed, the rush to the beach is on. The final two weeks of July and first two weeks of August are traditionally the busiest for the nation’s beaches, which means that your little piece of sun comes at a premium. For 15 years, I went to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and always made a point not to go during these doggiest days of summer.

Still, there’s no denying the siren call of the surf when the temperature soars and the cheesy paperback beckons. It’s been a brutal summer for millions, so any solace near a body of water has come as a great relief. Dr. Beach, the self-proclaimed “America’s Foremost Beach Expert,” (hey, I want that job!) named his Top 10 U.S. beaches for 2011 a while back, and I was happy to see that I’ve been to two of them: Cape Hatteras, N.C. and Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne.

But here’s the rub: Beach days are a rare commodity for most, so it’s always a drag and a half when someone else puts a damper on your chill time. I was at Delaware Beach State Park a few weeks ago for a lone day (sigh), but it was nearly perfect: sunny and temperate, packed but peaceful, water cool but refreshing. Though it seemed as if there were more people underfoot than grains of sand, the place was eerily quiet mid-afternoon while everything from tots to seagulls were napping.

Slideshow: The World’s Best Beaches

It could have gone the other way, of course. Here then are my five tips for beach etiquette, though it all comes down to just having a little respect for your fellow sunburn victim:

– Don’t smoke upwind of me. Yes, you’re outside, but I’d rather smell the salt air than something akin to a bingo hall. (Yeah, I’ll go there: Bravo for outdoor smoking bans.)

– Don’t play Frisbee (or football, or volleyball or fill-in-the-blank-ball) over my head or inches from my chair. You may be having a good time, but I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for something to whap me on the noggin.

– Drag your blanket to that empty stretch of beach where no one is near the dunes and shake it out. Nothing’s worse than unwanted Lasik. And, while we’re at it, I’d prefer you walk around my towel and not over it and on top of my lunch.

– Keep your music to yourself. I beg of you.

– This one’s for you boogie boarders: Watch out for the little ones (and the big ones, for that matter) when you’re, uh, boogie-boarding. You’re not the only ones in the water.

Not so hard, right? But don’t worry about your kids laughing and screaming as they run in and out of the waves — at the beach, that particular sound is music to the ears. What bad beach behavior irks you?

— written by John Deiner

corfuNow that the days are getting shorter and July has crashed the party, it’s time to think seriously about booking that summer vacation if you haven’t already. Yes, you still have a shot at planning an awesome summer trip this year. But you should step on it. Travel providers are already rolling out autumn deals for some destinations, and it won’t be long before you’ll need to pack sweaters and stockings on your European getaway.

But this glorious season has yet to fade, and deals are still available for late-blooming summer travelers. Here are five of our favorites:

August Flights to Ireland from $330 OW
We’re loving these affordable Aer Lingus flights, which seem priced more for shoulder-season travel than for departures in the height of summer (the most popular time to visit the Emerald Isle). August flights from select U.S. cities to Dublin are on sale starting at just $330 each way plus taxes and fees.

Save 30% on Summer Stays + Receive Free Gas Card or Kindle
This Hotels.com deal is comprehensive on multiple levels. The savings are varied — receive discounts on accommodations, a $25 gas card or even an Amazon Kindle — and the offer is applicable at hundreds of participating properties in destinations around the world. Travel is valid through September 5, but you must book your stay by August 2 to take advantage of this deal.

Last-Minute Tokyo Fare Sale: Fly from $388 OW
The Japanese tourism industry suffered a devastating decline after the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeastern Japan in March. But you can help. Planning a trip to Japan is a wonderful way to show your support and boost relief efforts by contributing to the local economy. (You could even take a volunteer vacation.) Moreover, it’s now safe to visit most parts of Japan. The U.S. State Department’s current travel alert for Japan declares, “The health and safety risks to land areas which are outside a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are low and do not pose significant risks to U.S. citizens.”

It’s pretty inexpensive to travel to Japan now, too. American Airlines is offering low fares from select cities to Tokyo, with prices dipping down to $388 each way plus taxes and fees. To get these fares, depart in July and complete your trip by the end of August.

HostelBookers Summer Sale: Save Up to 40%
Luxury travelers, skip this one. But if you’re not choosy about where you spend the night on vacation, pay attention: you could book a stay in a major European city for less than the price of movie theater popcorn. Make your reservation with HostelBookers.com and save up to 40 percent on already-dirt-cheap digs in Europe, Australia, South America and Morocco when you travel in July and August. This late summer sale features a wide selection of hostels and other budget-priced properties, with rates as economical as 2 euros per night.

Late Summer Europe Fares from $261 OW
We’ve unearthed even more pocketbook-friendly summer fares to the Continent. Even better, this Air France sale’s not so last minute, with a spate of discounted fares that are valid for travel through the end of September. Fly for as little as $261 each way plus taxes and fees when you head to Europe in August or September.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.

— written by Caroline Costello

Now may be the best time to book your summer flight across the pond. Airfarewatchdog reports a recent drop in fares from the U.S. to Europe. According to the fare-tracking site’s blog, “If you’re planning on spending a month in Europe, the sweet spot this summer is, for some unknown reason, departing on July 18 and returning August 17. That’s when the lowest fares are available in general, for summer travel. Some of these fares are as low as $500 round-trip with tax. That’s amazing for peak summer travel, but only specific dates are available.”

We’re delighted to see that summer fares to Europe are hovering in the $500 roundtrip range — an impressive price for travel during the Continent’s most popular tourist season. Of course, you could always snap up even lower fares by jetting to your Italian chalet — or hostel with shared bathroom — in fall, spring or winter. But you’ll be missing one of the best reasons to see Europe in summer: the gorgeous, heavenly weather. Summer’s sunny blue skies and warm breezes make beautiful European landscapes all the more lovely. Let’s face it. If you want to see this, you’re going to have to sign up for a summer flight:



Palma Cathedral, Spain


Now, are you aching to pack your bags? Good. Because we’ve unearthed a bunch of wallet-friendly fares from the U.S. to Europe that make summer travel as cheap as an Anthony Weiner joke.

British Airways is selling flights to London for as little as $552 roundtrip plus taxes and fees. Granted, the lowest prices — like that $552 ticket — are for fall travel. But we found fares as cheap as $598 roundtrip for flights departing in August.

American Airlines fares to Europe are on sale starting at $284 each way plus taxes and fees for travel from mid-August through the fall. Destinations include London, Paris, Manchester, Milan and Helsinki.

Lufthansa‘s Europe and Africa fare sale features discounted flights to a wide variety of destinations from Accra to Zurich. Fares start at $322 each way for travel in late August.

Air France flights to cities like Paris, Pisa, Barcelona, Rome and Madrid are on sale for as little as $328 each way for travel in July. And, as with all Air France flights, you can add a stopover in Paris for free.

-Check Continental Airlines for low-priced flights to Europe in August and September. The airline offers a useful rate calendar that helps visual learners plan the least expensive itinerary.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.

— written by Caroline Costello