1. Puerto Rico:
Although a Caribbean island, Puerto Rico has been a part of the United States since 1898. Puerto Rico – officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico – is an archipelago consisting of more than one hundred islands, but only three are populated: Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra.
Puerto Rico is the largest one, and when you hear someone talking about Puerto Rico, they will more than likely be referring to the main island and not the whole archipelago. The main island has over three million residents and covers an area of 3,515 mi².
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico. Because of this, you probably don’t need to know any Spanish because most locals speak English.
However, if you venture into the rural parts of Puerto Rico, you will need a translation app as people may only speak Spanish, especially in remote places.
If you venture there, it’s better to have the app already installed on your phone since the network signal is weak or nonexistent.
Puerto Rico’s name means ‘rich port’, the name given the island when the Spanish occupation forced the natives to work in mines to extract silver, gold, and other precious metals.
All those precious resources were traded through the main island’s port, hence the name ‘rich port‘.
Even though you can get to Puerto Rico by ferry, most people choose to get there by air. There are seven airports, and if you own a plane, you can visit the island with your own aircraft.
If you are a beach lover, Puerto Rico has some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. Reaching them will take a maximum of two hours of driving from the metropolitan areas.
Puerto Rico is also filled with historical sites, so if you decide to explore the island without making any plans, you are bound to make a discovery or two.
In the past, you could visit the Arecibo Observatory, which holds the record of being the largest aperture radio telescope in the world. Unfortunately, you can’t explore it now. The observatory sustained irreparable damage, and visiting the site is prohibited.
A must-see is the Bio Bay in Vieques. The bio-luminescent bay is considered the brightest in the world. Remember, though, that the best view is on the first night of a new moon phase.
This is one of those things that you will never understand until you experience it yourself. If you are a fan of snorkeling, and if the weather allows it, I recommend diving into the Bio Bay at night.
It feels surreal to submerge yourself into the light created by millions of tiny creatures. Puerto Rico also has some other gorgeous spots to enjoy.
You can practice many sports here, but if you are into golf, you’re in luck, as the island has many spectacular courses for players of all skill levels.
There are plenty of budget-friendly golf courses, and I personally think that the hilly terrain with mountains on one side and ocean on the other create the perfect golf domain.
There are many clubs and casinos in the metropolitan area where you can have fun. Although, to be frank, Puerto Rico is an island that begs to be explored and not a place where you should spend your time indoors doing the same things you could easily do at home.
Puerto Rico is also known for being a heaven for foodies. Most restaurants that serve the tastiest dishes are located in San Juan, and you don’t need to break the bank to eat there. However, if you don’t feel like trying different restaurants until you find something noteworthy, here is a list of the best 27 restaurants in San Juan.
Some say it’s better to ask the locals where they eat as it seems that the restaurants they prefer are the best ones. I enjoy the fact that waiters are honest here, and they will tell you what the freshest foods are and what to eat without trying to deceive you; all you have to do is ask.
If your friends or family bug you to bring them back some trinkets, there are plenty of shops that offer souvenirs.
You also don’t have to worry about finding a place to stay. The number of hotels on the island is enormous, but I would advise you to make a reservation several days in advance.
There are also a lot of cute tiny houses available on Airbnb. If you want to indulge in nature instead of staying in hotels, I recommend renting one for a few days.
There are a few drawbacks of choosing Puerto Rico as your next travel destination, and one of them is the cost.
On average, it will cost you more than other locations, from transportation to accommodations. Of course, you can still find deals, but they can be rare.
You should know that the sun is particularly intense here. It’s best to use sunblock and remember to cover your head when you go outside.
A good mosquito repellent spray or lotion is a must here because the island has mosquitoes and other insects whose only job is to get a taste of your blood.
You don’t need a passport to visit Puerto Rico because it is a U.S. territory.
2. United States Virgin Islands
There are three islands that constitute the Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. Tourism is the primary source of income for the economy of all the islands.
Every island has its own unique personality, like three brothers who don’t get along.
St. Croix is the largest island, but that doesn’t mean it is the most desirable one.
More than a third of its population was employed at the Hess Hovensa oil refinery. Unfortunately, in 2012 the refinery went out of business, and the economic turmoil that followed impacted everyone.
Since then, the economy has partially recovered but is nowhere near what it used to be. The lack of economic opportunities meant that the petty crime rates rose.
You can fully explore the island on foot, but it’s easier and faster to rent a car. I found it strange that you have to be at least 25 years old to rent a car. It seems that the “25-to-rent” rule is still in force on the island.
The locals are somewhat strange, however. They will stare at you as you pass by without making any sound or gesture. This island is not for the faint-hearted; you can hear gunshots at night.
You can relax though, as nobody is shooting at each other. It’s just the bored locals who kill time with target practice.
Speaking of time, you will run out of options on where to spend it when the sun goes down; the second occupation of the locals is to grow and sell pot.
Watch out for sea urchins if you plan to go into the water; some spots near the island are full of them, but beach shoes will protect you from their nasty sting.
I would recommend this island to people interested in watersports or who prefer spending most of their time in the water.
If you are accustomed to living in urban areas, you will probably not like it here. As a rule of thumb, the more days you stay here, the more dissatisfied you become; in spite of this, some people like it a lot.
St. Thomas is the second largest island. This is the place that will satisfy the majority of tourists’ needs. It has a little bit of everything – even a McDonald’s. Somebody named it the “New York of the Caribbean,” but frankly, it’s nothing like New York.
The island is a stopping point for cruise and passenger ships, and when they dock at the port, the island streets become flooded with humans creating a sort of rush hour, thus the nickname “New York.”
The crime rates are high compared to the rest of the U.S., but when local officials are asked about it, they say that St. Croix has it worse.
The food prices are lower than the ones on St. Croix, so you don’t need to sell your kidney for a decent meal. You will find the best restaurants scattered in the northeast part of St. Thomas.
St. Thomas is nothing like St. Croix, though. After sunset, there are plenty of activities to enjoy. You can find many boutiques, shops, and jewelers. The economic situation is good here, and you can find decent jobs.
However, if you decide to settle here for a while, remember that you will earn a little more than on the mainland, but you will struggle to make ends meet because necessities cost more.
The island of St. John is mostly national park land, and it’s the smallest of the three islands. Remember those beach photos from the travel magazines that showcase the perfect Caribbean view with white sand, crystal clear blue water, and palm trees everywhere? Well, most of them were taken here.
Only 5,000 residents live on the island. So if you are into small communities, you will probably like it. However, as with any island, prices of everyday goods are higher compared to the mainland.
The main drawback is that you can’t arrive empty-handed because you will not have access to stores. To get necessities, you will need to go by ferry to St. Thomas to buy them.
St. John has many duty-free shops, and cruise ships stop here regularly. As I said, the beaches are those featured on magazine covers.
I think they are some of the most beautiful beaches on earth, and this convinces many wealthy people to build villas here, thus providing a constant influx of jobs.
Additionally, you can practice all water sports here. However, when night falls, options to pass the time are nil. The booze is cheap, and many locals start drinking in the evening like they live in an Irish village and not on a Caribbean island.
The crime rates are lower than in St. Thomas and St. Croix mainly because there are few full-time residents and everybody knows each other.
If you are rich and want to retire, I would suggest putting St. John on your list.
3. The Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands have the smallest population out of all American states. It was roughly a little over 50,000 before the pandemic struck. There are fourteen islands, but most people live in Saipan, which is the largest of them.
Although some of the locals don’t consider themselves American citizens, by law, they are. Tourism runs the local economy, which is a problem in the current situation.
As you would expect, the prices for necessities are higher here, but the locals’ main complaint is the cost of electricity that can reach up to $0.35 per kilowatt.
I guess nobody is mining bitcoin here.
Electricity prices drove up the islands’ goods and services rates, making everything cost more.
Chinese citizens can visit the island for up to 45 days without a visa making it an ideal destination for birth tourism. Moreover, the babies born here automatically receive U.S. citizenship, and mothers could also circumvent the China two-child policy… nowadays three-child policy.
You can practice all watersports here, but if you are into surfing, you’ll be disappointed. The reefs are high, and you will stumble into shallow lagoons at every step. This is certainly not an ideal location for surfing.
A place you don’t want to miss is Banzai Cliff. This is the location where after the Battle of Saipan, Japanese soldiers and civilians killed themselves by leaping into the sea.
Once you reach the cliffs, you will notice that the view is breathtakingly spectacular. In addition, there is an old World War II bunker nearby that you can visit.
The locals are friendlier than those in the U.S. Virgin Islands and even Hawaii. Full-time residents seem to have a problem with alcohol addiction but nothing out of the ordinary.
Petty theft does happen, but it is at the same level as in Hawaii.
If you rent a car, you shouldn’t leave anything in it that’s visible. The good news is that violent crimes are virtually non-existent.
Saipan has distinguished itself as a travel destination for families in the last few years. If you are young and looking to party, this might not be the best place for you.
History enthusiasts and people who want to spend their vacation without being disturbed will love these islands.
You should expect to pay more than $2,000 per person for a seven-day trip here. And if you plan to visit all the islands, you will need to increase your budget. You can rent a car starting from $60 a day.
May is the cheapest month to visit Saipan. The cost of an airplane ticket to get here is pretty high. To fly directly from New York to Saipan, you should expect to pay more than $1,600.
135 miles south of the North Mariana Islands is the island of Guam. Although you can visit the island without a passport, it’s recommended to have one on you.
The local law is rather tricky, and it’s better to ask your airline and border control if you can still visit the island without a passport. “Entry requirements for Guam are the same as for any U.S. destination.
Although U.S. citizens are required to possess a U.S. passport, on a case-by-case basis, photo I.D. and proof of citizenship may be accepted.”
Unfortunately, that case-by-case basis means that they can deny boarding due to security concerns.
The island is famous for its breathtaking scenery with stunning beaches and calm blue waters.
Many believe that this is the best place in the world for snorkeling because of the crystal clear waters. Once submerged, you can see farther than anywhere else.
The food is tasty, and some say that this is the best food they’ve encountered in any tropical location. Barbecue seems to be at another level here.
Don’t forget to drop by the Åsu Smokehouse if you happen to visit. There are food enthusiasts in the U.S. who regularly fly just to eat here.
The locals are probably the nicest people you can find on any tropical island.
The weather can only be described as hot. Unfortunately, the humidity is also high. If you decide to visit the island, remember to pack only light clothes. Long jeans might not be the best choice for this weather.
Some Pacific islands might have balmy weather, but you won’t find it here.
Everybody considers Hawaii a tropical island, but Hawaii is actually subtropical, and Guam is a real tropical place located in the Philippine Sea. That also means that typhoons would hit the island, not hurricanes.
Guam has great nightlife and many shops, even luxury ones, compared to other tropical locations. You will also find a Kmart and a McDonald’s on this tiny island.
The brown tree snakes wreak havoc on the bird and tiny rodent population, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to solve the problem by feeding them with dead mice stuffed with a lethal dose of paracetamol.
I don’t know how the eradication is going, but I think that when the snakes have a headache after a night out, they might try one of the mice.
The only drawback I can see is that the island is small, and you run out of places to visit rather quickly. The diversity of people visiting the islands is pretty amazing, though. You will find people from literally all over the world, not just from the U.S. and China.
Should you move here permanently if you get the chance?
If you want to move here, you will have a hard time finding a job as locals tend to help their own first, even ignoring others with better education or skill level. This is not racism, it is just the unwritten law of the land.
On paper, the island is like an open space paradise, but other things might happen in the future that could drastically impact the full–time residents’ lives. For example, military bases and naval facilities occupy almost one-third of the island.
If China decides to invade Taiwan, Guam will be the first to respond against China’s aggression. In fact, military analysts nicknamed it the “tip of the spear.”
Of course, there is always the possibility that nothing will happen in the next 50 years, but why take the chance of moving there when you can find similar tropical and subtropical locations that are way safer than Guam.
To make things worse, new military naval facilities are currently being built.
Crime rates are low compared to the United States, but on the rise. Meanwhile, local officials argue about the best course of action to stop it, but they are not doing anything meaningful.
5. American Samoa
Unfortunately, you can no longer visit this tropical paradise without a passport.
The new rules stipulate this clearly: “To enter the territory, a U.S. citizen or national must have in his or her possession: (1) a valid U.S. passport or certified birth certificate demonstrating his or her U.S. nationality and (2) a ticket for onward passage out of American Samoa or proof of employment in American Samoa.”
American Samoa is located only 14 degrees from the equator; these five remote volcanic islands are known for their beautiful landscapes with white sand beaches and hot, humid air.
Adjusting to the humidity here will take some time if you are not used to it.
In American Samoa, you don’t need to learn a foreign language to speak with the locals because everybody speaks English.
The waters here are ideal for surfing and kite surfing because of the strong winds and currents.
Sadly (or maybe not), the tourism industry is not developed here. You will still find hotels and places to eat, but American Samoa is not Hawaii. It seems the Samoan people like it that way and don’t want to transform their land into another tourist attraction.
If you like solitude and want to explore new rugged mountain ranges and beaches without bumping into people at every step, this might be the place for you.
6. Key West
This is an excellent place for a weekend getaway, and if you hate flying, you are in luck because you can quickly get here by car. In addition, Key West is officially a part of the state of Florida. The southernmost point of the continental U.S.A. is located here.
Key West is a popular place for scuba fanatics and snorkelers. Here you can also find the only living barrier reef on the entire U.S. coast.
In addition, Key West is a rich historical site because real pirates lived here back in the day. Finally, if you are into metal detecting, the laws are lax, and you can hunt for metal objects on every beach.
Many young people come to Key West for the nightlife. The parties sometimes last till morning. Only about 25,000 full-time residents live on this strip of land.
Don’t forget to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. It will only take you 2 hours to reach there by ferry from Key West, and the time spent on the road is well worth it. Of course, you can also get to this location by plane.
Hawaii has something for everyone: breathtaking sights, mountains, active volcanoes, rich history, national parks, golf courses, tasty food, nightlife, luxury shops, and even skyscrapers.
It’s an exciting mix where you can be adventurous or relax depending on your mood that day. If you have never been to Hawaii, you should visit the islands one by one. There are eight islands, but only seven are inhabited.
The majority of locals are friendly, but once in a while, you will encounter someone who’s suffering from an acute case of “fuck off” if you dare to ask for directions.
Some tourists are very disrespectful to the locals, and they act like Hawaii is their own backyard. A few locals are pissed off by the constant questions and want to be left alone.
If you happen to see the Hawaiian goose (Nene), leave it alone and don’t give it food. The Hawaiian goose recently made her way from the endangered species list to the threatened one. You don’t want to help her get on the first list again.
A friend of mine who visits Hawaii every year told me that he thinks Hawaii is slowly turning into America 2.0 because more people from the States buy land and build fancy villas.
Of course, everybody is entitled to his own opinion. Nevertheless, you can visit this beautiful place without a passport.
8. Mexico and Canada:
Although many people believe that they can go into Mexico and Canada without a passport, I’m afraid that it’s not possible.
Some believe that you can enter Mexico and Canada without a passport, but you must present one when you return. That doesn’t make any sense. These are myths, and you should do your due diligence before visiting Mexico or Canada.
A nexus card will not allow you to enter Mexico or Canada without a passport, but it will help you spend a shorter amount of time at the border check.
There are exceptions, though. For example, border residents can apply for a border crossing card that will allow them to travel 60 miles inland from the border.
If you don’t believe that it’s against the law enter Mexico without a passport, you can read the U.S. Department of State requirements here.
You can use a passport card to enter Canada and Mexico, but only by land or sea. For air, you are required to have a passport book.
A passport card costs $30, and a passport book is $130, but depending on your situation, you might need to pay another $35 for either, as an application fee.
The complete fee ranges are available here. From the two options available, it’s better to apply for a passport book unless you are sure you won’t travel overseas or by air in the foreseeable future.
Can you travel without a passport in Europe?
No, you can’t. Unfortunately, there aren’t any legal loopholes that will allow U.S. citizens to travel to Europe without a passport.
Who can travel without a passport and visa in the world?
The first person that comes to mind is Queen Elizabeth because all British or commonwealth passports are assigned on her behalf. But she isn’t the only one.
All heads of state are allowed to enter with their escorts when they go to another country by invitation. Truthfully, some presidents or kings might have their passports in order, but they are not required. Instead, a diplomatic passport is issued to them.
A clear example of a person who didn’t use a passport and still traveled the world was Muhamad Gadafi.
In 2011 one of his son’s diplomatic passports was found, and on it was the proper spelling of the “supreme leader’s” name, and it is Qaddafi, not Gadafi, but no one knew this because he didn’t have a passport.
Although you can travel to some locations without a passport, remember that this might not be true in the future. Before leaving, it’s better to triple-check that you can go to your desired destination with only an ID card.