In this season of elections and campaigns in politics, Hollywood, American Idol–land, and beyond, the closest contest of all may well have been Budget Travel magazine's 7th "Coolest Small Towns." It was so close, in fact, that we have declared a tie between Beaufort, N.C, and Hammondsport, N.Y.!

Read our blog post for all the details.

Beaufort, NC

(Population: 4,309)
Beaufort was put on the map nearly 300 years ago when the infamous pirate Blackbeard's ship ran aground off the coast—pirate lovers can still view artifacts at their museum. Beaufort is also home to charming antebellum homes and scenic views of the Atlantic.

Cape May, NJ

(Population: 3,699)
The ideal place to mix some history and ghost adventures into your relaxing beach vacation, Cape May is home to a haunted Estate, as well as a number of historical inns and B&Bs. You can even get in touch with nature at nearby Cape May Point State Park.

Cooke City, MT

(Population: 142)
This former mining community's charm lies in its traditional log-based architecture, homey mountain lodges, and small-town feel. Cooke City is also the perfect base for wilderness expeditions within neighboring Yellowstone National Park.

Damascus, VA

(Population: 1,066)
Welcome to Trail Town, USA—literally. Not only is the main street part of the Appalachian Trail, but the town hosts an annual Trail Days celebration every spring featuring film screenings, free concerts and guided hikes in honor of nature.

Hammondsport, NY

(Population: 725)
This Finger Lakes hamlet is best known for its wineries—most of which are open for public tours. Sample some local favorites—including fruits, syrups, and jams from the Finger Lakes—or shop for artsy finds when you're not relaxing on the shores of Keuka Lake.

Jerome, AZ

(Population: 378)
From ghost town to artist haven, Jerome has become known for its Verde Valley views and mysterious past—including a former red-light district and a failed copper-mining community—as well as excellent wine from the intriguingly named Asylum Restaurant.

Nashville, IN

(Population: 769)
Nestled in the heart of Indiana's hill country and home to Brown County State Park, Nashville offers visitors a chance to enjoy the arts—whether you're interested in jewelry making, pottery, art galleries, or live music venues featuring local talent.

Port Townsend, WA

(Population: 9,136)
Port Townsend flaunts its rich nautical history yet features enough chic and funky stores to satisfy modern-day shopping demands. Spend time exploring the beauty of nearby Olympic National Park or just admiring the century-old buildings dating back to 1885.

Ste. Genevieve, MO

(Population: 4,360)
Founded in the 1740s—making this town Missouri's oldest—Ste. Genevieve celebrates its French-Canadian past with perfectly restored French colonial homes, B&Bs, and is also home to a historic courthouse-turned-restaurant serving the best ribs in town.

Weaverville, CA

(Population: 3,807)
Located close to the natural beauty of Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and steeped in Taoist traditions started by Chinese laborers during the mid-1800s gold rush, Weaverville was once compared to Shangri-La by writer James Hilton.

Finalists Details

Beaufort, NC

(Population: 4,309)
The coastal town of Beaufort, with its ocean views and antebellum homes, seems an unlikely hangout for one of history's most notorious buccaneers. Yet the pirate Blackbeard ran aground off Beaufort's coast nearly 300 years ago, and the Beaufort branch of the North Carolina Maritime Museum proudly displays artifacts salvaged from his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. For another reminder of Beaufort's rough past, visitors can tour the Old Burying Ground, complete with moss-draped oaks and cracked tombstones recalling some of the town's nautical pioneers. One the nicer side: The Inlet Inn, a family-operated, 36-room hotel on Beaufort's waterfront, provides views of the harbor from its private porches, as well as fireplaces in many of the rooms. And the Blue Moon Bistro serves up locally caught seafood and a rum cake that would make Blackbeard proud, matey.

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Cape May, NJ

(Population: 3,699)
Nearly 400 years after its founding, Cape May is still a popular place for sun, surf, and relaxation. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, an organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the town's Victorian architecture and historic sites, offers trolley tours of beachfront mansions, World War II fortifications—and even paranormal activity. One tour focuses on the town's Emlen Physick Estate, which reputedly houses a host of ghosts from the Physick family's past, including one ghastly old auntie who a local medium claims has "great energy and a vibrant smile." But the beach is still king at Cape May. The town is rich in local inns and B&Bs, many of which look out over the sweeping white sands and gentle waves. Most of the restaurants make use of their coastal connection, too. Try the Washington Inn for fluke, scallops, and grilled swordfish with curried lobster cream. For a break from the bustling downtown, eco-minded tourists can head for the western edge of the cape, where Cape May Point State Park provides opportunities for hiking, fishing, picnicking, and some of the best bird-watching in the state. Keep an eye out for shorebirds like ruddy turnstones and red knots, and the migrating hawks that pass through each autumn.

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Cooke City, MT

(Population: 142)
The string of villages along the border of Yellowstone National Park occupy some of the best real estate in the country, with unfettered access to the waterfalls, geysers, and mountains in the country's first national park. But Cooke City—a true lightweight in terms of numbers, with a population lower than its own area code—may actually be the reigning champ among these satellite towns. Set on the quiet northeastern corner of the park, it receives just a fraction of the tourist traffic of Yellowstone's other, busier borders. Cooke City's history as a mining community has given it an authentically rustic appeal: Its town's log-based architecture is appropriate rather than contrived, and its teensy size means that everything is within easy reach. There are a dozen traditional mountain lodges, a number of which—such as the Cooke City High Country Motel—include cabins for rent. Early risers can stroll a few short blocks to Bearclaw Sales and Service for pecan rolls and biscuits with gravy at the in-house bakery, then consult with Bearclaw's outfitter experts—or one of Cooke City's several other outfitters and tour operators—to prepare for whatever great wilderness expedition the day might hold.

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Damascus, VA

(Population: 1,066)
It calls itself Trail Town, USA, and the title is no hyperbole. In addition to the fact that Damascus's main street runs on top of the Appalachian Trail, the town serves as a crossroads for a half-dozen wilderness and cultural pathways. The town commemorates its unique location with an annual Trail Days celebration in the spring that gathers hikers and other outdoorsy types for three days of free concerts, film screenings, and, of course, guided hikes. For tired travelers looking for a touch of comfort, the 12-room Damascus Old Mill overlooks Laurel Creek and is a stone's throw from the Virginia Creeper Trail—no one rests for long around these parts! For an extra pick-me-up, there's always Mojoe's Trailside Coffee, whose "trail magic" drink mixes espresso, ice cream, and caramel into a sweet concoction for a burst of quick energy.

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Hammondsport, NY

(Population: 725)
Cradled by gentle hills on one side and beautiful Keuka Lake on the other, Hammondsport is a tiny town with a big reputation: The slopes surrounding the Finger Lakes hamlet are home to some of the most renowned wineries in the country. For a true taste of American history, visitors can tour the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, which, under the name Great Western Winery, became the first bonded vintner in the United States way back in 1860. Over 150 years later, the company still sells reds, whites, and a particularly long list of sherries and other sweet dessert wines. Oenophiles have many other options, including the famous Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, which features picturesque views above Keuka Lake along with its Rieslings. Those more interested in relaxation can enjoy the town's placid atmosphere, as well as its two public beaches on Keuka Lake and artsy shops perfect for treasure hunting (and tasting!) local products. Finger Lakes fruits, syrups, and jams find their way onto the tables at the four-room Lake and Vine B&B, an 1868 home equipped with a fireplace, library, and other cozy amenities.

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Jerome, AZ

(Population: 378)
It bills itself as a ghost town, but Jerome's mile-high streets are anything but dead. A copper-mining community that went bust in the mid-1900s, Jerome was saved from complete abandonment by an influx of artists, and today the town is thriving thanks to its artistic heritage and its fortunate location clinging to the slopes of Cleopatra Hill in central Arizona. Jerome's local businesses make the most of its 50-mile views over the Verde Valley. At the Ghost City Inn, guests can revel in those desert vistas from the comfort of one of six themed rooms, from the Miner's Suite—outfitted with hardwood floors and antique furnishings—to the cabin-styled Northern Exposure Room, complete with pine bed and wilderness decorations. The vibe outside is just as atmospheric and rife with references to the town's turbulent past. Visitors can browse the collection of the House of Joy, a "brothel boutique" crammed with vintage artwork, political propaganda, and repurposed accoutrements left over from the building's run as a prime destination in Jerome's red-light district. And while the Asylum Restaurant's name and location in an old hospital might sound unsettling, its wine list—recipient of an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine—and artisanal dishes, such as mesquite bacon-wrapped filet mignon, are good medicine for discerning gourmands.

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Nashville, IN

(Population: 769)
It's an arts-centered town with a familiar name, but it's not that Nashville. Nashville, Ind., may not be as famous as its Tennessee cousin, but it has charms all its own, including an enviable setting at the heart of Indiana's beautiful hill country. The artistry of the fall colors, particularly at nearby Brown County State Park, complements the town's numerous art galleries, many of which offer classes in jewelry making, pottery, and a variety of other media. One standout is the Sweetwater Gallery, a studio specializing in locally produced stained and blown glass. While its counterpart two states south might be the better-known music destination, Indiana's Nashville is no slouch when it comes to aural pleasures. Visitors can check out country, jazz, and classic rock at live venues like the Muddy Boots Cafe, which combines the best of Nashville—local musicians take the stage almost nightly, and the cafe is festooned with eclectic, colorful artwork and decor that almost rival the town's annual leaf-peeping extravaganzas. Those keen on experiencing Nashville's countryside may want to saunter down to the Buck Inn at Rawhide Ranch, where modern amenities with rustic twists—hewn-log bunk beds, for example—are housed on the second floor of the ranch's horse barn.

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Port Townsend, WA

(Population: 9,136)
If Port Townsend, perched on a tendril of Washington's scenic Olympic Peninsula, seems to have a split personality, there's a reason for that. In the late 19th century, the community was built on two levels to separate the rough-and-tumble maritime types from the respectable, bluff-dwelling townsfolk. The waterfront today may not be quite as coarse as it was, but Water Street, the town's primary commercial strip, still preserves vestiges of Port Townsend's nautical history. The street is lined with elaborate, century-old buildings; the Belmont, a dockside saloon, opened in 1885. From fine jewelry at Lila Drake to funky duds at the Clothes Horse to CDs, vinyl, and coffee at Quimper Sound, Water Street has plenty of chic and quirky stores to keep shoppers busy. Visitors weary from a long day of browsing the boutiques can settle into one of several historic lodgings, including the eight-room Old Consulate Inn, which has been restored to its original 1904 Queen Anne style, down to the paint trim. Port Townsend provides easy access to Olympic National Park, an expanse of wilderness encompassing beaches, rain forests, and even glacier-topped mountains—though lodgers at the Old Consulate can always just skip the adventure and spend the day lounging in one of the inn's claw-foot tubs.

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Ste. Genevieve, MO

(Population: 4,360)
Missouri's oldest town, Ste. Genevieve has been a mainstay of middle America since before Missouri—or America, for that matter—even existed. The community's French-Canadian roots have survived from its founding on the Mississippi River in the 1740s until today. Ste. Genevieve is packed with meticulously restored French colonial homes, many of which now house local businesses. Built over 200 years ago, the nine-room Southern Hotel is one of the town's most celebrated B&Bs, thanks in part to its many personal touches, including a curated garden and bathtubs custom-painted by a local artist. The first stop on any tour of Ste. Genevieve's historic district should be the gardens at the Bolduc House Museum, which was built in 1790 and is now a National Historic Landmark. After an afternoon of experiencing Ste. Genevieve's robust history, visitors can enjoy an equally hearty meal at the Old Brick House, a former courthouse that now delivers prime rib in place of prosecutions.

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Weaverville, CA

(Population: 3,807)
Coursing rivers, craggy mountains, vibrant wilderness—Weaverville's setting on the outskirts of California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest sells itself. It owns a nice slice of history, too: Unlike many gold-rush towns, Chinese laborers in Weaverville in the mid-1800s were able to cultivate a strong and supportive local community here. The result is a town that, even today, comfortably spans cultures. There are strains of Victorian America in antique residences such as the 1865 five-room Whitmore Inn while the spirit of the frontier flavors the menu of the Old West-styled La Grange Cafe. For a touch of California bohemia, try the fair-trade coffee and organic tea served at Mamma Llama Eatery. Anchoring it all is a strong history of Taoist tradition exemplified by the Joss House—the state's oldest continuously used Chinese temple, where the faithful have worshipped since 1874. Religious and cultural tolerance combined with 2 million acres of wild country? Sounds like heaven on earth—a description that wouldn't be out of place in the works of the writer James Hilton, who compared Weaverville to a mythical paradise of his own creation: a little place called Shangri-La.

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Packing
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When traveling in the developing world, I always bring several packets of stickers to give to children. They're wonderful icebreakers.

— Linda Vogel
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Air Travel
324276

Even if you're not hungry when the flight attendant comes around with the snack service, take it for later. Although peanuts may not look appetizing at 7 a.m., they will look good later if you have nothing better to eat. And it saves you from picking up something at expensive airport shops.

— Fran Rifkin
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Family Travel
323243

It can be difficult for parents to find a place to bathe their infant while on vacation. Showers obviously won't work, and the miniscule sinks generally found in hotel bathrooms aren't appropriate either. On our last cruise, we eliminated the whole problem by packing a small, inexpensive inflatable bathtub. (Ours cost only $7.99.) When we arrived, we blew it up and placed it in the bottom of the shower for an instant, safe baby bath.

— Maria Diekema-Zuidema
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Packing
349259

When carrying around my small umbrella, I put it in a Ziploc bag. After using it, I can store the umbrella, back inside the Ziploc, in my shoulder bag without getting everything else soaked.

— Sandy Sussman
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Packing
324247

Batteries for cameras, laptops, cell phones, and other devices can be charged at night in your hotel room. But if you're doing a lot of driving, you might want to buy an inverter to charge them while on the road. Inverters (which plug into the car's cigarette lighter) are small, inexpensive, and can be purchased at auto-supply, variety, or electronics stores.

— Kay Euhus
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Planning
316246

If you wait to buy a discount-granting Entertainment Book until around six months before it expires (expiration is usually scheduled for November), you can often buy a $20 to $47 book for as little as $10, plus $5 shipping. Online access to the coupons is sold for $7 a month. These are great for vacations out of town.

— Kitty Bennett
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Family Travel
331252

Create an ID page for each of your children before you leave on a trip. In addition to vacation contact information (hotel name and phone number), include the child's name, a current photo, home address, phone, date of birth, Social Security number, passport number, hair color, eye color, height, any identifying marks, blood type, allergies, medications, doctor and insurance phone numbers and ID numbers, immunization schedule, and fingerprints (these don't change, so investing the time to have a set made is worth it). If the unspeakable happens, the ability to hand over instant, concise information to authorities may prove invaluable. Update it before every trip.

— Robin Flannery
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Packing
326237

Restrooms abroad rarely have hooks on stall doors. Our solution: Pack a small S hook in your shoulder bag and make use of a hole in the wall, a pipe, etc., to hang purses, jackets, or anything else you want to keep off the floor. S hooks can be found in most hardware stores, near the screws and bolts.

— Arthur and Marie Lloyd
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Packing
307255

Before I embark on a trip, I cover the dirt of my potted plants with plastic bags after watering them well. (Cut a few slits in the bags and keep plants out of direct sunlight.) The soil will stay damp for about three weeks.

— Jean Walsh
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Packing
322250

Pick just two colors to mix and match throughout your trip. You'll cut down on luggage, not least because you won't have to bring a bunch of shoes to match a wide assortment of colors.

— Lori Fields
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Hotels
398332

Instead of dropping my laundry off at the front desk, I take a walk around the block and look for the nearest dry cleaner--probably the same one the hotel would've taken it to. By cutting out the middle man, I pay a quarter of what they charge at the hotel!

— Amy Paks
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Packing
333269

When I travel for business, I usually tack on a few extra days to do something active like hike in a nearby national park. I find that by taking two small suitcases instead of a single large one, I stay better organized and less burdened. I keep my business clothes, papers, and laptop in one bag and hiking clothes and gear in another. I leave the suitcase I'm not using at the time in the rental car and easily carry the lightweight case with the equipment and clothes I need into my hotel.

— Ellen Worthing
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Planning
330246

Sending a flat-rate Priority Mail box costs $8.10, no matter how much it weighs or which state it's going to. After accumulating too much stuff to fit in my suitcase during a trip to Atlanta, I filled a box with laundry, souvenirs, and gifts for my grandchildren, and mailed it to my home address.

— Eleanor Waterhouse
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Packing
337267

Place a fabric softener sheet in your suitcase when packing. It'll absorb odors and dampness and keep clothing smelling fresh. It's most beneficial in warm, humid climates and while at sea. I found this quite useful during my twenty-three years in the U.S.Navy.

— Edward Jewell
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Packing
340264

Save the flip-flops you're given at the nail salon after a pedicure. They make great shower shoes. They're lightweight and dry quickly, and you can throw them away at the end of your trip.

— Carmen Shirkey
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Packing
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If you plan to visit a theme park, always bring a few sandwich-size Ziploc bags. They'll protect your cell phone and wallet when you're riding on flumes and other water attractions.

— Jack Bell
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Museums
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If your travels take you to U.S. cities large enough to have museums, zoos, and/or botanical gardens, consider buying a membership in your home city's counterpart. Many have reciprocal privileges with institutions elsewhere. A membership at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, for example, lets you see the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and zoos in Los Angeles, Des Moines, and Jackson, Mississippi, at no charge.

— Alice M. Solovy
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Transportation
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Driving around Italy last summer, my husband and I found that even the most detailed maps left us scratching our heads in confusion. Desperate and lost, we decided to follow a tour bus. Guess what? It got us exactly where we wanted to go.

— Cindy Marcus
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Packing
330265

Instead of bringing one of those bungee cables to hang-dry my delicates and socks, I pack a couple of mini plastic hangers--the ones that bras and panties come on when you buy them. They take up very little room in my luggage and can be thrown away at the end of the trip.

— Monica Pileggi
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Planning
334231

Turn off your fridge's icemaker before you leave home. And remember to empty the ice cube bin. The power was out for several days while I was away recently. When I got back, the melted ice had refrozen throughout the freezer compartment. It took forever to clean up.

— Mary C. Clements
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Air Travel
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Don't settle for the first answer to your travel question. If you need flight information, it's a good idea to phone the airline more than once and ask the same question. Recently, I wanted to see if I could fly standby on an earlier flight the same day. The first time I called, I was told that the earlier flight was booked. The second time, however, an agent said there were in fact seats available, and I could certainly fly standby. In the end, not only was I able to get on the flight, but I was upgraded to first class.

— Lynn Babcock
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Technology
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When overseas, I carry a "cheat sheet" that includes exchange rates and metric conversions. Currency conversions are available at oanda.com.

— Carol Vela
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Safety
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Whenever I'm in a country where drinking or brushing my teeth with the tap water is a risk, I cover the faucet handles in my hotel bathroom with a towel. As a result, I never accidentally turn on the faucet when I'm half asleep.

— Denise Crocker
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Planning
318252

Before you head to the airport, stop by the front desk of your hotel or cruise ship and ask if they'll print your boarding pass for you. It'll save Internet browsing fees and time at check-in. It's worked for me at several Marriott hotels and on a Celebrity cruise.

— Rose Jakubaszek
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Planning
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Before leaving on a trip, I print the names and addresses of my friends and family onto clear mailing labels. (All standard word-processing programs have preset templates for creating address labels.) Then, I take the address-label sheets with me on vacation. Since the addresses are already saved in my computer and the mailing labels are adhesive, addressing postcards has become really easy.

— Lisa Higgins
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Technology
365292

Destinationcoupons.com supplies free discount coupons for cities all over the United States and the world. Print them out on your home computer and save on hotels, shows, rental cars, restaurants, and many other activities.

— Donald Bertolet
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Packing
365270

In order to provide any reimbursement for a lost suitcase, most airlines and insurance companies require an itemized list of exactly what was inside it. Unfortunately, remembering everything you packed after the fact is virtually impossible. To avoid the headache, take pictures of the items you're going to put in your suitcase with your digital camera or cell phone. The photos will make creating the list a breeze, and, in the event of a dispute with the airline or insurance agent, you have some visual evidence of ownership.

— Erica Rounsefell
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Planning
329253

Before exchanging foreign currency at the airport, find out if there's a departure tax. At the Bangkok airport, we were very upset- as were travelers around us- to find we had to pay a fee before continuing to our gate. Unfortunately, by that point everyone had cashed in their baht, so the options were a conveniently located ATM, a credit card, or an exchange booth with notably poor rates. When we described this incident to friends, they told us of a similar experience when trying to leave the Dominican Republic.

— Parisa Montazeri
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Photography
336272

Disposable-camera lenses scratch just like any other lens would. Place a small piece of painter's tape (or another kind that won't stick too much) over the lens to protect it from contact with other items in your purse or backpack during travel.

— Hugo Scherzberg
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Planning
319267

If I plan to travel to several countries that use different currencies, I pack a few cloth change purses: U.S. dollars go into one, British pounds in another, euros in a third, etc. When I'm sightseeing, I carry only the money I need; the purses that I'm not using are locked away in the hotel safe. I avoid fumbling around in shops and mixing up coins that look alike. Plus,I always know exactly how much cash I have.

— Peg Welch

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Coolest Small Town Contenders

Beaufort, NC Cape May, NJ Cooke City, MT Damascus, VA Hammondsport, NY Jerome, AZ Nashville, IN Port Townsend, WA Ste. Genevieve, MO Weaverville, CA