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4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage

By Keith Mulvihill
July 27, 2011
Lost Bag
Plus: What happens when it disappears and what you can do to ensure your belongings don’t end up on the auction block in the "land of lost luggage" (yes, there is such a place).

As frequent globe-trotters and travel writers, we have no shortage of nightmarish lost-luggage tales—and neither, it seems, do our readers. Take Geri Mitchell of Seattle, for example, whose bag went missing for the entirety of her four-day stay in Hawaii for a wedding. The day she arrived back home, a Maui airport employee called to inform her that her belongings had been sitting in the lost-luggage office there for a week. "For five days, not one person who works there bothered to read the very obvious ID tags and call me!" a still-incredulous Mitchell noted. The war-story winner, though, has to be Michelle Buchecker of Chicago, whose suitcase vanished during a six-day, multi-city business trip in 1993. She had to buy new clothes when she landed. Oh, and the missing bag? She never saw it again.

Buchecker is among the tens of thousands of air travelers each year to have their luggage lost forever. But it's not like the bags slip through a hole in the space-time continuum (like, say, socks in a dryer). It's simply that, if a suitcase can't be reunited with its rightful owner within 90 days, the contents may be donated to charity—or, more likely, shipped off to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, a sprawling, 40,000-square-foot store where eager shoppers come by the busload to snap up lost treasures (maybe even yours) at bargain-basement prices.

So how does it get to that point? Though none of the following four scenarios are common (last year, airlines only mishandled 12.07 bags for every 1,000 passengers) they are among the most frequent reasons bags are lost, according to various airline officials and flyers'-rights groups.

See the 9 worst luggage incidents of all time.

 

 

 

Scenario #1: The routing label gets damaged

Cause: When you check your bag, it gets tagged with an oddly printed, illegible routing label—or a legible label gets snagged and torn off your bag shortly after being tagged. Adding insult to injury, it's a new suitcase, and you've forgotten to fill in the cool, leather-bound identification card.

Effect: No one notices the missing/unreadable tag until the bag has gone through TSA and arrived in the hectic distribution area. Because there's no way to tell where the bag should be headed, it just stays put. After arriving at your destination and waiting in vain for your bag to appear on the carousel, you file a report at the local baggage-service counter, providing a solid description of the suitcase. You're told it's going to take a bit of searching, so you continue on without it.

Scenario #2: You forget to pick up your luggage upon landing

Cause: Maybe you're distracted by an urgent text upon landing at home, and head straight for a taxi. Maybe you're weighed down with heavy carry-on bags and forget you checked one more. Or perhaps you're a tad buzzed from in-flight cocktails. Whatever the reason, you walk straight past the carousel and leave the airport without collecting your generic black roller bag (with no I.D. tag, natch), and don't realize it until you've arrived at home.

Effect: Eventually, an airline employee takes the bag off the carousel and stores it in the carrier's unclaimed baggage room. You call the airline and they put you through to an airport-based staff member who takes down a description and begins a search.

 

Scenario #3: The attendant types in the wrong destination code

Cause: When you hand over your luggage, the bag-check attendant accidentally inputs the wrong destination code. So off you go to LGA—while your bag heads to LAX.

Effect: When you arrive to your destination and your bag does not, you file a lost-baggage report, giving a detailed description. The agent files it into the system and other agents are notified to be on the lookout in case an unclaimed bag fitting your description arrives at their location.Your suitcase sits in your airline carrier's holding area waiting to be properly identified. If it's tagged with your identification details, employees will most likely figure out where your bag was supposed to go and eventually send it there (or at least call to inform you it's been found). If it has no ID tag, it will sit—and sit—with the other unclaimed luggage.

 

Scenario #4: Your bag is loaded onto the wrong plane

Cause: You check your bag and, moments after it rides out of view on the conveyor belt, human error steps in: An employee places it on the wrong baggage cart, and, as a result, it gets loaded onto the wrong plane.

Effect: Even though the bag goes to the wrong city, it is properly tagged. So when it is the last piece of luggage on the carousel, an attendant will most likely see it, realize the mistake, and notify an attendant at your destination. The airline will then re-route your bag to where you are (hopefully without further incident), usually delivering it to your destination or, if you've reached the end of your trip, to your home.

 

How NOT to lose your luggage:

Over two million bags were lost, damaged, delayed, or pilfered in 2010, according to "mishandled baggage" reports made by the largest U.S. airlines to the Department of Transportation. (That's about 3.57 reports per 1,000 passengers.) Here's how you can prevent becoming part of this statistic:

Double-check: Ask the flight attendant handling your bag if you can see the routing information placed on the handle to verify its accuracy before she sends your suitcase down the conveyor belt. This is especially important if you have a connecting flight, because bags are not always routed directly to the final destination—on occasion, it may be your responsibility to pick up your bag from the first leg of your journey and re-check it, and the best way to confirm this is to see what's written on the label.

Make yourself known: The key is to ID your bag in multiple places—outside as well as inside—by placing ID cards in various pockets and pouches. And then add another, using the paper tags provided by the airline carrier. Be sure to include your name, address, and phone number (preferably a mobile number).

Share your plans: Pack a copy of your itinerary (in a place that's not too hard to find) so that airline workers will know where to route your bag in the case they find it and cannot get in touch with you.

Document the evidence: Photograph or video the contents of your bag as you pack. "I just lay everything out on the bed and take a few photos with my phone," said Kate Hanni, of FlyersRights.org. Not only will that help to identify your bag if it goes missing, it will also help with claims forms if your suitcase is never found.

Remove extras: Before checking your bag, take off any removable straps; this will decrease the likelihood of it getting snagged along the way.

Arrive early: If you check a bag within 30 minutes of your departure time, it may not actually make it onto the plane.

Stick to tradition: Finally, don't check your bag with the curbside baggage checker; go inside to the main counter to decrease the chances of a mix-up.

Embellish your bag: Whether you buy a colorful handle wrap or just add a few stripes of bright duct tape, making yours different from the others could draw the attention of a not-so-motivated airline employee. Another option is to purchase a bag that's not black or navy (like the overwhelming majority), making it easier to spot in a roomful of luggage.

 

Finally, what are your rights if your bag is lost for good?

In the event that your bag is lost for good, US airlines can be held liable for up to $3,300 for domestic flights. The airlines will not, however, simply pay you to replace your missing items. Instead, they'll decide the compensation amount based on original purchase prices, minus depreciation (this is according to the "contract of carriage," which you automatically agree to when you buy a plane ticket). Here is a ray of sunshine: As of August 2011, a new law requires airlines to reimburse passengers for checked baggage fees (typically $25 and up) when said baggage is lost.

 

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10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2011

Once in a while, you discover a town that has everything—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. Each year, the Budget Travel team celebrates these places with our "Coolest Small Towns in America" competition. It starts with a call to you—our readers—to nominate the most interesting towns you know with populations of less than 10,000. From there, our editorial team whittles the selections down to the three most promising contenders. It's then up to you to vote on your favorite. This year's winner was Lewisburg—an irresistible small town in West Virginia. Each of the nine runners up has something special to offer, from the quiet, artistic enclave at La Pointe, Wisconsin to the scenic beaches of Astoria, Oregon. In honor of the sixth anniversary of our "Coolest Towns" franchise, we've also compiled a slideshow of all of the contenders from previous years. You won't find a more charming slice of small town Americana than you will right here. 1. LEWISBURG, WEST VIRGINIA (POPULATION 3,830) Arts in AppalachiaA small town is usually lucky if there's a decent one-screen movie theater, maybe a community dance troupe. But a Carnegie Hall? This speck on the map in the Greenbrier River Valley lays claim to one of only four in the world (105 Church St., carnegiehallwv.com, ticket prices vary). The 1902 building now serves as Lewisburg's creative control tower, attracting an unlikely band of artistic characters, back-to-the-land types, and retirees. Jeanne and Michael Christie embody Lewisburg's blend. The duo run the Davenport House B&B, where guests can bottle-feed one of the property's baby lambs after taking coffee and breakfast on their private patio (Tibbiwell Lane, off of Davis Stuart Rd., thedavenporthouse.com, one-bedroom cottage from $120). Michael is a painter whose work has shown in New York City's Hoorn-Ashby gallery, and Jeanne is the former director of front-office operations at the Greenbrier hotel, 10 miles down the road. "You know, you always think of the ideal American town, where the kids are safe, the streets are clean. We have that, but we also have Wynton Marsalis coming through," says Jeanne, who'd just finished a morning of shearing sheep. While Michael is a seventh-generation West Virginian, many of their friends and neighbors are newer to the community, drawn in large part by the creative atmosphere anchored by Carnegie. For example, Hall Hitzig, who goes by the moniker the Crazy Baker, came in 1986 and "never looked back" (thecrazybaker.com). Now, he makes granola in the nearby mountains—and sells it everywhere from Puerto Rico to Arkansas. Hitzig's sticky toffee cake also wins raves at Lewisburg's sunny Stardust Café (102 E. Washington St., stardustcafewv.com, cake slice $8). At Stardust, co-run by Hitzig's twin sister, Destiny, and her daughter Sparrow, glasses are filled with "local spring water" (don't call it tap), and the greens are cultivated largely in local gardens. Lewisburg's arts scene is hardly limited to traditional performers like Marsalis; next door to Stardust, for instance, Tamera Pence identifies the potter of each espresso mug at her year-old emporium, Bella the Corner Gourmet (100 E. Washington St., bellathecornergourmet.com, mugs from $14). "We're very locally driven here," she explains. "And we're also a central hub. I have clients bringing their coolers in all the way from Charleston, more than two and a half hours away." -Nina Willdorf 2. ASTORIA, OREGON (POPULATION 9,477) Pioneers on the PacificAstoria has always been on the frontier, both the Lewis and Clark variety (they set up camp here in 1805) and the geographic (it sits both at the mouth of the Columbia River and in a teeming temperate rain forest). Sure, the place has prettied itself up nicely since those pioneer days with the addition of aging Victorians and craftsman-style bungalows, but the folks in sleepy coastal Astoria have never lost touch with their rough-and-tumble side. Take, for example, the surfers off of Astoria's scenic beaches, where ocean temperatures rarely break 60 degrees until midsummer. "You really have to suit up," says Mark Taylor, owner of Cold Water Surf (1001 Commercial St., coldwatersurf.com). "We're talking five-millimeter wet suits, gloves, and booties—but Astorians have always been a tough bunch!" Even the city's swankiest design hotel, the Commodore, embraces a decidedly masculine and nautical aesthetic (258 14th St., commodoreastoria.com, from $89). Reopened two years ago after being shuttered since 1966, the property pairs modern furnishings with sly nods to the city's history as a seaside cannery hub: thick braided ropes, nautical charts, and fishing floats. As afternoon rolls around, locals gather at the four-year-old Fort George Brewery + Public House for burgers made from local beef, as well as pints of the hoppy Vortex IPA, the Belgian-style Quick Wit ale, and as of this year, the 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager, created in honor of Astoria's bicentennial (1483 Duane St., fortgeorgebrewery.com, pints from $4.25). You didn't really think these former pioneers would celebrate with champagne, did you? -Beth Collins 3. CLAYTON, NEW YORK (POPULATION 1,978) A River Runs to ItSome shore communities take their location for granted. Not so with Clayton. "I have lunch on the river every day," says Gregory Ingerson, a guide at the 320-ship Antique Boat Museum (750 Mary St., abm.org, admission $12). The curators are so proud of their nautical heritage that they use Q-tips to clean the exhibits, right down to the well-preserved heel marks in the floor of one turn-of-the-century houseboat. Clayton sits on a peninsula that juts out into the St. Lawrence River, so far north that the fire department's boat flies the American and Canadian flags. One of the benefits of that isolation is that the river itself is like a neighbor. In the summer, the old ferry terminal, where wealthy visitors once caught rides to their cottages on the Thousand Islands (birthplace of Thousand Island salad dressing), now hosts concerts. Out on the water, the family-run Ferguson Fishing Charters offers morning fishing trips followed by picnics on a private island, where a guide cooks the day's catch over a fire for lunch (fergusonfishingcharters.com, half-day charters for a group of four $325). Back on dry land, K's Motel & Cottages' two-night "ship watch special" includes a room, a two-and-a-half-hour boat cruise, admission to the Antique Boat Museum, and two meals (1075 State St., thousandislands.com/k, $159 per person). -Ray Pagliarulo 4. EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS (POPULATION 2,073) Honeymoons and MoreSure, you could sleep in one of the Queen Anne-style B&Bs, visit the monumental 67-foot-tall hilltop Christ of the Ozarks, catch a Branson-style show, or hunt for ghosts in the historic downtown. You could easily spend a week on the tourist circuit in this late-1800s Victorian spa retreat. But you'd never get to meet the real Eureka Springs. Eureka Springs may be the honeymoon capital of the Ozarks, but don't let the kitschy, heart-shaped Jacuzzis fool you. "The guy on the street corner playing fiddle?" says local artist Cathy Harris. "He is a trained concert violinist." "And those men at the bar just may be geniuses," adds Harris's husband, J.D., a sculptor with beaded gray dreadlocks. "We had a team win the international Mensa competition two years in a row." The current of creativity bubbles up just about everywhere, if you look hard enough. At the Eureka Thyme gallery, Marsha Havens skips the trinkets of other tourist traps in favor of works that draw on Ozark inspirations: wooden bowls made from found downed trees and clay bird whistles that warble like the real thing (19 Spring St., eurekathyme.com, wooden bowls from $50). You might even say that an artisan spirit is part of the recipe of Garden Bistro, where partners Lana Campbell and Robert Herrera draw from local ingredients for their Amish-style bread baked in flowerpots and unfussy plates of family-style veggies grown on her farm (119 N. Main St., 479/253-1281, pork chops $19). The biggest surprise of all may be the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, a palatial ivy-covered grand hotel with claw-foot tubs and manicured gardens (75 Prospect Ave., crescent-hotel.com, doubles from $129). From this perch, you'll be inclined to look back to see Eureka Springs, but the leafy Ozarks keep the valley all but hidden from view—an apt vista for a town dubbed Tree City USA. -Nicholas DeRenzo 5. LA POINTE, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 309) A Superior HamletIt's called the Island Wave, and to the folks on Madeline Island—a quiet, North Woods enclave of artists on Lake Superior—it means you greet everyone, even when you're driving. It's a lovely idea, but in summer it can get, well, dangerous. That's when La Pointe, the island's only town, swells with visitors. "The line goes out the door for hours on July 4th," says Marie Noha, owner of the Mission Hill Coffee House (105-106 Lakeview Pl., on Middle Rd., 715/747-3100, coffee $1.45). And then there's the winter, when the only way off Manhattan-size Madeline is by wind sled or ice road. Then the Island Wave becomes a way to connect to the outside world. "I don't mind the loneliness," says Amitty Romundstad, manager of the Inn on Madeline Island (641 Main St., madisland.com, doubles from $95). The literary and opera societies meet in the off-season, and occasionally there's a gorgeous show put on courtesy of the northern lights, when hearty La Pointe locals gather on the ice road to be dazzled together. "We're not a community," says novelist and boat captain Richard Coleman. "We're a tribe." -Debra Weiner 6. PHOENICIA, NEW YORK (POPULATION 309) A Riverside RetreatThe library in Phoenicia burned down this spring, and suddenly there were books everywhere. Not casualties of the fire, but boxes and boxes of donations to replace what was lost. Residents now check out books (and fishing poles) at the temporary library branch housed in the old medical building on Ava Maria Drive. Phoenicia may look like a one-street river town sandwiched between hills in New York's Catskills—it does a wicked tubing business in the summer—but it's got a bookish, cosmopolitan vibe in its soul. "It's not just crazy guys with cars in their yards," says Michael Koegel of Mama's Boy, a hip little cafe and smoothie bar (7 Church St., mamasboymarket.com, mac 'n' cheese $4.95). Like Koegel, many Phoenicians came from Manhattan, and they've brought a healthy dose of quirk with them. For instance, former New Yorker Alan Fliegel, who owns A Community Store, sells locally made clothing and underground comic books—and runs a well-stocked communal art gallery upstairs (60 Main St., 845/688-5395, comic books from $1). Yet like its library that loans fishing poles, Phoenicia hasn't lost touch with its down-home roots. If you spend the night at the cozy Phoenicia Lodge, you may feel like you've woken up in Mayberry (5987 Rte. 28, phoenicialodge.com, doubles from $70). You certainly will after breakfast at Sweet Sue's Restaurant (49 Main St., 845/688-7852, mixed-berry pancakes from $5.25). The pancakes (pumpkin, pineapple-coconut, and 20-plus other varieties) are legendary, as are the lines waiting to get inside. -R.P. 7. NEWTOWN BOROUGH, PENNSYLVANIA (POPULATION 2,384) Amish Country CharmNewtown Borough isn't the kind of place where you'd expect to see millionaires tooling around in a fancy car. In fact, the rural Bucks County burg is close enough to Amish Country that most of the convertibles around these parts are horses-and-buggies. But when Rick Krotz and his brother-in-law Bill Kane hit an astounding sort of daily doubl—Krotz won $607,000 on the Cash 5 lottery in 2006, and Kane netted $3 million from a single scratch-off ticket in 2009—this is exactly the place they wanted to be. Both men grew up nearby and had always loved Newtown's well-worn charms. It's home to the nation's oldest movie theater, Newtown Theatre, a 375-seat, red-brick treasure that's been in operation since 1906 (120 N. State St., newtowntheatre.com, tickets $9). The Brick Hotel, built in 1764 and still looking sharp decked out in hunter green shutters and striped awnings, is one of the few places that can honestly claim that George Washington slept here (1 E. Washington Ave., brickhotel.com, doubles from $80). And director M. Night Shyamalan likes the look of Newtown so much, he filmed Signs here in 2002. So last year, the lottery brothers bought Ned's Cigar Store (4 S. State St., nedscigar.com, cigars from $3). It's now filled with mahogany chairs, cherrywood cabinets—and a steady stream of hopeful lotto-ticket buyers. "I guess they think our luck might rub off on them," Krotz says. "That would really be the dream come true—to sell someone else a big winner." -Andrea Minarcek 8. CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA (POPULATION 896) Unspoiled on the GulfIf someone asked you where to get the best New England clam chowder, you might be inclined to say, "Duh, New England." You'd be wrong—by over 1,000 miles. For the past three years, the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., has been won by Tony's Seafood Restaurant of Cedar Key (597 2nd St., tonyschowder.com, cup $4.65). In fact, the town is America's second-largest producer of farmed clams, one of many surprises in this two-square-mile hamlet 130 miles north of Tampa. Despite its prime location on the Gulf of Mexico, Cedar Key has escaped the pull of developers-its spit of beach isn't long enough to attract large-scale building projects. Instead, it still feels like a ramshackle, old fishing village straight out of Hemingway. "People always say it's like Key West 30 years ago," says innkeeper Ada Lang. Built in 1919 and restored in 2004, Ada's Wabi Sabi Cottage is a time-capsule example of a "Cracker" cottage, a style of wood-frame house popular in the 19th century (689 4th St., 352/543-5696, from $130). The last time outside developers set their sights on Cedar Key was in the late 1880s, when pencil makers carted off the island's namesake cedars. (There's still a bit left in the worn wooden exteriors of tackle shops and clam shacks on Dock Street.) If you're looking to catch your own lunch, Kayak Cedar Keys offers boats specially equipped with rod holders and anchors, perfect for whiling away hours in search of redfish and trout (kayakcedarkeys.com, rentals $50 per day). Weary paddlers can rest up at Point Cottage, an octagonal stilt house overlooking Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge (12218 Franko Circle, pointcottage.com, $179 a night, sleeps six). And there's always dinner at Tony's. The menu is extensive, but don't you dare skip the chowder: The recipe has been entered into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame. -N.D. 9. RIPON, WISCONSIN (POPULATION 7,733) College Town PerfectionThey must have made odd neighbors: the Utopian Socialists on the prairie and the entrepreneurial abolitionists up on the hill. The socialists lived on a commune. The abolitionists later founded the Republican party. And yet, in the 1850s, they joined forces to found Ripon (the town) and then Ripon (the college). Town and gown have been intertwined ever since, proudly perched in the middle of the cornfields 85 miles northwest of Milwaukee. In some college towns, the locals and students get along like rivals at the Michigan-Ohio State football game. Not in Ripon. The professors sit on the local school board. The students sing in the church choirs, and church folk welcome the school's 1,000 or so students with a potluck every fall. Friday evenings in summer, across from the college president's office in the old public library, townies and academics alike turn out for concerts on the Village Green. "My favorite is Tuba Dan's polka band," says Professor Mary Avery, who oversees a student group that helps local businesses, such as the Watson Street Sub Shop, create financial plans (314 Watson St., watsonstreetsubs.com, subs from $6.75). Watson Street in turn lets the students use its storefront for fund-raisers. "We are the quintessential college town," says David Joyce, president of Ripon. "Or maybe it should be the quintessential town with a college?" -D.W. 10. GREENSBURG, KANSAS (POPULATION 777) The Real Emerald CityWhen you pull into Greensburg, you may well think you're not in Kansas anymore: Elegant wind turbines and LED streetlights have replaced cornfields and barns. After a 2007 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, those who stayed vowed to build the ecofriendliest town ever. "Being green is such a part of our identity that people assume we changed our name after the storm," says Ruth Ann Wedel, site manager of GreenTown, the city's rebuilding campaign. (For the record, the "green" comes from stagecoach driver D.R. Green.) Like the name, the idea of going green dates back further than you'd expect. "These are not hippie-dippy concepts," says Stacy Barnes, director of the 5.4.7 Arts Center (204 W. Wisconsin Ave., 547artscenter.org, free). "These are the same tenets used in pioneer days—south-facing windows in chicken coops to increase sunlight, reusing everything like Mennonites do. We got lazy over the past century." The gallery, named for the day the storm hit, houses contemporary art from around the U.S. Many businesses here pay tribute to the past. Green Bean Coffee Co. serves milkshakes to fill the void left by the destruction of the old soda fountain (105 E. Kansas Ave., notyourmommascoffee.com, shakes $3.50). Nearby, you'll find innovations both high-tech (solar panels) and low (banisters made from tractor parts) at the Silo Eco-Home B&B (402 S. Sycamore St., 620/723-2790, doubles from $110). Just goes to show: It's not so hard being green after all. -N.D.

Secret Beaches of North America

High Bar Harbor, New Jersey Tucked behind the Barnegat Lighthouse, you'd never know that this lollipop-shaped stretch of sand is on Long Beach Island, one of the most popular Jersey shores. But watch the water—when the tide comes in, you'll likely be stranded.Get There: Take Long Beach Blvd. north into the town of Barnegat Light and turn left on 20th St., a.k.a. Auburn Road. Go a third of a mile, then bear right at the Y-shaped intersection onto Sunset Blvd. Take it to the end. You'll see a footpath to the beach. SEE THE PLACES: SECRET BEACHES OF NORTH AMERICA Caladesi Beach, Florida To be honest, you'll hardly be alone here. Caladesi Island State Park is home to armadillos, gopher tortoises, and hundreds of species of birds nesting among the sunflower-flecked dunes. On the other hand, there's not a parking space in sight. Get There: The park, off the west coast, is accessible only by private boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. $12 adults, $6 kids. Ruby Beach, Washington Rugged yet serene, Ruby Beach feels almost mythical, especially at low tide and in the fog. The rock outcroppings are eerie, but the tidal pools can be stunning, too. Get There: There's a sign seven miles north of Kalaloch on Hwy. 101. From the parking lot, follow the path through the trees, down a decline, then toward the water. You'll have to clamber over driftwood at the end, but it's worth the effort. Pfeiffer Beach, California The rock formations are gorgeous. In some places, the sand is a light shade of purple. Sure, it can get windy, but that's a small price to pay for paradise. Get There: The turnoff is actually just past the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance, at Sycamore Canyon Rd. Drive two miles to the beach, then walk 10 minutes north to Deer Canyon. There's no sign, but you'll know it when you see it. Packard Park Beach, Michigan South Haven is home to several celebrated (and crowded) spots on Lake Michigan. This section is the uncelebrated but equally lovely area just north. You won't find any lifeguards here, but civilization is just a short walk away (if you must). Get There From the center of South Haven take Broadway north about two blocks, then west onto Dyckman Ave. over the drawbridge to North Shore Dr. Turn right and Packard Park Beach is about one block on the left. Queen's Pond, Hawaii The mountains are to your back, the ocean is in front, and in between is sand made for napping. In other words, your average, amazing Kauai beach, this one in Polihale State Park. Get There: Take Hwy. 50 past the Pacific Missile Range Facility and look for a sign, then a dirt road to Polihale on the left. Go 3.3 miles to where the road curves near a large monkeypod tree. Take the left fork and park. Walk north. Spread your blanket. Big Bay Beach, Wisconsin We won't recommend swimming—even on a hot day Lake Superior is cold enough to freeze your @#! off. But the sandstone cliffs and pristine woods enveloping this 1.5-mile pocket of beach make for a lovely hideaway. Get There: Located on Madeline Island, the beach is accessible only by ferry ($12 adults, $6 kids 6-11) from Bayfield, off Hwy. 13. Follow the signs to Big Bay State Park. Orient Beach, New York At the tip of Long Island's North Fork, Orient is well-known to locals but few others. After just a stroll down the pebbly beach, you'll be alone with views of the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, Shelter Island, and awesome sunsets. Get There: Take the L.I. Expressway to the east end, where it becomes Rte. 25. Follow the signs to Orient Beach State Park. Cow Yard Landing, Massachusetts Chatham is on the elbow of Cape Cod, which means that just about every beach view is drop-dead gorgeous—if you can see around all the people. Cow Yard is one rare spot where you'll be able to ditch those crowds. This is also one of the better places on the Cape to launch a kayak, if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat. Get There: Take Rte. 28/Main St. to Old Harbor Rd. Go 1.1 miles; turn right on Cow Yard Lane. Get there early. Parking is limited.

Three Worthy Alternatives to Machu Picchu

Ever since Hiram Bingham stumbled upon a maze of stone terraces set high in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu has been one of the world's most celebrated wonders. What many people don't know is that nearby sits a collection of similar Incan citadels—no less brilliant than Machu Picchu but far less trafficked. So while the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bingham's discovery this July, we decided to throw a party for the entire neighborhood. CHOQUEQUIRAOChoquequirao is essentially Machu Picchu without the crowds—the terraced stone and emerald-mountain view are almost the same, but Choquequirao gets just 1 percent of the visitors. Or it did. Since 2008, when UNESCO put a 2,500-person-a-day cap on Machu Picchu visitors, tourists have started showing Choquequirao a lot more love. Getting there: You'll have to work a bit to find Choquequirao (unlike Machu Picchu, there are no rail connections), so it's best to go guided. The Cuzco-based Apus Peru offers four-day hikes to the site, with three nights of camping (from $245 a person; apus-peru.com).Difficulty level: HighLLACTAPATAAside from being a thrilling site itself—the ruins rise more than 9,000 feet into a cloud forest—Llactapata is one of the best places to see Machu Picchu, which sits just across the valley. Getting there: From the Poroy station, near Cuzco, you can take the same train that you'd use to access Machu Picchu, then transfer to the Hidroeléctrica station ($68 one-way from Cuzco, perurail.com). From there, it's less than a half-hour hike to Llactapata.Difficulty level: ModerateVITCOSThe ruins at Vitcos are pretty enough, but it's the singular attraction of Yurac Rumi (White Rock) that makes the site worth the hike. The stone boulder is about 25 feet high and 50 feet long and covered in mysterious, intricate carvings. As a bonus, Vitcos sits next to one of the most charming lodges in the area, the family-run Sixpac Manco. "If there is a finer place in the universe to stay for $5 a night, I have yet to encounter it," says Mark Adams, who trekked to all three of these ruins while reporting his book Turn Right at Machu Picchu, out June 30 from Dutton ($27). Getting there: Vitcos is so far off the beaten track that no outfitters offer tours just to it. Your best bet is to hire a car and driver in Cuzco with Quechuas Expeditions ($200 for a four-person car, one-way, quechuasexpeditions.com). From Cuzco, it's a seven-hour drive to the town of Huancacalle, then Vitcos is a four-mile hike away. Sixpac has no phone or website but is easy to find in Huancacalle. Difficulty level: Moderate SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT 25 Most Photographed Places on Earth 12 Most Beautiful Lakes in the World 10 Best Affordable Beachfront Hotels

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