How To Get The Most Out Of Your Vacation Days

By Nicky Deam
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While relaxing on a beach with a tropical cocktail is always a good idea, putting your limited vacation days toward an active adventure is far more rewarding in the long run. Whether you are spotting whales in the wild, scaling a mountain or trying an exotic cuisine, we promise you’ll still find time to squeeze in that much-needed rest and relaxation while making some lifelong memories. Here, the best getaways guaranteed to expand your horizons.

@chiarraferragni

Punch Out, The Right Way

Baglioni Hotel Regina Rome, Galleria Borghese

Rome, Italy

Why visit: It's Rome! In a world in which every city is starting to look the same, it's worth abandoning the beach to take in sights that can't be seen anywhere else. Besides, the Monti neighborhood is as genuinely cool as it gets, and it's just steps away from the Coliseum.

Where to stay: The Hotel Baglioni Regina, Rome might be where Kim and Kanye stay when they're in town, but the real celebrity sightings you'll likely be privy to include diplomats—the president of Peru was a guest during our last visit.

Where to eat: A quick stroll from the hotel will land you at Ristorante Peppone 1890, where you can enjoy some of the best spaghetti cacio e pepe in Rome. Score some non-tourist-trap traditional Roman food at Sora Margherita in the Jewish quarter (don't miss the fried artichokes). Standout gelato—no small distinction to be earned—can be found at San Crispino by the Trevi fountain or, if you're among those who've shunned dairy, try Grezzo's flavorful nut-milk-based version instead. For espresso, go out of your way for Café de Brasil, which is also known as "the Pope's Bar" because Pope Benedict was a frequent patron.

What to do: Skip the Spanish Steps—which, frankly, aren't exciting enough to travel halfway around the world for—but don't miss other classic sites such as the Coliseum, the Vatican Museum, the Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, the Piazza del Campidoglio and the Pantheon. In a museum-dense city, Galleria Borghese shines as an extra-special experience and is appointment-based to manage potentially obnoxious crowds. Afterward, enjoy a picnic in the park at Villa Borghese, arranged by the Baglioni. For a truly unique shopping experience (read: not just Prada and such), we suggest roaming the streets of Monti. You'll also want to check out Testaccio, another locals-only neighborhood, while you're in town to get the modern-day Roman experience.

What to pack: Comfortable yet chic shoes (as the best way to explore Rome is on foot), gaucho pants (because every Italian girl is obsessed with them right now) and an appetite—because even the tomatoes in Italy taste like a delicacy.

@ChelseaKauai, Getty Images

Kauai, Hawaii

Why visit: Known as the "Garden Isle," Kauai is Hawaii's fourth largest island and boasts a bountiful landscape that is ideal for the outdoors enthusiast. Hike to waterfalls, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters and enjoy the local rum.

Where to stay: Ko'a Kea Hotel & Resort in Poipu Beach on the southern end of the island has only 121 rooms and barely any children. Bonus: The traditional Hawaiian design (and zoning) of the hotel means the beachfront rooms are some of the closest to the ocean—literally five feet from your door—on the whole island. It doesn't get more relaxing than that.

Where to eat: Red Salt at Ko'a Kea is one of the most polished options on the island and offers a range of excellent seafood and traditional cuisine. Fish tacos from the trucks in Old Koloa Town are a must—and while you're in this quaint shopping district, scoop up some shaved ice. (The high sugar content might render you toothless in mere minutes, but you won't regret it.)

What to do: Surfing or paddleboarding is available virtually everywhere, while horseback riding on the beach with CJM Stables allows your inner cowgirl to flourish. A hike to one of the island's more remote beaches is well worth it, as is a catamaran or prop-plane tour of the breathtaking Nā Pali Coast. Make sure to book that small plane tour early in your trip, as the tropical weather fronts are almost guaranteed to cause you to postpone at least once.

What to pack: Hiking shoes, sunblock, a rash guard and a wide-brimmed hat.

@Scottsdaleariz, OdySea Aquarium, Fairmont Princess Hotel

Scottsdale, Arizona

Why visit: Scottsdale is a reasonably priced warm-weather destination with stunning scenery and plenty to do, whether you want to spend time in the outdoors, explore the city or just hang by a pool.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is an expansive, beautiful and lively property with several delicious dining options, plenty of places to imbibe, a renowned golf course, a spa and five pools. It's a feat to even have enough time to do everything the hotel has to offer.

Where to eat: If you're staying at the Fairmont, the dining options are vast. La Hacienda was voted the number one Mexican restaurant in Arizona, no doubt thanks to the awesome margaritas, impressive tequila bar and scrumptious modern Mexican fare. And Bourbon Steak, also located on the property, serves up fresh fish, delectable cuts of steak and an array of sides that are not to be missed—especially the black truffle mac and cheese.

What to do: Scottsdale is known for its phenomenal hiking, including the iconic Camelback Mountain. The options for working up a sweat are plentiful, and the spots for scenic Instagram shots along the way are endless. The newly opened OdySea Aquarium is the largest of its kind in the Southwest, for those who love the life aquatic; if you want to mix your drinking with an activity, you can't beat Top Golf, a super-fun bar and driving range all in one.

What to pack: Depending on the time of year, Scottsdale can get a bit chilly in the evening, so in addition to your bathing suit, cover-ups and sandals, make sure to pack jeans, tees and a layer or two.

Journey Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

Why visit: An active holiday—hiking Machu Picchu is no small feat!—leaves you with a real sense of accomplishment, particularly in a foreign country with scenic vistas, unbelievable wildlife and a rich culture.

Where to stay: Most tours start in Cusco, so snag a room at the boutique hotel Casa San Blas while you get acclimatized to the altitude.

Where to eat: Pachapapa, found in Cusco's historical district (near the hotel), offers an excellent take on traditional Peruvian cuisine. While Pisco sours are delicious, take it easy on the booze since the altitude will make you a lightweight. Make sure to stock up on energy bars for the hike and sip coca tea to ease any altitude sickness.

What to do: Tour groups like Contiki will escort you to Machu Picchu along Inca Trails, stopping in local villages and campsites and coordinating basic necessities like food and shelter. Join the group with friends or brave it alone—it's a great way to make new lifelong friends along with those memories. Don't forget to stop and enjoy the wildlife.

What to pack: Altitude medication, bug spray, a raincoat, comfortable hiking boots and a camera

Flora Farm, Cabo Surf Hotel

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Why visit: Great food, stunning beaches, excellent surfing—why not visit?

Where to stay: The Cabo Surf Hotel is an easygoing boutique hotel with a small pool and one of the few beginner surf breaks in Cabo. It's also a far cry from the big resorts and has an unbelievably friendly staff.

What to eat: Tacos galore and organic farm-to-table produce at cult destination Flora Farm.

What to do: Learn how to surf, for real this time. Take a lesson every day and you'll have picked up a new sport by vacation's end.

What to pack: Waterproof sunscreen, a rash guard and sunglasses

Montage Deer Valley

Park City, Utah

Why visit: The Park City area is known for having some of the best snow on the planet, but once it melts there are still endless options for things to do, from mountain biking, hiking and golfing to exploring the adorable town's Main Street, full of quaint shops and eateries.

Where to stay: The Montage Deer Valley is a ski-in/ski-out property; the boutique hotel chain is known for leaving no stone unturned—think plush rooms and a vast property with several restaurants, bars and places to kick back by a fire.

Where to eat: Park City's High West Distillery is where High West spirits originated, so make sure to put your name on the list. Handle in Park City's downtown is known for craft cocktails and a chic atmosphere—make sure you order the buffalo cauliflower (trust us). After dinner, stop by the No Name Saloon for a drink in an authentic Western pub. If you're staying at the Montage, try Yama Sushi and its menu full of seafood and sake, or Burgers & Bourbon for—you guessed it—burgers and bourbon (plus a menu of classic American fare). Daly's Pub & Rec, also located in the hotel, offers brick-oven pizzas, local microbrews, a small bowling alley, vintage arcade games, shuffleboard and more. And if you do happen to go to the Montage during the winter, make sure not to miss the hotel's spectacular s'mores setup each afternoon, complete with homemade flavored marshmallows and an outdoor fire pit.

What to do: Deer Valley itself is an expansive ski mountain with options for every level of athlete. For snowboarders, Park City and Canyons resorts are also nearby. Once the warmer season is upon us, the potential for outdoor activities multiplies (biking, white-water rafting, hiking, the list goes on), making Park City a prime spot for those who prefer sunshine to snow sports.

What to pack: Ski gear is imperative for the winter, of course, but once summer arrives, make sure you have sneakers and active shorts for hiking, a great pair of shades and a scarf for when the mountain chill sets in.