Paradise Is Closer Than You Think
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These Island Vacations Don't Require a Passport

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Paradise Is Closer Than You Think
Yagi-Studio/istockphoto

PARADISE IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

The phrase "island vacation" may conjure visions of exotic places, but what if you're in the mood for some island time and you don't have a passport — or want to stay closer to home? Sun, sand, and surf aren't exclusive to foreign nations. The U.S. has plenty of islands near (and far, if you're up for it) that are ripe for exploration without a passport. Here are some of the best.

Related:18 Countries Where It's Easy to Get a Last-Minute Visa

Florida Keys
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FLORIDA KEYS

Longtime visitors to the Keys will tell you that they're less a destination and more a state of mind. The vibe on this chain of islands sprinkled along U.S. Route 1 at Florida's southern tip is so laid-back it's almost comical — here, all you need is a hammock, a drink, and a warm sea breeze. You definitely don't need a passport for the Keys if you're a U.S. citizen, but you will want to have it handy if the lure of a day trip to nearby Cuba is too much to ignore.

Florida Keys
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Outer Banks
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OUTER BANKS

If you prefer your island vacation a little less crowded, North Carolina's windswept Outer Banks deliver, with desolate beaches, impressive sand dunes, and even wild ponies. At points, these barrier islands are little more than narrow patches of sand that provide just enough room for State Route 12, which connects each island from north to south (though the southernmost island, Ocracoke, requires access via a ferry).

Cape Hatteras Light Station in Outer Banks, North Carolina
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Hawaii
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HAWAII

This famed Pacific wonderland might feel like a world away from the continental U.S., but visiting the nation's 50th state requires nothing but your plain ol' driver's license or another form of government-issued ID for U.S. citizens. Keep it handy if you plan to go island-hopping: Flying remains the easiest way to get from island to island.

Hawaii Volcanoes (Hawaii)
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El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico
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PUERTO RICO

It's no secret that Puerto Rico took a devastating hit from Hurricane Maria in 2017, but make no mistake: Most of this sun-soaked Caribbean island's tourist infrastructure is up and running, especially around the capital, San Juan. To visit this U.S. territory, just bring your driver's license or other government-issued photo ID — there are frequent nonstop flights from major airports in the eastern U.S.

San Juan, Puerto Rico
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PUERTO RICO: DON'T MISS

Wander the narrow streets of Old San Juan, snapping pictures of the colorful buildings and taking in the view from El Morro, an evocative 16th-century fort. And for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, watch tiny plankton glittering all over your body as you swim in La Parguera, one of the island's three bioluminescent bays.

Mackinac Island, Michigan
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MACKINAC ISLAND

Midwesterners, rejoice: You don't have to head to the coast for a lovely island vacation, and you certainly don't need a passport to relax on this historic speck in the northwestern corner of Lake Huron. Ferries depart regularly from Mackinaw City on Michigan's Lower Peninsula or St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula.

Fort Mackinac
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MACKINAC ISLAND: DON'T MISS

Fire the cannon at 18th century Fort Mackinac, explore Mackinac Island State Park, or fuel up at the historic Grand Hotel's first-class lunch buffet while taking in some of the best views on the island. Whatever you do, it won't be with a car — you can walk, bike, or even take a leisurely horse-carriage ride, but automobiles are banned.

Related:The Most Indulgent Buffet in Every State

San Juan Islands, Washington
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SAN JUAN ISLANDS

This archipelago of more than 170 islands in Washington state might not spring to mind when you think of island vacations, but it has a Pacific Northwest allure all its own. The three largest islands (Lopez, Orcas and San Juan) are easily accessible by ferry — no passports or special ID required — and charming Friday Harbor is a hub for activities of all kinds, from shopping and the arts to kayaking, horseback riding, and golf.

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American Samoa
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AMERICAN SAMOA

If you really want to feel like you're leaving the country, American Samoa offers an authentic look at Polynesian culture. This little-visited chain of South Pacific islands and atolls is one of the farthest-flung U.S. territories. As long as you can get there without traveling through a foreign port or place (most likely flying through Hawaii) you don't need to present a passport.

National Park of American Samoa
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AMERICAN SAMOA: DON'T MISS

The National Park of American Samoa offers pristine coral reefs for snorkeling, hikes through lush tropical forests, and even homestays with native Samoans. Ofu Beach offers limited amenities, but makes up for it with dazzling scenery and few other visitors to spoil your postcard-perfect views.

Hilton Head Island, SC
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Year after year, South Carolina's Hilton Head Island remains a top vacation spot because it has a little something for everyone: There are plenty of water sports, top-notch bike trails, and of course, some of the nation's best finest golf courses. It's also easy to get to, with bridge access and a location minutes from I-95. There are even direct flights to the island from hubs like Atlanta and Charlotte.

Coligny Beach
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HILTON HEAD ISLAND: DON'T MISS

Coligny Beach is one of the most popular stretches of sand on Hilton Head — it's clean, picturesque, and boasts plenty of amenities like showers and nearby restaurants. And be sure to rent a bike and explore the island's miles of flat, well-maintained bike trails — you can even ride on the beach at low tide.

Related: 50 of the Best Beaches in America

St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
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U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

The U.S. Virgin Islands took a devastating one-two punch from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, but like Puerto Rico, tourist facilities are bouncing back. While some hotels will remain closed this year, you can expect to find restaurants, shops and tour operators in full swing. And while many people will visit this little slice of Caribbean paradise on a cruise, the U.S. Virgin Islands are easy to reach via flights from Puerto Rico or certain mainland U.S. destinations — all you need is your normal government-issued ID.

Trunk Bay
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U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: DON'T MISS

Explore the dazzling North Shore of leafy, parkland-dominated St. John, including the impossibly gorgeous beach at Trunk Bay, one of the islands' most-photographed stretches of sand. On St. Croix, tour the Cruzan Rum Distillery for a closer look at one of the region's most famous exports.

Martha's Vineyard, MA: Everywhere
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MARTHA'S VINEYARD/NANTUCKET

Well-heeled families have made these iconic islands off Massachusetts' southern coast their playground for years, and it's easy to see why: There's charming architecture, plenty of great restaurants for foodies, bike paths for leisurely rides, and much more to round out the lovely wind-swept beaches. And you won't need to flash a passport when you hop on a ferry to get here, either.

Lobster Roll
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MARTHA'S VINEYARD/NANTUCKET: DON'T MISS

On Martha's Vineyard, rent a bike to explore colorful Oak Bluffs and sophisticated Edgartown, enjoying the ocean views on the relaxed 6-mile ride in between them. Grab a lobster roll from any number of spots once you're through. Beach lovers will have their choice of relaxing spots, but Nantucket is especially good for finding a patch of sand to suit any taste.

Channel Islands National Park
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CHANNEL ISLANDS

The Golden State has no shortage of sights to dazzle tourists, so it's no wonder the Channel Islands often fly under the radar. Just off the coast of southern California, five of the islands make up Channel Islands National Park and are a playground for nature lovers. Farther to the south, Santa Catalina is where you'll find resort towns in addition to great scuba diving. Just hop on a ferry, no passport necessary.

Avalon Theatre
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Guam/Northern Mariana Islands
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GUAM/NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

Far-flung Guam is quite a haul across the western Pacific, and it's far more popular with Japanese and South Korean tourists than Americans. But as long as you get there without going through a foreign port (flying through Hawaii is most likely), you won't need a passport to visit. Guam can also be a jumping off point for a visit to another nearby U.S. territory, the Northern Mariana Islands.

War in the Pacific National Historical Park
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GUAM/NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS: DON'T MISS

History buffs have to stop at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam for an overview of the islands' crucial role as a World War II battleground. In the Marianas, take a short boat ride from the capital of Saipan to uninhabited Managaha Island for a true slice of Micronesian paradise with gorgeous beaches, snorkeling, parasailing and other water sports.

Mount Desert Island
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MOUNT DESERT ISLAND

No, you won't find any palm trees on Mount Desert Island, but you will find some of the most ruggedly gorgeous stretches of Maine coastline you'll ever lay eyes on, expansive Acadia National Park, and several charming waterside towns, including the popular hub of Bar Harbor. It's an easy drive on and off the island via Maine's State Route 3, which connects to U.S. Route 1, offering more dazzling sea views.

Beal's Lobster Pier
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MOUNT DESERT ISLAND: DON'T MISS

Acadia's Cadillac Mountain offers visitors the chance to be among the first people in the continental U.S. to see the sunrise. Despite the name, no strenuous hiking is required — Cadillac is easily accessible by car. Head to picturesque Southwest Harbor for the requisite lobster lunch or dinner at Beal's Lobster Pier. If you must get your toes in the sand, Sand Beach just outside of Bar Harbor beckons, but the water will be too "brisk" for all but the heartiest swimmers, even in summer.

Sunset from Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Sunset from Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida by Marianne Serra (CC BY)

SANIBEL/CAPTIVA ISLANDS

If the Keys are too crowded, Sanibel and Captiva islands provide a slower-paced respite off Florida's Gulf Coast. Nature preserves make the islands a great place to spot wildlife like egrets and sea turtles, and if you collect seashells, you'll find some of the most fertile hunting grounds anywhere in the nation. Access is easy via a causeway that connects the islands to Fort Myers.

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
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SANIBEL/CAPTIVA ISLANDS

J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge showcases a dazzling array of birds, alligators and crocodiles, and even endangered species like the West Indian Manatee. If you're a shell hunter, check out Blind Pass Beach between the islands; if you want to swim, skip its strong currents and head to quiet, roomy Bowman's Beach.

Galveston, Texas
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GALVESTON ISLAND

Few places fuse history and lazy beach time like Texas' Galveston Island. Beyond the sand, architecture lovers will delight in the ornate Victorian homes and buildings throughout downtown Galveston, and families will find a diverse array of attractions, from resorts and waterparks to old-school midways and museums. Best of all, getting here is an easy drive from Houston down Interstate 45.

Galveston, Texas
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BONUS: CARIBBEAN CRUISE DESTINATIONS

If you still hope to visit other Caribbean island nations like Jamaica or the Bahamas, you may not need your passport as long as you go as part of a closed-loop cruise. Closed-loop cruises start and end in the same U.S. port, and the U.S. allows you to travel with a driver's license and a birth certificate. Be sure to double-check, however, whether the countries you plan to visit while cruising require a passport to enter; while most Caribbean destinations do not, there are exceptions — check with your cruise line before booking.