First Time Traveler? Try the British Virgin Islands

April 27, 2016
north america
First Time Traveling? Try the British Virgin Islands!

For many Americans, planning your first trip outside of the US can seem intimidating. If you’re far from the Mexican or Canadian border, it sometimes feels like the rest of the world is incredibly distant, and deciding where to go can be daunting. But for those living on the east coast, look no further than the British Virgin Islands, a string of islands in the Caribbean known for its beautiful beaches and laid-back atmosphere.

My first trip out of the US was a vacation to the British Virgin Islands with my family. I was definitely nervous about leaving the country for the first time, even though I was traveling with my parents and sisters. But I quickly fell in love with the BVI, and the experience made me want to keep traveling.

The BVI is perfect for east coasters who have a week’s vacation time to spare. While flying there can be very expensive over winter holidays, a round-trip flight in March or November can be cheaper than a one-way flight to Europe. With a short layover in Puerto Rico to break up the journey, the total flight time is just under five hours. There’s only an hour’s time difference, so you won’t need to worry about adjusting your sleep schedule, and since they use the US dollar, you won’t have to stress over fluctuating exchange rates. Furthermore, English is the national language, although you may encounter a variety of local dialects. Above all, the locals are friendly, welcoming, and accommodating, making it easy to feel at home and enjoy your stay.

I often catch myself daydreaming about flying back down to the British Virgin Islands. These islands will always have a special place in my heart, as my time there inspired me to keep seeking new adventures.

There are plenty of great places to stay in the BVI, but Tortola is definitely the most convenient. It’s the largest island, home to the capital city of Road Town. There are many options when it comes to accommodation, from private, luxurious villas and all inclusive resorts, to cheap, bare-bones hotels for surfers on a budget. For first-timers, a hotel near a beach is very convenient. Driving can be tough in the BVI, so staying within walking distance of shops and restaurants is a plus. If you don’t have access to a rental car or don’t feel comfortable driving on the left side of the road (it is a territory of the UK), staying close to the action is a must.

The biggest draw of the BVI is their incredible natural beauty–from mountains covered in lush rain forests to miles of white sand beaches. It can be tempting to spend all your time outside, so pack plenty of sunscreen! Get out on the water and try surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, diving, or snorkeling. If you’d prefer to relax a bit, book a sailing tour of the islands instead. You could also spend an afternoon kitesurfing or windsurfing, and if you’re feeling waterlogged, go for a hike up Mount Sage, the highest peak on the island.

There are four different islands to explore, and each is known for something different. One week is just enough time to enjoy each without feeling rushed. Splash through The Baths at Virgin Gorda, a maze of boulders and tide pools, or swim up to the Soggy Dollar bar on Jost van Dyke. Anegada, the least populated of the main islands, is the perfect place to enjoy solitude on the beach.

Because of the tropical climate, you may experience a rainy day or two, but there’s plenty to do indoors. Tour the Callwood Distillery and enjoy their rum, treat yourself to a massage or mani-pedi at a spa, or shop for local spices, artwork, and jewelry in Road Town. And don’t be afraid to treat yourself to the BVI’s culinary specialties–chow down on chicken roti, salt fish, callaloo soup, “doved” pork, and conch chowder. Wash thesedown with a rum punch or another favorite local concoction–the painkiller.

I often catch myself daydreaming about flying back down to the British Virgin Islands. These islands will always have a special place in my heart, as my time there inspired me to keep seeking new adventures. If you’ve never ventured out of the US but you’ve begun craving new horizons, it might be time check out everything these islands have to offer.

About Jane Harkness

Jane HarknessJane Harkness is a South Jersey native majoring in English with a minor in Film and Media studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She studied abroad at University College Dublin, fell in love, and now spends most of her free time planning trips back to Ireland and searching for cheap flights.

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