This is the time of year when the winter blues are setting in for many in the Rust Belt, which always means big business for winter beach destinations.
It's usually not hard to spot those who've been sun-starved all winter, as they may be getting off airplanes in Philadelphia in shorts when arriving home to temperatures in the teens.
The question is where are beach-goers headed during the winter months? It's no surprise that the most popular domestic winter beach destinations are in Florida, California and Hawaii. After all, they offer the most coast line, a warm climate and postcard images of sunshine, palm trees and ocean waters.
Internationally, the same can be said for Mexico.
These locales annually boast many of the top beach destinations. However as travel levels rise and lodging construction continues, many are also aggressively marketing their destinations, and riding the wave of tourism to lure more travelers to what are already historically popular beach cities.
In fact, online travel agency Orbitz.com recently set out for the sandy beaches to determine which winter beach destinations are growing the most rapidly.
Topping the list domestically is Maui, Hawaii, which edged out a handful of popular beach cities in Florida. Hawaii's Big Island also landed the third-ranked vacation spot in Kailua-Kona, which continues to rise in popularity.
Florida took five of the top 10 spots on the list, which measured percentage growth in hotel bookings from late December through the end of February over a three-year period to compile its index.
The most popular Florida beaches are Daytona Beach, which is No. 2; as well as Key West; Fort Lauderdale/Miami; Sarasota and Fort Myers.
California beaches in San Diego and Santa Monica were also in the top 10, as was historic Charleston, S.C.
In Mexico, Cozumel continues to be among its most popular beaches, and now has the distinction of being its fastest-growing internationally, says Orbitz.
At No. 1, Cozumel was one of six Mexican beach destinations to make the list; the others were Riviera Maya/Playa Del Carmen (No. 2); Cancun, Acapulco, Ixtapa and Mazatlan; Negril, Jamaica; Rio de Janeiro; Aruba; and Bermuda.
Some tips to keep in mind:
· Book a vacation package online. Combining air and hotel is a great way to save on trip costs. Online booking can also help you save.
· Be flexible with dates. Traveling at off-peak times will enable you to avoid some of the crowds and find better rates.
· Plan and book early. Generally, the further in advance you can book, the better your chances of finding a good deal.
· It's never too late! While it's always advisable to book early, it's never too late to get away. Keep your eye out for last-minute specials. Also, know where you're going. If you need kosher restaurants, plan ahead. Some areas may have none at all; others can be plentiful.
· Be free. If you can, leave the laptop and the PDA behind. It's much easier to unwind with sand between your toes if you leave your stressors at home.