What is it about island beaches that set them apart from the other beaches of the world? Islands let us physically escape from our connections to the world, to the daily grind, to the mundane and familiar. Islands conjure up images of romance, solitude, peace, time and quiet to hear our own thoughts. Lying on an island beach surrounded by 360 degrees of water stretching out as far as the eye can see reminds us that as much as we need connectedness to our fellow humankind, our souls crave some time alone. As do our deepest relationships.

Island beach vacations are often seen as luxurious destinations - and while some of the more exotic locales do cater to the affluent, it is possible to find an island beach getaway that fits your lifestyle, budget and particular frame of mind. Here's how (and why) to make it reality.

Islands are wild, untamed, mysterious places where magic happens. Whether you vacation in Southern Florida, on Canada's Prince Edward Island, in the Polynesian Cook Islands, or the Mediterranean islands of Croatia's jeweled coast, what you will find is sure to change your frame of mind - and give you a lasting memory to return to again and again when your soul needs an instant unwind.

Universal Appeal: Marco Island

"It's just the beauty of the place," says Jane Purcell of Century 21 Marco Island of Southwest Florida. "It's the blue skies every single day. Fresh flowers. The island living just can't be beat. There's no industry besides things that cater to the tourist. We don't have traffic. It's five minutes to get to work. It's five minutes to get anywhere."

Perhaps the universal appeal of the island-the physical and mental removal of oneself from the world-is heightened on Marco Island as it is directly across from Miami, Florida. "There's less population," Purcell says. "It's quieter, and you're in your own little world. You're removed from the hustle and bustle of the regular world."

The first of the 10,000 Islands, Marco Island offers seven and a half miles of beach - for now. "It's extending," says Purcell. "It changes all the time because of the winds, tides, the sand shifting. It's getting bigger."

According to Purcell, the beach at Marco Island offers something for virtually any visitor. "The north end is great for viewing nature," she says. This is a wildlife refuge. Right now it's turtle season - we have nests that hatch and the turtles go out to sea in the middle of the night." The south end is more the social end of the beach. It's home to restaurants, movie theaters, and especially activities. 

"Everybody sits on the beach for a day or so just to relax," Purcell says. "Then they look for activities." Water sports abound; jet skiing and deep sea fishing are popular on the island, as you might associate with the ocean. But there's more to it than just the beach. "Even kayaking is very popular," says Purcell. "On the island you have the Gulf side with the ocean, and then you have the river side with waterways running all through it. We have backwater also, so you can just go right down the river and see spoonbills, or you can kayak all through the backwaters."

Century 21 Marco Island offers a variety of individually owned condominiums on the beach, with tennis, pools exercise rooms, views of the Gulf and even boat docks. The waterways provide the ideal setting for the company's offering of rental homes.

Going North

On the opposite side of tropical life, Prince Edward Island is a gorgeous place to explore. From rocky bluffs overlooking the Pacific, to voluptuous sand dunes, Prince Edward Island offers a romantic taste of Canada's eastern coast. The self-contained province is located just northeast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, about 850 miles northeast of New York City. The island is small enough to be toured in five days.

The Prince Edward Island National Park is home to two of the more popular beaches, Cavendish and Brackley. Pack a light sweater though, as July brings the season's balmiest temperatures-mid-70's Fahrenheit. 

The Exotic

If you are looking for the traditional South Seas island experience, don't overlook the Cook Islands, which lie between Tahiti and Tonga in the middle of the South Pacific. This collection of 15 islands offers a more intimate experience for travelers than legendary Tahiti or Fiji. Only three islands are visited by tourists: the main population center, Rarotonga, known for its volcanic mountain peaks and small beach resorts; Aitutaki (a quick 45-minute flight north), which has one of the South Pacific's most pristine lagoons; and remote Atiu, which offers eco-tourists a suburb challenge and day visitors a chance to see the island in its undisturbed environment. 

The Cook Islands are a self-governing dependency of New Zealand and use New Zealand currency. Many residents speak English. You will need a valid passport, proof of return ticket, and in most cases, pre-booked accommodations when you enter the country. No visas are required, and visitors are usually granted a 31-day entry permit. The weather is tropical and temperatures range from 70 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There is reliable long-distance phone service and many resorts and hotels have internet connections. You might as well leave your notebook at home though, because once you get a taste of island life, all thoughts of work will disappear!

If you're longing for a European destination, one of the Mediterranean's most well-kept secrets is Croatia's Vis Island. Vis is a new found paradise for those in search of olive groves, vineyards, sand beaches and European tradition. History abounds on this ancient island once ruled by the Romans. In fact, it was turned into a strictly controlled military base after World War II, and not until 1998 was it again opened to the public. This is definitely the place to go to experience authentic Mediterranean life (and hurry before the rest of the world gets there!). 

"It's quieter, and you're in your own little world. You're removed from the hustle and bustle of the regular world." - Jane Purcell, Century 21 Marco Island, SW Florida

Visitors to Croatia must have a valid passport and may stay for up to three months. Visas are not usually required. Croatia follows European Union custom laws. The local currency is called Kuna, and you can exchange your money at a bank in Split or Vis. The climate is Mediterranean and ranges between 80 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer season. Bring your bikini, sunscreen, appetite, curiosity, camera and heart - for once you experience Vis Island, you may never leave Europe again!

No, there is nothing like an island beach vacation to relax, reconnect and remember that life doesn't have to be so fast or so cluttered. Whatever island you choose, wherever in the world, lie on the beach and watch the waves wash away all those things you thought you just had to do. As Purcell at Century 21 Marcos Island says, "The other thing to remember about the beach is when you look directly out at the water, during the day you're seeing the waves, and the people. But at night it's very dark. Sometimes you can see the lights and the buildings...it's just beautiful."