When I think about travel and adventuring to new places, I’m reminded of a quote from Elbert Hubbard: “No man needs a vacation as much as the man who just had one.”
The joy-inducing effects of vacationing are significant. In my research on what makes the happiest retirees so darn happy, I’ve found that regular travel plays a major role in life satisfaction. After all, during this new chapter of life, you finally have the time to explore all the places you daydreamed about at work.
Traveling far and wide doesn’t have to break the bank. You don’t have to hop the next plane to an exotic international destination to see and do new things. There is a slew of affordable ways to scratch that wanderlust itch right here in the good ol’ USA.
Here are some of my personal favorites that are a bit off the beaten path. Who knows? Maybe one will inspire you to start packing.
1. Route 66 – You can get your kicks on Route 66, the legendary American highway that connects Chicago to California. Today, the newer Interstate Highway System has replaced many segments of Route 66, but you can still drive almost 2,500 miles of the original road. It’s a trip down memory lane – the roadside is peppered with kitschy roadside attractions and vintage motels from the highway’s heyday.
2. Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee – Music fans, get ready to boot-scoot over to Country music’s biggest stage. The Grand Ole Opry stage has launched some of the industry’s biggest stars. These days you can catch one heck of a show most nights of the week. Performances include more than a half-dozen artists, sometimes rising stars and other times music legends. If you want, you can hang around after the show for a tour.
3. Floating Bed and Breakfast, St. Paul, Minnesota – That’s right – it’s a B&B on a boat. This former tugboat is now home to The Covington Inn. Its four quaint, waterborne guestrooms, sit smack dab on the Mississippi River overlooking the St. Paul skyline. Rooms start at just $140, making this an affordable and fun way to spend a night or two. While in the city, check out free attractions, like the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the Como Park Zoo, and Harriett Island.
4. Northern Lights, Alaska – If you’ve never seen the Aurora Borealis, it’s worth adding to your bucket list. About 200 miles from the Arctic Circle is the town of Fairbanks, Alaska, part of the auroral oval and a perfect viewing point for the majestic celestial lights. While in Alaska, you can opt for a hotel or cabin stay. For the best chances of catching a glimpse of the sky alight, stay at least three days. When you’re not looking to the sky, try some fun, purely Alaskan activities, like a sled-dog trip.
5. Emerald Coast, Florida – Looking for a warmer place to visit? Look no further than Florida’s idyllic Emerald Coast, home to the infamous Spring Break destination of Panama City Beach, the upscale beaches of Destin, and the relatively undiscovered Navarre Beach. With a little digging, you can find accommodations bargains that are as refreshing as the surrounding beaches and scenery.
6. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – For those in search of quirky fun, consider traveling to New Mexico for the world’s largest balloon festival. The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (scheduled for Oct. 7 to 15 this year) also happens to be America’s largest international event of any kind and the most photographed event on the globe. Situated on the sprawling Balloon Fiesta Park, you can watch more than 500 balloons lift off.
7. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – The Wolverine State has been getting a lot of attention lately and for good reason. Lonely Planet reported that the Upper Peninsula is one of the best value destinations in the world. There is so much to see: bustling Marquette, the lighthouses and stone cliffs of Isle Royale National Park, and the shipwrecks off the coast of Copper Harbor, to name a few. Depending on when you go, you could snag a hotel for less than $85 a night.
8. Maine’s Huts and Trails – Take a trip to the ski town of Kingfield, and you’ll stumble upon a system of cedar-sided, wood-framed, rudimentary “huts” that are connected by trails. These secluded retreats can be visited via hiking, biking, snowshoeing, or even paddling. Stay nearby in communal lodging, which includes three meals a day for a modest $90 per person.
9. Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico – All the way back in the 1200s, the Mogollon people created astonishing cliff dwellings that have survived to today. These ancient ruins are located on over 500 acres. Explorers can opt for guided or self-guided tours through these eerie abodes for the first part of the day, and then relax at the local hot springs afterward.
There you have it – nine amazing sites to see in your own backyard. God bless America!