life·9 min read

8 Underrated U.S. Vacation Destinations You Need to Check Out

Beachfront views; places you can travel without a passport
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Unsplash
May 18, 2022

By now, you’ve probably heard us talk about how important it is to take your PTO. Not only does taking regular breaks from work help reduce burnout, but it also gives you the chance to explore new places. 

But with COVID-19 restrictions still happening all over the world, it might be tough to plan an all-out tropical vacation to a faraway place. After all, you never know when your plans can be dashed by a country changing its entry policy. So you might want to consider staying (relatively) close to home. Luckily, there are plenty of under-the-radar spots in the US that deserve your attention…with the added bonus of not needing to pass through customs to get there. 

Where can I travel without a passport?

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Girdwood, Alaska

Alaska isn’t just a beautiful place to visit when the weather’s nice — it’s a gorgeous locale year-round. Though summer is usually peak travel season as the days are longer and the weather is warmer, the winter months are filled with endless activities from dogsledding to snowboarding. Oh, and don’t forget the gorgeous Northern lights. But if you want a more off-the-beaten-path place for winter fun, try Girdwood. This gold-mining town turned ski village is a winter lover’s paradise. It’s called Glacier city for its gorgeous glaciers and snow-capped mountains. There's hiking, sledding and of course, skiing. The town is home to the largest ski resort in Alaska, Aleyska resort, where you get to hit the slopes all while enjoying a luxury vacay. 

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Upcountry Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii has long since been a premier vacation spot for most Americans to relax and catch a wave or two, but there’s so much more than just the coasts. If you want something a little less traditional and, well, beachy, check out Upcountry Maui. This rural section of the popular tourist island is home to rolling hills and tall mountains. You can visit the artisan town of Makawao, where you can support the local community through weekend farmers' markets filled with food and goods. Or you can check out the rustic town of Kula and see gorgeous views from the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. But Upcountry Maui is especially famous for Haleakala, the highest peak on the island. This dormant volcano and the national park surrounding it is often viewed as a spiritual experience for some travelers. It’s the perfect place to explore if you want to get in touch with nature — and your spiritual side. 

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St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands 

This is the tiniest of the three U.S. Virgin islands, but great for those who want to explore all that nature has to offer. Two-thirds of the island is reserved as a national park. If nature’s not your calling, be sure to check out Trunk Bay, a gorgeous beach known for its crystal sands. And if you’re up for a bit more of a party, the island celebrates Carnival on July 3rd, the day enslaved people were emancipated on the island. To celebrate, you can don a festive outfit while dancing to local music, eating delicious food and watching live performances. 

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Mackinac Island, Michigan 

This town is the definition of quaint. Not only does it have an old-fashioned feel with victorian houses lined up and down its streets, but there are also no cars allowed. That’s right, the only way to get around the island is the old-school way, by foot, bike or horse. But don’t worry, there’s still much to do from boating to fishing to exploring the history of the island. You can enjoy the start of summer with a festival that celebrates the blooming of lilacs, or you can come to visit some of the island’s famous fudge shops. And of course there’s plenty of lodging to choose from, whether it’s a B&B that matches the town’s vibe or a luxury resort. 

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Chatanooga, Tennessee 

This Tennessean city is known for its breadth of culture. Its historic arts district can rival Nashville's with its galleries and coffee shops. But what really sets Chatanooga apart is its stunning natural beauty. It has tall mountain peaks, stone cliffs, and the long winding river the town is named for. And if you’re there in June, you can’t miss the Riverbend music festival that happens every year.

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Healdsburg, California 

Healdsburg is located in the heart of California’s wine country. And while other people come to the state for the Golden Gate bridge or the Hollywood sign, you’ll be in this charming little town eating good food and drinking the best wine of your life. Healdsburg is home to acclaimed vineyards like Alexander Valley Vineyards, and Dry Creek Vineyard. And of course, you can’t miss Healdsburg plaza, the perfect place for more eating, drinking and shopping. 

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

From Aspen to Boulder, Colorado is known for its ski slopes, but it also has a summer-friendly option you may have never heard of. Head out to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. As the name suggests, it’s a giant park filled with incredible sand dunes that you can sand-board and sled down. The park features the highest sand dunes in North America, the tallest being around 750 feet high. Aside from sledding, you can go horseback riding, picnicking and hiking throughout the National Park. And if you need a place to stay, there are a few campground options…or you can find lodging at any of the nearby towns, like Alamosa, Blanca and Fort Garland.

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Block Island, Rhode Island

If you’re in the mood for some New England charm this summer but can’t stand the crowds in Cape Cod, Block Island may be just the place for you. It has 17 miles of beautiful white sand beaches and you won’t have to fight the crowds for a place to put your beach towel. It’s only a quick ferry ride from the mainland, making this place perfect for a day trip. Take advantage of all this place has to offer including parasailing, historic lighthouses, and cozy bed and breakfasts. The best way to get around the island is by bike. Oh, and be sure to snag yourself a lobster roll during your stay — Rhode Island is famous for them. 

theSkimm

Traveling domestically is always a good idea, especially if you don’t need to wait in a long line at customs to do it. And trust us, you don’t need a passport to explore somewhere new. So grab your suitcase, and your driver’s license and head to any of the above destinations.

Skimm'd by Sagine Corrielus, Niven McCall-Mazza, Karell Roxas, and Alicia Valenski

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