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As tempting as international travel is, it’s not always realistic. Getting enough time off from work to jet seven time zones away complicates things and airfare for a family might cost more than your mortgage. That doesn’t even consider the extra steps necessary to travel across borders such as vaccine passports and Covid-19 tests.
Before you throw in the towel for travel altogether, take a second look within U.S. borders. There are thousands of vacation-worthy destinations, some of which are even reminiscent of international favorites. While these nine destinations may not sound as exotic as heading abroad, they offer similar experiences. You’ll still end up with a fun getaway and meaningful memories, no passport required.
Skip: Provence, France, Try: San Juan Islands, Washington
Coastal Washington probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind as a substitute for Provence, but you’d be surprised. On each island, you’ll find sun-kissed towns, colorful countryside and a joie de vivre attitude that will leave you longing to return. They don’t speak French here, but they embody the same lifestyle.
Activities here resemble those in Provence, too. Feast on local produce and ultra-fresh seafood while picnicking outside town. Pick up a bicycle rental for a leisurely route from village to village, stopping in small wineries for a taste or two. In the summer, you can even frolic through lavender fields for a stunning photo op and complete sensory experience. Later, rest your head in a charming bed and breakfast or boutique inn.
Skip: Sahara Desert, Try: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
The highest dune in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park towers 750 feet and takes hours to summit on foot. If that’s not proof you can stay in the U.S. for epic desert scenery, nothing is. At less than four hours from Denver, it’s also achievable to visit on a weekend unlike traveling all the way to Northern Africa.
In some ways, this park is even better than what you’ll find in the Sahara. Photographers can snap a unique shot of sand dunes with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. Visitors also delight in the juxtaposition of the vast sand dunes next to Medano Creek, which in late spring or early summer even has enough water in it for tubing and other water sports. Add in some sandboarding and sandcastle building for the ultimate well-rounded excursion.
Skip: Haiti, Try: Miami, Florida
Little Haiti in Miami is the real deal. Community vibes run deep, giving you the chance to experience a taste of Hispaniola with the simplicity and convenience of staying stateside. Start your visit at the Haitian Heritage Museum or jump right in to participatory events at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex. Then, stay to check out the on-site art gallery on your own. There’s even a Caribbean Marketplace where you can shop for the perfect vacation souvenir.
For more Haitian vibes, you’ll want time to explore on your own. Little Haiti is full of local businesses that emphasize colorful art, Caribbean cuisine and upbeat music meant for dancing. To truly embrace immersion, choose an apartment or other vacation rental in the heart of the neighborhood instead of defaulting to a chain hotel.
Skip: New Zealand, Try: Oregon
Walking tracks with gorgeous mountain views? Check. Endless greenery? Check. Fabulous coffee and cool-climate wines? Check check. Sure sounds like Oregon has a lot in common with New Zealand—without the mind-numbingly long flight to get there. Less time in the air means more time on the ground for all your adventures.
And adventures, there are. Like New Zealand, there’s no shortage of adrenaline-fueled activities from bungee jumping to whitewater rafting to spelunking through lava tubes. You can even find the mudpots and other geothermal features of the North Island if you’re willing to head right over Oregon’s border into northern California at Lassen Volcanic National Park. After all, if you can include two islands on your New Zealand vacation, you can include two states in the U.S.
Skip: Australian Outback, Try: Southern Utah
Australia’s Outback is one of the most iconic parts of the continent and is on many travelers’ wishlists. However, a road trip through southern Utah provides its own version of jaw-dropping scenery, including mountain vistas, ancient rock formations and never-ending wilderness. In fact, it may even be the better bet since parks are clustered together rather than being spread over two million square miles.
While places like Zion National Park and Monument Valley are firmly on the radar, they’re only the beginning. There are dozens of slot canyons ripe for adventure off of park grounds. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and stops like Goblin Valley State Park also offer opportunities for scenic drives, hikes and mountain bike routes. So if you’re looking for desert landscapes, a vast and peaceful outdoor setting or a brilliant view of the night sky, head to Utah instead of Australia.
Skip: Granada, Spain, Try: St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine isn’t just “America’s oldest city.” It oozes Old World charm with centuries of history and striking architecture. In fact, if you visit the right parts of the city, you might even imagine yourself in the middle of the Iberian peninsula.
Like in Spain, send yourself on a self-guided walking tour past the Castillo de San Marcos and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. Narrow streets lead past shops and cafes, each inviting you in. Tour Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth for 500-year-old Spanish explorer history (with an American twist). You can also visit Villa Zorayda, a historic attraction with Moorish architecture and incredible beauty inspired by Granada’s famed Alhambra Palace.
Skip: Okinawa, Japan, Try: Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii has had a significant Japanese population for more than 100 years so their influence makes complete sense. You’ll find Japanese foods and flavors throughout the state as well as summer obon festivals, which celebrate the lives of Japanese ancestors through dancing and other activities. However, the island of Oahu is your best bet if you want to intertwine Japanese culture with a tropical vacation resembling one in Okinawa, Japan.
Even on a short trip, travelers should squeeze in a visit to the Byodo-In Temple, a Buddhist site lovely for walking or meditating. Right in Honolulu’s Ala Moana shopping center, the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk is a collection of shops and restaurants similar to what you’d find in Japan. For a more hands-on activity, visit the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i which hosts workshops in addition to it’s excellent exhibits and galleries.
Skip: Niagara Falls, Canada, Try: Niagara Falls, U.S.
One of the world’s most famous waterfalls, Niagara Falls straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. In a perfect world, visitors would see the falls from both sides but limiting yourself to the U.S. side is hardly a hardship. Niagara Falls State Park was New York’s first state park and still retains its green, park-like setting, unlike the commercialized Clifton Hill in Canada which focuses more on mini-golfing and junk food than a world wonder.
The downside to the U.S. side is, unfortunately, that you can’t get a good look at Horseshoe Falls, one of the three cascades on the river. That’s easily remedied by booking a boat trip on the Maid of the Mist: you’ll get that Canadian view from the water since you can’t get it on dry land. Round out your visit with a drenching trip down to Cave of the Winds for a bottoms-up look at the U.S. Falls, too.
Skip: Dubai, U.A.E., Try: Las Vegas, Nevada
If you’re heading to Dubai for glitz, glamour and outrageous architecture, you can save yourself the long flight: Las Vegas offers plenty of that as well. Although the Strip will always be known for landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Bellagio Fountains, it’s constantly creating new experiences to keep you on your toes.
Craning your neck to see skyscrapers and insane attractions isn’t all Las Vegas has to offer. Like in Dubai, there’s endless possibilities on how to spoil yourself. Shop for designer looks or splurge at the spa. Gorge yourself at one gourmet meal after another. If you ever get bored with over-the-top manmade creations, there’s even a desert outside of both cities.
International travel will always hold a special appeal but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. These nine destinations in the U.S. obviously aren’t exactly the same as heading abroad but offer enough similarities that they can transport your mindset away from home and to somewhere special in their own way. For your next trip, feel free to leave your passport at home.
Originally Appeared On: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/travel-rewards/u-s-travel-destinations-to-visit-when-you-cant-travel-abroad/