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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

We get it: The goal of leaving home is to experience as much of life as possible, to treat yourself and unwind. But when the budget gets tight, the tough get creative. Looking for a bit of luxurious relaxation on a shoestring? Here are eight options that will add a little something special to your travels without impacting your bottom line too much.

RELATED: 5 hot springs in gorgeous natural settings

Boulder Dushanbe Tea House: Boulder, CO  

Every civilized society starts their adventures with a cup of tea, which is exactly why you should hit up the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House. The ornate landmark was originally built in Tajikistan by hand, without tools, and then later shipped piece by piece to Colorado and re-assembled along Boulder Creek. Take in the colorful carvings that surround you while you sip their signature Teahouse Chai, or dive into the depths of cheese tea (topped with milk foam and cream cheese). Hours and seating are currently limited due to Covid, so be sure to make a reservation.

Sykes Hot Springs: Big Sur, Los Padres National Forest, CA

Yes, hot tubs are awesome, but when spas aren’t in the budget, nature finds a way. Areas like Big Sur are known for their geothermic activity, meaning you can cheaply find a place to soak away your troubles. Just be sure to consult an official map before you dip—there’s a fine line between stress relief and accidental boiling.

Hike the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop: Portland, OR

If you’re tired of thoughtless people invading the imaginary six-foot force field you’ve conjured around you, then your concept of luxury might have more to do with getting away from it all. In that case, hit the trail at Portland’s Multnomah-Wahkeena. The 4.9-mile hike offers views of stunning waterfalls, plenty of chances to peep Oregon’s fairytale worthy foliage, viewpoints over the Columbia River, and significantly more big-leaf maples than people.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Brooklyn, NY

…Or maybe the great outdoors isn’t exactly your bag. Which is exactly why you should plan a trip to a botanical garden like Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Not only does their bite-sized natural goodness allow you the pleasure of being surrounded by a wide variety of plants your black thumb would likely kill instantly, they usually offer fun bonuses like in-house cafes and classes. And thanks to the location, you’ll never be too far away from city life.

Land’s End Labyrinth: San Francisco, CA

Overlooking the water at the end of Land’s End Park in San Francisco, is an ankle-high labyrinth. While there’s no Goblin King hiding in the center, the monument is meant to evoke peace, love and enlightenment. Go and practice your yoga breathing—or sneak a peek during the solstices, when the artist Eduardo Aguilera often drops by to light his small stone swirl with candles. (Note: It can be a bit tricky to find, so grab directions before you go.)

See the sky in a dark sky park: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Remind yourself how big and magical the world really can be with a visit to Big Bend in Texas. Not does the park feature a wealth of rugged hills and intricate ecosystems, at night this International Dark Sky Park, makes for cinescope-worthy star viewing. Join one of their night sky viewing programs to learn exactly which constellation you’re gawking at—or pack a picnic and make good on the romantic date you’ve been meaning to take.

Chicago Food Truck Fest: Chicago, IL

Food trucks are awesome because they offer a chance to sample local favors—even if your budget is more 7-Eleven than Michelin Star, plus there’s no need to go inside a restaurant. Bonus for those who can never make up their minds: A lot of them offer smaller sized options, meaning you can mix and match offerings to your heart’s content. For the ultimate offering, hit up the Chicago Food Truck Fest, which takes place Fridays April through September in Daley Plaza downtown (check for possible Covid closures). Bring your appetite and munch your way through favorites like 5411 Empanadas, Chubby Wieners, and Firecakes Donuts. Not in Chicago? No problem. Thanks to the National Food Truck Directory, you can track the schedule and offerings of over 8,500 trucks nationwide.

Post-pandemic tip: Hit the Korean spa in your city

If you’re in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Tacoma, you’re in luck. While their European-style competitors tend to project a sense of high-priced elitism, Korean spas are rooted in the bathhouse tradition—meaning you’ll get the same hot tubs and saunas at a more wallet-friendly rate. Add a treatment like their traditional scrub (where you’ll lose what feels like a pound of dead skin, along with what’s left of your inhibitions), or relax in the mixed-gender jimjilbang resting area.

Tagged: California, Cheap Tips, Chicago, Destinations, L.A., New York City, Texas

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

In the year of social distancing, National Parks may seem like the obvious answer to wanderlust. Unfortunately, we all have the exact same thought. The 10 most visited national parks in the United States all attract millions of people annually. Nothing can deflate a profound experience with nature like hiking to a pristine mountain lake and finding a hoard of Instagramers. However, many state parks offer the same breathtaking scenery sans the crowds. Here are eight awesome state parks to check out now.

RELATED: What to pack for a camping trip

Eldorado Canyon State Park vs. Rocky Mountain National Park: Colorado

Photo: Courtesy of Boulder, CO

Located near Rocky Mountain National Park in Boulder County, beautiful Eldorado is a haven for rock climbers boasting more than 500 technical routes. As a result, “Eldo’s” cliffs have become a draw for climbers from all over the world.  However, non-climbers will love the 11 miles of stunning trails ranging from difficult to easy. Being located near the Denver area makes this park a popular destination in the summer months. In winter, strap on cross country skis or snowshoes and enjoy some true peace and quiet.

Custer State Park vs. Yellowstone National Park: South Dakota

Photo: Courtesy of South Dakota Dept. of Tourism

Millions flock to Yellowstone each year to take in the abundant wildlife. But it’s not the only wildlife hog out there. At Custer State Park, one can see mule deer, antelope, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, mountain lions, bobcats and… most popular of all, buffalo. While much of this wildlife is easily viewed a car via scenic drives, there is an abundance of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Additionally, the park hosts a vast array of activities including rock climbing, bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing. It should go without saying but… don’t feed or approach the wildlife.

Sinkyone Wilderness State Park vs. Redwood Forest National Park: California

Photo: Courtesy of Kingdom California

For those who really want to put an emphasis on social distancing, Sinkyone is just the place. Also referred to as the Lost Coast, this wilderness area presents a nice alternative to Redwood National Park. While reaching it is somewhat of an ordeal due to lack of major roads or highway access, those who visit will be rewarded with stunning wilderness, zero sounds of traffic, and no signs of civilization. The impact of humans in this region is minimal with just a single-track trail across coastal bluffs for miles. The park hosts old redwood groves, canyons, tide pools, seasonal wildflowers, waterfalls and dark sand beaches. Wildlife include elk, harbor seals and sea lions along the coastline, and gray wales during winter and early spring. Note: Beware of the occasional extended visit due to a mudslide or fallen tree blocking the road out.

Dead Horse Point State Park vs. Arches National Park: Utah

Photo: Courtesy of Moab Adventure Center

While Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park are both undeniably incredible, there is an equally breathtaking alternative located 32 miles from Moab known as Dead Horse Point State Park. Legend has it that in the late 1800s the area was used to corral wild mustangs wandering the mesa. Today one can stare down at the Colorado River from 2,000 feet above. There are miles of pet-friendly trails and the park is a favorite among mountain bikers. Complementing the river views are those of the sublime night sky.

Baxter State Park vs. Acadia National Park: Maine

Many visitors travel to Acadia each year to take in Maine’s rugged wilderness. However, in central Maine lies an equally compelling substitute thanks to its numerous mountains—the highest being Baxter Peak at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. The 200,000-acre park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife including moose, white tailed deer and black bear. Activities include hiking and fly-fishing and 25% of the park is even open to hunting. Camping happens May 15 to October 15 and December 1 to March 31, however only Appalachian Trail hikers can stay in the park without a permit. In the spirit of keeping the “Forever Wild” philosophy expressed by former Governor Baxter, for whom the park is named, there is no electricity, running water, or paved roads and audio or visual devices that disturb wildlife are prohibited.

Ecola State Park vs. Crater Lake National Park: Oregon

Photo: Courtesy of Oregon State Parks

Crater Lake has long been Oregon’s crown jewel. But when planning your trip through Oregon, how about picturing cliffside views of secluded coves, densely forested promontories and shorelines as well as an abandoned lighthouse. These are the sights that can be seen at Ecola State Park. With 9 miles of coastline, this popular hiking destination also offers activities from surfing to wildlife observation. Indian beach is popular among surfers while beach loungers love its tide pools and ocean views complemented by grassy bluffs and spruce forest. Among the trails is an 8-mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail, and a 2 ½-mile historical interpretive route known as Clatsop Loop Trail. While hiking, be on the lookout for deer, elk, eagles and more.

Roan Mountain State Park vs. Smoky Mountain National Park: Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Parks

Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the United States. In 2019, it attracted 12.5 million visitors. What if there was a place nearby where you could experience all of Smoky’s amazing qualities minus the crowds? Located in the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, Roan Mountain State Park boasts proximity to the famed Appalachian Trail and Roan Mountain. One can partake in a variety of outdoor activities including cross country skiing, mountain biking, camping, fishing and, naturally, hiking. Additional attractions include the historic Miller Homestead and the Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival held during the alpine catawba rhododendron bloom in June.

Red Rock State Park vs. The Grand Canyon: Arizona

It can be agonizing to choose from Arizona’s variety of breathtaking landscapes. The most well-known of these is the Grand Canyon, but this does not mean alternate options are not equally amazing. In Sedona sits Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve boasting a magnificent red sandstone canyon and the 1.4-mile Oak Creek. Among the massive rock formations is Cathedral Rock, one of Arizona’s most famous landmarks. Hiking trail Eagles Nest Loop leads to the highest peak in the park. Additionally, the park hosts year-round activities like guided jeep tours.

Bonus: Inyo National Forest

With a diverse range of biomes from deserts to mountains, coastal redwoods to alpine forest and numerous National Parks, California is spoiled for beauty and it can be easy to overlook certain destinations. Millions flock to Yosemite each year giving it almost city-like traffic. However, two hours south of Yosemite lies Inyo, home of the world’s oldest tress, the Ancient Bristle Cone Pine which can live to be more than 4,000 years old! This is complemented by stunning backdrops where one can take in panoramic views of the Sierra and White Mountains. There is no shortage of hiking, including part of the famed Pacific Crest Trail. There is also top-notch boulders for climbing enthusiasts. Additionally, both free and affordable camping is found in the national forest as well in the nearby town of Bishop.

Tagged: California, Destinations, Off-season, Types of Travel

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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When warm, sunny days and crisp, cool nights set in, it means only one thing for much of the US: that one of Mother Nature’s greatest shows isn’t too far away. Brilliant colors in each leaf are like one final curtain call before disappearing to the forest floor, and it’s an inspirational and humbling experience to watch. Here are 5 quintessential leaf-peeping destinations, including where to stay.

ALSO: America’s most awesome vintage record stores

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Windows down and a deep blue sky make the passage along the Blue Ridge Parkway a beautiful autumn escape. America’s favorite drive is nearly 470 miles of scenic roadway stretching from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  Visitors from all over the Southeast flock to the region.
STAY: Asheville makes for a great parkway starting point. Try the new Kimpton Hotel Arras, which towers over the city and offers stellar views and close proximity to nearby craft breweries.

Vail, CO

Golden yellow aspen trees bring life to the Rockies just ahead of the first snow. This is a quiet time at the resorts; summer crowds are gone and skiers have yet to invade. Time it perfectly (not so easy to do, actually) and you could be there for the first snow which may come as early as mid-October.
STAY: Tivoli Lodge boasts an Alpine vibe, mountain and village views and an intimate feel at half the cost of nearby competitors.

Traverse City, MI

Just shy of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Traverse City is an underrated gem. Follow the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail to sample aromatic whites or hike along Grand Traverse Bay and the fall colors only enhance the charm in late September and October. Traverse City is a weekend trip away from Chicago or Detroit, and an excellent stopover if driving the famed Lake Michigan Circle Tour in autumn.
STAY: Looking for charm and romance? Look no further than Aberdeen Stone Cottage Bed & Breakfast, featuring Scottish-themed rooms in a quiet, residential part of the city.

Vermont

Expect crowds if you visit the Granite State for fall colors; the first two weekends in October are the busiest of the year. Find expansive views of red and yellow from the peaks of the Green Mountains. A gondola at Killington Resort takes guests to the state’s second highest peak. Leaves typically start changing mid September and last until the end of October.
STAY: It’s hard not to love the Hotel Vermont, an independent downtown hotel close to everything that features lovely views of Lake Champlain.

Yosemite, CA

Yosemite, California

West Coast leaf lovers get a late October start at Yosemite National Park with the color show lasting through November. Yellow dominates the scene here, but pops of red and orange are visible.  The colors vary greatly from valley floor to mountain points and autumn is a much less crowded time to visit the park.
STAY: Stay in a luxury tent, airstream trailer or modern cabin at AutoCamp, a hip glamping option a stone’s throw from the park.

Not sure when to time your trip? The U.S. Forest Service, in addition to many state tourism offices, has a fall color hotline (1-800-354-4595) and website.

Tagged: California, Seasonal, Tips & advice

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Derek Brown

Derek Brown

Derek is a producer, travel writer and explorer who recently moved to New York City from Chicago.
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The state of Virginia is indeed for lovers—specifically, lovers of beach towns. Just about as far east as you can travel within the state, the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague showcase their own traditional yet unique take on beach-town culture. Here are five reasons why Chincoteague Island and neighboring Assateague should be on your bucket list, in no particular order.

The Wildlife

The wild horses
On Chincoteague Island, you’ll find a charming beach town, filled with mom n’ pop motels and ocean-themed restaurants. Assateague Island, on the other hand, is an impeccably kept nature preserve and its most famous wild residents can be seen galloping through its natural marshes. It’s one of the few places left in America where you can still see herds of wild horses roaming in their natural habitat.

Year round, the herds can be seen grazing from the road that leads to Assateague’s beach, or while on boat or kayaking tours that take off from Chincoteague—and these boat tours offer the chance to see even more native wildlife, like dolphins and bald eagles. The island also features hiking trails and a beach. If you plan on driving to the island, parking passes are $8 per day.

Protip: If you decide to take a boat tour, ask a local about their favorite and go for a smaller boat. Smaller boats can get closer to the ponies in the marsh.

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pony Penning Carnival
Now, if you are looking for an even closer look at the ponies, and for a way to be a part of local tradition, try attending the yearly Pony Penning carnival. This annual “holiday” takes place in July, as this is when the wild ponies are wrangled and swum from Assateague to Chincoteague. Then, they are then paraded down Main Street and into corrals where vets check each pony’s health. The youngest of the ponies are auctioned off to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, a fundraiser that began in 1925 and has been going strong ever since.

Protip: The historic carnival is free and open to the public, which means a crowd is inevitable. To avoid getting stuck at the back, where you can’t even see the ponies make their swim, arrive early in the morning and come prepared to wait.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hiking and Camping

The camping
Chincoteague Island is covered in campgrounds, and Assateague Island is full of hiking trails that are perfect for those looking to explore the natural landscape more intimately. Campgrounds on Chincoteague each offer their own benefits and features. Be sure to check out Inlet View campground and Tom’s Cove campground for the best views of the water, as they both offer waterfront campsites.

Campsite rates at Inlet view range from $27 to $35 per day. Campsite rates at Tom’s Cove $35 to $51 per day.

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The hiking
There is plenty of hiking to be done at Assateague Island, and, as mentioned before, if you plan on driving there you’ll need to pay for parking. Once on the island, you can find hiking trails of all lengths and difficulty levels.

One of the shortest trails leads you to the historic and iconic Assateague lighthouse. The hike is totally worthwhile, since not only can you see the candy-cane-painted lighthouse from the outside, but also from the inside. Once you do finally reach the top, you’ll catch a breathtaking view of both Assateague and Chincoteague. Admission to the lighthouse is free. However, donations are accepted.

Protip: Although the hike itself is not difficult, climbing the many steps up to the top can be. Pace yourself to avoid getting lightheaded at the lighthouse.

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Beach

Assateague’s beach can be considered a ‘typical’ beach, meaning it’s clean and fun for the whole family. And yet, it’s unique in its location. Once again, you’ll have to cross the bridge from Chincoteague to access the waterfront.

Protip: Since there is only one road leading to the beach, the traffic can get pretty gnarly during “beach rush hour.” Locals will tell you to start making your way back to Chincoteague before four o’clock.

Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Locals and tourists intermingle on the beach. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Local Food

Chincoteague has been thriving in the oyster harvesting market for many years, and the delicacies can be found at countless eateries on the island… Are oysters not your thing? Well, you can also find ice cream, BBQ and homemade doughnuts without looking very far.

The Island Creamery is a local favorite and has been perfecting its small-batch ice cream, made with milk from local dairies, since 1975. They have a lot of different ice cream flavors but the most popular are of course named after the islands’ most well-remembered aspects, “Marsh Mud” and “Pony Tracks.”

Protip: The line is never too long… Even if the lineto be served at the creamery is out the door, locals swear that it’ll never take longer than 20 minutes to be served.

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Right before hitting the bridge to Assateague you’ll notice an oasis of quirky, quick-service restaurants. This oasis comes complete with hammocks and yard games. It is there that you will find Woody’s Beach BBQ serving a large variety of smoked meats. The sandwich creations at Woody’s are sure to keep your hunger at bay throughout a full day of pony watching, beach going and lighthouse climbing. Prices for sandwiches are between $8 and $9.

Looking for breakfast? Or maybe a lil’ bit of a sweet treat? Then look for the Sandy Pony Donuts truck on Maddox Boulevard. These cleverly-named delights are small yet mighty, with monikers such as “Strawberry Stallion,” “Surfer Dude” and “Jingle Shells.” Made hot and fresh to order, they’re only $1.65 each, $8.80 for a half dozen and $14.80 for a full.

The Culture and History

Both Assateague and Chincoteague are steeped in history, tradition and a unique culture. People who live on Chincoteague, and who’s ancestors lived on Assateague, have a deep connection to both islands, taking pride in knowing the history of their beloved home. Vacationers, too, often feel themselves drawn back—it is not hard to find someone who has been coming since they were young, and who now bring their own family to the same spot, keeping that tradition alive.

Even if you’re visiting the islands for the first time, the community has a way of making you feel at home. It’s as if a connection is formed as soon as you set foot on the island. Just by interacting with locals, you are sure to learn much about Chincoteague and Assateague’s history. But if you’d like to learn even more about why this is such a closely-knit community, you can visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island, which is located mere steps from the bridge to Assateague. It’s a small museum, but it includes exhibits highlighting the oyster market, the hurricanes and the fires of Chincoteague, as well as the well-known equine celebrity, Misty of Chincoteague.

Her story goes something like this: In 1947, author Marguerite Henry met a pony on the island by the named Misty, and her owners the Beebes. Misty went on to inspire her popular children’s novel, and later a movie, which was filmed on the island. The story, although fictional, introduced Chincoteague and its pony culture to the world. This story is a great source of pride for the community of Chincoteague. In fact, Misty herself can be found at the museum… stuffing and all.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The famous Misty of Chincoteague (left) with one of her foals. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

According to those who know the island, the final thing that you must do before leaving is visit the grave of Captain Chandler, as this will ensure your return to the island. There is no address for the site, but ask any local and they will know how to get there. And if you want to know any more about this local legend, you’ll just have to visit Chincoteague Island.

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Tagged: Beach, Family, Seasonal

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.