Many people who were hoping to fly to Europe or some other continent this year have had to rethink those plans due to record airfare prices combined with ridiculous currency exchange rates almost everywhere. As independent travelers ourselves, we are right there with you. Most people who travel a lot have to do it on a fairly tight budget in order to be able to afford so many trips, so paying big bucks for one journey just doesn’t fit into the plan.
Here at BootsnAll we decided to come up with a list of places where you can really feel like an “international” traveler without having to actually go abroad. You might have been to some of these places before, but chances are you haven’t been to all of them yet, so you could still have plenty of opportunities to experience foreign cultures, even fairly close to home.
Montreal & Quebec City, Canada
There are two great cities in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec that we wanted to include on this list, and rather than make them duke it out in a cage-match, we decided to have them share the limelight. Both Montreal and Quebec City are worth mentioning on this list, although their appeals are somewhat similar – at least as far as pretending you're visiting France without leaving North America goes. Montreal is the larger of the two cities, and is often described as the most European city in North America. Quebec City is the capital of the province and uber-charming, though smaller than Montreal and with fewer tourist attractions. Which of these two cities you choose to visit depends largely on how much Paris you want to pretend to visit – if you want your faux-Paris to be a thriving cultural capital with loads to see and do, go to Montreal. If, on the other hand, you want to delude yourself into thinking Paris is a cute little historic town with an almost sleepy quality, go to Quebec City. And either way, bring a French phrasebook.
New York City, New York
One of the most international cities in the world, you can literally visit the United Nations headquarters here, but you might be better off experiencing the real multicultural vibes by branching out into New York City’s hundreds of authentic ethnic neighborhoods. Manhattan itself has its shrinking Little Italy surrounded by its expanding Chinatown, but your best bets as a virtual globetrotter are in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. Queens in particular is only rivaled by London as the most international place on earth, with small neighborhoods representing hundreds of nationalities and ethnic groups. You can smoke at an Egyptian hookah bar, have dinner at a Brazilian restaurant, and then dessert at a Greek coffee shop, without traveling more than 2 blocks or losing sight of the Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is perhaps most famous for its Mardi Gras parades, but the city positively oozes charm year-round. Arguably one of the most European-feeling cities in the United States, New Orleans is not only an ideal place to spend a holiday, it's also a place that really needs your tourist dollars. The foreign theme here isn't so much French as it is a mix of French and Spanish with the local indigenous cultures, and this combination has produced a unique cuisine and language that'll transport you right out of America as you know it. Much of the region is still recovering from the 2005 hurricanes, and you can do your part to help stimulate the local economy while still getting your fix of Dixieland jazz and Bourbon Street excess. Plus, the famous French Quarter (which survived the hurricanes relatively unscathed) is French in name but Spanish in architecture – so it's kind of a European two-fer.
Napa Valley, California
Fancy a trip to Tuscany or Provence this year but can’t bear to get clobbered when exchanging currency? Napa Valley isn’t exactly cheap, but it is thoroughly delightful and the wine here is better anyway. There are well over 200 wineries in this small area, and almost all of them are set up for public tastings. You can hop on board the 37-mile-roundtrip Napa Valley Wine Train for excellent views and plenty of wine-tasting opportunities without having to risk getting behind the wheel yourself. The northern part of the valley around Calistoga has long been home to fancy spas and posh resorts, and in recent years the formerly blue-collar city of Napa in the south has transformed into a more affordable and trendy place to stay, with plenty of world-class dining opportunities mixed in. This isn’t exactly an “international” destination, but it sure does feel exotic compared to a theme park vacation, and Napa Valley is brimming with actual foreign visitors all summer as well.
The fact that Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, is in a province called "British Columbia" should be a clue to the culture most accurately represented here. Yes, you'll find plenty of British-style pubs in Victoria, and you'll find things like fish and chips or shepherd's pie on menus in lots of other restaurants besides. You can take afternoon tea at the famous Empress Hotel, which overlooks the pretty harbor, though the experience will cost you a pretty penny as well. And although Canada has no current ties to the UK, you'll be able to visit a few attractions with the word "Royal" in their title. One gets the impression that if the British Army were to come in and claim Victoria as part of the British Empire, the locals would welcome them with open arms. An added bonus to all this English-ness, however, is that Victoria is also home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada.
You can find dozens of other areas in the United States that are heavily stamped with an unmistakable Latin American influence, but you’d be hard pressed to find one that’s more fun to visit. The city of Miami has its well-known Calle Ocho Cuban district, which doesn’t look too special on the surface even though it’s an authentic and vibrant neighborhood rather than a tourist trap. Miami Beach is just across the causeways, and there you can mingle with the vacationing wealthy from just about every Spanish-speaking country on earth. The nightclub scene in South Beach is one of the best in the world, and the tropical beach vibe will feel extremely exotic to anyone coming from more than a few hundred miles away.
San Francisco, California
Few cities in the United States have as many thriving cultural centers as San Francisco does. Just by walking around for a few hours (or taking the streetcar, if those notorious hills are too much for you) you can find areas where you'll hear Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese (just to name a few) mixed in with a little English here and there. Visiting San Francisco's famous Chinatown, the "Little Italy" area in North Beach, Japantown, and the Hispanic area of the Mission will let you experience several different cultures without leaving the city. In addition to that, San Francisco itself has a very cosmopolitan attitude toward all things foreign and different – so even in the areas where you'll hear nothing but English, you'll see and hear things in this city that you aren't likely to see and hear anywhere else. Including Europe, for that matter.
Canada’s large west coast city always gets high marks from previous visitors, and it’s one of the most cosmopolitan places on the continent as well. About half Vancouver’s population speaks a first language other than English, and this diversity has famously made the restaurant scene in the city into something of a pan-everywhere delight. Even those confining themselves to the lovely downtown areas will be able to sample from cultures all over Asia, Europe, and Latin America on a short walk. The Indian and East Asian communities are among the more prominent, and the combination of those influences and hundreds of expert chefs make Vancouver one of the best restaurant cities on earth, especially for those with adventurous palettes.