Rethinking Adventure: Travelling Locally

Wanderlust doesn’t necessarily have to include a lot of wandering.  There are, of course, a lot of good reasons to take an international holiday: hiking in Patagonia, drinking coffee in Paris, or visiting orangutans in Borneo all make for an exciting itinerary.  But flights are growing increasingly expensive, and, for Americans at least, the standard two weeks of vacation a year adds a time constraint to the already formidable financial burden.  For others, amongst them high numbers of unemployed, time is less an issue than lack of money.  Additional factors, such as the environmental expense of long flights or the general crap state of the economy, make it harder than ever for many to commit to an international vacation.

One solution is to start exploring your local area.  It’s not strange that many travelers know a place like India better than they know their own states.  Tourists have a more immediate urge to see the sights, and there is no match for good travel infrastructure.  The United States has a lot of beautiful places, but reaching them by public transportation is more challenging than in many other countries.

Here are six popular places from around the world, the so-called mainstays, and six places on North America’s west coast that serve as replacement destinations for those who would love to travel, but are hampered by the lack of time or money.  The west coast might not be that close to you, and there are countless more places one could add, but the idea is to start approaching local travel with the same curiosity as foreign travel.

The Mainstay:  Thailand

It’s no secret that Thailand is cheap.  With beaches that epitomize the term “tropical getaway,” ancient jungles, friendly people, and delicious food, Thailand sits at a nexus of affordable and amazing that is almost not fair to the rest of the world.  But even though it’s easy to get by on ten dollars a day, roundtrip airfare can cost upwards of a thousand bucks.  Add the lack of vacation time that many face, and Bangkok is out of reach for a large number of people.  It just so happens that there’s another place with sunny weather, cheap food, beaches, temples, and elephants.

The Alternative: San Diego, California

Mexican food is cheap and abundant enough to rival even the 100 baht pad see ew.  Garnett Avenue in Pacific Beach does a decent impression of Khao San Road, with tattoo shops, bucket nights and drunk college students.  You can see elephants, tigers, and other tropical animals at the San Diego Zoo or Wildlife animal Park.  (It may sound like that’s cheating, but to be honest, you probably won’t see many wild animals in Thailand either.) Ocean Beach and La Jolla have beaches that perhaps don’t rival Krabi or Ko Samui, but they’re nice places to spend a summer day.    For the spiritually inclined, a Buddhist enclave exists in Encinitas.  There’s even a huge, foreboding temple in La Jolla (though it’s Mormon not Buddhist).

The Mainstay: Germany

Germany is a medieval historian’s paradise, with cobblestoned streets, castles, and more monasteries than Martin Luther had theses.  But for many, a trip to Germany can be summed up in one word: Oktoberfest!  Like rumspringa for the non-Amish, Oktoberfest is perhaps the one experience in the world that will convince you that leiderhosen are a legitimate fashion choice.  Oktoberfest is probably over-rated and certainly not indicative of Germany as a whole, but it is on many travelers’ to-do lists.  For those who forget that the celebration is actually in September, or haven’t found the right deal on airfare to Munich, there is still hope.

The Alternative:  Leavenworth, Washington

This former logging town consciously converted itself into a slice of Deutschland.  The buildings are all done Bavarian style, even the McDonalds and Starbucks. You can get German sausage, schweinshax’n, German potato salad, sauerkraut, and, seasonally, some good old-fashioned stolen.  There are a few microbreweries in town, offering much more than just lager.  Even the Alps are represented by the eye-catching Enchantments, and wild goats have been seen wandering the town.  They have a large Oktoberfest celebration here, as you’d expect, and Christmas markets in December.

The Mainstay: England

London doesn’t have to do much to promote itself.  While Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace are interesting enough, you know you’ve arrived once you catch the Tube to somewhere like Soho, Camden Town or Portobello Road, eaten a curry on the go, and people watched whilst nursing a pint of warm Fullers.  The rest of England, of course, is replete with lovely towns, castles, and ruins that old when the Romans landed.  England is a fantastic country, but the continued strength of the pound is detrimental to those who want to have a jolly good time on the other side of the pond.

The Alternative: Victoria, BC

If you don’t fancy flying to all the way to London for your spotted dick, the City of Gardens might be just what you need.  Built in 1841 explicitly to evoke an English city, Victoria has gothic cathedrals, rose gardens, colonial buildings and, of course, a quite proper high tea.  Three and a half million people a year visit and most of them, it seems, pay the more than 50 dollars to take high tea service at the Empress.  You can find yorkshire pudding, sticky toffee pudding, blood pudding (noticing a theme?), mince pies, and even deep fried mars bars.  If you have a few days to spare, catch a cricket game at Beacon Hill Park.    And if you had your heart set on Stonehenge, there is a miniature version in the south of Washington, about a five hour drive away.  Just remember not to actually drive on the left side of the road on your way down.

The Mainstay: New Zealand

Lord of the Rings.  Flight of the Concords.  Kiwi birds.  Kiwi fruits. Kiwi people.  These are all fantastic of course, but one reason that New Zealand is so popular amongst travelers is that it has shoved so many different environments into a relatively miniscule area.  In one day, you can climb a glacier in the morning, swim in the sea that afternoon, and sleep in a rain forest that night.  One of the not-so-great things about New Zealand, for North Americans, is that it’s up to a 20 hour flight away—and by crossing the international date line you lose another day.  Even though the US dollar is worth more than the Kiwi buck, New Zealand is quite expensive because of their high minimum wage.

The Alternative: The Olympic Peninsula, Washington

You’ll have to trade the ferns of Aotearoa for the moss of Olympic National Forest, but, like New Zealand, you’ll get several distinct ecosystems – the Glaciated Mountains, the Temperate Rainforest, and the Coastal Strip.  The little towns of Port Angeles and Port Townsend offer similar experiences to places like Kaikoura or Greymouth.  Like Kiwi-land, you will be amidst lush valleys, snowy peaks, alpine meadows, and some really big trees.  The panoramic views of the Straight of Juan de Fuca echo some of the scenery in the Fiordlands.  And while you won’t get to visit Hobbiton or Minas Tirith in Washington, movies filmed nearby include Twin Peaks, 10 Things I Hate About You, Short Circuit, and The Hunt for Red October.

The Mainstay: Australia

Whether it’s clubbing in Sydney, sunbathing at Surfer’s Paradise, Wwoofing in Perth, going on walkabout in the Northern Territories, or trekking in Tasmania, there are a lot of reasons to visit Australia.  Australia cheats a little bit because it’s both a country and a continent, but for a scant twenty million people it has a lot going for it.  From the plethora of talented bands, great surfing, world-class wineries, and some of the coolest animals in the world, there is no shortage of reasons to visit Oz.   There really are only two excuses not to go: Australia is both further away and even more expensive than New Zealand.

The Alternative: Oregon

Bear with me here, because comparing green Oregon with sandy Australia isn’t completely intuitive.   The Beaver State, like the rest of the world, does not have kangaroos, koalas, or echidnas.  But did you know that Oregon is actually two-thirds desert?  Like Australia, the green zone is hugs the coast with a dry, scorching hot interior lurking beside it.   Additionally, Portland and Melbourne are soul sisters; low-key artsy cities on rivers with funky neighborhoods, live music, and loads of coffee places.  Hippy havens Ashland in Oregon and Nimbin in Queensland have more in common than copious amounts of ganja, but it’s a good place to start.  A fair approximation of Tasmania’s verdant forests and waterfalls can be found in the Columbia River Gorge.  And Steen’s Mountain in Eastern Oregon is as close to Ulhuru as you can get this side of the Alice Springs.  Bonus: Oregon doesn’t have nearly as many deadly animals as Oz.

The Mainstay:  Iceland

The Land of Ice and Fire was a place of interest for travelers even before its economy collapsed.  The country is recovering, but is still cheaper than it used to be—and tourist dollars are needed.  With volcanoes, geysers, the northern lights, hiking trails, thermal baths, and cuddly horses, Iceland is perfect for those who love the great outdoors.  Reykjavik is a funky capital famed for its non-stop partying.  From Reykjavik, the Golden Circle attractions include seeing the earth split apart, geysers erupting, and misty waterfalls, and natural hot pools.  There are small fishing communities, plus lava fields, craters, geothermal spas, sea kayaking, geysers, bird watching, and hiking.  Skiing in the winter, especially in the Westjfords, is highly popular.  But airline tickets are not cheap, and even depleted, the krona isn’t the cheapest currency in the world.

The Alternative: Mount Lassen, California

Lassen Peak is found in the north-eastern part of California.  Mt Lassen is an active volcano that last exploded in 1915, but the area contains more than 30 volcanoes.  You won’t find the Northern Lights, but the area is dotted with geothermal springs, craters, hiking trails, geysers, waterfalls and, a cold water “boiling lake.”  Instead of fuzzy horses, you can see mule deer and bears.  There are caves within a few hours and an average of 40 feet of snow per winter makes for great skiing opportunities.  Small towns like Dunsmuir, Weaverville, Quincy offer hiking trails, climbing, fishing, and biking.  While they may lack the Saltfish museums of Iceland, they do have relics of the Gold Rush and the Central Pacific Railway.  John Muir wrote about the area: “Miles of its flanks are reeking and bubbling with hot springs, many of them so boisterous and sulphurous they seem ever ready to become spouting geysers…”

Depending on where you are in the world, these replacement suggestions might actually be farther away than the mainstay destination.  But if you are willing to redefine how you look at adventure or exoticism, you’ll find that your domestic travel plans can be just as exciting as any that involve jetlag, airplane food, and visas.

Photos by: The Exo Guy, Sunburned Surveyor, onepotatouk, onejen, wimbledonian, Tom Mascardo 1, swisscan, pmedved, RobMichalski, StuSeeger, m’seiur rico, renedrivers

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