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Away From It All In Your Own Backyard: Five Close-to-Home Travel Destinations

A  small house overlooks the ocean from a cliff at sunset

Close your eyes and picture your next vacation. Whether you’re envisioning craggy peaks or a bone-white crescent of sand, that escape comes with a litany of benefits—a boost in well-being, cognitive function, creativity, less stress, and even closer relationships. But that mountain or beach doesn’t have to be in another hemisphere. According to a 2020 study in the journal Tourism Analysis, people who travel regularly are happier than those who don’t, and you can get that boost in well-being from a trip as short as 75 miles from home. Exploring closer to home may mean fewer travel-related stressors and none of the frantic back-to-work catchup, both factors that can dampen the restorative benefits of a getaway, reports one 2021 study from the University of Queensland. Since the average American has a mere 10 days of paid vacation, staying close to home ensures you won’t waste an extra minute in transit. Ahead, five destinations that feel worlds away—despite being close to home.  

Alaska

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Photo: David Spiegel

With its hulking glaciers, hemlock-blanketed hills, and bays where orcas hunt and eagles soar languidly overhead, Alaska feels worlds away. But getting there is surprisingly breezy, particularly for West Coasters—it’s just a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Seattle to Juneau. On Lindblad Expeditions’ six-day Wild Escapes, travelers can explore a wide breadth of Alaskan wilderness aboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Lion and National Geographic Sea Bird. Opt for the Juneau to Ketchikan route to see LeConte Bay, where icebergs come in an array of blues to rival Picasso; Wrangell, where you’ll delve deep into the history and culture of the indigenous Tlingit clan; and Misty Fjords National Monument, the physical embodiment of the word “cinematic.” Or try the Sitka to Juneau itinerary, on which you’ll get the chance to spot brown bears on Chichagof Island, kayak the calm outer waters of Glacier Bay, and raft down the churning Chilkat River.

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Atlantic Canada

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Just north of the border, the Maritimes and Newfoundland are a bastion of rich Acadian-influenced culture and endless seascapes. Visit the fishing community of Saint-Pierre, a sliver of French territory on the Canadian coast, and wander the wild, windswept Îles de la Madeleine. At Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO heritage site, millions of years of erosion and uplift have exposed ancient portions of the Earth’s crust and mantle, making this one of the best places to get an in-person understanding of tectonics. Another UNESCO site awaits on Newfoundland, where remnants of an 11th-century Viking settlement, along with recreations of early sod houses, give a window into what life was like when the first Europeans arrived in North America. 

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The East Coast

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There’s a reason this New York waterway was such a source of inspiration for the artists of the so-called Hudson River School, and you’ll see why on the eight-day Exploring the Hudson River: Fall Colors, Conservation & Creativity itinerary. Departing from New York City, the National Geographic Sea Lion sails past the ruined splendor of Bannerman Castle and a host of Hudson Valley must-sees, including the quaint-yet-chic towns of Hudson and Kingston and the lauded Storm King Art Center—all in peak autumnal splendor. For a warm-weather excursion, head south for Exploring the Low Country: Cumberland Island to Charleston. The South may be famed for its stellar food and easygoing way of life, but on this trip you’ll dive deeper, getting to know the natural history of the region and the story of the local Gullah community. 

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The Pacific Northwest

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Photo: Michael S. Nolan

Scattered through the waters that abut Seattle, the San Juan Islands are home to remote wilderness that feels like the ends of the earth—and they’re the first stop on the eight-day Exploring British Columbia and the San Juan Islands adventure. Paddle along where pine forest meets the sea, or hike inland for views of the inky blue ocean beyond. Across the border, the stately provincial capital of Victoria has lush English-style gardens, baroque architecture, and sailboats bobbing in the harbor. After crossing the Johnstone Strait, it’s on to Alert Bay to learn about the cultural heritage of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The trip winds down in Vancouver, but not before a final dose of wilderness: Hikes and kayak excursions in Desolation Sound, a wide expanse of deep water framed by lush temperate rainforest and the snow-capped Coast Mountains.

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The Caribbean 

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Photo: Courtesy of Sea Cloud Cruises

Get your fix of the tropics without the long-haul flight on an expedition around the Caribbean’s most fascinating isles. Exploring the Bahamas’ Out Islands: Natural Wonders & Hidden History is an eight-day journey that goes beyond chaise-studded beaches into the wild heart of the islands. Travelers will snorkel among the kaleidoscopic fish of Crooked Sound, kayak through lagoons teeming with wildlife, and learn about the Lucayan people who once made their home here. Deeper in the Caribbean, an eight-day expedition has guests exploring aboard Sea Cloud, a majestic four-masted sailing ship that looks plucked from a Turner painting. Travelers will roam from Barbados to Dominica to Bequia to St. Lucia, among others, all under sail, with stops along the way to take in the wildlife, explore unspoiled corners of the islands and reefs, and get to know the rich history of this part of the world. 

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