Frequent travelers typically have their go-to spots for repeat travel: the Bahamas for cruises, New Orleans for fantastic food, drink and Southern hospitality and Hawaii or Puerto Rico for beach vacations.
It can be easy to stick with what you know, but, if you find yourself feeling like “been there, done that,” consider mixing things up with alternative destinations. You will get similar amenities and characteristics with the added bonus of exploring a new place and perhaps even saving money along the way.
Here are 10 alternatives to add to your travel bucket list for 2016:
Atlanta, Georgia, instead of Houston, Texas
Not only is it a breeze to fly into Atlanta, a hub for many major air carriers, but nearly 80 percent of the U.S. is within a two-hour flight of the city. Trade the down-home charm of Houston for Southern hospitality in Atlanta, a big city with a small-town feel. It’s easy to navigate ATL; most of its top attractions are situated around Centennial Olympic Park. Plus, there are new attractions that are worth a visit, like the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame, along with new food markets and shopping destinations like Krog Street Market, Ponce City Market and The Shops Buckhead Atlanta.
Charleston, South Carolina, instead of San Francisco, California
If you ate out at a new restaurant every day, it would take years to try all the eateries in San Francisco, which has the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. – 39.3 restaurants per 10,000 households, according to Trulia. Head to Charleston, S.C., and you will find equally impressive dining options. Charleston produced consecutive winners at the 2008, 2009 and 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards, a triumphant three-peat distinction shared with only one other North American destination: New York City. Hominy Grill’s Chef Robert Stehling, FIG’s Chef Mike Lata and McCrady’s Chef Sean Brock have each earned the most coveted honor for chefs in the U.S. Their shared “farm to fork” locavore cuisine champions an intimate connection between diner and dinner. In 2015, Chef Jason Stanhope of FIG Restaurant won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southeast, continuing the legacy of celebrated chefs in the Charleston area. While cuisine and hotels always merit mention in the reader polls, the warm hospitality extended by Charleston locals is a deciding factor in the destination’s enduring charms and widespread appeal.
Stockholm, Sweden, instead of Boston, Massachusetts
Like Boston, Stockholm is a beautiful city by the water with history and a focus on education. Built where lake meets sea, Stockholm spans 14 islands and boasts eight centuries of history and culture. Like Boston, Stockholm is populated with many green spaces, museums and galleries, but this medieval town also offers magnificent castles. Plus, there’s no getting away from the fact that the archipelago, with its 30,000 islands and skerries (small, rocky islands), plays a huge role in Stockholm’s appeal. The soothing vistas and the sea breeze are the perfect counterweight to the metropolitan feel of the city.
Montreal, Canada, instead of New Orleans, Louisiana
Like NOLA, Montreal is a food city (the concentration of restaurant’s here is higher than New York). NOLA has beignets, po’ boys and Creole cuisine like oyster Bienville and seafood gumbo, but Montreal has its own signature treats too. The Portuguese District serves roasted chicken, famous deli Schwartz’s serves smoked meat, and you can’t leave Montreal without having poutine (French fries with cheese curds and gravy). Head to Pied de Cochon for a poutine au foie gras, to Le Garde-Manger for a lobster poutine and to La Banquise, where you can pair poutine with local craft beer. Now that the Canadian dollar is weak, it’s an ideal time to travel to Montreal.
Boracay, Philippines, instead of Puerto Rico
Skip the beaches of Puerto Rico and hit the beaches of Boracay instead. The tiny island, just over four miles long and less than three miles wide, is a tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean, 195 miles off the coast of Manila. The aptly named White Beach is a pristine, two-and-a-half mile long white sand beach that is perfect for fun in the sun. The nearby Bulabog Beach is one of the top spots in Asia for windsurfing and kiteboarding. It may take longer to get there, but the journey is worth it.
Twin Falls, Idaho, instead of Niagara Falls, New York
Twin Falls, Idaho, is nearly the same size as Niagara Falls, N.Y., and both destinations offer spectacular waterfall views. However, Twin Falls goes a step further with a plethora of outdoor activities on offer — minus the throngs of tourists. At Shoshone Falls, experience the waterfalls from the overlook or, for a bit more adventure, rent a kayak at Centennial Waterfront Park (approximately three miles west of Shoshone Falls) and paddle up the Snake River to the base of Shoshone Falls to enjoy a different perspective. Shoshone Falls and the Dierkes Lake Complex also offer family-friendly activities like fishing, hiking and picnicking.
Singapore instead of Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Fancy fine dining, soaring ultramodern skyscrapers and palatial luxury shopping malls dot the island of Singapore, much like they do in Dubai, U.A.E. From simple street food to Peranakan cuisine to restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred chefs, the culinary scene is so hot here that the famed Michelin Guide could soon be coming to Singapore. Fashionistas can indulge in retail therapy on Orchard Road and at shopping centers like Gardens by the Bay, a stunning mall that boats the OCBC Skyway, an aerial steel walkway suspended from two “supertrees” that form part of a vertical garden of 12 “trees” in the heart of the shopping complex. The 420-foot-long skyway soars 72 feet above ground, providing panoramic views of Supertree Grove entertainment complex, the surrounding Marina Bay area and skyline.
Panama City, Panama, instead of San Diego, California
There is more to Panama than its famous 48-mile canal, which connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean. The narrow land bridge in Central America is full of natural beauty, from lush tropical rainforests to stellar diving to bird watching. San Diego may have cute cafes, whimsical trolleys and some of the best Mexican food around, but Panama City, has traditional Panamanian cuisine (don’t miss ceviche at The Fish Market and raspao, a shaved ice treat topped with fruit-flavored syrup, condensed milk and honey, from street vendors). The urban city also boasts lively bars and cafes that serve Seco Herrerano, a colorless alcohol made from sugar cane, and coffee (this is, after all, where the pricey Geisha coffee from the Chiriqui highlands is cultivated).
Key West, Florida, instead of Maui, Hawaii
The sunsets, laid-back vibe and golden sand beaches are just as postcard worthy in Key West, Fla., as they are in Maui, Hawaii, but the Keys are generally closer and more affordable than the Hawaiian islands. Key West has a casual, quirky vibe that has quietly attracted visitors from near and far for decades. Whether you are biking through the Old Town neighborhood, populated with restored Victorian homes and cottages, taking an art walk on Upper Duval Street, eating seafood and key lime pie on weathered picnic tables or sipping sundowners at open-air Schooners Wharf Bar in the historic Seaport district after a day at the beach, Key West is an ideal respite that seems a world away — even though it’s just 165 miles from Miami.
Barbados instead of The Bahamas
Escape the crowded beaches and all-inclusive resorts of The Bahamas for equally picturesque fun in the sun in Barbados, a 166-square-mile island in the Atlantic Ocean on the easternmost edge of the Lesser Antilles. There are plenty of pristine white sand beaches here, and it’s almost always sunny, with average temps hovering between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Barbados is quieter, less crowded and more upscale than the ultra-touristy, heavily cruise ship trafficked Bahamas, making it more ideal for a relaxing vacay or romantic rendezvous.
Main image: iStockPhoto.com/vgajic