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help me find a vacation destination

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Hi everyone. It has been what feels like forever since the last time DH and I were able to even consider a vacation. Now it may be an option within the next year and I have no idea what to consider anymore. The things we used to love that would be in the budget I'm not so sure are appealing options anymore and exotic tropical vacations are out of the question due to finances.

Places that we have been before that would be possible with the budget include the following: Gatlinburg, TN, loved it, but I don't think we could handle the crowds now. We didn't used to mind crowds, but the thought of fighting hordes of people does NOT sound relaxing at all. We have been to Myrtle Beach, SC before and loved it too, but again with the crowds, plus it is a very long drive. We have also been to Niagara Falls, Canada and it was great, but we don't want to do that again. We have been to Colorado, which was awesome, but a very long drive. We live in Illinois and want to vacation somewhere within an easy day of driving (preferably within an 8 hours drive, with less distance being best, since we have limited time and don't want to waste a lot of time in the car).

We love hiking in cooler weather and lazing on a beach in hot weather. It will just be the two of us vacationing together, no children involved. We don't want to fight crowds and would prefer somewhere calm and peaceful. I am seriously considering Saugatuck, MI in June 2014 and staying at the Lake Shore Resort, which looks nice and is only a 4.5 hour drive. Does anyone know if the water temperature for Lake Michigan at that time of year will allow for swimming, as that is my biggest concern for June?

We are considering taking a small trip in October 2013 if funds allow (but could move it up to mid-September if we do a beach vacation and funds allow), but I have been having a terrible time planning something this time. I considered Gatlnburg, but the crowds are a major turnoff. I considered Southern Illinois, as I have never been down there and I hear it is pretty and it sounds peaceful, but I'm having trouble figuring out where to stay so we aren't criss cross driving all over Shawnee National Forest. Plus, I'm not sure that we would save much money by staying in the state. So I am very open to suggestions, both for the possibility of an October vacation and any trip we may plan for next year. We just aren't the same people we used to be, so the things we used to plan for vacation now sounds a bit stressful (or financially impossible). Flying is out of the question and a very long drive sounds miserable and stressful to me too. Keep in mind finances are a consideration as well.

I would greatly appreciate any suggestions. I never in all my life even considered that I might not have any ideas about what to do for a vacation, but with our aversion to crowds, tourist traps, and limited finances, I definitely could use some suggestions to check into. It seems most people in this area all choose the same places to vacation, most of which are tourist traps, and that doesn't sound appealing either. We have explored some nearby big cities during day trips and enjoy that for day trips, but not for the possibility of a "real" vacation. We want to spend time enjoying the beautiful world together, relaxing, crowd-free,and affordable, either hiking or lazing on a beach. Thank you all so much for your assistance.

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