10 Ways You Can Experience Your Favorite Overseas Destinations Without Leaving the U.S.

Put away the passport: swap your bucket-list dream trip for one of these exciting U.S. destinations.

Excited at the prospect of 2019 getaway but already running out of vacation time? Put the passport away and visit these U.S. destinations for a similar experience, minus the multi-day flight. Whether you visit these stunning locales as a substitute for the original or as a way to further stoke your travel wanderlust for the real thing, each is a destination well worth your vacation time. From replica Japanese temples to the best spots to ski a (dormant) volcano, here are our picks for 10 places to experience an exotic destination here in the United States.

01_US Version of Exotic Destinations__Instead of Chile’s Villarica volcano, ski Mt. Bachelor_shutterstock_372633964
PHOTO: Sveta Imnadze/
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Instead of Chile’s Villarrica Volcano, Ski Mt. Bachelor

WHERE: Bend, Oregon

There’s definitely something to be said for the appeal of skiing down a volcano, especially when that volcano is literally smoking at the top. However, getting to Chile’s Villarrica volcano can be time-intensive, expensive, and rather difficult: you’ll have to skin, or uphill ski, your way to the top, and likely don a gas mask to avoid the noxious volcanic emissions once you’re there. So put the expedition gear away and instead head to Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor. This resort offers family-friendly terrain but for a more adrenaline-filled experience, take the Summit lift to the top and hike upwards another 15 to 20 minutes past Mt. Bachelor’s caldera. Ski the double-diamond chutes down into the Cirque Bowl, and you’ll feel like you’re on the top of the world, with views to match.

INSIDER TIPKeep an eye on the conditions. Mt. Bachelor is so large that the snow conditions at the bottom may be quite different from those at the top, so ask a ski patroller what the snow is like before beginning your hike.


02_US Version Exotic Destinations_ Instead of Machu Picchu, pitch your tent at Zion National Park_shutterstock_1178193841 copy
PHOTO: Gowri Divya Tinnanuri/
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Instead of the Northern Lights in Finland, Visit the Keweenaw Penninsula

WHERE: Keweenaw Penninsula, Michigan

In Finland, guests can stay in glass-ceiling igloos under the northern lights. And while we don’t recommend scratching this Scandinavian paradise off your bucket list, you can get a similar Aurora Borealis experience in the northern part of Michigan, where the sky lights up brightest in October and November. Camping is a great lodging option for the summer months and early fall, but a variety of properties in nearby Copper Harbor have log cabin rentals for a charming winter experience. As a bonus, Copper Harbor is also the gateway to Isle Royale, the country’s least-visited national park. If you’ve got the time, combining northern lights viewing with wildlife spotting in the park can make for a fantastic, nature-focused getaway.

INSIDER TIPOptimize the likelihood of seeing the lights by checking a northern lights tracker, which can predict which nights might have the most colorful displays.


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PHOTO: Rebecca M. Ashley/flickr
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Instead of an Over-The-Water Hut in Bali, Head to Disney World

WHERE: Orlando, Florida

Anyone with an Instagram account has seen photos of bikini-clad girls walking down the stairs of their private villas into sparkling azure seas. But if you don’t have the vacation time or funds to start adding #Bali to your photos quite yet, head instead to sunny Florida and book a bungalow at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Each of these luxurious suites includes a smartly furnished living area and over-the-water decks perfect for morning coffee and evening sunset watching. While most guests do spend time in the theme parks, you’d certainly be forgiving for instead spending your days lounging at your private plunge pool.

04_US Version Exotic Destinations_ Instead of Machu Picchu, pitch your tent at Zion National Park_37101640886_13011a8437_o
PHOTO: monkeyinagazebo/
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Instead of a Kenyan Safari, Get Your Wildlife Fix in San Diego

WHERE: San Diego, California

If you’re an animal lover desperate to see endangered species in the wild, Kenya may be high on your list. But for a U.S.- based safari experience, head to Southern California and visit San Diego’s Zoo Safari Park. This 1,800-acre park, separate from the zoo, offers multiple guided safari tours, including a behind-the-scenes tour and a “roar and snore” overnight safari. Hop on the popular safari tram or view the park from a 30-person helium balloon, nearly 400 feet over the grounds. You won’t find cages here as the animals have free-range within their habitats, so don’t be disappointed if it takes you a few tram rides to see the animal you’re wanting to spot.

INSIDER TIPThe Safari Park offers several overnight excursions, including one for families and an adults-only overnight with night hikes and visits with nocturnal animals.


05_US Version of Exotic Destinations__Instead of Kyoto, meditate at Oahu’s Stunning Byodo-In Temple _shutterstock_1011465025
PHOTO: Prasit Rodphan/shutterstock
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Instead of Kyoto, Meditate at Oahu’s Stunning Byodo-In Temple

WHERE: Ahuimanu, Oahu, Hawaii

Kyoto offers no shortage of peaceful temples and thoughtful gardens, which is perhaps why it hosts nearly 50 million visitors annually. And while you can occasionally find affordable flights from west coast cities, it’s quicker and requires far less advanced planning to instead head to the Byodo-In Temple on Oahu, Hawaii. The temple is a smaller version of a 950-year-old original located in Uji, Japan. Though it’s a Buddhist temple, guests from all faiths and nationalities are invited to visit and meditate on the temple grounds. Admission tickets are quite affordable at $5 for adults or $2 for children.

INSIDER TIPByodo-In often hosts events that are free to the public, including art exhibitions and guided meditation sessions. Visit the calendar on their website to see what’s happening during your visit. 


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PHOTO: Kit Leong/
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Instead of Machu Picchu, Pitch Your Tent at Zion National Park

WHERE: Zion National Park, Utah

It’s important to note upfront that no, there are no Incan settlements in Utah’s famous Zion National Park. But if you’re eyeing Peru’s most famous destination for its multi-day treks, national beauty, and warm weather, consider instead Zion National Park. Steep cliffs, bright colors, and winding trails through the show-stopping terrain provide a similar experience to a multi-day hike in Peru, with the photo opportunities to match. While you won’t find ancient buildings, you’ll find giant spire-like rock formations called hoodoos on the park’s eastern trails. Make sure to book your campsites in advance at this popular national park, though there are several campsites outside the park that often will have spaces available for last-minute planners.

07_US Version Exotic Destinations_ Instead of the Loire Valley, cook like a true Parisian in New York_flickr_8252859116_498547d5cd_o
PHOTO: Culinary Institute of America/Flickr
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Instead of the Loire Valley, Cook Like a True Parisian in New York

WHERE: Hyde Park, New York

Canard a l’orange may taste better when it’s set against the hills of the Loire Valley, but New York has proven that it knows a thing or two when it comes to culinary adventures as well. In fact, NYC is home to the Culinary Institute of America, which runs the extremely well-regarded CIA DISH program at their Hyde Park location. Day classes are available, but for a more comprehensive experience, sign up for one of their four-day boot camp programs, each with a different area of focus—we like the Mediterranean-focused classes, though a decadent four-day pastry class is almost certainly a winning choice as well.

INSIDER TIPIf you’re traveling with the family, explore the CIA’s family-friendly classes, geared for young children all the way up to older teenagers.


08_US Version of Exotic Destinations__Instead of Tuscany, say ciao to wine and bike tours in San Luis Obispo_shutterstock_106413287
PHOTO: Jeffrey T. Kreulen/shutterstock
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Instead of Tuscany, Say Ciao to Wine and Bike Tours in San Luis Obispo

WHERE: San Luis Obispo, California

It’s hard to deny the romance of biking from vineyard to vineyard in central Italy, but it’s not the only place you can go from cycling to tasting and back again without missing a beat. With a similar climate to Tuscany, central California’s San Luis Obispo wine country, home to the Pasa Robles region, produces more than 8.5 million cases of wine a year. Depending on where you go you’ll find conditions suited to everything from chardonnays to deep cabernets, with wide roads past vineyards perfect for novice road cyclists.

INSIDER TIPSeveral companies in the area will customize tours for you, like Central Coast Outdoors, which brings a van to hold any wine purchases (or you, if you get too tired).

09_US Version Exotic Destinations_Instead of breaking the budget in Turks and Caicos, try Key West_shutterstock_153029399
PHOTO: Stockdonkey/
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Instead of Breaking the Budget in Turks and Caicos, Try Key West

WHERE: Key West, Florida

Inviting blue water, barefoot beach bars, fresh seafood, and amazing snorkeling and diving—those are just a few of the things to love about tropical Key West, which feels a bit more like a Caribbean island that a Florida hot spot. It offers many similar experiences as the exotic Turks and Caicos, but it’s accessed via a gorgeous three-hour drive from Miami rather than a multi-leg international flight. It’s the same feeling of lively island vibes in a totally weekend-able location for east coasters.

INSIDER TIPScuba divers with an advanced open water certification will want to book a trip to dive on the recently sunk 522-foot Vandenberg, a wreck that’s on the “must-see” lists for many serious divers.


10_US Version of Exotic Destinations__Instead of a Danube tour, hop on a Pacific Northwest river cruise_
PHOTO: American Cruise Lines
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Instead of a Danube Tour, Hop on a Pacific Northwest River Cruise

WHERE: Spokane, Washington

If a European river cruise is calling your name, pack your bags—but head west, not east, and book a spot on a northwest package river tour in Washington state. Step aboard a luxury liner and make daily stops at historically significant (and objectively gorgeous) stops that retrace the routes of early explorers. It’s similar to the route followed by pioneers Lewis and Clark, though modern-day vessels offer a touch more luxury than the wooden-hulled boats used by the early 1800’s adventurers.

INSIDER TIPLuxury cruises never like to sail empty; if you can wait until the last minute to book your trip you may find discounts upwards of 10 or 15 percent.