If you like to travel, chances are you have a bucket list of the places you hope to visit one day. For most of us, these places are scattered across the globe, and range from the easier to achieve – like that national park the next state over – to the further from reach – like that remote island three flights away in the opposite hemisphere.
There are many reasons why a domestic trip might make more sense for you at any given time, from budget considerations and limited time off to Covid restrictions and more. Whatever the situation, it’s helpful (and fun!) to learn about domestic alternatives for classic international adventures. While the substitutes may not tick every box in the same way, they each have their own unique advantages, too.
Here are 12 US alternatives for popular international destinations.
1 | Valensole, France → Lavender Valley Farms, Mount Hood, Oregon
Every summer, the south of France is painted purple with the annual lavender bloom. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy the fields. While there’s no denying the allure of a visit to Provence, many states in the US also have lavender fields you can visit. An especially picturesque option is Lavender Valley Farms in Oregon, with the impressive snow-capped Mount Hood positioned dramatically over the fields.
2 | Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia → Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
The world’s largest salt flat is found in Bolivia. The evaporated remains of prehistoric lakes make for an ethereal landscape and a photographer’s dream. But if South America isn’t in the cards right now, consider the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The remains of Pleistocene-era Lake Bonneville cover more than 30,000 acres near the border of Nevada.
3 | La Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France → Luna Fête, New Orleans, Louisiana
Every December the city of Lyon is illuminated by dozens of technicolor installations, from small and interactive pieces to large projections transforming entire buildings. The beginnings of today’s Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights, can be traced back to the 1850s. Residents placed candles in their windows to show solidarity when the planned installation of a Virgin Mary statue was postponed multiple times due to inclement weather. The tradition continued, evolving further in the 1960s as shopkeepers marked the occasion with special window displays. Starting in 1989, more elaborate displays began, growing over the past three decades into the innovative celebration it is today.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, Luna Fête was inspired by the annual celebrations in Lyon. Starting in 2014, the original plan was to hold just five events and stop after 2018, but luckily the Louisiana version is only growing each year.
4 | Rimstigen, Bakka, Norway → Indian Head, Keene, New York
Rimstigen is one of the many incredible hiking opportunities in Norway. This short but steep climb offers views over the Nærøyfjord, the narrowest arm of the Sogneford and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re craving similarly majestic views closer to home, head to the Adirondacks. The Indian Head and Fishhawk Cliffs hike overlooks Lower Ausable Lake. With peaks rising up on either side of the water, which extends directly in front of you as you stand on the summit, the view has a decidedly fjord-like feel.
5 | Ica, Peru → White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The village of Huacachina in Peru is known for the small lake it’s build around, offering a natural oasis in the middle of the desert landscape. In addition to seeing the lagoon, sandboarding and dune buggy rides are popular activities. For a similarly otherworldly desert landscape in the US, head to White Sands National Park, covering nearly 300 acres in New Mexico.
6| Notting Hill, London, United Kingdom → Rainbow Row, Charleston, South Carolina
The colorful row homes in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood are admired by locals and visitors alike. Portobello Road, Hillgate Place, St. Luke’s Mews, and Lancaster Road are just a handful of the streets where you can enjoy this beautiful and historic architecture. But did you know there’s a similar stretch of buildings in South Carolina? Charleston’s Rainbow Row is made up of 14 pastel-hued buildings dating back to the 18th century. As an added bonus, the street is lined with palm trees.
7 | Sossusvlei, Namibia → Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kanab, Utah
Sossusvlei is found in the Namib Desert in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. This surreal landscape is made up of a salt and clay pan surrounded by deep red sand dunes. For a domestic substitute, visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah. The sand here gets its unique pink color from eroding Navajo sandstone.
8 | Cinque Terre, Italy → Catalina Island, California
Dotted along the Ligurian Sea coastline in northwestern Italy, strung together with seaside hiking paths like five colorful charms on a bracelet, you’ll find the almost impossibly picturesque villages of Cinque Terre. A perfect destination for coastal walks, soaking up the sun, and enjoying delicious local specialties like pesto and mussels, millions of people visit the region each year.
While California’s Catalina Island may not be the birthplace of focaccia, it’s got you covered with panoramic ocean views, fresh seafood, hiking, and beaches. Similarly to Cinque Terre, cars are extremely limited on Catalina, making it even easier for visitors to relax and enjoy their surroundings.
9 | Hội An Lantern Festival, Vietnam → RiSE Lantern Festival, Nevada
The Hội An Lantern Festival is a monthly tradition celebrating the full moon. Buddhism is practiced by roughly 10 million people in Vietnam, and the full moon is a sacred time on the Buddhist calendar. To mark this auspicious occasion, colorful lanterns light up the city streets and are set afloat along the Thu Bon River.
For a magical lantern experience closer to home, the RiSE Lantern Festival takes place each fall in the Mojave Desert just south of Las Vegas. Attendees can enjoy music, food trucks, art, and more until night falls and the sky alights with thousands of biodegradable lanterns.
10 | Northern Lights, Rovaniemi, Finland → Northern Lights, Fairbanks, Alaska
Rovaniemi is the capital of the Finnish region of Lapland. Known as the official home town of Santa Claus, the city is also a popular place to witness the Northern Lights. Here in the States, Fairbanks, Alaska is your best bet. First, Fairbanks is situated beneath the Auroral Oval, where Aurora Borealis activity is concentrated. Additionally, the city’s low precipitation and distance from the coast both contribute to especially clear skies. During the annual viewing season from August to April, it’s common to see the Lights on as many as four out of five nights. Learn more here.
11 | Sagano Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan → Pipiwai Trail, Maui, Hawaii
The Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan – also known as the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – is celebrated both locally and around the world. The sound of the towering stalks rustling in the breeze is one of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, an initiative started in 1996 by the country’s Ministry of the Environment.
Meanwhile on Maui, the Pipiwai Trail – rated Easy on AllTrails – is part of Haleakalā National Park. One of the many potential stops along the famed Road to Hana drive, the trail culminates at the base of the 400-foot tall Waimoku Falls.
12 | Christkindlesmarkt, Nuremberg, Germany → Christkindlmarket, Chicago, Illinois
While open-air European Christmas markets have their roots in 14th century Germany, the annual tradition of festive wooden huts, cozy treats, and sparkling lights has long been celebrated in other countries, from Austria and Switzerland to France, the UK, and more. Many centuries later, the festivities have traveled across the Atlantic. Today there are hundreds of Christmas markets around the US, with Chicago’s Christkindlmarket being one of the oldest and largest examples. Don’t hesitate to search for an option in your state; there is most likely at least one!
Have you been to any of these international destinations and/or their US counterparts? What did you think? Let me know in the Comments!
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