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We believe that travel is a channel that connects people, from all generations and walks of life, so that we can celebrate our homes with one another. At Balboa Vacations, we now see an increase in desire towards seeking out meaningful and experiential itineraries more than we have in the past. Many people have the misconception that they need to travel overseas in order to gain those unique or exotic travel experiences, but we also suggest that travel within the U.S. can elevate the senses and provide you with just what you are seeking!

In honor of the 2018 U.S. National Travel and Tourism Week, which concludes tomorrow, Megan Gloetzner from Balboa Vacations, a Green Business Bureau Member, has created itineraries for three diverse locations that have either changed drastically (*spoiler alert* Austin!) or have kept their traditional charm intact. These destinations are exceptional because they have a central focus on eco-tourism and protecting natural surroundings. They also offer the possibility for travelers to go beyond themselves, stay present, adventure, and find relaxation.

1. Austin, Texas

The downtown Austin skyline is unrecognizable compared to how it looked only a few years ago. It’s been said that, “Every city has a favorite bird, but the Official City Bird in Austin is the crane.” They are not talking about the kind that breathes! Austin is growing rapidly thanks to the influx of tech industry and startup companies. There certainly is a good reason for this. Austin offers something that everyone can enjoy. There are world renowned spas, including our favorite, Lake Austin Spa Resort, which offers day passes as well as all-inclusive packages when staying at the property. There are numerous highly-anticipated annual music festivals such as Austin City Limits (ACL) and South by Southwest (SXSW) so it is no wonder that Austin is often referred to as “The live Music Capital of the World.” If you like hiking, stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking, you can find these activities in the city at Lady Bird Lake. You can also find countless hip boutiques for shopping within the city including many quirky record stores. Austin is well known for its delicious BBQ which can be found everywhere. Have you ever tried breakfast tacos? In Austin, local restaurants and food trucks compete to have the best taco in town. You can even order tacos with BBQ brisket, because, after all, it is Texas!

Austin takes pride in being a green and safe destination even though it is the eleventh most populous city in the United States, and gains an average of 159 residents per day! It is located alongside the Colorado River and there are many parks and trees in every direction you look. Being such a bikeable destination, you will also see many cyclists appreciating safe bike lanes throughout the entire city.

Pro Tip: Make sure to leave yourself enough time to take an excursion to the slower-paced Texas Hill Country, located just outside of Austin city limits. The Texas Wine Country Trail takes you to the chic little German town of Fredericksburg, where you can enjoy staying in an eco-friendly B&B and visit the best Texas wineries along the way. Wimberley is another place to visit that is situated less than one hour away from the heart of Austin. It is a small country town where one can escape the busyness of the city and enjoy leisurely walks as well as dining in a very pleasant setting- certainly a “must do” while visiting.

Lastly, if you truly want to feel like a “Texan”, consider going to a popular Austin spot called Barton Springs. The temperature of the natural water source stays 68 degrees all year. Or, grab your sunscreen and venture out to the river to rent inner tubes and float your worries away. Check out watering holes such as Krause Springs or Hamilton Pool to cool off, especially during those hot, festival, summer months.

2. Alaska

Many people look at Alaska as the ultimate grandparent getaway. Now, however, we are seeing more considerable diversity within our travelers interested in visiting. The destination is a multigenerational haven for nature lovers of any background or hobby they are pursuing. Cruising is a popular travel option in Alaska, but all cruises are not alike, and we like to promote green cruising options that are concerned with keeping the carbon footprint to a minimum and are transparent with their environmental practices. Lesser known are the companies that have a deep rooted love for sharing the Alaskan wilderness and, most importantly, protecting it.

Three of our partners that focus on ecotourism cruises in Alaska are UnCruise, Lindblad and Seaborne. UnCruise Adventures have been sailing for over 20 years in Alaska. They have small ships that bring you through areas that are less travelled.  The crew is very well regarded and are happy to change the course of the ship if they know wildlife is nearby. They offer up-close-and-personal ecotourism that can take you near glaciers. Lindblad Expeditions partners with National Geographic, and uses ships that take you where wildlife congregate. They teach you tips about photographing wildlife and help you get that perfect photo everyone dreams of taking in Alaska. Sometimes they provide you with kayaks and zodiacs to venture out to take your wildlife photos up close and personal. Lastly, for the ultra-luxury experience is Seaborne. Known for having the most delicious meals onboard and taking pride in their “Caviar on the Ice” deck parties. Teams include experts and doctors in many fields that give formal presentations to educate passengers on history, ecology and culture. Seaborne partners with UNESCO to promote sustainable tourism practices and have also won numerous awards for their sailings and ideals.

3.   Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico

Known as the “Land (and skies) of Enchantment,” New Mexico has lasting charm and history for all to enjoy. The destination has an agreeable climate all year around because it has the most days of sunshine every year. Santa Fe and Taos have not changed quickly and it does not look like they will be any time soon. The beauty and charm of both destinations provide travelers with an energetic and mystic feeling that is hard to put into words.

Nestled along the inspiring red Sangre de Cristo Mountain range is the town of Taos. People enjoy visiting the multistory Taos Pueblo that has not changed for over 1,000 years. It is still inhabited by Native Americans, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. There is a gorge that many people miss while visiting Taos (perhaps because it is 10 miles outside of town) which has a bridge called the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. It is the seventh tallest bridge in the U.S. while being awarded as “the most beautiful long-span steel bridge in the nation” by the American Institute of Steel Construction, and has also been featured in many films. The flamboyant sunsets are what draws all types of artists and nature enthusiasts to the destination. Because of the population in Taos is just over 5,000, you have little light pollution and are gifted to appreciate endless stars in the evenings, not to mention, the most mesmerizing lightning shows one could imagine.

The food in Taos and Santa Fe is very unique to these destinations. Flavors of red or green chilies bring life and complexity to many dishes you can only find there. Local, seasonal and organic foods are not hard to come by as well. With food, also comes festivities; there are many different festivals throughout the year which provide special dishes that are well loved locally.

Many off-the-beaten-path tours at these two destinations include hiking, visiting galleries and museums, classes such as pottery and cooking, hot air balloon rides, walking through ancient ruins and cliff dwellings, even seeing the locations that gave Georgia O’Keeffe her creative inspiration for her paintings. Our partners at Abercrombie & Kent USA offer a multi-day tour called “Tailor Made New Mexico: Taos and Santa Fe”, where they have a wonderful six day itinerary that comes highly recommended. Skiing and snowboarding are also a widespread activity to enjoy during the winter months. One benefit of doing winter activities in New Mexico, is that afterwards you can relax tired muscles at some of the best soaking experience spas and natural hot springs in the U.S. Ojo Caliente and Ten Thousand Waves (a spa modeled after Japanese onsens) are great places to relax and be rejuvenated, conveniently located only a few miles North of Santa Fe.

Travelling to diverse destinations such as Austin, Alaska and New Mexico are excellent ways to expand your vacations and go somewhere you may not typically travel, while also tapping into destinations that care about sustainability. Getting out of comfort zones and going to off-the-beaten-path locations are ways to expand our views and take new adventures. If you are interested in any of these itineraries contact Balboa Vacations to help you plan something personalized to your travel needs.

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