July 17, 2024


It's time to think about Travel.

The 15 Best US Destinations For 2021

While most feel lucky to head into 2021 with their relative health and happiness, few consider it to be a normal year. Especially for travel.

Around the world, economies that bet on tourism dollars were stunted throughout 2020 as coronavirus containment measures shut down the world. The airline industry is on track to lose over $150 billion due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts predict it will take years for the global travel industry to fully bounce back post-lockdown.

On the individual level, influencers and other travel creatives found themselves grounded for the first time in years. And while many say that by the end of 2021 travel will be bouncing back, for the average American consumer the thought of jumping on a plane and heading to the next top destination seems far off.

So in the seventh year of my annual best budget destinations list I decided to switch gears. I am highlighting select regions around the country where travel creatives quarantined. These international jetsetters are sharing what gave them solace and inspiration in their hometowns while the whole world shut down.

Featuring domestic destinations across the United States, the list roams the country, highlighting bucket list locales from urban centers to beach getaways. Because let’s face it – if we learned anything in 2020, it is that we can explore locally and connect digitally all while wearing a dang mask.

From the travel experts, here is where to travel in 2021 in the US.

Jessica Nabongo – Detroit, Michigan

This year I had the pleasure of quarantining in Detroit. It is my hometown and place of residence yet I rarely spend time there thanks to my travel. Besides dressing up for trips to Trader Joe’s, quarantine in Detroit allowed me to enjoy various activities in the city, like long bike rides around Belle Isle. The island is in the middle of the Detroit River and offers views of downtown Detroit and Windsor, Canada, a place we can only dream of visiting despite its close proximity. Picnics in the park on the river were also a staple this summer, either with myself, a speaker and a book, or with members of my small bubble. One of the greatest memories was our Juneteenth picnic catered by Flood’s, a Black-owned Detroit institution who we supported during quarantine. 

A Detroit-born, Ugandan-American, Jessica Nabongo is a cultural ambassador, travel writer, photographer and entrepreneur. She is the first documented black woman to visit every country in the worldIn March 2019, she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in travel by Conde Nast Traveler.

She is also the founder and CEO of Jet Black, a boutique luxury travel firm that promotes tourism to countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America; as well as The Catch, a luxury lifestyle brand featuring goods acquired during her global adventures.

Matt Kepnes – Austin, Texas

When I’m not on the road, I live in Austin, Texas. Austin is home to musicians, hippies, weirdos, and now, me. Having grown rapidly in the last five years, this is a city full of start-ups, entrepreneurs, musicians, cowboys, beer lovers and fitness buffs. Here we have a ton of wonderful restaurants, cocktail bar and outdoor trails to wander. When the weather is nice (which is most often is), there’s a lake for watersports. Be sure to visit Fukumoto for the best Japanese in the city and Whisler‘s for the best cocktails. Austin is one of the most liveable places in the United States and I am happy to call it home. 

Matt Kepnes, otherwise known as Nomadic Matt, is the authority on cost-conscious travel. An intrepid globetrotter, blogger, and author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter, Matt and his money-saving travel secrets have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, National Geographic, and countless other publications.

First launched in 2008 as a means of cataloging his personal travel experiences, Matt’s website, NomadicMatt.com, has evolved into a valuable trip-planning tool for budding and savvy travelers, alike. In 2018, he founded TravelCon, a travel blogging conference.

Martinique Lewis – Oakland, California

For the first time in 14 years, I spent four consecutive months in my hometown Oakland, California. I remembered why I love to call this place home. The time opened up so many possibilities of exploration in the place that raised me but I no longer really recognize. From the Lake to Jack London, Lakeshore and Rockridge there’s so much to explore in Oakland without breaking the bank. 

Mental health during this pandemic was extremely important and because I needed an outlet I became a solo marathon runner. I explored so many trails right in my backyard! My mom discovered this book ”Secret Stairs: East Bay: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland” – finding stairs in places you’ve passed by for years was like getting to the next level of a video game! As an avid taco lover, discovering taco trucks all around the city and sharing them with my community not only feed my body but my spirit. My go- tos are Tacos Mi Rancho and taqueria El Cruzero.

Martinique Lewis is an award winning diversity in travel consultant, creative lead for Nomadness Travel Tribe, President of the Black Travel Alliance and creator of The ABC Travel Greenbook: Connecting the African Diaspora Globally. As a Digital Disruptor she strives to change the narrative by advocating for travelers that represent different demographics across multiple platforms. She works directly with tourism boards and travel brands to create content that is exciting and influential. Trusted amongst her peers as a connector she is always connecting the dots to ensure the travel industry is mindful of diversity, not just as a buzz word but an action that produces results.

Alexandra Baackes – Upstate New York

I spent much of the summer of 2020 in upstate New York. It is both the place I grew up and a destination I saw through a new lens during the pandemic. I was grateful in a fresh way for waterfalls to hike, drive-in movie theaters to visit, local farms to shop at and evening strolls through Albany’s Empire State Plaza with NEW YORK TOUGH lit up on the Corning Tower building to make me feel connected. Eventually, I was inspired to make it a goal to visit every county in New York to make a memory there. I headed for the outdoor Art Omi gallery in Colombia County, tried outdoor lakeside aerial yoga with Good Karma Studios in Saratoga County and visited the Reisling trail in Steuben County, to name a few. Twenty-three counties down, thirty-nine to go. I’ve got a whole New York state of mind about what’s always been in my backyard as a result. 

Alexandra Baackes is a New York native with a decade of travel blogging under her belt at Alex in Wanderland, where she recounts her journey globe chasing beautiful diving, moving design, and great dinner party stories. She recently launched Wander Women Retreats, which combine yoga, sustainability, community and adventure in some of the world’s most magical destinations. You can also follow her travels on Instagram.

Vanessa Rivers – Malibu, California

I have been living in Malibu for the past two years and feel especially blessed to have spent 2020 here. I now, more than ever, appreciate the natural beauty and the plethora of things there are to do outdoors in Malibu like: enjoying the world class beaches, excellent hiking and frequenting friendly local businesses here.

The pristine coastline, celebrity sightings and glamorous ocean front homes attract people from around the world to the 21 miles of scenic shoreline that makes up Malibu. But there are an array of activities to do outdoors in Malibu (including taking private surf lessons with me), so I recently put together a list of 30 Things To Do In Malibu to help you make the most of your next visit here!

Vanessa Rivers is a California surfer girl, writer, and entrepreneur. Her passion for travel and sustainability led her to create her eco bikini line Summerlove Swimwear (as seen in Sports Illustrated), a surf lesson company, and her travel blog Glitter&Mud. She is a proud mom to a little travel girl and Co-Founder of the popular travel community We Are Travels Girls (as seen on Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Oprah Magazine).

Charlotte Simpson – Indianapolis, Indiana

Being on lockdown in Indianapolis enabled me to explore and enjoy the simple offerings of this Heartland city set among flat cornfields. Often being overtaken by cabin fever, I’ve hopped in the car and driven 20 miles or so in no particular direction. One time I found a tiny town with a quaint Main Street lined with antique shops. Another day I drove north to what may be the prettiest town in Indiana, even possibly the Midwest—Zionsville—which with its brick streets and upscale shops could be a movie set. 

Iʼve often found myself in downtown Indy, with its complex of museums, zoo, botanical gardens and aquarium clustered in White River State Park near the walkway beside the restored canal. An upside of this otherwise difficult year has been a new appreciation of having Indianapolis as a home base: its reasonable cost of living and excellent public and private schools, sports teams, night life and medical facilities, along with its central location allowing for easy day trips to Chicago and other Midwestern cities, make it a good home for residents of all ages.

Charlotte Simpson, aka the Traveling Black Widow, is a retired guidance counselor and special education teacher. After losing her husband of 31 years, she decided to make solo-world-travel a central part of her retirement life and has now been to over 80 countries. She documents her journey on Facebook and Instagram as @TravelingBlackWidow where she currently has over 13,000 followers. Charlotte has been featured in Conde Nast Traveler, Essence, Travel Noire, AARP and many other publications.

Coco Franklin – San Diego, California

California had one of the hardest lockdowns in the United States. As a professional roller skater and yoga instructor, I have to train daily to keep up my roller skate conditioning and so I decided to spend two months quarantining in San Diego. I loved the endless beach paths that were clear enough so I could skate daily while social distancing. I was also able to maintain my yoga practice by utilizing empty beaches and even spent a week camping in a close friend’s RV as we night skated in the empty parking lots of Mission Bay.

During this lockdown it’s very important we keep our physical routines to promote mental health and not allow the lockdowns to mentally get to us. If you see me on the beach path say hi but don’t forget, to social distance!

Coco Franklin is a full time professional roller skate and yoga instructor from Long Beach, California. After living in Europe for 6 years, she decided to move back home to the US and travels between both Europe and North America teaching roller skate and yoga retreats and workshops. Check out her travel calendar to see which city she will be in next to book your spot! 

Jessica Van Dop DeJesus – Washington, D.C.

Washington, DC is a great place to live and be a tourist whenever I want to be. With its plenty of museums and cultural activities free or at low cost, there’s always plenty to see and do at our nation’s capital. For delicious affordable bites, go beyond Georgetown and the National Mall head to the local neighborhoods. From El Salvadorean pupusas from El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan to Nashville hot chicken sandwiches at Roaming Rooster on U Street to Peruvian-style roasted chicken at Peruvian Brothers at NoMA, there’s plenty of great food that will not break the bank. When I am looking for a luxurious experience on a budget, I love going to the Downtown fine dining restaurants such as Fiola or the Oval Room, which offer lunch prix fixe specials.

Jessica van Dop DeJesus is a travel and food writer, founder of The Dining Traveler, and the author of the book The Dining Traveler Guide to Puerto Rico. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, daughter and cat.

Oneika Raymond – New York City, New York

I quarantined in New York City and there was no shortage of things to do even during this unprecedented time in history. Because I mostly avoided public transit, I spent a lot of time exploring The Big Apple’s five boroughs on foot: one my favorite scenic walks was across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Even after living in New York City for five years, it still takes my breath away!

Since indoor dining was prohibited most of the year, one of my favorite pastimes during the summer became picnicking at the newly constructed Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City. There was no need to pack a basket, either— I simply picked up food at one of the many food trucks on nearby Center Blvd. before hitting the park. Now that it’s colder, I’ve really been enjoying all the super unique, social distant-friendly restaurant experiences to be had in the city, like the rooftop cabins at Pier 17’s The Greens. While being quarantined in New York City can be described as many things, it certainly hasn’t been boring! 

Oneika Raymond is an award-winning travel and lifestyle expert, journalist, and television host whose adventures have taken her to over 115 countries on 6 continents. As an NBC New York correspondent and host of two series on the Travel Channel, she’s dedicated to inspiring women and people of color to live their best lives both at home and abroad. Profiled by outlets such as Forbes, The Washington Post, and New York Magazine, Oneika is also an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in publications including Condé Nast Traveler, Ebony Magazine, and Lonely Planet. Additionally, she’s the voice behind the respected travel blog Oneika The Traveller, which was named Best Travel Blog by the Society of American Travel Writers in 2018.Follow Oneika’s exploits on Instagram at @oneikatraveller or at www.oneikaraymond.com

Alle Pierce – Chicago, Illinois

In a year where my international travel plans were scrapped, I found a way to fill that void by exploring the multicultural neighborhoods in my hometown of Chicago. From educating myself on Mexican American culture through the Pilsen murals to sampling spicy Szechuan cuisine in Chinatown and traditional Swedish pastries in Andersonville, I “traveled” the world, no passport required. Replicating that feeling of traveling somewhere new while being a tourist in my own city showed me a new side of Chicago I’d never taken the time to explore before 2020. If you’re looking for off the beaten path recommendations on how to travel the world in Chicago make sure you check out my Chicago Multicultural Neighborhood Series or use this as a framework to explore your own home city.

Alle Pierce is an Emmy Award-Winning Journalist, on-camera host, and founder of Alle Abroad brand and blog. She empowers overpacking, luxury-loving, independent women, to travel deeper on their next adventure in her weekly Youtube videos and over on her Instagram

Jeff Jenkins – Austin, Texas

Austin has been my home for the past eight years. This is the first time that I was forced to get to know my city in a more intimate way as my job as an international travel journalist keeps me on the road about two to three weeks out of the month.

During quarantine in Austin, I built amazing relationships with local restaurant owners, excursion operators and our city’s visitors bureau who all needed help during these times. I love that instead of asking myself “what’s the next country?” I found myself saying “who in my city can I help today?” 

I was able to visit the art Exhibit called Mesermize and enjoyed time relaxing at Auditorium Shores Park where you can see all of the Austin Skyline. I also discovered some amazing eats like Bird Bird Biscuit, Anything’s Baked Potato and Charm Korean BBQ

Jeff Jenkins is an award-winning content creator, speaker and founder of Chubby Diaries. Chubby Diaries is a digital space that provides a community to plus size travelers looking to build friendships, discover travel tips and redefine the world that has been trying to exclude them.

Preethi Chandrasekhar – California Gold Country

This summer I took a quarantine getaway road-trip through the underrated Gold Country region, just a few hours away from San Francisco in Northern California. I discovered quaint towns such as Murhpys, Placerville and Sonora that transported me back to the Gold Rush era, with their 19th-century balconied buildings and antique shops. Murphys, home to 25 wine tasting rooms, is a town not to be missed. Apart from boutiques like Moon Alley that sell unique hand-crafted candles, you will find delicious Puttanesca at Sarafina’s Italian Kitchen. Wine tasting at Newsome Harlow Wines and Ironstone Vineyards will make you feel like you’re in Tuscany.

If you want to get into nature, just 20 minutes away lies the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. I highly recommend hiking the North Grove trail in the morning through the awe-inspiring giant sequoias. Once you’re done, head to the Sourgrass Recreation Area. With its numerous fishing spots, swimming holes, picnic tables and BBQs, it’s easy to social distance here.

Preethi Chandrasekhar is an Indian American writer, traveler, photographer and speaker from San Francisco, CA. Her mission is to inspire women to push past boundaries and explore the great outdoors, no matter their age, skill or fitness level. When she’s not on the road, she’s cooking up delicious Indian recipes, hiking with her husband, and spending time with friends. You can follow her travels on Instagram or at www.theeagertraveler.com

Erika Richter – Portland, Oregon

I live in Portland, Oregon which grants me unparalleled access to the lush, year-round natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest coastline – only a short two-hour drive from the city center. We’ve been spending a lot of time at the Salishan coastal lodge because its original architecture from 1965 feels like it grows naturally out of the coastal forest, making a truly magical backdrop for any occasion.

Tucked away on the central Oregon coast, the rustic Salishan resort is an expansive coastal lodge destination that is in true harmony with the ocean landscape. The Oregon coast is the ultimate natural haven and a perfect weekend getaway for anyone looking to revive and heal in nature’s beauty.

Erika Richter is the Senior Communications Director for the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), a leading global advocacy group representing 80 percent of all travel sold in the U.S. through the travel agency distribution channel. In her role, Erika is a travel expert and spokeswoman for the Society where she is often called upon to weigh-in on the travel industry’s most pressing issues.

Becky Van Dijk – Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach is a perfect local destination just an hour south of Los Angeles and is the spot I have been quarantined in since moving here in early 2020. Made even more famous in The OC, this gorgeous beach town is filled with enough outdoor activities and things to do to keep you busy for days. Plus you are just a short drive from nearby Laguna Beach home to some of the most stunning coastline in California. 

When in Newport Beach don’t miss spending a day on picturesque Balboa Island! This little island is filled with the cutest beach cottages and is one of my favorite places to walk around and daydream about living here someday. During your walk make sure to stop by Dad’s Donuts or Sugar and Spice for a famous Balboa Bar, which is a delicious ice cream dipped in sprinkles.

After you are done on Balboa Island you can take a ferry over to the other side of the peninsula, where you can get a great bottomless brunch at a local cafe called Woody’s or more upscale Malibu Farms or Zinque at Lido Island. After brunch, you can walk or bike down the miles of pristine beach and see the boogie boarders and surfers at The Wedge, which is one of the most unique (and dangerous!) surf breaks in the world.

Finally, I would recommend booking a duffy boat with a group of friends for a sunset cruise around the harbor. From there you can see the beautiful waterfront homes, have some wine and cheese on the boat, and even spot a sea lion or a dolphin!

Becky Van Dijk is the founder of go-to female travel blog, We Are Travel Girls and curated women’s group trip company Travel Girls Getaways. Leaving her 10+ year career in private banking behind in 2016 to pursue her entrepreneurial goals, Becky has gone on to grow these platforms into a six-figure business. 

She also shares her business and blogging knowledge and advice on Beckyvandijk.com, and teaches creative entrepreneurs the art of profitable blogging through her signature online course The Blog Elevation Program, her group coaching programs and trainings. Half English, half Dutch, Becky has traveled to over 65 countries and is currently based in California. 

Calvin Hearns – Dallas, Texas

Dallas is a great home base whether I’m traveling, as I’d like to be, or hunkered down like I am now. There are almost 400 parks and seven lakes within city limits, so there is plenty of room for walks, runs, cycling or picnics. Klyde Warren Park and White Rock Lake are options that include recreation within view of the downtown skyline. Minutes outside of Dallas, Grapevine Springs Park was a former campsite used by Sam Houston during treaty negotiations with Native Americans in 1843. Remnants of the campsite remain within the park.

For history buffs, there is plenty to explore in my backyard beyond the JFK assassination. Dallas was a destination for freedmen in Texas after emancipation. The Deep Ellum District was one of many freedmen’s communities in the area. The blues were born here and you can still catch great live local shows.

For quick day trips from Dallas by car, you can visit a few state parks with gorgeous views. I highly recommend Eisenhower State Park overlooking Lake Texoma. Heading southwest to Glen Rose, your day trip can include feeding giraffes from your vehicle at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and just down the road, you can hunt for easy to find dinosaur footprints at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Tip: although most options are free, Texas state parks may have fee of less than $10 for parking.

Calvin Hearns enjoys photography, travel, history and takes every opportunity to combine all three passions. After an early taste of international travel as a military kid, a new passport for work travel reignited the international travel bug. In 2019 he left a great corporate job to travel across Southeast Asia As a visual journalist who believes that opinions are shaped by life experiences, he strives to give his audience a front-row seat to his adventures from around the world and around the block. You can keep up with his chronicles on Instagram.