Especially if you live in the United States, it's easy to feel like there's so much more beyond its borders than you'll ever be able to find within. While the world certainly offers some spectacular places and plenty of culture, the fact is, there's a whole lot to see here in the states -- and you might even feel like you're in quite the exotic destination, without having to go too far.
The alluring architecture and culture of Bavaria don't require a long-haul flight. Instead, you can find it quite unexpectedly in the streets of Leavenworth, Washington. Instead of splurging on a plane ticket to Germany, head to this small town to dive head-first into the Bavarian lifestyle. As you may have guessed, the town is home to many who hail from Germany, with many families having roots in Leavenworth for more than a dozen generations.
Want to see white sand beaches, sea turtles and experience the glimmer of turquoise waters? If you haven't been to Dry Tortugas in Florida, you're missing out. About 67 miles off Key West, this island sits in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, offering snorkeling adventures that will introduce you to Creole wrasse, parrotfish, and Southern stingrays (just to name a few). All you need to do is take an adventurous seaplane or ferry ride out of Conch Republic.
Egypt may come to mind when you first set eyes on the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado. While Sand Dunes can be found all over the nation, this national park is among the largest collection of them. They tower overhead with wind occasionally kicking up powerful swells, causing everyone to duck for cover. Go during the right time of year, and you can walk the cool water flowing between the dunes. They're fun to look at, and even more fun to enjoy with a good off-road vehicle, or grab some sleds or boogie boards and take a ride down the side of them surfer style.
While you may have never thought of Washington state and the word "exotic" in the same sentence, the San Juan Islands will change your mind. You'll venture into this marine climate and suddenly feel like you're in Norway as you enjoy sea kayaking, whale watching, and coastal views, all while being just a three-hour drive and a short ferry ride from northern Seattle.
If you've ever spent time wishing you could experience the views of Portugal's Soajo Mountain, you'll love Maryland's very own Assateague Island. Here, sandy beaches and over 150 wild horses come together, with free-range ponies walking the beaches, forests, and marshland. Experience the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge's Wildlife Loop Road by car or, even better, on foot. It's about a three-hour trip if you walk it, with the chance to see horses up close and personal.
No one inhabits Palmyra Atoll, and that makes this Northern Pacific island territory all the more special. While there are no residents to be found and, therefore, very little development to interrupt the immaculate views, there are around 4 to 25 employees and scientists at any given time. That tiny number means there's plenty of room to explore while enjoying the feeling of having your own little private island in the Pacific.
The islands off Queensland, Australia, bear a striking resemblance to Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia, while Spanish moss hanging from live oak trees reminds you of the Southeast location. You can only get to it by boat, whether you take your own or go by the DNR ferry. In either case, you'll feel a world away as soon as you're onshore, with the chance to walk, hike, ride the dunes, or venture into the maritime forests.
Another satellite island, this one belonging to Puerto Rico, Culebra, is often dubbed the Spanish Virgin Islands thanks to its sugary white sand beaches and the undeveloped stretches of coast. Much like the latter, this island doesn't have any major hotel chains. Instead, you'll feel engulfed by its laid-back charm, whether you want to sun, snorkel, or get on the water.
Never-ending greenery cascades over mountains, only broken by clear blue waterfalls that cascade down this dreamy landscape. The lush beachfront makes you feel like you're in Tahiti, but you'll only spend a short flight to get here. If you want to splurge, take a helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast, and if you're a Jurassic Park fan, it may just look familiar since this was the movie's filming location.
If the thought of stepping into the culture of Germany without ever leaving U.S. soil intrigued you when reading about Leavenworth, Frankenmuth is another opportunity to do it -- this time in Michigan. Both share in Bavarian architecture, with roots dating back generations. Walk the streets, and you'll feel a world away from home, without the jet lag.
While nearby Cape Cod has its own unique vibes, those looking for somewhere that feels exotic will want to venture to the Elizabeth Islands, which include Cuttyhunk and Penikese. Those two are the only ones inhabited other than the bunch of islands owned by the Forbes family. The Elizabeth Islands exude a British flair that remains from the 1600s when the British settled on the coast. If you want to stay overnight, check out the Avalon Inn.
South Carolina may not sound like an exotic destination, but head off the coast to Daufuskie Island, and you'll find the home of the Gullah people. This community of African Americans has claimed the low country, speaking their own language known as Geechee, and have spent years introducing visitors to their culture. Be sure to check out the Historical Foundation for a local guide, local stories, and a taste of some local legends.
While you may have heard of St. Augustine, there's nothing like seeing it in person. Rich in history, the city was founded in 1565, and its long history, predating the modern United States, played a crucial role in Spain's growth. Its architecture reflects its Spanish presence, and there are plenty of opportunities to take in the sights, eat up the delicious food, and talk to locals about its culture and history.
Cedar Key is one of the quaint little villages off of Florida's Gulf Coast, with a vibe that makes you feel like you've ventured back in time. You'll find it similar to Bocas del Toro of Panama, but with much cooler and welcoming temperatures that average in the low to mid-80s. You'll enjoy sea kayaking, which is a favorite activity in the area or take out the boat to enjoy the Suwannee River, which flows into the Gulf about 10 miles north of the area.
More than a dozen volcanic outposts outline the west end of the state, but the Aleutian Islands of Alaska stand out. One of the most remote areas in the entire world, it's treasured by sea kayaking fanatics, but you must be willing to brave the wild weather. If you do, you'll be mesmerized by the likes of grey, orca, minke, sperm, and humpback whales, along with a variety of other marine life, like sea lions and walrus, who frequent the frigid waters. Plus, come during any time of the year to see the Northern Lights.