Go here, not there: 9 spectacular international destinations to try

AWith over a year of border closures and intense travel restrictions, you might be ready to see something new and go abroad. Another consideration for traveling outside of the United States is the overcrowding seen in national parks and other common American tourist destinations.

The world has so much to offer that it would be a shame to stay at home. However, these choices are a double-edged sword. It can seem impossible to narrow things down when there are so many countries to choose from.

For travelers who know they want to see something a little different but don’t know where to look, we’ve rounded up destinations that have some common ground with some of America’s most popular destinations. You will live similar experiences with an extra dose of international culture. For the best of both worlds, these really are the perfect vacation destinations. Many of them are already open to American travelers but consider the rest as inspiration for your future travels.

Skip: Alaska, Try: Norway

Calling all lovers of scenery: Norway has beautiful fjords that can easily hold its own against Alaska, as well as unspoiled forests, mountains, glaciers, and views of the Northern Lights. Being only 20% of its size, it’s easier to get around, with your choice of routes, trains, cruises, or flights to navigate your way across the country. Just be aware that neither destination is necessarily known to be economical.

While the scenery and the great outdoors are Norway’s greatest claim to fame, that’s not all. The capital city of Oslo is bustling, with options for foodies, history buffs and museum feints. Smaller towns like Bergen and Stavanger are also great bases for travelers seeking culture. Like Alaska, however, it’s the small towns and places in the middle of nowhere that often add the most unique experiences, so it’s worth the effort to get out of town.

Skip: San Francisco, Try: Melbourne

If you love San Francisco, chances are you also love Melbourne. This Australian city is known for its many neighborhoods, each with its own unique personality that feels like you’ve escaped into a whole new world. Museums, shops, restaurants and bars change their personality from one district to another. You can walk past historic buildings to discover trendy hangouts, international businesses, ethnic enclaves, and cutting-edge design.

Melbourne is also an ideal base for side excursions. You can make a quick trip to wine country or take the Great Ocean Road for an epic coastal drive. Of course, saving time for either means sacrificing time in the city itself. Do not worry. Melbourne is one of those cities you’ll want an excuse to return to.

Skip: Hawaii, Try: French Polynesia

Looking for another tropical island paradise? French Polynesia offers the same sunshine but with powdery beaches, less commercialism and more of the island culture that you love. Granted, it’s a long flight from the west coast, but once you get off the plane you’ll go straight into vacation mode.

Like Hawaii, you can make your way through French Polynesia, with the most popular islands like Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Moorea. Plan a week of snorkeling, swimming and relaxing in your overwater bungalow. You can also hike Mount Aorai or take jeep tours through the gloriously verdant interior of Bora Bora.

Skip: the Appalachian Trail, Try: The Great Trail

Hiking and camping isn’t for everyone, but tackling an epic trail is just what some travelers want. It’s a physical challenge, a mental respite, and the gateway to panoramic views you can only reach on foot. The Great Path of Canada takes this to a level of awe-inspiring proportions. Almost 15,000 miles long, it stretches coast to coast (that’s the Arctic Ocean, if you’re keeping track) and is the longest recreational trail in the world.

While you could theoretically take the entire trip, most travelers will choose one or two stages to complete on their trip. In your choice of provinces, several areas are easily accessible for day hikes while others are best suited for one or more night backpacking trips. Another advantage of this trail is that many sections are versatile, giving you the option of biking, horseback riding, backcountry skiing, snowmobiling or even traveling by boat.

Skip: Portland, Try: Copenhagen

Although the craft beer movement is centered in America, you’ll find microbreweries all over the world, including the entire collection in Copenhagen, Denmark. Unlike other European countries, you’ll find an incredible variety of styles of beer here at local small-scale breweries as well as plenty of craft beer bars bringing finds from all over the world. Every year there is even a Copenhagen Beer Week full of beer related events.

Between sips of beers and porters, Copenhagen is full of sights to explore. Plan an afternoon in a floating hot tub in the harbor or check out the ski slope built at the CopenHill Waste-to-Energy Plant. Like Portland, it’s also a fun city for cycling, with plenty of cyclist-friendly routes that take you through the city’s top sights.

Skip: Grand Canyon, Try: Colca Canyon

Why settle for the Grand Canyon when you can visit an even bigger one? The Colca Canyon in Peru reaches depths of 10,730 feet with dazzling top-to-bottom scenery. As a site firmly located on tourist trails but still far less visited than Machu Picchu, this is a good balance for travelers to include in their itinerary.

Dozens of agencies leave Arequipa daily for organized trips that explore the canyon, some focusing on scenic routes and others with multi-day treks. In addition to seeing the canyon itself, trips typically include several scenic lookouts in the Andes Mountains, views of volcanoes in the distance, and a chance to see condors flying above.

Skip: Key West, Try: Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye, Belize got its start in tourism thanks to a Herculean Barrier Reef perfect for snorkeling and diving. Now, however, travelers visit for its laid-back vibe, relaxing beach bars, and fun nightlife. Add golf carts instead of rental cars and ultra-fresh seafood for dinner to mark that five-hour feeling.

Like Key West, getting to Ambergris Caye is half the fun. From the international airport, you will either need to take a hopper flight or board a ferry to reach your final destination. Either way, expect some gorgeous tropical views along the way. And did we mention that the official language in Belize is English? Now it’s easy.

Skip: Yellowstone, Try: Iceland

From the east coast, it’s barely longer to get to Iceland than to get to Yellowstone National Park, giving you the perfect excuse to go abroad. This island country also has many geothermal features. Discover Strokkur and the simply named Geysir on a day trip from Reykjavik to the Golden Circle or visit the Reykjanes Peninsula to see mud pools and steam vents. Waterfalls, mountains, hot springs and even a volcano complete a great vacation.

Iceland has the added advantage of offering dozens of spots without crowds or tourists. The new Diamond Circle route takes you past waterfalls and a canyon, among other scenic spots. It is true that you will not see elk or grizzly bears here, but instead you can see whales for an amazing experience in their own way.

Skip: Chicago, Try: Toronto

One of the reasons Chicago stands out from other cities is its spacious and wide streets, position on the lake, and friendly locals. Turns out Toronto has it too, with the added bonus of the exchange rate stretching your budget even further. It’s an easy flight from almost any airport, so you can spend a weekend (or stay a week).

While you are touring Toronto, you can climb the CN Tower for endless views, watch a theatrical production or cheer at a professional sporting event or head to the nightlife of all styles. Museums range from world-class exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum to the unique Bata Shoe Museum and a plethora of neighborhoods, restaurants and shops give you the ultimate variety in how to spend your time.

Final result

No destination will ever be exactly the same, but traveling to these places will help you find the vibe you love along with the freshness of visiting a new place. Choosing an international getaway can mean a little more planning, a compromise that can yield memorable experiences and an escape from the ordinary.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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