Conscious travel asks you to be mindful about the world and for the people who live in it. For you, it means having an authentic experience by immersing yourself within the surroundings to establish longer-lasting connections and gain a better understanding of the world and its people. For local communities, it means benefitting from the $7 trillion travel industry, not being damaged by it. In other words, it means creating a sustainable travel economy that gives back to communities and helps facilitate positive change. Conscious travel doesn’t mean that you have to stop exploring. On the contrary, it just asks you to be mindful of what you do, where you eat, what you buy, and how you interact with others.
Unfortunately, many of the world’s most popular travel spots are suffering from severe overtourism, which is putting people and places at risk. Rather than being part of the problem, conscious travelers can opt to support solutions. One of the simplest ways to help protect popular sites and alleviate the pressure of overtourism is to forego the beaten path and opt for alternative destinations. Not only will this help you to be a force of positive change; but, it also allows you to experience fascinating parts of the world, that you may not have previously considered.
The U.S. is home to thousands of cities which makes it the perfect place to start wandering off-the-beaten-path. If you are looking for some fall travel inspiration, keep reading for my choice of five underrated US cities for travel this season.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Part of the North Carolina’s tri-city university hub ‘the Triangle’ (along with Durham and Chapel Hill), Raleigh attracts a relatively young, diverse, and educated population. This ensures that it also has plenty to offer visitors. In fact, when planning our weekend trip there earlier this year, I was surprised by how much I wanted to squeeze into the few days. Fantastic free museums? Yep. World-class local food? Absolutely. A lemur research center? They have that too! I have previously written all my recommendations for the city in my Raleigh City Guide; but, I still wanted to mention it in this list, because I think it is a highly underrated US travel spot. If you like art, culture, good eats and friendly locals – this is the spot for you. Upon our return, most people we spoke to were surprised to hear how much is going on in Raleigh. And, I think our enthusiastic recap has convinced more than a few couples to make the trip!
// MUST-DOS IN RALEIGH //
One of the most visited cities in the United States, Chicago is a magnet for international and domestic tourists alike. However, ninety miles away lies Milwaukee, a city that seems to slip under the radar. This is surprising considering the city is really, really cool. Sure, you have probably heard that it is the land of cheese and beer (I love the first, hate the second). But, those aren’t the only things the city has to offer. Today, the city is a compelling mix of arts, history, motorcycle culture, and lush nature. While Milwaukee may be freezing in the winter (it’s the second coldest major city in the US!), the fall is a beautiful time to visit. I was struck by the unique architecture (some of it designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and the abundance of greenery. Plus, you are right on Lake Michigan, so you are guaranteed to catch a spectacular view at any given moment. And, the Colectivo Coffee, that stuff is addictive.
// MUST-DOS IN MILWAUKEE //
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the stuff that dreams are made of. Founded as a Spanish colony in 1610, New Mexico’s capital is located in the Sangre de Cristo foothills and is known for its Pueblo-style architecture, its traditional plaza, and as a creative arts hotbed. When I visited a couple of years ago, it was just as artsy and eclectic as I had envisioned. While also being unlike anywhere else I have traveled. Despite its small size, the city has enough to keep you occupied for a few days, that is if you are interested in missions, museums, and Meow Wolf. The timeless, earthy soul of Santa Fe is what makes it so alluring. Not to mention, the chile-smothered local cuisine. I dare you to visit and not start dreaming about one day moving here. If you have some extra time, the city makes a great base for hiking, mountain biking, and skiing.
// MUST-DOS IN SANTA FE //
You will be relieved to know that the Wild West is still alive and kicking, and nowhere more than Jackson, Wyoming. After only a short time here, you will be switching out your regular shoes for cowboy boots and wondering how you can instantly transfer your life to a large swathe of ranchland. There is also a good chance your photo library will be filled with images of grazing bison and elk. Before you jump the gun, spend an afternoon horseback riding through the Teton Mountains (I went with Swift Creek Outfitters). You may (like me) find that the cowgirl lifestyle is a little rougher than you imagined. The danger is perfectly complemented by the majestic beauty of the surrounding area. In addition to the Tetons, you have the Gros Ventre mountain range, the Snake River, and Yellowstone National Park – all of which are essential spots. Due to the influx of wealthy ski bunnies, Jackson is expensive which I wasn’t prepared for (thankfully, I met lovely people who invited me to glamp with them!), but keep that in mind when planning your trip. You can have fun here all year-round, it just depends on your preferred adventure. Fall is perfect for seeing the changing colors of the trees while also missing the peak tourist season.
// MUST-DOS IN JACKSON //
We all are well aware of my love for Austin, but the secret is certainly out about that Texan city. So, if you are looking for a slightly more underrated southern city for conscious travel this fall, then Houston is my recommendation. Locals like to tout that their city is the most diverse in the country (I am not 100% convinced), but it can’t be denied that the United States’ fourth-largest city is a multicultural, metropolitan mix. It is this intermingling (combined with weak zoning laws) that make the city feel, well, random – in the best way possible. My favorite area is the funky Montrose, where you can find local restaurants, tattoo parlors, and world-class museums. However, no matter where you wander, you can never be quite sure what awaits you around the next corner. The city is lush and green almost year-round, but fall is the best time to visit if you want to avoid the brutal humidity of spring and summer.
// MUST-DOS IN HOUSTON //
So there are my five picks for conscious travel this fall!
Do you have any upcoming travels planned? Or anywhere else you think should be on this list?
Let me know in the comments below!
+ If you don’t currently have any travel plans, you can still cultivate a traveler’s mindset at home.