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Opinion: Travel does not need to be glamorous

Even the shortest trips are valuable.
Image by Ava Weinreis
When flying to distant vacation spots is not possible, a weekend at a local destination is still rewarding.

For many travelers, a destination without name recognition is not worth visiting.

I have written off countless small towns as boring without seeing their downtowns. Americans often deem entire states empty of worthwhile attractions (sorry, Nebraska and Kansas).  

When California, Florida and overseas hotspots are idealized as the shiniest travel destinations, it is easy to assume that nowhere else holds value. Certain climates are objectively better, and I would never deny an opportunity to experience a different culture abroad.

However, a long, glamorous trip is never easily accessible. When a dream trip is unreasonable, simple travel to local destinations can still be rewarding and enjoyable.

The biggest barrier to a traditional, fancy vacation is cost.

Tom Bartel, a publisher of the MN Trips website, which provides tips for travelers within Minnesota, said travel to popular destinations, like Europe, can be very expensive due to the excessive number of tourists and constantly heightening demand. The cost of traveling locally is inconsequential by comparison.

“Minnesota is obviously closer,” Bartel said. “Does it offer all the things that going to Europe or South America or Asia does? No, but it offers different things.”

Timing can also make long vacations difficult to orchestrate.  

Longtime Minneapolis resident Stan Hale said he and his wife often choose to travel within Minnesota rather than further away because it is less of a hassle.

“We spent three years in Germany. We spent six months’ time in Pensacola, Florida. Three years in Philadelphia, six or seven months in Washington,” Hale said. “Not that it would get old. If you put me in a really nice place, I’d enjoy it, but I hate flying and I don’t even like driving anymore.”

Cost and logistics are the same reasons why I have no extravagant trips planned for this summer. As much as I would love to visit another country, I cannot afford to take more than a few days off work to accommodate flight schedules, much less pay for tickets.  

Traveling within these constraints is still possible, though. My only significant trip this summer will be a three-night camping excursion in Wisconsin — one of the many local travel opportunities our region offers.

Holly Babcock, executive director of Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, said small towns in Minnesota offer unique travel opportunities that many locals never take advantage of.

“We have people who have lived here for 55 years and traveled to all parts of the country to visit state parks when they’ve never explored their backyard and visited the great state park that’s closer than our Walmart,” Babcock said.

Babcock said Albert Lea, like many cities, prioritizes the well-being of their residents over tourism. Yet, tourist towns are not the only valuable destinations. According to Babcock, lakes are the primary draw to Albert Lea, located in Southern Minnesota, in addition to the Three Oak Winery and vibrant downtown that thrive despite the town’s small size.

Having a certain destination is not required for a successful trip. Bartel said finding worthwhile places to spend time is possible in almost any new place.

“Usually on a main street, especially in small-town Minnesota, you can find the cafe where people hang out,” Bartel said. “Go there, sit at the counter and ask the waiter or the waitress, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Bartel said he used this strategy when visiting Red Wing, Minnesota for the first time.

“Soon we were talking to the whole town,” Bartel said. “We got directed to a couple of interesting historical houses and things like that. The very same thing we did in Granite Falls.”

When in doubt, one of Minnesota’s most popular resources can always be counted on for a successful trip: lakes.

“Duluth is a nice place, and going up to the North Shore is fantastic,” Hale said. “Just go up to a lake, rent a boat and have fun.”

According to Bartel, Minnesota’s rich history can make a trip valuable for even long-term residents.  

“If you’re looking for something to do that’s interesting, go to the Minnesota historical sites,” Bartel said. “There are 30 or 40 sites, and a lot of them are homes of important, early Minnesota citizens.”

Bartel said Minnesota’s strong programs for preserving historical sites help keep important stories more accessible to travelers than many other states.

“Minnesota does a really good job through the state park system and the historical society, which work together,” Bartel said. “They don’t shy away from some of the worst parts of history.”

While relaxing on a beach for days is more appealing to some, touring dozens of historical sites is the ideal vacation for others. Although both sides of this spectrum gravitate toward long trips far away, satisfying destinations for anyone also exist locally.

Travel is best when tailored to the individual, so do not rule out simple, nearby destinations. It may not look as exciting on social media, but enjoying yourself matters far more.

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