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Skip the beach rentals and national parks for a vacation experience that's far from the madding crowds.

By Lisa Milbrand
March 26, 2021
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With vaccines on the rise and COVID-related restrictions loosening, summer vacation may be the perfect opportunity to get back to some semblance of normal. But maybe you're not quite ready to face the crowds on boardwalks or beaches, or the expected crush of tourists at national parks this summer.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of options for a little off-the-beaten-path fun this summer. "You can take a cue from everything we learned in this last year and embrace slow tourism," says travel planner Susan Moynihan of The Honeymoonist/Largay Travel. "Instead of fighting the crowds at the beach or road-tripping to make a bunch of stops, pick a small town that has some history and stay for a while—four nights instead of two, a week instead of a weekend. That's how you get to know a place and find what makes it unique."

summer-vacation-ideas: cabins near a snowy mountain
Credit: Getty Images

Note that the CDC still recommends limiting yourself to essential travel, but if you're making summer vacation plans right now, here are a few places where you can get some R&R with a little more space to yourself.

Head out to the farm

Farm stays let you test out the bucolic life, including trying your hand at farm chores like picking fruits and veggies, feeding the animals, or just taking in the incredible views.

Farm Stay USA lets you search by location and by activities—so if you're hoping to ride horses or looking for a chance to collect eggs, you can cross that off your bucket list.

Think about where it's currently off season

Beach towns and national parks are likely to be crowded this summer, as people look for getaways that include plenty of time in the great outdoors. But there may still be options in places that are considered winter destinations. 

Visit a ski town, for instance, and you'll get off-season rates, and likely plenty of hiking, biking, and other outdoor activity options nearby—plus all the great restaurants in the area that are likely eager for your business. 

Related: What is Shoulder Season?

Consider the Caribbean

The gorgeous Caribbean weather may feel more welcome during a cold winter, but the islands are just as beautiful in the summer—just with fewer crowds. 

Many of the islands remain open to Americans with recent negative COVID-19 tests, but keep watching the State Department's website for any updates on requirements.  

Keep in mind that hurricanes could get in the way of your grand adventure (so travel insurance might be worth considering). Look at islands like Barbados (currently offering some great longer-term stay options), Aruba, Curacao, and Grenada—all of which are rarely in the hurricane zone.

Pick a route and a reason

Road trips are going to be the safest way to go, but you can skip the major interstates for more local highways, and add a little fun with an offbeat theme for your trip.

You could try checking out all the Hamilton-related history spots in the New York/New Jersey area, or taking a BBQ road tour through the south. Perhaps you're looking to dip your toes in each of the Great Lakes, or visit every weird roadside attraction in your state (hello, nation's largest ball of twine!).

Or maybe it's simply seeking out the best ice cream in a 60-mile radius of your home—and testing every spot along the way to find it. 

Look for cool house rentals

Sometimes, the best part of vacation is simply a week or two of enjoying a change of space—and we'll all certainly appreciate that now more than ever. Look on sites like Airbnb and VRBO for their unique stays for a dream home or special getaway. 

Whether your kids are hoping for a house with an arcade and a big pool, or you're looking for a fun option like a yurt, treehouse or log cabin, you'll likely find the perfect getaway. 

Think smaller

Consider small towns and state parks, which may not see the same crowds as the typical getaway spots. "There are so many great, overlooked state parks where you can rent cabins, go hiking, and embrace nature," Moynihan says. "And isn't it lovelier to hike for miles and barely see a soul than to sidestep groups on a crowded switchback trail?"