The world’s most beautiful rail journeys don’t cost a fortune

All aboard

Slow and relaxing, train travel is one of the best ways of getting around if you have the time to spare. Some of the most breathtaking views in the world can be enjoyed from behind a train window and you don’t necessarily have to shell out the big bucks for an epic ride. Here we take a look at the world’s most scenic train journeys that you won’t have to splash out on.

 © La Renaissance Girl/Shutterstock

San Luis Obispo to San Diego, California, USA

One-way fares start from $62 and the full journey takes just over eight hours. Normally, the route offers 13 daily round-trip services between San Diego and Los Angeles, five to Santa Barbara and two to San Luis Obispo so travelers can be flexible with their itinerary, however, Pacific Surfliner is currently operating a reduced service.

Slide 7 of 31: One-way fares start from $62 and the full journey takes just over eight hours. Normally, the route offers 13 daily round-trip services between San Diego and Los Angeles, five to Santa Barbara and two to San Luis Obispo so travelers can be flexible with their itinerary, however, Pacific Surfliner is currently operating a reduced service.

 © Ken Wolter/Shutterstock

Glasgow to Mallaig, Scotland, UK

For an even more authentic Harry Potter experience, there’s the The Jacobite steam train – it’s the one used in the movies. This year the train is scheduled to run Monday to Friday from early April to late October between Fort William and Mallaig. An adult return ticket costs $63. Otherwise, regular ScotRail trains run every day and one-way off-peak fare is around $38.

Slide 5 of 31: For an even more authentic Harry Potter experience, there's the The Jacobite steam train – it's the one used in the movies. This year the train is scheduled to run Monday to Friday from early April to late October between Fort William and Mallaig. An adult return ticket costs $63. Otherwise, regular ScotRail trains run every day and one-way off-peak fare is around $38.
 © Targn Pleiades/Shutterstock

Christchurch to Greymouth, New Zealand

Perhaps one of the most stunning features along the TranzAlpine’s route is traversing the snow-capped mountains of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The scenery then quickly turns subtropical as the train continues its journey through the west coast’s rainforests and one of the best experiences on the train is stepping out on the open-air viewing car.

Slide 3 of 31: Perhaps one of the most stunning features along the TranzAlpine's route is traversing the snow-capped mountains of Arthur's Pass National Park. The scenery then quickly turns subtropical as the train continues its journey through the west coast's rainforests and one of the best experiences on the train is stepping out on the open-air viewing car.
 © Steve Heap/Shutterstock

Williams to Grand Canyon Village, Arizona, USA

The trip on the Grand Canyon Railway begins in Williams, a small town 30 miles (48km) west of Flagstaff. Meandering its way through ponderosa pine forests and open prairie, the train terminates in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park before heading back to Williams. On the way, passengers are encouraged to get into the spirit of the Old West and enjoy the musical entertainment, cowboy characters and other surprises.

Slide 10 of 31: The trip on the Grand Canyon Railway begins in Williams, a small town 30 miles (48km) west of Flagstaff. Meandering its way through ponderosa pine forests and open prairie, the train terminates in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park before heading back to Williams. On the way, passengers are encouraged to get into the spirit of the Old West and enjoy the musical entertainment, cowboy characters and other surprises.
 © Xantera Travel Collection/Grand Canyon Railway

Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, Tanzania and Zambia

The trains, which have sleeping cars and a restaurant car, provide a safari experience on a budget. Prices start from $31 for a one-way, third-class seat while the first-class sleeper is $45. The TAZARA (Tanzania & Zambia Railway Authority) route is a great way of experiencing a safari without splashing out. The train travels from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi through the Selous game reserve, offering a chance to spot elephants, lions, giraffes and more. The journey covers 1,150 miles (1,852km) and takes just under 48 hours to complete.

Slide 15 of 31: The trains, which have sleeping cars and a restaurant car, provide a safari experience on a budget. Prices start from $31 for a one-way, third-class seat while the first-class sleeper is $45.
 © Alexandra Giese/Shutterstock

Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam

When traveling on The Reunification Express line (also known as the North-South Railway) you don’t have to choose between seeing historic cities, charming towns and spectacular coastline – this journey has it all. Traversing more than a thousand miles between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the route is one of Asia’s most popular train rides. The full journey takes over two days but you can hop on and off at destinations like Hue and Da Nang.

Slide 16 of 31: When traveling on The Reunification Express line (also known as the North-South Railway) you don't have to choose between seeing historic cities, charming towns and spectacular coastline – this journey has it all. Traversing more than a thousand miles between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, the route is one of Asia's most popular train rides. The full journey takes over two days but you can hop on and off at destinations like Hue and Da Nang.
 © THANH LE DUC/Shutterstock

There’s more to see including train journey’s in Canada, Mexico and Switzerland to name a few. Click on the link below.

Article by Karlina Valeiko for Love Exploring©

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DHS secretary: ‘We’re taking a very close look at’ vaccine passports

© Washington Examiner/Pool Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that the U.S. is taking “a very close look” at vaccine passports for international travel.

Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mayorkas was asked about the possibility of vaccine passports for traveling into or out of the U.S.

“We’re taking very close look at that,” Mayorkas said.

“You know one of our principles that has guided us throughout this pandemic is the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised,” he said.

Vaccine passports have become a flashpoint for debate amid the U.S.’s vaccination efforts. Several GOP-led states have banned local governments and businesses from requiring such proof, arguing that they infringe on the personal right to choose to get vaccinated.

The White House has also said there would be no federal mandate for proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Asked about Mayorkas’ comments, a DHS Spokesperson clarified to The Hill that he was talking about making sure that Americans meet travel requirements for other countries.

“We’ve always said we’re looking at how we can ensure Americans traveling abroad have a quick and easy way to enter other countries,” the spokesperson said. “That’s what the Secretary was referring to; ensuring that all U.S. travelers will be able to easily meet any anticipated foreign country entry requirements.”

“There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” the spokesperson continued.

The comment comes as several countries reopen their borders for international travel. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that that the European Union and some Asian countries are scrambling to develop passports that users could use from phone apps.

Mayorkas still encouraged Americans to get vaccinated.

“We’ve got vaccination centers everywhere – no more than a few miles from everyone’s homes. And it’s so important to get that vaccine, make one safe, make one’s loved ones and friends safe around you,” he said.

Article by Jordan Williams for The Hill©

Source: DHS secretary: ‘We’re taking a very close look at’ vaccine passports (

National Museum of the United States Army officially opens

The National Museum of the United States Army contains the M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" Tank that broke through German lines during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
© Matthew Barakat/AP

The museum, located approximately 30 minutes south of Washington D.C. on 84 acres of land at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, honors the service of the more than 30 million men and women who have donned an Army uniform since 1775, according to a news release.

A live-streamed virtual opening ceremony took place on opening day, and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, among others, made remarks during the ceremony.

The public and privately-funded museum cost $200 million to build, and construction broke ground in 2016, the release said. The 185,000 square-foot main building will display Army artifacts, documents, images and artwork, most of which have never been seen by the public.

A few notable artifacts will be on display: The M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle that led the 2003 charge from Kuwait to Baghdad, the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” Tank that broke through German lines during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and one of the few remaining “Higgins boats” that carried U.S. troops ashore to Normandy on D-Day during World War II.

“The U.S. Army has greatly aided the nation’s progress and prosperity. Soldiers have conducted countless missions in the areas of exploration and discovery, science and technology, communications and cooperation, and recovery and disaster relief,” retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, chairman of the Army Historical Foundation, said in 2016.

“Nearly every major event in our nation’s history has involved the U.S. Army, and this Museum will ensure those contributions and sacrifices are not lost to time.”

Article by By Allen Kim, CNN 



Hiking around Los Angeles offers miles of spectacular views of the Pacific coast from the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel mountain range in the Inland Empire, and the iconic Hollywood sign in Griffith Park. Here are some of the best LA hikes.

Article for by Mollie O’Brien

View from Mount Lee over the Hollywood sign to LA (Photo: Eugene Kim via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Hiking is a large part of the culture of Los Angeles. There are so many places in the region to explore, offering an opportunity to appreciate the region’s scenery and escape the cloying urban sprawl, while getting closer to nature. These seven hikes have been selected to cover each region of Greater LA, from South Bay’s Ranchos Palos Verdes Peninsula, up to North County’s Malibu vineyards. Ranging from easy walks to challenging treks, each of these hikes greatly rewards the effort you’ll put in.

Hollywood Sign via Canyon Drive

Hiking to the Hollywood sign in LA’s Griffith Park is a memorable experience, and a must when visiting Los Angeles. This trek uses a combination of interconnecting trails to take hikers up behind the enormous metal letters, offering views of Greater LA and beyond. The trek is about six miles, with roughly 1,100 feet (335m) of elevation gain and will take about three hours to complete. Start at the trailhead of Brush Canyon Trail at the north end of Canyon Drive in the city of Hollywood. There’s a free parking lot here, and you’ll find a plaque at the trailhead that points you toward the Hollywood sign.

The Trail: The first 30 to 40 minutes is uphill on a wide dirt path, after which there’s a bench with a viewpoint that offers panoramas of Los Angeles. The most challenging and steepest part of the journey is now over. Then, there’s a fork in the path, with a sign that’s marked “Mulholland Trail” heading left towards the Hollywood sign. After about 20 more minutes, there’s another fork. Follow the sign that points to Tyrolian Tank along Mt. Lee Drive trail, a moderately steep but paved path. After about 20 minutes of following this trail, hikers will be up behind the famed Hollywood sign. The sign itself is fenced off for safety reasons. From this vantage point there are fantastic panoramic views of Los Angeles and beyond, particularly on clearer days.

Trailhead: 2980-3000 Canyon Dr, Los Angeles

Ballast Point Loop Trail (Photo: Kristin Metcalfe for

Catalina Island’s Two Harbors Ballast Point Loop

Just off the coast of Los Angeles is the rural escape of Santa Catalina Island, which is accessible by ferry service or private boat. From the small town of Two Harbors, you can walk the Ballast Point Loop trail, a moderately challenging three-mile hike with just under 1,000 feet (305m) of elevation gain. This adventure features a steep ascent rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking the ocean, the town of Two Harbors and the string of islands below. Be sure to bring water, because there are no services along this rugged hiking trail.

The Trail: Begin hiking from the bus stop and bathrooms which are just uphill from the Two Harbors visitor center. Follow the road south past the little red schoolhouse and continue toward Catalina Harbor. Keep left on the road that crosses toward the east side of the harbor. There might be a group bison encounter, as these animals now reside on the island. The road grade is pretty flat until this point, where the road splits just before the 1-mile mark. The route turns uphill onto a small trail that begins to rapidly gain elevation. At the top of the hill, there’s a cluster of rocks and views of the ocean for miles.

From here, follow the road downhill as it turns east. Before reaching the lowest point in the dip, bear left to keep on the trail. At mile two, hikers will hit Banning House Road. Follow it downhill toward town, but look left for a bird’s-eye view of Catalina Harbor, and right for 25-mile views of Los Angeles on a clear day. Stay straight on the main road and head toward the eucalyptus along the steep descent. The downhill section of this loop follows an old dirt road with views of the island’s old radio tower. The final stretch of the descent will pass the Banning House, Two Harbors’ only hotel. At the bottom of the hill turn right to bypass the little red schoolhouse which still educates kids aged 5-11, and return to town.

Trailhead: 1 Banning House Rd, Avalon

Terranea Resort in Ranchos Palos Verdes (Photo: Molly O’Brien for

Ranchos Palos Verdes: Terranea Discovery Trail

Terranea Resort in the South Bay of LA’s Ranchos Palos Verdes is open to the public for exploration and costs around ten dollars for all day parking with validation at the resort. Terranea Resort faces south on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, which means hikers can watch the sun rise and set in one day from a single location. There are two miles of coastal trails lining the clifftops of the resort through the site’s 102 acres of open space.

The Trail: The Terranea Discovery Trail, which starts on the northern part of the property, is a family-friendly trail that runs throughout the resort’s grounds for just under two miles with under 200 feet (61m) of elevation gain. This trek will take about one hour to complete. The hike has interpretive nature stations along the way for guests to stop and learn about the local wildlife. There are also views of the historic Point Vicente Lighthouse and hikers might even be able to catch a glimpse of sea lions and whales throughout the year.

Trailhead: 100 Terranea Way, Rancho Palos Verdes

Waterman Mountain Loop Trail (Photo: Molly O’Brien for

Inland Empire: Angeles National Forest’s Waterman Mountain Loop Trail

The Waterman Mountain Loop Trail is a moderate six-mile hike near Mount Wilson in the Angeles National Forest, roughly an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles. This hike takes about three hours to complete, and even though it only includes 1,400 feet (427m) of elevation gain it’s challenging because it starts at nearly 7,000 feet (2,134m) up in the mountains. It’s best done between the months of March to November when there’s no snow. There’s plenty of parking near the trailhead, but visitors need to display a forestry park pass, which can be purchased at a variety of convenience stores including gas stations nearby. Bring a map or a pre-downloaded digital map as there’s no internet or cell service in this region.

The Trail: Of the many pretty views along the way to the top, the best is about one mile into the climb, when there’s a point looking beyond the San Gabriel Mountains and across the San Gabriel Valley toward the silhouette of Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. The Waterman Mountain peak is marked with a sign that states the elevation: 8,039 feet (2,450m). About 3.3 miles into the descent, bear right at a fork in the path to stick with the main road down Mount Waterman. Hike past a few frisbee golf baskets, and descend toward Mount Waterman Village, where a small lodge is perched at the top of the main chairlift for Mount Waterman Resort.

Trailhead: Waterman Hiking Trailhead, CA-2, Pearblossom

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (Photo: Molly O’Brien for

Mid-City: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

This moderate hike takes two hours and features about 300 feet (91m) of elevation gain over 1.25 miles. Parking is free on the street at the base of the hill. There are multiple ways to climb to the top of this mid-city peak in addition to the moderate trail that zig zags to the top. Exercise enthusiasts who want a tougher workout can choose to take the stairs which climb straight up for nearly a mile. The easiest way to get to the top would be to walk on the sidewalk along the road that leads up to the visitor’s center and amphitheater area. The visitor’s center contains seasonal exhibits on native wildflowers, birding and wildlife, plus stories of how this area’s land – historically drilled and exploited for oil – has now become a symbol of conservation and restoration, to the benefit of all.

The Trail: The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook hike is unique because it’s located in an urban area of Los Angeles. But for such a short trail, it offers impressive views of Greater Los Angeles. To the west, hikers can see Santa Monica Bay. To the northwest, the mountain ridges of Malibu rise up. Century City and the Sony Pictures lot is visible down below, and the Hollywood Sign and the Griffith Observatory can be seen toward Hollywood. To the east there’s downtown LA, framed by the San Gabriel Mountains which are sprinkled with snow in the winter months.

Trailhead: 6300 Hetzler Rd, Culver City

Topanga State Park’s Parker Mesa Overlook (Photo: Molly O’Brien for

Santa Monica: Topanga State Park’s Parker Mesa Overlook

Parker Mesa Overlook is located on the west side of Topanga State Park. It’s a roughly seven-mile trek with 1,171 feet (357m) of elevation gain that offers views from the peak of the entire LA basin. This means hikers will be able to see from the San Gabriel Mountains to the east, Catalina Island to the south, and the crescent shaped coastline of Santa Monica to the west on a clear day. There’s very little shade on this trail, so as always, it’s important to be sure to pack water and sunscreen.

The Trail: Start at the Los Liones Trailhead, which begins on Los Liones Drive in the Pacific Palisades at a clearly marked gate. There’s plenty of free street parking on the road. About a mile in there will be a vista point and junction with the Paseo Miramar Trail. Take a hard left, following the wide fire road up the hill. From here, the trail continues to roll up and down the mountain and reaches the junction to Parker Mesa Overlook at the three-mile mark. At the top, there are several strategically placed benches aiding a well-deserved rest and photo opportunities.

Trailhead: 580 Los Liones Drive, Santa Monica

Malibu Wine Hike (Photo: Haley Pointer and Joe Flores)

Malibu Wine Hikes

For oenophiles who love a good walk before a tipple, Malibu Wine Hikes offers a guided, two-mile hike suitable for all ages which explores the vineyards of Malibu’s Saddlerock Ranch. This trek climbs approximately 300 feet (91m) in elevation and offers consistent views of the Pacific Ocean and vineyards on all sides. Hikers will learn firsthand about the types of wines produced on the ranch’s property and can catch a glimpse of the well-preserved Chumash illustrations at the “Cave of the Four Horsemen” along the way. There’s also the chance to sample produce from the onsite organic garden and take plenty of photos. At the end of the hike, each person is awarded with an entire bottle of the property’s wine in the varietal of their choosing, with selections of white, red and rose. Onsite parking is included with the purchase of a ticket.

Trailhead: 32111 Mulholland Highway, Malibu


The Florida Keys & Key West

If you’re looking for an effortless domestic getaway with international appeal, this southernmost U.S. island chain holds the keys.

Image may contain Water Outdoors Human Person Nature Ocean Sea Animal Sea Life Reef Sport Sports and Diver

Who couldn’t use a little escape these days? Few destinations suit the current moment better than the Florida Keys. Easy to get to by road or air, this uniquely American island paradise offers 365 days of practically perfect subtropical weather, a vast array of outdoor activities on land and water, and a wealth of authentic experiences across five distinct districts—no passport required.

The northernmost island in the Keys, Key Largo may look and feel like the Caribbean, but it’s only about an hour’s drive from South Florida’s two major airports. You might know its name from the classic Humphrey Bogart film, or you may know its reputation as the Diving Capital of the World. Either way, it’s a fitting place to take the plunge into the Keys.

With the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S. just off its eastern shores, Key Largo was destined to adopt diving as a way of life. Visitors can become scuba certified in only three days, learning with some of the world’s best instructors—then practice their skills in the brilliant undersea world at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first underwater nature preserve. More advanced divers will want to explore the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, a U.S. Navy ship that was intentionally scuttled in 2002 to create a new reef system. At 510 feet, it’s larger than any natural reef structure in the Keys and a spectacular introduction to the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail. But if you prefer your adventures on land—or in shallower waters—take heart: Key Largo is also flanked by Everglades National Park, a natural wonderland for hikers, birders, kayakers, and eco-tourists of all stripes.

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Islamorada translated from Spanish as “purple isle,” has yet another name among sport fishing enthusiasts: heaven. Its unique location, between the “backcountry” of the Florida Bay and the “front side” of the Atlantic Ocean, provides an unrivaled diversity of fishing opportunities. Seasonal visiting species like sailfish, marlin, and tuna are brought in by the Gulf Stream; tarpon and bonefish are among the treasures to be found in the backcountry, with catch-and-release and other responsible practices fully observed. If you’re an angling newbie or just not sure where to start, you’ll find a host of charters available, with tournament-grade captains and experienced guides ready to show you the way.

Take your catch to any number of local restaurants, like Islamorada Fish Company, where they will be happy to cook it to perfection. Or if you’ve spent the day kiteboarding, paddleboarding, or kayaking, just take your appetite. Grab a seat at a dockside eatery or on an outdoor patio at sunset. You’ll want to sample all of the local delicacies—especially the succulent stone crabs, in season from mid-October through mid-May. (Key lime pie is always in season.)

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Midway through the Keys and sandwiched between the waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, Marathon is a boater’s paradise and a restless family’s dream. Whether you’re cruising in on your own vessel or renting one while you’re here, this is one of the Keys’ most boat-friendly destinations, with a jewel of a marina and a rich seafaring history.

By water or via the historic Seven Mile Bridge, make your way to Pigeon Key, the tiny island that served as home for workers building the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad in the early 20th century; it’s a great spot for picnics, historical tours, and easy snorkeling. Families can also immerse themselves in Marathon’s world-class marine education programs, whether by enjoying close encounters with loggerheads, hawksbills, and their brethren at the Turtle Hospital—the world’s first licensed veterinary center for endangered sea turtles—or swimming and playing with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center. Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is unlike any other aquarium experience, with opportunities for visitors of all ages to engage with the aquatic world through touch tanks, feeding experiences, and snorkeling encounters designed to inspire the next generation of marine conservationists.

Big Pine Key & Florida’s Lower Keys are a string of small islands best known for their abundance of natural wonders, including two national wildlife refuges and a national marine sanctuary. The names of these idyllic keys hint at their quirky, irresistible appeal: Big Pine, Little Duck, Sunshine, Summerland, Sugarloaf—and the list goes on. But charming names are only the beginning. The “Natural Keys” will capture your heart and take your breath away with adventures in the wild, both on land and on (or under) the water.

One of the most remarkable creatures you’ll encounter here is the Key deer, a diminutive subspecies of whitetail found nowhere else on earth. These carefully protected beauties roam free throughout Lower Keys, but especially on Big Pine—home to the National Key Deer Refuge, where you can spot them on guided walks, bike rides, and kayak excursions. Just east of Big Pine Key lies Bahia Honda State Park, one of the most beloved beach destinations in the country. The park encompasses more than 500 pristine acres, including an offshore island, and snorkelers can explore the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, one of the most glorious reefs in the Keys. Just before you hit Key West, pay a visit to Stock Island, an up-and-coming resort destination with a colorful history as the hub of the Keys’ shrimping industry and a vibrant community of young artists.

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Celebrated for its flamboyant personality and anything-goes spirit, Key West also has a softer side. Those who come for the party scene and colorful characters won’t be disappointed—but history buffs, nature lovers, and sporty types should prepare to fall in love, too. This island has captured the imaginations of countless artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Winslow Homer. And if it seems unlikely that the same small patch of land could provide inspiration for “Margaritaville” balladeer Jimmy Buffett and poet laureate Robert Frost, just wait. Once you get to know Key West, it won’t seem surprising at all.

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In addition to literary landmarks like the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West’s historical sites include Harry S. Truman’s Little White House, where the 33rd President took respite during the winter months. Who could blame him, when the sea beckons from every direction, and water and air temperatures are nothing short of perfect? Do what Truman would do: hop a charter for some of the best sportfishing you’ll find anywhere. Leisurely cruising is always an option, too, whether on a catamaran charter or paddling a kayak along one of the island’s peaceful waterways. And when you’ve worked up an appetite, take your pick from a feast of outdoor dining venues, from spacious porches to candlelit seaside lawns.

Dedicate a day—or more—to shopping; from antiques to handcrafted jewelry, clothing, and works of art, Key West is brimming with one-of-a-kind boutiques reflecting its irrepressible personality. Now more than ever, it feels great to support small local businesses, and you’ll find no shortage of eclectic mom-and-pop stores and enterprises throughout the Florida Keys & Key West. From signature, Cuban coffee shops to family-run eco-tours to distinctive home goods and so much more, shopping mom-and-pop in the Keys is a lot like exploring the reefs and nature preserves: you get to discover all sorts of treasures while doing your part to support the ecosystem.

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Think of the Florida Keys as the world-class destination that happens to be right in your own backyard—with all of the superb accommodations you would expect to find there. From family-run properties to luxurious resort hotels and rentals, all are observing stringent cleanliness protocols to ensure travelers’ health and safety during this time of Covid-19. Always a pioneer in the realm of sustainability, the Keys continue to lead in another area of responsible tourism: social distancing and masks are respectfully enforced throughout the destination. And dining establishments throughout the region—now more than ever—offer outdoor seating, waterfront dining, and convenient takeout options.


Road Trip: The Most Historic Small Towns in the U.S.

By Jessie Fetterling for Far & Wide

@iwillbikerideforchocolate / Discover Bisbee/Facebook

We know travel plans are impacted right now. But to fulfill your wanderlust, we’ll continue to share stories that can inspire your next adventure.

The U.S. is filled with fascinating small towns that each have their own unique story to tell. Havens for artsy free spirits. Mining sites that once yielded a ton of gold. Sites of infamous military battles. Stomping grounds of storied pirates.

These small towns offer history buffs a glimpse into our nation’s past, while also remaining just as relevant today as they were years ago. Learn the histories of these small towns, and plan a visit that will encourage you to travel back in time.

Los Alamos, New Mexico

Population: 12,019

What was once a secret military town is now the fifth-fastest-growing city in the state. Its claim to fame is what’s now called the Los Alamos National Laboratory, operated by the Department of Energy. 

This was the creation site of the world’s first atomic bomb as part of the infamous Manhattan Project. During World War II, all incoming truckloads to the area were mislabeled, and it wasn’t revealed until after the bombing of Hiroshima what residents here were really up to.

What to Do

History buffs will want to head straight to Manhattan Project National Historical Park, where you can tour the Manhattan Project’s historic Los Alamos site and the lab’s Bradbury Science Museum. Visitors can engage in the museum’s more than 40 interactive exhibits.

Long before physicists moved to the area, though, the four mesas of the Pajarito Plateau (on which the town sits) was home to Puebloans, and you can visit ruins of their cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument. Climb ladders and visit small carved rooms at this archaeological site that features more than 70 miles of trails.

Beaufort, North Carolina

Population: 4,452

Beaufort was established in 1709, making its historic district alone worth visiting because several buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But this town is one with a pirate history. In fact, it’s where Blackbeard spent most of his days, and in 1996, an archaeological crew found the remains of his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, in what is now called Beaufort Inlet. Blackbeard ran the ship aground in May 1718.

What to Do

For all things Blackbeard, a stop at the North Carolina Maritime Museum is a must. It features all the artifacts found from Blackbeard’s flagship.

The small town’s Old Burying Ground is equally intriguing, with graves that date back 300 years, including one of a child who died at sea and was buried in a keg of rum.

Sitka, Alaska

Population: 8,493 

With 22 buildings and sites on the National Register of Historic Places, Sitka is another small town with history to boot. Its name comes from “sheet-ka,” which means “people on the outside of Baranof Island” to the Tlingit people who settled here more than 10,000 years ago. 

When Russian explorers took over the area in 1804 after winning the Battle of Sitka against the native people, the town was designated the capital of Russian America.

What to Do

The 107-acre Sitka National Historical Park interprets the famous battle between the Russians and Tlingit people and features artifacts from the two groups. It also features a collection of Haida and Tlingit totem poles moved from the Louisiana Exposition in St. Louis.

This being Alaska, there is also plenty to do in terms of outdoor activities, from fly fishing to kayaking to wildlife boat tours that will get you up close and personal with the area’s majestic humpback whales.

Columbia, California

Population: 2,297

If only Columbia was as fruitful as it was during its heyday! From 1850 to the early 1900s, $150 million in gold was mined here, earning it the nickname, “Gem of the Southern Mines.”

What was once California’s second-largest city is now home to a few thousand residents who keep its gold rush charm very much alive.

What to Do

Columbia State Historic Park is a living gold rush town and is home to California’s largest single collection of existing structures from this era. Visitors can pan for gold, ride the stagecoach and explore exhibits that tell the history of the California gold rush.

Better yet, a visit to this historic town is free, but you’ll likely want to purchase some sweets at the authentic ice cream parlor or order a pint at the local saloon.

Woodstock, New York

Population: 5,823

Believe it or not, the epic Woodstock music festival that attracted some 400,000 people to the area for “three days of peace and music” was not held in Woodstock, New York. It was actually held about 60 miles away at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York. 

Festival organizers originally wanted to host the concert just across the Woodstock town line in Saugerties, where a series of Woodstock Sound-Outs concerts had been held years prior, earning the area a reputation as a popular summer art colony. But the town wouldn’t approve a permit. Whether or not the festival was actually held here, though, the name stuck, and music and art remain ever-popular here.

What to Do

A stroll down Tinker Street will take you back to the town’s bohemian roots, where quirky mom-and-pop shops sell crystals and Tibetan trinkets to visitors. There’s also a handmade candle shop, indie bookstore and a place where you can get tarot card readings. And don’t miss the Mower’s Flea Market or Woodstock Farm Festival held weekly during the summer and fall seasons.

Of course, the town is also filled with art galleries and music venues, such as Levon Helm Studios, where you can check out local acts. In the summer, the Maverick Concerts series, founded in 1916, takes place in a rustic concert hall in the woods, where the acoustics are exceptional.

Deadwood, South Dakota

Population: 1,293

Gold, prostitution, gunslingers — you name it, Deadwood had it in spades in the late 1800s. In fact, the settlement of Deadwood itself began illegally because the land was originally granted to the Lakota people in 1868. By 1874, however, Colonel George Armstrong Custer brought people here as part of the Black Hills Gold Rush. And by 1876, there were more than 25,000 people in this lawless community where murder was commonplace.

Even gun showman Wild Bill Hickock was killed here, and he and his associate, Calamity Jane, are buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is open to visitors.

What to Do

Looking to get a taste of the Deadwood experience? The entire city is designated a National Historic Landmark District because of its well-preserved architecture.

But the Days of ’76 Museum features more than 50 historic wagons, stagecoaches, firearms, clothing and other memorabilia that celebrates the town’s early pioneering days. Or you can experience those early days first-hand via the 1876 Mystery Dinner Theater, where you can help solve a murder.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Population: 7,724

This small town needs little introduction to history buffs, but we’d be remiss not to include it. 

After all, it’s where the Battle of Gettysburg took place in July 1863, marking a significant turning point in the Civil War and inspiring President Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Gettysburg Address” speech.

What to Do

The town’s highlight, of course, is Gettysburg National Military Park, where you can learn all about the history of the battle and even witness reenactments. You can also take walking tours to visit some of the historic churches that were used as hospitals to care for soldiers.

After a day of history, you can check out the area’s craft wine, beer, cider and spirits trail and take in the beautiful farmlands.

Well that’s all for today. I’ll post more small town America in days ahead. Be sure to check in.


21 Mistakes Americans Make in Europe (and How to Avoid Them)

Getty Images

We know travel plans are impacted right now. But to fulfill your wanderlust, we’ll continue to share stories that can inspire your next adventure.

With its fascinating history, mouth-watering food, cosmopolitan megacities and charming villages, it’s easy to see why travelers flock to Europe. There’s nothing quite like ascending the Eiffel Tower at night, sampling wine in the Tuscan countryside or strolling along Amsterdam’s canals — as long as you follow certain customs and traditions, that is!

Yes, Europe is amazing. Just make sure you understand military time and the metric system, can drive a stick shift and know better than to plug in your hairdryer. For first-time visitors, trying to figure out the continent’s nuances can lead to embarrassing or uncomfortable situations that can sour a holiday.

Thankfully, we’re here to help you learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Read on to learn about some of the most common mistakes Americans make in Europe and helpful tips on how to avoid them at all costs. 

Believing You Have the Right to Go

It’s as if the European Union (EU) had been waiting for an excuse to not allow Americans into its borders. On July 1, 2020, the EU lifted its travel restriction ban (previously set in place due to the pandemic) to certain countries that they didn’t see as a threat to spreading the disease.

What country was not on that list? Yep, you guessed it. The United States.

Especially during the current climate, check all travel restrictions before booking a flight to European countries right now.

Or if you see an amazing deal you can’t refuse, make sure to book a flight that has a good cancellation policy or no flight change fee.

Assuming Everyone Speaks English

Many Europeans have made an effort to learn English, so why not return the favor? Speaking a bit of the local language can go a long way, especially if you plan on going off-the-beaten-path.

You don’t have to be fluent, but knowing key phrases like “Buon Giorno” or  “Wie geht es Ihnen” will earn you more respect than trying to communicate through drawings or awkward hand gestures.

Using Planes Instead of Trains

Europe has well-connected and extensive railways, but many travelers are tempted by budget airlines offering rock-bottom prices. 

But when you factor in the time it takes to get between the city and these airports, not to mention those long security lines before your flight, traveling by train can still be a far better use of time and money. 


Gratuities are a great way to show your appreciation, but they aren’t necessary in Europe, where service charges are already built into a restaurant’s prices. 

Even for exceptional service, tipping an extra 10 percent is considered generous. 

Expecting Big Portions and Unlimited Beverages

Aside from wearing socks with sandals, asking for a “free refill” in Europe is one of the most embarrassing things an American tourist can do. While we love to supersize our drinks in the U.S., Europe offers more modest pours (for soda, anyway, wine and beer is a different story). 

The same applies to food, where the emphasis is put on the amount of flavor, not the size of the plate. On the bright side, you’ll have plenty of room for dessert. 

Thinking Bread and Water Are Free

Many diners assume water is free, just like at home, but when a server asks you if you want still or sparkling (or gas, depending on the country), be prepared to pay for it. 

The same goes for bread and, gasp, even the butter.  

While the charges are small, if you’re on a tight budget, it’s best to skip the sparkling and cut the carbs. 

Of course, if you’re a huge bread lover, it never hurts to do your research before. Countries like France (where eating bread is like brushing your teeth) do typically serve bread for free.

Eating American Food

We don’t blame you if you’re not into trying fermented shark, but why go all the way to Europe to only eat at McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken? 

It’d be a shame to miss those mouth-watering perogies in Poland or Spain’s famed paella. 

If you’re on a budget or simply enjoy fast food, bypass the golden arches in favor of local choices like krokets from Febo (Holland) or smoked fish from Nordsee (Germany).

Dining Near the Major Sites

Dying to see the Roman Colosseum? Fantastic, but the spaghetti and meatballs next door will likely earn a thumbs down. Want authentic fish and chips? The cafe next to Big Ben is anything but a fresh catch. 

While long lines and hours spent on your feet might prompt you to run to the first cafe you see, your meal will likely be less authentic and far more expensive than going to someplace a bit farther from the action.

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The 3 biggest mistakes tourists make when visiting national parks

Article by (Talia Lakritz) for Insider©

A former park ranger reveals the 3 biggest mistakes tourists make when visiting national parksa young boy standing next to a body of water: Ash Nudd spent three seasons as a park ranger. Dirt In My Shoes© Dirt In My Shoes Ash Nudd spent three seasons as a park ranger.

Ash Nudd has gotten a lot of dirt in her shoes over the years, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

The Utah resident spent three seasons giving tours, teaching safety instruction courses, and even participating in search and rescue efforts as a National Park Service Ranger in three different national parks across the US. Now, she runs a blog called Dirt In My Shoes where she continues to share trip itineraries full of expert recommendations.

The CDC still recommends avoiding non-essential travel, but national parks have become a popular vacation option during the pandemic since road trips and socially distanced outdoor activities are relatively low-risk. But before you go, you should be prepared and know the do’s and don’ts.

Here are the three most common mistakes Nudd saw tourists make when visiting national parks.

Don’t wing it — plan your trip beforehand

a man standing in front of a counter: Park rangers can give you guidance, not an itinerary. Jacob W. Frank/NPS
© Jacob W. Frank/NPS  Park rangers can give you guidance, not an itinerary.

Exploring a national park requires advanced planning like any other trip. Park rangers are happy to offer guidance, but they can’t write your whole itinerary for you.

“A lot of people show up to the park thinking that they can just have a good time without making any plans,” Nudd said. “People would come up to the desk and ask, ‘What do we do now?’ It’s really important to make a good plan before you get there.”

Getting too close to wild animals isn’t worth the photo-op

a brown bear walking across a snow covered road: Wildlife has the right of way. Jacob W. Frank/NPS
© Jacob W. Frank/NPS  Wildlife has the right of way

A national park is not a zoo. People often forget that the parks and animals are, in fact, wild.

Nudd remembers one instance when a photographer crept too close to a mother and baby moose. The photographer brushed off her warnings and insisted he was fine, but Nudd could tell that the mother was getting dangerously agitated. (He lived to tell the tale.)

“I think everyone wants that Instagram-worthy photo of them when they’re there, and it can put the wildlife and the resources at risk,” she said.

Don’t stray from marked paths

a group of people standing on top of a mountain: Stay on the path. Jacob W. Frank/NPS
© Jacob W. Frank/NPS Stay on the path.

Everyone thinks they’re the only one to stray from a path and carve their own way, but millions of people visit national parks each year (327.5 million in 2019, to be exact). Wandering off a trail damages the ground around it, obscuring the real path and making it difficult for future visitors to find and follow.

“Maybe the smaller things don’t seem like as big of a deal, but if everybody did it then it would ruin the landscape,” she said. “I’d rarely see huge rule-breakers when I worked in the parks. Usually it was just the little stuff that adds up when you have millions of people there.”


Go on a (virtual) tour of Tokyo with these gorgeous photos

By Lydia Schrandt, Special to USA TODAY 10 Best

Welcome to Tokyo

Old and new collide in Tokyo, Japan’s dazzling metropolis and capital city that spreads out in seemingly endless sprawl in all directions. Take a look at some of the city’s cultural icons and hidden gems through this photo tour.

a view of a city: Tokyo skyline
© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Tokyo skyline

a view of a city at sunset: Shinjuku© Y.Shimizu/©JNTO Shinjuku

In the shadow of the mountain

On clear days, it’s possible to see Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest peak, from many an observation deck throughout Tokyo. Here, the mountain is visible at sunset, with the Shinjuku ward in the foreground.a room with a book shelf: Kanda Used Book Street© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Kanda Used Book Street

Literary paradise

Tokyo’s Jimbocho ward is home to a cluster of universities and, therefore, a healthy demand for books. The neighborhood is now one of the largest bookshop districts on the planet, with some 200 bookstores, giving it the name Book Town. Antique books are a specialty, but you’ll find plenty of newer offerings as well.a store in a city: Shibuya Crossing© iStock / Eloi_Omella Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Scramble

As many as 2,500 people make their way across Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo every two minutes at its busiest times, making it one of the world’s busiest intersections. People cross from all directions, giving the crosswalk the nickname “Shibuya Scramble.”a view of a city: Shibuya Scramble Square© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Shibuya Scramble Square

Tokyo from above

For the best views and photo ops of the busy Shibuya Crossing, head to the observation deck of Shibuya Scramble Square. Visitors enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding city, including the busy pedestrian crossing.a person preparing food in a kitchen: Yakitori restaurant© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Yakitori restaurant

Eat your heart out

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a meal of yakitori, grilled chicken skewers cooked to order over charcoal. This inexpensive dish is typically served alongside a glass of cold beer, and while many restaurants have it on the menu, it’s best to get it from a specialty shop, called a yakitori-ya.a store front at night: Harmonica Alley© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Harmonica Alley

A taste of Old Tokyo

Step back in time in Tokyo with a stroll down Harmonica Alley. This narrow warren of alleys and covered streets, illuminated by red lanterns at night, is a popular spot for after-work drinks and snacks from standing-room-only eateries.a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Takeshita-dori© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Takeshita-dori

Harajuku fashion

Spend some time wandering around Harajuku Station, and you’ll likely come face to face with Japan’s teenage fashion culture. Takeshita Street is a hub for trend-setting youth, with shops specializing in kawaii, grunge and goth fashion. Lady Gaga has even been known to shop here.a large ship in a body of water: Rainbow Bridge© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Rainbow Bridge

Colorful crossing

Like many of the world’s great cities, Tokyo has its own iconic bridge, the Rainbow Bridge linking Odaiba and Shibaura Pier. Once the sun goes down, the bridge lights up with solar-powered, multi-hued lights. Both cars and pedestrians can cross the bridge; it takes about 30 minutes on foot.a large tower that has a bridge over a body of water: Statue of Liberty© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Statue of Liberty

Japan’s Statue of Liberty

Visitors to Tokyo might be surprised to see an icon much more closely associated with the United States. A smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty sits along the waterfront in Odaiba. It’s only 40 feet tall — about a seventh the size of its U.S. counterpart — but can appear larger due to the suspension bridge in the background.a small boat in a body of water: Inokashira Park© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Inokashira Park

Green Tokyo

For a modern metropolis, Tokyo has quite a number of appealing green spaces. Inokashira Park ranks among the best, with a pond, row boats for rent, wooded walking paths and a shrine to one of Japan’s lucky gods.a stone bench sitting next to a window: Japanese onsen© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Japanese onsen

Say “ahhh”

The Japanese archipelago remains volcanically active, and that activity has created mineral hot springs throughout the country. You don’t have to stray far from Tokyo to enjoy a rejuvenating soak in one of these traditional onsen.a group of people sitting at a crowded street: Ameyoko© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Ameyoko

Shop ’til you drop

People looking for some retail therapy won’t have to look far in Tokyo. There’s a shopping district for just about every taste, from the high-end stores of Ginza to the electronics of Shinjuku. For some one-stop shopping, head to the open-air Ameyoko market, where you’ll find clothing, cosmetics and food, all at famously cheap prices.a vase of flowers on a table: Bonsai tree© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Bonsai tree

The art of bonsai

Bonsai, potted miniature trees, have garnered popularity around the world, but they originated in Japan. Keep an eye out for them as you wander around town, learn about the living art at Omiya Bonsai Village just north of Tokyo or do some window shopping at the Morimae Ginza Bonsai Shop in the Ginza district.a group of people in a small boat in a body of water: Shinjuku© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Shinjuku

Springtime sakura

Springtime means one thing in Japan: cherry blossoms. Chidorigafuchi ranks among the best viewing spots in Tokyo, with more than 260 sakura trees of several varieties. Enjoy the view from the pedestrian path alongside the moat, or from a row boat on the water.a group of people in a garden: Nezu-jinja Shrine© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Nezu-jinja Shrine

Azalea Festival

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing blooming in Tokyo. Nezu Shrine hosts the Azalea Festival each spring, when the shrine’s 3,000 azalea plants are in full bloom.a group of people standing next to a tree: Ginkgo trees© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Ginkgo trees

Tunnel of trees

Come autumn, Tokyo’s ginkgo trees turn a bright golden color. Many Tokyo streets have the trees growing on either side, creating tunnels of fall foliage. Some of the best places to see them include Meiji Jingu Gaien, Showa Memorial Park and Yoyogi Park.a store in a city: Akihabara© Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau Akihabara

Otaku culture

Tokyo’s bustling Akihabara district is ground zero for otaku culture. Shoppers will find numerous shops and boutiques dedicated to anime and manga, as well as electronics. Visit Mandarake, one of the largest manga and anime shops in the world; eat Gundam-themed dishes at Gundam Cafe; or pick up some manga gear to take home.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network, providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world, in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.


Visit Barcelona for Culture and Education

aerial photography of Sagrada Famila during daytime
Alfons Taekema for Unsplash

Barcelona is both cultural and educational. But it is also the second-best city for offering the most culture per kilometer.

The capital of Catalonia is filled with parks and natural features, also earning it a spot in the top 10 for nature lovers. It does the same in terms of providing loads of entertainment and foodie options.

Top Museums in Barcelona


There’s a common thought from visitors who visit Barcelona: so many museums and so little time! Begin with the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (shown), the city’s largest museum dedicated to 1,000 years of Catalan art.

Move on to Parc de Montjuic, the national museum and castle that not only houses more European art, but also affords fantastic mountaintop views of the city.

Then explore the science museum, CosmoCaixa, which takes you back as far as prehistoric times.

Top Sites and Landmarks in Barcelona


But, of course, when you spend time in the artist Gaudi’s world, you simply must visit his architectural works. The world-renowned Basilica of the Sagrada Familia tops the list of places to visit in Barcelona. This cathedral has become the symbol of the city and offers jaw-dropping architecture on both the exterior and interior.

A short stroll away is the Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, with is one of the oldest districts of the city filled with shops and restaurants and surrounded by wonderful architecture.

On your architectural tour, make your way to Casa Batllo (shown). Here, Gaudi’s vision is showcased throughout this unique building’s structure.