What Are Au Pairs’ Favorite American Trips?

by cv harquail on September 18, 2016

Hi AuPairMom! I would love to hear from au pairs about their favorite places in the U.S. to take weekend trips.

Pile of suitcases from your au pairWe always seem to end up with au pairs planning weekend trips around our kitchen table, and I’m struck by the places au pairs really want to visit. Vegas and Niagara Falls seem to represent the epitome of American culture in the minds of au pairs, whereas many Americans would view them as inauthentic or the ultimate tourist trap.

For example, some au pairs seem to think of Texas as a place where they’ll get to see Old Western ghost towns and wide open vistas. We try to explain that in 3 days in Dallas or Houston without a car, you’re likely to be spending more time in shopping malls and chain restaurants than on a dude ranch.

We’d probably steer them towards somewhere like New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville or Charleston, where you could get a Southern experience on a budget with a side of history, music and nightlife in a compact, walkable city. But maybe I’m just projecting my own preferences, where a young person might have much different criteria for a good trip.

Since we’re often asked to give input, I’d love to hear from au pairs:

If you had 3-4 days to visit a new city, where would you go? Where have your favorite trips been?

I’m thinking less of places like San Francisco or the Grand Canyon that you might plan to hit on your travel month, but cities you would explore with a friend over a long weekend.

What makes a good trip in your experience?

Best to all — Massmom

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

VeneHM September 18, 2016 at 6:29 pm

What a great topic, I was just looking at mileage award travel to give my au pair as a Christmas gift, she’s been talking non-stop about going to Disney World – last destination I’d choose if I was in her shoes – but it’s been her life-long dream. I’d love to hear what other HMs have to say.

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Aupair Lauren September 19, 2016 at 2:22 am

I love this question!

The places that are on my list to check out with 2-4 days to spare are:
– Savannah, Georgia
– Galena, Illinois
– Charleston, SC
– Wolfeboro + Keene, New Hampshire
– Damascus, Virginia
– Fredericksburg, Texas
– New Orleans, Louisiana
– Hood River, Oregon
– Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
– Capitola, California
– Creede, Colorado
– Nantucket, Massachusetts
– and a real authentic ‘Amish town/village’ (if anyone has a good suggestion on one then I’d love to know it!)

I have no idea if any of those are inauthentic American towns but I did a lot of research on different places in each state and loved the look of them! I have traveled the US to the main touristy areas before being an au pair so those places don’t really appeal to me but I do admit to having places I wasn’t able to visit on there ie. San Fran, DC, Austin and Hawaii so I completely understand if an au pair who hasn’t been to the US before is dying to get to LA, or Orlando for Disneyworld or has turned 21 and wants to experience Vegas and I guess it’s also about what kind of year and experience each individual wants to have for their au pair year.

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Schnitzelpizza October 18, 2016 at 8:14 am

I took a local history class as part of my credits and we went to Holmes County which has the largest Amish community in the world, if I remember correctly. It’s right between Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus so quite easy to combine with a trip to a larger city. Cleveland actually has a lot to see and do… or shall I say “a lot more than I thought”? ;)

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Aupair Paris September 19, 2016 at 3:48 am

Nashville, New Orleans, Graceland… I’d want to know anywhere that there are “stories” – true or not – i.e. when in Jamaica I went to Rose Hall to hear about The White Witch – anything with a cool story behind it is fascinating, even if you know it’s kind of ridiculous. So like, if there’s a Tubman museum or anything similar anywhere, I’d like to go there (though I would like it more if it was a towncity with a LOT of museums and history…). Anywhere that has associations with music. Also, Austin, if I could email the University of Texas and try to get access to the library – it has all of Coetzee’s writings and letters! Washington DC, of course… I mean, for a lot of au pairs, the touristy inauthentic bits are still a lot of fun. They’re what people ask if you’ve seen. When in Paris, I *loved* and made myself at home in the cafés and the Latin Quarter and the Musée D’Orsay, but I still visited the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre just to say I had…

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Aupair Paris September 19, 2016 at 4:07 am

Of course this is all without reference to a map or any idea of travel times. Coming from a small country (one end to the other can be driven in about seven hours) it’s hard to conceptualise how things work in such a big one. Especially since I think you guys have fewer trains/less public transport in general. But I’m assuming that if I were in the US I’d have saved up a fair bit for travel/flights!

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Quirky September 19, 2016 at 9:48 am

So true about the distance issue! Our AP, who is leaving this Wednesday, was planning a last day trip with her friends for yesterday (Sunday). They had planned to go to Williamsburg, VA, which is a 3 hour drive from us in the DC suburbs with no traffic (and there is never no traffic on I-95). Instead, I suggested Mount Vernon, just south of Alexandria, and she loved it! A much better use of a day.

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Returning HM September 19, 2016 at 8:57 am

We have been hosting ten years and live outside of Boston now (have also lived outside of two other major east coast cities). . Our APs tend to travel on weekends to Portland ME, New Hampshire/Vt for foliage, NYC, Philly, DC, Chicago, Montreal, Niagara Falls. Longer favorite trips are to SF (drive down coast to see the towns along the way such as Carmel etc) and then fly from LA to Las Vegas for a couple of nights. Also to Denver, Seattle (often on the way to Hawaii), Miami (Everglades, Key West), Nashville. We had one AP go to New Orleans and from there to San Antonio, but few others have gone off the “obvious” track. For day trips or overnights, a lot of APs enjoy seeing Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Provincetown, providence. All of our APs – male and female – have loved outlet mall shopping so go to Maine for the outlets :-).

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Texas6TimeHostMom September 19, 2016 at 9:28 am

We live in central Texas, popular spots have been New Orleans (rent a car with a group, Enterprise rents to under 25, plan WAY ahead for Mardi Gras), San Antonio, Las Vegas, Chicago, Florida, I even had an au pair fly to DC and San Francisco. Los Angeles is also on the list, but I think it is so hard without a car. I also had an au pair visit a dude ranch in the Texas hill country which was apparently fun!

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Beth September 19, 2016 at 9:36 am

Besides the Phili,ny,Boston, Niagra Falls for east coast families we had one Au pair that went from Las Vegas the Grand Canyon to the west coast in a rental car with a bunch of friends then we also had an Au pair that stayed in a youth hostel in Miami and probable had one of the best weeks of her life.

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Quirky September 19, 2016 at 9:53 am

We live in the close-in DC suburbs, so our APs and their friends have an embarrassment of riches of fun and free or cheap places to visit in the city itself. Annapolis and Baltimore are good day trips from DC. Our APs do the Niagara trip partly because it’s a cheap and easy class to take, and all of them have also done weekend trips to Chicago and NYC on cheap flights or even cheaper buses. We’re also lucky to have three airports, Amtrak, and cheap bus options so it’s fairly easy to travel without a car.

I’d like to throw out though that there are so many great outdoor spaces available to show off America the Beautiful. Depending on her/his inclination, an AP should be encouraged to think about not just cities and historical landmarks but also outdoor recreation. Our APs have taken day trips to the Shenandoah for hiking, but from where we are they could easily find places to camp overnight on the cheap as well.

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Mimi September 19, 2016 at 11:43 am

We live in rural New England where there’s lots of country fairs and agricultural things to do. I think it depends on how much local flavor they want as opposed to touristy things. A few of our APs have done Nashville, New Orleans, Miami, and Chicago but opinions on the large cities were mixed. I think if you don’t have a local guide, it makes a difference.

For our APs, we recommend long weekends in Boston, Washington DC, Newport, and New York, along with Niagara, Acadia, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, the seaports, and a whole plethora of mostly local historical places. If they have taken care of their visas, we tell them to see Quebec, Montreal, and Ottowa, too. (New Year’s Eve in Montreal has been very popular.) Many of them have taken their travel months to do AP tours of California and the west coast, including Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Part of the great thing about having an AP for us was discovering these places for ourselves, too, and we often did many of them as a family or on a weekend trip where the AP was on her own to explore without having to deal with the kids.

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Jennc September 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Our aupairs have traveled to savannah GA especially for St Patrick’s day, my one Aupair flew to California and did a Trek America tour , hit a lot of highlights, but so much to see in Cali. Seattle Washington is another great place , Mt Rainer! Miami always on radar, but keywest is another interesting spot to hit. Atlanta ga has some fun stuff to do . Orlando is a must do with the family best but something my Aupair wanted to do . Philadelphia PA has some cool stuff as well as Boston . I’ve taken aupairs all over the U.S. So much to do and see .

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DMMom September 19, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Our Au Pairs have enjoyed the following on 3 or 4 day weekends:
1. San Francisco to San Diego costal drives and visits
2. Seattle
3. Yellowstone National Park
4. Orlando, visiting Harry Potter at Universal and Disney
5. Austin and San Antonio
6. Chicago
7. Washington DC
8. New Orleans
9. Grand Canyon

We also encourage them to take day trips to the local toursist locations around our city, sometimes we bring them, or sometimes just encourage them to go with friends.We also get them out trying new things like: canoeing, geocaching, snow skiing, snow tubing, snow shoeing, ice skating, ice fishing, water skiing, maple syruping, apple picking, corn mazes, hay rides, and the many local festivals and events.

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WestMom September 19, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Sadly, I feel like all of our Au Pairs have stuck to the obvious. I shouldn’t be surprised, seeing each one of them going to Times Square over and over again for the first two months after their arrival. We are in NY area and aside form the must sees in the area (Boston, Philly, DC and Montreal), our Au Pairs have traveled the following: Niagara Falls, Miami, Cancun, San Juan, and a few have done the West coast essentials (SF to LA, Vegas to Grand Canyon).

If you ask me, I would encourage a lot more outdoor activities since there is so much to do within a two hours radius and we have camping equipment to sleep an army. But I am afraid most of our au pairs were more ‘shopping than ‘camping’…!

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NoVA Twin Mom September 20, 2016 at 6:34 am

Based on a tip here many years ago, two of our au pairs have rented a Campervan (http://www.escapecampervans.com/) and driven the national parks out west. Awesome trips, one we’d like to copy someday! They rent to drivers 21 and older (helping with the “how to rent a car if you’re under 25” problem).

Our current au pair is eyeing Alaska as a place to spend a week. I got her a guidebook (we have a shelf of guidebooks that our au pairs have left behind, so we added an Alaska book) and plan to try to plant the idea of a cruise as a way to get from point to point – she’ll be 20 nearly her entire year here so she may have some trouble renting a car for a decent price. Anyone have any insight on that, particularly in Alaska?

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TexasHM September 21, 2016 at 10:12 am

Challenge with the major cruises is they hit Canadian ports and her visa will be expired on her travel month so she would not be let back into the US to fly home. You’d have to find a smaller cruise ship that started and ended in Alaska and not one of the majors from Seattle/Vancouver.

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NoVA Twin Mom September 21, 2016 at 10:19 am

she’s thinking vacation during the year (May, about month 10) rather than during her travel month – since we matched in June and her embassy appointment wasn’t until July, I *think* her visa should still be OK. I should ask her to check though.

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TexasHM September 21, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Then she should be ok but will likely need a visa. Depending on what country she is from it could be easy (e-approval on the website) or extensive (appts, passports, interviews, etc). I’d also get the agency involved to make sure her trip is documented and they often send a letter etc to try and reduce risk on return. Also sidenote, May is pretty early season for Alaska so it will be cold, many areas not thawed yet, etc so she needs to really do her homework as some things will still be closed depending on where she is going. But another perk is that it is early season so the cruises/excursions will be discounted a little and it won’t be as crowded because kids are still in school then.

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Seattle Mom September 20, 2016 at 9:21 pm

All my au pairs have done weekends in Vancouver, BC (Canada) and Portland, OR, which are both good weekend road trips from Seattle. One au pair also did a long weekend trip to Chicago, and a day trip to Forks- she was a huge Twilight fan. That was a long day trip- probably 3 hours each way. Another au pair did a long weekend in Los Angeles. And one did a weekend au pair class in San Francisco, where there was very little classroom time and a lot of touring around, plus homework.

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Dorsi September 22, 2016 at 7:36 pm

None of my Au Pairs have recently made it to Canada – they have made the visa process too complicated for many South Americans.

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Multitasking Host Mom September 21, 2016 at 6:32 am

We are a family that loves to go off the beaten path. Our last road trip involved a detour to see the world’s largest ketchup bottle! But I also get why people, especially au pairs, stay with the well known when planning vacations. They often have limited time and money, so they want to see the things they always heard about in America. Our last au pair though did visit several places that most of her friends didn’t see and I think she had a much richer American experience because of it.

My suggestion of cities to see are:
Memphis/Nashville…even if the music isn’t your thing the unique setting, history, and food is great.
Chicago…most things are within a couple mile walk. Must have photo opportunities at the “bean” and Willis tower. Plus shopping!!!
New Orleans…honestly not my favorite place personally, but I could see a young person really enjoy it.
Grand Canyon…just awesome. And really any of our state/national parks. So many beautiful places to hang out in nature.

I would also encourage au pairs to look for one day trips to really see the things you can only see here.
A not as well known but interesting historical site.
A state or county fair…depending on the location you live these are quite plentiful in the summer…and definitely pure American.
The Kentucky Derby (you get to wear a cool hat…enough said) or a rodeo.

So much in America to see and do!!!

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TexasHM September 21, 2016 at 10:32 am

Here is the thing, like anything else it depends on what you are looking for and enjoy. Multitasking HM doesn’t love NOLA and its probably our #1 favorite city in the US and top 5 in the world and we travel (I’m told) a lot more than most. Why? Because we love the history, culture, music, the FOOD (OMG I could write a post just about this) and the people. Guess where we don’t go when we go there? Bourbon Street. Last Thanksgiving we took a cruise out of there and went a couple days early to take the kids to the Insectarium, to get real beignets, eat at the real places, we had a blast (AP included and she went back for another weekend she loved it so much).

Because we are in DFW our APs have the perk of having cheap, usually nonstop flights to wherever they want. Our current AP this year hit (in the US): Florida (Tampa/Venice), New Orleans, Kansas City, San Angelo, New Orleans x2, Nashville
Austin, San Francisco, Branson, Washington DC, Fredericksburg/Enchanted Rock, Galveston, Houston, Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon, LA, Disneyland and travel month is a west coast parks tour leaving from Vegas.

AP2 was musician so we encouraged Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, etc. AP1 wanted all the checkbox touristy places and did NY, SF, LA, Miami, etc. AP3 had a similar list to our current AP minus a few more remote Texas things and adding Boston and Atlanta.

If they love history I recommend New Orleans (let’s face it – its on all my lists!), Boston, SF, DC, etc. If they love nature I recommend national parks, Texas Hill Country, Big Bend, Palo Duro, Appalachia and the NW.

AP3 went with a fellow AP to Atlanta. That AP took one photo at the Coke HQ and said her weekend was done. That was literally her reason for going. My AP proceeded to drag her to MLK sites/museum, CNN HQ and a bunch of other historical sites and museums and interesting places. After, they mutually agreed not to travel together again! :) You can lead a horse to water…

It also will greatly vary based on where you are based. Here there is low cost of living and flights are cheap so our APs tend to travel way more than their friends on the coasts. Plus, being central, mine can do either coast on a weekend trip whereas that would be almost impossible for an AP based on one of the coasts to do much of anything on the other coast by the time you factor in time difference, flight times, etc. On the other hand, its a haul to other major cities from here even in Texas so they can’t exactly hop on the train anytime they want. There is Megabus and some APs can drive wherever they want so its not impossible, just takes likely more planning than an AP that lives near the line on the East Coast.

Especially if APs are driven (willing to wake up way early to catch a flight and save every week for travel budget) the sky is the limit really. That being said, for the OP, try not to let it make you crazy. Offer up suggestions and leave it at that. If being a selfie queen in front of a billboard is their definition of success then you likely won’t be able to change that in a year. You CAN however, probably get some additional billboards added to her bucket list. ;)

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Aupair Paris September 21, 2016 at 12:18 pm

This list has made me want to quit my job and do a months-year long trip around the US instead… (I *probably* will not actually do this…)

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Multitasking Host Mom September 21, 2016 at 8:15 pm

LOL, TexasHM… Bourbon St. was totally what I was thinking of when I made that comment. So not my cup of tea.
My favorite thing when we were visiting New Orleans was going on a swap tour lead by a Cajan alligator hunter…or at least some one who said he was and hammed it up for the tourists! Now that was off the beaten path.

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TexasHM September 21, 2016 at 10:40 am

OH – and PS to the OP – as someone not from, but in DFW there is actually a ton to do here. It depends on what AP is looking for but if they want the rodeo and cattle drive/cowboy culture recommend Fort Worth. JFK Museum in Dallas if they are into that.

I think TIMING is actually the most important factor. If your AP came to Dallas in the next few weeks she could experience the Texas State Fair which is worth the trip alone. Largest in the US and completely over the top. To give you an idea – in addition to amazing shows and Big Tex himself (giant talking cowboy) here are the food finalists this year: Caribbean Pineapple Korn-a-Copia, Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick, Deep Fried Pulled Pork “FUNYUN®” Dings, Fernie’s Down Home Chicken Pot Pie Pocket with Mac ‘n Cheese Dip, Injectable Great Balls of BBQ, Southern Fried Chicken & Dumplins and winners are Fried Jell-O and Cookie Fries. Yes, for real. Our family faves are Friend Thanksgiving Dinner, Fried Beer, Fried Texas but I could go on forever…

If they come in January they can hit the Stock Show and Rodeo in Fort Worth which again, event worth the trip by itself. Plus the weather is wonderful for the State Fair and January here is probably milder than wherever they are coming from and sometimes its downright awesome so I think it’s often less about the destination and more about the timing, interest, etc. My AP NASA fans get sent to Houston for a weekend… :)

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WarmStateMomma September 22, 2016 at 8:28 pm

The museums in Dallas are incredible!! And they all seem to be free! Anyone who is impressed with the run down Smithsonian natural history museum should check out the Perot in Dallas or the HMNS in Houston. That won’t impress party girls, but my APs love seeing art by American and European artists they recognize. Dallas is an awesome weekend spot for someone with wheels, but would require a bit of initiative for someone without a car.

Current AP went primitive camping in a national forest, the Texas Hill Country, the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns. She can’t wait to go back out west.

My APs all love Orlando and the FL beaches, but the RT flights are $40 in the off season and they stay with my parents for free so it’s an easy one.

The LCCs organize a trip to San Antonio every year. Current AP went and said it was a disaster. The APs who drove terrified her, she ended up babysitting a party girl in a sketchy bar, and they went to a second-rate theme park. It’s hard for APs to travel together when their personalities and cultures are so different.

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German Au-Pair September 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm

Oh late to the party but NEED to comment.
-Nashville yay! Perfect for that amount of time. Memphis nah, I found it super boring aside for the MLK site and the history aspect.
-Smoky Mountains -could fill pages on this one. Friends have joked I should get paid by their tourist board. I’m NOT but would always always always recommend a stay in Gatlinburg <3
-NOLA: Wonderful short trip
-Niaga Falls: really wanted to but couldn't
-Chicago: LOVED it. Like NYC but pretty and clean :D
-Philly: I personally found it boring as well but most APs seem to like it
-Bryce Canyon: I would take Bryce over Grand anytime. I actually cried there because I sure nothing could ever be this beautiful again :D
– Yellow Stone – so far out but I saw it on my tour and it was STUNNING.
-Seattle and sourrounding areas…we did a road trip to Forks (Twilight and stuff…) and did some orca watching which had been a childhood dream of mine.
-some APs I know have really enjoyed the relatively inexpensive cruises starting in Floria (Bahams right?)
-DC- Would have loved to spend more time there…I only got to see it while travelling through. Had a nice little incident with the police when we went sightseeing at the White House at 5 in the morning :D
-Amish country: was always on my to do list but I never managed…

Also make a list of day hikes in your area. In my area there were a ton of waterfalls and caves and stuff like that that I never actually managed to visit but would have loved to. Unfortunately my hiking passion started just a few weeks before I left so I didn't get to take as much advantage of the wonderful nature my area had to offer. Basically the one regret I have from that time.

Also did one of the guided bus tours in mjy travel month (the one that goes to Yellow Stone) and I would do that again in a heartbeat. I went all alone and drastically lowered the avarage age in that bus but I had an absolutely wonderful time.

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Au Pair Sis October 4, 2016 at 12:20 pm

I asked this question to a few Au Pairs and here is their recommenations:
MA: Costa Rica and Key Largo with the fam. Florida, New Orleans and California with friends
LH: Alaska with friends ?
DG: Hawaii, West Coast , National parks in Utah, Arizona, Nevada , Wyoming
AC: Yosemite!!!
LB: I love Arizona!! But San Francisco was very nice, Chicago and Yellowstone too! Alaska is proving itself very beautiful too
EG: Chicago, Yellowstone, New Orleans (Mardi Gras), San Francisco,Washington, South Beach (Miami). Did not like Las Vegas!

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Schnitzelpizza October 18, 2016 at 8:42 am

Bucketlist destinations I never made are
– Niagara Falls
– Yosemite
– Boston (or New England in general)
– Seattle
– Mount Rushmore
– New Orleans
– Bryce Canyon & Arches National Park
– Hawaii
– Alaska

I have since added Portland, OR to the list. I am hoping to go on a cruise to Alaska one day and will try to add Portland to my travel plans when that happens.
The Bahamas were on my list… I have since been to Nassau and really don’t need to go again. Back then I was sad I didn’t make it but now?

My weekend trips were
– Washington DC
– Cleveland, OH & Sandusky, OH (for Cedar Point)
– Cincinnati, OH
– Pittsburgh, PA (with my HF actually)
– Milwaukee, WI (I had been there before but I love Milwaukee!)
– Nashville, TN
– Mason, OH (for Kings Island)

My main vacation were two road trips where I checked off quite a few places that I had wanted to go to
– Charleston
– Charlotte
– Wilmington
– Savannah
– Miami
– Florida Keys
– Everglades
– Tampa
– Atlanta
(we then tried to go to Lynchburg but somehow never found it…)
– Indianapolis
– Tucson
– Phoenix
– Tombstone
– LA
– Santa Monica
– Santa Barbara
– SF
– Kings Canyon
– Sequoia National Park
(we wanted to go to Death Valley but thought we didn’t have the time… stupid)
– Hoover Dam
– Vegas (after Kings Canyon and Sequoia? not worth it…)
– Page / Lake Powell (I actually never knew I wanted to go but it was amazing!)
– Grand Canyon

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