Economy got you bummed? Time to bail out of town for the weekend. Beats watching the foliage cam, even if that burns less carbon than traveling. So skip town, but don't go too far. Find a nearby place to enjoy nature, get a massage, kiss your sweetie in a different ecosystem, try local cuisine and support your regional economy.
Where to go? Pick the nearest beach, on the ocean or lake, and enjoy Indian Summer warmth and views crossed by migrating waterbirds, with zilch crowds. Find a National Park near you. For day hikes in your area, check out Trails.com. The Bear Wallow Trail just outside of Santa Fe looks like a pretty sweet four-mile jaunt, for instance. Or, find a music/food/craft festival at the killer website What's On When.
How to get there without burning personal fuel miles and budgets? Do a carless leaf peep via train or boat. Check out PublicTransportation.org and enter your zip code to find a communal travel method that is cheaper and far more entertaining (watching other passengers head bob and weave to sleep is a personal favorite activity of ours). If you live in in the Northeast, the brilliant Bolt Bus connects Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston and New York many times a day. For a $20 ticket, passengers receive a smooth ride and free wireless internet, not to mention perhaps the most friendly bus drivers to ever bless the highways. Megabus.com, leaving from Chicago and accessing Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Ann Arbor and Kansas City is a great option for Midwesterners. Megabus also just launched a West Coast line connecting Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. For carpoolers, RideAmigos and Zimride offer a chance to preview profiles before you get in a car, making your co-rider a new friend instead of a stranger.
Last question, where to stay. If you want luxurious green accommodations, check out International Eco Tourism Society Member Directory or the Rainforest Alliance's Eco Index for a list of accredited eco-lodges. Even Orbitz.com has a new eco-tourism section, Eco.orbitz.com. Chances are, prices will be cheaper now that we are moving into the off-season. Although philosophically, it could be argued that there is never an off-season to relax and reconnect with your friends and family on a vacation.
Story by Margaret Teich. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.