International travel is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you can have. An introduction to a new culture and way of life is as insightful as it is fun. But getting abroad requires long, expensive airfare, which often makes this kind of travel off-limits. But not always. While a big, massive country, the U.S. does have access to a number of international locales that don’t require a ten-hour red eye flight. Based on region, here’s where you can get your international fix with only five hours or less of travel.
If you’re living in the northwest pocket of the United States and you haven’t been to Vancouver, Canada yet, you’re seriously doing yourself a disservice. Yes, Canada is not as different from America as, say, India, but it’s still under Royal rule, and this part of the world is ideal – it has both mountains and the sea, and it’s a major metropolis. That means you can get your culture at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthology, then your party fix in happening Yaletown. After, you can hit up Grouse Mountain for some stunning views, the Spanish beach banks for, you know, the beach (although cold!), and finally Stanley Park, a beloved 1000 outdoor space where you can bike, jog, or walk along a 14-mile seawall.
Southern California and the South West
If you are a native Californian, there’s a good chance you crossed over to TJ for a night out before you turned 21. But Tijuana is not just a hub for young, drunk American kids, it’s a cultural center with plenty to offer. And is it close – a 45-minute tram from downtown San Diego drops you into San Ysidro, Tijuana for a cool $2.50. So easy, many Mexicans actually commute to San Diego this way. So, yeah, it’s close.
What to do other than drink the legendary tequila? For starters, it’s the Baja Peninsula, so a beach excursion is practically required. Great for surfing and basking alike, also along the beach is the very cool malecon, a strip of street vendors serving food, crafts, alcohol, and souvenirs. The Centro Cultural Tijuana is a center of, you guessed it, culture complete with live performances, an IMAX theater, and an exhibit that features the history of the Baja. Check out a Luca Libra wrestling match, or head to the Parque Morales for some green space. Also, eat some tacos. Lots of them.
The South and Mid-West
From any place near the Gulf of Mexico or the mid-west U.S. there’s a quick plane ride to the heart of Mexico. Head south-central to Oaxaca City for a true, in-depth emersion. First, the Mercado Benito Juarez tickles your local market fancy, while this home of the mole (there are seven varieties) gets your taste buds dancing. Delicacies aren’t your average bean and cheese burrito, rather tlauydas and chapulines (fried grasshoppers!) are the foods you need to try.
Oaxaca is rich with history. The Mitla carved walls are one of the most cherished relics to locals, but first and foremost, you need to see the pyramids. No, you don’t have to go to Egypt – the beautiful Monte Alban pyramid complex is in excellent condition and was one of the earliest cities in all of Mesoamerica. Festivals take place throughout the year, including the Dia de los Muertos on November 2, and the Guelaguetza, which takes place on Mondays in July.
The East Coast
Bermuda may be an English settlement, but it’s much closer to the American east coast, on parallel about with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. JetBlue has many flights coming in and out of the isle of pink sand, making it easy to get there from just about any east coast city, in three hours or less. If you live east of the Mississippi, you can get a direct flight to island paradise in under five hours.
Culture in Bermuda is stronger than the average bear might think. A substantial business hub for reinsurance, there are plenty of people living and working on Bermuda. Formerly a British vacation destination, the royal touch is evident. Head down to the bustling shopping center on Front Street for nightlife and posh shops with a little English flair. Historic St. Georges, where Bermuda was founded, offers a village-like feel, similar to if a small British country town found its way to a Caribbean island. What’s there to do in Bermuda other than shop? Beaches and inlets make this a prime water sport destination. Swim, fish, sail, surf, snorkel, laze on the beach, then dine on the water. Play a game of tennis, or a round of golf on one of these legendary courses.
The Northern States
We come back to Canada because, well, we share our entire northern boarder with the country. While Vancouver is lovely, if you really want to experience Canada, you need to go to Montreal or Quebec. These cities may require you to dig into your school days French class as the cities are both bi-lingual, though Quebec would prefer to just do away with English, so, really, brush up on your French.
Montreal is considered one of the hottest places to visit in North America. Not just as the spot for your best friend’s bachelorette party, as is the trend, this massively diverse city manages to keep itself as classic as it is dense. Hit up the Basilique Notre Dame, built in 1841, considered a world-class gothic cathedral. It holds 3200 people for service. Get some poutine at La Banquise, or a Montreal bagel at St. Viateur and decide if it really does beat out New York City’s version. As with all great cities, the markets in Montreal abound, the best being the Jean-Talon. Mile End is where you can get your shopping on, or hit the stunning cobbled streets of Old Montreal on gorgeous St. Paul Street.
So, bi-lingual in Quebec is a nice way of saying that in Quebec they really don’t speak English unless you talk to them in English first. There are laws about the language, actually, and signage is required to be in French, and no one is allowed to say hello, rather, bonjour. There you go. Bring a translation book.
Now, don’t be dissuaded by this fact. They don’t hate people who speak English. In fact, there’s a must-see site called the Morrin Centre, and while once a prison, an apt metaphor perhaps, this is Quebec’s English language culture hub, and in it you find an old chemistry lab, and a gorgeous Victorian era library. The Centre is Canada’s first learned society. Head next door to find an ultra-modern creative center, Maison de la Litterature, which focuses on literature, of course.
Cobbled streets in Old Quebec’s Petit Champlain, the Port Market where you can taste blueberry juice, and the Chateau Frontenac, a magnificent hotel, mark only the beginning of wonderful Quebec’s offerings.
Have a close by international destination you love? Tell us about it!