Everyone travels in the summertime; when winter’s chill is a distant memory and some spring saving has the finances back in order, it seems so natural to hit the road and head straight for a well-deserved beach vacation. But have you ever settled into your chair by the seaside and thought, “this is it? I just sit here?” After months of hustle and bustle in our fast-paced modern lives, it can be hard to suddenly stop and switch off, especially if we’ve taken a flight or two just to do so. When we’ve put so much effort into getting the chance to travel, we should make it count — go somewhere different and challenging, where we can create memories that will sustain us much longer than a few days in the sun. 

That’s why we’ve partnered with Expedia.com to produce a list of alternative summer destinations where you can cultivate the creative in you, the one who doesn’t want to stop when they finally get the free time to grow and experience more. Whether you enjoy music, food, history, or just taking an epic holiday photo when the sun is out and the living’s easy, these locations are sure to delight the senses and show you a new side to the summer season — especially with the $50,000 cash prize of Expedia’s sweepstakes in your pocket. 

Malta 

While this tiny island nation in the mediterranean has become a more popular holiday spot for European tourists, it remains an enigmatic cultural menagerie that subverts expectations and defies simple explanation. Its eclectic nature is the result of changing hands many times throughout history: Malta’s ancient civilizations gave way to Arabs, then Romans, Sicilians, the French, and the British before the nation gained independence in 1964. These tumultuous changes are reflected in the local architecture, language, and cuisine, none of which share the same influences twice. The houses of the ancient capital Mdina look North African, while Sicilian townhouses in Valletta and elsewhere can only distinguished from one another by brightly-colored doors and window shutters. In Malta you can find some of the oldest temples on Earth, world-class swimming spots off the islands of Gozo and Comino, and all the fresh seafood and wine you could want at a fraction of the cost of overhyped destinations. 

side street in valletta malta, an alternative summer destination

Wales

If I told you of a country with majestic misty mountains, massive sandy beaches voted some of the best in the world, more castles per square mile than anywhere on earth, and luxurious resorts and plenty of adventures on land, air, and sea, most people would assume I’m exaggerating. This place must be spread out, hard to navigate, and far afield — if it’s real at all — but no, I’m speaking of the humble British nation of Wales. This mostly rural country of 3 million people in steeped in legendary history, from Roman settlements to rum-smuggling Captain Morgan and the great King Arthur himself. Its cultural heritage in literature, music, and sport have long had a global influence, all while flying under the radar: it is the land of Dylan Thomas, Tom Jones, and the oldest prose stories in Britain. A stay at quaint country resorts like Llangoed Hall will transport you to Tolkien’s shire as you walk the fields of mid-Wales, where the Black Mountains loom in the distance and the ripe-for-canoeing River Wye runs alongside your path. Otherwise, the Celtic Manor or the Vale Resort on the outskirts of Cardiff, Wales’s capital, are perfect for indulging in a spa day and hitting the golf course. To truly immerse yourself in ancient Wales, head north where the infamous language still dominates local life and find some of the best adventure activities around, like the fastest zipline in the world (and longest in Europe).  

a road and mountains in mid-wales

Memphis & New Orleans 

It cannot be a coincidence that two of the world’s best cities for food and music both rest on the Mississippi River, just a few hours away from one another by car or train. Memphis has barbecue and blues, while New Orleans has jazz and jambalaya; however you like your summer nights to sound, taste, and smell, you can always find delight in these two Southern gems. But I can’t vouch for one over the other — the unique cultural beauty of the Mississippi Delta is alive and thriving in both citi

People gather on Beale Street in Memphis, an alternative summer destination

es, which have overcome their difficult histories to become proud communities that just happen to overflow with fun. After visiting B.B. King’s or Jerry Lee Lewis’s on Beale Street, have an art-deco night out in Memphis at the Hu Hotel rooftop before cocktails at the dazzling Molly Fontaine’s, a mansion-turned-nightclub with a piano bar and DJ sets on the staircase. In New Orleans, dine at Atchafalaya before taking in some jaw-dropping tunes at clubs like Blue Nile on Frenchmen St. or enjoying the dive bars of Decatur St; either way, enjoy a world-famous midnight (or later) snack on a beignet at Cafe du Monde

PCN 

portland oregon sign at night

Today, the Pacific Northwest is often thought of as America’s hipster holdfast, where laptop-tapping millennials carry on Microsoft’s legacy and the characters of Portlandia run amok. While both cities certainly embrace the bohemian and glorify the avant-garde, they are as relatable as any other destinations worldwide, especially considering the staggering natural beauty that surrounds them. Washington State and Oregon are home to tracts of land unlike any that exist elsewhere in the United States, with sheer-cliffed beaches, dense and dewy forests of tall trees, and some of the best climbing around. Whatever type of alternative trip you want to take this summer, this quirky corner of our country has you covered: enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Olympic in Seattle after a morning spent at Pike Place market, taking the time to reflect on a mind-boggling afternoon at the Chihuly Garden or Museum of Pop Culture. In Portland, stay at the centrally-located Benson Hotel if it’s your first time in the city — from there, it’s easy to explore PDX’s best-known staples like Voodoo Doughnut and Kells Brewery. If you enjoyed it, continue on to the city’s Pearl District, with breweries and international eats galore. 

chihuly glass and garden seattle an alternative summer destination

Montana

It will sound like a huge cliche, but Montana might be America’s best-kept secret. If the unspoiled wilderness of postcard vistas remains anywhere in our country, it’s here, where the gentle west meets rugged north in glorious fashion: besides the snow-tipped Rockies reaching for heaven, the fourth-largest of our states has plenty of other natural scenes to offer in its diverse and sweeping landscape, such as the valleys and beaches that follow the run of the Missouri River. But before you ever get to that, take a moment to linger in whichever city you decide to fly into, Missoula or Bozeman. After all, it’s an (alternative) summer: there’s no need to get in a hurry, especially when you might miss delicious farm-to-table dining and the local libations of choice, craft beer and whiskey. When you do decide to venture out, rent a car and wind through the countryside at your leisure. Those of us married to our cameras will be grateful for the easier pace around here — there’s so many places to pull off and snap an unbelievable photo that you won’t have a choice but to take things slow. The great thing about a road trip in Montana is the chance to relax even while on-the-go, a luxury within closer reach than we might realize in today’s world. There’s no better destination than the crown jewels of U.S. National Parks, Yellowstone and Glacier

Sunset montana mountains

Mauritius 

Even if you’ve heard of this tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, you might be wondering why we’re recommending it in an alternative summer guide: Mauritius is covered in the kind of pristine, sandy beaches with their bikinis and palm trees that you could find elsewhere in the world, even without leaving the U.S. But when you know what else awaits you on the island, and that a ninety-minute drive is enough to get you from one side to another, you will want to put down the Kindle and beach towel, in the words of Daniel James Clarke. Just as in Malta, a history of mixed ownership and settlement has created a bright and lively culture in Mauritius, from the Creole song and dance to the Indian and Middle Eastern inspired cuisine that fills street-side markets (don’t worry, there’s plenty of seafood, too). You will have worked up an appetite for all the island’s flavors (from the food to the local liquid staple, dark rum) by the time you explore its magnificent interior, where you can make friends with monkeys, marvel at waterfalls, and climb up mountains that give sweeping views over the azure coastal waters. If that somehow doesn’t sound enough to you, that actually means Mauritius is perfect for you: it will always leave you wanting more, then be happy to oblige.

Two tourists photographing aerial view of a shoreline from an observation deck in an alternative summer destination

Would you and your family like to spend this summer off the beaten path? Be sure to enter Expedia’s Holiday Card Sweepstakes to win the trip of a lifetime. 

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Joseph Ozment
Originally from Tennessee, Joseph Ozment is a writer and musician whose relationship with travel was shaped by growing up between the Southern U.S., Wales, and Hong Kong. So far, he's written for a newspaper in Russia, released a handful of home recordings, and started a novel (with plans for more, someday). When he's not busy running country roads or cheering on Liverpool FC, he's most likely making the next cup of coffee, or plans for the next trip.