The fall season rolls in across the country on the heels of the yellow school buses once again trundling through town. But the return to school doesn’t have to mean the same old routine.
“Fall is one of the best times to travel,” says Steven Loucks, spokesman for Carlson Wagonlit Travel. “Prices typically come down, sometimes dramatically. You are less likely to find huge crowds and, in many cases, the weather is just fine.”
Fall also is ideally suited for the short, weekend getaways that we’re increasingly choosing as an alternative to investing a week or more away from family, school, and business commitments. A quick de-stress, a chance to bond with our families, a spa retreat, or a football weekend—it’s all possible.
Besides, the change of seasons always has had a romantic lure, and romance is linked with travel, explains Kathy Sudeikis, national vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents.
Whether you’re looking for a cozy weekend without the kids, or the fun and adventure of a getaway with them, consider the following ideas.
Bright lights, big city
One great escape can be to a centrally located hotel in your nearest city with room service bringing you breakfast in bed.
“The city can be all things to all people,” explains Sudeikis, and great food definitely is among the attractions. To find the best restaurants, check local newspapers and magazines for restaurant reviews, or ask hotel staff to recommend several, preferably within walking distance.
“You can enjoy the ethnic nuances that each city has to offer as well,” notes Loucks. One also can enjoy museums, concerts, shopping, or sporting events not always found in smaller towns.
Bed & breakfast delight
To really get to know an area, bed & breakfast accommodations offer a secret ally: your innkeeper.
“The innkeeper is there to make your stay a very special, memorable experience,” says Pat Hardy, of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International. Because they’re involved in their communities, they have great insight into the best places to visit and dine nearby.
B&Bs range from two- or three-room properties to country inns with 15 rooms or more, and each is unique, Hardy notes. “Each person experiences a B&B differently. There’s a personalness about it.”
So talk to the innkeeper about your preferences: a larger room, for example, or a great view. When you arrive, expect a welcome tour of the property, including information about breakfast times. Expect to make friends, as well. “You’ll strike up conversations with people at the breakfast table or sitting around having a glass of wine in the evening. The setup of the property is such that that’s designed to happen,” Hardy says.
Maybe it’s the energy of theater, the grandeur of opera, the grace of ballet, or the creativity of modern dance. No matter what tempts you, the fall performance season offers a cultural adventure closer than you might think.
“You don’t need to go to one of the major metropolitan areas to find culture,” Loucks says. “You can find touring companies of Broadway shows in almost every major city now across the country. And there are some incredible museums that are being built right now in many smaller cities.”
He recommends contacting a travel agent to help research the city and visiting the city’s website. As for packing your suitcase appropriately, people dress in everything from jeans to sequined gowns, depending on the show. Your best bet is the middle ground and an outfit that’s comfortable to sit in for several hours.
Sleeping under the stars
If pitching a tent and roasting marshmallows over a campfire always has tempted you, you’re not alone. Camping is America’s most popular outdoor vacation experience, and it’s definitely a family affair.
It’s also a chance to relax, says the National Park Service’s Gerry Gaumer. “Just watching the birds, or watching deer or elk come up and graze puts you back in tune with a long-ago time,” he explains.
If you or your family has allergies, fall is a perfect outdoor season. “There certainly are allergens around in the fall, but not to the magnitude that they are in the spring,” Gaumer notes.
If you’ve never camped before, do your research. Set up your tent or try out your camp stove in your back yard first, and research the park using its website or its information phone number. And learn how to build and douse a safe campfire. “You’re going to want a fire, especially if you’re camping in the fall, because the evenings are cooler,” Gaumer advises.
Take a hike
The attraction to woodland hiking is as clear as the bright fall foliage. But mild fall temperatures make hiking a pleasure in deserts, along seashores, and through woodlands.
“Take a journal with you, and take notes of the things that you’re seeing,” Gaumer suggests. Try photography or bird watching. “If you take the kids, you can turn it into projects: count how many birds they’ve seen, or try to identify different plants. These are things you can do together as a family.”
You don’t necessarily have to camp overnight or even take a full backpack. In many areas, you can sleep at a local hotel, motel, or B&B and hike carrying just a daypack.
To ensure comfort, Gaumer advises breaking in new hiking shoes in advance, not pushing yourself, and drinking plenty of water. Always carry rain gear, a change of socks, and a good first-aid kit.
Beaches aren’t just for summer vacations, says Quinn E. Capps, of the Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau in North Carolina. “Besides the fact that great seasonal values can be found on accommodations, the beach can be a very romantic place in the fall,” she says. “Just imagine strolling along the beach with your special someone, with no one around, the waves crashing in, and a great breeze. Also, coming to the beach in fall means fewer crowds: no waiting in line for a meal or attractions.”
If temperatures are a bit chilly for swimming, try fishing, kayaking, or bird watching, Capps suggests. “After a Northeast storm is the best time to go shelling … on the beach, and most northeast storms happen in the fall and winter.”
On the water
Our coasts provide great cruises, and the shorter, two- to five-day trips are hot right now. But how about cruising a large lake, river, or canal system?
“Essentially, it’s a terrific way to see different parts of (the country) that you wouldn’t see traveling the major highways,” says Peter Sleasman with the New York State Canal System. Visitors can dock their boat and stroll right into town to enjoy a festival, a meal, or historical sites.
“On inland waterways, it’s very difficult to get lost, and it’s very safe,” even for novice boaters, Sleasman adds.
River cruises are another alternative. Lucette Brehm, of American Classic Voyages, explains that cruise ships on such rivers as the Mississippi, Ohio, or Columbia offer onboard entertainment and dining similar to their ocean-sailing cousins.
The schedule might include a different city each day, or you might spend an entire day on the river. Brehm suggests curling up in a rocking chair with a good book and just watching the river go by.
“(It’s also nice) late at night to be sitting out on the deck,” she adds, “and just enjoying the peace and serenity and beauty of the river.”