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Editor's note: helping you Rediscover America during a global pandemic

By Laura Brown
updated September 29, 2021
Ra Bnner
Here's how we view our responsibility to promote safe travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just like so many of you, 2020 has been quite a wild ride for me. In February, I was handed over the reins to Budget Travel as its Publisher. At the beginning of March, a tornado hit my neighborhood in East Nashville. Then the COVID-19 pandemic largely wiped out the travel industry’s immediate future (and ad budgets). It truly would not surprise me if next week, the alien invasion sent us all back to phase 1. 2020 is a crazy ride.

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East Nashville after tornadoes hit on March 2, 2020. Photo by Laura Brown


As the Publisher of a travel magazine during a global pandemic, I’ve been wrestling with this moral question: how can we ethically promote travel at this strange moment in history?

We’ve gone to great lengths to answer this question. We’ve had a full team researching and extrapolating the ways COVID is affecting travel. We’ve reached out to local tourism boards for their recommendations. We’ve polled you, Budget Travel’s readers, to understand how your travel has been affected by the pandemic (the answer: a lot). And many of us have road-tripped across the Southeast to see it all for ourselves. We’ve been writing all summer.

I am proud to announce that this week, Budget Travel is launching ‘Rediscover America,’ a content series that will focus entirely on how Americans can safely explore this beautiful country of ours.

We’ll focus on road trips and amazing getaways you can drive to in all parts of the country, and promote activities that can be done while maintaining adequate social distancing. We will share travel deals that can be booked flexibly into 2021. We will adhere to CDC guidelines and advocate for wearing masks. Most importantly, we’ll remain flexible to adapt to new information and circumstances.

If we work hard enough as a society, there may come a time in the future when we can all relax a bit. Until then, our commitment to promoting safe travel is not up for debate.

Keep checking Budgetravel.com for fresh inspiration, and let us help you Rediscover America.

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Inspiration

Coastal Mississippi provides adventure and variety for the budget traveler

There is an incredible amount to do, see and experience across Coastal Mississippi: from outdoor activities, such as kayaking, boating, fishing and hiking, to a wide variety of attractions, museums, festivals, world-class gaming, and championship golf courses. When it comes to food, this is the place to be! From quaint coastal seafood spots to fine dining, we’ve got it all. In short, Coastal Mississippi checks all the boxes: great food, great weather, great prices, great people, and a great way of life. With 55 percent of frequent travelers saying they primarily travel to discover new experiences, cultures, lifestyles, food, and places, regularly using terms such as “hidden gem,” “undiscovered,” and “unexpected,” Coastal Mississippi – The Secret Coast is perfectly poised to surprise and delight as a region that offers all the relaxation, adventure and variety that travelers want without the overexposure that they don’t! Ocean Springs Front beach. Credit: Alex North Photography Here is a brief overview of what The Secret Coast has to offer: Outdoor activities. We offer some phenomenal outdoor experiences, such as world-class golfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, birding, fishing, boating our many waterways, Schooner sails, and even a 70-minute shrimping trip, that is an absolutely wonderful excursion for the entire family, and shows you exactly how shrimp and other marine life live and end up on our plates! Have some fun in the sun and explore the barrier islands that sit just miles off Coastal Mississippi. With white-sand beaches and beautiful Gulf waters, the islands are an ideal day trip. While all of the barrier islands offer something unique that is worth exploring, Ship Island is the most accessible to travelers thanks to its ferry service out of Biloxi and Gulfport.Our culinary scene is booming: the Mississippi Coast has a huge variety of gastronomic offerings, from beach seafood shacks serving the freshest Gulf seafood, to fine dining (including two James Beard nominees!) and fusion cuisine. There is something to satisfy every taste bud, and there are plenty of hands-on opportunities to experience the very essence of Coastal Mississippi’s culinary scene.Culture fix at the world-renowned Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art (designed by famous architect Frank Gehry!), and discover the beautifully eccentric world of the illustrious Anderson family at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and Shearwater Pottery Workshop and Showroom. Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis boast wonderfully artsy, walkable downtown areas amongst the ancient live oaks, where you can wander in and out of shops, galleries, bars and restaurants all day long. Festivals held across the Coast throughout the year, showcasing the region’s crafts, artisan-made items, local delicacies, seafood, talented musicians and much more. To get to the moon, you must go through Mississippi first! The INFINITY Science Center is NASA's official visitor center for the Stennis Space Center, and offers a blend of space, Earth science, engineering and technology content, spiced with innovative programming, that leverages expertise from the area's leading-edge research and test operations. This combination guarantees an experience you will not find anywhere else.Coastal Mississippi offers an array of lodging options to cater to any preference, from luxury casino resorts and international hotel brands, to boutique hotels and Coastal bed-and-breakfast inns.For those on a budget, this is the place for you: Forbes and similar outlets have released the states where $100 goes the farthest, and Mississippi topped the list. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of free things to do in the area, as well as reasonably priced offerings or ways to save as you explore are around every corner, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast Attraction Pass, priced at $45, valued at $80. Credit: Coastal MississippiRoad Trip Across The Secret Coast Highway 90 runs all the way from West Texas to East Florida, but the most beautiful part is right here in Coastal Mississippi. Scenic Highway 90 takes you right by the Gulf of Mexico and a 26-mile-long beach (view video HERE), all the way from Waveland, MS to Moss Point, MS, across two stunning bay bridges and right past many historic sights worth seeing. On your Highway 90 journey between the Louisiana and Alabama borders, you will pass through several beautiful and unique towns, all offering their own charming personality: Waveland The only city on the Gulf Coast to prohibit commercial buildings on its beachfront, Waveland offers miles of unobstructed beach views of the Gulf of Mexico. Buccaneer State Park offers relaxing, small-town beach camping, a beachfront waterpark, and a host of nature-based activities, such as birding, crabbing, and kayaking. Bay St. Louis Considered “a place apart”, this quaint seaside town was named one of the ‘Coolest Small Towns in America’ by Budget Travel and was also recognized as a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine (2010). From friendly folks to historic buildings, this unique city embraces the heritage of our region. Pass Christian View unforgettable historic homes and magnificent oaks during your visit to “The Pass”. The area’s unique way of life is defined as relaxed and resolute, casual and carefree. If you’re aiming to find a friendly and laid-back atmosphere, Pass Christian offers it in large doses. Pick up a one-of-a-kind antique or gift from a range of local retailers or grab a locally-brewed coffee at Cat Island Coffeehouse, with an incredible view of the Mississippi Sound. Long Beach If you’re searching for beautiful scenery and a calm southern getaway, Long Beach is the perfect place for you. Ride through this bicycle-friendly town and rent kites for the little ones while at the public beach. Stop into any of the local eateries to experience an eclectic array of culinary delights – many served up with an incredible view of the Mississippi Sound. Gulfport Offering a plethora of parks and water recreation areas throughout the city, up-close-and-personal adventures with marine life, zip-lining tours through the coastal canopies, and an array of dining and entertainment options, Gulfport has something for everyone. Take a boat excursion out to Ship Island, a fishing charter to some of the best spots, or simply stroll around Gulfport’s beautiful harbor and eclectic downtown area, featuring an ever-evolving public art scene in an old fishmonger’s alley. Coming soon to Gulfport: Mississippi Aquarium! Biloxi Once known as the “Seafood Capital of the World”, Biloxi offers both revival and relaxation in equal measures. Jet-ski in the Gulf of Mexico, take a Shrimping Trip or a sunset sail on a Biloxi Schooner, or relax with your toes in the white sand and enjoy the beautiful views of the Mississippi Sound. Catch a Biloxi Shuckers baseball game and sample some locally-brewed coastal cold ones, or challenge your friends to a game of blackjack and watch a headliner show at one of the casinos. The options are endless. Biloxi Schooner. Credit: Coastal Mississippi. Ocean Springs Known as the City of Discovery by locals and visitors alike, this historic coastal town is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a whole host of experiences. A quaint, Main Street community nestled amongst centuries-old live oaks on the scenic shore of Coastal Mississippi, Ocean Springs boasts a rich history, artistic flair, lush landscape and small-town appeal. Colorful and sophisticated, this community is known for its arts and festivals. It is home to the Ocean Springs Art Association representing more than 300 local artists, the largest annual fine arts festival in the state, Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, and Shearwater Pottery. With over 200 independent shops, galleries, restaurants and nightlife, this community captures southern, small-town charm with its walkability, white sand beaches, and year-round activity. Pascagoula Mississippi’s Flagship City boasts incredible antebellum architecture and a rich 300-year history. Pirate Jean Lafitte, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Zachary Taylor, and Jimmy Buffett all spent time in Pascagoula and considered it home, a hideaway or a respite throughout the years. Visit La Pointe-Krebs House, circa 1718, in all its rugged splendor with a panoramic view of Krebs Lake. Spend the afternoon at Scranton Nature Center at I.G. Levy Park, featuring a variety of exhibits. Or simply relax with a picnic at Beach Park for the day, overlooking the Mississippi Sound. Moss Point Home to some of the most beautiful and unique natural habitats, Moss Point is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Visit the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, located along the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48, and discover the amazing world of Coastal Mississippi’s abundant native flora and fauna by kayak or on a River, Marsh & Bayou boat tour. Anna Roy is the Public/Media Relations Manager for Coastal Mississippi. This piece was produced for Budget Travel's Rediscover America series.

Inspiration

Do you know this surfing goddess?

Photographer Robin Kerr says she was sitting on a beach in Cardiff, California in October 2018, watching the sunset after a brief rain shower, when she snapped this gorgeous photo of a surfer living her BEST LIFE. The photo features a gorgeous sunset with crashing waves, and a woman surfing a wave with her arms up to the sky and a look of pure joy. Kerr has begun searching for the subject of the photo in hopes of sharing the beautiful moment with her. She says "I am a member of Girls LOVE Travel on Facebook and remembered seeing posts where female photographers have taken epic photos of a stranger's engagement during their vacations and then search for them using the group on the off chance that they could locate the subject and give the photo to the engaged couple. During shelter in place, I was going through my photo archive and came across this shot I took in October of 2018. I put myself in her shoes. If a photographer took this photo of me surfing with that glorious sunset, I would want a copy! And so the search began!" If you think you know the subject in the image, reach out to Kerr at her Instagram @agirlwonder.

Inspiration

Three Big Festivals Go Virtual

Summer typically initiates the music festival season with incredible line-ups, cool event spaces and dancing as if no one is watching. Many organizers have cancelled or postponed till later in the year due to this unprecedented time. However, three well-known festivals have decided to carry on by taking the events to a digital space. Participating in an online experience can’t quite be compared to an in-person event but going virtual has some benefits, such as expanding the opportunity to anyone in the world with access to an internet connection. Let’s be honest, festivals can be expensive to attend when you tally up the cost of a ticket, plus the cost of transportation, lodging, food and time off work. If you’ve been intrigued about attending one of these events but didn’t have time-off, funds or weren’t sure if it’s your kind of thing, now you’re only a screen away from uncovering what it’s all about. With these music gatherings going digital, more people from all over the globe can participate and discover the magic of coming together to enjoy these unique gatherings of music, creativity, and beauty. Tomorrowland Around the World Tomorrowland is an international electronic music festival that takes place in Boom, Belgium, which attracts some of the most important and renowned DJs and artists. Over the last few years, attendance has grown significantly reaching upwards of 400,000 fans from all over the world taking part over two weekends in July. 2020 marks the 16th anniversary of Tomorrowland and they’ve curated a festival titled Tomorrowland Around the World on a virtual magical island called Pāpiliōnem. They welcome all the “People of Tomorrow” to enjoy the incredible space filled with 3-D design technology, light and laser shows and an impressive techno, house and trance music line-up. Interacting with other festival goers attendees will be possible via games, webinars and workshops. There will be eight different stages with sets by Afrojack, Vini Vici, Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix,Yellow Claw, Charlotte de Witte, NGHTMRE, Nervo, San Holo, and Eptic, who are a sampling of over 60 artists who will perform during this two-day global event. Dates: July 25-26 between 7am-4pm PT Ticket prices: Day ticket: $14, (€12.50) Weekend ticket: $22.50 (€20.00), plus ticket packages Tickets available here.Lolla2020 Lollapalooza began in 1991 by the lead singer Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, which initially was the farewell concert for the band. The concert was such an unexpected success it took on a life of its own touring cities throughout the United States each year until 1997. The event was revived in 2003 and since 2005 has been held in Grants Park, Chicago where fans have gathered to enjoy their favorite alternative bands, heavy metal and hip hop artists and hear up-and-coming musicians. Lollapalooza is now global with six international cities hosting a music festival, including Berlin, Germany, Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and São Paulo, Brazil. This year Chicago organizers will put on Lolla2020, a 4-day virtual festival that will include performances from different areas of Chicago, video footage from the early 1990’s debuting for the first time, along with past sets in Chicago and European and Latin American cities. The special line-up has not been announced yet so stay tuned by following their social media or subscribing to their newsletter. Dates: July 30- August 2, 2020 Ticket prices: To be announced More information here.Burning Man Burning Man, the iconic city created in Black Rock desert in Nevada each year, will be hosted online for 2020. Each year there is a theme for this participatory and collective event, which is aptly titled “Mulitiverse.” Burning man is based on the principles of self-sufficiency and “radical self-reliance” where you must bring all your food, water, clothing and shelter for the duration of your time on the playa and many would say it’s far more than just a festival. Burning Man began as a small gathering of 35 people on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1986. In 1990, it moved to Black Rock desert where it has continued until this year with plenty of collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the local communities. Although participants won’t be in a physical landscape where they can explore on their bikes or hop on art cars, traversing the digital sphere will provide a new way to enjoy the essence and this distinct version of Burning Man. Being exposed to the natural elements is definitely a part of the experience but for those who are intimidated but curious because you’re not sure how you’ll fare with high daytime temperatures, chilly nights or sandstorms or haven’t been able to get a ticket because they sell out the moment they go on sale, going online may be a great opportunity to enter into this magical and surreal land. You can be sure there will be plenty of art, music, the unexpected, connection and an abundance of creativity. Dates: August 30- September 7, 2020 Ticket prices: TBD More information here. Lauren David is a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, gardening, travel, and lifestyle. When she’s not writing, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, road trips, and spending time near the ocean. Her work has been featured in Allrecipes, Folks, Huffpost Personal, Greatist, Trivago Magazine and more. You can find a collection of her work on her website: www.laurendavid.net.

Inspiration

Welcome to dystopia: when vacation meets lockdown

When Mee and Sean Gray pulled into the driveway of their Colorado Springs AirBnB, they were excited to see what their trip would hold. However, they quickly realized something was off. Despite staying in a cul-de-sac of a suburban neighborhood, they never saw their neighbors. In fact, they never saw anyone walking around the area at all. Although the town boasts of a population nearing half a million, very few cars were on the roads. Traffic seemed nonexistent. In search of clues to the culture of the place in which they found themselves, the Grays ventured out of the house and into the city. Yet leaving home base made the city feel more unnatural. Without open bars, restaurants, and shops, there was little to be surmised. Even the grocery store was strange because only half faces were visible. “It was just very eerie,” Said Mee. “You think that you will be able to feel the energy or the vibe of the place, but when we got to Colorado Springs that is what was so hard because there was nobody out and no one doing anything so you could not really feel the energy or the vibe of the city.“ For a majority of their stay, the only other human interaction was with essential workers. “Other people that are out working,” said Mee, “you know at the grocery stores. They were very nice, but that was a little weird too. Being so isolated. Everyone wearing a facemask.” Her husband Sean agreed, saying, “it definitely felt like all the typical characteristics of being human were taken away to some extent”. But what is culture without humans? Just as New York is not New York without the commuters, drag queens, and Deli workers, neither is Colorado Springs without its Air Force Cadets, Hippies, and Chaco wearers. Slowly as the city began opening up, more of the inhabitants emerged from their homes, but the couple was surprised by who the mystery inhabitants actually turned out to be. “Coming to a place where you couldn’t really meet people or see people” said Mee “and then not being able to ask anybody any questions because there was no one around really” allowed for them to make up a narrative about the town that was not entirely true. They were surprised by the conservative bend of the city. As the second largest town in a blue state, Mee and Sean assumed the town would be more progressive and diverse. During a time when many states are still in various forms of lock down, is it still possible to experience the culture of a town, city or countryside? Without experiencing local life, the culture of a place is vastly altered. AirBnB Experiences has been attempting to offset their inability to perform physical tours by replacing them with virtual ones for the time being. Other tour services, like Tours by Locals, are offering limited outings based on the guide’s discretion. Although the culture is difficult to access and many public areas are closed or severely limit the number of individuals allowed, exploring a new place might not be a fruitless pursuit. Instead of focusing on culture during the summer, Mee believes it might be more productive to venture out to a different environment and enjoy the contrast to your lifestyle. Substituting mountains for beaches, or the countryside for towns. Trips can still be used to discover a new place, reconnect with oneself, or take a break from the busy world. Alternately, Sean believes in going to a place that fits one’s personal culture. For example Colorado is the perfect escape for an outdoorswoman. Sean believes it is important to research the culture a traveler wants to experience, he said “If you’re going to go to a place, make sure they like the same things you like, they like to do what you enjoy doing. Otherwise you're going to get there and it's going to be even more challenging for you.” The last time the United States experienced a pandemic was 102 years ago in 1918 with the H1N1 virus. Anyone old enough to remember traveling during that period of time is likely dead. If you choose to travel during this time, remember that the fact that you are experiencing what it is like to travel during a pandemic is incredibly unique. And travel is all about new expereinces. “No matter where you go,” said Mee, “you will get a different perspective, and right now we need different perspectives to address this thing.” Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.