Colorado hot springs
Colorado’s hot springs are the ultimate apres ski. | Adventure_Photo/ E+/ Getty Images
Colorado’s hot springs are the ultimate apres ski. | Adventure_Photo/ E+/ Getty Images

Set Your 2021 Bar Extra High With These January Travel Ideas

Time to leave 2020 in the rearview.

The Year-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named is finally behind us. And even though you’re not globetrotting like a newly invigorated James Bond quite yet, you can still treat yourself to a little R&R this January—which, in pandemic times, could mean venturing into the woods to soak in healing waters, or cozying up under the stars in a surreal Southwest desert. Maybe hit the slopes for an exhilarating breath of mountain air in one of America’s premier ski towns, or abscond to a secluded island hideaway on a working visa. Jamaica—where 007 spent his off time, and presumably his quarantine—has a great one, it turns out. 

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. | Michael Gordon/Shutterstock

Honor MLK Day at national monuments around the US

January 18 marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a great opportunity to dig into Civil Rights history and reflect. In Alabama, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is the cornerstone of the Birmingham Civil Rights District—which includes Dr. King’s headquarters at the A.G. Gaston Motel—while the Freedom Riders National Monument commemorates the violence faced by nonviolent protesters. 

Beyond Alabama, you’ll find monuments commemorating Booker T. Washington in Virginia and pioneering military officer Charles Young in Ohio, plus nationwide sites dedicated to the slave trade, worker’s rights, women’s sufferage, LGBTQ liberation, and more.

Find your island

You could whisk yourself away to some Caribbean island—some of our favorites are currently taking visitors, provided you follow the rules—and be perfectly content with your mai tai and remote worker visa. Or maybe you’d rather take advantage of Hawaii’s ultra-incentivized “Movers & Shakas” program and temporarily move to Oahu. You could head south for the sandy bike trails of Georgia’s Jekyll, or the hazy atmosphere of the San Juans in Washington. There’s an island for everybody. Even monkeys. So might as well find yours.  

Dip into some hot springs

Hot springs are always a good idea, but feel nigh mythical in the winter. They’re particularly great in Colorado, where Conundrum Hot Springs offers up a clothing-optional soak in the shadows of the Maroon Bells, or amid the spiritualist oases of Crestone. Montana has natural hot springs for days, from hidden mountain pools to full-blown resorts. In the Pacific Northwest, many springs are surprisingly campable this time of year, while Taos, New Mexico’s endless hot-tub party comes with excellent skiing. Or go big at Hot Springs National Park, which is home to many healing bath houses in addition to being the only national park where you can get your hair did at a salon on site.

Kick it with some animals

New furry friends go far to ease the January doldrums… which are especially doldrummy this time around. Embrace the chill with a Winter Wolf Tour in Yellowstone, where the elusive lupine beasts lurk more freely in the absence of humans. In Florida, you can cruise for dolphins with Tampa’s Florida Aquarium, spot manatees in the Everglades, or go birdwatching at Sanibel Island’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Headed West? The Phoenix Zoo has debuted a new “Cruise the Zoo” drive-through option. Or just leash up your dog (and somebody else’s) for a little skijoring. What, you don’t skijor?It’s basically dogsledding without the sled, and it's particularly great in northern Minnesota and Montana.

Road trip in a state you've never seen

We recently took a hard look at the country's least-visited states, and were shocked with the presence of some of our favorite places. Maybe their relative isolation is a factor... but right now, relative isolation is a huge draw, especially in states that aren’t covered in snow (sorry, North Dakota… your hot dish and beer are lovely though).

Maybe it’s time to load up the RV and explore the temperate/rainy wilds of the Oregon coast (it's Dungeness season!), or check out the mountains and bike trails of Arkansas. The Gulf Coast of Alabama, meanwhile, is shaking its Redneck Riviera moniker as an alternative to Florida, and makes a perfect road-trip partner with Mississippi. Figure out where the least people go, then immerse yourself before everybody else catches on. 

Explore every corner of Utah

A funny thing happens in Utah in the winter: Its small towns get packed and its natural spaces become desolate. And in a state that might as well be one big national park, that’s a very good thing. Go ahead and explore Zion, Arches, and Bryce without feeling the need to elbow through throngs of tourists. Take in some of the most spectacular stargazing in the world. Head over to Park City and Cedar City for some of the absolute best skiing in North America, or just blast down the Million Dollar Highway for a sampler platter of everything that makes this state such a treasure… especially in the winter.

Get cosmic

Speaking of stargazing, Utah doesn't have a monopoly on the heavens. Whether you're just looking up in your back yard or traveling out to a place with minimal light pollution, January's frigid skies are still going to be alive with activity. Venus will be on full display. The moon and Mars will have an extremely close call so vibrant you might even see it from in a light-polluted city. And Orion will be hanging out in his full glory all night. Bundle up, and prepare to be dazzled.

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Vanita Salisbury and Andy Kryza and contributed to this story.