A round-up of 30+ North American bucket list destinations from Travel Media Showcase perfect for any traveler planning visits to Canada, Mexico, or the USA.
This visibly progressive college town made me feel not just welcomed, but right at home. And the Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center was a perfectly-sized venue for the event, conveniently connected to our host hotel, the Marriott Courtyard.
Table of Contents
The highlight of TMS for me was the speed-networking marketplace appointments between journalists and destination exhibitors. As a travel writer I was able to meet dozens of representatives from regions across North America. Consequently, in no particular order, I now have a ton of new bucket list destinations from Canada, Mexico, and the United States to add to my travel itinerary.
Canada & Mexico
I was eager to meet with three international North American exhibitors at TMS. My first visit was with Jonathan Martel-Kennes from Tourisme Québec. Having roadtripped the Canadian Maritime Provinces a few summers back, I was enthralled with the prospect of traveling to this French-speaking province I have yet to visit. Especially fascinating were the UNESCO World Heritage District of Old Québec and the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve at Charlevoix. The Saint Lawrence River cruises were quite enticing, as well. I also enjoyed spending time with Richard Séguin from Québec City Tourism throughout the week. Although we did not have an official sit-down meeting, I knew Richard from our original group of “left-behinders” who went on a wild goose chase to the TMS opening reception at the Oliver Winery.
My meeting with Paola Fuentes and Robert Norbert from Experiencias Xcaret totally blew me away. This group of six Mexican-owned brands headquartered in Cancun on the Riviera Maya offers truly authentic scenic and historical adventures just across the Gulf of Mexico from my home state. To say I was overwhelmed with the prospect of floating through underground caverns, swimming in cenotes, and visiting the archaeological sites of Chichén Itzá and Tulum, is to put it lightly. As if that is not enough, imagine driving amphibious vehicles in caves, zip-lining through the night, and relaxing with typical Mexican entertainment and cuisine. Yeah, I want to do it ALL!
UPDATE: I marked of one of my bucket list destinations when I visited Experiencias Xcaret for their annual Day of the Dead Festival.
My family lived in Guadalajara the year I was in eighth grade, but we never visited Mexico’s Pacific Coast, even though Puerto Vallarta was only five hours away. I sat down with Richard Zarkin from Riviera Nayarit who shared with me a road trip route from Nuevo Vallarta in the south to San Blas in the north. The coastline along Highway 200 is dotted with historical fishing towns offering a full range of getaways from the luxurious Four Seasons in Punta de Mita to the bohemian surfing village of Sayulita. I would not mind doing that drive at all!
Jerry and I were in the process of planning a South Dakota road trip for summer 2015, until it was suddenly postponed by the opportunity to do a Viking River Cruise through Europe. Even though we had already planned to reschedule our SD visit for 2016, it was great to meet with Katlyn Richter from Travel South Dakota and get personalized expert travel advice for planning the ideal road trip through this amazing scenic and historical part of the country. Even now I envision flying into Sioux Falls, hiring a car, and driving I-90 across the state toward Rapid City, hitting all those legendary destinations we know so well. Let’s see, there are the Badlands and Black Hills and Deadwood and Mount Rushmore and . . . .
One of the bucket list destinations I knew nothing about prior to TMS was Athens County, Ohio, but my brief meeting with Kelly Messerly left me chomping at the bit to visit southeastern Ohio. As soon as I sat down with Kelly, I told her I wanted to visit the Bob Evans Farm and Homestead, the origin of one of my favorite comfort food establishments. During our conversation, Kelly presented me with a brochure of Ohio’s Windy 9 scenic road trip routes, and I quickly located Bob Evans on #2 The Southern Dip. I am majorly pumped to drive all of these pre-planned routes and hit some of Ohio’s scenic state parks, caves, and Underground Railroad sites along the way.
Following TMS, I did a road trip through Dubois County and Spencer County, Indiana, with several other travel writers. Now I want to return for a loop through northern Indiana. Even though I flew into the state capital city, I did not get to see much of this region. I am sure there are many incredible sites in the area, but after meeting with Kimberly Harms, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the biggest draw for me. Hearing her tell about the Power of Children Exhibit featuring the lives of Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Ryan White moved me to tears. Later, I heard someone in the elevator say you could remove the word “Children’s” from the name of the institution, and it would still be a top-notch museum for visitors of all ages.
I was most impressed with the youthful appearance, yet depth of knowledge of Lindsey Horner from Visit South Bend / Mishawaka. She left me yearning to visit the Studebaker National Museum which also houses the carriage that carried President Lincoln and his wife to the Ford Theater the night of April 14, 1865.
Winding it up, Visit Hamilton County’s Kate Burkhardt tempted me with their Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, the Indiana Transportation Museum, and the Westfield Historic Underground Railroad Ghost Walk. Northern Indiana, here we come!
Who knows why we remember minute moments in time? I don’t. But I do remember driving the Cairo Bridges across the southern tip of Illinois while on a family road trip in 1975. Perhaps knowing I could add another state to my travels etched this memory in my brain.
I met Terri Reifsteck from Visit Champaign County at the TMS opening reception, and she put my mind at ease by explaining how fun our speed-networking event would be. I met with her again for our appointment two days later where we discussed Abraham Lincoln’s connection to Champaign County. I was also pleased to hear about the area’s agritourism, Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, and the Homer Soda Festival.
I also sat down with Alicia Erickson from Visit Springfield, Illinois, where I learned more about the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and Route 66, two big draws for roadtripping history buffs like us.
My last Illinois appointment was with Andrea Mandala from Go Rockford. We instantly connected like old friends and discussed a myriad of backroad destinations that could be found on road trip routes around the greater Rockford region.
UPDATE: I was privileged to check off another of my bucket list destinations when I traveled to Illinois and discovered lots of Fun Things to Do in Rockford.
Just a 30-minute drive north of Rockford, Illinois, is the Wisconsin state line. I met Kristina Rosenberg and Carla Minsky from Travel Wisconsin at breakfast where I learned about Madison, a progressive eclectic college town located on an inland isthmus between two lakes. Prior to our acquaintance, my knowledge of Wisconsin was cheese, beer, and football. Now, an autumn road trip through pastoral landscapes followed by a cruise on Lake Geneva sounds like a great plan to me.
Note: The cheese curd samples did nothing to influence my motivation (wink).
UPDATE: I did not know it at the time, but I would eventually check off two more bucket list destinations when I visited the eclectic city of Beloit and historic Janesville, two Wisconsin cities situated along the Rock River Trail.
Chatting with Christine Temple from Visit Erie left me longing to visit this area of northwestern Pennsylvania that borders the Great Lake that shares its name. This is another part of the country I have never visited. As a Native Floridian, the thought of a freshwater beach on a huge body of water fascinates me. I understand the area has some great history I need to check out, including a connection to the Underground Railroad.
UPDATE: Presque Isle State Park and other locations in Erie, Pennsylvania, would also soon be checked off my bucket list destinations.
The Huntsville/Madison County region of Northeast Alabama is a mere 4-hour drive from Pinebox, my North Georgia mountain cabin. Because of its connection to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, I have been curious about visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. I want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to my new friend and TMS dinner mate Charles Winters! If I happen to be bored one day while up at the cabin (not sure how that’s possible), I just might head on over to your neck of the woods.
Kansas & Arkansas
I am sure she hears it all the time, but knowing nothing about the city except its eponymous connection to one of my all-time favorite recordings, I blurted the words, “Wichita Lineman.” MeLinda Schnyder from Visit Wichita smiled congenially and, ignoring my ignorance, proceeded to tell me the highlights of the largest city in Kansas. As a history buff, two of the 33 museums in the area definitely grabbed my attention, the Old Cowtown Museum and the Museum of World Treasures. Northeast of Wichita lies the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, a remnant of the landscape crossed by pioneers on the American frontier and also another stamp for my National Parks Passport (smile).
Update: Since publication of this article, I did a Kansas road trip and visited Wichita, drove the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, toured Topeka, and continued on to Kansas City and Independence, Missouri. One of the most memorable road trips of my life!
A 4 to 5-hour drive from Wichita, through either Missouri or Oklahoma, brings us to yet another progressive college town tucked in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Jessica Leonard from Experience Fayetteville perked up my ears with her description of the region’s autumn foliage, the Clinton House Museum, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Louisiana & Mississippi
It was simple to plan a return to Louisiana and Mississippi because we have traveled there so many times in the past. The last time we visited, we did a loop day trip from New Orleans to scout out Louisiana’s River Road Plantations, so I was very excited to meet with Jo Banner from New Orleans Plantation Country. When Jo learned of my interest in film locations, she gave me a new book with stories behind actual movie settings in the state. I definitely want to read the book and return to tour the plantations we merely saw from a distance last time.
Simply put, meeting with Christy Cachere from Visit Baton Rouge was just plain fun! I can’t reveal everything we discussed (wink), but Christy said we could design a tour of film locations, including Baton Rouge’s Celtic Studios, followed by a tour of some hopping juke joints in the area.
“Laissez les bons temps rouler . . . !”
It was my pleasure to meet Lauren Cook from Visit Mississippi and Laura Beth Strickland from Visit Vicksburg at breakfast because the Mississippi Delta is a part of the state we have wanted to visit for a long time. As Civil War buffs, Vicksburg National Military Park has been on our wanderlist for a while, and you know we need to score that National Park Passport stamp, as well. I think a road trip along the Mississippi River from New Orleans through Plantation Country and Baton Rouge to Vicksburg fits the bill!
Update: Since this article was published, I did an epic Southern Mississippi Road Trip with visits to Hattiesburg, Natchez, Vicksburg, the Vicksburg National Military Park, Jackson, and drove some amazing Mississippi Backroads. I also crossed paths with Ashleigh Coleman, an incredible Mississippi photographer who shared a photo-essay entitled The Haunting Town of Rodney, Mississippi, which has become our most popular Backroad Planet post to date.
There is no state we know better than Florida, but even though we have criss-crossed the backroads of our home state more times than we can count, so much remains to be seen. Lauren Pace from Visit Tallahassee let me in on a local secret called the Bradfordville Blues Club, a juke joint located down a dirt road under ancient moss-laden oaks just outside of our capital city. Somehow we missed it two spring breaks back when we drove Tallahassee’s bucolic canopy roads.
Patty Jimenez from Visit Jacksonville and the Beaches let me in on the various themed Riverkeeper Boat Trips down the St. Johns River and its tributaries. If you know us, river cruising ranks right up there with roadtripping!
Who would have thought that I would have to travel to Indiana to meet Kelly Rote from Visit Central Florida? Her home office is a mere 26 miles from my front door. Having already connected on social media, Kelly immediately said, “You’re the guy who wrote about Bok Tower Gardens!” Back at home now, Jerry and I need to get together with Kelly and pick her brain for some secret backroad bucket list destinations right here in our own backyard.
I have a close connection with North Carolina, having traveled there many times off and on since childhood. During my meeting with Donna Carpenter and Julie Hinson from Visit Cabarrus County I learned about the county’s movie locations for The Hunger Games, Paper Towns, and Jerry’s favorite movie, Talladega Nights! I also heard all about the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Reed Gold Mine, and I may or may not have heard the word . . . “moonshine.” I will probably head over there one day and check it out since it is only a 4-hour drive from my Pinebox.
I stopped by for a chat at the Texas Tourism table, although I did not have an official appointment with Amber Reaver and Reid Schwartz. I did, however, get to meet with Lori Kasparian from Waco & the Heart of Texas who told me all about the Armstrong Browning Library on the campus of Baylor University that houses the largest collection of works by English poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as the largest collection of secular stained-glass windows in the world. The Waco Mammoth National Monument also just became the newest unit of the National Park System. Sounds like another Passport stamp to me!
When I met with the vivacious and fun Leigh Lyons from Grapevine, Texas, I did not know she was keeping a great big secret. She told me all about how Grapevine is located between Dallas and Fort Worth, and how the airport is only ten minutes away, and about the walking tour of the local wineries, and Tolbert’s chili. But what she did not tell me was that Grapevine, Texas, would be the host city for Travel Media Showcase 2016!
UPDATE: My second visit to Grapevine, Texas, would be to visit the Christmas Capital of Texas.
We Would Love to Hear from You
As always, we love hearing from our readers. If you have traveled to any of the aforementioned bucket list destinations, what tips would you offer future travelers? We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!