Altered States: What will tourism in the US look like after lockdown?

All eyes are on America for Independence Day - so what happens when the country's borders reopen again? Tom Breathnach gets the lowdown
Altered States: What will tourism in the US look like after lockdown?
View from John Ford's Point in Monument Valley with the West Mitten Butte and the Merrick Butte in Utah-Arizona border, United States of America.

All eyes are on America for Independence Day - so what happens when the country's borders reopen again? Tom Breathnach gets the lowdown

Mt. Shuksan reflected in Picture lake at North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA
Mt. Shuksan reflected in Picture lake at North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA

Happy 4th of July! The U.S.A. is waking up this morning to its annual star-spangled birthday, but as national celebrations go, you can expect a little less sparkle in the fireworks this summer. 2020 has been a torrid time for the nation; a pandemic, a racial awakening… a Trump presidency.

But beyond the geopolitics, once America’s borders reopen again, many of us will be off to Shannon or T2 to travel.

As the E.U. and the White House look set to take part in a border-opening game of cat and mouse, that may not now occur until at least ‘the fall’.

As an unapologetic Yankophile, I’ll be lining up for check-in. But how can we enjoy our side of Americana with a little more love? Here are 10 ways to vacation sustainably in the US of A. When the time is right...

Visit a farmers’ market

Tip: Mushrooming up all over the nation, US farmers markets offer a bolt of rustic wholesomeness in America’s urban concrete jungles. What greater farm-to-fork journey than from an Upstate NY orchards to the heart of Manhattan. But true, what are you going to do with an organic eggplant in New York City? Worry not. Farmers’ markets are becoming a destination staple for their trove beyond your five-a-day. Some of my favourites include Dallas Farmers’ Market, the Amish markets in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and of course Union Square in NYC, where you can pick up anything from Long Island Wine to vegan apple-pie.

Skip: Chelsea Market has become so tourist-chocked, Gansevoort Market down in the Meat-packing District, is a food-court of former food-trucks that makes a far more inviting lunch date.

Go native

Tip: Often the most bypassed culture of the USA is the very one native to the continent itself.

While indigenous Native American communities are today tragically fragmented across the nation, there are visit-worthy exceptions. The Navaho Nation, spanning Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, lies in, not only the most iconic swathe of Wild West scenery on the continent, but is also home to a vibrant Navaho community (and language) which thrives on incoming tourism. Gouldings Crossing in Utah makes a great base to meet locals on a traditional community tour, while quirky Sante Fe, New Mexico has over 40 galleries showcasing Native American art alone.

Skip: Casinos. While legalised gambling joints have become synonymous with Indian reservations, they’ll destroy your soul - as much as your budget.

Slow your fashion

Tip: For many Irish tourists, we associate a trip to the US with loading up our suitcases after a trip to the outlets at Woodbury Common. But by supporting small Independent retailers, you support some of the country’s best neighbourhoods from Wicker Park in Chicago to Greenpoint in Brooklyn.

Skip: It doesn’t get more basic than hunting down a Canada Goose jacket. If at the mall shop brands like Levis, Patagonia, Pact and Alternative Apparel who play a strong sustainability game.

National perks

View from John Ford's Point in Monument Valley with the West Mitten Butte and the Merrick Butte in Utah-Arizona border, United States of America.
View from John Ford's Point in Monument Valley with the West Mitten Butte and the Merrick Butte in Utah-Arizona border, United States of America.

Tip: Despite the size of America’s National Parks, many of them are at saturation point with tourism. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Appalachia welcomed 11 million visitors last year — some parks in Alaska welcome just over 10,000! There are more accessible wildernesses, still with just a fraction of the footprints, however. North Cascades National Park in Washington features the most glaciers outside of Alaska, while Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a lakeland wilderness known for star-gazing in wolf country. Sound far-flung? Both are within 4hrs driving distance of the Aer Lingus gateways of Seattle and Minneapolis.

Skip: Yosemite National Park, famed for its redwoods is now such an Instagram trap, it boasts its own Starbucks. If it’s your dream to go, pitch-up off-peak or in shoulder-season.

Black businesses matter

Tip: The BLM movement is going to reimagine how tourist boards both market the USA and raise a consciousness in how we as tourists spend our cash. Across the country, media outlets from The Boston Globe to the Los Angeles Times are listing their city’s top black-owned restaurants while supportblackowned.com highlights black-owned businesses across of 48 the 50 states. -North and South Dakota, absent, genuinely may not even have any-.

Skip: Sightseeing bus tours run the risk of voyeurism. If aboard an open-top through Harlem, don’t forget to disembark there rather than heading straight to the Met.

Support green states

Tip: You’ve heard of red and blue, but by travelling to zip-codes with a strong sustainability ethos, you’re also supporting green states.

One of my favourite states, Vermont, is also ranked as the most sustainable and a visit here feels like a warm belly hug of homemade granola. Every corner and country pasture seems to offer pop-up slice of local arts, culture and food.

Towns like Stowe and Chester are particularly cute while artsy Montpelier is the only U.S. state capital without a McDonalds. For a New England road-trip, the state border lies just a two hour car ride from Boston, too.

Skip: Well, more a heads-up. West Virginia ranks as the least sustainable state in the Union. The folks here are very friendly, but you’ll struggle to find some kombucha for your KeepCup.

Eat some lobstah!

Lobster dinner with potato salad and drawn butter
Lobster dinner with potato salad and drawn butter

Tip: So many U.S. restaurants nowadays feature tilapia - much of which stems from fish farm in Vietnam and beyond. So if you’re ordering seafood, do it in style. Maine lobster is nationally certified for its sustainable farming with only specimens or a graded size heading back to harbour.

Few places serve it better than Luke’s Lobster of Portland, Maine, but if you’ve a craving for that lobstah roll in Boston, they also have an outlet in the Back Bay district.

Skip: Overfishing. California’s Monterrey Bay Aquarium operate a Seafood Watch app which tells you the most sustainable seafood to order wherever you’re travelling.

Check-in eco

Tip: Sustainable accommodations nowadays have gone from niche to mainstay. Luxury travellers can dream of the likes of Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana to America’s only vegan resort, the Stanford Inn in California.

On a budget? Camping in the US is the ultimate way to sooth you mind and carbon footprint.

Skip: While many hotel chains pave paradises, Kimpton, Marriott and Hyatt hotels are all praised for their sustainability efforts.

Unchain your dining!

Two stylish young women hang out outside of Wicker Park, in front of the trendy and famous restaurant, Big Star, which is always busy with a wait on Saturday nights.
Two stylish young women hang out outside of Wicker Park, in front of the trendy and famous restaurant, Big Star, which is always busy with a wait on Saturday nights.

Tip: I love a sneaky Wendy’s as much as the next person but chain restaurants have much of U.S. suburbia turning into one long strip mall. New York’s iconic diners are also in trouble with The New York Times reporting that on average 13 closing per year - to make way for apartment complexes.

Support mom-and-pop businesses if possible - the rule of thumb: if you haven’t heard the name, try it!

Go wild

Tip: America is home to some of the world’s most iconic wildlife so you need to jump through hoops to see animals (often jumping through hoops themselves).

If visiting the major gateways, visit the sea lions on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, go moose-spotting in New England, or take an ethical whale watch tour in the Pacific Northwest. Even in the Big Apple, you can enjoy $10 birding tours of Central Park (birdingbob.com).

Skip: SeaWorld. Their website currently bills “Dance with Dolphins” and “Dine with orcas” as its top experiences. Go fish elsewhere.

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