The U.S. Travel Destination Everyone Should Visit at Least Once, According to Getaway Guru Samantha Brown

If you've decided to take that big trip this year, you're in good company. Ninety-seven percent of Americans are opting to travel this year, the majority being Baby Boomers or Gen X, according to a survey by Klarna, a new company offering flexible-pay options for travel without accruing interest fees. A whopping 71 percent of us are looking to explore the U.S. and 22 percent of us are opting for shorter trips. 32 percent are hunting for those hidden-gem accommodations, while 25 percent are taking the budget-friendly route (16% say their range is just $600-900 per person per trip!).

"People are no longer paying those inflated prices or going to all the A-list destinations like we did post-pandemic," says Samantha Brown, host of the popular and award-winning Places to Love on PBS. "They're discovering new destinations, going on off-peak times, and are still traveling, but making smarter choices."

Hoping to help ease the travel cost burden and provide some of her best-kept secrets, Brown built an extended U.S. roadtrip across the "Unexplored North" along scenic Route 2. Kicking off in Washington State, and making stops in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont and Maine, the 12-14 day-itinerary promises to be "an automotive odyssey driving through stunning landscapes from dense forests, mountain peaks to an expanse of high desert," says Brown. Sign us up!

To help with the planning, we asked Brown to give us some more of her best-kept travel secrets just in time for summer getaway season:

The 2024 travel trend Samantha Brown is most excited about

"The end of revenge travel!" Brown tells Parade, citing the boomerang effect the pandemic had on travelers seeking to bust out again, and paying premiums to do so. Brown's thrilled travelers are now once again seeking out off-the-beaten path destinations and are willing to travel at off-peak times in order to save a few bucks.

Brown's chosen to highlight the "great Unexplored North." One reason she feels the route is so special is because "it’s a true cross-country road trip that passes through stunning landscapes: from mountains and forests to lakes and rivers and through small towns and larger cities," she says. "It’s also perfect for 2024 as people are looking for the cooler climates that more northern destinations provide."

"I worked with Klarna—a game-changer in smart travel and interest-free payments, to create this itinerary based on a recent travel survey they conducted where they found that due to the cost of living, consumers are planning to travel to locations closer to home, making this itinerary the perfect answer with plenty of stops across the country. People are looking to stay on budget which is what a road trip is all about! This is also why I find Klarna’s flexible pay-in-4 options super helpful when booking my travel to alleviate the financial burden."

Her most anticipated stop along the way? "I’m most excited about hitting the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which I haven't been to in 20 years."

Related: 19 Best Things to do in Mackinac Island, a Gorgeous Getaway in the Midwest

The U.S. destination everyone should visit at least once

Brown has been hosting popular TV series on the Travel Channel and now PBS since 1999 (remember Great Hotels and Passport to Europe?), and has visited countries all around the world. But if she had to choose just one U.S. destination that everyone should add to their bucket list, it would be none other than Santa Fe, New Mexico. "It’s a confluence of beautiful cultures with Native American and Spanish. It’s a vibrant city of art that’s an easy ten-minute drive to beautiful hiking trails. Plus, I find that the margaritas taste best here," she says.

Another U.S. destination that has been put in the spotlight this year has been Kansas City, Missouri (thanks, Taylor and Travis). With all eyes on the Chiefs' sights for a Super Bowl threepeater this year, travel to the midwest hub is set to soar. Brown's recommendations for must-see stops while there?

"I was just in Missouri a few months ago traveling along its share of RT 66. It doesn’t go through Kansas City, but it does hit Louis and Springfield. A real hidden gem is a spot called Ted Drewes that serves Frozen Custard 'cement' (VERY thick shakes). It’s a delicious classic and has been family-owned for 80 years," she shares.

Samantha Brown's best-kept secret destination in the U.S.

So, we had to ask while we have her: what's the one destination she always recommends to her friends? "One of my favorite hidden gems from my U.S. Route 2 itinerary is Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s a historic city right on the water with incredible independent shopping spots, an exceptional live music scene and great dining options. Perfect for both couples and families with a large variety of accommodations for all budgets. It’s a great home base to explore the New Hampshire and Maine Seacoast."

Related: 17 Things to Do in the Northeast's Most Beautiful Island

Brown's packing essentials for any trip

Brown is active on social media and is always sharing her favorite travel essentials (pro tip: follow her TikTok for the best tips and hacks). Something she's relied on throughout her travel career: "One of my all-time favorite must-have items, which I included in a list of my travel essentials in my Creator Shop on Klarna, is this high-speed plug-in adaptor to charge my phone FAST. "A close second, are these Boise noise cancelling earbuds to help me create a more calm environment while traveling. For these more expensive items, a great money-saving tip is using Klarna’s Search & Compare feature that allows travelers to track down the best available deal before making a purchase and they have 500K+ retailer partners to choose from. You can check out more of my must-have travel go-to’s on my Klarna Creator Shop!

Brown's travel tips for 2024

What's the number one thing Brown tells people to make the most of any trip? "Lighten up and allow your kids see you be a kid. You’ve been the enforcer of homework and screen time rules, now let them see the true you—that kid who won the pool cannonball contest when they were 12."

Sounds like a brilliant idea to us.

Related: 50 Best Girlfriend Getaways Around the World That are Serious #Goals