7 Affordable, Close-To-Home Destinations With International Flavor

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated January 16, 2021

How do you say "slippery road" in German?

Schlitterbahn.

You might have known that if you've ever visited Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, Texas. Actually, you'd pick up a lot more German words on a visit to New Braunfels. The town, which means "new brown rock" in German, was founded in the 19th century by European immigrants who sought to establish local customs, dining and other culture in their new homeland 5,000 miles away (as the crow flies). Today, New Braunfels remains a thriving hub of Teutonic tourism and, for some, represents a reasonable facsimile to what you'll find across the Atlantic Ocean.

Indeed, across the country, you'll find small villages that are populated by the descendants of immigrants from generations and centuries past. These folks keep their heritage alive out of pride, though the lure of a tourist dollar never hurts.

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So, why not travel to "foreign lands" for a fraction of the cost it takes to actually go overseas? Enjoy the port wine of Portugal, the borscht of Russia or the ambiance of these countries and more, all while staying in North America and using the almighty dollar.

Here are six other close-to-home places that aim to stand in for their foreign counterparts.

1. The Portuguese Corridor

What do Tom Hanks, Katy Perry, Meredith Vieira and James Franco have in common? They share a Portuguese heritage. You can find out more about their ancestral homeland by visiting southern New England. From Boston to Providence, R.I., you'll find towns with a heavy Portuguese influence, with their restaurants serving bacalhau and feijoada, washed down with a glass of port wine. (Fun fact: one out of every 10 Rhode Islanders claims Portuguese heritage.)

If you're of Portuguese descent and would like to learn more about your ancestral homeland, check out the 80,000 items stored at the public library in Taunton, Mass. Then head down to Fall River, Mass., for authentic Portuguese grub at Sagres Restaurant.

2. Brighton Beach

New York City has ethnic enclaves representing dozens of countries. Whether it's a Colombian population in Jackson Heights, Queens, or a street-long homage to Korea on Manhattan's 32nd Street, you can surely find what you're looking for.

Yet it's Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, next door to Coney Island, where you'll find the United States' largest concentration of Russian immigrants. And these folks know how to have a good time. A number of restaurants feel more like nightclubs, with entertainment running the gamut from disco-era variety shows to sad-eyed balladeers crooning about days gone by. A steady flow of chilled vodka, borscht and blinis, and you'll be (temporarily) transported to the land of samovars and onion-domed churches.

3. Calle Ocho

Havana, Cuba, and Key West, Fla., are a mere 105 miles apart, but for many Cuban-Americans, Havana may as well be halfway around the world. Many Cubans who immigrated to the U.S. a half century ago have vowed not to return while Fidel Castro lives. But that doesn't mean they're missing out on "La Vida Cubana." Just up the road from Key West in Miami lies Little Havana.

Longing to hear elegant, old-world Cuban music? Check out Alfaro's, on the neighborhood's most famous street, Calle Ocho. If you swing by on the last Friday of the month, you can soak up neighborhood entertainment during "Viernes Culturales," offering Cuban music, art and other culture.

With a healthy appetite worked up, check out The Versailles, which makes a Cubano sandwich that beats all. Others swear by Casa Larios, located south of Little Havana in the Coral Gables neighborhood.

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4. From Kiev to Odessa and back

In the middle of July, tiny Kerhonkson, N.Y., transforms itself into a slice of Ukraine. As in the musical Brigadoon, a population of Ukrainian-Americans emerges seemingly out of nowhere, turning a sleepy resort into a bustling festivity. These folks travel hundreds or thousands of miles for a long weekend of food, music and merry-making known as Soyuzivka. The highlight of the festival: a big song-and-dance number put on by the local Roma Pryma dance academy.

Ukraine's people have long been proud, even under the shadow of the former Soviet Union. That country's language, customs and mythology today thrive, as you'll see during this joyous three-day festival. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I live nearby and can suggest that the entire Shawangunk mountain range, part of New York's Catskill Mountains, is a worthy site for your next vacation.)

5 and 6. The British and French Legacies

Venturing north of the U.S. border you'll find the two most authentic representations of England and France this side of the Atlantic. On Canada's Western flank is Victoria, British Columbia, referred to by the locals as "A bit of Old England." They're not kidding. Listen closely and you'll hear a hint of a British accent from the Victorians. Victoria's Empress Hotel is a grand lodging designed more than a century ago by Francis Rattenbury, who also designed other famous buildings in Victoria. While in the region, check out the Butchart Gardens in nearby Brentwood Bay, which is on par with public gardens in England.

Thousands of miles to the east, you'll find the most European city in North America -- Quebec City. In some respects, QC is more French than many French cities, thanks to a deep emphasis on historical preservation. The cobblestone side streets are dotted with bistros and bakeries, and after a few days, you'll start to forget which continent you're on, as baguette-wielding bicyclists ride by. And when in QC, check out the Charlevoix region east of the city, which is as pristine a landscape as you'll find in North America.

The Investing Answer: We've all exhausted the tourism opportunities that lie within a few hours of our home. Even if a European vacation isn't in your budget, that's no excuse. You can still be a world traveler -- right here in North America.

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