Why you should consider a ‘second trip to the city’ in 2021

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you might not want your next trip – perhaps your first trip in over a year – to be in a crowded urban metropolis. Enter the “second city” route.

Second city is a somewhat ambiguous term, but it’s generally used to refer to the second most populous city in a region, state, or country. Some interpret it as extending to the third, fourth or even tenth most populous cities in an area. In short: Avoid the sprawling, heavily populated metropolis for a smaller, less populous location.

Lots of people do. In total, 69% of people polled in the March 2021 American Express Global Travel Trends report said they wanted to visit lesser-known destinations this year – and here’s why you might want to consider them too:


The most obvious reason to avoid big cities in 2021: Avoid being surrounded by crowds as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says attending events and rallies increases your risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.


As people catch up on the vacations, family reunions and weddings they missed in 2020 and early 2021, the tourism industry gears up for one of the busiest travel seasons yet. Data from the Transportation Security Administration shows several days in May 2021 that set new records for checkpoints for the most passengers since the start of the pandemic.

Reports suggest the travel industry is being pushed to its limits in some areas. Companies that laid off workers last year now have more demands from customers, creating a difficult situation as they attempt to rehire old employees or hire and train new ones quickly. And while unemployment in the United States remains high, many companies say they cannot find enough workers, industries adjacent to tourism, like restaurants, particularly affected.

After more than a year of restrictions and blockades, the hundreds of restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, for example, could be overwhelmed by the influx of travelers. But while flashy Vegas restaurants are overrun, a sleepier, less touristy neighboring town that has served locals throughout the past year probably won’t feel so overcrowded with your visit.


Although the CDC has said that domestic air travel is relatively safe for fully vaccinated travelers, you can still feel hesitant.

Of course, you’ll need to fly for this trip to Mexico, but you might also want to consider a road trip to a second city closer to you.

If you live in Los Angeles, you could go glamping in Santa Barbara. If you live near Houston or most cities in Louisiana, it will only take you a few hours to get to the epicenter of Cajun cuisine in Lafayette, Louisiana.


Some travelers may choose to visit both the Big City and the Second City. If you sat double-masked for six hours on the plane across the country to San Francisco, you might as well maximize your trip by staying a few weeks or a month in Northern California. Take your time; sip Chardonnay in Sonoma or relax in the chalet after skiing in Lake Tahoe.

It’s part of the workstation trend, where you book accommodation longer than usual, but still work eight hours in your (virtual) office. Because you can work remotely, you may be able to travel more days than usual while working simultaneously.


Here are the largest cities in the United States – and a second city to visit:

– Instead of New York, think Cape May, New Jersey: with the ocean on one side and grand Victorian houses on the other, stretch out on the beach with stunning views.

– Instead of Los Angeles, think Joshua Tree, California: go camping (or glamping) among rugged rock formations.

– Instead of Chicago, think Chesterton, Indiana: Look for wildlife in Indiana Dunes National Park, which stretches 15 miles from the shore of Lake Michigan.

– Instead of Houston, think Conroe, Texas: whether you prefer fishing boats or party boats, Conroe is known for its lakeside activities.

– Instead of Phoenix, think Flagstaff, Arizona: you could make a stop while driving Route 66. Depending on the season, you may find snow.


New airlines (or new routes on traditional carriers) have sprung up with routes to smaller towns, and hotels are opening their doors there.

This spring, Southwest announced plans for new routes to cities such as Santa Barbara, California; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Bozeman, Montana.

Likewise, Hyatt this spring opened a boutique hotel in Tennessee’s second largest city, Memphis, and another in Merced, California, a short drive from Yosemite National Park.

Your international trips may be on hold, and depending on the city, you may still not be able to dine inside. Travel is different now, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Get creative with the places you visit, and don’t overlook the benefits of side towns.

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