With summer on the way, many of us are looking forward to vacationing. Most will likely spend time off sopping up sun at the beach, or even at home.
But it might be nice to break out of your comfort zone in a pretty big way and head off to somewhere unusual. How about an underwater hotel? Living in a tree house? Or spending time at a spooky former insane asylum? (!)
There are many off-the-beaten-path options. Here are some budget travel suggestions—many are at little or no cost. Most are in the Maryland, Virginia area, while others require a bit of venture. Either way, enjoy!
Build a house
The best known way of doing this is as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. There are scores of offices all over the country for this nonprofit organization, including over a dozen in Maryland and Virginia. You are welcome to give a week or two of your time to hammer, saw, dig and lay concrete to help erect housing for low income families and get a true feeling of accomplishment. Volunteers can also help out in thrift shops the Habitat runs, or teach financial education classes to the homebuyers who will be buying the newly-built abodes. Two offices are Habitat For Humanity Metro Maryland, in Silver Spring and Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, in Alexandria.
Enjoy the wild west
Take a trip back to America’s old west by visiting Annie Oakley’s home in Cambridge, Maryland. A famous sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show starting in 1885, Annie Oakley was a force to be reckoned with. Shooting and hunting by the age of 8, Annie helped to support her family after her father died and they were plunged into poverty. But at 15, much loftier uses for her natural talent with a firearm were presented when she began appearing in traveling shows as a markswoman, leading to her longtime starring role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Sleep in a tree
Have your kids always asked for a treehouse? Surprise them with an awesome getaway at the Out ‘n’ About Treehouse Resort in Cave Junction, Oregon. Nestled at the top of trees, family-friendly cabins provide the perfect escape. With zip lines, horseback riding, rafting, arts and crafts classes and more, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Nature classes are offered to youngsters, complete with calls to parents for those who refuse to “leaf” after they are over.
See where Deep Throat spilled the beans
It is an innocuous parking garage beneath the Oakhill Office Building in Rosslyn, Virginia. But what went on inside played a major role in President Nixon’s resignation. In parking space D32, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with “Deep Throat”—now known to be FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt—to gather information about the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The series of stories that Woodward and his reporting partner Carl Bernstein produced about Watergate would lead to the only resignation by a U.S. president. You don’t have long to experience this den of journalistic history. The garage is slated to be demolished later this year.
Be a pinball wizard
For a very fun step back in time, you might want to visit the Roanoke Pinball Museum in Virginia—where classic pinball machines fill a cavernous room and the sights and sounds are electrifying. The museum, part of the Center in the Square complex, opened its doors in 2015 and is home to scores of pinball machines, ranging from the 1940s to the late 1990s. The museum is “hands on”—meaning the machines are playable. You could make a day of it: the complex also includes the Science Museum of Western Virginia, the History Museum of Western Virginia and the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.
Sleep and dine underwater
Have pizza served to you 20 feet below at Jules’ Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Florida —the world’s first underwater hotel. Located at the bottom of the lagoon at Key Largo Undersea Park, Jules’ offers overnight stays, as well as scuba diving courses and underwater adventures. The hotel features a fully stocked kitchen with refrigerator and microwave, and cozy bedrooms with windows where guests can lie down and watch fish swim in the watery world outside. A scuba diving waiter will even bring pizza down for dinner.
Have an insane time
Steel yourself for a visit to Forest Haven Asylum in Laurel, Maryland. Forest Haven was once considered state-of-the-art before devolving into one of the most deadly mental institutions in American history. Walk through the over 30 structures that are left on the 250-acre site that opened in 1925 and was hailed for its treatment of mentally ill and handicapped children. As funding began drying up in the 1960s, staff was cut and unqualified caretakers took the place of doctors and nurses. Abuse and neglect caused hundreds of deaths until the site was shut down in 1991. To this day, carelessly buried bodies still pop up from the shallow graves they were laid in.
Resources: Atlas Obscura, Habitat for Humanity, Mom.me.com, VacationIdea.com