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Missouri

Panera

We’re a fan of pay-as-you wish restaurants, both as a way to avoid marked-up prices and as a chance to give back to the destinations on our travels. Here’s how it works: nonprofit restaurants encourage customers to pay for their meal based on what they’re able to afford, and/or give free meals in exchange for volunteer work at the restaurant. For travelers who do have a meal budget, it’s nice to know that our dollars are going toward establishments that provide resources and job training for the local community, and you can always take it a step further by volunteering as well has making monetary donations if you have the time and desire (free meals are meant for those who really can’t afford to pay). A number of establishments in the U.S. have successfully adopted this model. Here are four across the country to check out the next time you hit the road.

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bigcedarlodge

The Ozark mountain range is so vast that it not only covers the southern half of Missouri, it also extends to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. And even though it’s referred to as mountains, the area is actually a plateau. Covering 47,000 square miles, the rugged Ozarks are filled with forests, and hiking trails, and beautiful views. Here are some ideas for exploring:

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kansas city - allen brewer - 620

While vacationers often gravitate toward coastal paradises, America’s heartland is often missed as a vacation — except for those on the Kerouacian road-trip. But Kansas City is ripe for exploration, firstly because it’s a mere three-hour flight from either coast. It’s also one of the cheapest Midwest destinations to fly into — airfare is competitive because no airline has a hub and major claim there. Secondly, KC has tons to offer on countless cultural fronts, from its historic jazz foundation to epic barbecue spots to trendy boutiques galore. If you need proof, consider this: Both Google and Lego love the city enough to use it as fertile testing grounds (Google Fiber and Legoland, respectively). The cherry on top? All of the below adventures will hardly dent your wallet.

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There’s no excuse like being on vacation to indulge in decadent dishes that you’d feel guilty about tucking into at home, right? Plus, eating local is part of the cultural experience of any destination. Here, five bizarre and over-the-top regional eats — and where to try them if you so dare:

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dale ball trails - taylorandayumi - 620Summer’s the time to get out and get on the trail – but why share a popular hike with the massive crowds when there are more serene paths to follow? For an outdoors experience that truly allows you to appreciate nature in all its glory and in ultimate peace, here’s where you should go:

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vitavalka.cz - route 66 - arizona - 620

One of the nation’s first highways, Route 66, will be getting a modern new addition: a $1 million roadside park in Springfield, Missouri, which will commemorate the road’s history. Though portions of the nearly 90-year-old Route 66 are no longer passable, it still stands as an important monument to cross-country travel in the U.S. by car. Featuring replicas of landmarks, old fashioned fueling stations, and a history plaza, the first phase of the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park will be complete in August. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite ways to enjoy what remains of Route 66:

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state fair 1What is it about state fairs that fill us with glee? Is it the chance to see our favorite local bands? Mental images of deep fried butter? The smells of food, cattle, and sweat simultaneously wafting through the air?

Whatever it is, hundreds of thousands of people travel to state fairs every year in the hopes of indulging in a few highly calorific snacks and celebrating Americana. While these fairs typically happen in the late summer through the fall, we thought we’d get a head start with 10 quirky attractions that help make this country a little weird, and a lot of fun.

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Courtesy of Cinco de Mayo Denver

Not to be confused with Mexico’s Independence Day on September 16, Cinco de Mayo traditionally commemorates Mexico’s freedom from France. Today, May 5 remains one of the most notable occasions for recognizing the country’s rich history – and people use the day as a good excuse to celebrate Mexican heritage in all its finest forms, from mariachi to margaritas. Here, five cities across the U.S. with festive (and mostly free) celebrations.

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The great American road trip has captured travelers’ imaginations for decades. For your next jaunt, give the bland chain motels a miss and pick one of these unique hotels to rest up while you are on the road.

For West Coast Road Trippers:

The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo CAMadonnaInnThe iconic bright pink sign of the Madonna Inn beckons roadtrippers toward a slice of Americana that befits its Highway 101 location. The bright color scheme extends into this 50-year-old hotel and through many of the 110 individually themed guestrooms. Rooms on offer include the “Caveman” room, “Swiss Chalet,” “Country Gentleman,” and “Love Nest.”  Rates start at $189.

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Museum of Natural History - WhaleWe’re big fans of museums, wherever we go. And we’d never begrudge an amazing exhibit due support, particularly at smaller institutions that could use the help. But there’s no reason why travelers shouldn’t take advantage of free nights at various museums across the country. And there are more museums that offer suggested, donation-based entry than you might think.

Two notes before jumping into our roundup of free and pay-as-you-wish museum programs: First, this is not a definitive list, though we do plan on updating it regularly. Second, if you’re a Bank of America credit or debit card holder, don’t forget to check out the Museums on Us program. Flash your card (and ID) at 150 museums and cultural institutions across the country and you’ll get in free on Saturday and Sunday during the first full weekend of every month.  Read more

Kentucky BendAs any midwesterner will tell you, Kentucky is an incredibly beautiful place to visit in the fall; then again, the same could be said for Tennessee and Missouri. If you’re trying to figure out which one to visit on an upcoming road trip, you’ll be glad to hear it’s possible to visit all three within a matter of minutes.

At the far southwestern edge of the Bluegrass State, the Kentucky Bend is one of the oddest state borders in the United States. It’s a rare example of an exclave, or a piece of land isolated from the rest of its borders and surrounded by foreign soil. Considering there are only a handful of exclaves in the U.S. (Ellis Island, interestingly, is one of them), this geographical oddity, located roughly equidistant between St Louis, Evansville, and Nashville, is a must-see stop on any tour through this part of the country.

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Nelson Atkins MuseumTell a Kansas City resident that they’re located in a flyover state and see what happens. Actually, don’t do that. For those traveling to the heart of America for business or pleasure, you’ll find plenty of extracurricular activities to make the most of your visit. In an effort to get you outside the boardroom and into KC, here are two restaurants, two attractions, and one bar that you can hit with just a few extra hours between meetings.

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St. Louis is a staple of Americana, with the Gateway Arch standing as an appropriate monument that ushers weary travelers from east to west. Granted, we aren’t exactly in the Oregon Trail days any longer, but there’s still something magical about standing beneath the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Though the weather may be chilly this time of year, there’s a lot of heart in St. Louis to keep those passing through on business plenty warm. In an effort to get you outside of the boardroom and into an exploratory mindset, we’re offering up two restaurants, two attractions, and one bar that you can hit with just a few extra hours between meetings. Read more

kansas-city-family-vacationThe fact that math and I don’t quite get along has never inhibited my fondness for making up equations, including this one: Cold off-season destination + solid indoor attractions = value family vacation.

It’s this thinking that has inspired my non-sequential series on the Midwest, including a post last winter about Chicago, more recent looks at Columbus, Milwaukee, and South Dakota, and today’s stop, the often underrated Kansas City. Should you wish to pull together a KC jaunt over the next several weeks, sub-$250 per person round-trip airfares are easy to come by, as are value-priced air-and-hotel bundles. Read more

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