Great weekend trips in America’s 13 original colonies


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The coronavirus pandemic has changed travel: no more champagne on planes or karaoke on cruises, for now. But a U.S. road trip may be an option if you’d like to experience a change of scenery this summer.

International tourism is expected to fall by as much as 80% in 2020 over the previous year, according to the World Tourism Organization. And in the week ending June 21, 2020, domestic air travel was down 78% and international air travel was down 96% from a year ago, according to the industry advocacy group Airlines for America.

But some Americans are easing back into travel with shorter domestic road trips. Corritta Lewis, her wife Mea and their one-year-old son Caleb left their California home earlier this year with plans to set off on a round-the-world trip. That’s on hold for now. But on July 5, they plan to leave for a three-week U.S. road trip.

“I’m a history buff, so I always drag my family to historical sites,” Lewis said, adding that they plan to visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the site of the first English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, and several museums that are open despite the COVID-19 pandemic. “I love museums,” she said.

The 13 original colonies provide ample opportunities for discovering (or rediscovering) American history. Here’s where to go, what to see and how to do it safely.

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Connecticut is nicknamed the Constitution State because its Fundamental Orders of 1638 acted as a state constitution of sorts. It’s also home to the oldest U.S. newspaper, the Hartford Courant.

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Take a bike or driving tour. The Revolutionary Connecticut website offers nine maps for driving tours where you can follow the footsteps of our country’s founders. Some are bicycle friendly, winding through the countryside with stops at battlefields and historic sites. Free
Tour Hartford on foot. Founded in 1639, the capital city of Hartford offers an abundance of historical sites. Check GPSMyCity Hartford for five self-guided walking tours, featuring stops at the state capitol and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. Free
Take in history in nature. Relax at Putnam Memorial State Park, also known as “Connecticut’s Valley Forge.” The park, which was the site of several Revolutionary War camps, has 183 acres of wilderness for hiking and picnicking. Connecticut state parks are open with social distancing requirements. Free

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On December 7, 1787, Delaware was the first colony to ratify the Constitution, so it’s known as “The First State.” The state’s motto is “Liberty and Independence.”

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Visit the John Dickinson Plantation. The original home of the “Penman of the Revolution” still stands on 18 beautiful acres just south of Dover. Self-guided tours are available, and visitors must wear masks and stay six feet away from others. Free
See a historic fort. With thick stone walls, Fort Delaware was built in 1859 to protect the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia. It’s said to be haunted, and it was featured on the show Ghost Hunters. Face covers and social distancing required. $12 for ages 13 and over; $7 for children 2-13; free for children under 2

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Shortly after it was founded in 1732, this colony made slavery and alcohol illegal only to later reverse its decision on alcohol and become a rum-running hub. The state later played a key role in the civil rights movement.

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Soak in Southern charm on a city walking tour. Known as the “Hostess City of the South,” Savannah was the original settlement for the Georgia Colony. Strolling through its historic district on a self-guided walking tour, you’ll see neo-Gothic, English Regency and Victorian mansions on streets lined with moss-draped live oaks. Free
Follow the footsteps of civil rights leaders. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. But you can go on a self-guided tour of important sites such as King’s childhood home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his father preached, and the tomb of King and his wife Coretta Scott King. Free

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Founded in 1633 at the settlement of Baltimore, the Maryland Colony was named after King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria and became the site of the first Catholic mass in the colonies.

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See the inspiration for a patriotic song. The defense of this historic fort inspired Francis Scott Keyes to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The grounds of the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine are open, though the visitor center is closed due to the pandemic. The fort was named after James McHenry, a signer of the Constitution. Free
Visit a Civil War battlefield. Sprawling across 3,000 acres of Appalachian foothills near the Potomac River, the Antietam National Battlefield was the site of a pivotal Civil War battle. The site is open, though the visitor center, bathrooms and observation tower are closed. $10 per person or $20 per vehicle
Stop at a site that played a role in three wars. A stone fort at the Fort Frederick State Park was pivotal in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The barracks are being restored, but the park offers self-guided walking tours and other activities. Free

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The colony was founded almost 10 years after the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. It became the sixth U.S. state on February 6, 1788, and was home to our second president, John Adams.

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Get a taste of independence. Take a stroll on the same streets where the American Revolution began, from the Paul Revere House to the Boston Massacre site to the harbor where tea was dumped on December 16, 1773. The outdoor sites on the Freedom Trail are open. Free
See what life was like for the pilgrims. With its thatched-roof huts and hosts playing characters in period costumes, Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum that transports you back in time to the 1600s. You must reserve tickets online because the number of guests is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. $32 for adults; $29 for seniors 62 and up; $18 for children 5-12; kids under 5 free
Drive a historic scenic road. The Mohawk Trail in northwestern Massachusetts features 63 miles of roads winding through pristine New England landscape along a Native American trade route. You’ll pass more than 50,000 acres of state forests, parks and wildlife preserves. Free

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New Hampshire

New Hampshire was the first colony to step out against the king and declare independence — six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Their motto: “Live free or die.”

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Walk through a historical village with traditional crafts. In 1774, the Shakers, a community of Christians who had broken away from various churches in England, settled in this central New Hampshire village. The Canterbury Shaker Village is offering a series of socially distanced outdoor concerts in July 2020. Concerts are free with a suggested donation of $10
Visit a house museum named for a Revolutionary War hero. As the song goes, “John Paul Jones was a fightin’ man, a fightin’ man was he,” and as a naval commander, he fought to make America free. The John Paul Jones House Museum offers a taste of Revolutionary War history and is now open. $6; $5 for seniors, retired military and children under 12; free for active duty military

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New Jersey

New Jersey was named after a British island, and for many years before the Revolution, it was divided into two parts: East and West.

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Visit a park and burial site. At the Baylor Massacre Burial Site, on the night of September 28, 1778, the British attacked soldiers camped in the countryside. The area is now a wooded park with historical panels that tell the site’s story. Free
Take in the view from a lighthouse tower. Absecon Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey, was built in 1857, and it’s open to visitors wearing masks. Climb its 228 steps for a stunning view of Atlantic City. Gloves will be issued with admission. $10 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students; $6 for children 4-12

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New York

The Empire State got its start as a Dutch colony called “New Netherland.” The British took it over in 1664 and renamed it New York.

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See where American history was made. The Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, 70 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, is the place where George Washington made significant contributions to American history, including rejecting the idea of an American monarchy. The museum is closed, but you can roam acres of grounds and take in breathtaking views of the valley. $4 for adults; $3 for students and seniors; free for children under 12
Explore the history of women’s rights. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls is closed due to COVID-19. But you can take a self-guided tour of important historical sites for women’s rights in Seneca and around the Finger Lakes region. Free

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North Carolina

North Carolina’s name was derived from Carolus, Latin for Charles, as in King Charles. The area’s first permanent settlement began in 1663.

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Celebrate the Fourth in a historical town. The North Carolina town of Halifax was a bustling commercial and political hub during Revolutionary times. The “Halifax Resolves” created here called for independence from England. Free
See historical ruins and enjoy nature. Visit the site where English explorers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh first landed in 1584. These ruins of an ancient fort showcase the earliest roots of our republic as well as nature. The grounds of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site are open, and you may spot wildlife such as lizards, turtles and waterfowl. Free

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This state is the birthplace of our democracy, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written and signed.

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Witness the birth of a nation. At the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, you’ll find Independence Square, the Liberty Bell and an 18th century garden. The park is undergoing phased reopening, and outdoor areas are open. Buildings and bathrooms are closed. Free
Visit a famous fort. This 18th-century British fort from the French and Indian War helped shape history and led to the founding of Pittsburgh. Fort Ligonier recently re-opened to visitors on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. $12 adults; $10 seniors 62-plus and students 17-21; $6 kids 6-16, active duty military, veterans and law enforcement; free kids 5 and under
Valley Forge National Historic Park. In the winter of 1777-78, George Washington and his troops stationed here. Today, the park offers 3,500-acre acres of nature and monuments to history. Grounds, parking lots, roads and limited restrooms are open. Free

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Rhode Island

This state’s slogan is simple: hope. Its name means “red island,” and Rhode Island is the smallest state in the nation.

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Tour a bastion on a bay. Built in 1798, Fort Adams is a formidable bastion overlooking Narragansett Bay with history dating back to colonial times. Fort Adams is open and offering self-guided tours during the week and guided tours on weekends. $15 adults; $8 youth 6-17; $40 family with up to four youth; $3 discounts for military, seniors and college students
Visit the grounds of a plantation estate. Built in 1678, Smith’s Castle plantation estate is part of the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion Project. While the museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, the grounds are open. Free to walk the grounds
Experience the history of industrialization. Part of the National Heritage Corridor, the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park showcases a network of canals built in the 1800s to support increased shipping demands from a boom in textile manufacturing. The 1,000-acre park now commemorates the Industrial Revolution with plaques that tell the story of the canal and local manufacturing. You can go on a self-guided walking tour along the Blackstone Canal. Cost: Free

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South Carolina

From its early days, South Carolina relied on a plantation system fueled by slave labor. The state seceded from the Union in 1860, a year before Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, and was the site of the first battle in the Civil War.

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Walk America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The gardens at Middleton Place date back to 1741. They got their start with the first camellias brought to the United States by French botanist André Michaux, a friend of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The estate also has information and tours about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Face coverings are recommended on the grounds and required during tours of the house museum. $25 for ages 14 and up (or $29 at the gate); $5 for students and children 6-13; free for children under 6
Visit the first town governed by former slaves. The slogan of Mitchelville, on Hilton Head Island, is “Where Freedom Began.” You can take a self-guided tour of the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park, commemorating the town formed by former slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. At its height, it had 3,000 residents. Free

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Virginia is for history lovers, too. The first English colony in the New World, it was the place George Washington and Thomas Jefferson called home.

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Learn more about the author of the Declaration of Independence. Take a tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate, which now also tells the story of Sally Hemmings, his slave and the mother of at least six children by him. Summer COVID-19 safety rules require social distancing and the use of face covers in buildings, on shuttle buses and outside when near others. Tickets available online only. $29 adults; $10 ages 12-18; free for children under 12
Visit a famed outdoor museum. Fans of American history won’t want to miss Colonial Williamsburg, “the largest outdoor living history museum.” All guests are required to wear face coverings indoors, and a number of COVID-19 safety measures, such as touchless ticketing, are in place. Ticket prices vary based on age and access

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How to travel safely during the coronavirus outbreak

Planning to hit the road this summer? Here are 7 tips for traveling safely during the pandemic while saving money and maximizing your rewards:

1. Check before you go. Before you leave, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends checking their COVID-19 data tracker to see if your destination or home is currently a COVID-19 hotspot. Also check to see if your destination has a 14-day quarantine requirement.

2. Enjoy from a distance. Plan a trip that will allow you and your travel companions to stay at least six feet away from others. Consider visiting restaurants that offer drive-thru and carryout options rather than sitting down to eat.

3. Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, the CDC recommends. You can carry a packet of soap leaves with you in case you encounter a bathroom without soap. Also, pack hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. Make sure you use hand sanitizer correctly, rubbing your hands together until they’re dry.
4. Carry extra masks. The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering any time you’re in public, so make sure you carry several spares. You should wash your mask in hot water with laundry detergent after each day of use. (Hand washing your mask is OK, according to Mayo Clinic.)
5. Use no-touch payments. Whether you have to duck into a convenience store to grab snacks on the road or pay for takeout food, consider using a contactless credit card. Does a card in your wallet have this feature? Check the card for a symbol that looks similar to the Wi-Fi logo.
6. Make those miles count. While paying safely, use a rewards credit card that will earn you points, miles or cash back. Some experts recommend focusing on cash back during the pandemic since the future of travel is up in the air.

7. Fuel up and earn. Consider a gas credit card to rack up rewards on your road trip. Better yet, some cards offer extra rewards on both gas and groceries, which is ideal now that American households are spending more on food and household goods during the pandemic.

With these tips, you should be able to safely celebrate the red, white and blue while looking forward to more travel freedom in the future.

Lewis and her family are eager to take their planned international dream trip but will focus on enjoying their U.S. road trip this summer. “Everything has changed drastically, but we’re trying to see this in a positive light,” she said.

Travel disclosure from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.

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