Pandemic habits are continuing, with most travelers planning domestic road trips to outdoorsy locations.
Many of the top emerging destinations for 2021 are located in the South and Midwest.
According to a recent travel trend report released by Vrbo, many of the top travel habits of travelers in 2020 will be continuing throughout 2021. Travelers are continuing to take their own transportation, such as rental cars, to their destinations, with 59% saying they’ll drive instead of fly for their next trip.
Travelers are also continuing to seek out more remote destinations with easy access to nature, with 61% planning to visit an outdoor destination to fish, camp, hike, or explore instead of heading to an urban vacation. The top travel destinations reflect this, with almost all of the top 10 options located in the South and Midwest where there’s plenty of space for social distancing. In fact, of the top up-and-coming destinations on Vrbo’s list, only one is in a coastal area.
According to Melanie Fish, Vrbo travel expert, “Vrbo’s newest top emerging destinations align with shifts in travel behavior due to the pandemic.” She adds, “Booking a Vrbo in these off-the-beaten-path locales means travelers can enjoy the privacy and comforts of home while reaping the mental health benefits of being in a new environment and spend quality time exploring places they may have otherwise overlooked.”
The top 10 emerging destinations according to Vrbo are:
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Water Valley, Mississippi
New Roads, Lousiana
Below, we detail these popular up-and-coming destinations among Vrbo users, as well as our top vacation rental picks to book in each region, all selected based on being well-located to the above emerging destinations, as well as well-reviewed listings with near-perfect 5.0 ratings from reviewers.
As always, bear in mind that even in more remote locales there’s never a guarantee of safety right now. Always follow guidelines from the CDC, practice social distancing, wear masks in public areas, and wash hands frequently. Before booking, check for travel advisories and restrictions in your vacation destination, too.
Here are Vrbo’s top 10 emerging destinations, plus the best vacation rental to book for each.
About a 90 minute drive straight west from the bustling urban center of Dallas brings you to the bucolic town of Emory, where you’ll find stables, wineries, verdant state parks, and Lake Fork, a peaceful fishing, birding, and boating destination.
Dive into the waterside setting at this Waterfront home with a private pool for an ideal lakeside getaway. The three-bedroom vacation rental is right on Lake Fork and offers a private fishing dock where you can angle for largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish. If you’re not up for a dip in the lake, you can spend a sunny afternoon relaxing at the private pool. At the end of the day, enjoy the peaceful evening under the stars by the secluded outdoor fire pit. Or if there’s a lakeside chill, head indoors to the spacious living room to get cozy around the indoor fireplace.
COVID safety: No policies are stated, but it’s managed by Evolve, a rental property company with high cleanliness standards and 24/7 guest services.
Located just 30 minutes north of Kansas City is the quiet town of Smithville and its eponymous lake popular for fishing, boating, and swimming. Surrounding the lake are scenic hiking trails as well as two 18-hole courses that comprise the Paradise Point Golf Complex.
Stay overnight at a remodeled farmhouse in the nearby historic town of Liberty. The updated home has four bedrooms and an expansive outdoor area including a spacious yard, a deck with a charcoal grill, and as a unique touch, access to the on-site working horse farm and barn. Within a mile of the home are Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, Liberty Jail Church Historic Site, and the Jesse James Bank Museum.
COVID-19 Safety: No policies stated, but it’s managed by Evolve, a rental property company with high cleanliness standards and 24/7 guest services.
Even if you’ve never heard of Slade before, you’ll quickly see why it would be a popular emerging destination for a nature getaway. The Kentucky town is considered the gateway to the beautiful Red River Gorge, popular for kayaking and canoeing as well as some of the most notable rock climbing in the world. The Slade area is also home to one of the most popular state parks in Kentucky, Natural Bridge State Resort Park and its namesake sandstone arch.
If you’ve ever wanted to stay in a real log cabin in the woods, your wilderness dreams can come true at this large family fun log cabin. The house is ideally situated to enjoy the natural setting, with an outdoor hot tub with incredible forest views, a swing and rockers on the spacious covered front porch, and a wood fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs where you can watch the stars come out at night. Inside, rustic meets modern with lots of open wood architecture along with a well-equipped kitchen and plenty of space to spread out.
COVID-19 safety: The listing notes that the property is cleaned with disinfectants and that there is contact-free check-in and check-out.
Spacious home close to the beach in Outer Banks, North Carolina, $300
While lakes get most of the love on the emerging destinations list, there is one spot that’s a coastal delight for beach lovers: The Outer Banks. A 100-mile string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, this area is the ultimate in serene social distancing beach vacations, with long stretches of sand known for for being crowd-free because of their remote location.
To get a taste of everything the area has to offer, check out this beautiful house just steps from the beach. The four-bedroom home offers views of both the ocean and the Wright Brother National Monument and has an open floor plan with ample space for great family gatherings in addition to a separate game room with a pool table. Outside there’s a refreshing private pool if you’re not up for the short walk to the Atlantic.
COVID-19 safety: This listing follows industry health association SafeStay (AHLA – USA) recommendations.
Located bout 30 minutes west of Tulsa, is Mannford, which sits along the banks of 26,000-acre Keystone Lake, known as the “Striped Bass Capital of the World”. You don’t have to fish to enjoy lake life here, since there’s plenty of room to boat and swim if you’re not an angler.
The lake is also a relaxing spot to just watch the water, and for that peaceful activity, it’s hard to beat this 20-acre, three-bedroom home. The waterfront listing boasts panoramic views of the lake. Inside, the great room is a highlight of the house, with a two-story vaulted ceiling and a wood-burning fireplace. Outside, a private nature trail decorated with colorful art installations leads around the property and down to the water.
COVID-19 policy: No policies stated, but managed by Evolve, a rental property company with high cleanliness standards and 24/7 guest services.
Nestled on the Wabash River across from Purdue University, Lafayette, in Tippecanoe County, is located 63 miles northwest of Indianapolis and 105 miles southeast of Chicago, making it an ideal getaway from the city. Although Lafayette made the Vrbo list, the majority of rental houses are located a bit north in the lakefront community of Lake Freeman, popular for swimming and water sports, especially water skiing. The town also offers old-school fun such as drive-in movies, miniature golf, and the Indiana Beach Amusement Park.
One standout option here is this rustic luxury estate, a spectacular and expansive five-bedroom home nestled in a quiet cove on the waterfront of Lake Freeman. Though it’s on the higher end of price, it sleeps up to 15 guests, making it an excellent value option for larger families or pods of friends traveling and quarantining together.
This is a home made for entertaining, with a great room with a floor-to-ceiling Wisconsin River Rock walled fireplace that opens to a 1,000 sq foot outdoor wrap-around deck that enables guests to easily relax, entertain and/or dine in both spaces simultaneously. The home also has a Leisure Kraft pontoon boat available to rent by the day to get out and explore the peaceful lake.
COVID-19 safety: There are no specific protocols noted, but reviews note that the home is “very clean.”
Modern home on a private lake in Water Valley, Mississippi, $625
Tucked into the hills of north Mississippi, south of the university town of Oxford, Water Valley is an artsy enclave filled with boutique shops, galleries, and historic buildings with an old-fashioned charm that makes it a relaxing weekend retreat. It’s also near quiet, family-family Lake Enid.
Base yourself in the heart of the area at this serene and modern home in the Splinter Creek neighborhood. With privacy and remote locations being the ultimate luxury right now, this home earns its higher price point by boasting a private lake you’ll have all to yourself.
The modern, three-bedroom lakefront house has a large screened-in porch and an outdoor kitchen. The house is located on a 10-acre lot, which is part of a larger 650-acre agri-hood development with hiking trails, and three private, stocked lakes that offer swimming, boating, and fishing just for the homes in the surrounding area.
COVID-19 policies: This home follows industry health association SafeStay (AHLA – USA).
Tucked into the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Fredericktown is surrounded on three sides by the Mark Twain National Forest and sits at the base of the St Francois Mountains, making it a magnet for nature lovers, especially city dwellers from St. Louis, located about 75 miles north.
The area also is home to a number of small wineries, and this gorgeous, five-bedroom log home is just one mile from the popular Chaumette Winery. The private and secluded log home is great for families who want plenty of space to spread out, especially if parents plan to work remotely and want dedicated workspace. A highlight of the house is the wrap-around porch that offers wide views of the surrounding landscape. Inside, the house boasts a plethora of thoughtful touches, such as fresh-picked flowers, handmade doorknobs, and exposed wood beams.
COVID-19 policies: No policies noted, but reviews note that the property is “super clean.”
River home with dock in New Roads, Louisiana, $270
New Roads calls itself “the prettiest city on the water.” What water is that? Well, it’s tucked between the Mississippi Bayou and the False River, but that “false” river is really a 15-mile oxbow lake. No matter what you call the water, though, the historic town is certainly scenic and is a popular getaway from Baton Rouge, just 26 miles downstream.
This river home is a peaceful retreat on the False River just south of New Roads in Oscar. The four-bedroom vacation rental offers access to a shared pier and dock just feet away from the patio, ideal for anglers and water lovers alike, along with a modern and airy 2,600-square-foot interior, complete with a fireplace, leather couches, and other cozy details.
COVID-19 policy: No policies stated, but it’s managed by Evolve Vacation Rental, a premier host with high cleanliness standards.
In Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio, Junction offers a spot where the wildflowers bring carpets of color to the ground every spring, and year-round you can kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and tube along the South Llano River.
This L&L River Haus is a charming farmhouse that has a historic designation as a Texas Century Ranch, meaning the property has been in the same family for at least 100 years. The interior is updated and comfortable, but there are charming touches to its roots all around, such as a wood stove, a tin-roof porch, and an outdoor water pump. Some more modern additions include a billiards table inside and a fire pit outside. The ranch is still active, and you’ll be able to see horses and other wildlife around, enjoy spacious outdoor areas, and relax by the river.
COVID-19 policy: The listing notes multiple disinfecting protocols, as well as contactless check-in and check-out.