How to Enjoy Nature on Your Vacation

You don’t have to be a hard-core adventurer to appreciate the great outdoors. We'll show you how to enjoy nature whether you're a beginning birder or just love getting outside.

Getting away is about experiencing new places, scenery, climates—and more often than not, that means getting out into nature. We understand that backpacking in Yellowstone, all-day bird-watching in Costa Rica and back-to-back garden tours aren’t for everyone. But there are several easy ways you can have a welcome encounter with nature no matter where you’re going. Here are our best tips on how to enjoy nature on your next trip!

3+ MONTHS OUT

Do your research. A simple online search for “birds in Las Vegas” or “gardens of Orlando” may turn up some surprising results. There’s also bound to be an Audubon Society not far from where you’re going.

Set a budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend, then set a little of that money aside for your special nature excursion.

Don’t count out big cities. Here’s an example: City parks make up nearly one-quarter of the area of San Diego, making it a city with lots to do and acre upon acre of green space. Just because a city is known for its restaurants, museums or nightlife, it doesn’t mean that you can’t see birds and flowers there, too.

Visit city websites.Most have recreation listings that include parks, walking trails, nature preserves and more. Let them spur your imagination.

Get to know the local birds. If the area is new to you, check out a library book on the birds of the region. Note what you can expect to see in the season you’ll be visiting.

1 MONTH OUT

Make a schedule. If the prime viewing opportunities are at dawn or dusk (as they often are for bird-watching), you’ll want to be prepared.

Check social media for local events. You’d be hard pressed to find a county park, botanical garden or nature center that isn’t on social media. Check Facebook pages and Twitter channels to find out what is planned during the period you’ll be in town.

Know your companions. Traveling with your family? Friends? Get a good read on just how much nature they’re up for. See if they’ll try at least one outdoor excursion a day with you.

Take a road trip. Even if you’re flying to your destination, you’ll see more if you rent a car and get off the beaten path at least once.

Consider camping. You might not be a camper, but try finding a campground or an area with cabins for at least one night. There’s nothing like being surrounded by nature to open your eyes and your mind.

1 WEEK OUT

Make a list. And then check it twice! You don’t want to forget important things like your binoculars.

Check the weather.The science of forecasting has improved so much that you can get a decent idea of conditions 10 to 14 days in advance. While there are no guarantees, it helps to check the outlook to get a rough idea of temperatures and possible storms. On the other hand…

Plan for a range of conditions. Hot, cold, rainy, windy: You never know, so be prepared for surprises.

Pack layers.No matter where you are, if you’re up before the sun, it probably will be chilly. Bring garments you can easily remove as the sun heats up later in the day.

Check eBird. This is a fantastic resource that lets you easily explore sightings by location. From ebird.org, go to the Explore Data tab. There’s no better way to see what’s being spotted where you are—or where you’ll be.

VACATION TIME!

Be spontaneous. Keep an eye out wherever you go—you never know when you’ll see a wonderful plant or bird. Take time to smell the roses or listen to the warblers.

Find a park. Look for local, state and national parks and wildlife refuges. Most are free or have reasonable fees.

Make it a game.If you’re traveling with kids (or even if you’re not), keep a tally of the different birds or wildlife you see. It’ll naturally make you more aware of your surroundings.

Talk to the locals. Residents of the area will likely have insider tips on what to check out next, so it’s worth asking when you’re at a park or garden. People are often happy to offer suggestions.

Find an expert. Talk to the park ranger or an extension employee­—people who are paid to be in the know. The folks at garden centers and bird shops can be helpful, too.

Bring a backpack. That way, your hands are free and your field guide, water, camera and extra layers are within easy reach.

Stacy Tornio
Stacy Tornio is a freelance writer and author with more than 15 gardening and outdoorsy books. She tries to get as much sunshine as possible and is currently on a quest to see all the national parks in North America.