The winter weather is beginning to creep in over much of the U.S. — but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to spend those cold months snowed in, dreaming of warmer, sunnier days. Instead, you can take a quick trip to warmer areas of the U.S. where the temperatures are unlikely to ever get too cold. Below, we’ve compiled our favorite Southern cities and a few COVID-19 travel tips to keep you safe during these unprecedented times.

miami-floridaMiami, Florida 

Miami is one of the best cities to visit during the winter. With its rich culture, miles of pristine beaches, and famous restaurants, there’s plenty to do in this exciting city. Need a sample itinerary? Consider taking a speedboat sightseeing tour, then explore Little Havana, and finally, end the day wandering through the Miami Design District. If you want to take a day trip somewhere, you can easily head to Key West — it’s only about a four-hour drive. Once you’re in Key West, you can lounge on the white sand beaches or check out the Ernest Hemingway House & Museum.

new-orleans-laNew Orleans, Louisiana 

New Orleans is steeped in history, tradition, and culture. Whether you want to take a ghost tour to explore the city’s most haunted historic buildings or engage your senses with a food walking tour, New Orleans has something for everyone. While the city is most well known for its Mardi Gras celebration that spills out into famous areas like Bourbon Street, there’s plenty of quieter activities to partake in and history to absorb. Enjoy a picnic at New Orleans City Park or walk through the architectural wonders of the Garden District, for instance. 

Austin-TexasAustin, Texas

Austin, Texas is an amazing, vibrant city in Texas where visitors can indulge in a world-renowned food scene and incredible cultural sights. Spend a quiet afternoon exploring the unique plants in the Zilker Botanical Garden and after, stop by the Texas Capitol building to take in its architectural splendor. And of course, you can’t go to Austin without trying some BBQ. Austin’s BBQ style requires slow smoking meat over hardwood. Local specialties include pork shoulder, brisket, and scratch-made sausages.

little-rock-arLittle Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, Arkansas is full of gems for tourists to explore. Famous landmarks and destinations include Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Riverfront Park, and the Arkansas State Capitol. Head to Rock Town Distillery, Arkansas’ first legal distillery since prohibition. You can try many of the distillery’s award-winning spirits and go on a tour to learn how those spirits are made from start to finish.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

With kayak tours, beaches, and live entertainment, Gulf Shores is one of the best winter getaways. If you want to check out some of the local wildlife, you can explore the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge where you might see animals like alligators, red foxes, bobcats, and armadillos.

COVID Travel Tips

Before you head out on your travels, it’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about how to deal with the pandemic as you travel so you can vacation more safely. And if you’re feeling sick before your vacation, you should reschedule or take a COVID-19 test before leaving. It’s important to follow the advice of experts and health officials. Remember, these cities will still be around after the pandemic is over. With that said, we’ve put together some common-sense tips to keep you safer while you vacation.

Tip #1: Make Sure Your Home is Secure Before You Leave

If you’re leaving for an extended stay down south, consider your home’s security before you jet off. You might ask a neighbor to collect your mail for you, for example. Or, you can hire a professional house sitter who can water your plants and take care of any pets that you might have. 

Another option is to invest in a home security system that can give you serious peace-of-mind while you’re away on vacation. Don’t leave your home vulnerable!

Tip #2: Buy Travel Insurance in Case of Cancelations 

Thanks to the pandemic, travel plans need to be flexible. You never know when flights or other events might be canceled due to things outside of your control. For example, your destination city might suddenly not allow visitors if conditions change and the virus worsens in a certain area. You should prepare for these kinds of abrupt changes by buying travel insurance. Travel insurance will allow you to recoup all or at least a partial amount of your money spent on travel expenses. It’s important to be flexible with your vacation plans while we’re still dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Tip #3: Look for Accommodations Following COVID-19 Cleaning Protocols

Before you book the cheapest hotel possible, take a second to consider their cleaning protocols and policies. Is your hotel taking extra steps to keep guests safe during the pandemic? If not, then it’s worth your time and money to search for alternative options. Remember, your health is priceless.

Tip #4: Bring Sanitizer Wipes, Hand Sanitizer, Masks, and Gloves

Make sure you bring enough reusable or disposable masks for each day of your trip. And bring plenty of hand sanitizer, which works great in a pinch when you can’t wash your hands. Gloves are another good idea. Wear them in high-touch areas like grocery stores, gas stations, and airports. And finally, sanitizer wipes can give you peace-of-mind that items like the hotel remote or faucet handles are actually clean.

Wrap-Up: Traveling to the South During the Winter

If you’ve been wanting to explore a slightly warmer area during the coldest months of winter, the Southern cities in this list will be a welcome change. Make sure that you make plans ahead of time — as hotels and activities are likely to fill up quickly due to potential capacity restrictions from the coronavirus. And remember, always travel safely. Even if a city doesn’t require masks, it’s a good idea to wear one to protect yourself and others. Safe travels!