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As gas prices soar, destinations are inviting visitors to leave the car at home

Bicyclists and horse-drawn carriages fill the main street of Mackinac Island, which does not allow cars.Michael J. Bailey/Globe staff

One of the newest resorts in the Catskills is a collection of tiny houses for rent on a property that also offers hiking, biking, kayaking, and a spa.

It’s adding yet another service this year, for the first time: a shuttle that picks up and drops off guests at the local railroad station after they ride here on the train that parallels the Hudson River.

It’s among the many ways travelers and travel destinations are adjusting to the soaring price of gas — by finding alternative ways to get to where they’re going or, once they’ve arrived, avoiding the need to drive.


“Not only are gas prices very high, but car rentals are not cheap,” said Bob Malkin, the owner of A Tiny House resort near Hudson, N.Y., which runs that shuttle service he said guests have been requesting in droves.

Popular this season are islands where motor vehicles are not allowed, all-inclusive resorts where they’re not needed, big cities with reliable public transportation, small cities that are bikeable or walkable, ski and beach towns where everything is close by, dude ranches or farm stays and on-site accommodations inside national parks.

In short, said Chuck Nardozza, a spokesman for AAA, “people are headed to places where they don’t need their cars.”

Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth in western Australia is car-free, too.

Most domestic leisure travel still happens by car — 89 percent of it, AAA reports. But that’s down 3 percentage points from last year. Meanwhile, bookings for vacations by train are up 29 percent over last year and 41 percent higher than before the pandemic, according to Amtrak Vacations, national tour operator for Amtrak.

AAA’s travel service is encouraging its hotel partners to provide free parking and gas cards. Crane’s Beach House in Delray Beach, Fla., will cover the price of a ticket on the Brightline regional train service to the hotel. Sanderling Resort in Duck, N.C., is offering a $50 gas rebate for guests who stay at least two nights.


But the real bonus, experts say, is that people are discovering the tranquility and independence of vacationing without a car.

“A car can isolate you,” said Dan Meyer, founder and director of the travel company BACK&PACK. “If you’re really trying to get in touch with a place, it creates a barrier between you and the local culture.”

There are still some destinations without any cars at all: islands around the world where they’re banned.

Mackinac Island, Mich., on Lake Huron, for example, doesn’t allow cars, though there are horse-drawn carriages. Guests can take the airport shuttle to the ferry dock or, beginning this year, fly directly to the island if they stay in its historic Grand Hotel.

The pool at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Daufuskie Island, off the coast of South Carolina, is also car-free, making it quiet enough to hear the more than 200 types of birds that live there; while some people have electric golf carts, most get around by walking, cycling, or on horseback and there are water taxis to Charleston and Savannah.

“It’s almost like going back in time,” said Adam Martin, vice president for sales and marketing at Haig Point, the only place on the island to stay. “When you don’t have cars, you don’t have noise. You don’t quite appreciate the quiet until you experience it. It’s a liberating thing. You feel so much more connected with your natural surroundings.”


By comparison, said Martin, “When you’re in a car, you’re in a vacuum. You’re not really in touch with the world around you.”

Farther afield, Hydra Island in Greece also prohibits cars or motorcycles, substituting horses, mules, and donkeys. Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth in western Australia is car-free, too (though there’s a hop-on, hop-off bus that loops around the 63 beaches); most visitors hike or rent a bike. There aren’t any cars on Holbox Island, Mexico, either, northwest of Cancun — just golf carts and buggies — where the Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco resort opened in March.

The Margaritaville St. Somewhere Punta Coco resort.

Some islands have few cars, such as Chebeague Island off of Portland, Maine, where the Chebeague Island Inn has this year added boat excursions back to the mainland for dinner.

Other tourist destinations make it easy to leave the car behind. These include small cities where many of the highlights are within walking distance: Key West, Fla.; Palm Springs, Calif.; New Orleans; San Antonio. The Las Vegas strip is pretty much designed to keep visitors captive, with moving sidewalks, a monorail, and almost no need for a car.

These appeal to people for reasons in addition to not having to buy gas, said Sara Jensen Carr, an assistant professor of architecture, urbanism, and landscape at Northeastern University.

“So much of the American urban landscape is centered around the car, and that’s not changing,” Carr said. But “in term of leisure travel and vacation, walkable places are still very much a novelty. If you’re thinking about vacation as an escape from your daily life in which you drive to work and drive to pick up the kids from school and drive to the store, these places are so rare that they’re fun.”


Other small cities are promoting new car-free ways to get around. The university town of Tempe, Ariz., debuted its Streetcar trolley in May and has made it free for the first year. Experience Columbus is offering a Lyft credit for visitors who book two nights in that Ohio city. Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is promoting its water taxi and water trolley.

Ski and beach towns are also eminently walkable. Vail, Colo., for example, operates one of the country’s largest free public transportation systems and this summer is adding a free ebike share program.

Even places that are spread out are touting alternatives to driving. The Alaska Railroad covers 500 miles, from Anchorage to Seward and Fairbanks and Alaska’s Marine Highway System connects its coastal towns by boat.

Yet again, it isn’t just the price of gas that’s driving people to these other kinds of travel.

“There seems to be this kind of general shift in people’s minds with the pandemic, this pull to have these kinds of alternative experiences,” said Meyer, of BACK&PACK. “People seem to be drawn more to adventurous, experiential travel. Using public transportation, walking and the like opens the door to unexpected, friendly encounters — experiences you might never get from behind the wheel.”

Jon Marcus can be reached at jonmarcusboston@gmail.com.