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Minnesota is filled with many unique small towns with charm, from the plains-based towns in Southern Minnesota to the pine lodge towns in Northern Minnesota and everything else in between.
What I love about Minnesota is that visiting each town and each city is not about visiting a small town, just ’cause, or ooh ‘nother one down, check it off the list…
It’s really about choosing what you want in a town since there is so much variety of scenery and vibes from one city to the next. They are great destinations to book a flight and explore.
- Best Small Towns in Minnesota to Visit
- 1. Medina, MN
- 2. New Ulm, MN
- 3. Walker, MN
- 4. Lanesboro, MN
- 5. Marshall, MN
- 6. Cannon Falls, MN
- 7. Grand Rapids, MN
- 8. Two Harbors, MN
- 9. Brainerd, MN
- 10. Lake City, MN
- 11. Grand Marais, MN
- 12. Winona, MN
- 13. Taylor’s Falls, MN
- 14. Shafer, MN
- 15. St. Francis, MN
- 16. Wabasha, MN
- 17. Victoria, MN
- 18. Ely, MN
- 19. Waseca, MN
- 20. Nisswa, MN
- 21. Northfield, MN
- 22. Hastings, MN
- 23. Alexandria, MN
- 24. Red Wing, MN
- 25. Waconia, MN
- 26. Stillwater, MN
- 27. Excelsior, MN
- 28. Bemidji, MN
- 29. Lindstrom, MN
- 30. Henderson, MN
Best Small Towns in Minnesota to Visit
There’s something in each of them for you! These are the best small towns in Minnesota to visit.
1. Medina, MN
Medina (not to be confused with Edina) is a small town in Western Minnesota that encapsulates the small-town feel no matter the time of year.
The streets are filled with small local shops and unique boutiques, perfect for a small shopping spree or simply window shopping on a beautiful summer’s day. With charming restaurants that dot every corner, this town is excellent for restaurants and boutiques.
Although small in size, Medina isn’t small on the attraction front. There’s a bunch to take part in with family or friends. This town hosts several different events and festivals throughout the year.
Medina is also home to the small, privately-owned art museum that was once a part of the enormous museum in New Ulm, MN. With only one small house and about 17 pieces of art, this small-town museum is excellent for people who prefer small art pieces.
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2. New Ulm, MN
New Ulm is a small town with a ton of German history. Founded in 1854 by a small group of German settlers from the once small town of Ulm bordering Bavaria, this small community is living up to its name with lots of festivals, libraries full of books, and churches for intimate weddings or funerals.
The beautiful streets of New Ulm are decorated with beautiful German-style buildings, most of them built over 100 years ago.
You’ll get this flavor by visiting the iconic August Schell Brewing Company for Oktoberfest. New Ulm hosts one of the largest Oktoberfest festivals in the United States.
The Riverwalk in New Ulm has beautiful views of the Blue Earth River and small fountains perfect for taking a small stroll on a summer day or sitting by on a cold winter night.
The “Black Eagle” is the giant grain elevator in the world. This staggering grain elevator is a great place to get small views of the beautiful New Ulm while taking small pictures with this beautiful structure.
See Related: Parks in St. Paul, Minnesota
3. Walker, MN
Walker is an adorable, small town in beautiful Northern Minnesota filled with quaint shops and beautiful Victorian buildings that line the streets of this picturesque town.
Home of the North Star Scenic Byway and beautiful Paul Bunyon State Forest, Walker is one of the most charming towns with stunning views and wildlife.
The beautiful Riverfront Park in Walker has miles of hiking, biking trails, and cross-country skiing that pass historic Minnesota landmarks of the town, such as the beautiful North Star Scenic Byway or the talking Paul Bunyon statue.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Saint Paul, Minnesota
4. Lanesboro, MN
Lanesboro, Minnesota, is a beautiful small town with Victorian homes and friendly, welcoming locals. This is one of my favorite small towns in Minnesota, given its charm in the middle of the Root River Valley and that it is known to be Minnesota’s Bed and Breakfast capital.
Lanesboro is located about an hour from the beautiful Twin Cities. It is an excellent spot for a weekend getaway during the gorgeous summer months or stunning escapes on a cold Minnesota winter weekend.
Lanesboro is one of Minnesota’s most romantic small towns and offers some great spots for beautiful small weddings or photoshoots.
The town’s quaint shops, local restaurants, and intricate architecture make it the perfect backdrop for a fantastic day out.
If you love outdoor adventures, this makes for a great destination, as the Root River State Trail runs right along with the town, which means you can bike for miles. Or, rent a canoe or kayak and paddle down the Root River for as long as you can go on a summer day.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these top things to do in Lanesboro.
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5. Marshall, MN
Marshall, a charming small town in Southern Minnesota, is home to a beautiful recreation area with views of Catfish Lake. You can take great summer walks around the lake or go fishing here.
Buffalo River cuts through Marshall. Hiking or canoeing on the river will yield even more beautiful scenery. Rock Island State Park has lovely natural sights close to Buffalo.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Bemidji, Minnesota
6. Cannon Falls, MN
Cannon Falls is a stunning small town with green space, natural beauty, and the Cannon River running through it. It’s popular during the warmer months for canoeing and kayaking or fishing during winter on the frozen water. This town has quaint local businesses such as small restaurants, shops, and golf courses. It is a beautiful small-day trip away from the Twin Cities.
See Related: Things to Do in Buffalo, Minnesota
7. Grand Rapids, MN
Grand Rapids is a small town with beautiful buildings and charming people. Grand Rapids is located on the beautiful Upper Mississippi River.
The breathtaking river walk in Grand Rapids is great for a summer day or winter stroll. This small town offers local shops, restaurants, and views of the Upper Mississippi River. It’s also home to the Judy Garland Museum.
Attracting visitors nationwide, Grand Rapids’ historic downtown recently became a national ranking of beautiful Main Streets in America.
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8. Two Harbors, MN
Two Harbors is a small town in beautiful Northern Minnesota. It was initially established in 1884 to supply the transportation needs for ore from the Duluth area mines. This lakeshore town was also an essential hub for passenger rail, with a ferry service to the city of Duluth.
The town was named after its two beautiful harbors: Upper and Lower Two Harbors. Two Harbors is an excellent town located along majestic Lake Superior. It features incredible views and kind, friendly residents, gorgeous scenery, and invigorating trails for visitors to enjoy and explore.
Since Two Harbors is located on Lake Superior, you’ll be conveniently located to access some of the most iconic state parks in Minnesota, including:
- Superior National Forest,
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park (pictured above),
- Gooseberry Falls State Park,
- Tettegouche State Park, and
- Cascade River State Park.
Go in the spring to see the many gorgeous waterfalls in the area while they are at peak water flows.
See Related: Month-Long Vacation Ideas
9. Brainerd, MN
Brainerd, Minnesota, is one of the better “small cities” out there. It’s not a town as it’s on the bigger end of the population scale relative to the other cities mentioned on our list – sue me or not, either way, you should visit Brainerd, located in Crow Wing County.
Brainerd is located on serene Lake Brainerd, wrapped in bike trails. The people and historic buildings both ooze small-town charm. This city has many landmarks to visit, including the famously clear water of Brainerd Lakes. Brainerd is part of the larger area known as the Brainerd Lakes Area, which contains over 450 lakes within a 25-mile (40km) radius.
Some of Brainerd’s best things to do include golfing, hiking, and biking. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Brainerd.
See Related: Best Restaurants in Duluth
10. Lake City, MN
Lake City is located in Southeastern Minnesota along the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin in Goodhue and Wabasha Counties: Ralph Samuelson, the inventor of water skiing born in nearby Lake City. Hang gliding, sailing, and golf are popular outdoor activities nearby, including visiting the iconic Frontenac State Park.
At the Willows Hotel on the River, take a break with a meal at Nosh Restaurant & Bar, which specializes in healthy cuisine. Enjoy a wooden paddle steamer journey on the Pearl of Lake Pepin. Lake City is also located along Minnesota’s Great River Road side, making it one of Minnesota’s best road trip destinations.
See Related: Where to Stay in Winona, Minnesota
11. Grand Marais, MN
Grand Marais, located in Cook County, is an exceptionally gorgeous small town on the shore of Lake Superior, and it’s adorable in the fall when the leaves change color.
Seventy miles north of Duluth is Grand Marais, a tiny port town with 3,000 residents. Cook County is a trendy winter destination with one of the country’s numerous cross-country trail networks.
Some accommodation options include campgrounds, low-cost hotels, B&Bs, and holiday houses. Check out these best places to stay in Grand Marais.
The harbor provides unreal lake views and boating, fishing, hiking, camping, and biking facilities. You can also visit the Lutsen Mountains and Lutsen Resort, which offer spectacular views of Lake Superior and are known to be the best ski resort in Minnesota.
The drive from the Twin Cities is one of the best in Minnesota and perhaps a top 20 in the country. You’ll drive for hours along the North Shore National Scenic Byway, passing several iconic state parks such as Gooseberry Falls State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, and Tettegouche State Park.
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12. Winona, MN
Winona is an iconic riverfront small town. This small town is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, as there are limitless places to go. The downtown area of Winona has beautiful historic buildings that give visitors a snapshot of its history.
There are challenging outdoor activities like fishing, canoeing on beautiful Lake Winona, or surfing in the Upper Mississippi River Pass. It also has many off-the-beaten-path activities for art lovers, such as parks and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
The small town has parks and beautiful architecture, making it an incredible spot for visitors. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Winona.
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13. Taylor’s Falls, MN
Taylor’s Falls is one of the many fun small towns on the St. Croix River, offering good times and good vibes. Taylor’s Falls is charming, with plenty of trails and natural beauty.
Despite being a small town in Minnesota, Taylors Falls has some excellent attractions. Interstate Park is ideal for jogging and trekking. The Wild Mountain Ski & Snowboard Center is a favorite stop throughout the year. On the other side of the issue, you’ll discover Minnesota’s oldest school, erected in 1874.
The city is located about an hour from Minneapolis. It’s a beautiful day trip from Minneapolis that takes just over an hour to get there, and make sure you stop by Franconia Sculpture Park on your drive.
The oldest educational system in Minnesota was founded in the state’s history and is the oldest, according to state law. This delightful small town offers prime locations for fishing, hiking, or picnicking, with beautiful views of the St. Croix River Valley.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Taylors Falls.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Iowa
14. Shafer, MN
Shafer is a beautiful small city with beautiful scenery, including several outdoor activities like boating, fishing, and canoeing. The small town offers beautiful hiking and biking trails that lead up to magnificent waterfalls.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway with friends or family, camping at one of these beautiful lakes in Minnesota is the perfect relaxer.
The city has a corn maze if that’s your thing. Or better yet, be sure to visit the nearby Franconia Sculpture Park, one of my favorite day trips from Minneapolis.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Rochester, Minnesota
15. St. Francis, MN
St. Francis is easily one of the most beautiful small towns in Minnesota to visit, with breathtaking scenery and outdoor activities, including fishing and other water sports.
The town is also home to museums and churches with exciting designs. With breathtaking views of the lake and its stunning surroundings, it also boasts beautiful hiking trails, biking trails, and other picturesque scenery you’ll encounter around every corner.
See Related: Best Beaches in Minneapolis, Minnesota
16. Wabasha, MN
Wabasha is home to a few VERY Minnesotan things, like the movie Grumpy Old Men, and is the birthplace of water skiing (sorry-not-sorry Lake City).
This small town offers biking trails, waterfalls, gorgeous parks, and incredible ice-age caves to explore. The park features a beautiful beach and several hiking trails with stunning views of the Mississippi River.
Wabasha is also home to some genuine American pride as it’s the home base of the National Eagle Center, where you can show off your American patriotism by meeting and greeting bald eagles close and personal! Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Wabasha.
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17. Victoria, MN
Victoria, Minnesota, is a quaint, quiet town with great restaurants and breweries. The city is just a 5-minute drive from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery while hiking or biking beautiful trails.
Other great places to visit in town include the Hjemkomst Center and the Historic Mandan Theatre; once a small haven for famed vaudeville performers, it is now a tiny movie theatre that the entire family can enjoy. With a public park located right in town, this makes for a great small town to visit with kids.
Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Victoria.
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18. Ely, MN
Ely, Minnesota, is one of my personal favorites in Minnesota. Its beautiful location makes for a wonderful getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life. The city is part of the Vermillion Iron Range.
Initially settled by fur traders, the region didn’t see substantial immigration until the Lake Vermillion gold rush of 1865. Several wild walks are within the range, including Echo Trail, a former logging road, or Trezona Trail, which takes you to Old Iron Ore mines.
This charming small town has several amazing Minnesota lakes and offers fishing, canoeing, or hiking opportunities. The city of Ely has become known as a famous town as it’s an entry point to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, Bear Head Lake State Park, and the International Wolf Center.
The Ely Outfitters downtown is the perfect start to getting ready for a day of fishing, kayaking, or snowshoeing. If you’re worried about choice, don’t be; Ely is a small town with over 50 outfitters and two major highways for easy access.
Ely has several parks with walking paths and waterfalls to explore and admire near the city. The perfect weekend destination or choice activity for a family trip, Ely is waiting to be explored!
Like what you are hearing? Check out these other best things to do in Ely, Minnesota.
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19. Waseca, MN
Waseca boasts some beautiful parks like Clear Lake Park. This park features the gorgeous Clear Lake with breathtaking views of the surrounding area and magnificent flora and fauna.
Visitors can also explore the other three beautiful lakes and three other state wildlife management areas; Waseca has something for every nature lover!
Waseca is home to churches and historical sites and is famous for the incredible wildflowers that bloom there in the summer. Waseca offers visitors an array of unique sights with small-town charm, making it a worthwhile destination.
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20. Nisswa, MN
Nisswa is a small town in Northern Minnesota that offers a beautiful landscape, outdoor activities, and fantastic public parks.
Nisswa is an attractive tourist destination due to its proximity to Gull Lake. The town is a destination for coffee drinkers and those seeking energy after long city journeys. The Bunyan Bike Path goes to the city if you like being outside.
The city’s name is a Native American Ojibway phrase that means “the middle.” Nisswa was initially known as Smiley Township before being renamed Nisswa.
One of the many reasons to visit Nisswa is its lakes and scenic beauty, but it also features several historical buildings dating back to the town’s founding. Stop at fantastic, unique boutiques, candy stores, and Scandinavian heritage shops.
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21. Northfield, MN
Northfield is a picturesque small town located about 40 miles south of the Twin Cities along the Cannon River with beautiful views of its surroundings.
It provides terrific parks, historical sites, restaurants, and abundant natural scenery. In 1857, Northfield was first founded as the village of Northfield Center. In 1858, it was renamed Northfield and incorporated as a city on April 3.
That year saw the arrival of the first train on January 31 and the incorporation of the village of West Northfield on November 10. Northfield is in Southern Minnesota, which is more rural Minnesota, and has quite a different feel than the towns mentioned in Northern Minnesota. The city has two private colleges, St. Olaf College and Carleton College.
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22. Hastings, MN
Hastings is a small town located right on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin and sits on the meeting point of 3 different rivers. This town is a great stopover spot along the Great River Road in Minnesota.
Hastings is a beautiful small town in Minnesota with parks, a hopping downtown area, and some superb restaurants.
Hastings is near beautiful parks and landmarks, including the stunning St. Croix River. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Hastings, Minnesota.
23. Alexandria, MN
Alexandria is a small town in Minnesota famous for its parks and shopping. Beautiful gardens surround stunning views of the lakes and local shops, making for great, unique retail experiences framed by natural beauty.
First settled in 1858 by brothers Alexander and William Kinkead from Maryland, they were named after Alexandria in Egypt – long a center of learning, culture, and civilization centuries.
This Scandinavian-inspired village saw a rapid increase in settlers in the 1860s, which brought industry. Many beautiful railroad features that characterize this town were built during this period.
Stop to say hi to Big Ole, a Viking statue in the city’s heart. Like what you are hearing? Check out these other top things to do in Alexandria, Minnesota.
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24. Red Wing, MN
Have you heard of Red Wing boots? Yeah, you have, and these legendary boots are made right here in this small town in Minnesota! Red Wing is situated on the Mississippi River and surrounded by the spectacular backdrop of Mount La Grange – Barn Bluff Regional Park.
Make a trip through the orchards or wineries at this time too. There are plenty of artsy outlets for those interested in fall arts festivals. Walk along to the dock and imagine Red Wing when it was a Dock stop, and then head across to the Candlelight Inn to put your feet up.
You may also check out Harbor Bar for drinks and live music. Swim in Lake Pepin or walk through the many sprawling trees – they are the prettiest in autumn.
Red Wing is another charming town along the Great River Road in Minnesota. The scenic views, other towns like Lake City and Wabasha, and historic sites make it the perfect place to stop during a road trip along The Great River Road.
It’s located right on the mighty Mississippi, making it ideal for fishing, canoeing, or other water activities! Like what you are hearing? Check out our favorite things to do in Red Wing. If you’re heading down there, stop at Frontenac State Park to take in the excellent views of Lake Pepin.
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25. Waconia, MN
Waconia is a quaint small town outside Minneapolis with beautiful parks, shops, architecture, and historical sites. It’s probably best known for Safari Island, a fantastic indoor waterpark.
The town of Waconia is full of opportunities to explore. Downtown Waconia is postcard cute and is surrounded by wildflowers in the summer that add to this postcard power.
Whether taking in one of their local museums and galleries or simply laying in the sun for lunch amongst the flowers, Waconia will win your heart. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in downtown Waconia.
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26. Stillwater, MN
Stillwater, located in Washington County, is not just one of Minnesota’s oldest towns. It is THE oldest since it is the first incorporated city in Minnesota. Stillwater is located on the St. Croix River and borders Wisconsin.
Check out this video of Stillwater from our YouTube channel.
This town is home to both beautiful architecture and nature. It’s conveniently close to Minneapolis, so it can be a weekend destination or a family trip spot.
Given its proximity to Minnesota and Wisconsin, this is one of Minnesota’s most popular small towns. It is a must-visit place for foodies and anyone looking for one-of-a-kind boutiques. Being that Stillwater is the first city in Minnesota, this is a great place to visit for history buffs.
Stop by the Old Warden’s House and the Washington County Courthouse. Like what you are hearing? Check out our favorite things to do in Stillwater.
See Related: Best Hotels in Stillwater
27. Excelsior, MN
Excelsior is located right on Excelsior Bay (duh!) on Lake Minnetonka. This is a small town, technically within the larger city of Minnetonka, so it isn’t the same as a picturesque small town in the middle of nowhere, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.
Excelsior is only 25-35 minutes outside downtown Minneapolis, making it an ideal weekend trip destination. The main street is right along Lake Minnetonka, close to parks, beaches, and excellent restaurants. Excelsior has a historical downtown with plenty of stories and memories of the past.
The word is that the Rolling Stones wrote the song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” for a boy named Jimmy, that frequented the general store on Main Street. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Excelsior.
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28. Bemidji, MN
Bemidji is a small town in Northern Minnesota that offers beautiful views of natural lakes. Bemidji also has outdoor recreational activities such as fishing and canoeing.
Fans of the cult Minnesota radio show A Prarie Home Companion will no doubt know the name Bemidji, as the show frequently visits the town for concerts, festivals, and special broadcasts.
Bemidji is full of lakes and surrounded by dense forests. Located in central Minnesota, Bemidji is close to three Indian Reservations. The Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation, and the Leech Lake Tribe are all nearby.
Bemidji, Minnesota, lies on the southwest shore of Lake Bemidji, the northernmost lake feeding the Mississippi River; it is nicknamed “The First City on the Mississippi.”
Bemidji is also home to three national curling championships and goes by the unofficial title “curling capital” of North America. The small city is home to Bemidji State University, which hosts a well-known hockey program.
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29. Lindstrom, MN
You need to put a Scandinavian sister city on your list of small towns in Minnesota to visit. Daniel Lindstrom, the city’s founder, called it “Little Sweden,” hoping his creation would be a haven for Swedes fleeing their own country. It was founded in 1880.
Erik Norelius, a Swedish immigrant, wrote diaries that feature in Vilhelm Moberg’s works about immigration to the United States. Karl Oskar Days (usually held on July 25) is a community event with parades, dancing, and fireworks.
Visit the sculptures of Kristina and Karl Oskar in town; there you have it, folks. Lindstrom is an excellent weekend getaway since it’s conveniently located in the Twin Cities and features many other fun attractions nearby.
I recommend exploring the museums or stopping at local attractions such as Franconia Sculpture Park, Schafer, or Taylors Falls. Like what you are hearing? Check out these best things to do in Lindstrom.
30. Henderson, MN
Henderson is located in Sibley County or Minnesota, and the town has slightly over 900 people. Joseph Brown began the town of Henderson in 1852 after his mother, and it was named after her. The tiny city flourished as a shipping hub for the Minnesota River Valley’s interior. Sauerkraut Days are celebrated throughout June.
Kerfoot Canopy Tours is an excellent option if you are looking for an excursion. Or visit Neisen’s Tavern for a classic Minnesota dive bar vibe to grab a cocktail and unwind after a day of exploring.
See Related: Things to do in Minneapolis, Minnesota
So, what do you say? Small town Minnesota or bust. If you’re looking for some best small towns in Minnesota to visit, there are plenty of options within the state!
You’ll find everything from quaint lakeside communities with historic downtowns to outdoorsy getaways on our list of the best small towns in Minnesota to live in Minnesota.
We hope this has helped narrow your search and given you a few ideas about which small towns in Minnesota might suit you – but if not, let us know how we can help. Minnesota will likely leave an impression with its beautiful scenery, friendly people, and fresh lake air.
Explore the North Star State during your next visit, and join our free travel newsletter if you enjoyed the article.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.