When work and parenting allow, I spend my time reading books, watching movies, hiking in nearby parks, dining, and most importantly visiting with friends. Of course, this describes an awful lot of Austinites. As common as this list is, two specific time periods in my life seem to have been very formative. I mention this because they pertain to my approach to travelling.
First, when I was young, my father taught field geology in the summer. Our family went to Colorado every summer for 6 to 12 weeks. We lived in small cabins with other professors' families and college students. Days were spent outdoors enjoying all the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Nights were spent by the campfire with entire families gathered around. And this was work, not vacation. It is not lost on me that I work all year to take vacations like this. Our national parks are always my first thought for a destination when a vacation is considered. I have experienced no greater joy than taking my kids to Yellowstone, seeing their faces as incredible wildlife and terrain appear before their eyes, and knowing history has me in their shoes with my parents.
Second, in my twenties, I managed a rock band that was able to travel throughout the US for a couple of years. We were not well known, we didn't make much money, and the kindness of essentially strangers was overwhelming. We crashed at local bands' houses, ate at cookouts in club owners' back yards, and became friends with all kinds of people in small college towns and larger cities. We often got the opportunity to return the favor when bands toured or individuals came to Austin for SXSW. The result was an understanding that is really at the core of travelling: you often get to know localities through the people. For example, I can't tell you much about Jackson, Mississippi except Terry booked the club and is a great guy.
So when I travel, I always search for any bit of nature I can experience while interacting with people that enjoy their home town to the point they want to share their knowledge.