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Eat, pray and love -- in the USA

By Tas Anjarwalla, Special to CNN
iReporter Giorgia Pirino at Maui, Hawaii's, Haleakala National Park. Such a view could be just the setting for a vacation romance.
iReporter Giorgia Pirino at Maui, Hawaii's, Haleakala National Park. Such a view could be just the setting for a vacation romance.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eat: Italy may be famous for its food, but New Orleans has its own world-renowned cuisine
  • Pray: Colorado's Shambhala Mountain Center is a perfect location to rejuvenate
  • Love: We can't say you'll find your soul mate in Hawaii, but you'll fall in love with the locale
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(CNN) -- An "Eat, Pray, Love" trip on the scale of author Elizabeth Gilbert's is out of the question for most travelers.

The book and subsequent movie about the divorcee and No. 1 bestseller's adventures and agonies across Italy, India and Indonesia have inspired readers around the world and prompted numerous travel agencies to create packages mimicking Gilbert's life-changing journey.

Taking a year to travel the world might be a dream for many desk-bound adventurers, but the reality is that such a trip -- even trimmed down to just three weeks -- could easily break the bank. So if you don't have the time, money or passport for Gilbert's itinerary, eat, pray and love your way through these domestic destinations. You'll still come home satisfied.

Eat

Forget pasta, pizza and gelato. Think beignets, po' boys, crawfish and gumbo -- just a few of New Orleans' savory signature dishes.

"There's something about stepping off the plane and walking into New Orleans. It's a spicy atmosphere," said Shawn McBride, CEO of chef Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's Louisiana Enterprises. "Between the cuisine and the people, there [are] just certain cities that bring more flavor to light, and New Orleans is one."

Renowned for its cuisine around the world, this Gulf city's mix of Creole and Cajun flavors offers some of this country's most unique dishes.

And where Creole and Cajun dishes reign, gumbo is king.

"The customers come in ... and they wanna have gumbo. That's really a great way to start [a meal] you can't find anywhere else," said Prudhomme, of K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans.

Made with a heavy stock, fresh vegetables and succulent shellfish or meat, gumbo can come in many forms, but there's little doubt that this original Louisiana dish is served best in New Orleans.

The allure and adventure of solo travel

Try the gumbo ya-ya at Mr. B's Bistro in the French Quarter, one of the city's best places to sample the iconic dish, according to Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson's lists of top spots for local specialties.

Jambalaya is another don't miss, Prudhomme said, though it's not as prevalent as tourists assume, according to Anderson. Still, he recommends the Crescent Pie & Sausage Company's version of this rice dish.

Other suggestions from Anderson include red beans and rice at Felix's Restaurant and Oyster Bar, and crawfish étouffée at Bon Ton Café.

Like desserts? Try classics like the bananas foster created in New Orleans at Brennan's or the powdered "French doughnuts" called beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

And when you're ready to move beyond the standards, the Big Easy's innovative culinary community will not disappoint.

Review: 'Eat, Pray, Love'

Pray

Months of meditation at an Ashram in India may push the average traveler's time and spiritual limits, but a week at Colorado's Shambhala Mountain Center may be just enough for a mental recalibration.

Encompassing more than 500 acres 8,000 feet high in the Rocky Mountains, the Shambhala center has views of glaciers, and it borders national forests and trails.

"With opportunities to hike and appreciate the views, you are completely away from the world," said Alex Halpern, a member of the board of directors. "Your cell phone won't work here. You are by yourself in a supportive environment."

The center hosts meditation and related teaching programs, as well as meditation retreats, for those interested in finding peace through the art of meditation. The center houses participants in its lodges, dormitories or even tents and provides them with three meals a day.

"Our mission is to present people with the opportunity to study and practice meditation and Buddhism so that they can develop a greater sense of peace in their life," Halpern said. "Beyond that, we help them find an understanding of how they can reconnect with their world with fearlessness and gentleness. That's what we call genuine confidence."

Love

Planning a vacation around falling in love with a sexy Brazilian man is impractical, but a less calculated route (a la Elizabeth Gilbert's time in Bali) may have you stumbling upon one.

It doesn't hurt to plant yourself along the shores of one of the most romantic places this side of the hemisphere. What better place to relax and find your one true love (or even a vacation fling) than Hawaii?

"As far as a serendipitous encounter, it's certainly a great opportunity to be in Hawaii," said marriage and family therapist Chad Jordan. "It's a serene environment that'll free yourself from work and stressors."

In Hawaii, you're sure to fall in love, if not with someone then at least with something -- whether it's the gorgeous beaches, beautiful trails or sparkling water.

Choose activities that that will make you happy, Jordan advises. "Hike, surf, swim, take yoga classes -- it's more likely you'll find a wholesome connection."

Join a group, (a great way to meet people), or go solo (a better way to meet locals). Take surfing lessons in Oahu. (Maybe you'll snag a cute surf instructor.) Hike through the rainforests of the Big Island to see the active Kilauea Volcano; visit "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Waimea Canyon; go mountain biking on the dormant volcano Haleakala.

Snorkel, relax, tan, whatever -- "doing outdoor activities, or ones you find important, you're more likely to run into someone who could be your soul mate than at a club or bar. You can do that anywhere."

But don't make your time in Hawaii a quest for "the one." Sometimes if you don't go looking for love, it'll come find you. Just ask Elizabeth Gilbert.