Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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“Going, going, gone, another beautiful Maui sunset,” my sister wrote on her Facebook page. To bolster her case, she included pretty images of a sun sinking into the ocean.
You know what’s “going, going, gone” here, in the land of subfreezing temps? Feeling in my fingertips. I don’t have touchscreen-ready gloves, so to see her post, I had to expose my fingertips to winter’s blast, unprotected. But it was a sight I willingly suffered to see.
I’m not one of those people who dislike Instagram and Facebook posts of friends boasting of escapes from the cold. There is a veritable flurry of these in February. Legs stretch out on lounge chairs, glistening from a recent dip in the pool. Umbrellas perch in tropical drinks with the ocean as a backdrop. Sand-soaked children pose on a beach towel. These kinds of photos actually warm my heart (if not my fingers).
But they also stir concern. Posts like these announce to the world that you aren’t at home.
I know the seduction of instantly conveying the great fun you’re having on vacation. I’ve done it myself. But the smartest approach is to wait until you’re back at home. Then post to your heart’s content, when the reminiscing will warm your heart, too.
Oh, that pesky budget – when I’m planning a trip, it has a discouraging way of reminding me that it’s all about the benjamins. I like to be out and about sightseeing all day and use my accommodations only as glorified sleeping quarters. If you value experiencing new places more than having luxurious thread counts while on the road, here are a couple of alternatives to spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room.
In 2011, I made my first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York for former Twin Bert Blyleven’s induction. Although I started researching lodging options six months ahead of time, I quickly realized I was too late: the two main choices for visiting this small town of 2,000 were to drive more than an hour each day to stay somewhere less expensive or pay more than $200 per night for a nearby motel.
Since I like to have a roof over my head (for me, “roughing it” doesn’t extend to sleeping in a tent, although that’s another viable option if you are so inclined), I initially dismissed the KOA located a mere ten miles from Cooperstown. When I double checked their website, I discovered they had “kabins,” very reasonably priced bare bones cottages (mine was about $75 per night). Just bring your own sheets, a towel (which can double as a pillow), some trail mix for breakfast and you’re good to go. The rest of the day was spent hanging out with baseball fans from around the country.
When I met a mother and daughter staying with me at the Apple Hostel in Philadelphia, I remember thinking how ingenious it was that they had discovered a way to travel together and make inexpensive but lasting memories. Who needs those fancy lotions and shampoos anyway? Long seen as the domain of the thrifty youngster, hostels should appeal to anyone looking for a convenient jumping off point for a day’s sightseeing as they are frequently located in or near a town’s center. (The Apple Hostel, for example, is in downtown Philadelphia, a mere four blocks from Independence Hall and easily reached from the airport by public transportation. My selection was a female only dorm for about $35 per night.)
While it may not be the most restful place in the world (can’t I catch up on sleep when I return to Minneapolis?) or have the most stunning décor (at the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam, you’re greeted by a brightly colored mural of a monkey holding a joint), it does often provide some of the same amenities as a hotel including laundry, wifi and access to a refrigerator. And techies that need to be plugged in at all times can be comforted in knowing that every hostel I’ve stayed at has its own electrical outlet for charging all of your digital necessities by each bunk.
Eclectic ideas can lead to memorable travel experiences – I won’t soon forget the foosball table at the Flying Pig Hostel with a bumper sticker reading “I closed Wolski’s! Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Some of the most fun I’ve had exploring the world involves breaking from the norm…with the added bonus of returning home a few bucks richer. A perfect amount to start planning my next adventure.
You know the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”? I feel like adopting that when I travel since I follow a gluten free diet. Venturing away from home when you have special food requirements may seem overwhelming, but I haven’t let it stop me from seeing the world and have adopted some tricks to make it manageable.
Research your destination ahead of time - most restaurants now have menus posted online. I’ve found that if you call when they are not busy they are happy to suggest some options. You can also print gluten free dining cards that are available in more than 50 languages online for free.
Even if you don’t check your bag, there are some things you can bring through security - apples, bananas and oranges hold up well, don’t need to be refrigerated and are easy to eat on the go. Individual packets of nut butter are smaller than three ounces and provide some protein. Live by a grocery store that has a bulk section with the ingredients listed on the bin? It’s fun to make your own trail mix.
If you’re traveling internationally and will be served meals and/or snacks on your flight, call the airline ahead of time and request a special meal. When I went to Germany, the gluten free meal was chicken with broccoli, carrots and rice with a fruit cup and salad. (The snack before we landed was a banana with an Udi’s gluten free chocolate chip muffin, which was much more appealing than the processed egg sandwich everyone else was eating.) I try not to worry about leaving my comfort zone - sometimes it’s easier to find gluten free food in foreign countries. In Peru, the standard side dishes are potatoes and rice and one of their specialties is pollo a la brasa (similar to rotisserie chicken).
Not only can visiting a farmer’s market or going to the grocery store in a new place be a good way to find real food, it can also be a great free sightseeing option. (At a grocery store in Amsterdam, I saw drinks with Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants on them.) If your hotel offers rooms with a refrigerator, Greek yogurt with fruit or string cheese with gluten free crackers are good snacks with some protein that don’t need to be cooked.
An added bonus to bringing my own snacks means less time spent sitting in restaurants waiting for food and more time (and money) I can devote to maximizing my sightseeing time. I can’t wait to discover more tricks.
Each year, my family and I travel on the City of New Orleans, the Amtrak train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans, my husband's hometown. We like the trip because of the uninterrupted time we spend together; the train leaves Chicago at 8 p.m. and arrives in New Orleans the following afternoon. We read. We play games. We do what we do on most vacations: take time to dream about our next. What we don't do, which is different from most nights at home, is bury our respective selves in technology. There is no Wi-Fi on most Amtrak trains. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most riders. At least it hasn't slowed down Amtrak's growth. My colleague Tim Harlow reported late last week that Amtrak ridership is up again.
I read the report with interest--and then a sudden burst of panic. As a travel editor and an Amtrak rider, I know that the cost of a ticket rises as the seats fill up. None of the crazy, erratic, seemingly nonsensical price shifts you see with airlines. Amtrak's is a straightforward supply-and-demand pricing structure: the more tickets they sell, the higher the prices rise. I threw down my newspaper and got online. Fortunately, we're not traveling during the busy summer months, and prices were still relatively low. But the cost of an Amtrak bedroom between the Twin Cities and Chicago was higher than I'd ever seen (fortunately, we don't need one).
Anyone thinking of booking an Amtrak trip should do two things: 1.) Read the insightful piece about the types of people who ride Amtrak these days. It ran in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and it'll give you a good sense of who may be sitting next to you. 2.) Book as soon as you know you want to ride the rails; your pocketbook will thank you.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood (and so many others) have already spoken of the disruptions that automatic budget cuts known as sequestration would bring to air travel. So have others, including President Obama. The $600 million trim to the budget of the Federal Aviation Administration would mean furloughed air traffic controllers, which would effectively slow air travel.
Barry Liben, the CEO of Plymouth-based Travel Leaders Group, the largest traditional travel agency company in the U.S., weighs in, too. A press release issued by the group contained the following statement from Liben:
"On behalf of our more than 40,000 Travel Leaders Group travel professionals and the millions of corporate and leisure clients we proudly serve, we are calling on the United States Congress and President Barack Obama to take immediate action to resolve the deadlock over the sequestration issues before the March 1 deadline.
"Travel remains an integral and vital economic engine. Businesses can’t function without it, and millions of travelers depend on it daily for their livelihoods. If our nation’s air traffic controllers, TSA airport screeners and CBP customs agents are furloughed – which in turn may require airlines to cancel or delay flights and potentially create long delays at security and customs – our travel industry will suffer.
"To avert serious and potentially long-lasting damage, not only to the traveling public, but to the American economy, we ask our leaders in Washington to act now."
The released noted that LaHood has indicated that the furloughs and facility shut-downs referenced in the statement will not occur until April. Ah, at least spring break is safe!
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