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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Post from your vacation? Think twice.

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Consumer travel Updated: February 17, 2015 - 2:40 PM

“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.
 

Accomodations on the cheap for your next trip

Posted by: Sarah Johnson under Consumer travel, Europe, International travel, U.S. travel Updated: February 13, 2015 - 4:01 PM

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.

More history on the historic National Forest Lodge

Posted by: Jackie Crosby Updated: February 10, 2015 - 12:27 PM

After my story ran about the historic National Forest Lodge in northern Minnesota, I was delighted to hear from Bob Hunger, a former longtime owner who pulled the resort back from the brink of death in 1966.

The property, just west of Isabella in the Superior National Forest, had been abandoned after a failed attempt to turn it into a youth camp, and was in need of some serious love and elbow grease.

“Slowly we were able to save it from total ruin,” Hunger said in an e-mail, adding that  it took “tons and tons of work” and a collaboration between the state and federal agencies.

Hunger owned the property for three decades. During that time he built one of the modern log cabins that is now available for year-round rentals. (The other nine cabins have propane heat, but only one has running water.)

Hunger worked for the U.S. Forest Service, and in the 1970s, helped establish the Flathorn-Gegoka Ski Touring Area, just adjacent to the National Forest Lodge property.

With 18 miles of groomed trails hugging acres of white and Norway pines, it became a cross-country ski-lovers’ paradise. The popularity of the trails drew new guests to the National Forest Lodge and helped resurrect the winter-time only resort business.

Hunger and his wife, Peg, sold the National Forest Lodge in 1995 and purchased the Whitefish Bay Camp on an island on the Ontario side of Lake of the Woods, which they still operate.

“Glad that our efforts continue to make the fun at that area available to folks today,” Hunger said.

Going for grand (Marais)

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Regional travel Updated: February 6, 2015 - 9:01 AM

Last year, Duluth celebrated its designation as “Best Town Ever” by Outside magazine. The splashy cover image and write-up of the port city in the September issue sparked interest in the mountain-biking, beer-brewing hometown of Trampled by Turtles.

Now Grand Marais — that other best town on Lake Superior — may take a turn on a glossy magazine cover soon.

Budget Travel has launched a contest to determine “America’s coolest small towns,” and Grand Marais is in the running. Competition is keen. There’s Pismo Beach, Calif., along the Pacific Coast; Blanco, Texas, in pretty Texas Hill Country; Berkeley Springs, W.V., where Thomas Jefferson was known to take to the waters; Chincoteague, Va., and others. 

But what’s “cooler” than Grand Marais? As I write this, thermometers up there are registering 7 degrees.

Of course we know there’s so much more than wintry weather: the rocky shoreline perfect for skipping rocks, the world’s best doughnuts (in season), hikes to Artists’ Point, interesting shops such as the Inuit-focused Sivertson Gallery, delicious restaurants like the Crooked Spoon.

If you’re a fan of Grand Marais — and don’t mind sharing the secret jewel with the nation — vote for the town at http://bit.ly/1KbVL8X. You can vote once a day through February 25.

Selling Duluth to Europeans

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg under Adventure travel, Regional travel Updated: January 22, 2015 - 10:54 AM

Tour company the Duluth Experience and Visit Duluth, the city's convention and visitor's bureau, are teaming up to introduce Duluth at biking and hiking expos in Amsterdam and Antwerp.

The two-year-old tour company has given Twin Citians, Iron Rangers and Canadians a deeper appreciation of Duluth with its history tours of the port city, mountain and road bike tours, kayak experiences in Lake Superior and brewery tours. Most of its customers come from the region, and some are from Duluth itself. By exhibiting at the two expos, they hope to bring in another crowd: adventure-seeking Europeans.

The two expos are expected to draw a combined 35,000 people.

"We're looking forward to showing off Duluth on an international stage," said Dave Grandmaison, of Duluth Experience.

Grandmaison's company is creating a new tour to entice Europeans interested in biking and visiting our unique patch of the United States. Called the "7-day Lake Superior Bicycle Adventure Package," it includes a cycling trip along the North Shore from Duluth to Grand Marais, stays in cabins and a tour of Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors.

Minnesotans are welcome, too. More info here.

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