The third largest fire in California’s history (since records began being kept in 1932), the Rim Fire of last summer destroyed over 257,135 acres of Yosemite’s lush wilderness landscape. Nature has a way of recovering, however seeing the pictures of devastation caused by just one illegal campfire is shocking. Many news agencies have reported on the fire, but I appreciated the perspective of Christian DeMichiel, a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program. I think you will too. Click this link to see for yourself. The Spirit of Yosemite.
I love Lesley Carter’s 50 amazing “bucket list” items covering 10 countries – all set to be accomplished in 12 months! It is so inspiring to me to hear of others’ attempts – especially when getting so close to completing them – I hope you will be inspired by her travels and accomplishments too.
Enjoy this short video on how travel improves all your life experiences.
If you would like to experience all Sonoma County, California has to offer, I highly recommend renting this spectacular private home with high end finishes, gourmet kitchen complete with table settings for 12, all the necessary accoutrements for cooking a gourmet meal, Gaggia espresso maker, bocci court, outdoor fire pit, saltwater pool, eight person spa, and two master suites. Full disclosure: I am the property host for it, and I will personally welcome you to the estate and assist you with winery tour planning if you choose to spend a decadent week tasting the highlights of Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Russian River Appellations. Chef and housekeeping services available.
As the sun warms my legs through my pajama bottoms I allow myself the indulgence of closing my eyes and listening to the birdsong surrounding me. A whirring is detected and I open my eyes to see a hummingbird just a few feet away. The swiftly moving wings and green feathers glimmering in the morning sun sparkle like emeralds. The air smells sweet and clean, cool with the scent of redwoods. I look out across the hills and breathe in the moment.
My freshly brewed espresso sits nearby; as I sip it I am struck with a new excitement of the day’s coming activities. After a gourmet breakfast of my own design, we will travel five minutes to sample the delights of Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery, with their European style estate Pinot Noir and views of the same hills I am seeing now. We may take a drive to Healdsburg, along Eastside Road, through vineyards changing colors with the season – gold right now, with a touch of red, to the fabulous Michel Schlumberger Winery. The myriad of options for mouth watering menu selections almost overwhelms me, but I know that whatever place we choose, we will have a wonderful time with our old friends, and possibly make some new ones.
Even though I have not ventured very far from my home, I feel a thrill for exploring new tastes and textures, and meeting new people from lands far away. Every trip to the wine country of Sonoma County is an opportunity to meet someone from Germany, Ireland, Japan, France, South Africa or The Congo, as it is truly an international destination. Tomorrow we will rub shoulders with the locals at the Farmers Market, then bring our freshly harvested finds back to the gourmet kitchen in an attempt to recreate some treasure we find today, using the same ingredients grown by nearby farmers.
My senses become alive, alert for nuances I may have missed at home when I venture outside of the norm. This is why my newest favorite way to travel is to stay in a local home, as high end as possible, so I feel like I am really “on vacation” even though I may only be a few hours from home. It can be far more affordable than it seems. With the high costs of eating out for all your meals plus hotel parking and tips, even the most high end rental price tag pales with the comparison of staying in a hotel for $150-250 per night per room – with a group of 10-12 sharing a home with 5 bedrooms, that can add up to significant savings. The true value is the restoring of the inner self. For me, nothing else comes close to the quest for privacy and quiet when on vacation.
My psyche is renewed by a change of scenery, smells and tastes. If I am feeling truly decadent, I may go to a spa and get a massage. Nothing refreshes the spirit and the body like a hot stone massage surrounded by soothing wood instrumental sounds and scents of eucalyptus and pine. Afterward I could come back and take a nap in my supple bed, far more comfortable than any but the most expensive five star hotels. The sounds I will hear from my bedroom will be only those of people I know, not strangers in the room next door talking loudly or with their TV turned up so much I need earplugs to get any sleep. No, this is a truly elegant bedroom with a private balcony overlooking the hills and our own private pool and spa below. As I nap, I will dream of the fine wine and farm fresh food we will enjoy in our own kitchen, at a dining table set for 12 of my closest friends.
Only the best of friends travel with you, experiencing the delights of a new location or enjoying the retelling of familiar remembrances, and these are the ones I’ve brought. As we look back at this week in the wine country, we will recall, not the most comfortable bed, the expansive view or the most delectable food & wine, but the all encompassing feeling of having our own place to ourselves, the absolute decadence of privacy, so rare to find when traveling. We will share the stories of new people we met, the ambling trails near the sea we found, the bracing sea mist on our skin, all combining into a fabled story we will tell with greater inflection and detail next year. We will remember the stories told and retold out by the fire, the port sipped and the flames blurred, until we were lulled into a feeling of warm, dreamy contentment; or, was it the ever elusive, quickly fleeting – happiness.
“There’s Nothing Like a Dream to Create the Future” - Victor Hugo
Every trip I dream up begins with a visit to TripAdvisor.com, the world’s largest travel website. Although often criticised, it must be acknowledged that TripAdvisor offers valuable resources, including reviews from fellow travelers who volunteer their time to tell others about their experiences at hotels, restaurants and attractions. With a little investigative research, the truth behind the reviews can be discerned. Here are my tips for using TripAdvisor and having your next “dream trip” become a reality:
Search for the Perfect Lodging
You can find what type of accommodation you are looking for by looking under the tabs for “Hotels and B&B’s”, “Vacation Rentals”, even Camping (under “Specialty Lodging”) in some areas. Use the “more” button to find hotels with amenities such as “Pet Friendly”, “Pool” or “Shuttle Service”.
Watch Out For Forgeries
There are “fake” reviews out there too, so be careful: Note what kind of contributions have been made by the reviewer – whether they are all “5 star” or, conversely, “1 star”. Extreme reviews – positive or negative – should be questioned. Look to see how many reviews they have to their credit and if they are extremely easy to please or are completely impossible to please, as compared to other reviewers who visited the hotel/restaurant. Personally, I don’t even look at postings from contributors with only one review. They are either very new to travel or they are making up a screen name for a personal reason – either way, not someone who can be relied upon this early in the game. You can also see the reviewer’s home town and how many places they have been by clicking on their screen name. Bottom line – Be observant. Look at what the majority of people are saying.
Once you create a user name and ID, you can save the gems you find during your digging into a folder under “Saved Trips”. This is also handy for remembering where you went once you get back home in case you want to contribute a “Trip Report” recounting your experiences.
See My “Travel Map”
You can see my reviews I have submitted and the places I have been by going to “Travel Map” under my screen name “TrueBlueGin”. http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelMap. I’ve been using TripAdvisor since 2005, and actively contributing since 2008 when I decided I should really give back to the community of fellow travelers.
Once you experience a hotel, restaurant or attraction, I advise you to write a review too – It feels good to help others along on their path to the next dream vacation.