Looking for advice on family trips, girlfriend getaways or romantic escapes? Then, you’ll want to get to know The Vacation Gals – a trio of professional travel writers and moms who according to their blog, take at least 45 trips each year! The Gals, made up of Beth Blair (TwinCitiesGal), Jennifer Miner (SoCalGal) and Kara Williams (ColoradoGal), share everything from first-hand travel experiences to travel news on their popular blog, so if you’re looking for travel inspiration, it’s a great site to bookmark. Ready to meet the Gals? Check out their answers in our blogger Q&A:
Tell us why you started your travel blog.
The Vacation Gals: We were friends on an online bulletin board for travel writers before we ever met in person, but when we did, we clicked — namely because we were all moms of young children. We started a blog to share our tips for travel with other traveling families. At The Vacation Gals, we cover not only family travel, but romantic escapes and girlfriend getaways, and we cover travel news and review travel gear, too. In addition, last year we launched TheSpaGals.com, filled with first-hand reviews of hotel, destination, day and cruise-ship spas. We have a great time pulling our individual talents together to create something fun and informative.
What’s your favorite hotel (and why)?
Beth: This past spring I stayed at the posh Hotel ZaZa in Dallas. The hotel’s décor was chic, but most importantly the rooms were extremely comfortable, especially the beds, which is always number one in my book.
Jennifer: My favorite hotels have a sense of place about them — that is, the design and decor, the on-site dining and the grounds, all tie in to the culture of where they are. A couple of hotels that I’ve thought did an exemplary job adding to guests’ experience of being at the destination are the Finca Luna Nueva Ecolodge in Costa Rica, and both the Grand Hyatt and Hanalei Colony Resort in Kauai, Hawaii. All three are very comfortable (in fact the Grand Hyatt is one of the swankiest resorts on the island) without losing sight of, or respect for, their surroundings.
Kara: I have a love affair going on with The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. When I’m on the beautifully manicured grounds of this historic, five-diamond property, I feel transported in time to the Great Gatsby era of the 1920s. It’s grand, but not pretentious, luxurious, but not stuffy. The Broadmoor has everything I want in a top-notch hotel: plush accommodations, excellent dining options, phenomenal spa… plus pools, golf, tennis and kids’ club. And it’s surrounded by mountains and less than five hours from my home!
What’s your favorite restaurant (and why)?
Beth: Having lived in Arizona for a number of years it’s no surprise my favorite restaurant is a Mexican place in Tucson called La Parrilla Suiza. Everything on the menu is delicious and has such interesting flavors. I always order the fajitas, just be sure not to fill up on the chips and variety of salsas served before the meal.
Jennifer: I’m lucky to live in a city with lots of great dining options. That being said, you can’t beat Paris as a culinary travel destination. With all the high end restaurants there, it took a smallish bistro to really warm my heart to French cooking. Le Quincy is a warm, cozy bistro with a lot of simple French country options on its menu, and the owner and his wife are hilariously present here. He is large, boisterous, warm and welcoming, she is short, squinty-eyed, and suspicious of American tourists loudly coming into her space. They may bicker and laugh, other diners will almost unilaterally be French themselves, the wine flows and plates get passed around. Join in and appreciate the atmosphere — years later, it’s not Robuchon or Ducasse I look upon with most fondness; great food and great memories alike are made at Le Quincy.
Kara: That’s a tough one – there are so many great restaurants close to where I live, just “down the road” from the world-class ski resort of Aspen. But I’ll have to go with a restaurant I discovered on a recent trip to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, my childhood state: O Steaks & Seafood in Laconia. I don’t even particularly adore steak or seafood, but the restaurant’s meatloaf (kobe beef), creamy macaroni and cheese and seasonal salads are excellent. This stylish-but-casual restaurant on the shores of Lake Opechee is a spot where I’d go on a date with my husband, or I’d bring the kids.
Please tell us about a “hidden gem”– a non-touristy, neighborhood restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall bar, or a great little shop – you’ve discovered on your travels.
Beth: During my family’s Montana road trip this summer we stumbled upon a restaurant called Huckleberry Patch. We had just left Glacier National Park and were ready for a snack. Our lunch was good, but what was most memorable was the local Huckleberry Pie we had for dessert.
Jennifer: There’s been a huge amount of noise on the Internet about food trucks. With all their publicity, no food truck is a secret anymore — particularly in Portland, Oregon which may very well be the best spot in the U.S. for food trucks. When I go back to Portland, the one spot I’ll go won’t be crawling with hipsters and travelers to the Pacific Northwest. It’ll be to the Waffle Window. Haven’t heard of it? Good. And if you have indeed heard of the Waffle Window, well, that berry cheesecake waffle is calling my name.
Kara: I actually didn’t find this spot myself. Rather a foodie friend Nathan Kam took me to the Zaratez Mexicatessan food truck while I was on Oahu this spring. Nathan is a local who truly knows the best spots to eat in his hometown, so when he offered to bring me and my husband to his favorite food truck – serving up savory pork, chicken and beef tacos, among other goodies, who am I to say no? I highly recommend visitors track down this great food truck when on Oahu (follow them on Twitter or Facebook for their latest location).
What’s the best travel advice you could give a friend?
Beth: When you fly, always keep your important items in your carry-on bag. That includes travel arrangements, car and house keys and medication. If your luggage gets lost, delayed or misplaced, the passenger can be extremely inconvenienced.
Jen: Don’t overschedule! Even if you’re by nature an active person, traveling can take surprising twists and turns — and that serendipity is often the most fun and most memorable part of your vacation. Sure, if you’re interested in staying in an all-inclusive resort, there probably won’t be too many travel surprises (but then again you probably wouldn’t have overplanned anyway). If you’ve planned an early morning hike, a midday kayak adventure, an afternoon bike ride and, say, an evening beach walk, odds are at least one of those things will either be so interesting that its allotted time encroaches on another, or tires you out so that you can barely make it to the beach the next day. Go with the flow.
Kara: When you are traveling by plane, have all of your airlines’ 800-numbers programmed into your phone. That way, if your flight is canceled while you’re sitting at the gate, you can hop on your cell to rebook via a call center, while all of the other frantic travelers travel en masse to a customer service desk somewhere in the terminal. By the time they find the counter, you’ve been booked on the next convenient flight.
What’s the best travel advice you’ve found on TripAdvisor?
Beth: This summer my family took two long road trips. We weren’t sure where we were going to be spending the night along the way, so we used TripAdvisor on our iPad as we were flying down the highway to scout hotels in upcoming cities before we made reservations. This helped us immensely because we were able to find clean hotels with nice amenities.
Jen: I find it useful to scroll through a couple of pages of reviews at least, per hotel or restaurant, because one or two opinions often don’t give a full sense of the place. That being said, I also get a kick out of some of TripAdvisors’ press releases. The Worst Hotel in New York City comes to mind!
Kara: I don’t book a hotel room without first checking its star rating and first-hand reviews on TripAdvisor. So, I can’t name one particular piece of advice. Rather, TripAdvisor is my go-to website when I want to find the best accommodations for my needs – whether I’m planning a girlfriend getaway, romantic trip or family vacation. Lately, I’ve been doing the same for restaurants in any destination I visit. Truly, TripAdvisor has been incredibly helpful in my travel planning for many, many years!
Please tell us about your best and worst travel experiences.
Beth: Our best travel experience was this summer. We stayed a week at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge in Bigfork, Montana. It was the epitome of a relaxing vacation and the resort had something for the entire family. Luckily, no really bad travel experiences stand out, but I can say that a bad hotel bed can ruin a vacation. A weak or too worn mattress is painful, as there is nothing worse than a “taco bed” (a mattress that is indented and we spend the night trying not to roll into the middle).
Jen: My best travel experiences always involve a real sense of discovery. I love traveling with my family, and watching my kids grow and appreciate how large and diverse the world is. Whether it’s a rainforest reforestation volunteer project in Costa Rica, a tour of the Colosseum in Rome, or a simple nature walk a few miles from our home town, sharing travel experiences with my kids is always tops on my list.
Kara: Best travel experience: my honeymoon 12 years ago on a (now defunct) Windjammer Barefoot Cruise of the Caribbean. Romantic and carefree! Worst travel experience: the crummy budget hotel we booked in Puerto Vallarta. TripAdvisor reviews warned me it was absolutely basic and even run-down, but truly, I didn’t realize how low some people’s standards were! The room we were given was filthy and stifling – definitely, a “You get what you pay for” type of experience. We lasted one night, then booked a clean, air-conditioned condominium.
If someone was visiting your hometown, what would you recommend they do/see?
Beth: Minnesota is the State of Hockey, so I’d recommend visitors plan an evening at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to see the Wild flaunt their ice moves. It’s Minnesota at its best!
Jennifer: I live in Los Angeles, one of the top 5 travel destination cities in the United States. People visiting LA usually want to spend most of their time at the theme parks or looking for movie stars. I’d recommend that people check out the Getty Museum and Villa, Griffith Observatory, the cooler, clean west side and beaches – anything that shows how much more Los Angeles has to offer besides gawking at famous people.
Kara: I live between two great vacation destinations: Aspen and Glenwood Springs, Colorado. In the summer, I bring out-of-state visitors to Aspen’s Maroon Bells, quintessential Colorado mountain peaks that tower over a beautiful lake. And in Glenwood Springs, I recommend families go to Glenwood Canyon Adventure Park, bike the Glenwood Canyon recreation path and soak in the Glenwood Hot Springs. In the winter, it’s all about skiing Aspen/Snowmass!
If you could go anywhere in the world on your next vacation, where would you go?
Beth: I can’t wait to visit Iceland with my husband!
Jennifer: My husband and I are about to take a romantic getaway, and I wholeheartedly recommend that type of travel for all happy couples. My dream family vacation would be a couple of weeks in New Zealand. Or Australia. Or Spain. Or Croatia. Hmm, I’ve never been on a safari! it’s a big world out there.
Kara: An overwater bungalow in the South Pacific with my husband.