Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is the grass always greener?

Earlier this year, I waxed whimsical (as I often do) about my hometown of San Diego, describing it as "where I'd rather be." Now that's exactly where I will be in a couple of weeks. I've accepted a writing job with The Active Network, so Cassie and I are heading for greener pastures out west.

I left San Diego four years ago, as excited by the adventure of living somewhere new as I am about returning whence I came. It didn't take much time living on the East Coast to start second-guessing my decision to move, however, so I can't help but wonder what the future holds. Is the grass always greener on the other side of the country? Or only the grass you've never walked on?

Virginia and New York seemed bright and shiny and different, and they were all that and more. But always my heart turned back to the West Coast. Is it weakness on my part, to want what I don't have? A failure to be satisfied with the present? I don't know. It's possible that we San Diego natives are simply too spoiled to be happy living elsewhere. New York City is an amazing place, and it has been exciting living here; but—no disrespect toward those who love this city—I can't deal with the urban lifestyle. Once a beach bum, always a beach bum, I guess.

And I'm not returning home alone. I'm dragging my Hoosier wife with me, and she enjoys the four seasons as much as I enjoy year-round sunshine. So the coming months will be nothing, if not interesting.

Relocation chores will likely prevent new blog postings in the near future, but perhaps the muse will strike me during our cross-country travels.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday travel photo

Offshore Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Weekend escapes abroad

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is poised to cross the 10,000 mark as I write this, but times are still hard for many Americans. Those who are able to take time off for a weekend escape are not likely to go farther than their car can reasonably take them for a few days of travel. But tough economic times also mean travel operators are slashing prices. So a weekend escape abroad—if you're willing to take a long flight for a short stay—is not as crazy an idea as it sounds. Below I've included a few deals that I've seen recently.

Cancun: 3 Nights All-Inclusive Oceanfront & Air, $415
Enjoy roundtrip air and three all-inclusive nights (including alcohol) in a junior oceanview suite. This package also includes resort taxes & gratuities, roundtrip airport transfers and 10% spa discount. Kids 12 and under stay, play and eat free. Does not include additional taxes of approximately $100 p.p. [More info]

Iceland: 2 Nights & Air, Tour, $489
IcelandAir has really been pushing this weekend escape: Take an afternoon departure from NYC, Boston or Seattle; arrive the next morning in Reykjavik; spend two nights with breakfast in a four-star hotel (morning check-in permitted on arrival); take a full-day tour of scenic sights on the second day; and fly back home on Day 3. Not included: airport transfers (approx. $42 p.p. roundtrip) and taxes (approx. $100 p.p.). [More info]

Italy: 3 Nights & Air, $499
A long weekend in Rome or Florence? Certo! This package includes air fare from NYC (nonstop to Rome) and three nights in a selection of 3-star hotels (including breakfast). Specific departure dates are specified, but some of those dates include a Miami departure for the same price. You can also upgrade your hotel and select discounted tours. Not included: Taxes of $120 p.p. [More info & instructions]

Disclaimer: As always when I post deals like these, it is for informational purposes only. I don't receive any kind of commission or other payment.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Leaf peeping in Harriman State Park

With recent trips to the Catskills and the Delaware River, we have definitely taken advantage of some of the natural beauty around New York City. But one destination we had not yet explored together was Harriman State Park. Located only about an hour outside the city, it always seemed too close for a real getaway. But last weekend, wanting to fit in one last backpacking trip before the weather got too cold, and also hoping to see some fall foliage, we decided to kill two birds with one stone by doing a quick overnighter.

It's prime time for leaf-peeping, but it seemed many people were scared off by the tail end of a rain storm that passed through the previous night. We had no trouble finding a parking spot right at the trailhead, so we quickly strapped on our packs and started making tracks. By no means did we have the trail to ourselves, however. Even with the less-than-ideal weather, we crossed paths with many day-hikers. Perhaps they too had studied the weather forecast, which called for clearing skies.

Regardless of the lack of solitude, we were not disappointed. The park may be close to the city, but it was as scenic and woodsy as anywhere in the Catskills. The Pine Meadow and Kakiat Trails followed a creek between two mountains all the way to our destination, Pine Meadow Lake. After biting off more than we could chew on our recent Devil's Path backpack (which we learned, after the fact, is one of the toughest hikes in the Northeast), we were more than happy to amble along the gentle inclines of these trails. Much sooner than expected, we reached the lake.

Perhaps best of all was our primo campsite on the shore of Pine Meadow Lake. Harriman State Park rules prohibit camping anywhere other than in designated shelters (or within 300 feet of said shelters if they're occupied), but as we circumnavigated the lake, we passed site after gorgeous site where blackened fire rings and other evidence made it obvious that illicit camping was common (though, if you go, beware: hiking back to the car the next day, we spoke with a hiker who got ticketed on a past trip).

After our shorter-than-expected hike, we had plenty of time for leaf peeping. Though we saw plenty of stunning fall colors, our best guess put peak foliage about a week off (so try to get up there this weekend if possible).

On the south shore of the lake, we came across Conklin Cemetery, a small family plot where most of the markers were so weathered and broken that they simply looked like jagged rocks sticking out of the ground. Ironically, the oldest grave had the newest headstone; Ezekial Conklin served in the Revolutionary War.

As weekend escapes go, this one met all expectations. We enjoyed one last backpacking trip to close out the season; we saw our share of fall foliage; and as the sun went down, we were reminded that fall colors could be found in more than just the leaves.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday travel photo

I visited San Diego last weekend, and Saturday was a gorgeous day for a hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve. The clarity of the water made me wish I'd brought my dive gear.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Halloween travels

Halloween is not a holiday as commonly associated with travel as, say, Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, it can be a great excuse for a weekend getaway or day trip, especially for someone like me who loves Halloween.

Today, I received an email newsletter from Omni Hotels, which included a link to some "spooky stories" from some of their "haunted destinations." Like most ghost stories associated with hotels, these stories more likely originated from a marketing copywriter behind a desk than from an apparition behind the veil. Nevertheless, such stories are a great way to get into the Halloween spirit, especially if your travel plans include a visit to a place reputed to be haunted.

And even if your Halloween plans don't include travel to anywhere further than your living room or a friend's Halloween party, sneak a peek at the clever cocktails concocted by Omni: the Red Widow, Bond's Eye and Red Eye. Spooky sipping!

Spooky Stories

Halloween Cocktails

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hope: A reason to travel

Why do we travel? It's a question I've asked myself more than once, and one I even posed to all of you in the early days of this blog (though to little response). For many, the obvious answer is escape: a vacation from a stressful job, a warm getaway during a cold winter, a break from the routine of everyday life. For others, there are countless reasons for travel: business, pleasure, family, study, exploration.

But what about hope? Can hope be a reason to travel? Hope that you might learn something new, hope that you might find the answer to an unspoken question, hope that your life might be better for having gone? The answer, of course, is yes: hope is as valid a reason as any to travel—especially in these times of uncertainty.

Hope has stirred me to travel more than once. Enough so, back in 2002, that I posed for the self-portrait pictured at right when I literally found Hope in New Mexico on December 31. (I took it as an omen of "hope for the new year," and 2003 did indeed turn out to be a better year.) Much further back, hope for personal growth motivated me to travel the world, courtesy of the United States Navy. Hope even figured into my travels to San Diego last weekend (though, lacking an ending, that story must be told another time).

As anyone who paid attention to last year's presidential campaign knows, the idea of "hope" can be a powerful motivator to people. Presumably most of us appreciate what we have, but most of us probably also hope for more: whether it's an altruistic hope for something like world peace, or a more self-centered hope for a better job or salary. So it should be no surprise that hope can serve as an equally powerful motivator when it comes to travel.