What makes a travel bargain?

In my opinion, a travel bargain worth mentioning has to be the right blend of quality, reliability, and price. 

If the food is of poor quality, it’s no bargain.

If the airline regularly cancels flights or routes or has a reputation for delays, it’s no bargain.

If the discounted price still offers high quality and reliability of service, that’s a bargain. And only when it meets this criteria, do I consider posting it to the She Talks Travel Facebook forum.

What if the price is abnormally low? Then it is important to investigate further. Why is there a deep discount?  To use one recent example, the “NOW Emerald” Resort is priced  about 20% lower than its sister (and similarly named) resorts NOW Sapphire and NOW Jade.

(This is where it’s handy to know a travel professional and can ask this question before you book. “Why is this one cheaper?)

In this case, NOW Emerald is a recently acquired property. AMResorts,  (the parent chain) has purchased this location from Oasis Resorts. So, it was an existing resort that has been purchased and is in the process of renovating and rebranding. During this time of transition, and renovation, they are offering lower introductory rates.  Knowing the high quality of standards and reputation of AMResorts, you can be assured of quality food, accommodations and service. Therefore I believe the introductory price qualifies as a bargain.

Another time a bargain comes up is when there is increased competition. So for example, when Flair started flying to Phoenix, WestJet slashed their prices on the same route.  In this case WestJet was the bargain.

There is almost always a bargain to be found when you move in the opposite direction of a crowd. For example when everyone goes back to work and school in September, if you go out to travel you’ll find a bargain.

What is NOT a bargain?   Anything that is not the right fit for you or your family.   It’s simply not a good idea to force a size 9 foot into a size 6 shoe. You will regret trying or buying that “shoe” or trip, no matter how good it looks in the ads.

 

Gift with purchase

I tell my travel clients that when they buy a trip that they are excited about, the bonus they get is the ‘gift of anticipation.’

The gift of anticipation is really valuable to get you through the bad days. Because we all have bad days. Bad days are just life’s reality check.  It can happen at work or with your team or at school or with your family. It happens to all of us.

I find that when you have something to look forward to, even if it’s four or five months down the road, the bad days pass easier. You KNOW you have something on the calendar you are excited about.

Start a countdown calendar. Whether it’s on your phone or on the wall but make it something visual you can see!

This is really the point I was trying to make with the last column….  you deserve a vacation that you’re excited about. Not something you are settling for. If you SETTLE for a vacation because it was on sale, or someone else talks you into it, then you cheat yourself out of that gift of anticipation. If you are constantly checking online for better deals or second-guessing your choice or even dreading the vacation, you miss out on ‘the gift of anticipation.’ I don’t want anyone to feel that way. Plan something you are excited about, or wait for something else.

I will tell you truthfully, that my years owning a restaurant were hard. There were times I worked 15 or 20 days straight. (42 was the record. I’m ashamed, not proud. It’s unhealthy to work that much.) The only thing that got me to the other side of that was knowing I had a treat at the end.   I would arbitrarily pick a date into the future and plan a fabulous vacation for me and my kids. That gave me something to look forward to and something to think about in the windowless kitchen, doing the demanding, thankless tasks day after day.

I would tell my close friends that I saw myself like a good little donkey. I could pull the heavy load, I could do the work and I could keep going just as long as I saw I carrot at then end of each road.

For me, that carrot was always a trip.  To this day, I believe in the power of ANTICIPATION.

 

A waste of vacation dollars.

I really like this one pizza place in town, but their pizza is pretty expensive.  Any time I buy it, it feels like a real splurge. But it’s the only pizza I crave. And it’s very satisfying. So, it’s the only pizza I’m truly happy with.

But…… sometimes it’s really hard to justify spending $35 on a medium pizza, so, I talk myself into a $9 grocery store pizza.

I think, “it’s still pizza. It will be good ENOUGH.”

So then I eat my $9 grocery store pizza and it’s completely unsatisfying . Then I’m mad at myself because I knew how this was going to turn out.  I wasted $9 and it clearly didn’t satisfy the pizza craving. It wasn’t nearly as good as the pizza I actually wanted. And I still want good pizza.

So inevitably what happens is a few days later I get the $35 pizza and I’m happy.  Except now,  in my head, it was a $44 pizza. So I’m still mad at myself for wasting the $9 at the grocery store on inferior pizza.  Especially when I knew how this was going to turn out.

I see people do this on vacations all the time. Talk themselves into thinking they will be satisfied with inferior accommodations or flights, when they already know what they truly want. They were just having trouble justifying the cost.

Ill just say this. “You are worthy.” Get the vacation you want. Even if it takes a little longer to save up for. Then, truly enjoy it. It’s a lot harder to replace and do-over a lousy vacation, than it is to order another pizza.

Am I right?

Calistoga Pottery

So…. we were hanging out in downtown Calistoga, California looking at the tourist map on Main Street.  I see it lists of a number of antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants and a bookstore. Off in the corner a little square on the map says “Calistoga Pottery.”

My eyes lit up! Of course and I had to check it out.

Calistoga Pottery is a little shop behind a home on the highway just before the turn into/out of Calistoga. We had the privilege of chatting with the owner/operator/artists, a husband and wife team. He makes the pottery and she glazes the pottery. Together, Jeff and Sally have been in business almost 40 years.

They make dinnerware for more than a dozen of the local restaurants. A list hangs on the wall by the door. They also sell their pottery to the public out of this working studio, the one pictured here.

Both Jeff and Sally were absolutely lovely to talk to and were particularly enthusiastic when we told them we were from Canada. Sally told us of a time when she lived in British Columbia in the 1970s. She remembers it very fondly. When it came time for me to complete my purchase, she joked that I could even pay in Loonies (Canadian coins) if I had them!

Sally showed me a number of her signature glazes, including one that was made from the ash of grapevines from a local winery.  Such a beautiful effect on clay!

I did also mention to Sally, how much her shop reminded me of the pottery business established in Manitoba by another potter, my friend Jeff Bettle. “Manitoba Jeff” has transformed an old church and made it into his home and studio over the course of the last 20 years. I told her how much I admire people who master their craft and share it with others.  Theoldchurch.ca

Maybe someday the 2 Jeffs and Sally will bump into each other at a clay convention. They can swap stories and tell the tales of life and work aside a highway, and the tourists who stop in. And they’ll have a laugh about that charismatic chatty Cathie who happened to connect over clay, in Calistoga California one July afternoon in 2019.

No budget Napa!

Napa is not a budget trip. There are ways to cut corners, however, you can’t cut the pie in half. It would be my recommendation to postpone the trip, and save more money rather than thinking you could go and just pinch pennies.

If budget is not a worry, stay at the Napa River Inn. What an incredible location! You will have amazing dining, and even the Wine Train just steps from your hotel.

If you want to cut back, try the Best Western at the Vines. It’s still $200USD+ (weeknights)/ $300USD+ (weekends)  it’s 10 minutes from the town and will require a rental car.

On the Napa River boardwalk, in town, you will find restaurants like Napa General Store and Celadon.  $200 per couple would get you a lovely meal in a gorgeous setting.

Open air restaurant, Celadon, on the river walk in the town of Napa.

If you want to cut back I would suggest going at happy hour between 4 and 6 PM. There are a few restaurants and pubs along that strip with $6 glasses of wine and $10 appetizers. We popped into Celadon and watched the mixologist at work. That’s right, not bartender, mixologist!

Napa Valley itself, is warm. In San Francisco and the bay area I wore long pants and a jacket and still shivered. Mere hours later in Napa,on the same day, I wore a sleeveless blouse and skirt and was very warm. The difference was “quite normal” said the locals and you can expect the Napa/Sonoma area up about 15°C warmer.

When it comes to paying for things in Napa/Sonoma area I would recommend cash or a credit card. Debit cards with chip or tap were effectively useless. Any of the counter machines I tried to use did not recognize a Royal Bank card. “Tap” is not a thing in this area. Ultimately I found an ATM and withdrew more cash.

In the USA when you say “debit” they think Visa-debit. Which is a completely different thing than our Interac system. Canadian cards are certainly not as useable as I thought they were.

Realistically, I think a couple could spend $400-$500 a day in the area, without even buying souvenirs.

Downtown Napa riverwalk.

If you would like more experiences, there are also two National Parks in the Napa area where you could go hiking and find waterfalls or even camp! Expect to pay entry fee to the park and of course, a fee for your camping site. If you want to see the Petrified Forest,  (only about 20 minutes away) it is on private land and entry is $26 a person. There is also a gift shop.

 The one thing I will say about Napa is the experience is as close to Italy as you can get without being in Italy.   I think it would make the most amazing anniversary trip if you were celebrating 25 or 30 or 40 years together.

Cheers!

 

Napa, California

Napa.

Yes! Wonderful Napa, where the roads are winding and the wine stops are plentiful.

Bus tour is a must! Enjoy the ride and leave the driving to someone else. This way you can fully experience the offerings.  There are literally wineries on both sides of the road and every 5 minutes or so. Plan to spend at least a full day touring this way. 3 nights/days in the region would be better.

You could stay in the town of Napa itself. (Yes!! Do it, if it’s in budget.)  Then, in my order of opinion, American Canyon (because it’s super easy and just minutes from Napa on the right highway), Calistoga because it’s quaint & in the centre of many wineries, Fulton, Santa Rosa, or Novato. Planning to go in/out of San Francisco or the Bay Area will cost you 2 hours in each direction, plus bridge tolls.

There are wine tastings in castles, in (former) gas stations, in cellars, a former National Bank,  in mini-mall settings, and everywhere in between.

We did a self-guided tour of Castello di Amorosa. An Italian style renaissance castle just about 5 minutes east of Calistoga.

Calistoga itself is a beautiful, quaint town. A former bank on Main Street has been turned into a fabulous wine tasting venue.

In terms of wine tasting cost, if you are just popping in (not part of a prepaid tour) expect to pay at least $20+ per person per flight of wines. More for premium selections. More for a tour plus tasting. For example Castello di Amorosa in the self-guided version was $30 & tax. ($32.73). Entry for children ages 5-20 were $20 & tax.  The guided tour was $65 & up.

There is a wine train that leaves the town of Napa itself. I think it was about $200 a person. Definitely look it up. If it fits your schedule it would be an enviable way to travel & fully enjoy the region.

By the riverwalk in the town of Napa. Gorgeous cobblestone streets public gardens and quaint shops among first class restaurants & eateries.

The wine itself, expect to pay a minimum of $30 per bottle for anything in this region, and $300 or so for special bottles, and of course, there will be even more expensive specialty bottles for collectors.

Most wineries seem to have a “Wine Club” with exclusive invitations to specialty tastings, dinners and events. Standard buy in to the club, seemed to be at least the purchase of a case of wine, or $500.

Monthly winery subscriptions were also advertised often. Shipping included, in USA of course. Like a Netflix subscription they’d just keep charging your credit card & sending the wine until you stop payment.

When you’re in Napa, there’s one more thing to do… announce you’re in Napa by taking a photo at the roadside sign! There’s a pull off big enough for 6 tour buses and I expect most bus tours DO stop at the sign for a selfie and fresh air break.