Budget Road Trip

Are you looking for an affordable road trip?  How about somewhere pretty-as-a-picture? I think this is a guaranteed memory-maker and yet respectful of your need to stretch your Canadian Dollar as far as possible.

Banff. Yes, Banff. Or you could make the trip to Banff AND Canmore. Or Banff, Canmore AND Calgary. You pick. Just fill up the gas tank and hit the Trans-Canada highway west from Manitoba.

If you make it just as far as Medicine Hat in the first day, you will find hotels like DH3 and Holiday Inn, at about $100 a night. That includes breakfast (DH3) or waterslides (Holiday Inn).

Next stop, (about 5 hours away) is Banff National Park.   The park pass itself will cost you about $20 per day, per vehicle with up to 5 occupants.

Since this is “shoulder season” or that magical time (April to June) between busy ski season, and busy summer season, you’ll find hotels inside the park itself for under $200.  Some really great hotels (like boutique Elk + Avenue) or Buffalo Mountain Lodge right around $130 (taxes included). Gosh, you could even splurge and get the Fairmont Banff Springs at this quiet time of year for about $300 a night. (Splurge! Do it!)

Canmore, is about 20 minutes away, and outside of the National Park. You could choose to stay at a lodge there or even the Holiday Inn for UNDER $100 a night.

What is there to do/see in “shoulder season?”  Mountains! The majestic mountains are there 24/7, all year round. If that’s not breathtaking enough, there’s wildlife!  Go hiking, biking, photo gathering or visit the famous hot springs. Just be outdoors in the fresh air and take in the view.

If you’ve got an extra day, and are looking for an indoor opportunity, do visit the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity  . You’ll be inspired.

The bottom line is, there are great opportunities to enjoy a spring road trip, to the mountains, for much less  than that very same trip in the summer.  With gas, and 5 nights in a hotel, cost shared by 3 people,  $250-$300 per person PLUS your food/entertainment/souvenirs.

 

Feature photo courtesy of Barbara Osiowy. 

Different Islands, Different Personalities

I’ve had a lot of people ask about Hawaii lately.  And with good reason, flights have been on sale, and it’s a gorgeous destination.  But not all Hawaiian vacations are created equal.

I want to briefly tell you about my perceptions and my experiences in each of the main islands.

Honolulu 2018

Honolulu: It’s the main city in the island of Oahu. The main tourist area in that city is Waikiki beach. These three names are for the same place, but sometimes people use them in odd context and it sounds like 3 different places. Basically it’s like saying “I’m going to stay in Green Acres, when I go to Brandon Manitoba.” Or, I’m staying on Waikiki Beach, when I go to Honolulu, Oahu.

Honolulu, the city, is full of hi-rise buildings, expensive shops and big city living. It is intensely busy and popular. Waikiki beach area is crowded all year long.  Parking at hotels is so limited, that most charge $30-$40 per night for parking.  You don’t actually need a car if you’re staying in the main tourist area, it’s faster and easier to just walk. Plus, there’s public transportation. Tourist trolleys come by every 10 minutes or so.  If you go to Honolulu, it may be inexpensive to get there (cheap flights) but it’s expensive and oh so crowded once you arrive. Honolulu is where you will find Pearl Harbour and the museum dedicated to it.

Maui is the 2nd largest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s nickname is the Valley Isle. Its population is spread out over the island, and features a few main tourist areas. The areas are like townships. Kihei, Wailea, Ka’anapali are some of the most popular tourist areas. I think of them like Morden, Carmen and Winkler. Each area has everything you need, easy to drive around in and quite similar.  Maui does not have the intensity of Oahu, that’s for sure. There are no great big hi rises all jammed onto one little beach.  In fact there are so many beaches and things are so spread out you really do need a car to get around in Maui and enjoy the scenery. Good news here though, you won’t have to pay for parking. One of the things I like best about Maui is whale watching, and of course, sunset walks on the beach. I felt that stress melted away in Maui. The warm breeze and the tropical laid-back pace made it my favourite Hawaiian vacation. It’s a little more expensive to get to, but I found it less expensive overall once you’re there.

The third most popular island that Air Canada and Westjet take Canadians to is The Big island. This is where you will find the city of Kailua-Kona, and “the volcano.”  Mt Kilauea is an active volcano area and part of the island’s National Park system. This active volcano erupted May 2018 consuming thousands of acres and dozens of homes in its path.  The Big Island itself is incredibly diverse.  Lava rock has left some areas looking like Mars – black and barren. Other areas are more like rainforest and are known for growing incredible coffee. (I visited a coffee plantation in Kona area and it was absolutely fabulous! One of the highlights of the trip for sure.)  Beaches are harder to find in the tourist areas of Kailua-Kona, some are small and others have black sand.  The island itself seemed more “American” than Maui and was a blend of modern culture and newer buildings.

Lava rock formations in Kona

My suggestion to anyone planning a trip to Hawaii, is to clearly understand the differences in lifestyle and activities and then choose your vacation accordingly. Find the island that suits you and go for it!

GoHawaii.com

 

 

Happy Anniversary to Us!

If you want to be a writer…. then, write.

I can’t imagine the number of times I’ve repeated this in my own head. It’s simple. So simple! And I can’t even say where I heard it first but it’s become my mantra. I take it to mean, “whatever you want to do, JUST DO IT. GET STARTED! GO FOR IT!”

If you want to be a skier, then ski! If you want to be a painter… then paint!

In my case, I’m fulfilled and I sleep better when I empty my brain. I’m forever writing and scripting and telling stories in my head. There’s a running commentary and sometimes comedy show, being narrated in my own mind. I’m a storyteller. It’s simply who I am. Does it pay? No. Does it matter? Yes! Does it make me happy to write? Heck yeah!

There was a time when I owned a busy restaurant, and it was a constantly moving, flowing, real life game of “Diner Dash.” (That’s a video game where you keep cooking and serving guests and each level gets harder and harder and more chaotic until you collapse and die. The busier you are, the more you “win” at the game. Which is, exactly like real life in the restaurant biz.) And while my restaurant was popular and it paid the bills I was also working ridiculous hours and I often longed to run away, to “escape.”  During that time, a friend (Melynda) introduced me to blogging. (Thanks Mel!)  Since my escape was travel, I titled my first blog “escapethe204” and hosted it on a free blogging website.  I did that for almost 5 years, sporadically, but there was some good content.

Three years ago I was doing some soul searching while on vacation. (Doesn’t everybody?) I knew back then I would need an exit strategy to get out of the restaurant business and I would need to find a way to transition into a new career. I decided to get more serious about writing and what made me happy. I felt the next step was to own and control my own website and domain. I made a long list of domain names and “personalities” for my writing. I got focused about my topic and realized that in order to generate enough content to keep going I would need to have a wide scope and be able to sustain a high level of enthusiasm. That’s why I chose travel. I’m genuinely passionate about travel and I felt that others might want to follow along and discuss it as well.

And that’s how “She Talks Travel” went from concept to life plan the first week of December 2015, in a hotel room in Montreal. From there, I moved forward to investigate and determine that “she talks travel” was available across all the popular social media platforms. That’s when I set about to stake my claim to that name and go forward and “brand” my own travel blog.

I justify the expense (about $300 per year) to have my own hosted site as a similar expense to any other hobby just like painting or skiing. You have to invest in equipment in order to participate. I never set out to sell anything or generate income from clutter ads or gimmicks. I didn’t want to ask for sponsorship or make myself feel obligated to write or perform, so I’ve always just kept it a personal expense. The happiness and personal satisfaction level is still high, so I do consider it worth it.

I sold the restaurant a year ago. I took some time for myself and then decided to pursue a career in the travel and tourism industry. And wouldn’t you know it…. being a known travel writer actually helped me land the job! Am I going to quit writing now that I work for a professional travel agency? Heck no! In fact I’ve paid up and renewed this site for another year. So, happy anniversary! And cheers to the next year of learning and exploring and travelling! I love that you’re here for the ride. Thank you!

How much does a hot vacation cost?

Here’s a handy, off the cuff guide to escaping Manitoba and going on a tropical, all inclusive, beach vacation.

In order of typical total cost. Least expensive destinations to most expensive: Cost on each island will vary by resort and room category.

  • Varadero, Cuba
  • Cayo Coco, Cuba
  • Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
  • Cancun, Mexico
  • Maya Riviera, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Los Cabos, Mexico
  • Mazatlan, Mexico
  • Ixtapa, Mexico
  • Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica
  • Huatulco, Mexico
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Curacao
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten
  • Antigua
  • Aruba
  • Belize
  • Barbados
  • Costa Rica
  • Turks n Caicos

A rough number, for a 4 star vacation, at a non-peak holiday time starts at $2000 per adult.  $1700 for your Air/Hotel package, $200 insurance, $100 gratuities & incidentals like resort fees/tourist card etc.

Peak travel is:  American Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, University Break (2nd week of Feb)  Plan for at least $2600 or more per adult for a 4 star vacation with insurance and incidentals.

Think of package vacation travel like buying a vehicle. There is everything from the Chevy Cruise to the Cadillac available. You just have to find the model, the style and the features that suit you.  Yes, they are all just “cars” but what comforts/conveniences do you need to be happy and satisfied? Travel is the very same.

My bottom line is this:  if the decision comes down to $300 and it’s the difference between being “satisfied” and “happy” choose HAPPY. (Cut out souvenirs or new clothes for the trip to cover the cost if you need to.)

When you feel like you are settling for a car/vacation because you like the price….you will start off on the wrong foot. When you find something you are EXCITED about, you also give yourself the gift of anticipation. Every day you know you have something to look forward to, even if it is 4 months away. Dare I say the hard winter days get easier, when I have something to look forward to and dream about.

Road tripping with my mom

I can’t say I remember any trips with my mom, except the one epic road trip to Texas. I still smirk when I think about it. Back then, the movie Thelma and Louise was popular and road trips were the “in thing.” Girl trips and open roads were glamorous and frankly, you were making a bold statement on female independence by doing it. So, why wouldn’t we? A couple of bold, independent single girls like us, should definitely have adventure.

My mom’s friend Karen had moved to Texas and they’d often chat long distance on the telephone. Sometimes they’d rack up a bill, chatting half the evening. (Remember, long distance calls were a luxury and at 38 cents a minute, things added up pretty quick back then.) I would tell her that she could drive there for about the same amount of cash. Finally, one night, my mom figured my idea had merit.

I was about 18 at the time.  Mom, was more than twice my age, but if she were alive today, she’d tell you that back then “we definitely looked like sisters.”

She had a brand new car, so we were absolutely equipped for this, anytime. (She always had a brand new car, my grandparents owned a General Motors dealership.) I convinced her to take a couple days off and make it a 5-day weekend. We’d drive all night and get to Texas in 24 hours. As our plan developed, I really thought I had her convinced. She seemed enthusiastic in our chats, but at the last minute, she chickened out. She came home from work, was tired and decided all she wanted to do was to rest and do things around the house for her days off.

I’d seen this “cold feet” act of hers before. So while she was distracted, I packed the car anyways. If I remember correctly it was about 11pm when I convinced her to “just go for a drive and get some coffee” with me.  One loop through the neighbourhood and I headed for I-75. I told her we could stop for coffee in Grand Forks, North Dakota  which was about 3 hours away.

In hind sight, she could have probably made a case for kidnapping. Except, who would believe her? After all, SHE was the one to pick up maps from CAA earlier in the week! Ha ha!

I don’t remember everything about the trip, but I do have strong memories of the highlights. She would tell you about waking up to see me speeding on an Interstate highway and watching a State Trooper pull over 4 cars at once, but not us. She would also tell you to avoid Oklahoma City at rush hour when you really don’t know where you’re going. And I bet she would say that 5 days definitely wasn’t long enough. I tend to agree.

My favourite part of the adventure was seeing her hug Karen when we arrived (Those two were thrilled to be reunited for an in-person visit!) and seeing the Kansas City Royals play baseball.

The baseball game was a completely spontaneous decision. We were relaxed and driving home when she tuned in a local radio station. They were broadcasting a pre-game show of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. She commented that she’d “always wanted to go to a MLB game.”

I said, “let’s do it! Let’s go, right now.” And we did.

She found the stadium on a map. I got us there. At the parking gate I asked the attendant where to get tickets. He said “but the game’s sold out! Don’t you know, the famous chicken’s here?!!”

I didn’t really know what he meant, but opted to pay for parking and take my chances at the box office anyway. My mom wanted to turn back. I pushed forward again, and before we even cleared the parking lot, we were approached by a scalper. I swapped him $20 for upper deck tickets and we were in! She always thought that was “pretty balsy” and that I was a heck of a street-smart gal. Very Thelma-ish.

I remember how absolutely satisfied she was sitting in the cheap seats, sipping a lemonade and snacking on a hot dog and a bag of peanuts. That was a good day. The Royals have (or had) a beautiful stadium with a waterfall in the outfield. They also had fireworks out there post game. It was a really nice evening. We picked a motel by the edge of town for the night and finished the trip in the morning. I know in her later years she would still tell the story of the scalper, and the funny San Diego Chicken at the baseball game.

What that trip taught me was, that you can ALWAYS get tickets to a big game. You don’t have to have a big plan, or a big budget to travel and have a great time. And, I  also believe that I would absolutely take a road trip with my teens if I was invited. After all, it could very well be, a once-in-a lifetime invitation.


PS: The photo is NOT from this trip. But it’s simply a photo of my spunky young mom, back in the day. We did NOT take a gas guzzling Impala on this trip. It was infact a SkyHawk.