Airport Hub Cities as Meet-Ups

Finding the best spot to gather with family or friends all over the map

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

When planning family reunions or get-togethers with friends, the first question is, "Where should we go?" Destinations factor heavily into travel planning.

When group travel is short in duration such as a 3-day weekend or 4-day stint, it is wise to minimize travel time and maximize time together. Soaring gas prices also contribute to a need for creative travel.

The best way to achieve maximizing time together and saving on flying time is to fly into a "hub" or "focus" city. A hub is a central airport through which multiple flights are routed—they vary according to airline. Airlines also have focus cities—a large number of non-stop flights are routed into these destinations. These focus cities tend to be major coastal cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and New York. Hub and focus cities are usually in or near large cities with plenty of entertainment options and activities—perfect for weekend getaways. Same applies to hub railway cities in Europe and elsewhere.

I recently organized a mini meet-up for a few writer friends coming from Colorado, Chicago, Argentina and New York. We figured out that Miami was the easiest, most convenient place for all of us to fly into because there were non-stop flights into Miami from everyone's origination cities.

Major Airline U.S. Hubs

American Airlines
Hubs: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami
Focus Cities: New York (with its 3 major airports), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington Dulles

Delta Air Lines
Hubs: Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City
Focus Cities: New York (JFK), Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando

United Airlines
Hubs: Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles
Focus Cities: all West Coast cities

(If the Delta and Northwest merger goes through, travelers may benefit from a larger route network. This might be true internationally. Delta has extensive operations in Europe as Northwest does in Asia. It remains to be seen if domestic options will improve.)

In Europe, hub/focus cities include: London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan and Zurich. And, the new "Open Skies" agreement should expand the offerings.

Open Skies
Travelers wanting to fly non-stop nationally or internationally will benefit from the recent "Open Skies" agreement. For decades, rules restricted trans-Atlantic air travel. Since April 2008, any European airline can now fly from any European airport to any point in the U.S.; all U.S. airline carriers will now be able to fly from any American city to any European city.

The high cost of fuel is throwing a wrench into the good news, but hopefully, as a result, fares could eventually drop and direct flight choices should increase.

Freak weather conditions and delays can occur anytime, any place. But when you’re traveling non-stop, you can eliminate the worry over missed connections. Less time spent at airports and in transit equates to more time spent with family and friends.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

Sailing Over the Canadian Alps

By guest blogger Clark McCann

Looking straight down between my knees 6,000 feet to the blue expanse of the Frazier River, I catch a sudden gut-shot of vertigo and fear. Reality check: I’m a mile in the sky, borne forward by a soft paraglider wing that can fold up like a cheap suit when struck by turbulence. I suck in a couple of deep slow breaths, steady my gaze on the distant horizon of snow crusted peaks, and the queasy moment passes. "Okay, you wimp," I tell myself. "You paid for this ride, now enjoy it!" I lean back in my padded harness, comfortable as an easy chair, and look up at my beautiful red wing, inflated with air, bearing my weight—and life—through the winter sky. I make a slow turn to the right to look back at the sheer icy face of Mt. Cheam, where minutes before I had taken off from the gentle south side, turned back across the ridge, then flown out over the magnificent Frazier River valley. Below was a checkerboard of green pastures, in the distance lakes and mountains, as pretty as any landscape in Switzerland.
Less than four hours before I’d left Seattle by car with a half-dozen paragliding fanatics, led by Marc Chirico and his wife Lan, all of us eager to fly off of 7,200 Mt. Cheam in British Columbia.  Among us were seasoned veterans with more than a thousand flights, as well as beginners, like me, with less than 100. One brave girl had just seven solo flights. Marc and Lan run Seattle’s most respected paragliding school and have trained hundreds of pilots over the last decade. Located at the foothills of the Cascades in Issaquah, the school sits at the foot of Tiger Mountain, one of the best paragliding sites in the Pacific Northwest. 

Driving straight north to Bellingham we crossed the Canadian border at Sumas, then headed East on Highway 1 along the Frazier River. Near a town aptly named "Hope," we climbed aboard a small helicopter that ferried us up to the summit of Mt. Cheam, three at a time. The ride was spectacular, and harrowing, as the chopper ducked around swirling clouds and looked for clear air and a level spot near the summit to set us down. Once on the mountain, we found ourselves in a cold, alpine environment. I was worried about the clouds and poor visibility. What if we get socked in and we can’t fly off and the chopper can’t pick us up? My fears subsided as the mists rose in the warming sun and we caught a window of clear skies to launch from the steep snow slope.
Now, relaxing into my flight, I’m amazed by the smooth air—not a ripple of turbulence. I indulge myself with a series of lazy turns to better admire the view and still arrive at our grassy landing field with plenty of altitude. After a soft touch-down, we give each other high-fives and head to the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs for beers and pizza.

Too exhilarated to drive back, some of us elect to spend the night at the resort hotel, spending hours outside in the warm mineral waters, talking and reliving our winter flying adventure.

If you’re interested in group paragliding, and live in the Seattle area, contact Marc Chirico at Seattle Paragliding for tips, lessons, training and more. For reputable schools in other parts of the country, contact the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Contact the Harrison Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia for more information about accommodations.

Clark McCann is a Seattle area freelance writer and adventure sports enthusiast.

Top 10 American Outdoor Towns

Groups these days are goin' green like other types of travelers. Sustainability means many things to many people: carbon off-setting, carpooling to save on fuel, choosing environmentally-friendly hotels, packing out what you pack in while hiking or camping.

MSN published a list of top 10 green American towns with an outdoor way of life. How is this sustainable? Green surrounds these places, living local is a way of life and developing an appreciation for nature is as easy as stepping outside and breathing the clean, fresh air.

Looking for an alternative to noisy cities and tourist-packed destinations? Gather a group together for a family or friendship reunion at any of these off-beat U.S. towns:

  1. Lake Placid, New York
  2. Hood River, Oregon
  3. McCall, Idaho
  4. Salida, Colorado
  5. Boone, North Carolina
  6. Livingston, Montana
  7. Ely, Minnesota
  8. Davis, West Virginia
  9. Bethel, Maine
  10. Haines, Alaska

The top 10 list from MSN is courtesy of co-authors Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville based on research from their book "101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play."

Timeshare Reality Check

By guest blogger Sarah Gagnon

Timeshares are becoming more and more popular; however, the long-standing stigma surrounding them still exists. There are plenty of voices in the travel industry talking about the positives and negatives of vacation property ownership and it is easy to get confused. Here are the ins and outs of the industry, the market and usage opportunities. Also, some helpful tips in case you are interested in taking advantage of the potential benefits of vacation real estate ownership.

Timeshares aren't evil. In fact, many people find that they are innovative, useful and valuable. That does not mean one shouldn't use caution when considering ownership. The concept of timesharing is inherently helpful, but the same cannot be said for every individual out there trying to make money. This is where the timeshare reputation has suffered in the past, and - although things are improving - continues to suffer today.

Timeshare history: As the timeshare industry struggled to progress in the 1970s and 80s, scams were recurrent and the bad name stuck. However, as associations like ARDA began to step in and refine the process and the amount of scamming dramatically decreased.

Resorts: Resorts are one type of timeshare and unfortunately, many resorts entice travelers into buying timeshare by using high-pressure sales tactics and deceitful information at very long, uncomfortable presentations. Furthermore, resort rates are high due to their large-scale advertising campaigns.

Resales: But there is good news about timeshares. The reason so many people still prefer vacation property ownership is that there are relatively easy ways to avoid the risks of buying timeshare. The most important way is to buy resale.

Timeshare resales can offer vacation value:

  • Low cost, often thousands less than resort prices
  • Private sales - no scams, no pressure, no falsehoods
  • Timeshare resale companies present the very same property that resorts do
  • These timeshare resellers also staff licensed brokers and closing companies to assist you
  • Resale Web sites allow you to search at your own pace and find what is right for you

Timeshare resales aren't perfect. But you can potentially save a ton of money and avoid headaches provided you take the same precautions anyone would when purchasing property. Timeshare resales basically succeed everywhere that timeshare resorts fail.

Timeshare resale benefits: For the money, resales are incredibly effective. You can also find good deals and timesharing can be less expensive than hotels. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about accumulating day-to-day bills. You own the timeshare, so you have a vacation every year already paid for. To sweeten the pot a little more, you can use exchange companies to trade your property and travel all over the world. All in all, if you want to vacation with freedom and flexibility while enjoying low cost and luxury, timeshare resales are something to look into.

Guest blogger Sarah Gagnon, M.A., works for Sell My Timeshare Now, a resale company, and is also known as the "Travel Lady-Bug."

Meet the Bride: Wedding Taskmaster

Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, like the brides that are in charge. I say "brides in charge" because, let's face it grooms, once you plan that elaborate proposal and are engaged, the bride takes over from there. Yes, you help. But it usually is in reaction to requests, however subtle or overt, from your bride to be.

Ceremonies roughly fall into five major categories: Budget, moderate, luxury, elopement and destination weddings. I recently participated in my sister's wedding which fell somewhere between budget and moderate and was a bit of a destination wedding at a lakeside resort. Every detail was perfectly planned and the wedding went off without a hitch all because of the bride's event planning experience and gentle task-manager skills.

Family, friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen were excited for the wedding and geared up for an extended weekend at a lakeside resort. And we were all assigned tasks to do either weeks before the wedding, the day of the ceremony or after the ceremony. When we arrived at the wedding location two days before the event, my lovely bride sister had a three-ring binder with all her wedding coordination plans neatly organized in print. That binder contained the secrets to the most organized wedding I've participated in. If you don't want to hire a wedding coordinator and want to do it yourself, here's how my sister did it. Amend this to suit your wedding's needs/tastes and assign anyone you want to the task(s). The key is delegation and proper follow-up by the bride (and groom).

Tips and Tasks Before the Wedding

  • Get yourself a good checklist for wedding "to-do's" - use our wedding guide, Martha Stewart magazine's pull-out, or any other resource you can find to help you with such big items as dress and tux/suit purchases, music secured, minister/officiant reserved, ring purchases, flowers, cake, food, etc.
  • Set a budget and stick to it - use the checklist and decide what items are critical to you and which are flexible (example: toasts can be made and enjoyed without the expense of champagne or sparkling wine and people can raise whatever glass they have in their hand)
  • Before sending save the dates and invitations and doing any wedding planning, have a heart-to-heart with the groom about what should be the spirit and environment of the wedding
  • Use people's strengths and assign tasks they will like and can handle - know your helpers well
  • Rely upon both bride and groom family and friends and spread things out if needed - don't keep relying on your maid of honor for everything!
  • Throw a party to assemble and address wedding invitations - with all the scrapbooking and fancy paper stores around, it is easy to create a professional-looking invite at a low cost
  • Drinks - assign people to pick up kegs of beer, cases of wine and ingredients for mixed drinks unless bartender at receception site has those covered; assign same people who pick up those ingredients to set those items out at the reception (unless the reception site covers this)
  • Create notebook with contact information of vendors (for cake, food, flowers, music, minister, etc.) and set an itinerary for the wedding day (i.e., timing of bride's hair and make-up, timing of photos and who gets photos when and where)
  • Assign one person to the rehearsal dinner coordination and communication if necessary, etc. (perhaps place the groom's family in charge of this if they are covering costs of this meal and event)

Tasks for Wedding and Reception Set-Up

  • Bride reviews notebook with groom and bridesmaids of itinerary and ceremony + reception map w/ location of decorations so others can direct vendors and not have to rely on the bride for all the answers
  • If grandparents or others need wheelchair access to buildings or locations, keep that in mind when planning the wedding
  • Assign one person to the ceremony location as "site lead" for decorations and to be a runner if needed
  • Assign another person to the reception location as "site lead" for decorations, meeting vendors, etc. and enough people to help set up the decorations
  • When photos are happening, make sure at least one or two people (a bridesmaid and groomsman, most likely) can be runners for the photographer to gather the appropriate family members at picture time

Tasks for Leaving the Wedding

  • Make arrangements ahead of time for transporting gifts
  • Make arrangements for transporting extra alcohol and food
  • Assign multiple people to take down decorations or remaining items that may be important to keep

My sister must have had many more tasks I was unaware of, but it all happened so smoothly, I didn't notice. Next family wedding I attend or participate in, I'll be fully prepared. Thanks, sis. ;-)

And of course, using TripHub to help plan and coordinate wedding communication is also a useful tool for securing RSVPs, showing maps and giving directions of event locations, especially if there is a weekend-long gathering with multiple events.

Tips for Making Group Trips Great

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

On a group trip, even when you're traveling with family and friends, you usually find the good, the bad and the unexpected. The good—you make a new friend. The bad—one annoying person drives everybody insane. The unexpected—you visit a destination or attraction you never would have discovered on your own that blows your mind.

No matter where you go, any great trip begins with smart planning. Here are some tips to consider as you get your family, friends or wedding party ready for a trip together:

Test drive the group: Your wild friend Bob and crazy Uncle Larry may be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night but they might drive everyone nuts during a two-week trip. Before spending a vacation together, try a long-weekend group trip to see what the dynamics are like. Then, plan accordingly.

Set ground rules: It is very important to make the "ground rules" crystal clear at the beginning of the trip. It helps to have them written down and handed out (even to your family members). Ground rules can include how costs are divided up, daily departure times, who’s responsible for driving, etc.

Timing is everything: When traveling as a group, the "on-time" issue usually causes the most friction. Invariably, one or two people are always late for the morning blast-off and/or wander off at stops and are nowhere to be found when it’s time to hit the road again. Nip this situation in the bud immediately! It’s not only annoying but unfair to the rest of the group.

If a gentle (or harsh) reprimand doesn’t work, a) assign an on-time "buddy" to the person (this task can be rotated among the group members); b) simply state that the car/van/bus will take off at the appointed time and persistent latecomers will be responsible for getting to the next stop on their own. (You can put this in the ground rules memo.)

Schedule downtime: Don’t let the desire to see everything blind you to the need for daily downtime. Be sure to plan for time to relax by the pool and/or change clothes back at the hotel.

Staying connected: Even on vacation, we are all so attached to our need to check e-mail. Find out in advance from your hotels if there’s a WiFi connection in the rooms or if there’s a business center for those who don’t have or don’t want to bring a laptop. Also, check if there is a hotel "hotspot" charge to access the internet.

Provide options: You may love your family and group of friends, but spending every waking moment together for a week or two can be trying. Plan optional activities and restaurant choices so individuals or smaller groups can branch off on their own.

Activity options could include a choice of museum hopping, shopping or a sports activity. For restaurant choices, contact your hotels in advance and get three good restaurant suggestions for each place you’ll stop for meals. You might wind up eating together anyway, but it's good to provide choices for those who might need a break from a little too much togetherness!

Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

German Group Journeys

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

Germany is a wonderful place to visit for anyone who loves art, architecture, culture and history. It's also a bike rider's paradise. On a group trip with your friends, family or wedding party, there's plenty to do and see in every region of Germany.

Bike, Art and Culture - Here are some ideas for places to visit with a focus on art and architecture. You can tour these areas by bike (it's easy to rent bikes locally) or by car: 

Focus on Art - Muenster and Kassel:

  • If you and your group of friends or family members love contemporary art, there’s a "solar art eclipse" taking place in the Westphalia region (until the end of September 2007). In Kassel, documenta 12, a prestigious, contemporary art exhibition—like the Venice Biennale—takes place every five years and the Muenster Sculpture Project takes place every 10 years—see them both now! (Trains linking Muenster and Kassel take about two hours.)
  • Muenster is a lovely town with cobblestone streets, historic buildings and charming churches. The Sculpture Project is not in a museum but strategically-placed throughout the town. You can tour the sculptures with a knowledgeable guide on a bike or walking tour. Even when the Sculpture Project is not taking place, it’s worth a trip to Muenster. This university town is full of pubs, restaurants and year-round cultural events. Be sure to sample some local beer at Muenster’s oldest brewery, Brauerei Pinkus and enjoy regional specialties at the oldest restaurant, Gasthaus Leve. In the surrounding countryside of Muensterland, there are 100 castles to be viewed on a bike tour or by car.
  • Hotels: In Muenster – Stadthotel; Hotel Feldmann. In the countryside - Hotel Hof zur Linde; Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege. In Kassel – During documenta, there are special hotel package deals.

Focus on Industrial Design - The Rhur Region:

  • The Ruhrgebiet area has transformed sites from its former industrial past—steel mills, coal mines, gas tanks--into incredible venues for art exhibitions and other leisure and cultural activities. As a result, the area has been named European Capital of Culture 2010.
  • In Essen, the Zeche Zollverein, a former coal mine, is now a UNESCO world heritage site and a vibrant arts center with space for emerging artists and an outstanding showcase for design at the Red Dot Design Museum. You and your group can hike or bike around the site as well as have a great lunch in the Zollverein Casino.
  • In Oberhausen, the Gasometer at CentrO used to store gas for the steelworks. An installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude made the site popular for unique art exhibitions.
  • Other cultural highlights in the area include Essen's Folkwang Museum (its fabulous collection is currently in the Villa Hügel). In Duisburg, stroll along the lovely Inner Harbor. The Lehmbruck Museum is a must-see, then head for Landscape Park on the grounds of the former Meiderich Ironworks, now an entertainment and recreational center. The Ruhrgebiet tourism office can help arrange tours for your group. If you'd like to discover the area on your own by bike, the RuhrTalRadweg is a signposted trail or your group can do an organized bike tour.
  • Hotel: Castle Westerholt is a lovely and convenient base to use for visiting the region.

Focus on Medieval Architecture – Lower Saxony:

  • The Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) region of Germany is a treasure trove of half-timbered architecture (similar to Tudor style with strips of horizontal, vertical and diagonal wood framing on the houses). One of the most picturesque spots is Hannoversch Münden, located at the juncture of three rivers—Werra, Fulda and Weser—it has over 700 half-timbered buildings centuries old. The town is on a few incredibly scenic routes that your group can tour via bike or car including the Fairy Tale Route and the Framework Road.
  • Hotels: Try Hotel Alter Packhof.

Focus on Modern Art and Architecture – Düsseldorf:

  • Düsseldorf: Although people often come here on business, anyone who loves art and architecture should definitely put Düsseldorf on their travel itinerary. First, it is situated on a lovely stretch of the Rhine River lined with magnificent buildings such as Neuer Zollhof by Frank Gehry and William Alsop's Colorium that have made Media Harbour a hot spot for architecture. Next, Düsseldorf has outstanding museums (Kunst means art): the Kunst Palast features old masters, contemporary art and a fantastic glass collection. K20 displays 20th century masterpieces and K21, cutting-edge contemporary art of the 21st century, while KIT (Kunst im Tunnel) is a unique exhibit space for emerging artists and the Hetjens Museum features ceramics.
  • After all that museum-hopping, you and your group of family and friends might need to recover with a cold brew. The best place to taste test Düsseldorf's famous Altbier is in Altstadt, the charming old section of town with more than 260 bars and restaurants.
  • If you like, do some designer shopping along the tree-lined boulevard Königsallee and have a tasty meal in one of the all-glass restaurants along the riverside such as the Cafe Curtiz or the Lido with a view of Media Harbour.
  • But don't leave the area without a visit to the splendid Insel Hoimbroich, art pavilions in a nature preserve and the adjacent Langen Foundation, a stunning museum for Japanese art designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando.
  • The Düsseldorf tourism office can arrange any kind of biking, city or cultural tour for your group.
  • Hotels in Düsseldorf: Lindner Hotel Rhein Residence; Sir & Lady Astor Hotel; Carat Hotel.
  • Arrival: All the above regions can be easily reached from Düsseldorf. Delta, LTU and Lufthansa have direct flights from several U.S. gateways, as well as flights to Berlin. In Germany, there's an excellent train network between cities; you can even get your tickets before you leave through RailEurope.

Focus on Culture and History - Berlin:

  • No trip to Germany would be complete without visiting Berlin. Not only is it a major European city, its also become a trendy spot for contemporary art. East and West Berlin now form one huge, fascinating urban scene. But you can get anywhere in a jiffy in the excellent subway system (U-Bahn and S-Bahn). If your group prefers biking, there are several biking tours or you can just rent a bike and pedal around on your own.

Sightseeing highlights include: The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by internationally-renowned architect Peter Eisenman. Sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand, with landmark status, have become a canvas for modern graffiti art. There are museums galore and contemporary art lovers can tour hot, new galleries with Go Art! Berlin.

  • For an authentic cabaret experience, spend an evening at the Bar Jeder Vernunft. For trendy nightlife, the East Berlin neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are the new hip spots, filled with twenty-somethings partying to all hours at the clubs.
  • Classical music fans will also be in seventh-heaven here as there are three opera houses and eight symphony orchestras; the Berlin Philharmonic is considered one of the world's best.
  • Berlin even has two zoos—one in the East and one in the West. In fact, your group should spend some nights in a hotel in East Berlin and some nights in West Berlin to fully experience this marvelous city.
  • Hotels: In East Berlin - Juncker's Hotel, a small, friendly place with great breakfasts; in West Berlin - Steigenberger Hotel, a pleasant spot in the heart of the shopping district.

The tourism offices in all these places can help you arrange any kind of group trip—city tours, bike tours, museum visits. Almost everyone in Germany speaks English and those that don't will still make every effort to help you. In Germany, it isn't just the art and culture that shines, even the sparkling-clean restrooms are impressive! So, no excuses. Get your group organized for a great journey to Germany.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

Maui: Pacific Island Adventure

Maui_sunset_00215_2A playground for outdoor trekkers, golfers and beach loungers, the Hawaiian island of Maui attracts families, friends and romantics to her beaches, lush mountains, renowned golf courses and rugged volcanic crater. Discover with your group why Conde Nast Traveler dubbed Maui the best Pacific island for the 16th straight year and ranked Maui number two for all destinations in the world in 2006.

Activities Galore

Watch the sunrise atop 10,000-foot Haleakala Crater and bike down to the Pacific Ocean from its rim. Try fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, surfing or parasailing off the coast of Lahaina or go hiking in the West Maui Mountains. With Maui being home to authentic ranches and rodeos, you can also opt for a horseback riding tour from a ranch along trails that lead to the beach. Kids will enjoy the Maui Ocean Center, largest tropical reef aquarium in the world, where turtles, sharks and other marine creatures swim, play and eat. Golfers have their pick of world-class golf courses on Maui. And you won't get a true sense of the Aloha State without feasting at a luau or taking in a Polynesian show.

Land Adventures

Trek around Haleakala National Park, one of only a few of national parks in Hawaii. Near Haleakala tumble the Wailua Falls where hikers can stop and picnic near the oasis. Drive the road to Hana, a stunning road trip with winding paths carving around steep cliffs. Bring your camera and sense of adventure. The road to Hana cuts through lush mountains with unparalleled ocean vistas, but the curvy road is infamous for turning some passengers (and drivers) into white-knucklers. Maui is also home to authentic rodeos, ranches and cowboys, so saddle up at a ranch for a horseback riding tour through hills or along a beach. Maui Ocean Center, largest reef aquarium in the world, is a perfect way to entertain the water-logged kids. Visit Lahaina's art galleries, shops, boutiques and craft displays after eating at Lahaina's many restaurants.


Maui is consistently ranked one of the best golf destinations in the world, plus host to professional tournaments. Kapalua and Wailea golf courses draw more skilled golfers, but all levels can enjoy the links at over 15 courses around the Valley Island. Nearby neighboring island of Lanai (easily accessible by boat) also offers two championship golf courses in private, tranquil luxury. Want more relaxing golf? Try golfing on jungle-dense Molokai, with two golf courses, one by the sea and another in the deep woods. No tee times or golf pros. Just ample time to perfect your swing.

Water Sports

Snorkeling. Surfing. Parasailing. Fishing. Whale watching. Scuba diving. Maui offers numerous ways to enjoy the Pacific. Take a surfing lesson or just hit the waves from Lahaina. Try windsurfing near Kahului. Numerous tours offer whale-watching and snorkeling adventures, often to nearby crescent-shaped Molokini island where you can snorkel around the reefs, then head to another area to snorkel with sea turtles and peer at colorful coral. Many tours also boat past schools of bottlenose dolphins and spinner dolphins to find them leaping and twisting as if playfully putting on a show.


Maui boasts an array of beaches for every taste. Kaanapali Beach is a long white stretch of sand for beachcombers, snorkelers and swimmers. Other popular beaches include Big Beach in Makena, Black Rock near Kaanapali for renowned coral snorkeling, Black Sand Beach, Changs Beach, Hana Bay, Hamoa Beach, HA Baldwin Beach Park and many more rocky and sandy shores.

Best of the Web for Maui, Hawaii

State Tourism Sites

If you're putting together vacation plans with friends or family, there are great resources online for researching activities, attractions, destinations in the U.S. Many state tourism sites offer travel ideas for where to go and how to entertain your group; quality sites have useful information, beautiful photos, clean designs, give an accurate glimpse of what to expect from visiting the area, and are easy to navigate.

Type the state plus the word tourism in any search engine to find the official state tourism sites. Here are some of my favorite U.S. state tourism sites for trip planning and idea gathering:

Aside from TripHub blogging, I also write features for this site. Have a look at Washington's great outdoors, national parks, farmers markets, and one-of-a-kind Washington. If you like what you read, the writer graciously thanks you. ;-)

This is an easily usable site with useful travel ideas and descriptions of what makes Oregon unique and enticing as a place to gather the troops: wineries, culinary travel, outdoor activities, mountain hiking, urban experiences, etc.

Clean design, lots of information, easy navigation.

Clean design, good amount of information, relatively easy to navigate.

Making the Most of Volunteer Vacations

By guest blogger Leah Mayor, PhD

Volunteering abroad can be one of the most rewarding travel experiences. Choosing a pre-organized group trip means valuable knowledge, resources, and information will be available to help you integrate and immerse yourself in a new destination.

After living and volunteering abroad for more than three years in different countries as well as conducting years of research on the subject, here are a few tips to help you make of the most of your experience traveling abroad both as an individual and group traveler. 

Think about long-term impact.
Even if you are only volunteering for a few weeks, aligning yourself with an organization means that you are a part of an on-going relationship with a community.  Choose an organization that reflects the kind of relationship that you want to share with that community abroad and hopefully you will find ways to be a part of it even after returning home.

Know why you are going and align your motivations with your actions.
Not long ago, I spent 6 months helping volunteers acclimate to their new surroundings in Mongolia.  I worked with a woman who espoused that her main motivation was to immerse herself in another culture and learn from intercultural interactions.  Unfortunately, she spent most of her time in her tent avoiding the heat, the flies, and the very kinds of interactions that led her there. Clearly, her actions were not in-line with her goals. When volunteering abroad, you can expect to have to put more energy into situations simply because they will feel "new." Defining clearly your goals and intent will help you to reach out to more situations and opportunities so that you can achieve your goals and will lead to a more satisfying and transformative trip. 

Consider your skills and the destination.
Choosing a volunteer destination is not just about where you want to go on vacation. While many of us dream of riding through Mongolia on horseback or circumambulating Mt. Kailash this is not what the volunteer vacation is about. If you really want to travel to make a difference then your skills can help you determine where we go.  Consider the kind of impact you can make abroad.  When you are researching groups to volunteer with tell the organization about your skills and what you have to offer and see if they have any suggestions. Making an impact will help you to have the trip of a lifetime!

Do your research.
Nothing is more important before departure than knowing what you are getting into. Talk to people who have done the trip before, learn what kind of support you will have in your volunteer experience. Learn what you can about the kinds of people who choose the trip. Often Web sites and promotional materials show the best face of an organization. Talking to people will help you to assure that this is indicative of the actual experience there. There are some organizations that don't follow through in providing the kind of relationship with tourists or the community that they say they do.  Figuring this out is part of your job in ensuring an amazing volunteer experience.

Look inward and outward.
I have spent years working with international organizations and individual travelers to understand their motivations and experiences. While most of us emphasize the cultural understanding gained through travel, the truth is that our deepest insights are personal. Travel is a marvelous opportunity to come to a clearer sense of our own cultural lenses and to cut through limiting aspects of our own culture. When seen this way, time abroad can open an opportunity to live more authentically and free from cultural expectations. But it is important to not simplify the cultural codes of others. It is one thing to believe that "Life for Mongolians is simple." It is another to understand the meaning of this more closely resembles "Coming to Mongolia has simplified my life in ways that I hope to retain when I return home."

Bon voyage!

Leah Mayor holds a PhD in Adult Education from Cornell University and continues to conduct research and write about travel.