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."

Group Tours: What to Ask Before You Sign Up

The Seattle Times republished an article on what to ask before signing up for a group tour. It goes well with our previous coverage of group tour preparation such as 10 Tips: How to Choose the Right Group Tour and Lucky 7 Tips from a Volunteer Vacation Leader.

In planning a multi-day group tour, volunteer vacation, or multi-week trip abroad, all of these questions are useful for determining which group tour is right for you.

  1. What is the max. number of people on the tour?
  2. What kind of bus is used?
  3. Does the tour company sublet its tours or use its own employees?
  4. Is the tour guide a native English speaker?
  5. Is the tour offered in English?
  6. Will you get the same tour leader in each location or local leaders per town?
  7. Are all entrance fees included?
  8. Are tips included also?
  9. Are hotel transfers part of the package?
  10. Can the tour guide change the itinerary when weather changes?

Food Lover Cities: Top 10

TripAdvisor announced their list of top 10 places for food lovers. This is a simple list of top cities around the world that offer fabulous food, but it's always interesting to think of the city and what niblets it's famous for, then drool while planning a trip to sample dishes. Mmmm....

Without further ado, TripAdvisor's top 10 places to travel for food lovers:

  1. Paris
  2. New York City
  3. Florence
  4. Barcelona
  5. Hong Kong
  6. San Francisco
  7. London
  8. Tokyo
  9. Rome
  10. New Orleans

Shocking? Ho hum? These cities don't surprise me. They're all major tourist cities and urban centers that feed millions of visitors per year and loads of residents. It's still fun to dream up a vacation eating your way through the city.

Top 10 Thanksgiving Dinner Topics

Turkey day is almost here. Families will gather across America to feast on meat, stuffing, mashed carbs, cranberries, and some form of green veggie dish. Aside from the obvious Congressional overturn, dinner table conversations will inevitably turn toward personal life, especially since relatives and/or close friends are gathered in one place.

Use the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to start planning family reunions or trips with friends. At minimum, share upcoming travel plans. You just might discover useful tips on what to do/see in an area or thoughtful advice on how to solve a trip planning issue from your wise resources at the table. Ten table topics:

  1. Family reunion plans: Start the discussions among your immediate family and any relatives at the table on ideas for the next reunion.
  2. Brainstorm ideas for reunion locations, (someone's house? a destination that everyone can travel to?) themes, (someone's birthday? an important anniversary?) and timing. These are three critical early planning steps for reunions. Why not discuss while you pass dishes during Thanksgiving, or are all on a walk the day after Thanksgiving, or gathered around the fireplace visiting?
  3. Upcoming weddings: Gather ideas from decorations to music to locations if you're the bride or groom; and if you're going to attend a wedding soon, ask for ideas on wedding gifts.
  4. Spring break trips for college students, teachers at the table, or parents who use that opportunity for a family vacation: Gather ideas, brag about trips already set, or ask to borrow items needed such as snorkel gear, binoculars, etc.
  5. Winter or ski travel plans for the upcoming season: Thanksgiving is traditionally more than turkey, it's the start of ski season at slopes across the Northern Hemisphere. Plan a ski trip with family and/or friends. The deals are as fresh as the snow, but will be harder to get later in the season. After dinner, take a trip to the computer and research ski resorts and accommodations that fit people's budgets.
  6. Road trips: The beauty of a road trip is the wandering nature of the journey. Because you can detour to so many tiny towns and off-the-beaten path areas, you may want to gather ideas from the brain power at the dinner table so you don't miss something.
  7. Any travel abroad is usually planned several months to a year in advance, and sharing ideas or learnings from research about the area is great table conversation. You may even be surprised at who else around the table knows about a certain country. Some of the best conversations can be jump-started by someone saying they are traveling to a foreign country within the next year.
  8. Trips with friends: Share upcoming plans for trips with friends (road trips, girls getaways, bachelor parties) and find out who might know about the destination and surrounding attractions. Use your family and friends as resources.
  9. Delegation: with so many loved ones around during this holiday, this is a perfect time to delegate assignments for planning reunions or weddings to people who can help. Shuttling people to and from the airport, decorations, meals, activities, child care, rain plan alternatives, etc.
  10. Ask for planning tips from family, relatives, and close friends at the table. Whatever upcoming vacation(s) you're planning, asking for help can yield sage advice. You might be surprised at what you learn.


Top 10 U.S. Ski Destinations

Orbitz released its second Annual Orbitz Ski Insiders Index, where stats from their site and trends in the ski industry are analyzed and the result is a top 10 list of the most popular U.S. ski destinations for the year. It's the usual suspects, although I was surprised to see Snowmass.

For 2006-2007 skier visits, Orbitz predicts these will rank top 10:

  1. Breckenridge, CO
  2. Mammoth Lakes, CA
  3. Lake Tahoe, CA
  4. Park City, UT
  5. Steamboat Springs, CO
  6. Winter Park, CO
  7. Jackson Hole, WY
  8. Aspen, CO
  9. Vail, CO
  10. Snowmass, CO


10 Best Holiday Shopping Spree Trips

For the ultimate girls getaway with a mission, I say take your gal pals to a town full of entertainment and plenty of good shopping to give a little something unique for Christmas this year. Find the perfect gift for your sister, mom, friend, cousin, boyfriend, husband, and so forth. Getting away before the holidays (when sales are on, travel deals abound, winter temperatures are at bay) can be worth the trip.

1. New York City

  • For him: The basic I Love New York t-shirt or luxury items such as shoes that turn into roller skates or a watch that doubles as a remote control (for the James Bond in your man).
  • For her: A handbag from a discount shop or designer shirt from quaint boutiques. Heck, if you can swing it, drop the credit card at a 5th Avenue store.

2. Los Angeles

  • For him: Universal Studios paraphernalia for the kid in him or hat that makes him feel like the fly boy he wants to be. If he likes fine arts, grab him something from a museum or gallery. Or get your picture taken by his favorite Hollywood star handprint and frame it.
  • For her: Anything from a store on the fancy, famous Rodeo Drive such as designer jeans or sunglasses the size of her head would be good. You'll feel like a star shopping and she'll feel like a million bucks receiving.

3. San Francisco

  • For him: Go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your man is an earthy dude, find a trippy tie dye Grateful Dead t-shirt, a drum, or incense. Wine from Napa Valley (to grab on a leisurely day trip) is always a good gift as well.
  • For her: Again, go glam with original art from Sausalito, or buy Ghirardelli chocolates. If your female friend is earthy, find Haight-Ashbury District candles, incense, a woven purse, patchouli oil, the works. There are also outlet stores downtown for more "typical" shops. Wine works wonders for women as well.

4. London

  • For him: Find the rare book or gift he loves at flea markets in areas such as Notting Hill. Bring back some of the best tea from Fortnum & Mason (arguably the world's most expensive and best grocery store for specialty foods).
  • For her: What's not for her in London? Flea markets with jewelry, books, household items, scarves, etc. And shopping boutiques and high fashion stores. Then there's always Fortnum & Mason for cookies, pates, teas (expensive but worth it!).

5. Chicago

  • For him: Cubs, White Sox or Bears paraphernalia (jersey, balls, bat, mug, etc.) if he's a sporto; if he prefers fine arts, the Chicago Art Museum is world-renowned and the gift shop has a bevy of nice gifts (I can attest).
  • For her: Home to the Magnificent Mile, Chicago, does indeed have magnificent shopping such as numerous department stores (Lord and Taylor, for instance) and shops for everything from leather gloves to perfume to cashmere wraps.

6. Washington, DC

  • For him: Smithsonian books or paraphernalia from the museums, books for the history buff, or a framed photo from your trip to the U.S. capital. Sunset from the Lincoln Memorial looking toward the U.S. Capitol includes the reflecting pool and Washington Monument - a classic shot with your signature all over it.
  • For her: Antiques and collectibles at the weekend Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, non-fiction books for the history buffs, arts and crafts at either the flea market or any of the numerous art galleries or museums.

7. Whistler, BC

  • For him: Any ski gear possible (guys dig this), including poly shirts for insulation. Find stores with sales if need be as there are plenty of shops at this big ski resort with Blackcomb village and Whistler village.
  • For her: Ski-themed t-shirts, ski gear or just about anything goes. Whistler has a slew of different shops such as soap shops, coffee houses, and more.

8. Las Vegas

  • For him: Win big and bring him back some dough.
  • For her: Outlet malls galore are here to offer discounts on major clothing, shoe, home and gear labels. Two major outlets: Premium Outlets and Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas.

9. San Diego

  • For him: Get him a couple 22-ounce bottles of micro-beer from local Coronado Brewing Company, and top the gift off with a logo'd pint and sweatshirt.
  • For her: A cuddly stuffed animal from the San Diego Zoo or arts and crafts from boutiques around town. If a Tijuana day trip is on your agenda, there are plenty of arts and crafts to buy in Mexico from wool blankets to woven baskets to sculptures.

10. Denver

  • For him: A classic belt buckle (if he's into that sort of thing) or leather belt for the hidden cowboy within.
  • For her: A nice leather belt is a wonderful gift for women also, but Denver also boasts several boutiques in addition to major shopping stores. And there's always the Southwest art scene if you want to splurge and purchase some hand-crafted jewelry or art.


10 Haunted Hotels released its hit list for top 10 haunted hotels. For groups on last-minute trips who are looking for a little bit of freakiness in their escape, try one of these for an extended weekend.

  1. Farnsworth House Inn, Gettysburg, Pa.
  2. St. James Hotel, Cimarron, N.M.
  3. Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast, Fall River, Mass.
  4. The Menger Hotel, San Antonio, Texas
  5. Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colo.
  6. Lemp Mansion Restaurant & Inn, St. Louis, Mo.
  7. Rosario Resort and Spa, Orcas Island, Wash.
  8. Buxton Inn, Granville, Ohio
  9. Wyndham Bourbon Orleans Hotel
  10. Crescent Hotel & Spa, Eureka Springs, Ark.


Musical Trips

Gadling's Neil Woodburn blogged about his 24-hour experience in Las Vegas to see The Pogues which got me thinking. Not only was I jealous of his having gone to see one of Ireland's best, modern, and eclectic bands (in my humble opinion), but there are so many other bands worthy of traveling (road trips included) to a destination to see them with a good group of friends.

This is my quick hit list:

  1. Grateful Dead (oh wait, not an option anymore)
  2. Bob Dylan
  3. Pearl Jam
  4. Rusted Root
  5. Sheryl Crow
  6. Simon & Garfunkel revival concert
  7. The Shins
  8. Belle & Sebastian
  9. Pink Martini
  10. Kelly Joe Phelps

What bands or musicians would inspire you to travel with friends for a concert?

Wine-Tasting Vacations

TripAdvisor issued a list of its favorite "vineyard vacations" - which are, of course, ideal for groups such as extended families (sans kids), girls getaways, bachelor parties, birthday parties, wedding events, or just getaways with friends.

This top 10 list includes all the usual suspects, and a few notable newbies. So raise a glass of chardonney or merlot and bring back new bottles of wine to dazzle your friends (or yourself) when you return from vacation. 

  1. Napa Valley, Calif.
  2. Tuscany, Italy
  3. Bordeaux, France
  4. Santiago, Chile
  5. Sonoma, Calif.
  6. Burgundy, France
  7. La Rioja, Spain
  8. Hunter Valley, Australia
  9. Champagne-Ardenne, France
  10. Constantia, South Africa


Autumn Trips with Smallish Crowds issued a list of "fall's finest escapes" and I wanted to republish the list, as it gives great ideas of where to watch the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and kick up the fallen leaves before they become mulch. The crowds happen to thin in these destinations during the fall, so this is an ideal time to go (in my opinion).

1. Munich, Germany

2. Napa Valley, Calif.

3. Montreal, Quebec

4. Asheville, N.C.

5. Woodstock, Vt.

6. Vancouver, Canada

7. Lake Placid, N.Y.

8. Camden, Maine

9. Mystic, Conn.

10. Aberdeen, Scotland