2011: Where Am I Going?

by Gray Cargill on March 18, 2011

Airplane

For the past 3 months, my friends and family, coworkers, people I know on Facebook and Twitter and total strangers on the street have been asking me “Where are you traveling this year, Gray?” and “What’s your next trip?” I’ve been playing it coy, building suspense, saying “it’s a secret.” Truth is, until last week, I had no idea where I was going.

As I wrote earlier this year, after the revolution in Egypt, I was experiencing some regret about not focusing on my travel priorities. In the past decade, I’ve traveled to destinations that were lower on my priority list because they were often easier and cheaper to get to.  This year, I decided to refocus on the places I most want to visit before I die. At the same time, I had some limitations because of my job, where we are understaffed and quite busy, and I have to coordinate vacation time so we’re not left shorthanded at a critical time. Also I’m not made of money, so there are budget considerations. What have I decided on?

Madrid

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Spring in Spain

First up is a trip to Spain in late May/early June. I wanted to go back to Europe again this year, but after experiencing how bone-chillingly cold it can be in the late fall, wanted to do it during a warmer time of year. I also wanted to avoid peak tourist season during the summer. So it had to be spring.

My first choice for this trip was Italy (my #1 destination following Egypt). But within a week of asking for the time off, airfares had climbed to ridiculously high levels, and it would have cost me between $1500-1800 to fly to Italy from Burlington. As I sought itinerary advice from Italy experts Jessica Spiegel and Robin Locker Lacey, even Robin advised me to wait; the price was too high.

Unfortunately, the prices were high everywhere else on my Europe list, too.  I checked airfare every single day to multiple cities, promising myself that as soon as one of them dropped below $800, I’d jump on it–no matter where it was. Last Friday, it happened. Round trip flights between Burlington and Madrid, Spain fell below $800.

The cynic in me was immediately suspicious. What’s wrong with Madrid? I thought. Surely there had to be a reason flights there were so much lower. Indeed, I quickly learned that airline workers in Spain had voted to strike for a number of days between April and September of this year. They kindly posted their strike dates online, though, and none of them coincided with my trip. So I booked it. (Now it appears there may not be a strike after all.) As a happy coincidence, Spain was #2 on my Europe hit list after Italy, so I’m very pleased to be going there.  Madrid (and Toledo and possibly Barcelona), here I come!

Unfortunately, because of the Europe trip, I had to cancel my plans to attend TBEX (the travel bloggers’ conference) this year in Vancouver. I just couldn’t manage two trips back-to-back like that. I will miss seeing all my travel blogger friends (and meeting new ones). I’ll probably be reading #TBEX tweets on Twitter obsessively and crying in my beer every night during the conference with regret that I didn’t go. But I’m going to try like hell to meet up with travel bloggers everywhere I go this year to make up for it. Anyone want to come visit me in Vermont?

Mirage Pool

Summer and Early Fall

After this, I plan to enjoy my favorite season in Vermont, summer, though I may take some weekend getaways during that time.  In September, I’m headed back to Las Vegas. Now that I have a Las Vegas website, I can’t even consider skipping a year of going there. Vegas changes very quickly, and I need to stay on top of those changes. And to be honest, though I had fun in Vegas at Christmas, I prefer to go during pool season. To mix things up a bit, I’m hoping to split my week between Vegas and San Diego, another US city that’s high on my list.

Beach at Disney's Boardwalk

Late Fall

In November, I’m headed to Disney World’s Food & Wine Festival. I blame this trip on my friend AJ at the Disney Food Blog, whose posts about the Festival last year had me salivating every single day. I plan to stay at least four nights at either the Swan or Dolphin hotel on Disney’s Boardwalk because as it so happens, last fall I won four nights at a Westin hotel in North America or the Caribbean in the Travel and Be Well with Westin Sweepstakes, which promoted the idea that Americans need to take more of their vacation time every year (a philosophy I wholeheartedly embrace in theory, though it’s sometimes hard to put into practice).

Right now, the plan is to take one day to visit Universal’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park and spend the rest of the time eating and drinking my way around Epcot, sampling treats from different cultures around the world. I know, it’s not as cool as eating your way around the real world, but until I’m prepared to quit my job, eating my way around the real world is going to have to wait. I figure this is the next best thing. That said, I’d skip it if something more intriguing (in either North America or the Caribbean) came along between now and then. I’m fickle that way.

Sunset at Waikiki

Sunset at Waikiki

Holidays

Finally, if I get the week off between Christmas and New Year’s as holiday time as I have for the past few years, I will probably take the opportunity to go to Honolulu.  I know that’s a horribly expensive time to go, but it’s also a great time to get out of Vermont and go somewhere tropical and warm. Then again, I might just go to Egypt after all.

So there you have it, my 2011 travel plans in a nutshell. Of course, as I mentioned recently, the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. We’ll see at the end of the year if everything–or anything–worked out the way I intended. Do you have suggestions of things I shouldn’t miss during any of these trips? I’m open to them. Please share in the comments below.

Photo credit: Puerta del Sol by Tomas Fano and Sunset at Waikiki by hitachiota.

JoAnn June 5, 2011 at 7:58 pm

The luau was great. I sat with some really nice people so it wasn’t like I was alone.

Gray June 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Waikiki Resort eh? I’ll have to take a look at that. I probably won’t start planning that trip until I get back from Vegas, but still…good to know. Although to save money, I may just get a vacation rental. How was the luau as a solo?

JoAnn June 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Sounds like you have a great year planned. I will also be at the Food and Wine Festival in November. I can’t wait. I went on a solo trip to Honolulu a couple of years ago for my 40th birthday. I stayed at the Waikiki Resort which was a perfect spot. It was a couple of blocks from the beach. I walked to the zoo and aquarium. I took a couple of tours and went to a luau.

Joya March 29, 2011 at 1:57 am

Your travel plans sound great! I hope you have a great year!

Gray March 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

Thank you, Joya! I hope your travels this year are exciting too.

Sabina March 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Gray, I’m really surprised to hear that you, of all people, found France to be bone chilling in the fall. After a lifetime of Vermont winters?! I trust your opinion, though. The first time I went to Europe was in October 1991 when I was living in the desert of New Mexico. Europe was cold, but I don’t remember it being bone chilling. I think it might in part be our expectations. I knew it would be cold and that was okay with me because I was sick of the hot, hot desert, whereas maybe you were hoping it would be warmer because you wanted to be out in the fresh air enjoying yourself. But that’s kind of beside the point of this post. I hope you have a great time in Spain!! I’ve never been but kind of want to go. And I hope you have a blast in LV ad Disney World too 🙂

Gray March 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Believe me, no one was more shocked than I was! The temperatures in both Vermont and Paris were very similar in November. The difference was the dampness; it was raining or drizzling there every day, which seemed to make it feel colder. I’m sure if I spent all day outside in Vermont when it was raining, it would have been just as bone-chilling. Bad timing on my part.

Robin | My Melange March 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I think you were very smart to wait on Italy and I think Spain will be fabulous! Can’t wait to read about your travels there. Make sure you write down all the best tapas places for me Gray! 🙂

Gray March 22, 2011 at 12:34 am

You bet I will, Robin. 🙂 I really do appreciate your advice, too. I think had I spent that much money on airfare to Italy, I’d have been very unhappy, and if I had not gone to Europe at all I’d have been unhappy, so I think things worked out for the best.

Alabamabregan March 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

San Diego is a frequent destination. I like the public transportation system, the 500 Hotel, the coffee kiosk outside the hotel, Fuel in Coronado, Bronx Pizza, The Hob Nob Inn, The Mission restaurant. Those are just a few points of interest aside from those that are most well known. There is also a large homeless population, especially downtown.

Gray March 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Thank you very much for the San Diego recommendations! I’ll add them to my list.

James Clark March 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Yeah for Spain! Nay for missing TBEX 🙁 . I love Madrid so I think you are picking a great city to fly into.

Gray March 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Ah, glad to hear it, James. If you’ve got tips for me for Madrid, I’m all ears.

lilmissdisney March 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm

It sounds you’ll be having lots of fun! Spain is nice! It is nice to walk around Madrid and see the architecture and the Museo del Prado. If you go to Granada visit the Alhambra Palace. The details of some of the tiles are beautiful. I lived in an apartment in Malaga for a couple months one year. If you are able to go south of Madrid to the Costa del Sol you can catch a ferry to Africa and visit Morrocco for a weekend.

You probably already know but you can’t go wrong with San Diego. Have you ever visited the Valley of Fire, which is a beautiful state park right outside (I think about 50 miles out) of Vegas ?

lilmissdisney March 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm

It sounds you’ll be having lots of fun! Spain is nice! It is nice to walk around Madrid and see the architecture and the Museo del Prado. If you go to Granada visit the Alhambra Palace. The details of some of the tiles are beautiful. I lived in an apartment in Malaga for a couple months one year. If you are able to go south of Madrid to the Costa del Sol you can catch a ferry to Africa and visit Morrocco for a weekend.

You probably already know but you can’t go wrong with San Diego. Have you ever visited the Valley of Fire, which is a state park right outside (I think about 50 miles out) of Vegas ?

Gray March 19, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I have not yet been to the Valley of Fire, though I keep hearing it’s quite beautiful. I really should go.

Wandering Trader March 19, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Nice travel plan! And don’t worry about TBEX so long as you have fun at Spain. Imagine, it’s at #2 of your must-sees in Europe and you got to book a very cheap flight 😀 That trip is made out for you! 🙂 So enjoy! Just keep in touch with your friends online while you’re at Spain and they’re at TBEX 🙂

Gray March 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thanks, Wandering Trader. It’s definitely the right choice for me, I just regret that I can’t do it all!

Alouise March 19, 2011 at 3:05 am

Spain sounds like a lovely place to visit in the spring, I’m sure you’ll have a great time. It’s too bad you’ll miss TBEX, but there’s always next year.

Gray March 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Yeah, and I did go to TBEX last year. You’re going this year, though, aren’t you? Would’ve liked to have met you in person, Alouise.

Alouise March 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Yes I’m going this year. I’m sure our travel paths will cross eventually.

Ro March 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I’ve been to Food & Wine Fest every year for the past few years, and it’s wonderful. I hope you really enjoy it. I’m sure AJ has given or will give you some great tips, but please feel free to ask me, too!

Gray March 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Ro, if you have F&W tips, lay ’em on me. How can I eat as much as possible in 1 week without gaining a gazillion pounds, for instance? 🙂

Andrea and John March 18, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Madrid is one of my absolute favourite cities in Europe – you’re going to have an amazing time there. We couldn’t swing TBEX either with our travel schedule – hopefully one will come near us in the coming years because I’d love to check it out. Sounds like an incredible year – can’t wait to read all about it =)

Gray March 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm

TBEX is definitely worth getting to sometime if you can fit it into your travels. It’s so much fun meeting other bloggers in person!

CamelsAndChocolate March 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

You’ll LOVE WWoHP. I can’t WAIT to go back! Maybe I’ll consider the wine and food festival just for a chance to return to Hogwarts…

I’m also going to Honolulu this year! Next month actually.

Gray March 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Did you try the butterbeer at WWoHP? I’m very curious about that. From what I’ve heard, the F&W Festival is a draw all on its own. I can’t wait to hear how your trip to Honolulu goes. I’ll look for tips. 🙂

CamelsAndChocolate March 18, 2011 at 9:46 pm

YES. Three Butterbeers in one day! It was FANTASTIC. Sort of like cream soda with this amazing froth on top. Probably 1,000 calories a pop, no doubt! I also tried the pumpkin juice, as I am a fan of all things pumpkin, but it was too syrupy sweet for my liking. I swear I would drive back to Orlando just for another Butterbeer, though!

Gray March 18, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I used to love cream sodas. Definitely giving that a try!

Barbara March 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Lucky you to be going to Madrid…on my list, too. San Diego is a wonderful city to visit and has the best muffins and Zoo anywhere.

Gray March 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Thank you, Barbara, I’m pleased about both Madrid and San Diego. What’s on your travel list this year?

Stephanie March 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Wonderful! I think you will love Spain. I spent a week in Madrid and it was really great.

I am still not sure if I’m going to make it to TBEX either, i may be crying with you!

Gray March 18, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I’ll take any tips you have on Madrid, Steph.
Maybe we’ll have to start our own online “not at TBEX” support group!

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