5 Warm-Weather Escapes and Winter Travel Tips

After a rather long absence from any kind of travel writing — both from here and regular publications — DNAinfo published two articles of mine this week related to getting out of town.

St John - Beach

Paradise in St. John. Photo credit: St. John/US Virgin Islands – Facebook

5 Warm-Weather Getaways from New York City

I hate winter. With a passion. I get cold if the temperature drops below 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and if I never see snow again it will be too soon. Luckily, it’s easy — and affordable — to escape New York’s winter chill. Whether you picture yourself swinging in a hammock on a beach, savoring food and fun in a southern city, or exploring historic ruins, these five destinations will get you started on planning that winter escape.

Tips and Deals for Winter Travel Out of New York City

Whether hitting the slopes or heading to the beach, here are 15 tips for getting out of town this season. Be sure to check out the article’s accompanying slideshow for winter deals and discounts!

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Thanks, Dad, for Nurturing My Travel Habit

A portion of my love for travel is innate. But it wouldn’t have been fully realized without my father. Why? Because he insisted on taking annual family vacations.

If there’s one part of my childhood that I won’t ever complain about, that is it. Today, it’s common for many families to take at least one extended trip, if not more, each year, but that was not the case in the 1960s and 70s.

Not quite 2, and already on my first vacation, to the Deer Forest petting zoo in Coloma, Michigan.

Around 1 year old, and already on my first vacation, to the Deer Forest petting zoo in Coloma, Michigan.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and we didn’t fly to exotic overseas locales, or head to the beaches of Florida, or even own a cabin on a remote lake in a border state we could call home for a few weeks each summer. But my dad made sure that no matter what it cost, we would get away from our rural northern-Illinois abode for a week, sometimes two, and go explore … someplace else.

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Dreaming of D’Yndias

During down periods between trips—especially when those stretches are going to be long—I use my coffee-mug collection as a means to reminisce about past travels. This morning my hand reached out for the D’Yndias mug, procured during a trip to Colombia in June 2006.

Cartagena Colombia - Coffee Mug

Colombia was just beginning to garner a bit of buzz in the U.S. travel market, and the first few of what are now many boutique properties had recently opened in Cartagena, a gorgeous colonial city on the Caribbean coast.

My favorite excursion, though, was to the volcano mud bath, El Totumo. I re-read the article. Sip from my mug. And remember the gray clay and warm sun on my body like it was yesterday.

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Passports With Purpose – Donate Today!

It’s hard to believe, but the annual travel bloggers holiday fundraiser, Passports With Purpose, is nearly over! We have through tomorrow, December 11, to bid on great travel prizes and gear to help raise $100,000, all for a good cause–building five wells in Haiti through Water.org.

If you’re not familiar with Passports With Purpose, check out my post from last year; in 2011 the group raised $90,000 to build two libraries in Zambia through Room to Read. It’s an excellent event run by super cool, kind, caring travelers. Give today if you can; even $10 helps make a difference!

Here are a few of the prizes at stake this year:

  • 2-night stay at the historic Hotel Monteleone (with a lovely rooftop pool and revolving bar) in New Orleans
  • 3-night stay and dinner for two at any Kimpton Hotel
  • 5-night stay at the luxurious Banyan Tree Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya
  • 7-night stay at the Inspirato Luxury Penthouse in Mexico

and much, much more! Donate today!


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Early Morning, Otres Beach, Cambodia

We arrived in Sihanoukville yesterday just in time for sunset and are staying at the adorable Mushroom Point (the bungalows are built in the shapes of mushrooms), located toward the end of Otres Beach—peaceful, beautiful, relaxing. Here’s a video shot this morning, just after sunrise. A few minutes of zen to start the day.

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Morning on the Sangkae River: Battambang, Cambodia

Morning haze, Sangkae River. Battambang, Cambodia

Traveled from Battambang to Siem Reap via boat yesterday. Beautiful journey. It costs $20, departs at 7 a.m., and this time of year takes about 7 to 8 hours; seems shorter given how enrapturing the scenery is. Will post a slideshow after I’ve had a chance to review and edit the shots, but the one above is a favorite so far.

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Phnom Penh in Photos

This gallery contains 14 photos.

We’ve been in Cambodia a week already and have barely had time to take notes or journal our experiences, let alone write anything worthwhile. So here’s a stab at a quickie slideshow showing some highlights from our first few days … Continue reading

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And We’re Back…Again

After a long dry spell, I’ll be posting on Prepare for CrossCheck again.  I know, I know—I’ve made that promise before. But this time I mean it.

My recent absence was thanks to a busy full-time gig at Travora.com for the better part of 2012. The new travel site launched on October 1, and I’m happy to say that much of the content from my former employer TravelMuse was migrated and is available on the website. (In 2010, Travora, when it was still known as Travel Ad Network, purchased TravelMuse.) But there’s lots of new content on the site too, and worth checking out.

While I was ecstatic to have full-time work again, it kept me from traveling. I hadn’t left the country for more than an entire year—the last time that happened was more than 20 years ago.  Never again will I let that much time elapse before crossing country borders.

To make up for it, I’ve recently embarked on an extended trip to Southeast Asia. Those who know me know that this is my favorite place in the world. I spent close to a year traveling through the region 13 years ago and longed to return for another extended stay.

Plans with my friend Sandra from Chicago for a three-week vacation in Cambodia, where I am now, had been on our calendars for close to a year. With winter approaching and me newly unemployed, I decided to make now the time for that to happen. I don’t know how long I’ll be on the road, but I planned for up to six months.

It was time to downsize. Here’s what I anticipate I might need for six months on the road.

Here’s a shot of what I think I’ll need for that time—I managed to fit it into the backpack and daypack off to the left, and it’s about twice as much as I brought last time. I’m sure I’ll end up giving away or pitching about a third by the time Sandra returns home in early December. If not, at least my arms will once again get back into shape carrying this load around.

OK, am off to rediscover Phnom Penh, a place I last visited in April 2000. I hope you’ll enjoy sharing this journey with me. (I’ll also be playing with different theme styles and types of coverage, so bear with me as this site becomes a work-in-progress.)

Happy travels!

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Football or Frisbee Tossing on L.A. County Beaches Could Cost You $1,000

Bathing beauties along Los Angeles County beaches no longer have to worry about screaming “My nose!” and living through their own Marsha Brady football incident. Or, if they do, at least the person behind the accident might have to pay for it.

Frisbee action can now cost up to $1,000 if done on a Los Angeles County beach. (Photo: Daniel Pink, via Flickr CC.2.0)

On Feb. 7, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed an amended ordinance that expands several beach rules, including a section on ball-playing restrictions. Specifically, “it is unlawful for any person to cast, toss, throw, kick, or roll any ball, tube, or any light object other than a beach ball or beach volleyball upon or over any beach” from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

That’s right—tossing a football or Frisbee on any L.A. County beach is now illegal, and getting caught doing so is punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.

The purpose behind this ruling is to control activities that could disrupt or injure the beach-going public.

OK, I get it. It’s L.A. Nose jobs need protection.

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10 Places [Where I’d Like] to Travel in 2012

It’s that time of year again where media outlets entice us with lists. Lots of ‘em. Aside from being reminded of the famous folks who are no longer with us and which top films of the year we’ve missed, favorites are the ones that bundle the “hot” travel destinations for the year ahead—hot, of course, being a relative term, depending on the audience for each publishing prognosticator.

I sometimes get depressed whenever a place that I fell in love with years ago, when it would barely register on travelers’ (and travel-editors’) minds, is now “in”—meaning that it likely has become too touristy and has lost its off-the-beaten-path charm. But then I slap myself and remember that I live in one of the most-visited places on the planet (New York City) and regularly visit another place travelers often complain is too touristy (Thailand), yet continue to find new ways to enjoy both of these “over-discovered” destinations.

So, without further ado, following is my list of 10 places that I’m either definitely visiting or hoping to get to in 2012, depending upon timing and ever-challenging budgetary restrictions.  (To see a round-up of the various official “where to go in 2012” travel lists, check out my Review of Lists post on the Travel Industry News Blog at Uptake.com.)

1. Culebra, Puerto Rico

Buzz about this laid-back island off the coast of Puerto Rico in the Spanish Virgin Islands has been building for the past couple years, but it still seems chill and cheap enough to plan a spontaneous getaway there for this winter. I’m in desperate need of a week on an island in the sun, enjoying fresh fish and sleeping in a hammock while reading books whose titles I won’t care to remember within a few days of returning.

Art of the Song adobe house for rent in Taos, N.M.

2. Taos, New Mexico

A friend has an adobe house in Taos that she rents out to travelers and for retreats. It’s high time I gave it a firsthand look. I fell in love with this northern New Mexico town years ago moving said friend from New York City. Even though I’ve visited since, I’m long overdue for a return, especially to experience those brilliant Southwest color-field sunsets, the peaceful Sangre de Cristo Mountains and long drives into the middle of nowhere where you never know when you’re going to run into alternative-lifestyle folks living off-the-grid.

Chicago's Oak Street Beach

3. Chicago, Illinois

Even though I left it for New York, Chicago will always be the city with which I had my first urban love affair: world-class architecture and museums; excellent theater, music and dance scenes; funky shops; and cheap bars and increasingly innovative restaurants. Let’s not forget beaches, right in the middle of the city! Even though it continues to evolve, Chicago also seems to remain the same: Plenty of old favorite neighborhood haunts haven’t changed in decades. I return in late March for a wedding, so no beach plans this time around. And Charlie Trotter announced this week that he’s closing his eponymous restaurant, 25 years after he helped put the Chicago culinary scene on the map. I guess some things can’t stay the same forever.

4.  Kenya

Aside from the obvious reasons for wanting to visit Kenya—safaris, wildlife preserves, Lake Victoria, and its interesting mix of African, Middle Eastern, Indian and European Colonial cultures—a good friend of mine is currently living in Nairobi. It’s always better to visit places when you know a “local.” Plus, it’s a country in transition, with a new constitution taking effect and a presidential election (already pushed back from August 2012 to December). There have been concerns voiced about post-election violence, so better to visit beforehand.

Costa de la Luz south of Cadiz

5.  Cádiz, Spain

My husband and I nearly visited Cádiz during our honeymoon in 2010, but we ended up down the Andalucían Costa de la Luz beachside in Tarifa (which we loved). Cádiz is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, dating back to the ancient Phoenician era, yet 2012 marks its modern-day bicentenary year, so the city has numerous special events planned, including a pumped-up Carnival in March, historical re-enactments and a tall-ships race beginning July 26.

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