Blue skies accented by just the right amount of dreamy puff clouds afforded a beautiful day for sailing and snorkeling on a deep blue ocean not more than a mile from the coast of Oahu's touristy stretch of controlled beaches along Waikiki. The view of the skyline and its foreground ocean made me think of the people who made this place and make this place home. We've visited the Hawaiian Islands several times, first as tourists but later as visitors with good friends and family who are lucky to call Hawaii home. Everyone who visits the islands eventually develops a favorite beach, a favorite island, a favorite activity, yet those I speak with and those for whom I plan travel have never mentioned the people who live there and the local communities built under severe land constraints and are a challenge for natural resource planning. It's a heck of a place to call home.
As a city planner on the mainland, my job was to help the development community assume the vision of a city as part of their vision for new development. Many American cities struggle with growth-many more struggle with a lack of new housing, jobs and opportunity. Both situations can be hard to manage. Hawaii's well known Waikiki and the greater city of Honolulu are no exception to this quandary, as an island that has limited space and precious natural and endangered resources that interface with the built environment built on tourism. The island attracts tourists because...well...it's an island and the most remote island on earth, so who wouldn't want to experience such exotic mystery. Marketing agents across the world in tourism, in our minds, in Costco, are all attuned to the magic of the islands and they all draw a picture that has come to be known as the jpeg for vacation. However, I think there are a few very important things missing from the brochures that beg further consideration for any tourist arriving in the islands to soak in the sandy beaches and the never-ending sun.
Who lives in Hawaii? Hawaii is home to just under 1.5 million people and a plethora of ethnic backgrounds to provide color and "oneness" to the state's most populated islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii. roughly 38 percent of the island is made of people of asian descent while only 10% of the people are known as native Hawaiian. It is many of these natives, though, who are fighting to keep Hawaii's cultural, natural, and sacred religious places whole (the places we see and appreciate only as magical island paradise talking points) and that is a daunting task in an over-touristed location like Hawaii. Visits to Maui's mountainous upcountry with sweeping 360 ocean views or to the leeward side of Oahu through the valley of the eastern edge of the 838m Keahiakahoe Volcano to Kailua provide a much different view of the islands and the people who live and work in paradise. Street corners and pick-up trucks with Hawaiian tribal flags dot the cityscape as many natives fight the enormous telescope project on Mauna Kea (a mountain taller tan Everest when measured from its base beneath the ocean). Check out the latest news on their battle and why it's important as a tourist to understand the context of the locations we visit.
What are you missing when you spend all your time in Waikiki? In my opinion, a lot, but it's not entirely wrong that all the tourists are harbored into one or two locations. The natives, while almost always 100% aloha in spirit and mind, aren't always that keen on having a deluge of tourists spring up in their smaller local communities. Tourism in Hawaii is not as much about finding the small secret nooks and crannies of special local communities the same way we experience it in Europe. It's become more about easy money in a place that's easy to sell. Oahu's famous Waikiki, more realistically described as the southern beach tip of Oahu, is bound by a commercial luxury shopping strip like Vegas without the margarita necklaces, and a stretch of controlled ocean wall pools across the street from the area's biggest hotels. It makes up almost half of the hotel room inventory of all of Hawaii's vacation inventory which stands at about 80,000 (as of 2018) when we include managed timeshares and rentals. This means that the development community will continue to feed the State's tourism industry with more pleas for more hotel rooms, and on small islands with finite resources like land, and well...WATER...we've got to assume the carrying capacity for such endeavors will eventually fail the islands in a disastrous way.
Can Hawaii support all the tourists? Our extended family and friends live in Kailua, and have resided in Kailua since World War II. Having raised her family there, my 102-year old (like a) grandmother still calls Kailua home and so does her daughter. She spent a few decades in Denver, but moved back to Kailua nearly a decade ago. It's a beautiful town appreciated through the sacred corridor of tall and steep volcanic-watershed mountains that we hiked and from which we could view the changing landscape of Kailua and Kaneohe Bay. Major highway reconstruction is underway from a series of roadway failures due to natural resource disasters, limiting roadway capacity and making trip timing a trick if you want to get to the windward side of the island.. These issues might be helpful in actually keeping the throngs of tourists busy in the much more accessible area of Waikiki and away from the quieter residential communities on Eastern Oahu. For every vacationer and local alike, there is still a most critical question of limited resources on the islands. Our hosts tended backyard bountiful mango trees and we feasted on fresh fruit for a week. We showered in a private shower outside, and we were more conscientious of every flush and every time we turned on a faucet. Resources are not infinite on the islands, and for food they can't grow locally it's very expensive to import. Most tourists are simply not aware of their impact as users of the location they are visiting. This goes for any destination set up to cater to the masses, and to the luxury masses this is even more of an issue. There is a lot to be said for learning to vacation off the grid, to explore a new found commune with nature, in order for wealthy vacationing humans to gain a deeper understanding of how little they need to survive. I think tourism needs a reset button, a place to start over and think about why we visit and HOW we visit precious places like Hawaii.
What is the best beach on Oahu? Having spent many of our Hawaii respites on Maui, I thought I knew where the best beaches were, but there is so much to all the islands and the beach inventory that a perfect vacation could simply be staying in a quiet retreat and beach-hopping your days away. Rent a snorkel set for some off-beach fish finding, pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy the crowded coastal viewing highways - they are generally only two-lane roads and a lot of people like to find the sunset or the sunrise depending on which side of the island you are on. Your'e on vacation, so it's OK to go slow. Kokololio Beach Park just north of Hau'ula on the eastern shore of Oahu is a hippie's dreamscape of beachtop forest, grassy camp lands, and then a wide and pristine white sand beach with perfect surf for swimming and turtle finding. It's big enough for everyone, including the locals who make a habit of weekend camp setups with a hint of weed for a hip time at the beach. Also worth mentioning is the extremely nice group of locals who found my daughter's cellphone in the beach bathroom, and through a teen-inspired Insta-background check, were able to locate the phone's owner who was halfway down the Kamahameha Highway to the North Shore. I've always loved the locals in all the destinations we visit.
What's my favorite part of a visit to Hawaii? it's the people who drive the local economy, who live in the local communities, and who enjoy the spots alongside the tourists. I am not a crowd-seeker but I have clients who are and who love the sights and sounds of bustling Waikiki. For me, it only took one night in a half-baked hotel with spotty service and high prices to realize it was not the place for me - back to Kailua I went to be with family in a community that hopes the world will not discover it too quickly-or at all.
Hawaii is still one of my favorite places to visit, and it's definitely more about the people who are fighting to keep it whole for future generations to enjoy and to respect as the most geographically unique destination in the United States.
Since 2016, I've been the primary travel partner for my kids - now ages 20 and 17 - as they seek to find their perfect fit for the next chosen step in their educational journey - college. From coast to coast, from north to south, we've aligned our travel with visits to family and friends. The time in between those stops - traveling by air or on lengthy road trips - contains inarguably some of the most stress and angst-ridden time one spends with their child, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. That time with my kids is simply priceless.
My son, now a junior at his choice College of Wooster in Ohio, semi-enthusiastically journeyed to the Pacific Northwest to see schools in Washington and Oregon, traveled south to see schools in Georgia, and then settled on a school in the far midwest (we'll call it west-northeast as it's hella far from Colorado and makes for an emotionally jarring road trip. During all of our travel there was a healthy mix of quiet disconnected time and disconnected teen. He didn't speak often of what he really wanted from a school, and was more apt to react to what he experienced on campus visits. Let's face it - 16,17, 18 - it's still so young to feel the pressure of the rest of your life. As it turns out, his school choice has worked well for him if not in the world's most fascinating location. He's a contemplative soul and has a contemplative campus to learn about himself and the world near and far. I learned more about his need for space, his need for talk, and his need for support during these trips.
On our last trip back to Ohio this summer so he could spend the summer on campus, we had one hour of angry silence following a normal pattern of mothering questions. If there is anything we've learned from road trips its that too much silence can suck as much as too much talk. My son is the one who finally broke the silence, asked for the conversation to work out the issues, and afterward we both felt better for having spent the time and the stressful moments to understand each other's points of view.
Now it's my daughter's turn to find her next stop. My journeys with her have been similarly focused on schools around the country, and I've had great getaway girls trips with her, too. We've enjoyed trips to Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Diego, Seattle, and Massachusetts with trips coming up to Pennsylvania and Hawaii. What I've learned from traveling with my son I can generally apply to trips with my daughter, realizing I've learned more than they have about how they want information and how they best deliver it. Communication on the road, in the air, it's all worth the stress and angst. In the end, we have each other and an experience to put in the memory bank.
Cancún, a Mexican city on the Yucatán Peninsula bordering the Caribbean Sea, is known for its beaches, numerous resorts and nightlife. It’s composed of 2 distinct areas: the more traditional downtown area, El Centro, and Zona Hotelera, a long, beachfront strip of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants. Cancun is also a famed destination for students during universities’ spring break period. My advice-don't go at Spring Break-Cancun is perched in a way that seems to allow it to hide from summer storms, too, so fall is really a great time to go even if the rest of the ocean islands seem under siege.
I send so many clients to Cancun, I had to check it out for myself-FINALLY! Cancun is an easy 3-hour nonstop flight from Denver, and boasts one of the largest selections of all-inclusive resorts on the planet. For landlocked Coloradoans, this is a big benefit for a quick beach getaway as long as you have a valid passport to travel to Mexico. While Mexico is full of beautiful places from the Yucatan to Cozumel, it seems most visitors choose the ease of an all-inclusive resort to make multi-generation families happy and party the night away. On this note, I should mention the stories you hear in the news about tainted alcohol and drunken mishaps leading to accidents and sometimes death are pretty rare in the grand scope of Mexican resort culture.
(Having said that, it is not easy as a tourist to access medical care while you are in Mexico, and even if you have insurance, plan to pay up with cash or credit card to get service even in the emergency room.)
Now, about Cancun-flying into the airport is really easy, and leaving the airport through the "timeshare sales tunnel" is also pretty easy-keep your head down and walk on to the outside curb area to find your van/shuttle/driver. If you've hooked up with transportation as part of your resort package, you'll have detailed instructions to access your driver.
Our agent group was sponsored by the Karisma Resort brands featuring multiple options for adults-only and family resorts, From their luxury adults-only El Dorado Maroma, Royale and Seaside Suites to their Generations and Azul properties. There is something for everyone at great price points. Karisma is also focused on the gourmet dining experience, so expect to dine well at on-site restaurants featuring everything from the expected multi-cuisine gourmet buffet to El Dorado Royale's Fuentes Culinary Theatre-like Iron Chef in action right to your plate.
Resort grounds, particularly the El Dorado resorts, are beyond amazing and lush with beautiful amenities and generally beautiful beaches. Beach size and quality varies with seaweed management frequently occurring on all beaches without protected reef barriers nearby to catch the water plants before they get to your toes. Activities on all resorts feature included non-motorized sports, but to se the sites beyond the resort wall (and literally there are sometimes barbed chain fences and high rock walls to prohibit criminal entry and activity) most tourists hook up with a tour provider like Amstar or Lomas Travel. For most first-time travelers, I never suggest renting a car in Mexico-let the guides do the driving. However, this is also a limiting factor as they are really only aligned with the biggest-still wonderful-tourist attractions, so if you are looking for a quiet off-the-beaten-path cenote pool in the middle of a jungle, find a car and take your chances as it's probably worth the experience!
There are multiple tours to multi-activity water parks like Xel-Ha, ancient Mayan ruins in Chichen-Itza, and day tours to outer islands to allow the full Cancun-and-surrounds experience. I would caution travelers to pay careful attention to tour descriptions, as some tours require you to find your own transportation (use your resort concierge to find a trusted taxi service) to the port of departure. If you really want to dive a little deeper into the local culture, try visiting Playa del Carmen, the local Riviera Maya town about an hour from Cancun to find local eateries and a party scene off the resort campus.
I plan to go back someday and dive deeper into the local culture and off-resort, and now I have plenty of first-hand options for my next stay-and yours!
My daughter and I visited San Diego, CA as a last-minute summer treat. As 300-days-of-sunshine-Colorado natives, it's not really the sun we crave as much as the ocean. For years I've battled the "Californication" of our own state as people left the coast for more reasonable housing prices and all the awesome qualities Colorado offers its residents. Now, after visiting San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, I am still wondering why they didn't just stay put.
Trips to California in the past have included dreamy stays in San Francisco (including the end of my first year of graduate school when I decided I would just move to San Francisco, live on a boat, and dream my life away...no this didn't really happen after all but I was convinced it was the best thing for me at the time), Hollywood stays in Los Angeles (Hollywood is not glamorous, it's gritty and it's where all the creative juices are flowing everywhere around you...not to mention hoards of tourist traps and tacky shopping), and swim chaperone trips to Fresno-really there is no place hotter than Fresno in August.
This trip to San Diego, however, was my favorite. It's a beautiful city with history and a laid back unassuming culture that seems to be more our style. We traversed the city's old Mission district, ventured to the beach and shopped in La Jolla, and had an amazing beach day trip to Coronado Island and Mission Beach. This is where my daughter has decided she will live someday. Dreaming is ALWAYS ok with me.:)
Colorado, you have my heart, but California, I left a piece of me there so I can have an excuse to go back for it later.
With little time left in our summer between the kid's swimming and volleyball hobbies, we determined the best way to spend our last family vacation before our son headed to college was to find a beach as far away as we could without leaving the continental U.S. Florida's southwest coast in the Gulf of Mexico was just the ticket.
Best time to visit? Not July! Since that was the only time we could really get away, we "soaked" it up and planned for a sweaty and memorable 4th of July in between afternoon gulf storms and morning bike rides. We chose South Seas Island Resort in Captiva which is really the northern tip of the larger Sanibel Island complex. These islands are across the bridge from mainland Florida, and once there, you don't find it necessary to leave.
While traversing the island for groceries is a good hour adventure, staying at this resort resort provides plenty of activities-from chartered view and fishing boat trips to on-site bike rentals and multiple pools to explore, It's as close to an all-inclusive resort as you can get without leaving the U.S. (outside of the country's only all-inclusive resort, Club Med Sandpiper).
During our one week stay, we joined the Sanibel Recreation Center so we didn't miss swim workouts, we biked all over the resort and into town, and we took advantage of the Sanibel Island Wildlife refuge where we saw wild manatees, lots of shellfish, and beautiful mangrove forests that took the edge off the heat and brought us back to nature. Since we flew into Tampa, we drove 3 hours to get to Captiva, allowing us to head back via Clearwater Beach and check out the nightly sunset festivities.
For families looking for a great beach getaway who may not be Florida-Disney fanatics, this is a great destination for an annual family trip!
I can say with certainty that cruising is NOT my favorite way to travel, but when you create space for the experience, it can be pretty fun and definitely a low-hassle travel option for singles couples, families, and multi-generation groups seeking to appease the needs of all ages. The greatest part-you get to see a lot of places and only unpack once.
My first cruise was on Royal Caribbean back in 1998 admittedly a little rough-I was three-months pregnant, I was seasick, and I was in a wedding. There was a lot to do and I was never in prime state to party with the crowd. However, one of my most memorable travel experiences was renting bikes on St. Thomas and wheeling around the island where we found our "someday we'll buy that mansion and turn it into a bed and breakfast" house. We are still waiting on that dream, but I'll never forget how much fun we had getting out beyond the cruise ship tourist zone and into the local tide.
Fast-forward 18 years to my second cruise experience as I entered the travel industry. We sailed away from the Miami port on the Norwegian Sky, known to most in the cruise world as a party boat that specializes in a quick three-day Bahama-rama trip complete with the ocean's only all-inclusive drink package. I've decided that's not something I need, but plenty of folks seem to find it highly desirable. My favorite part of that cruise was-again-on land, busting past the tourist zone on-foot to tour Nassau's beaten path of local commerce and unfortunate poverty outside the cruise port gates. Cruise companies do their best to proffer goods, services, and funding into the towns that support their ports, but the local government's may not always have the best interests of their people in mind, and the money doesn't always get to where it needs to go from what I could tell.
I did happen on a wonderful small hotel and pool with day rates where even cruisers could head on over for a day at the resort for lunch and pool access for a low price, and it wasn't far from the cigar and chocolate-making factories. Again, you find little gems amidst the beaten tourist roads.
My most recent cruise was in January of 2017 with other agents to experience the Carnival Conquest, a bigger ship with less nausea-inducing swells on the way out of Ft. Lauderdale. The ship was giant, and like most shops, laden with a smoke-filled casino right in the middle that was hard to avoid to get back and forth between dining and the cabin. My most enjoyable experiences were either on my cabin balcony (ALWAYS GET A BALCONY ON A CRUISE) for some peaceful reading time, or again-on land discovering Key West, Cozumel and Grand Cayman where we found a great day beach retreat with a pool, food, and a bar for $2.00 a piece entrance fee. (We found out later the cruise sells a tour to this place for $60.00.) We hoofed it down a Cayman road to get to this lovely haven along Seven Mile Beach, then found a local bus for $5.00 to take us back to port at the end of the day.
Along these cruise journeys I was introduced to many Caribbean islands, and I appreciated the ease of travel on a ship. Still, I am a land-lubber who loves viewing the ocean, riding on the ocean, but exploring the islands in middle of the big ocean blue.
Jamaica, the third largest island in the Caribbean Sea with a population of 2.75 million, is situated west of Hispaniola and south of Cuba, about 870 km (540 mi) south east of Miami. Jamaica shares maritime borders with the Cayman Islands (UK), Colombia, Cuba, and Haiti. Jamaica covers an area of 10,991 km², making it slightly larger than Cyprus, or slightly smaller than the U.S. state ofConnecticut. Jamaica's capital and largest city is Kingston, other major cities are Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Official language is Jamaican English, mainly spoken is Jamaican Patois or Patwa, an English-based creole language with West African influences.
Tourists regularly enjoy the spoils of the island's mountainous landscape, with caves, caverns, rainforests, beaches and rivers during daytrips on the island, but stay primarily in the tourist resort towns of Montego Bay and Negril on opposite sides of the island. While my stay was brief at 4 nights, I could have stayed longer as I really only experienced the Montego Bay and mountainous areas of the island. There is so much to see and do, and despite the warnings of other less intrepid tourists, it's worth a trip into the local hotspots to meet and party with the local people. They are so welcoming, very laid back and friendly (and while there is likely a good amount of pot to be had, you might be surprised to hear that recreational cannabis is still not legal in Jamaica (GO DENVER!:) THis is, after all, the land of "ayri" (alright).
There is a multitude of all-inclusive resorts to choose from on the island for couples only and families, with great pricing across all ranges. While Jamaica is a bit of a haul to get to-especially if you are from the west or west coast (this usually requires a red eye or overnight flight), once there, you can easily access transportation through your travel provider (usually packaged with your resort).
The best time to visit Jamaica is November to mid-December. That's when the island's already beautiful weather (ranging from mid-70s to the high 80s all year-round) is the most pleasant and the hotel and flight deals are the easiest to find.
It's pretty easy to go on a vacation - a weekend, a week, or if you're lucky a whole month off of your everyday fast track. Coming home is always the hardest part of any journey, but there are a few things I do to ensure my recent experience away provides a foundation for moving forward into my everyday life with new lessons learned about people, places, and cultures around the country and the world.
Not only was this a sleepy but charming town at 10:00 AM on a Sunday, but Boonsville, MO also made the Smithsonianmag.com's Top 10 Places to Visit list! Why? We aren't really sure from the short time we were there except our visit to the donut shop could be a hint - they fill your donut with whatever flavor you'd like and cap it with a smile. Friendly people can make a town go round! Check out the list here and craft your own road trip! http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/best-small-towns-2015-180954993/
This will be short. Frankly, I was so intrigued and exhausted from our cross-country trip that blogging didn't appear to be a natural next step, but sleep fit right in.
The Spring before our son's Senior Year we embarked on the traditional college visit journey combined with visits to friends and family up to 1,500 miles away. No, we did not fly to our destination. We drove from Colorado through the midwest to the East Coast-South Carolina, to be exact. Was this trip daunting? Yes. Would we do it again? Probably not-at least not all four of us. Will we remember it forever? Absolutely.
On our college visit list were two southern colleges-University of Tampa and Savannah College of Art and Design. Our kids, ages 16 and 13 at the time, were none to thrilled about the long haul in our Toyota Highlander, largely due to the intermittent wifi connection. Our son's enthusiasm for pursuing an art or psychology degree - or both, in addition to his elite swim career, drew us to these schools-out of the Rockies and into the south.
Along the way through middle America, we traversed both space and time, landing in and pursuing small towns that time seemed to have forgotten, We found smaller side highways and larger fields in which to dream, snack, and then move on. We arrived at our Myrtle Beach destination and spent three beautiful off-season (meaning NO tourist crowds) days exploring the beach and surround wildlife refuges, small towns, and shopping strips.
Savannah, Georgia is a wonderful town - hip and southern all at the same time, the food rocked and so did the waterfront and the people. Savannah is worth a night or two for couples and families.
From Savannah we stopped quickly through Tampa then onward back home with stops to see friends in Nashville (also a rockin' crazy town with a daytime atmosphere suitable for kids and a nighttime atmosphere resembling a gritty southern Las Vegas). The Country Music Hall of Fame was matched only by the stellar farm-to-table options and growing industrial makers markets that surround Nashville;s main street and party avenue.
Back home through St. Louis, we arrived back in Denver 8 days later, worn out by the length of the road trip but proud we did it-and everyone was still alive. So, would we do it again? Truthfully, the entire cross-country trip was exhausting, but since we did that, we found our 2-day caravan out to Ohio this summer for my son's freshman year at College of Wooster so much easier as we knew...it could have been SO much worse!
For families thinking about a road trip, it's better to decide to do it and embark on a great adventure that you will not forget. From small towns to big towns, you get to see America-land of the free, home of the brave, and a whole lot of amazing people across the country who represent all that is good about our small corner of the world. This is why we travel-by foot, by car, by train, by boat, and by air-the world is our oyster, and we open it one trip at a time.
Deirdre Oss is a veteran city planner, mother of two awesome teenagers, and wife to an amazing husband and travel partner. A city girl for generations, her home and heart are in Denver, Colorado with family and friends across the country and the pond. Over two decades working in city planning provided the foundation for her to explore different cities through the lens of community planning to create places for people to thrive in daily life and beyond. This perspective allows her to travel with an eye toward local economy, transit, and special neighborhoods that appeal to both residents and tourists.