5 editors share their dream trips

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012
Sean O'Neill

After publishing our most recent list of Dream Trips, we thought it would be fun to find out more about where a few of our coworkers hope to travel themselves.

Rosas, Spain, to eat at Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant. I've been obsessed with this chef ever since I first read about him about five years ago. He's known as the pioneer of molecular gastronomy, which sounds horribly unappetizing but is actually really fascinating—sort of like a mad-scientist approach to cooking. For example, he uses nitrous oxide to make things like potato-and-lobster foam. The tasting menu at his restaurant lasts hours and consists of something insane like 30 courses (each pretty tiny, but still). Getting reservations is pretty ridiculous (the restaurant is only open from April to October, and all reservations have to be made in October for the following year) and the prices are pretty outrageous (in 2008, the tasting menu with wine hovered around $300 per person), but from what I've read, the experience is absolutely worth it. Added bonus: The town of Rosas is on Spain's Costa Brava, which looks incredibly gorgeous. I'd travel the coast a bit, and end up in Aix-en-Provence, France, where a friend of mine is living. Beth Collins, associate editor

Taking my wife to my favorite spots in Dublin. She has been to Ireland before, but I lived in Dublin for three years, so I want to take her to places tourists usually don't go. We'll take a long walk in Irishtown and Ringsend (the gas ring is a hulking, rusty relic, but I love it, and my old local chipper and pub will have to be on the agenda) and over to Sandymount Strand. There's a beautiful pub in Clontarf called the Sheds; I was last there eight years ago, and I hope it hasn't changed much. On a nice afternoon, a picnic and/or nap on the grass in Merrion Square can't be beat. The Garden of Remembrance commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising, but what I like about it is the Oisín Kelly sculpture of the Children of Lir, from an Irish legend; I used to study early Irish literature. In the city center, there are too many good pubs and restaurants to mention them all, but we should certainly spend an afternoon in the library bar of the Central Hotel. Add in good friends, and the craic will be ninety. Thomas Berger, copy chief

Because my husband is very opposed to traveling via boat for an extended period of time, to sail the Greek islands for two weeks may definitely be a dream—or done with someone else! I would like to be on a small boat with just a few people and start by the eastern most islands (Kos), and slowly and leisurely make our way to Athens, hitting Santorini, Mykonos, and Kythonos on the way. Our days would be filled with swimming and snorkeling with lots of time for daily excursions to the islands to check out the sites, people watch, and eat good food. —Lauren Kamin, editorial production manager

My dream: I'm walking along the ridges of the Haraz Mountains in Yemen. It is hot, and the terrain is sometimes tortuous, but exploring a region so few have experienced is invariably exciting. Sweeping views of terraced hillsides and rugged landscape keep me inspired. From one ancient village to another, I meet kind, welcoming Arab people that transport me back in time, to a time of simplicity, a time of mud brick buildings and living off the land. I see myself sitting up against a rock with my wife and our guide, who speaks broken English, sipping on excellent coffee, while watching the sun peak over the surrounding ridges. We all marvel and are thankful for such a beautiful morning. It's an absolute dream, which I realize is just a dream when I spill my coffee on my keyboard. Unfortunately for now, it is just a cubicle reverie. For my "Dream Trip," I thought of hiking in the Haraz Mountains because the area is virtually undiscovered by tourism. You can hike from one village perched on a hilltop to another. Guides are needed because hardly anyone speaks English and the trails can be deceiving…you need someone that knows the way. —Michael Mohr, associate photo editor

For years now, one of my friends has raved to me about Chiang Mai, a northern Thai city that lies near the village in which he had once been stationed as a Peace Corps volunteer. Well, I've just returned from my first visit to Chiang Mai, and it was the Best Trip Ever. The city has all of the Thai charm of Bangkok without the capital's infamous nightlife or Blade Runner-like enormity. I'm not much of a shopper, but I snapped up Chiang Mai's heavily discounted celadon housewares, silk flowers, and other hand-made items as if I'd never visit Asia again. One of my prized purchases was of a red-and-black lacquered jewelry box with the image of a deity-as-a-snake on it ($24). I justified the purchase as a gift, but I haven't been able to part with it since. A highlight for me was renting a bicycle ($2 per person, per day) and exploring the area. I was particularly wowed by the view from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a serene mountain temple overlooking the city ($1 admission). I also liked taking a break in one of the city's dozens of independent cafés, where locals linger over Thai iced coffee ($1) in outdoor gardens. Coming from Bangkok? I recommend you skip the high-priced plane tickets and instead hop the 13-hour, overnight sleeper train ($33, first-class private car, tickets can't be booked at online, book at the main train station in Bangkok or through a travel agent). You'll see more of the countryside that way plus save a night of lodging expense. Sean O'Neill, senior editor online

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Virginia giving away 40 free trips

The great state of Virginia announced today a sweepstakes in which it will give away 40 free trips in 40 weeks to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the "Virginia Is for Lovers" tourism campaign. Starting today and for the next 40 weeks, you may enter to win a trip to a destination in Virginia, such as Virgina Beach and a one-on-one basket weaving session with artisan Gary Carroll. You'll find the rules and entry form at Virginia.org/40. (Some of the fine print: "Prize trips range from two to seven nights for two to six people. Virginia will award one trip a week, starting February 20, culminating in a grand prize awarded November 23. The contest is open to U.S. citizens 21 years and older.")

Road Trips

New York City: A clever new trip planning website and tourist info center

This morning Mayor Michael Bloomberg debuted two new initiatives to help tourists plan their visits to New York City. A new website, nycgo.com, will make it easier to plan a trip to the city—and a new tourism information center will use high-tech touch screen maps to let tourists print out personalized trip plans. Nycgo.com replaces nycvisit.com as the best place for consumers to use. Travelocity will offer a select number of vacation packages for booking exclusively on nycgo.com. You'll also be able to read restaurant reviews by Time Out New York and the New York Observer and then, if you find a restaurant you like, click through to see if tables are available at the time of your choosing via OpenTable. The website also has a calendar of New York City’s cultural events. Not ready to book now? Then create a profile for yourself and save your favorite bits of info. The biggest news is that within the next few months, Google will unveil a "send map to phone" feature. Find a neighborhood map you like at nycgo.com and you can have it zapped to your mobile phone. The itinerary highlights on the map, such as the location of key museums and restaurants, will be intact on your phone's version of the map. If successful, this tool will likely be adopted by many other websites. New York City's main tourism information center—a few blocks off Times Square at 810 Seventh Avenue by 52nd Street—has been completely redone, too. Gone are the walls of racks with paper brochures. Now the room is full of touchscreen monitors on which you can find suggested tourist attractions overlaid on Google city maps. Create a personalized trip itinerary, which can be either printed out for you or sent electronically to your cell phone or PDA. In a nice move, the screens are wheelchair accessible and can be used in nine languages. (Bloomberg repeated his announcement about the tourism initiatives in Spanish, too, as another effort at outreach.) The two initiatives were funded by private companies. For example, the billboard operator at JFK airport will give the city's tourism office $9 million worth of free advertising on its airport billboards for the new website, nycgo.com. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Hotels: New York City at a Price That's Right Broadway Tickets News

Road Trips

Helpful websites to plan your India trip

India's rush of color, noise, and people will take you by surprise, no matter how much you try to prepare for it all. But I can recommend a few websites that ought to give you a handle on what you're in for when you visit. I've spent much of the past two years in Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and elsewhere in this fascinating country, and these sites were quite helpful. IndiaMike: With its super-detailed coverage and sometimes overly opinionated contributors, this homage to all things Indian can be infuriating to newbies. But spend a bit of time here, and you'll be well rewarded. The site's exhaustive guides to the byzantine ways of the India's train system and its domestic airlines are incredibly useful. What Am I Eating?: A good site to head to before leaving for just about anywhere in the world, this guide to the world's dishes and ingredients give equivalents in lots and lots of different dialects and languages. In a place as diverse as India, this site is a godsend. Another Subcontinent: Written by current and former Indian residents as well as those with Indian heritage, this well designed website is tops in my book for information about food and many other essential parts of the region's many cultures. Outlook Traveller: The web presence of a good travel magazine (keep an eye out for the paper version when you reach India). Because the places covered are meant to appeal to a middle-class Indian crowd, the selection is great for those travelers who want to wander off a bit from where most foreigners go. Inspiring pictures, too. Incredible India: Although many of India's tourism sites remain out of date and frustratingly sparse, the country's main site is lush and full of good info. The site's Youtube page makes a good escape.

Road Trips

Road Trip: The Arkansas Ozarks

In the Arkansas Ozarks, every new place you come to seems to be the capital of something. Newton County is the state's elk capital; Mountain View is its folk-music capital. Even most non-capitals have a claim to fame. (See: Altus, Ark., "Home of the First Season of Fox'sThe Simple Life.") But don't make too much of all the big talk-one look and you can tell that these are tiny towns from another time. To my mind, however, it's the meandering roads between them that deserve all the acclaim. The mountains are crisscrossed with two-lane roads-most of which weren't paved until after World War II-that wind through oak forests to uncover sweeping views along ridges, and then dip into valleys along the Buffalo and White Rivers. Sleepy and slow, they force you to take your time getting from one town to the next, which is truly the point. 1) Little Rock to Jasper I met my sister Maggie, who flew in from Savannah, Ga. We set out for lunch at one of Little Rock's famous hamburger joints, the Purple Cow. The burger was good, the milk shake better; the combination, in hindsight, was probably not the best way to start a long road trip. Our first real stop was the town of Altus, capital of Arkansas wine country. You probably didn't know that Arkansas has a wine country. Neither did I. About 115 miles from Little Rock-and not en route to our evening's destination-Altus required a little detour. But I thought it was worth it, since the town has four of the state's five wineries. (A majority of counties in Arkansas, I was told, are Baptist-and therefore dry.) To my delight, I was informed by a welcome to altus sign that this was also "Home of The Simple Life," the Fox reality show featuring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. There's the Sonic where the girls "worked"! There's the bar where Nicole poured bleach on the pool table! And yet Paris and Nicole didn't leave too much wreckage in their wake. Altus is still a small, quiet town. We stopped in at the visitors center on Main Street to pick up pamphlets about the wineries, half of which are a short drive up a mountain. My favorite was the first we saw, Post Familie Vineyards and Winery, which is run by the 12 Post children. A fellow named Zack (not a Post) poured us reds, ros}s, and a grape juice. The wine was just OK, but the place was wonderfully unfussy. I particularly liked the Altus Grape Juice. Leaving Altus, we entered the Ozark National Forest, heading toward Jasper. Still recovering from our earlier burgers, we got snow cones at the Ozone Burger Barn. Up to this point, the drive hadn't revealed much more than oak trees and the occasional farm, and I was a little worried that we might get bored. (The Paris-and-Nicole rush passed quickly.) At that moment, however, I heard a rumbling sound in the distance, and a spunky 60-something couple pulled up on a pair of four-wheelers. In a matter of minutes, they'd peeled off their goggles, downed a couple of Cokes, and hopped back on their ATVs. As the duo rumbled away in a cloud of kicked-up dust, I was transfixed. The best part of the day's drive was the last 15 miles south of Jasper on Highway 7, called Scenic 7. Essentially, the road to Jasper had been a gradual climb. We finally got an unobstructed view of the valleys off the side of the ridge we'd been ascending, known as the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks. There isn't much more to the town of Jasper than an ice cream parlor, a Christian bookstore, and a little shop selling rocks and minerals. But Newton County, of which Jasper is a part, bills itself as the Elk Capital of Arkansas. In 1981, to encourage tourism, officials trucked in 112 elk from Colorado. The herd has grown to 550, and they roam free all over the area. Which is not to say that we saw any. The Ozark Caf}, a '50s-style diner, was still open when we got there just before 8 p.m. (Everything closes early in these parts.) Black-and-white photos of early settlers covered the walls. Maggie and I both had the fried catfish special, and then we split a piece of peach cobbler with ice cream. We found a nice room down the road from the town square at the Arkansas House Bed & Breakfast. The place reminded me of my grandparents' house: soft colors, floral wallpaper, and old, wooden bed frames. 2) Jasper to Eureka Springs Our B&B offered free breakfast at the Boardwalk, a restaurant next door. We loaded up on biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, and hash browns. Then we set out to walk it off. Up the street, Emma's Museum of Junk was one of the better junk shops/thrift stores we visited. Maggie bought two old scarves for a dollar apiece. There wasn't much else to do in town, so we took a half-hour side trip down the mountain toward Boxley to hike the Lost Valley Trail. The trail is a gentle climb along a riverbed leading to a deep cave. I was feeling adventurous, so I decided to try spelunking. To get more than 20 feet in, you need a good flashlight or headlamp. I borrowed a small one from a couple we met on the trail, but the cave still got very dark-quickly. At the back, it narrowed to a twisting, single-file passageway that led to a long, low, dripping room. I shimmied around, crouched under a ledge, and then turned back. A sign at the bottom of the trail explained that a little farther in there's a high-ceilinged cavern; during the wet springtime, it's the source of an underground waterfall. After hiking down the trail, Maggie and I returned to Jasper, buying groceries, lures, and weekend fishing licenses at Bob's A.G. Supermarket and Do-It-Best. The Buffalo River is known for manageable water, great smallmouth bass fishing, and dramatic limestone bluffs above the shores. Both Maggie and I love to canoe and fish, and we planned to do a long stretch of the river, camping out overnight. (In preparation, we'd brought our own fishing rods, sleeping bags, and a tent.) We stopped at Dillard's (now closed), an outfitter where we rented canoes, life jackets, and paddles for $40, and left our car out back. A fellow named Bobby drove us to the river, and showed us on a map where he'd pick us up. The Buffalo was slow, so we admired the bluffs. We caught a couple of small fish (which we threw back), and the day was pleasant enough. But the water was so low that we had to keep getting out to push the canoe over shoals. By the halfway point, we were ready to bail. We happened to arrive in Eureka Springs at exactly the same time as a classic-car convention. The town's more affordable spots up the hill-like the Stonegate-tend to fill up early. Book ahead if you're planning to get in late. 3) Eureka Springs to Mountain View Sunday morning I drove over to see the site of the Great Passion Play, a reenactment of Christ's last days. Performances take place five days a week from late spring through early fall in an outdoor amphitheater, located on a hill overlooking town. The full-blown affair sounded like more religion than I usually enjoy on vacation, so I checked out the site at 8 a.m., when it was sure to be deserted. A 67-foot-tall concrete Jesus was planted near the amphitheater, and soft organ music floated out from speakers on nearby pine trees. The historic section of Eureka Springs is one of Arkansas' biggest tourist destinations. The town used to be known for the healing power of its springs; there's still a quaint, 19th-century feel here. A bus built to look like an old-fashioned trolley runs a loop through the historic part of town. It's a quick way to see what's worth coming back to on foot. First we navigated the steep, winding roads through the busy town center, which felt like a well-behaved Bourbon Street. Then, the trolley began to climb a hill through the leafy neighborhoods where the locals live. Twenty minutes later, we got off and walked up to the Palace Hotel and Bathhouse, Eureka Springs' only remaining baths. The best deal here is the eucalyptus steam and the clay mask treatment ($12 each), recommended as a pair. For the steam, I sat inside a wooden box that enclosed everything but my head, which poked out the top. I felt like a prisoner in a medieval torture chamber. The experience was anything but painful, however; it was a refreshing half hour. The only thing left to do in Eureka Springs was walk around and eat. By this point, we were tired of southern food, so we went to New Delhi, an Indian restaurant run by Bill Sarad, a Mumbai native. We split a meal of lentils, vegetarian meatballs, and basmati rice. We got into Mountain View around 8:30 p.m. The town is Arkansas's Capital of Folk Music, and this time the label fit. We saw several groups playing bluegrass in the town square. People were casually strolling around with instruments, moving from one ensemble to the next. Most of the instruments were stringed-guitars, banjos, mandolins-and the voices were flat and high. The entire town seemed to be out enjoying the festivities. The only place still open for dinner was Kin Folks Bar-B-Q, a tiny building at the edge of the square, and that's where I ate my first Frito pie. It came in a French-fry tray, with three layers: Fritos on the bottom, chili in the middle, cheddar and onions on top. I still can't get over the incredible, disgusting genius of this idea. Plus, it happened to be quite tasty. 4) Mountain View to Little Rock After my success with Frito pie, I was feeling lucky, so I made one final southern-food stop in Greenbriar, at Nelson's Wagon Wheel Restaurant. The sign had fallen down outside, the place was shabby, and the clientele was intimidatingly local. But the chocolate pie was a towering wonder of buttery greatness. It was one of the best-and biggest-slices I've ever had. I can see it now: Greenbriar, Arkansas's Capital of Chocolate Pie. Finding your way Both Maggie and I flew in and out of Little Rock, the airport with the most affordable flights. The best time for this trip is in spring, when the rivers run high and the caves are wet. 1. Little Rock to Jasper via Altus, 205 miles For the direct route, take I-40 west from Little Rock to Russellville. Then catch Scenic 7 north to Jasper. That trip is 142 miles and should take about 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you want to see Altus and the wine country, which is 115 miles from Little Rock and adds another hour and a half, take I-40 west past Russellville to exit 41. To get up to Jasper, backtrack a little on 40 east, and then get on 64 east for three miles to 21 north. After about 30 miles on 21, you meet 16 east and then Scenic 7 north to Jasper. 2. Jasper to Eureka Springs via Yellville, 135 miles Here's the prettiest way to get to Eureka Springs: 74 west to Boxley, then 21 north to Berryville, and then 62 west to Eureka Springs. If you want to go canoeing out of Yellville, that trip is about 62 miles and takes an hour and a half. From Jasper, go north on 7, east on 62/412, and south on 14 to Dillard's. Yellville to Eureka Springs is a straight shot west on 62. 3. Eureka Springs to Mountain View, 140 miles Take 62 east to Mountain Home, then 5 south toward Mountain View. If you happened to miss the scenic stretch on 21 and 74, however, take 62 east to 21 south to Boxley. From there, take 74 back through Jasper to Hasty, where you'll meet 123 north, then 65 south, and then 66 east. One warning: On the map, 74 may look as if it connects to 65, but the road dead-ends after Mount Judea. Don't miss the connection from 74 to 123, which leads to 65. 4. Mountain View to Little Rock, 105 miles Take 9 south to Clinton, and then 65 south. Follow that to Conway, and I-40. Signs will lead to the airport. Day one Lodging The Arkansas House B&BHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5900, thearkhouse.com, from $49 Food The Purple Cow8026 Cantrell Rd., Little Rock, 501/221-3555, burger $4.75 Ozone Burger BarnHwy. 21, Ozone, 479/292-1392 Ozark CafeHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-2976, catfish $6 Post Familie Vineyards1700 St. Mary's Mtn. Rd., Altus, 479/468-2741 Day two Lodging Stonegate 2106 E. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, 479/253-8800, from $39 Boardwalk CafeHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5900 Attractions Lost Valley TrailHwy. 43, north of Boxley, nps.gov/buff Shopping Emma's Museum of JunkHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5865 Bob's A.G. Supermarket and Do-It-BestHwy. 7, Jasper, 870/446-5164, fishing license $11 Day three Lodging Red Bud Inn428 Sylamore Ave., Mountain View, 870/269-4375, from $40 Food New Delhi2 N. Main St., Eureka Springs, 479/253-2525, buffet $8 Kin Folks Bar-B-Q123 Washington St., Mountain View, 870/269-9188 The Great Passion Play935 Passion Play Rd., Eureka Springs, 800/882-7529, greatpassionplay.com, $23.25, kids $10 The Palace Hotel and Bathhouse135 Spring St., Eureka Springs, 479/253-8400, palacehotelbathhouse.com Historic trolley ride137A W. Van Buren, Eureka Springs, 479/253-9572, tickets $2 Day four Food Nelson's Wagon WheelHwy. 65, Greenbriar, 501/679-5009, chocolate pie $1.75