Travel for Women Only
Should women travel only with other women? Should they do so on occasion? If the trip is one of outdoor adventure, involving physical challenge, should they travel only with other women? Should they agree to include men on a group tour only if the group is led by a woman?
Because so many women are responding to one or more of the above questions with a resounding "Yes," a sizable new segment of the travel industry has emerged to serve their wants. As surprising as it may seem, more than 50 tour companies in a dozen major states are now openly feminist in their orientation, and limit their clients or leadership to women only.
The reason is unrelated to sexual proclivities or the lack of them. From a review of their literature, not one of the 50 new firms seems operated for lesbians, and most stand carefully apart from a wholly separate group of tour companies openly appealing to gay men or gay women.
The premise of only female travel
Rather, the move to feminist travel seems motivated by a combined goal of consciousness raising and female solidarity, and by the belief that women enjoy a holiday change of pace, stress-free, and relaxing, when they travel only with other women. Though the philosophy is rarely articulated in the feminists' tour brochures, and is obtained with difficulty even in conversations with feminist tour operators (I've now spoken with several), the gist of it seems as follows:
When women travel with men, and especially on outdoor trips, both they and the men, say tour leaders, tend to fall into predetermined gender roles: the men do the heavy work, the women putter about and cook. Traveling only with other women, women accept greater challenges, court greater responsibility, acquire new skills, gain confidence and a heightened sense of worth.
Male travelers are conditioned by society to be excessively goal-oriented: they must conquer this or that mountain, show prowess and strength, domineer. Most women, by contrast, enjoy the mere experience of travel, the joy of encountering nature, all without stressful competition or expectations. They have less need to boast and strut; they lack the male's inner urge (from early upbringing) to seem always skillful, strong, serene, and protecting. "I don't want to be protected on vacation," say many women, "I want to be myself."
In the presence of the other sex, so goes the argument, both sexes find it difficult to "let down their hair." On a tour limited to women, say the feminists, these tensions subside. Women spend less time on personal appearance and grooming, dispense with sexual role-playing, care only for themselves.
"And why should men feel threatened by that need?" asks one prominent female tour operator. "Why should an all-female tour be the subject of sneers? Men have been going off to hike or fish 'with the boys' for centuries."
Practical considerations: Since everyone on a woman-only trip is "single," participants pay no single supplement, but instead share rooms and costs.
Since some male spouses don't care for outdoor trips, feminist tours often provide the only vacation outlet for women who genuinely enjoy the attractions of nature. Then, too, women who are recently widowed or divorced are enabled by such tours to meet others in the same situation; the experience is healing, restorative. But mainly, the women "take charge" of their holiday, free from the customary domination of men.
Vacations for women over 30
The first, Adventure Women, Inc. was founded more than twenty-two ago by Susan Eckert to promote adventure travel to women over 30, in areas she had herself traveled while in the Peace Corps. Today, along with standard, mild safaris, treks and ski trips limited to women, she also deals in challenges of considerably greater daringsafaris in Botswana and Zambia, sailing in Greece, and lodge trekking in the Himalayas. The international trips, priced from $2,095-$6,595 for a 5 to 16-day adventure, are all-inclusive--including international airfare, meals, lodgings and all else. Contact Adventure Women, Inc. (for women over 30) at 15033 Kelly Canyon Road, Bozeman, MT 59715, (phone 800/804-8686 or 406/587-3883, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). Or visit the Web site at adventurewomen.com/.
Also for women in their prime is Canyon Calling, a wilderness travel organization for women over 30, and Explorations in Travel, which handles "cultural" tours as well as outdoor adventure, this time for women over the age of 40. Canyon Calling (200 Carol Canyon Drive, Sedona, AZ 86336; phone 800/664-8922 or 928/282-0916, Website: canyoncalling.com/) offers what it calls "multi-adventure" tours--each day participants engage in a different kind of activity, from hiking and "glacier walking" to jetboating and kayaking. Destinations include Fiji and New Zealand, Greece, Iceland and various areas of the southwestern United States. Prices range from $1,695 per week all the way up to $4,575 (these rates include all meals, equipment, entrance fees and accommodations but not airfare).
Explorations in Travel (2458 River Road, Guilford, VT 05301, phone 802/257-0152, Web site: exploretravel.com) offers 30 trips throughout the year to destinations all over the world, but with a definite emphasis on New England (where the company is based). In the U.S. its trips are wilderness oriented, including cross-country skiing, hiking and whale-watching vacations. Overseas, the focus is cultural with jaunts to such exotic destinations as Ecuador, Belize and Costa Rica. Exceptions to its age specification are the popular "Multi-Generational Weekends," attended by mothers and daughters or grandmothers and granddaughters (one must be over 40, the other over 21). At these gatherings, the women engage in various outdoor activities such as hiking or canoeing, staying in rustic but nice accommodations in New England and the South. Price for the weekends is $495 per person, weeklong offerings tend to average $1,500 in the U.S. and $3,000 overseas (not including airfare).
Wild Women Expeditions (WWE) is an all-women outdoor adventure company that has been operating in Northern Ontario, Canada for 15 years. Set at a restored 1920's northern fishing camp, WWE offers the low-tech simplicity of outdoor showers, outhouses, wood heat, private waterfront for swimming, canoeing, and excellent country road cycling. With rustic amenities comes low prices: a three-night vacation in the fall, including hiking in the LaCloche mountains, paddling on the Spanish River, and enjoying the base camp, costs US$256. Formore information, contact Wild Women Expeditions, P.O. Box 145, Station B, Sudbury, Ontario Canada P3E 4N5 (Phone: 705/ 866-1260, e-mail email@example.com, or check out the Web site at wildwomenexp.com/).
Adventures in Good Company is one of the newest organizations in women's travel. Founded by Marian Marbury, a former guide for Woodswoman (the influential hiking, backpacking and adventure travel organization) until it shut its doors in 1999, AGC offers outdoor and wilderness trips primarily in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area in winter (dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing), throughout the West and Canada the rest of the year. Though it is a newish enterprise, all of the group leaders are former Woodswomen guides and thus bring with them years of experience in the field (and in the forest, on the stream and river, and behind the dogsled). Trips include "sea Kayaking the Alaskan Fjords," "Living the Cowgirl Life," and "Navajo Land Trek". Adventures also offers mixed hotel and camping adventures in Belize, Spain, Nepal and the UK. Prices start at $595 all the way up to $2,2,650. For more information, write, call or e-mail Adventures in Good Company, 5913 Brackenridge Ave, Baltimore, MD 21212 (phone 877/439-4042 or 410/435-1965, Web site: goodadventure.com/, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Boating, biking and hiking
Still another relatively large firm is Womanship, of Annapolis, Maryland, offering a learn-to-sail program in a field of sport heavily dominated by men. Because (according to founder Suzanne Pogell) men tend to handle the main tasks on sailing expeditions, women are rarely able to do more than prepare the sandwiches; certainly they never "take charge" of the vessel. With Womanship, they do, gaining confidence, achieving independence. Weekend, weekday, and week-long cruises are offered for both beginners and advanced sailors aged 18 to 82, in locations ranging from Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, New England and Long Island Sound, the west coast of Florida, and the Pacific Northwest (San Juan and the Gulf Islands) to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Trips range from 2-7 days in length and $495-$3890 in price, all-inclusive except transportation costs. Learn-to-sail programs include the Young Womanship course for girls aged 10-17--a 2-7 day program for beginning sailors, as well as a Mothers and Daughters course. Contact Womanship, 137 Conduit St., Annapolis, MD 21401, (phone 800/342-9295, Web site womanship.com/, email: email@example.com.
For the avid walker, Going Places! offers extensive women-only walking tours in Europe, the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian Rockies, New Mexico and northern California. Though the trips involve walking from inn to inn, they are not meant as "endurance tests." The typical walk is about eight to 12 miles per day on "well marked, well maintained trails" with stops along the way at cafes, pubs, picnic sites and viewpoints. The groups are limited to 10 or 14 walkers (depending on the specific tour) and the cost of the trip, between $2,495-$2995, covers accommodations, most meals, permits and entrance fees, maps, transportation en route and guide service. For more information, call or write Going Places! P.O. Box 2034, Sonoma, CA 95476 (phone/fax 707/935-0595 or visit its Web site at goingplacestours.com/).
Bike tours in New Zealand, Hawaii, France, the U.S. and Canada are the focus of WomanTours. It offers 37 tours in total, from Maine to South Africa. WomanTours accommodates all levels of experience--a van accompanies the cyclists on their routes to carry luggage and provide a ride for anyone who may need a break during the trip. The weeklong trips are usually composed of 12 to 18 cyclists costing between $990 and $2,300 per person. For more information, contact Woman Tours, 2340 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY, 14618 (phone 800/247-1444, Web site: womantours.com/, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
Other major operators include Mariah Wilderness Expeditions, P.O. Box 1160, Lotus, CA 95651 (phone 530/626-6049 or toll free 800/462-7424, Web site: mariahwe.com), with an impressive four-color catalog featuring white-water rafting, kayaking, and hiking; and Adventures for Women, 15 Victoria Lane, Morristown, NJ 07960 (Phone 973/644-3592, Web site: adventuresforwomen.org/), for its hiking trips in New Jersey and New York.
With roughly 1,300 current members, The Women's Travel Club is the largest organization running women's tours. Unlike the other companies we've mentioned, this club offers a yearly membership of $35, which provides members with a monthly newsletter and full access to all areas of its Web site, in addition to participation on the club's trips. Also unlike many of the other organizations in this chapter, instead of focusing on adventure travel to one or a few particular regions of the world, the Women's Travel Club offers a wide variety of different trips, from four days in the California Wine Country to 15 days exploring Egypt to tours of Southern Italy's medieval villages. Prices are on the highish side, averaging $250 per day, but groups are limited to no more than 15-20 women per trip, and the amenities abound. For more information, contact The Women's Travel Club (USA), Inc., suite 301, 36 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011 (phone 800/480-4448 or Web site: womenstravelclub.com/).
Several women's travel groups offer spiritual retreats and journeys with a focus on mind-body renewal. Sacred Journeys for Women, founded in 1996, offers trips to places where female deities (they call them "The Goddess") have been honored for millennia. On these tours, scholars and guides lecture on the mythology of the "sacred sites" and the group engages in "healing circles" and ceremonial dances. Destinations include Hawaii, Ireland, England and Crete, with prices averaging $2,995 per trip (for eight to 13 days), not including airfare. For further information, contact Sacred Journeys directly at sacredjourneys.com/or e-mail: email@example.com. You can also reach it the old fashioned way by writing to P.O. Box 8007, Roseland Station, Santa Rosa, CA 95407 or phoning 888/779-6696.
GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience) is perhaps best known for its "reality tours". But for the past six years it has also been offering "Women's Spiritual Quest" tours for women only. As with GATE's regular offerings, much of the emphasis is on cultural exchange: participants meet with impressive local women, officials at community clinics, workers at base Christian communities, doctors, nurses, teachers and the like. They learn in this way about the struggle for women's dignity and empowerment in these communities.
But there is also a spiritual component to these tours, which sets them apart from GATE's regular programming. Led by Sister Cecilia Corcoran, who holds a doctorate in women's studies, participants are introduced to the history and rituals of the various ancient Goddesses. In Mexico, this means communing with the major mother deities of the central highlands (around Mexico City, primarily) with visits to such archeological sites as Cuicuilco and the pyramids of Teoticuacan. In Eastern Europe, the tour ranges from Vienna for a look at the Venus of Willendorf (at the Natural History Museum) to Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic where mammoth hunters carved goddess images on the tusks of their prey. The group will even visit Auschwitz to learn about the painful women's history there. At many of these sites, along with lively discussions and lectures, participants engage in circle dances or other rituals to help them better connect with the spiritual energies of these places. According to Sister Cecilia, these tours are for women who wish to "explore the feminine face of God."
To learn more, contact GATE at gate-travel.org/ or call 608/791-5283. GATE's mail address is 912 Market Street, LaCrosse, WI 54601.
Earth Island Expeditions also offers spiritual tours, but with an emphasis on nature and the earth. Heading into its seventh year, the company is shifting its focus homeward. It's leading more programs in the wilds of the Northeast, as well as running workshops and trainings from its newly-established Yurt Sanctuary at the Ten Stones Community in Charlotte, VT. Contact Earth Island Expeditions, 201 Ten Stone Circle, Charlotte, VT 05445 (phone 802/425-4710, Web site: earthislandexpeditions.org/).
To learn of other women's travel companies, contact EarthWise Journeys, a clearinghouse of information on non-profit organizations and tour operators that focus on "local cultures, wilderness programs, learning adventures, volunteering, personal growth and environmental awareness." Be sure to specify you are interested in their women's trips resources. Contact EarthWise Journeys, PO Box 16177, Portland, OR 97292 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and see its Web site at teleport.com~earthwyz/).
10 Tips For Inexpensive Travel Photography
Have you ever wondered why some travel photographs consist of headless torsos, blurred landscapes, red-eyed monsters, and corners with fuzzy thumbs, while other travel pictures look like a professional spread from Budget Travel? The key to taking better travel photos is not a more expensive camera or the latest high-tech gadget. It's in eliminating "dumb" approaches and errors. You can produce eye-popping travel photos (without imploding your budget) by cutting down on stupid mistakes, developing an artistic eye, making the most of your equipment, and following the Ten Terrific Tips of Inexpensive Travel Photography. What's more, you can produce great snapshots with a camera that is easy to operate and costs no more than $50, often less. The camera I used in researching this article was a 35mm "point and shoot," a simple Minolta Freedom 35R-FF that cost me about $30 and has extra features called "Focus Free Lens" and "Red-Eye Reduction." Focus Free refers to a cheap plastic lens that does not zoom or need manual focusing-just about everything from four feet to infinity is already in focus. As for Red-Eye Reduction, that means the eyes of the people and animals you photograph won't come out with a creepy reddish glow. The camera can also read DX coding (virtually all modern cameras can), which means that the speeds of various films are automatically set when you load them into the camera. Many people try to compensate for their lack of skill with a camera by purchasing expensive auto-everything models, only to discover they still get lousy photographs. If you are a beginning photographer with limited skills, you can get great photos with many simple point-and-shoot models in the $30-$50 range, which have all the features you're likely to need. The best of the cheapest Deciding which model to purchase can be a real headache, especially if you head for a photo shop where salespeople are more interested in their commissions than in helping you get the best bargain for your money. When looking for a good bargain point-and-shoot camera, the Internet can be a great tool. You can price and compare various models at Web sites like mySimon, Epinions, DealTime, and BizRate. With a few clicks you can price cameras in the $30-$50 price range and even purchase them online. Remember that most of the sites charge for postage and handling, so you need to learn the total cost before committing to buy. One really good bargain site for purchasing cameras is Overstock.com, where you can get deep discounts on surplus models (and free shipping). And now: The 10 terrific tips 1. Get closer! Not getting close enough to the subject is the most common mistake made by novice photographers. If you can't see the subjects' features well enough, it undermines the quality of the photograph. A good rule of thumb when using an inexpensive camera is to move a little closer to your subject than you feel is necessary. With inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras, what you see through the viewfinder when making the photograph is not exactly what you will see when the snapshot is printed. Also, don't try to get the whole world into your photos. A good head-and-shoulders shot with beautiful scenery in the background says more than a panoramic view with a stick figure waving back at you. 2. Always be aware of the range of your flash Ever wonder why your snapshot of Wayne Newton onstage from row 27 didn't come out? The reach of your flash is, at best, only about five feet, so you can get a nifty photo of the people in the row in front of you, but not of the stage. You may want to take some sample shots using your flash to gauge the angle and range of the illumination. 3. Take more than one shot Taking more than one photograph of the same subject is a veteran photographer's rule that applies to amateurs as well. Shoot two or three snapshots of the same subject, and at least one will be worth showing (granted, excessive overshooting can inflate your processing costs). Always try to be creative and vary your point of view. 4. Your landscape composition should include either more sky, more land, or more water When taking scenic shots, the best compositions include lots of sky. When photographing water and sky, you can sometimes include more water in your composition. The old half-sky-and-half-land rule used by many amateur photographers often makes for unexciting snapshots. You can also vary scenic pictures by shooting them vertically rather than horizontally. 5. You should always vary the angle of your snapshots Most portraits are shot at the level of the subject. Scenic photos shot from above or below often have a more vivid, original point of view that will produce truly unique photos. Try looking at art books and publications featuring travel photos to get a better idea of what makes an interesting composition. 6. Never show friends and neighbors your rejected photographs If you want to be known as a good photographer, don't show every single snapshot you make. Most professional photographers show only their best photos, so why shouldn't you? Is anyone really interested in seeing a mediocre photograph? Trust me on this one. 7] When photographing strangers, please show courtesy and always ask them first-and say "please" and "thank you" Many people don't like being photographed without prior permission. Others don't mind being photographed, but they would like a token of your appreciation. Common courtesy goes a long way here. You may find that a willing subject is a more photogenic subject. 8. When shooting outdoor portraits, make sure your subject is facing the sun When you shoot a portrait of a person who has his or her back to the sun, you get a dandy silhouette. If you use your flash as a "fill in" light when shooting against the sun or when shooting in deeply shaded areas, you can save many of your snapshots from the trash can. 9. Move your darn fingers More snapshots have been ruined by photographers' fingers blocking the lens than by overexposure and underexposure combined. This common problem can be solved if you take a moment to observe and think. 10. Make certain your camera has film in it, is loaded properly, and has an uncovered lens You'd be surprised to know just how many people fail to load their camera properly or load it at all. Many fumble-fingered types get frustrated loading a 35mm camera. If you are one of these people, go to a camera shop and ask the salesperson how it's done. Many shots are also lost due to the photographer's failure to uncover the camera's lens. Also, every camera has a small clear plastic window on its back where you can see the brand and speed of the film you're using. If you don't see numbers and bright colors in the little window, you probably don't have film in your camera. Lastly, make certain you know how to rewind and remove the film when you have used up your roll. Some final bargain pointers Use high-quality film and don't cut corners with cheap film processing. And remember that you can save a little more money by purchasing your Fuji or Kodak film at Costco or some other reputable discount chain. You can also find good film-processing by contacting your local camera club to see where its members process their own film. Which speed film to use? You can't go wrong with either 200-speed or 400-speed film. The 200-speed is a good all-purpose film for outdoors and indoors when using a flash. When shooting under overcast conditions or snapping action shots, 400-speed film is better. When practicing the Ten Terrific Tips and working to keep the "dumb" out of your photographs, you will meet with few setbacks in your learning. If you stick with the program, your travel photos can be transformed from awful to awesome, and you can also have the satisfaction of knowing you saved money in the process.
A Guide to Chesapeake Bay
North America's largest estuary, the Chesapeake commands more than 4,500 miles of shoreline, mostly in Maryland and Virginia. It's a vast water realm into which flow 19 major rivers and hundreds of smaller creeks and streams. You could spend a lifetime exploring all the bay has to offer-let me introduce you here to the highlights. I'll take you to two remote Chesapeake islands-Tangier and Smith-where the same families, descendants of early colonial-era settlers, have been farming and fishing for more than three centuries. Among themselves, they speak an Old English-type dialect that we outsiders have trouble understanding. We'll gaze at flocks of Canada geese numbering in the thousands at a national wildlife refuge, study the hard and isolated life of Chesapeake watermen in a pair of evocative museums. Here and there, you'll have an opportunity for a cooling dip at a sandy state-park beach. And though, even at their source, the Chesapeake's famed fresh crabs and oysters can be expensive, I'll show you where you can get the best deal. And every day you're by the bay, you'll be treated-at no extra charge-to magnificent waterscapes. Just off the main roads, little seems to have changed down through the decades. Getting started I've organized this guide as three varied getaways in Maryland and Virginia. All can be enjoyed on a two- or three-day trip. Put together a vacation that features just one or two or more. Got a week? Plan an 800-mile circle drive along both shores of the bay and do it all. If you're flying into Chesapeake Country, the most convenient major airport is Baltimore-Washington International, well served by Southwest Airlines. You will need a car. Thrifty (800/847-4389, thrifty.com) often offers the lowest summer rentals out of BWI. I recently found a one-week rate of $136 for an economy-size car with unlimited mileage. For the same week, Dollar (800/800-4000, dollar.com) was next lowest at $150, followed by Alamo (800/327-9633, alamo.com) at $160. The Chesapeake beckons travelers year-round. Weather-wise, spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons for many bay sports: Sailing, bicycling, hiking, and fishing. Sultry summer is the most expensive time to go-and, unfortunately, you're apt to get tangled in the crowds bound for the Atlantic beaches. Winter is best for bird-watching, when migrating geese, ducks, and swans arrive from the north. And it's definitely the least-expensive season, although snow is an occasional threat. Midweek tends to be cheaper in any season. As an example of winter savings, I made a special trip around the bay in February to find good budget lodging. In historic Yorktown, Virginia, where George Washington's troops trapped the British Army and won the Revolutionary War, my Chesapeake-view motel, the Duke of York (757/898-3232), charged just $60 a night. Since I was there as a sightseer keen on walking the well-preserved bayside battlefield, a nippy sea breeze didn't bother me a bit. In summer, when Yorktown's small beach tempts, the rate doubles. Budget tip: On the Chesapeake, you'll want to sample seafood. But slim catches due to overfishing have jacked up prices. To really save money on meals, take advantage of the region's huge chicken-raising industry. Poultry is plentiful here. Full platters of "Maryland fried chicken" go for under $6. Better yet, keep your eyes out for community-sponsored oyster roasts and chicken barbecues-popular local events. Room rates are for two people in summer, except where noted. State parks described below charge a per-car fee of $1-$3. Once around the Bay Some of you will want to see all of the Chesapeake, and I recommend you do. A week's loop around the bay-approximately 800 miles-is full of rewards for folks who enjoy exploring America's natural treasures by car. I've plotted a scenic route that will take you over soaring bridges and down quiet waterside lanes. Day 1: Begin in Annapolis, Maryland (45 minutes from Baltimore). Once a thriving colonial port, it's the home of the U.S. Naval Academy and one of the nation's major sailing and powerboat centers. Stroll bustling City Dock to see oceangoing yachts, catch a sailboat race, or grab a carry-out crab-cake sandwich at the Market House. Stay just outside Annapolis at the Super 8 (800/800-8000, $60 weekdays/$75 weekends). Or stay at an alternative lodging, the 69-room Days Inn (800/329-7466), charging $75 per room weekdays/$109 weekends. Dine on barbecue at popular Red Hot & Blue; half slab of ribs $10.99. Day 2: Just east of Annapolis, stop for a swim or hike at Sandy Point State Park and then cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge ($2.50 toll) to Maryland's Eastern Shore. Keep to bayside roads as you head south to visit the historic villages of St. Michaels, Tilghman, and Oxford. Catch the Tred Avon River car ferry from Bellevue to Oxford ($5.50) for a cheap ride on the bay. Stay in Easton at the 103-room Atlantic Budget Inn (410/822-2200, $69 weekdays/$89 weekends). Dine where the locals do at H & G Restaurant; fried oyster platter $8.25. An alternative in Cambridge, 16 miles south, is the 96-room Cambridge Inn (410/221-0800, $60 weekdays/$89 weekends). Dine down the street at Kay's Country Kitchen. Day 3: Travel more backcountry roads; they're great for bicycling, too. In Cambridge, try your luck at the Fishing Pier. To the south, stop at the 26,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (410/228-2677) to learn about the Chesapeake's role as a winter habitat for massive flocks of waterfowl. Walk or drive the marsh-edge wildlife trail (car entry fee $3) and you might see as many as 20,000 Canada geese. Hundreds took flight as my car, one of very few on a February morning, inched along. Take the bridge-hopping road to Hooper Island for water views and lunch at Old Salty's, a fisherman's hangout. Stay in Crisfield at the Pines Motel (410/968-0900, $60 weekdays/$70 weekends) or the Somers Cove Motel (410/968-1901, $60 weekdays/$75 weekends). Dine on the bay at the Captain's Galley or down the street at the Dockside. Day 4: In summer, catch the Captain Tyler to Smith Island for the day (410/425-2771), $20. Take a look at Crisfield's crab-picking plants, where crabmeat is removed from shells. Spend another night in town. Day 5: Continue south into Virginia's Eastern Shore, pausing briefly for a look at the attractive towns of Accomac, Onancock, and Cape Charles. Swim and fish at Kiptopeke State Park. Stay and dine outside Cape Charles at the 73-room Best Western Sunset Beach Resort (800/899-4786, $89 weekdays/$99 weekends). A better deal: $64 weekdays/$76 weekends September 3-December 31; $59 weekdays/$64 weekends January 1-March 31. Another lodging option, north of Cape Charles, is the 41-room Anchor Motel in Nassawadox (757/442-6363, $60-$65). Day 6: Cross the 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel ($10 toll), which spans the mouth of the bay, and follow I-64 and U.S. 17 to Yorktown. Study the Chesapeake's role in the Battle of Yorktown at the Yorktown Battlefield ($4), visit the Watermen's Museum on the Yorktown waterfront, and continue north via U.S. 17 and State Routes 3 and 200 to Reedville for the night.(See "Islands Out of Time," below, for Reedville-area motels and restaurants.) Don't miss the Reedville Fishermen's Museum, $2. Day 7: Catch the tour boat to Tangier Island for the day (see below for lodging and dining on Tangier Island). Or spend another night in Reedville. Day 8: Return to Annapolis to close the loop via U.S. 360, State Route 3, and U.S. 301, stopping for a picnic on the Potomac River at Virginia's Westmoreland State Park. For a shorter Chesapeake vacation, consider the following overnight excursions: Islands Out of Time: A Bay Cruise from Reedville, Virginia, To Tangier and Smith Islands For three centuries, the families on tiny Tangier Island (Virginia) and Smith Island (Maryland) have lived by fishing the Chesapeake. In summer, they set out wire traps, called "pots," for crabs. In winter, they seek a harvest of oysters. Year-round, they battle the weather-from wind-whipped blizzards to the occasional fall hurricane. But what most interests visitors, who are welcome, is how much the islanders still do without in our age of indulgence. No hospital, no movie theater, no pubs or bars. Most get around more by boat than by car, which they leave parked on the mainland 12 miles away. From late spring into fall, tour boats from four ports carry crab-hungry sightseers to the islands, and a daily mail boat provides transportation for the residents year-round. Last year, I visited both islands on a two-day getaway out of the port of Reedville, Virginia, about four hours south of Baltimore. I like little Reedville because its historic wealth from the fishing industry is evidenced in a Main Street lined with well-kept Victorian mansions. And the Reedville departures often provide a chance to watch the town's commercial fishing fleet in action. Details: To get to know the watermen and their families-and to hear their lilting accents-stay on the islands at one of several modest bed-and-breakfast inns. On Tangier, the eight-room Chesapeake House (757/891-2331) provides lodging (shared bath), dinner, and breakfast for $40 per person. On Smith Island, the rate is $75 for two for lodging and breakfast at the four-room (shared bath) Ewell Tide Inn (888/699-2141). I stayed on the slightly cheaper mainland, taking boat trips on successive days to each of the islands (departures at 10 a.m., return 3:45 p.m.). Best bets for lodging are the 20-room Bay Motel in Reedville (804/453-5171, $59-$65) and the 29-room Whispering Pines Motel in White Stone, Virginia, about 20 miles south (804/435-1101, $59-$69). Round-trip fare to either island is $20 for adults. For Tangier, board the Chesapeake Breeze (804/453-2628); for Smith, the Captain Evans (804/453-3430). For More information National Park Service/Chesapeake Bay Program Office (800/968-7229, baygateways.net). Provides information on 90 sites offering unique Chesapeake experiences-sponsors the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. Also contact: Virginia Tourism Corporation (800/934-9184, virginia.org); Maryland Office of Tourism Development (800/634-7386, mdisfun.org).
The lively, dynamic city of Austin boasts over half a million residents but manages to retain a sort of down-home charm too often lacking in Texas's larger cities. The liveliness is brought about by more than 50,000 students attending its well-regarded University of Texas, by the city's thriving industry of musical entertainment, a burgeoning high-tech industry, and finally by a political population of lawmakers and administrators in attendance at the State Capitol (LBJ and George W. Bush are former Austin residents). The down-home charm is aided by the beauty of the hill country, which dominates this part of central Texas. Another draw for tourists is the ease of using and enjoying the intellectual and entertainment offerings of the large university. As a state-owned institution financed by tax revenues, those facilities are available to the public at large, and most of them are absolutely free of charge. What will a stay cost? That's the best news of all. A low-cost student town in one of the least-expensive states, Austin boasts bargains as thick as black Texas crude. The standard orientation The 357 acres of the university campus are just northeast of downtown and the State Capitol building. Grand in scale (true to Texan style), the campus is dotted with oak trees and big limestone buildings with red-tile roofs. You gain a panoramic view of the area from "The Tower" of the Main Building, located near the western edge of the campus. You can also take free, one-and-a-half-hour, student-led walking tours of the campus Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (in May and December, 2 p.m. only) and Saturday at 2 p.m. Tours depart from the Information Desk (512/475-7348) on the ground floor of the Main Building, and like similar escorted walks at every large college in America, they feature colorful anecdotes on student life, campus lore, and local personalities. A better starting point But the real excitement of a trip to Austin is in the chance to participate in the actual intellectual life of this giant university-its daily gatherings, speakers, meetings, protests, plays and performances, even its classroom lectures and discussions, almost all of which are freely open to the public at large. And for that, you proceed to the Texas Union building (at 24th and Guadalupe Streets), which is not only the venue for many of these activities but serves as a central source of information on whatever else is happening on other parts of the campus. Schedules and announcements are obtained at the helpful Texas Union Information Center (512/475-6636, utexas.edu/student/txunion), which recently disclosed-for one short period-such stimulating no-charge events as a lecture with animal rights activist and filmmaker Josh Harper, a Latino comedy night, an appearance of James Earl Jones speaking on various aspects of theater and culture, a performance of belly dancing, several interesting exhibits, and an absolutely free sneak preview of a Hollywood film prior to its general release. The same Texas Union publishes a calendar (distributed free) of every event on campus, which you can acquire in advance of your arrival by logging on to utexas.edu/student/txunion/calendar. And the Union is well stocked with free copies of the campus newspaper, the Daily Texan (dailytexanonline.com), which lists other more impromptu speeches, meetings, and performances. The Texas Union is also the site of the well-known Cactus Cafe (512/475-6515), which presents musical performances by vocalists and instrumentalists of every kind; Billboard magazine once listed it as one of only 15 "solidly respected, savvy clubs from which careers can be cut, that work with proven names and new faces." Lyle Lovett, Allison Krauss, and Nanci Griffith are among the stars who appeared here early in their careers. Tickets for shows start at a reasonable $5, and the Cactus Cafe's menu includes pitas, bagels, pizza, and empanadas, all for under $7. Classes, plays, and concerts As at most state universities financed by taxes, large auditorium-style lectures and classes at UT can be attended free of charge and with little or no fuss (when you are one of perhaps hundreds in the audience). To sit in on smaller classes, you'll want to first check with the Registrar's Office (512/475-7575) about "auditing" a particular session. On-campus entertainment includes student-generated productions sponsored by the University's Theatre and Dance Department (tickets start at $9), and a variety of touring music and dance productions at the Performing Arts Center (tickets start at $18). For more information and schedules, call 512/471-1444 or visit utpac.org. In the world of classical music, UT's Early Music Ensemble (512/371-0099, utexas.edu/cofa/music/uteme/index.html) performs vocal and instrumental works of the medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and classic periods at Bates Recital Hall, and these are free and open to the public. The recently published, much-acclaimed Robert Caro biography of LBJ has focused renewed attention on the mammoth and fascinating Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (512/916-5136, lbjlib.utexas.edu), which sits at the eastern edge of campus on Red River Street. Here, among other things, you can listen in on LBJ's taped phone conversations, check out the simulated Oval Office (seven-eighths the size of the original), and tour Lady Bird's former White House office, which is also re-created in exacting detail, down to the funky '60s furniture and family snapshots. This important museum is open every day 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission and parking are free. Elsewhere in Austin In this capital of Texas, you may also want to experience the residential lifestyle of the state's First Family at the Governor's Mansion (1010 Colorado Ave., 512/463-5516, governor.state.tx.us/mansion). Free tours are conducted every 20 minutes Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to noon. Across the street: The State Capitol of Texas (11th St. and Congress Ave., 512/463-0063) is 14 feet higher than the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Free tours begin every 15 minutes on weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and every 30-45 minutes on weekends, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Walk to the other side of the Capitol building and you will see a monumental 35-foot bronze star marking the entrance to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 N. Congress Ave., 512/936-8746, thestoryoftexas.com), which displays through multimedia exhibits everything you ever wanted to know about the Lone Star State for $5. Lodgings For lodging during your stay, you can always choose from every famous name in low-cost motel chains-they're all here in Austin. But my recommendations are for three more distinctive properties, named in ascending order of cost: For old-school cool and affordability, you might first choose the Austin Motel (1220 S. Congress Ave., 512/441-1157, austinmotel.com), where doubles start at only $60. Each room here is thematically unique (such as the Beach Room, the Great Wall of China Room, etc.), and there's a classic '50s pool to boot. Or try Hotel San Jose (1316 S. Congress Ave., 800/574-8897, sanjosehotel.com), surely the trendiest spot in Austin, with 40 rooms offering a taste of urban-loft living. Concrete floors and wrought-iron fixtures contrast with honey-colored wood, thick futons, and olive-green doors. The courtyard features a tiny but warm pool-made more for mingling than for laps. Rooms are $69 per double for a shared bath, $105 for private bath, and rates include continental breakfast, DSL access, and newspapers in the lobby. The historic 1888 Miller-Crockett House (112 Academy Dr., 888/441-1641, millercrockett.com) is a charming, well-appointed, plantation-style B&B run by the perky hostess, Kat Mooney. For $99, two can sleep in Caroline's Room-complete with brass bed and a balcony with a view. A gourmet breakfast is included, free evening yoga is offered on the lawn, and mountain bikes are available for guests' use at no extra charge. BBQ heaven Texas barbecue is the best the world over (proudly claim the Texans), and a great place to chow down on this specialty is local favorite Salt Lick (FM 1826, in Driftwood, 512/894-3117, saltlickbbq.com) near the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Try the heaping family-style (and family-size) meat combo for $8.95 and then top it off with freshly-made-this-morning peach cobbler (tm) la mode ($4.95)-and you'll understand why local girls Sandra Bullock and the Dixie Chicks keep coming back.