Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel Tips for Peru

Thinking of traveling to the land of the Incas? Or just dreaming about a South American sojourn? Check out my latest interview about Peru with Latin America for Less. I've got the 'Gringo Trail' from Lima to Cuzco covered, plus alternative treks to Machu Picchu, what to see if you've only got two weeks in-country, and where to find Peru's best travel bargains and luxury hotels. Even better, the Latin America for Less blog post also has a discount code for 20% off ordering Lonely Planet travel guides online.

Photo: Inca ruins of Moray, Sacred Valley (courtesy of Matthew Barker, Latin America for Less)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Free Online Vacation Planner for Hawaii

It seems like a lot of my travel-writing chickens have been coming home to roost recently. The new edition of Lonely Planet's Hawaii guide, which I co-authored, is now available. I researched and wrote up most of the Oahu chapter, while a few of my talented colleagues covered the Neighbor Islands.

You can get a jump-start on your next Hawaii vacation planning by downloading the book's 'Getting Started' chapter for free (for the PDF, click here). If you don't want to buy the entire guidebook, you might want to just purchase and download PDFs of individual chapters (starting at $2.40) via Lonely Planet's Pick & Mix online shop feature.

Only going to 'The Gathering Place' (i.e., Oahu) and not any other islands? See my earlier post for a free excerpt from the brand-new, full-color edition of Lonely Planet's Honolulu, Waikiki and Oahu travel guide, which I also co-authored.

Later this week, I'll be heading to Maui to research, take photographs and do GPS mapping for a new island hiking guide. If you have any tips for places to explore on the Valley Isle, of if you'd like to recommend your favorite hiking trails, let me know by posting a comment below.

Friday, September 25, 2009

National Park Service Spotlights Route 66

This week, the National Park Service (NPS) launched an intriguing new Route 66 mini-site. Now, this isn't the same NPS Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program site that has been around for several years, and which doesn't offer much in the way of useful free travel info. The new site, co-funded by American Express and the World Monuments Fund's sustainable tourism initiative, is more user-friendly, especially for armchair historians and curious travelers who haven't gotten their kicks on Route 66 before. It's part of a larger nationwide project of free history-themed travel itineraries designed to connect the dots between National Register of Historic Places sites, anywhere from Shaker settlements to Underground Railroad stops to Florida shipwrecks.

The new NPS Route 66 mini-site, subtitled
'Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary,' offers historical essays; abbreviated state-by-state lists of historic motels, diners and other attractions; and links to local tourism agencies and nonprofit Route 66 preservation associations. While the mini-site will give first-time travelers a basic orientation to the Mother Road, it isn't as detailed or comprehensive as some other free Route 66 travel websites. That said, the background information on select Route 66 gems is refreshingly in-depth. For example, check out this history of Lou Mitchell's, an iconic coffee shop in Chicago's downtown Loop neighborhood. I happened to visit Lou's earlier this month -- you can't beat the free donuts, ice cream and Milk Duds (although I could've lived without the prune)!

If you're planning a cross-country road trip on Route 66, also check out my recommendations gleaned from years of driving back and forth between Chicago and LA in this free online mini-guide to Route 66.

Photo: Lou Mitchell's, Chicago (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NorCal: HI Redwood National Park Hostel Closing

If you've ever driven the Del Norte County coast along US Hwy. 101, you'll remember the wild, wind-battered beaches that lie north of the riverside hamlet of Klamath. You may have even passed by Hostelling International (HI) Redwood National Park, huddled against a backdrop of giant coast redwoods opposite a practically private cove. If you didn't stop to stay overnight, you may have missed your chance, though.

January 18, 2010 is the date that this youth hostel, crafted out of a historic pioneer homestead, is set to close its doors. Why? The century-old, weather-worn buildings need repairs, as well as seismic retrofitting and renovations to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The National Park Service estimates that it all might cost around $1.5 million.

Why not take a road trip this fall or winter to visit the hostel before it closes? It's conveniently near the beaches and hiking trails of Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, which claims 50 percent old-growth redwood forest. The hostel has all the cozy amenities you'd expect, including a shared kitchen, fireplace lounge and a 'snack-quoia' shop selling locally made gourmet chocolate bars and bark. Special festivities are planned for the hostel's closing weekend. Dorm beds cost from $21/10.50 per adult/child, while the two private rooms start at $59 each; all have shared bathrooms. Make reservations online or by calling (707) 482-8265 or (800) 295-1905.

You can also support future fundraising efforts by the HI-USA Golden Gate Council, which hopes to one day reopen the hostel's doors. The council oversees nine other Northern California hostels, including the historic lighthouse hostels at Point Montara and Pigeon Point, south of San Francisco; the off-the-beaten path Point Reyes and Marin Headlands hostels, north of San Francisco; and the little-known Hidden Villa, on a working organic farm tucked into the Santa Cruz Mountains. All have dorm beds costing from $22-25/night.

Photo: Coast redwoods (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Free Online Mini-Guide to Oahu's Best Experiences

Do you ever get tired of free travel tips? Nope, me neither.

I recently co-wrote the brand-new, full-color edition of Lonely Planet's Honolulu, Waikiki and Oahu travel guide. An excerpt, covering island highlights and recommended vacation itineraries, is available for free download online. Here's a sneak peek of what you'll find inside it:
  • Hitting Oahu's best all-around beach, for its kid-friendly waves or adrenaline-charged water sports.
  • Shopping for vintage aloha shirts and catching traditional Hawaiian music and hula shows.
  • Discovering tropical forest hiking trails, just minutes from downtown Honolulu.
  • Viewing ancient Hawaiian artifacts, like priceless feather capes once worn by royalty.
  • Driving Oahu's most scenic highway (no, it's not on the North Shore!)
At the end of the PDF, you'll also find 3-, 5-, 7- and 8-day vacation planners, plus more trips for surfers, hikers, families with kids and ecoconscious nature lovers.

Share your favorite spots on Oahu by posting a comment below.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Free Online Mini-Guide to Route 66

Ever wondered what it'd be like to travel all 2400 or so miles of Route 66? You'll just have to hit the road to find out, because it's more amazing than I could ever describe: time-warped motor courts and railway whistle stops, 1950s mom-and-pop diners, kitschy roadside attractions and other retro Americana, and so much more.

If you want a preview, I've written an online Route 66 travel itinerary that gives you a bite-sized sampling of highlights of my many trips along the Mother Road, stopping at such classic places as Funk's Grove for maple "sirup" in Illinois, the Devil's Rope Museum in Texas, Tucumcari's Blue Swallow Motel in New Mexico and the genuine Old West mining town of Oatman, Arizona, where wild burros still run amok in the dusty streets.

You can read about all these places, along with dozens of other quirky pit stops between Chicago and Los Angeles, at Route 66: Finding America's Mother Road.

Photo: Cool Springs, Arizona (Sara Benson & Mike Connolly Jr.)