Thursday, July 10, 2014

Top 10 Summer Travel Trends

What's trending in travel this summer?  You may be surprised. Our friends at Choice Hotels recently conducted a survey among 1,350 U.S. adults that are planning to take one or more overnight leisure trips this summer.  Below are the top 10 trends found. 
1. More Trips, But Fewer Nights Away
There will be a 17.2 percent increase in the number of leisure trips taken this summer, but travelers
will spend fewer nights away, with a decrease of 9.4 percent.
2. Travelers Would Rather Lose Their Luggage than Their Phone
In this increasingly digital world, survey results showed that Millennials and parents with children under 12 years of age would rather lose their luggage than their mobile phone when travelling.
3. The Beach in August
August will be the busiest month for leisure travel this summer. When asked about their preferred leisure travel destination, 43.1 percent of respondents said they would most enjoy a beach, followed by mountains at 12.3 percent and a city at 10.4 percent.
4. Travelers Prefer Driving
The survey found that 75.3 percent of summer travelers are planning to drive to their leisure travel destination this summer, driving an average of 689 miles round-trip. Fifty percent of respondents also said that they would prefer a two-hour drive compared to a flight, bus or train ride to get to their summer vacation.
5. Free High-Speed Internet Most Important
Free high-speed Internet was selected by 65.5 percent of respondents as the "must-have" amenity when selecting a hotel or resort for summer travel. Following free high-speed internet, free continental breakfast and an in-room refrigerator polled highest for needed amenities at 54.5 and 49.6 percent, respectively.
6. Loyalty Programs Influence Travelers' Booking Decisions
The survey also showed that 34.6 percent of travelers say that loyalty and incentive programs influence where, how and when they travel, and over 53 percent of respondents are enrolled in travel rewards programs.
7. Camping is the Least Favorite Vacation
Nearly 40 percent of travelers (38.2 percent) said that camping was the least desirable type of summer vacation.
8. New Locations Trump Old Favorites
Almost 70 percent of respondents (66.8 percent) would prefer to visit somewhere new over returning to a favorite vacation destination this summer.
9. Travelers Want to Explore Cuisines, Unless They Have Kids
When on summer vacation, 28.9 percent of respondents choose to dine at restaurants they can't find at home, unless they are traveling with children. If travelers have children under 12 years of age, 24.5 percent most often visit casual dining restaurants, like TGI Friday's and Applebee's.
10. Millennials are Travelling with Pets
The survey found that Millennials are 21.7 percent more likely than older generations to be traveling with a pet this summer. Correlatively, 34.2 percent said locating a place to stay was the greatest inconvenience when travelling with a pet.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Travel Beauty Packing Tips - Consolidation is Key

Packing is easily one of the biggest hurdles of traveling. From clothing and shoes to soaps and gels, there are countless items 
to remember before jetting off – and when you’re only allotted up to 50 lbs per bag, The struggle is real. However, any experienced traveller knows consolidation is key.

This summer, avoid the packing dread and use products that serve a dual purpose. Here are a handful of space saving must haves for all of your travelling toiletry needs.

1.     Tinted moisturizer with SPF. Who wants to cake on heavy makeup while frolicking on vacation?  Tinted moisturizers or BB creams, which have built in SPF, are usually very light in texture so you wont feel like your makeup is sweating off in the hot sun either. Huge bonus.
2.     800razors.com’s Women’s 5 Blade. This razor offers a lubricated moisturizing strip that allows you to ditch the bulky shaving cream can. With a lubricated moisture strip, you can just use any other soap you may have on hand – i.e. hotel soap, shampoo, or even conditioner.
3.     Nail Polish Strips. Perfectly prepped nails are a must for any summer get away, but if you plan to strut your stuff on the beach all week, you’re more than likely to experience a chipped toenail or two. Rather than packing nail polish and topcoat for touch ups, pack polish strips that stick on and stay with zero drying time.
4.     Dry Shampoo. Blow dryer heat is the enemy after a day in the sun. Instead of overheating and damaging your hair by washing it daily, a dry shampoo will give your hair some bounce with little to no prep time. Skip the boat load of hair products, and keep it simple with this great hair day in can.

Vacation should be about relaxation, not about stressing over your luggage. Safe travels!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Girls Getaway to Toronto

With festivals like Luminato and the Toronto International Film Festival and museums like the Art
Gallery of Ontario (AGO), there’s no denying that Toronto is one of the most culturally vibrant cities in North America. It’s just a hop away from many major U.S. cities and easy to navigate, even for first-time visitors.

From Chicago, the best way to get to Toronto is with Porter Airlines. You may not have heard of Toronto’s regional air carrier, but I’d fly them again in a heartbeat. Porter’s Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft are small, just two seats on each side, but very quiet. There is no first or business class, but everyone is offered complimentary nuts, cookies and vegetable chips along with a choice of beverage (including alcohol) served in a real glass. Porter also flies to New York, Washington D.C., Boston, and Myrtle Beach.

 It was smooth sailing from Midway into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located on the Toronto Islands. A two-minute ferry ride later and I was downtown! Sure beats a 45 minutes drive from Pearson International Airport.

As soon as I entered my room at the Shangri-La Toronto, I was greeted with a lovely painter’s palette
of chocolate truffles and an exquisite assortment of macarons. Pastry Chef Kate Siegel knows the way to my heart. The property is not quite two years old and the rooms and lobby still have a brand-new gleam. Hong Kong-based Shangri-La doesn’t have any properties in the United States yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that changes soon.

Guestrooms are sumptuous and spacious, with plush bamboo-weave carpeting and dark mahogany furniture. Ubiquitous Asian decor, from large-scale Chinese calligraphy in the lobby to delicate origami cranes on the nightstand, creates an elegant yet contemporary ambiance.

Right next door is David Chang’s Momofuku empire, with five restaurant concepts housed under one

roof. Momofuku Daishō has an eclectic Asian fusion menu with unique Canadian touches (like local Monforte Toscano cheese with charred cabbage) that will leave you salivating for more. A shiitake-mushroom crusted whole speckled trout strewn with asparagus, morels and ramps stole the show. I couldn’t imagine a better representation of spring. Frozen chocolate mousse for dessert was dressed with milk cream and toasted rice, like a sophisticated Asian malted milk ball.

Art lovers must visit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), which has an extensive Canadian collection, with an emphasis on Toronto and Ontario artists like David Milne. There are also plenty of exhibits featuring art spanning the globe from Africa to Asia. We even had the chance to see resident artist Bonnie Devine at work, as she painted an entire wall depicting her own version of the battle for the woodlands between European settlers and indigenous people for an upcoming exhibition featuring Anishinaabe artists of the Great Lakes.

The cutest neighborhood in Toronto award goes to the Distillery Historic District. In the last decade,
the formerly dilapidated buildings have been revitalized as a haven for artists as well as great shopping, restaurants and Ontario’s only locally brewed sake. Don’t miss the bean-to-bar chocolate at SOMA Chocolate or local contemporary art at Thompson Landry Gallery. If you’d rather shop for local food than clothing, head to St. Lawrence Market. Saturday is the busiest day here, when two entire buildings are full of fresh produce, seafood, meats and baked goods.

There’s no better place to unwind after a busy day of exploring than the Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris at the Shangri-La. The signature hammam and grommage
treatment is not for the shy. First, I enjoyed a steam chamber before having my entire body gently exfoliated with eucalyptus black Moroccan soap. After my body was scrubbed soft and clean, it was only fitting to brighten my face with a facial using Caudalie’s grape-based skincare line. My aesthetician expertly assessed my skin and customized the facial based on my skin concerns. The Moroccan theme carries through the spa décor and in the baklava and warm chai tea brought to me post-treatment.

Toronto is a great destination for ladies from various cities to meet up. Everyone is so friendly, so it’s easy to make new friends when you go out. Whether you’re looking you’re looking for traditional luxury, artistic enlightenment, great food or all of the above, you can find it here.


Thank you to Shangri-La Toronto and Porter Airlines for sponsoring my trip!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 3


For a more affordable option, head 25 miles east in Mesa. Fuchsia Day Spa has a blow dry bar and salon for manicures and pedicures as well as treatment rooms for massages and facials. The massage therapists and aestheticians are upbeat and friendly

Clearly, we ate very well in Phoenix and one of our favorite restaurants was Beckett’s Table for its
casual, affordable but delicious Southwestern cuisine. Although customers rave about Chef Justin Beckett’s short rib, his vegetable platter blew us away. The dish masquerades on the menu as “seasonal organic vegetables, inspired daily,” a simple description that doesn’t do this carnivore-converting entrée justice. Everything from asparagus and romanesco to sea beans, tomatoes and foraged greens were presented raw, cooked, roasted and pureed mimicking a multi-course vegetable tasting menu. Just because we started out virtuous doesn’t mean we didn’t save room for dessert. The signature dessert here is the buttery fig and pecan pie complemented by tangy cream cheese citrus zest ice cream. Share a slice and you won’t feel quite as guilty.

Whether you prefer beer or wine, there are plenty of local options for imbibing. Hit Arizona Brewery Tours, the state’s only brewery tour, to sample craft brews from a selection of tasting rooms. You can easily customize a private tour and the variety and quality of beers to sample is impressive. We especially enjoyed brews from Desert Eagle, The Perch and Arizona Wilderness, recently rated the best new brewery in the world by ratebeer.com. For wine, Postino Wine Café has three locations and a great selection of wines and fantastic bruschetta. With our gaggle of gals, we managed to try just about all the bruschetta flavors. You can’t miss their house tomato jam with sheep’s milk cheese or the prosciutto, fig and mascarpone spread. On Mondays and Tuesdays, you can choose any bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Arizona is a place for relaxing and savoring life over great food and even better conversation. We’d  come back next year with our men to catch a Cubs spring training game and dine at Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain, supposedly one of the most romantic restaurants around.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 2


Agritourism is a surprisingly good reason to love the Phoenix metro area. We strongly support the movement towards eating local, organic and sustainable food so we’re big fans of Queen Creek Olive Mill, Orange Patch and The Farm at South Mountain. The Farm is a pecan grove and working farm, selling fresh produce to visitors at weekly farmers markets. There are yoga and cooking classes too, plus three restaurants on site serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. We enjoyed a bountiful brunch including a kale and quinoa salad with golden raisins and pepitas and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with fennel syrup and mint.

Orange Patch is a cute citrus general store, great for fresh-squeezed pulpy orange juice, fresh fruit, honey and other local food products. Ask if you can peek in back to see the fruit being sorted by size during harvest season. Navel oranges are the best-seller, but we loved the kinnow mandarins, tangelos and rio red grapefruit.

I’d never have guessed that olives would grow so well in the desert, but nearly all of the chef-driven restaurants in the area use local extra virgin olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill, including Rico’s American Grill. Sit out on the patio by the garden and soak up the rays. Chef Ken Arneson somehow managed to feed us a four-course lunch including a decadent buttery triple grilled cheese, pork belly and dessert that clocks in at under 1,000 calories. Arneson is an expert on grilling, gardening and composting and he’s happy to chat with guests and share tips.

Head to the Biltmore for a classy afternoon in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired property. It's 
been a playground for the rich and famous since 1929 and has more gold leaf ceiling than any building in the world, save the Taj Mahal. Enjoy afternoon tea here and some quality girlfriend bonding. We loved the made-to-order finger sandwiches even more than dessert and it's rare we favor savory over sweet. Kevin, the tea sommelier, guided us through an extensive tea selection with knowledge and passion for his craft. After eating, head to the Biltmore Spa and allow your stomach to digest while you enjoy an oxygen infusion facial, where hyraluronic acid and Intraceuticals customized serums are
infused into freshly cleansed skin with what looks like an airbrush makeup spray gun. Finish with microcurrent technology from NuFACE that causes facial muscles to tighten and lift. Both Florence and Silvia deserve shoutouts for incredible service at the spa, something I’ve come to expect from Waldorf-Astoria properties. Plus, right around the corner is the Biltmore Fashion Park including UNION, a collection of fun locally-owned independent retailers and eateries.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.  


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Girls Getaway to Phoenix/Mesa - Day 1


Polar vortex? No problem. Just head with your girlfriends to sunny Phoenix and enjoy great food, spas,
a surprisingly lush and vibrant botanic garden and learn where your food comes from on local farms.

The Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort is like a village in and of itself. The sprawling resort has nearly 600 suites available and there’s so much to do, including a golf course, spa and several pools, that you could easily be lazy and stay on property for several days. One attraction that’s not to be missed is Different Pointe of View, a fine dining restaurant offering a panoramic view of the valley and scrumptious food with a great wine list. What better way to end the day than watching the blazing red sunset while enjoying diver scallops and sunchokes and sipping champagne?

We never would have guessed the desert would have such lush and vibrant greenery, but the gorgeous Desert Botanical Garden, celebrating its 75th birthday, proved to us otherwise. Who knew there were so many different types of prickly pear? Indian fig prickly pear is the only kind you should be eating, but the other shapes and textures are fun to compare and contrast. The gardens offer an array of classes for kids and adults, ranging from photography and sketching to gardening and cooking. We had fun learning to make traditional mole sauce in a pressure cooker along with a simple and refreshing prickly pear sorbet at a class taught by personal chef Denise Clayton.

Author Amber Gibson is a Food/Travel Writer, Model & Actress from Chicago currently contributing to the Girls Getaway Guide. To find out more about Amber, visit www.AmberGibson.com.