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The holiday travel season is upon us. One of the most popular traveling seasons of the year, December 2014 saw a staggering 70,200,000 people board planes in Canada and the United States. This number promises to grow year over year as the total enplanement rate rose by 2.5 per cent from 2013 to 2014 and grew the years prior by 1.4 per cent overall. While we have historical data for previous years, we can only count on early reports to gauge data for the 2015 holiday travel season. FlightHub, a Canadian-based online travel agency, and their CEO Matt Keezer have released their projected December and January bookings.

While traditional holiday destinations dominated the standings, we have chose to focus on flights to the American southwest. This is due to the fact that Winter months more or less restrict outdoor adventure to the South. The Southwest features some the stunning outdoor locales combined with unique urban destinations. With that in mind we chose three destinations that both performed well on FlightHub’s holiday list and offered a unique blend of adventure and relaxation.

1 – Phoenix, Arizona

First up is Phoenix, Arizona. This Arizona city is home to many snowbirds who travel, and in some cases move for months at a time, to the southwest to escape the harsh winters of the Northern United States and Canada. Phoenix accounted for 1.71 per cent of all of FlightHub’s holiday bookings and was the highest trafficked southwestern destination by a healthy margin, outpacing the second place American city by about 70%. For the sake of context, the top global destination, London, UK, accounted for 7.50 per cent of all bookings.

Read More Top Holiday Travel Sites

SXSWi 2011 is coming up March 11 – 15, 2011.  If you’re planning on making a trip out to Austin to get your geek on then we have a few suggestions on how to bid your time while in the Live Music Capital of the World.

Getting There: Austin’s main airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), is situated a little outside Austin city limits, but luckily isn’t too far of a taxi ride into downtown Austin.  There are also plenty of car rental options at the airport if you feel like a little independence.

Where to Stay: Unless you have already reserved your hotel downtown near the Austin Convention Center either through SXSW’s hotel reservation system or on your own, you probably will have very little luck reserving one so late in the game. Fret not! There are many more hotels in Austin that, while not within walking distance of SXSW, are still available and even on the shuttle route to and from SXSW. The SXSW website has a list of hotels that are participating in the shuttle service.  If a hotel isn’t a possibility, check out craigslist for temporary apartments, rooms, couches or you can also look into Couch Surfing, airbnb, or HomeAway.

How to Get Around: If you’re staying in a hotel near the Austin Convention Center and not really planning on doing much driving, there may be no need for you to rent a vehicle for your stay.  Downtown Austin is easily walkable and public transportation is very accessible. Shuttle passes for those staying outside of downtown to and from SXSW are available for $40 if purchased before February 15. Austin’s public transportation, Capital Metro, is a popular option for SXSW attendees.  You can plan your excursions on the Metro website or on Google Transit.  Getting around downtown Austin should be pretty easy; however, if you’re planning on making any trips outside of Austin, logistics may get a little more complicated if you’re going any direction other than toward the airport.

Where to Dine: Options for eating out are plentiful. But remember that you can’t good Tex-Mex outside of Texas so don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

Where to Drink: Um, just about anywhere. Don’t ask me, ask the crowd where they are going!

What to Do: There’s going to be plenty of parties to attend while at SXSWi. If you want to venture out a little and enjoy the Austin nightlife one option that shouldn’t be overlooked is La Zona Rosa. LZR is a local live music venue that hosts many different genres of performers.  If you have time, check out the lineup and enjoy!  do512 has hundreds of parties listed that are specific to SXSW attendees. There are so many party and event options available this site may make it even more difficult to decide what to do. Or just go to all of them. No one sleeps at SXSW anyway.

If you’re on Twitter, and you are because everyone at SXSWi is, then just follow some of the popular hashtags and learn where everyone’s headed.  Keep your Gowalla and Foursquare handy as well, as you’ll be seeing tons of check-ins all night across Austin.

 

Follow Our Revolution‘s epic trek to SXSW! Their roadtrip from NYC down to Austin and back up to Boston after SXSW will include stopovers in cities along they way.  Their mission is

Sparked by the need to share the social good that is occurring in the world, Our Revolution Road trip will connect these sustainable models and the innovators who are creating them in totally new and wildly playful ways. Our trip is designed to change the world — and will be curated by a team of award-winning creatives and entrepreneurs with more than a decade’s experience making breakthrough social, independent and grassroot change.

Our Revolution has teamed up with Tripping.com for this noble venture and you can follow Our Revolution’s trip on their Tripping network page.

Some interesting travel related events we’ll be attending:

Sunday, March 13

11:00AM – Technomadism – Becoming a Technology Enabled Nomad hosted by Cherie & Chris of Technomadia

12:30PM – How to Make Money Traveling Around the World hosted by Jason Boehle of Golden Book Traveler

2:00PM – Nomadic SXSW Meetup

Photo courtesy of smeidu

Written by DIWYY’s Jerri Stephenson, who loves Austin and you will too!

Nope, those aren’t birds…they’re bats! Griffin Stewart captured this image in 2006 while visiting the Congress Street Bridge in Austin, Texas. The bridge design is a perfect house for bats and every night at dusk millions of bats pour out from under the bridge and head towards Mexico for a bug buffet.  It is truly an amazing thing to watch and one of the most memorable things I have seen in my life.  The bats keep coming out for maybe half an hour and you can see what looks like a river in the sky of bats for miles toward the end of the exodus. View more of Griffin’s amazing photographs from around the world on his website.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with hotels. I have memories of playing hotel when I was 8 years old. With a registry tablet containing scribbles of names of hotel guest reservations in front of me, I’d make my friends pretend to check-in to the hotel. I’d say, ” yes, Miss Jones, we have been expecting you,” then mark her name of the list. Next friend comes along to my desk, “Checking in Mr. Clay? Oh, I see your room is not quite ready.” Where I learned this I don’t know, but I could play that game for hours. My little friends didn’t want to.

Fast forward 20 years, and I’m even more obsessed with hotels. I love comparing hotels online to see the different amenities hotels have to offer (Hilton charges $9 per day for wi-fi, Best Western’s wi-fi is free.). Hotel service and beds can make or break my experience at a hotel.  Coffee makers in the room are a must. Complimentary late check-out is a bonus. I could go on and on about my neurotic hotel requirements.

I’ve stayed at countless hostels, hotels and bed and breakfasts including working at a hotel in the Caribbean and working on private luxury yachts which are basically floating hotels. I know what hotel service should be and definitely what it should not be.  When I check in, I don’t want to hear the front desk person talking to the other hotel desk person about how they couldn’t wait to get off work and how they didn’t want to be there which is what happened to me last month at the Galveston Hilton. Excuse me, unless I asked I did not just pay $400 dollars to hear about your plans for the weekend.

I can and will go on about horrible hotel stays in future posts. But today I want to talk about an amazing experience I had at the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio.

Recently, I went with a friend for a weekend in San Antonio.  I compared hotels online for hours (remember, that’s the fun part for me). My requirements were:

  • Boutique-like hotel.  No chain hotels
  • Overlooking the Riverwalk. Not across the street from the Riverwalk or in the vicinity of the Riverwalk
  • Big fluffy white bed
  • Fitness room and pool

I finally narrowed my choices down in the end between Hotel Valencia and Omni La Mansión del Rio.  In the end, I chose Hotel Valencia because I remember going to the bar at the Hotel Valencia in San Jose with Kristina (oddly enough) and having loved the atmosphere. Despite the fact that fitness room and pool was a requirement, they actually didn’t have a pool. I assumed they would. Silly me.

I got an awesome package deal which included dinner for two at their restaurant, Citrus, complimentary valet parking, and turn down service all for less than my horrible, horrible experience at the Galveston Hilton where I basically got nothing (more on that in another post).

When we arrived it was super busy and valet looked swamped.  Surprisingly, we didn’t have to wait for long as an extremely friendly valet guy came to help us out.  The foyer of the hotel was stunning. The room has a centered fireplace with the overhead lights turned down very low. I’ve never seen such a dark hotel. While at first it took some getting used to, I realized that the low lighting was actually very calming and soothing.

Check in was a breeze. I didn’t have to wait long for the front desk clerk to give me my room key and direct me to our room. She was so extremely courteous I felt like she already  knew me.

Photos courtesy Hotel Valencia

Our room didn’t overlook the Riverwalk like some other high rise hotels I’ve stayed in San Antonio like the Holiday Inn (which I enjoyed, by the way) but rather looked over other parts of downtown San Antonio. I didn’t mind and knew this when I booked the room.  The room had a lot of natural light filtering in and other than the dark furniture wasn’t lit like the rest of the dark hotel. The bed was beauteous. It’s all I could ask for. It was fluffy and white and huge. You could get lost in for days.

We quickly stashed our belongings in the room and found our way down to the Riverwalk. The hotel had direct access to the Riverwalk on a small, quiet corner of the river. Just a short walk down the river we found the restaurants, bars, entertainment, shopping and other hotels including La Mansión which looked gorgeous.  I always love the Riverwalk because I feel like I’ve been transported out of Texas and into another country entirely. It’s such a gem. Too bad it’s in San Antonio and not Houston but I digress.

Since we already had dinner reservations at Citrus back at the hotel, we opted to have some margaritas at a little bar overlooking the river. After one, OK two, drinks we headed back to the hotel to change and go to dinner.

Citrus

It was around 8 pm and the restaurant only had one other full table.  Our waiter was extremely professional and courteous. “Would sir and ma’am like more wine?” “Does ma’am need more time deciding?”

Our meal was three course and to die for. I had crab cake, toasted pumpkin seed, avocado, mesclan salad for my first, 22oz bone in ribeye, creamed potatoes, hericot vert, barbecue glace as my second and cinnamon apple cobbler for dessert. I could have died and gone to heaven. With the package deal the dinner came out to be less than a dinner at Chili’s but one hundred times better. Service was so amazing I felt like royalty.

There’s this amazing courtyard in the middle of the hotel that is absolutely breathtaking. Once I saw it when searching for hotels, I remembered a very similar courtyard that Kristina took me to in San Jose. I finally deduced that they were hotels from the same hotel group both named Hotel Valencia.  While I was there I really wanted to show my friend the courtyard, but it was reserved all day for weddings. What a beautiful place to have a wedding!

Hotel Valencia Courtyard set up for wedding

Overall, my stay at Hotel Valencia was one of the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had. As an extremely picky hotel guest I was more than pleased. The only thing that would make the hotel better would be a pool even though I’d probably not even use it. I like just knowing it’s there.

Written by Jerri Stephenson, DIWYY co-founder.