Another Year of Travel Fun

As we slip past the Christmas crush, and 2015 winds down, I want to recap travel resolutions—made and missed—and to reflect on my travel year and all of the places I visited…and those still on the list.

My resolution to exercise while traveling was an unmitigated disaster. I didn’t even work out enough when I was home. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to blast me back into the gym on the road, but I’m actively looking for motivation, and this once again makes my New Year’s list.

I am happy to report that I did not sit in one middle seat all year—my second resolution. I had a banner year of upgrades to business class, thanks to many miles traveled. Sadly, I didn’t stay with one airline all year to consolidate my frequent flyer points, so I won’t have the same “status” next year. If you can always fly the same airline, there are some nice perks associated with frequent flyer status, such as early boarding. And, with a daughter going to and from college, it’s terrific to check three suitcases for free.

As for destinations, I got as far as Mackinac Island again this year, but still need to get over the bridge to the Upper Peninsula. We had a great few family days on the island, which is still magic even after many visits. There is something so special about the lack of cars and the abundance of fudge.

This year, I also fit in a quick visit to Yosemite National Park; it is truly a national jewel. I made it to someplace I had never been—Edinburgh, Scotland. I highly recommend the Scottish capital and its environs as a terrific vacation venue. The people were exceptionally kind, the rental apartment we had was luxurious, and then there was the occasional wee dram of Scottish whiskey!

I scored big on my last resolution, as it was truly a year of family-centered travel and memory making. With a daughter in college and very senior parents, almost every trip was designed to spend time with family, in many and various combinations.

We started the year in a freezing cold viewing stand to watch the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. It was colder in southern California on that day than in Michigan. The parade was worth seeing, however, especially with my husband and daughter, who had never seen it up close in all of its floral glory.

It was also a year of cities: Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans were on my travel dance card. Visiting the outstanding WWII Museum in New Orleans with my mom and stepfather—a veteran—and watching them dance to the music of the era with the “Victory Belles” was unforgettable. Our annual visit to Disneyworld topped the charts this year as my husband’s entire family (including his 80-something parents) made the trip. Traveling in a group of 12 is always a challenge, but Mickey’s magic worked, and we had a great time.

When you don’t want to go anywhere

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Yes, even the Indulgent Traveler, who loves to travel, wants to sleep in her own bed some nights. And as everyone who travels knows, even frugal vacations still cost something, unless you stay with family or friends—and that doesn’t always qualify as a real vacation. So what to do to vanquish tIMG_1200he winter blues at next to no cost?

Plan a grown-up, weekend sleepover, house party, also known as a “staycation.” There’s only one rule – no one can do any work of any kind. Check the smart phones at the door and disconnect. It’s time to relax and reconnect.

Pick a couple of fun friends and find a weekend that works. My husband and I did do a little extra cleaning in anticipation of a recent house party. The extra bedroom had become a depository for seldom-used items and books, for example. A little dusting and voila – the guest suite was ready. I splurged on a new set of sheets – on sale, of course, since the whole point of the staycation is to minimize the cost and to maximize fun.

The next task was to plan a menu that didn’t require too much effort and that would be contribute to the special weekend vibe. To create an appealing appetizer course, we laid in some lovely cheeses and crackers, nuts, dried dates and grapes. My husband picked out a few special bottles of wine. We made a nice green salad for starters and settled on lovely chowder that could be eaten as a main course around a blazing fire. A sinful dessert is a reIMG_1342quirement, so brownies alamode was our choice, served with a zinfandel fudge sauce that we were saving for a special night. Picking up a few entrees to share at a local restaurant would be another way to go if cooking isn’t something you like to do for fun.

After a pleasant evening of conversation, it was time for a movie and fresh popped popcorn with real butter. Given the many available streaming movie options and a few of our favorites on CDs, nobody argued much about our choice. My husband wanted a Godfather marathon, but it wasn’t that kind of evening.

We wanted breakfast to be stress free, so I made a breakfast casserole ahead to be heated up the next morning and served with a great pot of coffee and a spicy Bloody Mary. Or enjoy breakfast out at a local favorite diner. We like the Broadway Grille in downtown Marshall. They have a tasty breakfast burrito, or you can build your own omelet.

We still had a whole day ahead of us, so the next question was what to do for entertainment. Marshall was having its annual ice carving display, so we decided to walk downtown and check out the sculptures while doing some window-shopping. We wandered over to the Honolulu House, because our friends had never visited it. Now over 155 years old, the lovely Italianate structure was built by Abner Pratt, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and then United States Counsel to Hawaii (1857-1859) under President James Buchanan. Be sure to call the Marshall Historical Society for winter hours or an appointment, however!

Our next big decision was where to warm up. Still on our agenda was a visit to the Dark Horse brewery, and we also wanted to take in the EastEnd Studio and Gallery on Marshall’s main street.

Museums, art galleries, local historic homes—all are mostly free to visit and are great stops on a well-planned staycation…or even one that was just thrown together like ours.

There are many ways to indulge, and it does recharge your soul to spend time with people you enjoy, doing unpressured activities that we don’t normally have time to fit into our too busy lives.

 

 

 

 

Looking Forward to a Year of Exploration

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Let me save you the effort of looking back at my travel resolutions for last year. In short, it was almost a total bust of a year, resolution-wise. Life-wise it was a fair to good year but keeping my travel resolutions was a non-starter. The only one of the 10 I got right was remembering my toothbrush and other toiletries.

Really? That’s all I got?

I packed my workout clothes every time and stayed at hotels that will loan you clothes and shoes. I still didn’t work out regularly on the road. Packing healthy snacks? Not once. I did get to the airport a little earlier a few times to avoid that sinking “am I going to miss my flight?” feeling. I seem to remember being a touch more patient when traveling, but I may just be remembering the good stuff.

As for the places I wanted to travel, I scored a big zero. I don’t recall traveling any less, but I didn’t get to Prague or even to the Upper Peninsula. I still haven’t spent a weekend on Lake Huron. I didn’t get to the Florida Keys, but I did get to Sarasota, Fla., and had a lovely sun-soaked few days. Can I count that? I didn’t get to Yosemite or Yellowstone, but I spent an afternoon at Binder Park Zoo. Not quite the same thing as a national park, but a lot closer to home.

I did travel to Disney World again (my husband’s a certified Mouseketeer, so we seem to have a permanent trip plan to see his pal Mickey). We had a lovely family vacation on the Russian River in California wine country. I visited Albion, Lansing and Coldwater and spent some wonderful hours floating on local Michigan lakes. Detroit and Grand Rapids were a big part of my Michigan travel, too. And with a daughter in college in northern California, I made a few trips to visit her. I did have a very short trip to Lusaka, Zambia, but didn’t get to see anything of the country.

Due to my mixed track record for 2014, I’m a little reluctant to outline another set of resolutions for 2015. A few of these have now been on the list unsuccessfully for two years in a row. It’s embarrassing. But I think it might be worse to not even try. I’ll cut back to a simple list of five, however.

1. I will work out every day on every trip. Period. No excuses.

2. I will remember to check my seat assignment as far out as possible. Sitting in a middle seat at my advanced age is simply not a viable option.

3. I will make it to the Upper Peninsula and Lake Huron.

4. I will make it to someplace in Europe that I’ve never been.

5. I will enjoy every moment of time spent traveling with my family and friends, making wonderful indelible memories that sharing adventures in common brings.

Travel can be such a chore. It takes you away from the comforts of home. One endures beds that are too soft, or too hard or too small. Occasionally, you get hotels rooms that are sterile and cold. Flying is stressful, and driving can be even worse. Eating out can pack on the weight, and that indigestion caused by eating late is awful. I often come home from traveling even more tired than when I set out.

But if I never ventured out in the world, I would have missed so much: fabulous sunsets, incredible meals, understanding different places and people. Most of all though, travel is about getting out of my comfort zone, trying new things and being with people I love. I wish nothing more for you and yours in the coming year!

Travel advice: slow down, breathe in

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

Many of us are in the middle of the holiday crazies. It’s a special time of year when we try to balance the demands of work and family against the added tasks of a preparing the “perfect” holiday for our friends and family.

For me, Christmas has almost always meant traveling to spend time with extended family. As a child, my favorite Christmases were celebrating at my grandparents’ house with my 13 first cousins. It felt like a forever drive — three long hours in the station wagon with my annoying brothers to get to the lovely city of Visalia, Calif.

The centerpiece of the celebration was Christmas Eve at my great-grandmother’s house in the middle of an orange grove in central California. Her small house was filled to overflowing with cousins and more cousins — some 75 relatives in a good year. Emma Henrietta, my Dad’s grandmother, was a baker by trade and her cinnamon rolls were eagerly awaited. I didn’t feel the same way about the ham salad sandwiches, but the adults seemed to like them.

We chatted and ate, and laughed and ate, until all at once a loud clattering was heard on the front porch. Santa Claus had arrived, with a gift for every child in the house. The only catch was that we had to perform for our gifts. I can still remember the butterflies in my stomach, waiting for him to call my name. I read a poem, sang a song, even wrote a play for a group of my cousins to act out. The storyline of the play is lost in the sands of time, thank goodness. I also remember my younger brother playing a particularly awful version of “Jingle Bells” on his trumpet.

My grandparents have been gone for almost 20 years now, and I haven’t shared the holiday with my cousins for just about that long. This year, however, our daughter requested that we visit the cousins and celebrate a “Webb” Christmas. My dad is 84 and not in good health, so it seemed like the right time to go home again. Nearly 20 of us will gather on Christmas Eve, and I’m absolutely certain we will continue the family tradition of talking, laughing and eating. The funny thing is that Santa is planning a visit, and it’s my daughter’s turn to perform. She hasn’t yet decided what talent she will share and I’ll try to stifle my smile at whatever she chooses.

We will be flying to California, and I have a tip for anyone who is boarding a plane at this time of year: Leave yourself lots of extra time to get to the airport, as the roads will be clogged. Your favorite parking lot may be filled and lines at the airport will be longer than normal.

The worst thing that may happen is a delay at the airport. Relax and grab a bite or something to drink.

If you are at the Detroit airport, you can sample wines at Volo Vino, you can get a manicure, pedicure or massage at the Oxygen Spa, or you can indulge in some yummy sushi at the Sora Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar (gate 35 in McNamara Terminal).

My travel advice is the same as my advice to myself and everyone else at this time of year: Slow down, breathe in slowly and live in the moment.

It’s not about the gifts or even the perfect decorations and a gourmet meal; it’s about how we express our love to each other.

Charles Dickens’ iconic Christmas character Ebenezer Scrooge says it perfectly: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Christmas is all about giving, rather than taking. May you and yours keep Christmas in your hearts and enjoy all the pleasures of the season!

Traveling with Three Generations

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

I hate being so predictable. When I recently read that multigenerational vacations remained the single hottest travel trend in 2014, I realized I was one of many seeking quality time with both parents and children. None of the research captured why I organize these trips. It’s very simple. I don’t have enough time with either generation.

This is the time of my life filled with departures—some permanent and some temporary. And time is really flying. I don’t want to turn around and find many of the people central to my life aren’t around anymore for anything, including making new memories. I’m planning the trips more frequently now, as the clock runs faster for my parents and since our daughter wants to travel on her own or with her friends.

Years ago, we started to travel with multiple generations—a trip to Venice, Italy with my mother and then four-year-old daughter. More recent trips included a week in Maui with my mother and stepdad.

Let me share a recent trip as a primer for planning your own three-generation trips. I look for places that are near good medical facilities and that have non-stop flights. The island of Maui fit the bill.

Renting lodging was the first step. We needed enough bedrooms so that each generation had their own private space. Don’t do this unless you, as the organizer, also want to plan all the meals. If not, pick a hotel or resort. We rented two cars, so every generation had access to an escape route. And planning naptime into the day is important.

We found a lovely beachfront, first floor, no steps, three-bedroom condo, at the Kahana Villagewith a nice living room and a huge lanai. With separate rental cars, we met at the condo. My folks took the master, so they had their own bathroom—another key point in traveling with elders.

We made a plan for the week that included together time and alone time.. Breakfast every day was together, but everyone was responsible for his or her own. Lunch was a pick-up affair, and dinners were planned as either in or out. My husband and stepfather wanted to go winetasting, while my mom, daughter, her friend and I wanted to go snorkeling. Perfect.

The younger generation wanted to drive the road to Hana and hike to the waterfalls. The road to Hana is listed on every top ten list of things to do in Maui and consists of miles of hairpin turns, punctuated by opportunities to hike up to waterfalls. My folks passed on that, and my husband and I shared the driving and the girls hiked all the trails. The highlight of one stop was a young man proposing to his girlfriend, which my daughter captured on her iPhone and then emailed to the happy couple! The girls wanted to sample the nightlife in Lahaina. My husband chaperoned while I stayed home with my parents.

We all used the beach in various configurations, except my stepfather who doesn’t like the sun. Our all group outing to another beach featuring sea turtles was rather comical. We arrived in our separate cars. My parents wanted full shade, the girls wanted full sun, and I wanted to scream. It was a fun day at the beach shuttling between them! My solution was to rent a raft and float out on the ocean.

The best memories, however, were the simplest things we did together. We had a great meal out at Roy’s, a Hawaiian fusion restaurant with a few locations on the Islands and elsewhere. Going to the farmers market and the fish market and then cooking dinner together was probably the best moment of the trip.

Traveling with my parents and daughter is the stuff of lasting memories.

Escaping the Winter Chill on the Cheap

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer, Feb 9, 2014

IMG_1555Without a break in the freezing weather on the horizon, I finally snapped and started searching for a cheap airfare to where the sun was shining. It’s possible to have a budget trip and get a tan during the winter, but it takes some careful planning, flexibility in your travel dates and a willingness to spend some time on the Internet. Here’s a primer to sun in the fun on the cheap.

First, unless you have a free place to stay, plan your destination around the cheapest flights. I usually start with websites such as Orbitz or Expedia, so I can see where the lowest cost flights are going. If you can travel on Wednesday, the fares are usually lower.

In this latest case of cabin fever, my husband already had a trip to Sarasota, so I started looking at flights and couldn’t find one less than $400. I widened my search to Tampa, and bingo—Spirit Airlines was offering a flight for $116 (round trip). By the time I added the cost of taking a suitcase and paying for my seat (Spirit charges extra for everything except the air you breathe), the fare was about $200, still half what other airlines wanted for a flight to the same part of the country.

It was a nonstop flight (a huge plus), on what must have been the most tightly packed plane I have ever seen (a huge minus). Thank goodness the seats didn’t recline, because my neighbor was already 10 inches from my face. I just kept thinking about the sunshine in my future.

My next stop was to start looking for hotels. I usually start with TripAdvisor. While the site has gotten much more commercial since it started in 2000, it is the best place I know to get a sense of what hotels are available and what guests say about them. I especially like the feature that tells you what room to request. Just like flights, make sure you check a few nearby cities. Sometimes it really pays to rent a car and drive a few extra miles to get a better hotel deal. I recently found a $15 a day car rental rate. Yahoo.

Airlines will try to book hotels and cars for you but I have found you can get a better rate on both by going directly to their websites. If you really feel lucky, try naming your price for your rental car and your hotel room on Priceline.com. I’ve gotten some amazing deals on both, but be careful—one time I ended up flying through Newark in the opposite direction to where I was headed.

Having a rental car pays off by giving you more options of where to stay and where to eat. If you plan to stay within walking distance of the sand and live off the coffee pot and out of the mini-fridge, then skip the rental car. Otherwise, having a car gets you to the best local places to eat.

Once you have your flights, hotel and rental car, you have one more research task — finding some great places to eat. I make sure my hotel room has a mini-fridge, so I can store breakfast food and some lunch supplies. For meals out, I start a web search with the name of the city and the phrase “budget meals.”

Local city magazines often run annual lists of reasonable places to eat, and those sources have yet to fail me. Asking at the front desk of the hotel can also yield some good suggestions (once they stop convincing you to try their restaurant). Another tip is to eat lunch out rather than dinner and look for early bird specials or happy hours with heavy appetizers.

I wish you good luck bargain travel hunting and happy hours in the sun.

Looking forward and looking back

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Last year, I made my first set of travel-related resolutions. My first resolution was to pack lightly by better organizing my clothes. I did use this methodology for several longer trips, and it worked like a charm, especially when I made a list first. I failed miserably when we drove instead of flying, however. For some reason, when faced with all that space in the car, I just lost my packing sense altogether.  My new version of this resolution is to pack lightly—no matter what the mode of transportation and always start with a list.

Another resolution was to exercise when traveling. Unfortunately, the result was a very mixed bag. I packed workout clothes on every trip and used them about twenty percent of the time. Somehow, when that alarm rang for an early morning workout, I tended to hit snooze. 2014 has to be the year I make exercise on the road a habit.

I also resolved to stop forgetting my sundries. I experienced total failure on this resolution. During my travels, I bought half a dozen toothbrushes, which is what I always forget.  Along the lines of sundries, I also resolved to stop bringing home tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion. I can report complete success on this resolution. No more small bottles clutter my bathroom.

As for my short list of places I wanted to visit in 2013, I had mixed success. If you read my column, you know I made it to Hawaii. We had a great two-week trip to two islands, Oahu and Maui. We also had a fantastic, unexpected trip to Sicily, Italy. We made several trips to California to see our daughter, including a nostalgic visit to Disneyland. We visited our first, and probably last, all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. We went to Sarasota, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. Vancouver, British Columbia was a great stop. And then there was all the travel in Michigan.

I didn’t get to Yellowstone National Park, however, and I didn’t drive through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Both of those will stay on the list for this year.

Here’s my 2014 resolutions:

  1. Pack lightly.
  2. Exercise while traveling, without fail.
  3. Be prepared and be patient when traveling. Delays and frustration seem to be permanent travel companions. Take a deep breath, read a good, long book, drink a bottle of water, and eat some healthy snacks.
  4. Avoid food on airplanes and fast food on the highway—always more calories than you need and rarely healthy food. Pack nuts and dried fruits.
  5. Leave for the airport with enough time to avoid that mad, stress-producing dash through security and the concourse.

And on the travel bucket list for this year, I have a mix of new and old:

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit Prague in the Czech Republic.
  2. Get back to the Florida Keys.
  3. Visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or any one of our fabulous National Parks.
  4. Make that driving trip through the Upper Peninsula and stand on Brockway Mt. Drive in Copper Harbor to watch the sunset.
  5. Spend some time on Michigan’s other coastline along Lake Huron.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” As I’ve learned through all my years of travel to interesting places in Michigan, around the United States and the world, the destination is not really as important as the journey. The journey is really about time spent with good friends and family, laughing, eating well and making new memories. The people you are with, not the things that you see or do, make the best memories. By the grace of God, I’ll let you know this time next year if I’ve kept my resolutions. Happy New Year to all!

Travel Resolutions for 2013

Published In the Battle Creek Enquirer

The first week of the New Year is a fitting time to make a list of travel resolutions — a combination bucket list for 2013 and some serious resolutions for better travel habits. Let’s do the vegetables first, the resolve-to-be-better items.

Resolution 1. Really pack lightly, one small, lightweight suitcase without that large size carry-on that ends up feeling like it was packed with rocks by the end of the trip. Writing a list works for me, or putting everything out on my bed first. That way, I can see the items that don’t serve multiple purposes. The fabulous cerise sweater that doesn’t match anything else? It goes back in my drawer. The goal is to lay out everything and then pack half of it. My back will thank me.

Resolution 2. Actually use the work-out clothes I packed, especially those heavy tennis shoes. Most hotels have a gym these days, and there is always somewhere to walk a few laps. It counts, even if I put a towel down on the floor of the room and do a few sit-ups and leg lifts. Exercise needs to be a habit that doesn’t get broken because I’m traveling.

Resolution 3. Stop forgetting my toothbrush and/or my toothpaste and other sundries. I seem to always forget something. Solutions: leave a new toothbrush in my suitcase with a small tube of toothpaste in a plastic baggie. Pack an overnight kit with doubles of everything I use so I’ll be ready to go without thinking about it. Throw in a couple of quart size plastic bags for good measure, as they always come in handy.

Resolution 4. Stop bringing home half-used tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion – or even full ones. Donate my current collection of sample-sizes to Safe Place, where they’ll get used.

Now for the sweet stuff, a short list of places I’d like to visit in 2013. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a start for the year.

Resolution 5. Finally visit Hawaii.  Everyone who goes to any of these islands, our 50th state, fall in love with the azure sea, white sand beaches and tropical climate. Even when I lived on the West Coast and the islands were just a hop away, I never made time to visit. I’m not sure how I’ll choose between the six islands since I don’t want to frantically island hop. A few friends recommend Maui, also known as the Magic Island.  It has been voted the best island by a leading travel magazine for many years.

Resolution 6. Visit Yellowstone National Park, another place I’ve never been. It seems like the right year to visit Old Faithful at America’s first national park that boasts 60% of the world’s geysers.  I fancy a soak in one of the many hot springs.  I want to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, one of the world’s largest petrified forests, and all of the waterfalls. I’m not so sure how close I want to get to grizzly bears and wolves, although I wouldn’t mind seeing bison and elk.

Resolution 7. Drive through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I need the advice of my Yooper friends to plan this trip. I know I can tour a mine, see a shipwreck, climb to the top of a lighthouse, explore a colonial fort, and hear the sounds of roaring waterfalls. I’ll aim for Brockway Mountain Drive, which leads upwards 735 feet. I want to stand there and watch the sun set on Lake Superior and think about this unique part of Michigan.

Like all good resolutions, I’ll keep some of these, break others and add to the list as the year unfolds. Happy New Year to all!

Italian adventure: Tips for group travel

Published Oct. 19, 2012 battlecreekenquirer.com

Planning a vacation with another family poses opportunities and challenges. Organizing a trip to a foreign country that you have visited and they haven’t makes it even more interesting. Our friendship was decades old and able to withstand anything — we hoped.

Umbria is known as the green heart of Italy.

They picked the country, Italy. We picked the part, Umbria in the province of Perugia. That was all the discussion we had about location before booking. Umbria, north of Rome and south of the better-known Tuscany, was a place to explore the back roads where we hadn’t visited; for our friends it was a place they had never heard of, in a country they had never visited.

• Tip 1: Be clear who is going to decide what, and what level of consultation is needed before money is paid.

The apartment in lower Bazzano, a converted convent clinging to the hillside.

When we called from the Rome airport they told us “you’ll never find the apartments.” I should have guessed my choice of lodging was too far off the beaten track. We rented two apartments in an old convent in the very small — microscopic even — village of Lower Bazzano, near Spoleto. Recommended by British friends, the Internet description and pictures displayed a place that was both charming and cheap ($750 per week). Reality matched. With a spectacular private garden, outfitted with four hammocks, it was heaven when we finally found the place. I was content to send out for food and never leave again.

• Tip 2: If the budget allows, get two of everything: two rooms, two rental cars. Families can do their own thing and no one waits around for anyone else.

Our friends, filled with the zeal of first-time visitors, wanted to see Florence, Venice, and the entire country it seemed. Unfortunately, I had chosen a location that was far from everywhere.

Undaunted, they began to plan their overnight to Florence and possible side trip to Venice, while I napped in the hammock. My plan was to travel the least distance I could in seven days.

• Tip 3: Have a thorough discussion before you start planning about each family’s expectations for the vacation. That way the café coffee drinkers won’t be competing with the visit-every-museum types.

Winding streets in one of Umbria’s medieval walled cities, Spoleto.

Spoleteo was a wonderful medieval hill town, known for its world famous music event, Festival dei Due Mondi. We rode an outside escalator up to the castle, traveling 15 minutes up the huge hill to the fortress. The majestic La Rocca Albornoziana, built in the 14th century, was a prison until late in the 20th century. It still had the stark prison vibe the afternoon we visited.

• Tip 4: Doing things separately is a good thing, not a signal your friendship has ended.

We walked up the pedestrian street to a charming small restaurant 9 Cento, where the very helpful owner spoke flawless English and had a large selection of Italian wine you could drink in or take home. Wine was one theme of the trip, including the white Orvieto and the lesser-known red Sagrantino di Montefalco. We spent an afternoon in Montefalco, a small walled city and the hub of the wine-growing region.

Chocolate was the other. We ate as much as Perugia chocolate as we could, known worldwide for its crunchy hazelnut flavor.

• Tip 5: Make sure you do have things you want to do together as a whole group. Otherwise, plan your own trip.

What could be a better vacation? Wine, chocolate and good friends who didn’t have to spend every minute together.

I relaxed in the sun, soaking up the green heart of Italy, and they went off to see the rest.