Our next Q&A feature is with Dian Emery, editor and founder of Girls Getaway, a fantastic resource for women looking to getaway and travel with their friends! Check out our 10 Questions with Dian Emery of Girls Getaway!
1. Tell us about how you came to fall in love with travel and how “Girls Getaway” came to be?
My lifetime love for travel began at the age of two when my parents moved our family to Germany, this was also when I fell in love with European train travel. Most weekends would find us hopping on board the Bahn heading out to explore the many picturesque Bavarian villages dotted along the German countryside. My brothers, sister and I soon discovered to our delight that older German women traveling on the trains seemed to have a soft spot in their hearts for young children. We were on the receiving end of all sorts of attention during our trips, and I milked it for all I could get! Sweets, pastries, fruit, cheese and toys appeared from apron pockets, baskets and handbags; and with all of the kiddy bounty on board, it was almost a disappointment when we finally arrived to our destination! But new adventures were waiting for us off the train as well. We spent long summer holidays touring Austrian castles, camping in Spain and many short day trips into France. It was a perfect introduction to travel!
GirlsGetaway.com came into being during a trip with my mother. We love traveling together and noticed the lack of information for women’s travel. There’s a ton of info online for family and couples travel but not much that’s targeted specifically to women. On one particularly frustrating trip my mom and I had mistakenly booked ourselves into a very lovely golf resort, and neither of us played golf. It was a gorgeous place but we were surrounded by golf crazy couples, golf greens and nothing else. I decided right then and there I would build the Girls Getaway website, posting articles written by women travel writers, for women travelers and the rest is history!
2. When and where did you first travel by yourself, and why did you choose that particular destination?
I was eighteen when I first traveled solo. It really wasn’t about the destination but the mode of transportation. My dad was in the Canadian Air Force and every once in awhile personnel and family would be allowed to hitch a ride on a military plane if there was space available. A rare and coveted weekend spot came up on a Hercules cargo plane heading to Belleville, a tiny town located a short distance from Toronto, my destination of choice. I hopped on the enormous plane, strapped myself into the webbed seating secured to the walls, looked around the cavernous space filled to the rafters with military equipment and thought to myself this is so very cool! Once in Belleville, I took the train out to Toronto Canada, and had tons of fun.
3. Was there a particular trip or travel moment in your life that changed your perspective on travel?
I was on a holiday in Mexico with some friends and we decided to get off the tourist beach and head out to a beach popular with the locals. We rode on the ‘chicken bus’ to the beach, located a few hours out of town. We were six Gringos traveling on a local bus, going along the local route with no other tourists anywhere to be seen. We weren’t harassed, robbed, or assaulted. We arrived to a quiet, unspoiled beach with spectacular surfing waves and settled in for a day of water, fun and sun. We shared the beach scene with Mexican families on their day off, and a few assorted pigs and goats. There were a few long looks our way, but we were left alone. It was one of the best days of our trip.
What did it teach me? Not to be afraid to get off the beaten path, and when you’re in a different country, be sure to SEE the country, not just the resort. Of course you have to make sure that you’re safe. We took this trip after being assured by many people about the safety in this area of Mexico.
4. Do you have any favorite travel destinations? Where would you return (with girlfriends!) and what make those destinations so memorable?
Paris’ “je ne sais quoi” attitude entices me back again and again. More than any city in the world, Paris is a girlie girl city. It has serious style cred, with its chic architecture, fashion fabulous women and even chi chi desserts. In fact it is the home to many of my favorite sweet treats: French macaroons, pain au chocolate, and chocolate crepes, yum!
My favorite spot in Paris is Montmartre, I can’t get enough of its gritty bohemian flair, made all the more vivid against the stark white paleness of the Sacré-Cœur basilica situated at the heart of the 18th arrondissement. The basilica is a serene oasis of calm beauty in the middle of a bustling community of rough and ready artists, buskers and malevolent gypsies. I love taking a bottle of wine, a picnic dinner and watching the setting sun cast a golden glow over Paris from the steps of the cathedral.
A destination that I would return (with girlfriends) would be San Francisco. SF is a beautiful walk-able city full of great restaurants, shops and spectacular views! A fun thing to do in San Francisco is the night tour of Alcatraz Island – it’s seriously spooky! Another plus is the proximity to Sonoma and Napa Valley, one of the top wine regions in the United States. When in Sonoma I always head over to the Girl and the Fig for a scrumptious lunch. One of my favorite wineries is BR Cohn’s, I have a special love for their wines, olive oils and vinegars.
5. As the creator of Girls Getaway, what are some of the benefits of both traveling solo or getting away with your best girlfriends (or joining a tour to meet new girlfriends?)
Traveling alone and group travel both have very different kinds of benefits. The one thing I love about traveling on my own is being able to arrange my own schedule, see the stuff I want to see, at the pace I want to set. No compromises, and no conflicts! I also find that you tend to talk and mingle with other travelers as well.
One of the best travel experiences I had occurred on a solo train trip a couple years through Europe. While in Munich I met up with a group of Americans, we bonded while waiting for a couple of hours for a bus scheduled take us to Neuschwanstein Castle. We finally discovered that the castle was closed because of some Lent holiday, and of course, the bus wasn’t running to a closed castle, but nobody thought to inform the passengers of this fact! We decided that we needed to drown our sorrows at Munich’s famous beer hall, the Hofbräuhaus München where we ended up sharing a table with a group of English guys. That night we were introduced to the superior drinking ability of the English!
Group travel is my favorite way to travel. You have someone to share the delights and sometimes the stress of travel. You also have someone else to blame if anything goes wrong! The big bonus to joining a group tour is all the planning, booking and organization is done for you, and all you need to do is show up and have fun!
6. What are 5 destinations that you recommend 18-35 year old Contiki travelers must have on their travel list ?
Five destinations I would recommend for 18-35 year old Contiki travelers would be: Venice, Berlin, Prague, New York City, and Miami/South Beach.
People will tell you Venice stinks, the water is filthy, and it is the “Disney” of Europe. This may be the case, but it doesn’t matter. Venice is magical and everyone should visit this city at least once in his or her lifetime.
Berlin has emerged from the ashes of a city divided into an edgy, hip and gritty cultural powerhouse. With tons of inexpensive hotels and a great nightlife, it has become Europe’s hot spot for young urban travelers.
Prague is a feast for the eyes, the city is dipped in gold and bursting with baroque buildings and fairytale castles. A must for any Contiki traveler visiting Prague is the Clocktower Bar Crawl, it’s a great way to become very familiar with Czech beer and find tons of new friends!
New York City is busy, brash and sometimes totally crazy. I always think of NYC as a city of opposites, both insanely expensive and surprisingly affordable. There’s a ton to do in the city if you’re on a budget, many museums are free or have discount days, the Staten Island ferry is FREE, New York street food is affordable and good! But if you want to live it big, and get rid of some dollars fast, New York is the place for you. After all this is the city where a $150 hamburger exists. Db Bistro is where you can find this ode to excess but don’t forget the fries are extra!
Miami/South Beach has it all. Awesome beaches, hot clubs, and great food. My perfect 24 hours in SOBE would include serious beach time in the afternoon, dinner at Havana 1957 in Espanola Way, dancing the night away at Nikki Beach, my morning after hangover recovery would take place at Front Porch Cafe with an order of granola pancakes, this is also the perfect spot for some serious people watching on Ocean Drive!
7. What are some of your top tips or travel advice for travelers who are looking to either travel alone, or to travel as part of an escorted tour like Contiki?
Take lots of pictures, and then put away your camera. Never let picture-taking take precedence over having fun.
8. What are the must-have items that you pack with you every time you take a trip?
My must-haves all seem to revolve around techie stuff! I always, always pack my computer, camera, camcorder, battery chargers, adapters, and iPhone. Boring, huh? A passport is also a good thing to carry if you’re heading to a different country!
9. What are your favorite travel rituals?
I really hate the coffee makers and packaged crap creamers you get in most hotel rooms. My most favorite thing to do on the very first morning in a new city is to find a nice little café, order a latte and watch the world go by.
10. Where are your travels taking you to next?
I’m looking forward to visiting New Orleans next month (I’m thinking beignets and music. And notice the order of importance of these two items!), then I’ll be heading to Nashville and Louisville, Kentucky in the spring!
Dian Emery is a writer, biggest fan/owner of two awesome dogs, and the founder of GirlsGetaway. She has traveled extensively with and without a backpack.
Her top three pieces of travel advice are 1) Never leave home without toilet paper, 2) Plan a little but always be willing to head off the beaten path, and 3) Eat street food!