Last Minute Labor Day Road Trip Ideas

If a Labor Day road trip sounds like a good idea, you’re not alone. Over 30 million Americans will be hitting the highways for the long weekend, traveling across town, from state to state or around the nation. Like that idea but have no plans? Here are some must-stay places along some of the best American scenic drives that are not just a place to park, but also a way to extend the journey and experience the destination.

Hana Highway in Hawaii is a winding path with ocean on one side and jungles on the other that leads to one of Maui’s best kept secrets of quintessential Hawaiian tradition and charm, the town of Hana. Warning: With over 600 curves in the road from just east of Kahului to Hāna, virtually all of it through lush, tropical rainforest, you may have a hard time keeping your eyes on the road.

Where to Stay: Travaasa Hana, an oceanfront resort that features experiential programming based on five pillars – adventure, culinary, culture, fitness and wellness – inspired by Hana tradition. Guests can partake in net throwing classes (a revered Hawaiian skill), traditional Hawaiian spa treatments and meals made with locally sourced ingredients.

Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest continuously paved road in North America. With more than eight miles lying above 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, Trail Ridge Road provides a stellar view of Rocky Mountain National Park’s golden aspen leaves and autumn mountain scenery.

Where to Stay: The Della Terra Mountain Chateau has 14 romantic suites, each with its own private balcony hot tub, amazing mountain view and warm breakfast for an authentic Colorado mountain experience.Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited sections of the National Park System, and features 469 miles of stunning views with old farmsteads, mountain meadows and one of the world’s most diverse displays of plants and animals. The parkway connects Shenandoah National Park near Waynesboro, VA (Milepost 0), with Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC (Milepost 469).

Where to Stay: The Carolina Inn is a historic property located on the campus of the University of North Carolina that allows guests to enjoy a variety of activities and experiences both on campus and in downtown Chapel Hill.

The Montana Scenic Loop spans the Northern Rockies in a nearly 400-mile long loop, featuring spectacular mountain vistas and abundant wildlife and wilderness within several National Forest lands. At the heart of the 400-mile loop is the Bob Marshall Wilderness flanked by the Great Bear Wilderness on the north and the Scapegoat Wilderness to the south.

Where to stay: Moonlight Basin in Big Sky, Montana, is a year-round resort in Montana’s Rocky Mountains located close to Yellowstone National Park. Moonlight Basin features a world-class spa, and a variety of dining options and luxury accommodations that are perfectly suited for families or couples to create a well-rounded Montana vacation.

Labor Day travel will see upwards of 33 million people hitting the road for the long weekend, noted AAA in a USA Today report this week. That’s an almost three percent increase from last year, the highest Labor Day road trip travel volume since 2008, and the trend is expected to extend through the fall and winter.

Flickr photo by Stuck in Customs

10 Reasons Why Living In Maui Is Cheaper Than You Think

If you’ve ever vacationed on the island of Maui, surely you think I jest.

As someone who has lived on Maui for 23 years, I deal with tourists on a daily basis who all have the same view of the Hawaiian Island:

“This place is absolutely incredible, but there’s simply no way I could ever live here … it’s just too expensive. How do you afford it?”

Having had this conversation a few times before, my default answer is always twofold: There are a lot of costs associated with living on the Mainland, which simply don’t exist here, and you learn to give up a lot of things, which you think you need.

Before I launch into explaining why living in Maui is cheaper than you think, I want to make a disclaimer which is vital to the integrity of this article:

*This list is a generalization, which covers the majority of the middle-class, working population of Maui. Obviously there are going to be outliers, but as a whole, this list typifies the daily existence of most island residents.*

So, without further adieu, here are ten reasons why living in Maui is cheaper than you might think.1. Sure, gas is expensive, but you don’t drive that far

As of this writing a gallon of unleaded fuel on the island of Maui is going for $4.19/gallon. It’s a nice departure from the $4.95 we were seeing earlier this summer, but it’s still well above the national average of $3.48.

So yes, gas is expensive, but here’s the equalizer: you don’t drive very far when you live in Maui. In fact, the average amount of miles you put on a car here hovers around only 10,000 miles/year. I recently spent time in California with a man who had already put 215,000 miles on his 2007 Chevy Suburban. That’s 40,000 miles/year! So the gas may be expensive, but when you only fill up twice per month it takes some of the sting away.

Driving fewer miles also means fewer oil changes, fewer maintenance expenses, and fewer repairs.

That being said, I know a large number of people who don’t even own a car. In towns like Lahaina or Kihei, many people simply bike to work or ride a moped.

2. Owning property is insanely expensive, but rents are still reasonable

Ahh … “the price of living in paradise.” That’s what we always hear when it comes to Maui County home prices. Yes, owning a home on Maui is expensive – very expensive. It’s one of the biggest problems facing island residents today.

Expensive, however, is a relative term, so I decided to run some statistics to break the problem down for you.

According to this recently published article from the Maui News, the median single-family home price on Maui for the first five months of 2012 was $435,000. Compare this to the national average of $158,000 for the same time period, and yes, the cost seems pretty darn high.

Compounding the problem is that there is a fundamental gap between Maui wages and Maui home prices, which renders home ownership a fantasy for many island residents.

For the most part, there are only three categories of people who are currently able to own a home on Maui: those who have had family land for generations, those who have made their money elsewhere and then moved to the island, or those middle-class individuals who squirrel away money for a decade in hopes of seeking out something they’re moderately happy with.

Let’s just use the basic numbers provided to illustrate the issue.

Take the median home price of $435,000 and divide it by the median household income of $64,000 as reported by the last census. We get a ratio of 6.79 years of work to pay for a home (this, of course, doesn’t count interest, property taxes, or homeowner dues, thereby making the ratio much higher).

Compare this to the national average over the same time period and divide the $158,000 median home price by the $52,000 median household income, and you are left with a much more reasonable ratio of 3.03.

I’m no stock trader or economist, but that seems like a bit of a skewed picture to me.

Bottom line, many Maui residents can’t afford to own a home. So what’s the answer to living here?


Yep, the majority of people who live on Maui rent, and most likely will do so for the rest of their time living here. The good news is that when compared to major US urban centers, however, the cost of renting on Maui is quite reasonable.

How reasonable? Here are some average rates:

A bedroom in a four-bedroom house across the street from the beach, $500-$800/mo
One-bedroom apartment or ohana (detached cottage), $900-1400/mo
Three-bedroom house, $1500-$2300/mo

Sure, this still seems expensive compared to many national averages, but when compared to cities such as New York, Chicago, DC, or San Francisco, these numbers are pretty much par for the course.

3. You don’t have to pay for health insurance

Ok, this isn’t entirely true, but for many employees here this is actually the case. In accordance with the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act, which was enacted in 1974, Hawaii employers are required to provide health benefits for all employees who work over 20 hours/week for four consecutive weeks.

Granted, this doesn’t apply to benefits for spouses, families, or independent contractors, but a high percentage of Maui’s residents have health care coverage provided through their employer.

Then again, not many people in Maui may care about what their copay or premiums are. In a recent survey performed by Gallup, results indicated that Hawaii led the nation in overall health as well as physical and mental well-being. Surveyors contribute this to a combination of healthy behavior, positive eating and exercise habits, and lower smoking rates, a fact which correlates perfectly with reason number four …

4. No need for a gym membership

Granted, there are still gyms in Maui for those looking to move around some heavy weight or be professionally instructed in a Pilates class, but for someone trying to trim the budget the ability to stay healthy in a place like Maui can cost virtually nothing.
The fact that Maui is warm year round leads to an increased amount of outdoor activity where the gym is replaced by the general outdoors.

Who needs a treadmill when you can run on the beach? Who needs a pool membership when the ocean is ten minutes away? Island residents can surf, paddle, hike, bike, or swim their way to being fit and happy, all with minimal impact on the pocket book.

5. Minimal entertainment expense

Similar to the previous reason, when compared to major metropolitan areas, Maui has an incredibly minimal entertainment expense. Again, the beach is free, hiking is free, and if you’re going to go surf it can be as easy as a one-off fee of $500 for two used boards and you’re set for two years. The same can be said for stand-up paddling, windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, or whatever it is that makes you happy.

When it comes to nightlife, you’re much more likely in Maui to find people down at the local beach park wearing board shorts and enjoying a 12-pack of Heineken at 4 p.m. than wearing expensive clothes in a nightclub drinking $12 cocktails. Sure there are bars, but they’re either full of tourists on vacation drinking overpriced tropical drinks or locals hunting down the $3 drink specials.

You want to meet someone? Skip the bar and go to the beach.

6. Deflated sense of consumerism

In Maui the concept of “keeping up with the Jones'” doesn’t really exist. A trait, which isn’t really attributable to any single reason, the closest one would probably be, well, no one really cares. Material apathy, if you will.

While this is largely a subjective opinion, for the most part there doesn’t exist the same level of a consumer culture, which can oftentimes grip the retail economy of the mainland. While this doesn’t bode well for shop owners (that’s what all the tourists are for), this frugality keeps a lot of money in the bank accounts and board short pockets of resident Maui locals.

7. Ways around high food costs

Another one I hear all the time is that the cost of food in Maui is just so darn expensive. How do we afford to eat?

Well, for one, when you live on Maui you don’t eat out every night in the same way you might when on vacation. During vacation you’re supposed to splurge; go out and get a nice piece of fish and a good bottle of wine. Go eat at that restaurant right on the beach with the amazing view of the sunset. Treat yourself.

Here’s a little thing about those same restaurants where you’re eating on your Maui vacation, however. When you live here, you’ll probably only end up eating there if it’s a birthday, an anniversary, or you’re REALLY trying to impress someone.

You can get a 1/3-pound slab of fish in an oceanfront restaurant in Lahaina and pay $29, or, you can walk one block away to the Foodland supermarket across the street and get it for $6.49 with a bowl of white rice. When you eat at an oceanfront restaurant on Maui, you aren’t paying for the food – you’re paying for the location, the ambiance and the view.

Also, seeing as the hospitality industry is one of the largest industries on the island, all the hard-working men and women in the service industry oftentimes live off of the food, which is provided by their activity company, hotel, restaurant or whatever the source may be.

Finally, if you live on Maui and don’t want to pay for the high cost of food, work on providing your own. Mango, banana, avocado, and citrus trees spring up from the yards of many Maui properties, and the fertile fields of Upcountry put out fresh vegetables, which end up in myriad local farmer’s markets.

8. No parking fees or private beach passes

Sure, there are parking lots all over Lahaina, which charge you a fee to park there, but guess what? Those lots are only for tourists who are used to paying for parking back home, and subsequently they don’t question doing it here.

Having driven a vehicle on Maui for 13 years I can honestly say that I have never paid for parking once. Ever. There are no meters on the roads, no overpriced garages, and no struggle as to where to put your car. Sure, you might have to walk three blocks, but there is always a free parking spot to be found either on the street or in a public parking lot, thereby rendering paying for parking an expensive non-necessity.

Also, under Hawaii law, all shoreline is public property and can be enjoyed by the general public. There are no such things as “beach tags” or members-only beaches. You don’t have to belong to a pool, a country club, or any other sort of organization, which carries an annual fee.

Everyone in Maui belongs to the same organization. It’s called the community, and it’s free.

9. Minimal heating and air conditioning costs

As someone who has also lived in Lake Tahoe, Alaska, Los Angeles, and Florida, this is a cost, which I know can add up. While a few places on the island have air conditioning units installed, oftentimes simply opening up the window and letting the trade winds cool the place down will suffice just fine.

On the flip side, even though the Upcountry areas can get cold at night in the winter (38-52 degrees), it’s never cold enough to freeze any pipes or warrant having a heater. Plus, down at sea level, a cold winter night is when it drops into the upper 50’s. For the most part, the “winter chill” in Maui isn’t anything a sweater, a warm blanket, a fireplace, and a cup of hot chocolate can’t fix.

10. No winter expenses

Again, this is an expense which can really add up. Think about how many expenses are associated with winter. Snow removal, snow tires, snow chains, and most importantly, winter clothing. When you live in Maui, there is no need for winter coats or gloves or thermal underwear or socks. It’s a pretty minimalist wardrobe, which is comfortable, airy and easy on the pocketbook.

In sum, the quick answer as to why it’s cheaper to live on Maui than you would think is that there are essentially two worlds existing on the same island: the tourist world and the resident world. Tourists don’t see much of the residents’ way of living when they stay in a resort, eat out every night for a week, and fill their days with exciting activities. Likewise, residents aren’t subjected to many of the tourist expenses by living at home, eating food from the grocery store, spending most of their days at work, and filling their free time with cheap and healthy activities.

Granted, island living certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who have ever been curious can rest assured that the sticker shock of living in paradise isn’t as harsh as you might have made it out to be.

Favorite Travel Destinations: Where’s Your ‘Happy Place?’

Long ago, a friend of mine referred to Colorado as my “spiritual homeland.” I frequently jest that I’m spiritually bankrupt except when it comes to the outdoors, and she was referring to my long-held love affair with the Centennial State.

My friend was right. There are parts of Colorado that are my “happy place,” where I immediately feel I can breathe more deeply, shelve my neuroses and just live in the moment. Places like Aspen’s Maroon Bells, Telluride, and Clark, near Steamboat Springs, are my cure for existential angst. I love the mountains and rivers, but when combined with shimmering aspens, wildflower-festooned meadows and crystalline skies and alpine lakes, it’s pure magic.

There are other places in the world that have a similar soporific effect on me: Hanalei, Kauai; almost anywhere in Australia; Krabi, Thailand; Atacama, Chile.

I’ve been in Colorado for work the last two weeks, and have devoted a lot of thought to this topic. Everyone, even if they’ve never left their home state, must have a happy place. Not a hotel or spa, but a region, town, beach, park, or viewpoint that melts stress, clears the mind and restores inner peace.

I asked a few of my Gadling colleagues this question, and their replies were immediate. Check them out following the jump.

Pam Mandel: Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

Kyle Ellison: Playa Santispac, Baja, and Kipahulu, Maui.

Grant Martin, Editor: “Happy place number one is a fifth-floor patio in the West Village with my friends, and a few beers. A garden and a quiet spot in a city surrounded by madness. Number two is at the sand dunes at Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Michigan. Hop over the fence in the large camping loop head up the hill and towards the lake and you’ll find the quietest row of sand dunes in West Michigan. It’s a great place to camp out and gaze over lake, and also a good spot to take a date.”

Jeremy Kressman: “There’s a tiny little park buried in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona – one side of it is flanked by a Roman wall and there are balconies all around. It’s far enough off Las Ramblas that there’s not a lot of tourist foot traffic and the little side alleys off it are lined with little tapas bars and fire escapes thick with little gardens. I’d like to be there right now!”

Meg Nesterov: “Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. My family has a 100-year-old cabin on the lake with very basic plumbing and a very wonderful view. I’ve spent many childhood summers there and honeymooned there, like my parents did 35 years ago. I travel a lot to find great beach towns, but few match the bliss of bathing in the lake and eating fresh blueberries from the forest.”

Jessica Marati: The banks of the Tiber just outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

David Farley: “I grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs where the gridded streets were flanked by nearly identical houses and the stripmalls were dominated by the same chain stores that were in the next town (and the next town and the next ..). Few people walked anywhere. The civic planning implicitly left little room to stimulate the imagination.

So when I moved to a medieval hilltown near Rome, I felt like I’d found the place – my happy place, the spot I’d been looking for. Calcata, about the size of half a football field, is a ramshackle of stone houses, a church and a diminutive castle that sits atop 450-foot cliffs. There’s only one way in and out – which is not even big enough to fit an automobile – making the village completely pedestrian free. I would often stroll its crooked cobbled lanes or sit on the bench-lined square thinking that I was literally thousands of miles, but also a dimension or so from my suburban upbringing. I don’t live there anymore but I’ll be going back later this year to participate in a documentary that’s being made about my book (which was set there).”

Melanie Renzulli: The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Chris Owen: “Predictably, mine would be at sea, on any ship, completely surrounded by water in all directions as far as the eye can see.”

Jessica Festa: Sydney, Australia.

McLean Robbins: Telluride. “Descending into town on the gondola, in the middle of falling snow and pure silence, felt like heaven.”

Alex Robertson Textor: “My happy place is La Taqueria, at 2889 Mission Street in San Francisco.” To which I add, “Hell, yes.”

Where’s your happy place (keep your mind out of the gutter, please)? Let us know!

[Photo credit: Maroon Bells, Laurel Miller; Ruby Beach, Pam Mandel; cabin, Meg Nesterov; Calcata, David Farley]

5 Of The World’s Best Places For Viewing The Night Skies

If you grow up in Southern California, school field trips to the Griffith Observatory are practically a requirement. For whatever reason, I always found the Planetarium more frightening than enlightening, especially in the sixth grade, when David Fink threw up on me on the bus ride home.

Despite many youthful camping trips with my family, I also can’t recall ever paying attention to the night skies (possibly because many of these trips were in the cloudy Pacific Northwest). Fast-forward 20-odd years, and to a solo camping trip on Kauai’s North Shore. It was my last night and the rainclouds had finally blown away. I stared up at the starry sky awestruck. It’s the first time l ever really noticed the stars, due to the lack of light and environmental pollution. I’ve been a stargazer ever since, and coincidentally, many of my travels have taken me to some of the world’s best locations for it.

Below, my picks for top-notch night skies, no student chaperone required:

Atacama Desert
, Chile

This stark, Altiplano region in Chile’s far north is the driest desert on earth, as well as home to the some of the clearest night skies on the planet. You don’t need anything (other than perhaps a great camera) to appreciate the stars, but a stargazing tour, offered by various hotels, hostels and outfitters throughout the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is well worth it.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Tour offered by the Alto Atacama Hotel & Spa, located just outside of San Pedro proper. For hotel guests only, this two-year-old program is led by one of the property’s guides, a naturalist and astronomer. The hotel has its own observation deck and a seriously badass telescope; you won’t be disappointed even if stargazing isn’t your thing. In addition to learning the constellations of ancient Quechua myth such as the Llama and Condor, you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way, and be able to see telescopic images of Sirius and Alpha Centauri with a lens so powerful you can actually see a ring of flame flickering from their surface.

%Gallery-157717%Exmouth, Western Australia
Uluru (aka the former Ayers Rock, which now goes by its Aboriginal name) is considered Australia’s best stargazing, due to its location in exactly the middle of nowhere. In reality, the Outback in general has night skies completely untainted by pollution. But as I’ve discovered after many years of visiting Australia, the only bad places to stargaze are urban areas. The skies are also stellar above remote coastal regions, most notably in Western Australia (which is vast and sparsely populated).

The best skies I’ve seen are in Exmouth, located along the Ningaloo Reef. At Sal Salis, a coastal luxury safari camp, an observation platform and stargazing talk will help you make sense of the Southern sky. Be prepared for striking views of the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, seemingly close enough to touch.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii
In 1991, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory – located at the top of the volcano – to watch the sky grow dark mid-morning. I was waiting tables on Maui, so all I noticed was a brief dimming, in conjunction with some of my tables pulling a dine-and-dash. A visit to the volcano, however, will assure you stunning views if you take a Sunset and Stargazing Tour offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Day visitors can hike, and even ski in winter.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
This national park, known for its bizarre rock spires (called “hoodoos”) and twisting red canyons, is spectacular regardless of time of day or season. On moonless nights, however, over 7,500 stars are visible, and park rangers and volunteer astronomers lead Night Sky programs that include multimedia presentations and high-power telescopes; schedules and topics change with the seasons.

Churchill, Manitoba
Located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, the village of Churchill is famous for three things: polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. Its location beneath the Auroral Oval means the “best and most Northern Lights displays on the planet,” according to Churchill’s website, and you don’t need to sign up for a tour to enjoy the show. Save that for the polar bear viewing.

[Photo credits: Atacama, Frank Budweg; Mauna Kea, Flickr user sambouchard418;Aurora Borealis, Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

Museum Month: Kalaupapa National Historic Park And Leper Settlement, Molokai

Some people – me, for instance – tend to skip museums when traveling in favor of fresh air or outdoor recreation. It’s always a treat when I can combine the two, especially because I’m fascinated by indigenous cultures. Though not considered museums in the strictest sense, National Historic Parks, Monuments and the like often do have buildings, exhibits, or relics with educational materials that provide a museum-like experience. When I can combine that with some physically challenging activity, it often makes for an incredibly rewarding day.

While relatively few visitors ever make it to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, located just off of Maui’s western shore, its fame is global due to its tragic history. From the mid-19th century until 1969, thousands of islanders afflicted with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) were forced into isolation on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the northern shore. A smaller settlement also exists at Kalawao, on the eastern side. Today, Kalaupapa National Historic Park receives thousands of visitors annually, who come to pay tribute – and satisfy their morbid curiosity – to a tragic episode in Hawaii’s turbulent history.

Molokai’s North Shore is covered in dense rainforest and has the world’s highest sea cliffs, which tower over 2,000 feet. These geographical features made Kalaupapa the ideal location in which to displace lepers, often by cruel methods such as tossing them off of ships, which sometimes resulted in fatalities. The forcible removal of native Hawaiians from their ‘aina – family and land, which are at the core of their culture – devastated generations of islanders.

%Gallery-155196%Critical to the development and notoriety of the settlement was the arrival of Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian missionary better known as Father Damien. Although not the first missionary or caregiver at Kalawao and Kalaupapa, it was he who turned the colonies into a place of hope, rather than exile and death.

Father Damien spoke Hawaiian and established schools and other educational and recreational projects. He developed a water system, expanded St. Philomena Catholic Church, and became a source of comfort to residents. He died of Hansen’s Disease in 1889, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Although a cure for Hansen’s Disease was discovered in the 1940’s, most of the colony chose to remain at Kalaupapa, as it had become a tight-knit community. Today, only a, uh, handful of elderly residents remain, keeping alive Kalaupapa’s legacy by talking story with visitors and relatives alike.

The National Park Service established Kalaupapa as part of its system in 1980 (previously, it was a National Historic Landmark, the Kalaupapa Leper Settlement). While somewhat pricey and challenging to get to, it’s worth a visit if you’re at all interested in Hawaiian culture and history.

You can get to Molokai year round by either regional air carriers or ferry via Maui. To enter the Park, state law requires a permit from the State Department of Health, and no children under 16 are permitted. All entries are booked and must be prearranged through Damien Tours (808) 567-6171, which is endorsed by the National Park Service (there is also a Father Damien Tours out of Honolulu, but I can’t speak with authority to its quality).

Two excellent ways to gain entry to the park – via prior reservation – are by hiking the 3.5-mile trail or on muleback. Kalaupapa Mule Tour has been a park concession since the early 70s, and I highly recommend the ride if your butt and legs are in good shape and you don’t have a fear of heights. It provides a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, but be prepared for insanely steep, narrow trails and brutal switchbacks. Whether you hike or ride, please be sure to do an honest assessment of your physical abilities beforehand; another option is to do a flightseeing/ground tour. There are no medical facilities at the park.

[Photo credit: Flickr user University of Hawaii – West Oahu; Father Damian, Wikipedia Commons]