Where to go to escape real life?
October 14, 2006 10:56 PM   Subscribe

What would you do with 4-5 days, 60,000 frequent flyer miles, and the freedom to go and do whatever you want?

My wife and child are spending next weekend with my in-laws. I am using this time as an opportunity to disappear into the world, and to spend time away from the daily issues that we all have to face.

I have a frequent flyer account that we haven't touched in a while, and I figure this might be the time to use some of those miles. I live in the San Francisco area, can leave Thursday evening (maybe sooner if given the right circumstance), and need to be back by Tuesday afternoon. I don't need a tourist trap or a resort of any type. I'll sleep wherever, as long as I am relatively safe. What I want to get out of this is a feeling of detachment from all the things I've grown so accustomed to.

How would you do this, given how soon the opportunity is coming up and the short time frame to pursue it? I've considered driving to Montana, flying to South America, and staying home to just meditate on life. Europe and Asia are probably out, given how long it would take to reach those destinations, but most others should be in.

Suggestions for destinations, as well as ways to escape, are appreciated.
posted by xorowo to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get into the great outdoors. Nothing grounds me like some long hikes and solitude. Plenty of time to think, fresh air, and gorgeous scenery.

Backpacking is especially great. When you realize that you can survive with only what you have on your back, it's incredibly liberating. Really makes you reflect on yourself and the way that you live. If nothing else it always makes me realize how many of the things I own are non-essential luxuries.

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:26 PM on October 14, 2006

The other thing I love about the outdoors: Idilly wondering what time it is, then realizing that I don't care. No schedules, no meetings, no picking up the kids - it's about as far as you can get from the daily grind.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:28 PM on October 14, 2006

Why not do something personal and interesting? In my mind, that equates to learning a new, specific skill or doing something spontaneous. Suggestions:
-- 3-day-long scuba-diving course in the Carib. (I know you said no tourist trap, but I'm thinking of a kind of course where you're out on the water for the duration).
-- learn to sail. Can be done in a weekend and it's something you can later share with anyone you like.
-- go some place bigger than yourself. Big Sky Country, the Redwoods, find a National Park and explore it from a few different sides.
-- looking up a band you like and going to see their show, anywhere it might be.
-- go get lost. Pack some essentials and have a place to aim for, or some restriction-based random driving, like making every 3rd left turn or following the car ahead of you for 20 minutes and switching.
-- due north from you is the Oregon coast, a beautiful drive. Stay in Seaside; there's a small, clean hostel there. Drive up to Astoria or go over to Portland and see the zoo, or the Rose Garden.
-- try living with a disability. Pretend to be blind and try to navigate the city. Or purposely go all day without speaking. (This makes me focus on my interactions with my surroundings, with a clarity that makes the mundane seem new).
posted by now i'm piste at 11:32 PM on October 14, 2006

Oh goodness, don't stay home.

I can offer this: think of a way to use those miles which would earn yourself more miles. Perhaps if you booked a slightly more expensive than bargain-basement fare, you'd be able to redeem the miles while earning some back. The folks at FlyerTalk will overwhelm you with their amazing mile-using/-obtaining stories (like flying to Bucharest or Lome or Yangon for three hours to maintain Uber Platinum Amazing Status on their airline of choice).

This website for American Airlines states that you can use 50,000 miles for an "anytime" award flight from anywhere in the Continental US to anywhere else in the Continental US (including Alaska!) and Canada, or 60,000 miles to Mexico and the Carribean. I assume other airlines have similar thresholds.

If it's detachment from your normal existence you're seeking, I think non-resort Latin America would be awesome for a longish weekend, perhaps some exciting city close to some archaeological/natural wonder. Mexico and Central America are close, cheap, and from Bay Area airports you can fly nonstop to:

SFO: Cancun, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Morelia (Mexico), San José (Costa Rica), San Salvador (El Salvador)

OAK: Guadalajara, Mexico City, León, Los Cabos, Zacatecas (Mexico)

SJC: Guadalajara, León, Mexico City, Morelia (Mexico)

(all from Wikipedia's pages on those airports, by the way)

Four days isn't much time to escape reality, but I think immersing yourself in a culture where you (I'm being rather presumptuous here) don't speak the language will give you a fantastic break. It probably won't cost an arm and a leg, either. Check here for a list of Mexico's UNESCO World Heritage Sites (scroll down) and see if you can link those up with a flight to a nearby place, and there's your weekend! Whoo!
posted by mdonley at 1:42 AM on October 15, 2006

do you want to escape the daily grind or life as you know it all together?

If you want to escape the grind, go find a nice island somewhere and snorkel/dive/SNUBA a reef system... it'll take your mind off things.

Wanna escape everything and slip into an alternate society living in our own country? Find the nearest Rainbow Gathering.
posted by trinarian at 2:34 AM on October 15, 2006

Great time of year to head to Key West. Hurricane season is almost over, the European tourist hordes haven't yet arrived, and you can safely be snockered every day by 10:00 a.m. Swim, sail, bum, stroll down Duval Street, or whatever you like, just be sure to be at Mallory Square at least one day to celebrate sun down, despite what Cool Key West advises...
posted by paulsc at 4:47 AM on October 15, 2006

I'd suggest using the miles to go to somewhere that would otherwise be particularly expensive, such as the Pacific islands.
posted by wackybrit at 5:44 AM on October 15, 2006

If the miles will let you, how about Hawaii? I've been kicking myself that I didn't go when I lived on the west coast. It's so close!
posted by unknowncommand at 5:55 AM on October 15, 2006

Hate to be a downer in the midst of travel fantasy, but you better get on the phone today and see what flights (if any) have award availibility to take you where you want to go.

Most airline award programs play to the airlines favor and are not real useful in the case of spontaneous travel. Even if you use an "anytime award" you have to make sure there are seats available at the times and to the places you want to go to. The seats may already be sold out. Be prepared to go to a second or third choice.

You didn't tell us your airline. Some airlines (United for example) have recently changed there mileage requirements for award travel and made it more expensive as of October 1st.

Fantasy is great but get moving on this idea right now or you may find yourself home alone next weekend.
posted by Xurando at 6:05 AM on October 15, 2006

Addendum: Given your airline, you may be able to check for flight availibility online. Some airlines have offshored their reservations/awards to India. You will be quicker and more efficient by checking/booking awards online.
posted by Xurando at 6:11 AM on October 15, 2006

The farthest away you'll be able to go on American this week is Mexico or Canada with those miles [both places can be great, but I'm just saying you can't go "anywhere"] Moreover, this close you'll have to pay $100 in fees to use the miles. Many popular flights will not have coach awards left so you have to use more miles for a first class.

I was in a similar position but kept my miles and went with the last-minute travel deals on American [other airlines do it too]. It wasn't free, but I got a decent deal at the last minute to Mexico and was able to use my miles for a free trip later. I actually earned miles so I had more miles to use later.

The best way to go to Europe or elsewhere is to find the dates the airline has seats and then plan your time off that way. I went to Europe for free [not really, you have to pay all those landing fees and taxes] and stayed in nice hotels using Starwood points. The trick was to go when they wanted, not me.
posted by birdherder at 7:13 AM on October 15, 2006

The Keys is a great area, but I wouldn't stay in Key West, only visit. Way too tourist-y, even in the off season. If you stay someplace like Marathon, you are centrally located and could drive anywhere. I recommend snorkeling at bahia honda park. I wish I could remember the other places I went, but there are always places to pay to take you out to the reefs, or fishing etc . . . Or just find a place along side the road and just go snorkeling where ever. (though I got stung up good doing that one day).

I only went there for the first time this past year, spent 5 days there, and it was the most wonderful 5 days of my life. I am not kidding.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:35 AM on October 15, 2006

Hawaii. Relatively close to you, and a good place for doing nothing.

Skip Honolulu/Oahu, though, and go hang out on the northern shore of Kauai (Hanalei is lovely), or, even better, on Molokai. It's peaceful, isolated, and fascinating.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:26 AM on October 15, 2006

Head for warm water (Hawaii, Mexico) and get your PADI certification. It's usually a two day course, and the way that you look at the ocean will be forever changed.
posted by tkolar at 9:02 AM on October 15, 2006

I think you may be overly optimistic about your choices on short-term frequent-flyer mile redemption. I had trouble finding tickets even 3 months out to any place I wanted to go.
posted by smackfu at 9:14 AM on October 15, 2006

Fly to Argentina and tour the wine country. Mmmmmmm
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:07 PM on October 15, 2006

Alaska. Just wander up to Anchorage, rent a car and drive down to Seward.
posted by lilithim at 2:30 PM on October 15, 2006

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