Trade winter hassles for sand castles

Published 2:27 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Ask the Expert by Sarah Arens

Winter has arrived. Are you prepared?  Do you still need to plan your tropical getaway? In three to six hours imagine yourself a world away. You are soaking up the sun on a palm tree-studded beach, surrounded by turquoise waters.  

Sarah Arens

Sarah Arens

Email newsletter signup

With almost 15 years of experience in the travel industry, I’m here to share some expertise and shed some sunlight on the travel planning experience.

Before searching for the best beach vacation or winter getaway, take a moment to explore other key elements that would embellish your trip. For example, are you looking to expand your palate with world-class cuisine or perhaps find serenity in a tranquil setting?

Are you a beach bum or do you prefer a pool for splashing? Planning a honeymoon or destination wedding? Perhaps it’s action, adventure and culture you crave? These details will create the foundation for your perfect getaway.

Typically, Mexico and the Caribbean Sea offer the best bang for your buck with hundreds of resorts to suit every budget and lifestyle.

The hottest trend is all-inclusive resorts. These generally include the room, food, beverages, non-motorized water sports, daily games and activities, kids clubs and nightly entertainment.

However, there are many options solely based on sleeping accommodations. If you know the area you are visiting, this may be your ticket. Just consider the additional cost of eating out every meal along with beverages.

Tip: Take a nonstop flight, if you can. One stop at the most. Multiple stops could save you money, but it’s important to factor your valuable time into the equation. Keep in mind most airlines do not include fees for checked luggage.

Tip: Most airlines offer discounts when you prepay for your luggage before you get to the airport. Be aware that some airlines even charge for carry-on luggage and pre-assigned seating.

Tip: Price plays an important role, and you definitely get what you pay for with accommodations. If you choose to go it alone and buy online — not recommended — beware of sizzling hot deals that sound too good to be true. A travel agent can steer you through what’s true and what’s false.

Tip: Make sure your passport and identification is valid, and not expired.

Tip: Most countries require you to have at least six-month validity left on your passport. Meaning, if you are taking a trip in January your passport must not expire until after June or you could be denied entry. Also, verify that your name and birthdate on your passport and IDs match your ticket exactly.

Tip: Most travel purchases are nonrefundable from the moment you apply payment. I suggest travel insurance. You can plan every aspect of your vacation, but life can be unpredictable.

Lastly, don’t leave home without your passport, ID and travel documents. International flights typically require check-in three hours prior to departure and an hour and a half prior for domestic flights. Make sure to factor in Minnesota road conditions. Consider a park-and-fly hotel the night before your flight.

Let’s take off on planning your winter getaway to a relaxing destination with a sugar white sand beach (cool on the feet), crystal clear Caribbean Sea water and a warm sea breeze across your face. You deserve it!

Sarah Arens is owner of The Travel Concierge, 612 E. Sixth St. in Albert Lea. 

Its website is