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A Stay in Downtown Napa

The wine region is so close to San Francisco, yet far enough away that you truly feel as if you’ve escaped to another place, and left the city behind. First those rolling hills come into view, then I’ll spot my first cow or sheep, and I know the grape vines won’t be far behind, different in every season.

A lot of San Francisco visitors to Napa come up for the day trip, driving from winery to winery, tasting wines, getting a little tipsy, and then driving back exhausted at the end of a long day through city traffic. This past weekend a friend and I did something different. We went up to Napa and stayed overnight at the brand-new Westin Verasa Napa, which sits right on the river in walking distance of plenty of shops and restaurants. That way, we figured, we could do all the tasting we liked and not have to worry about driving home at the end of the day.

Working the System

This week, Genevieve and I will be conducting interviews with radio stations across the country to let travelers know what to expect and how to prepare for the season ahead. One inquisitive host asked if I could give advice on how he could “work the system” during his upcoming Christmas trip.

Doing what I do, I’ve had enough travel experience to tuck away some creative tips of my own, but I’m hesitant to call it working the system. This phrase implies a degree of sneakiness that I for one am not capable of (or perhaps I just bow to the word “no” too easily), but I do often implement a series of maneuvers to make my travels easier.

Need More Room?
As part of my personal travel defense strategy, I always ask for the bulkhead or exit row for a little extra legroom. I learned several years ago when I had knee surgery that these seats are usually the last ones assigned. Sure, it helps to have a massive brace, a set of crutches and a look of desperation on your face when requesting these seats, but it never hurts to ask.

Best Travel-Related Movies

Maybe it’s because I’m a travel writer, but some of my favorite movies are ones that transport me elsewhere. Whether it’s seeing John Goodman emerge from the underbelly of the desert southwest in Raising Arizona, or watching Dustin Hoffman drive the wrong way across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in The Graduate, movies are certainly cheaper than a plane ticket if you want to escape to another time and place.

That’s why I love this list of airport and airplane-centric movies compiled by David Armstrong over at Here are his top 10:

Photo: Me and my good pal Ricky Bobby, of Talladega Nights.

In Praise of Plugged-In Travel: Never Leave Home Without Your Laptop

I have a confession: I love traveling with my laptop. My fellow Window Seat writers prefer to unplug when they’re exploring the world, so I’ve often pretended I only bring my gadgets (laptop, iPhone, etc.) to work on the plane. But that’s not really true.

The truth is, while I’m glad others relish being lost to time, I take no pleasure from unplugging. Relaxing for me is waking up to a good cup of coffee, posting a few new pictures to my blog, reading the New York Times online, and then researching a local restaurant for dinner. And until this last trip, I think I was even a little embarrassed about this.

Saving a Family with His Own Two Feet

Recently, I went on another outing with City Running Tours, this time in Chicago. After the great run I had in New York, I was looking forward to seeing another city on foot with the guided expertise of CRT. This time things were a bit different, to be sure. We started the run at Millennium Park, running past Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion, and on towards Grant Park. As we ran with our guide, Marlin Keesler, he asked about my then-recent marathon, and how many I’d done. “Three,” I replied, trying not to sound too proud. Likewise, I asked him if he was a marathoner and how many he’d run. He sort of grinned. “Sixty,” he said. I damn near fell off BP Bridge. Here was a stocky guy who claimed to be out of shape and to hate running—a mantra I adopt, particularly when running in the morning—yet made marathoning a habit. As I would find out, it was far more than that.