Humans have always been travelers. With our feet, then horses, and then boats, we explored and peopled the entire world in prehistoric times. In modern times, we now look to space and the rest of our solar system as another frontier to explore and someday turn into a travel destination.
Modern Americans in particular have restless spirits. The road trip was invented in America and remains a literal means of escape from the mundane, and a symbol of American freedom.
The road trip, in its pure, wandering form, is also a type of initiation; an experience for the young. Once we’ve grown up and settled down, we save up our vacation time and search for cheap airfare. A trip down the open road is usually just a way to save money on our way to point B.
Residents of Wyoming tend to be quite happy with their choice of home, and they don’t have many of the pressures that push most people to want to escape. As the least populated state, we’re not crowded with the hustle and bustle of cities. With our wide-open prairies, towering Rocky Mountains, and abundant wildlife, we aren’t starved for the great outdoors.
So, I was surprised when I set out to answer the question: Where do locals go, and what do they do, when they travel?
It turns out that Sheridan residents of all ages travel often, in a wide variety of ways, to all kinds of places, for many different reasons.
While I assumed that many people traveled primarily to escape the extreme cold and snow of Wyoming winter, that turned out not to be as prominent of a theme as I had thought it would be.
That’s not to say that the climate in many of the common destinations, such as Hawaii, Mexico, and Costa Rica, aren’t attractive in the middle of a Wyoming February (especially one like we’ve just had). Instead, I found that escaping winter was secondary to other priorities and desires, like experiencing a different culture or visiting friends and family.
According to leading luxury travel experts who attended the recent Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, multigenerational travel plans are on the rise. In other words, it has become more common for families to plan a trip that brings together parents, children, and grandparents in an exciting locale.
This was the case for Ryan Fuhrman (Wyoming’s 2017 Teacher of the Year) and his wife, Leslie Stillwell Fuhrman, when they went with her parents and their kids to California for spring break. They spent a day at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, three days at Disneyland, and the rest of the week at an Airbnb in Newport Beach.
“Airbnb is nice,” Leslie said. “It has a kitchen, so you don’t always have to eat out. It gives you some room to spread out and not see each other if you’re with a large group of people.”
Their Airbnb had boogie-boards and bikes and beach toys. They didn’t rent a car, but just used Uber to get around. They used FastPass for Disneyland, which allowed them to reserve access to certain attractions and avoid standing in line. They also took a deal at Universal Studios, where they could get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour early. To further save on costs, they brought snacks for the kids.
Leslie felt that Disneyland was a little bit nicer than Universal Studios. “You never see behind the scenes,” she said. “They make you feel as if you’re in that magical land.”
As far as the weather, Leslie said, “If you’re a kid from Wyoming, then the weather is fine.” Her daughter Myra was in the water every day. Sometimes she got cold, but she could come right back up to the house and warm up.
To find a good deal, Ryan watched airline ticket prices and, of course, at the very end, after entering everyone’s information, when it was time to pay, the price had gone up by $200. Ryan took screenshots of the original offered price and spent an hour on the phone with customer service to get them to honor the original price.
The kids’ favorite part was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and, according to Leslie, adults who love Harry Potter will have a great time, too. That wasn’t her favorite part, though. “I think I just want to get an Airbnb on the beach for a week next time,” she said.
Another multigenerational meet-up occurred recently in Florida. My mother, Susan Clinch Cannon, traveled to Florida to visit old friends who used to live in Dayton: Mischa and Georgia Hausserman. The Haussermans agonized over the decision to leave Wyoming, but Georgia’s highly successful career as a scuba instructor led them to Key Largo.
Susie certainly doesn’t mind having someone in Key Largo to visit. It also makes a great meeting point for her and her daughter, who lives in New York.
She used frequent flier miles for this trip, which resulted in a less than straightforward itinerary, but she had no problems along the way.
The Haussermans’ home is right on the water, and so far, has been steadfast during hurricane season. They have at least three stray cats who frequent their stoop for handouts.
In the week that she was there, Susie spent a lot of time on the water in a variety of boats. She paid to ride, along with other passengers, on an airboat. The highlight of that trip was the guide seemingly presciently locating a large turtle and lifting it out of the water to show it off to the tourists.
Her favorite excursion was on Mischa’s personal boat along the Florida Keys. There was a little more room than on the tourist airboat and she could really feel the wind in her hair. Another highlight was visiting the supposed “southernmost point” in the U.S. at Key West. Susie admitted that the actual southernmost point was in Hawaii.
Another recent trend in travel has been termed “transformational travel.” As Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso said, “We tend to talk about luxury travel, adventure, family… all these different travel niches. When it comes down to it though, it’s the transformative nature of travel that is the single biggest motivator. When you travel, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and it fundamentally changes your perception of yourself, your place in the world, of others. It fosters greater understanding and awareness because travel is all about celebrating the differences and recognizing what makes us all similar.”
Sheridan residents Joan and Jeff Huggins just went to Hawaii for the third time. They’ve gone to Maui, Oahu, and this time they went to the Big Island. Joan says it’s on her bucket list to visit every island.
They say the Big Island is the cheapest way to see Hawaii. The first time they went they were guests at a condo, and they got hooked. Now they save money by using Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO).
To find the reservation they wanted, they booked 6 months in advance. Joan says that way the plane ticket is the most expensive part.
Jeff and Joan visited the actual southernmost part of the U.S. at the South Point Complex. They tried to see lava, and they did see some, but nasty weather stopped them from making it to the summit of Kilauea where they would have had the best view into the crater.
Their rental was in a rainforest, with a view of the ocean, and it rained daily. Jeff used a garbage bag to stay dry, but he couldn’t convince his wife or daughter to take up the fashion.
For Jeff, the highlight of this trip was swimming with manta rays. “They take you out at night on a boat and use lights,” he said. Manta rays are attracted to the lights and enjoy swimming with humans.
For Joan, the best part is that, “You meet people from all over the country and all over the world, and the wide range of experiences you can have.” She says the Big Island is highly agricultural and even has dude ranches.
According to Peg Martin at Brittain World Travel, the majority of her customers travel to Hawaii, Mexico, or Disneyland.
As for some of the recent frightening Mexican travel advisories, Peg says, “Use common sense. I’ve been going to Mexico for 35 years, everyplace has a good side and a bad side.”
My father, Bill Knapp, just returned from Mexico. He has traveled there on three occasions; once to the heart of Mayan pyramid territory, and twice to Kino Bay for fishing.
On his first trip, he used a time-share program he had bought into. This was before Airbnb, so the only other option would’ve been a hotel in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen.
Bill spent two weeks on the Yucatan Peninsula and visited many Mayan archaeological sites. While the most popular pyramid among tourists is Chichen Itza, he preferred to visit some of the lesser-known ones. Specifically, Coba, Tulum, and Ek Balam.
At the ancient Mayan city of Coba, he marveled at how well-kept the grounds were, and at the level of access afforded to visitors. The main pyramid, Ixmoja, is the tallest in Central America, and the only one you are still allowed to climb. A rope stretching along the center of the giant staircase helps provide purchase for a trip to the top and the spectacular view that awaits.
While tourists are allowed to roam at will through the site, there are actually a remarkable number of amenities available. There are three hotels, one campsite and seven restaurants scattered throughout the complex. Bill’s favorite part was the men with bicycles modified to accommodate a seat on the front, who would pedal you around the primitive paths for a small fee.
For the past two years, my father’s Mexican excursions have been all about fishing. He still hasn’t had to pay for a hotel, as he has a friend who owns a condominium in Kino Bay, a small village included in the municipality of Hermosillo.
Locals differentiate between Kino Viejo (‘Old Kino’, the site of the original village) and Kino Nuevo (‘New Kino’). The latter refers to the homes, motels, RV parks, and restaurants that have been constructed recently along the coast for several miles north west of Kino Viejo.
There are no docks at Kino Bay to accommodate easy access for fishermen. Bill and his host found their way around this by paying a local captain more than he would normally make in a day to take them out and guide them to good fishing.
These days people aren’t interested in cookie cutter vacations. They want a unique experience.
Kelly Walton, also at Brittain World Travel, says that Costa Rica, Viking river cruises, and Europe have been trending as recent destinations for locals.
As the internet has become more and more central in our daily lives, some have predicted that travel agents will become a thing of the past. Contrary to those predictions, Peg Martin has seen a resurgence in travel agent use, especially by millennials.
“There’s so much info on the Internet,” Peg said, “and it’s always changing.” She says that their $35 fee is a bargain for the years and years of knowledge and experience that they bring to the table.
“We’re here from the beginning to the end of your trip,” Martin says. For example, on the day I talked to her, she had just helped a client with some last-minute changes on a flight to Vienna due to an airline workers’ strike.
Martin encourages anyone interested in travel to get into the business, and says they are always hiring these days. “It’s been a great career,” she added.
Some people, however, have fully embraced the internet’s ability to provide total control over one’s own vacation. Dr. Erin Hanke, Director of the Whitney Center for the Arts and Sheridan City Councilwoman, said that it has never occurred to her to use a travel agency.
“It’s so easy now,” Hanke said. She uses a combination of apps, including Google Flights, Kayak, and Momondo, to find good prices on airplane tickets. “I do everything online,” she said.
Recently, Erin went to Paris with a friend in their 60s, and she took care of all the arrangements. “It hardly took any time to book the tickets, and it was not a source of stress,” Erin said. Regardless, her friend was very grateful that she had taken care of everything.
Erin also visited Paris in January. She took the opportunity to go with a friend when she was able to find “super cheap” tickets. “I’ll take any chance to go to Paris. I’m not a planner.”
Erin finds herself vacationing in cities more often than not. “The city is anonymous. Here, we are under a microscope because we all know each other. I find it to be a relief to be anonymous sometimes.”
Erin added, “Someone once said to me, ‘My two favorite things about Sheridan are leaving Sheridan and coming back to Sheridan.’” She agrees and, in her experience, returning home to Sheridan always makes her appreciate where we live even more.
By: Kevin M. Knapp for 82801
This article appeared in the April/May issue of 82801 Magazine.