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With this year’s Thanksgiving travel season projected to be the busiest ever, the days ahead will be a whirlwind for many Americans. Whether you’re hosting a Thanksgiving meal at home, driving an hour or hauling yourself across the country, the week is likely to fly by—and that means, believe it or not, it’ll be December before you know it!

Don’t worry: If you haven’t purchased your holiday gifts yet, there’s still time. My suggestion? Give the gift of travel this year.

By “gift of travel,” I mean a night or several in a hotel somewhere, sometime in 2020 or whenever makes sense. You could make the arrangements and surprise a loved one with a whole trip, or you could talk through ideas and plan something together. Either way, putting your holiday money toward travel as a gift means giving someone experiences in beautiful new settings or fun cities plus spa treatments, room service, and whatever else they like to enjoy on vacation. Most of all, however, giving the gift of travel means time together with the person you’re giving the gift to.

All my readers know that I love traveling with my growing family, both overseas and close to home. Lately we’ve focused on shorter stays and weekends near Los Angeles, like Laguna Beach. But no matter where we go, we get to spend quality time making memories together. Is there anything more in the spirit of the holidays than that?

There are 366 days in 2020 (it’s a leap year!), and there are hotel rooms available on every one of them. If you like to travel, and you’re still looking for gifts, think about where you could make good memories with your friends or family. The possibilities are endless.

To get you started, here are seven hotels you could book as the gift of travel, plus a few things to do near each one:

Photo by Candace for Flytographer

1. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, CA

In the Ritz-Carlton tradition, the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (from $599/night) is a place to fully indulge and unwind. We visited recently and had a memorable family experience, especially enjoying the beach (where we had a great sunset photo shoot with Flytographer) and S’mores by the fire pit on our balcony. The hotel and its location are impressive. It sits atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific in the Dana Point area of Laguna Beach. The location is stunning, and the property gives you plenty of opportunities to soak it all in. You can listen to the waves break from your room or suite. You can dine on Richard Sandoval’s “Pan-Latin coastal cuisine” at Raya restaurant or sip a hand-mixed cocktail at the open-air 180blũ lounge, which offers 180º views of the ocean. Even the spa offers Pacific-inspired treatments with sea salt and seaweed body wraps. Outside, there are paths leading down the cliffs to Salt Creek Beach below, where you can stroll, surf, or just sit and watch the sun set.

Things to do nearby: Hike at Aliso & Wood Canyons Regional Park; go whale-watching; golf at Monarch Beach Golf Links; have Sunday champagne brunch at Raya; visit the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.

Gift of travel
Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel (Credit: Marriott)

2. Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York, NY

If you’re after a big-city vibe, know that the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel (from $161/night) is smack in the middle of the NYC action on 53rd Street in Manhattan. The theaters of Broadway and tunnels of Central Park are just blocks away, as are subway lines to the north, south and east. Inside, the Sheraton provides the essentials you need to refresh, including a 4,000-square-foot fitness center. There’s even a Starbucks!

Things to do nearby: See a Broadway show; stroll Central Park; visit Radio City Music Hall; walk the Brooklyn Bridge; eat at the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.

JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes (Credit: Marriott)
JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes (Credit: Marriott)

3. JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, Orlando, FL

The JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes (from $189/night), is set upon 500 acres of Floridian natural beauty that prove Orlando is more than just Disney. There’s something to do in the sun in every direction, for all ages, from fishing on the lakes to a Greg Norman golf course to a massive maze of pools (with a lazy river) to eco-tours in tropical gardens. Whatever you choose, a good cut of steak at Primo and a fluffy bed await you at day’s end. And if you do want to do Disney, the JW Marriott Orlando runs shuttles to many of the parks.

Things to do nearby: Go to Disney parks; visit the Kennedy Space Center; get a “zero gravity” hammock massage at the Ritz-Carlton Spa; take an on-property “sunrise safari”.

Marriott Marquis Chicago (Credit: Marriott)
Marriott Marquis Chicago (Credit: Marriott)

4. Marriott Marquis Chicago, Chicago, IL

Right on Lake Michigan, near Chicago’s McCormick Place, is the Marriott Marquis Chicago (from $119/night), a newer addition to the city’s hotel scene. Spectacular views complement a stylish interior, which includes work from local artists. As a home base for a Chicago getaway, it’s walking distance from the Prairie District aka “Millionaires’ Row” as well as the many halls of Museum Campus, Chinatown, and of course the lakefront (better in summer!).

Things to do nearby: Visit the Field Museum of Natural History; eat a Michelin-starred meal; gallery-hop in the Prairie District; catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

Moxy Nashville Downtown (Credit: Marriott)
Moxy Nashville Downtown (Credit: Marriott)

5. Moxy Nashville Downtown, Nashville, TN

If you still haven’t seen Nashville for yourself (or you can’t wait to go back), there’s no better place to orient (or re-orient) yourself than the Moxy Nashville Downtown (from $250-$400/night), the only hotel on Honky Tonk Row. Steps from iconic Broadway and its barbecue joints and country music, the Moxy is snug, funky and chic. LED lights and modern tech abound. The music is often live, and at night, Moxy Bar is lively. If you don’t feel like sleeping, the best of Nashville is always just outside.

Things to do nearby: Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; eat barbecue at Jack’s Bar-B-Que; listen to country music on Broadway; visit the Johnny Cash Museum; walk Vanderbilt’s campus.

AC Hotel Houston Downtown (Credit: Marriott)
AC Hotel Houston Downtown (Credit: Marriott)

6. AC Hotel Houston Downtown, Houston, TX

Houston has lots to see, and the AC Hotel Houston Downtown (from $116/night) is a place to recharge before you take this big city on. Rooms are marked by clean lines and an easy aesthetic, as is the AC Lounge, which is cool on hot summer days. From Main Street it’s walking distance to a number of popular Houston attractions like the Downtown Aquarium and Market Square.

Things to do nearby: Visit Johnson Space Center; catch a Houston Rockets game; picnic in Discovery Green; eat brisket at Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland; shop on 19th Street in the Heights.

The Westin Cozumel (Credit: Marriott)
The Westin Cozumel (Credit: Marriott)

7. The Westin Cozumel, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

When you give the gift of travel, the possibilities really are endless, vacation days permitting. Outside the U.S., the Westin Cozumel (from $152/night) makes guests feel at home in Mexico’s island paradise. All rooms face the ocean. Some even have private plunge pools. Turquoise waters lap at the foot of the property and the sun shines pretty much all year round. You can spend all your time at the beach if you like, sipping a rum drink, but don’t forget to pop in for a bite to eat. Lobster, salmon and jumbo shrimp are all on the menu.

Things to do nearby: Lay out on San Juan Beach; golf at Cozumel Country Club; eat dinner by candlelight at Cuzamil; scuba or snorkel in the Caribbean; get a treatment at Zazil Spa.

The gift of travel: Where would you go?

Thinking about giving the gift of travel to a loved one this holiday season? Where to? Share your ideas (and stories from past holidays) in the comments below!


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