After winter settles in, minds begin to wander to warm climates, sandy beaches and anything that is better than the blistering temperatures just outside the window.
“January is when it hits. Then we are swamped. As soon as we get through the holidays, it gets busy,” said Helen Kliethermes of Travel Answers. “If it is cold, snowy and icy, our phones ring. People want to get away.”
Many Mid-Missourians have already booked their hot getaways for next fall, while others may wait until the last minute to secure an all-inclusive resort trip at an unbelievably low price to escape a Midwestern winter. Regardless, there are many popular destinations to consider when thinking about that next getaway, and the family-owned and operated Travel Answers shares insight into some of the hottest places to go during the winter or for a vacation getaway at any time of the year.
Tropical destinations are at the top of people’s lists when thinking about a vacation to escape the harsh Missouri winter, and one of the top places is Mexico.
Nestled along the Atlantic Ocean coastline, Cancún and the Riviera Maya region, which includes Playa del Carmen and known for its soft beaches, scuba diving and Mayan ruins, are a couple of the most appealing. However, Helen said there are a lot of beautiful resorts and places in Mexico to enjoy a diverse, relaxing tropical vacation, including Cabo San Lucas in the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and Puerto Vallarta and Huatulco, which are both situated along Mexico’s Pacific Ocean coast.
Another tropical hot spot is Punta Cana, which is at the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic and has gorgeous stretches of beaches and clear waters along the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Part of Costa del Coco, or the Coconut Coast along with the Bávaro area, it is known for activities including zip-lining, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing.
Much like the spectacular foliage, beautiful oceanside scenery and activities in Punta Cana, Hawaii, is another favorite tropical vacation destination, with its multitude of waterfalls, beaches, Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor’s WWII memorials and much more.
Like Hawaii, those wanting to travel to a warm weather wonderland but leave their passport at home can enjoy the U.S. Virgin Islands, Helen said.
“The U.S. Virgin Islands were very popular and just now coming back. They were hit by a hurricane several years ago, so it really demolished a lot of the resorts,” she said, noting the organized U.S. territory consists of main islands Saint Croix, Saint John and Saint Thomas.
“People feel they are in the U.S., but they still have that tropical atmosphere. You technically don’t need a passport to go there, and it is just beautiful.”
Helen added another Caribbean island nation, St. Lucia, also has amazing foliage and landscape, and is not as commercialized.
“Saint Thomas is beautiful, but it is more commercialized. Often, that can take away from the island’s natural beauty,
Helen said. “However, in St. Lucia, it is more localized.”
Jamaica, also a Caribbean island nation, appeals to many travelers for its lush landscape filled with mountains, reef-lined beaches and rainforests, as well as its plethora of its native reggae music.
One of the best features of many of these locations is they have an abundance of all-inclusive resorts.
“The all-inclusive resorts are so upscale that you get a wonderful property with everything you need right there. … In Cancún, for example, there are a lot of all-inclusive resorts, where if there is a family of six they will have connecting rooms. The families can stay together without having to be separated. They also have water parks,” Helen said. “Families with kids want enough entertainment at the resort to keep them happy. You wouldn’t have to leave the resort as there is always live entertainment like karaoke, bands, dances and other nightlife.”
The majority of the all-inclusive resorts include meals, drinks, tips and nonmotorized watersports for one price. Plus, many have non-stop flights out of St. Louis, which is a big draw for clients of Travel Answers.
“You know when you leave St. Louis how much it is costing you and you don’t have to pay for anything else,” she said. “Some people want adult-only properties. Some want smaller more intimate resorts where others enjoying the large resorts with 12 restaurants, six pools and more amenities. They all love a swim-up bar, and a few even have lazy rivers that go through the property. There are so many to pick from and fit any travelers’ preferences.”
Having worked at Travel Answers as an agent for 25 years and now owning the business with her husband Steve since 2001, the couple, along with their son and employee Keith, and his wife Angie, have been to almost all of the all-inclusive resorts they book for their clients.
“Keith has been to Cancún 20 times at least, he knows those resorts going every year at least once,” Helen said, noting Keith has worked for the family-owned business for 16 years now. “I think that is what is important as an agent to familiarize yourself with these resorts and destinations to best serve our clients. We may fly there for three or four days and tour 15 properties. You get a feel for the restaurants, beaches and what they have to offer. … There are times that people want a specific resort because they saw it online and it is so cheap. We say it is cheap, but we caution them about the disadvantages to staying there versus paying $50 more at a place that is really nice. It is very important that we get out there and do a lot of touring and do a lot of things.”
One of the Kliethermes’ family’s favorite destinations is Alaska.
“I would go there tomorrow, or even this afternoon,” Steve said with a laugh.
“Alaska is the most popular vacation anytime by far; it is on everyone’s bucket list,” Helen added. “It will also be the best cruise you could ever take.”
Cruises of all sorts – to Alaska or the Caribbean – are popular, and so is taking in the rich culture, history and landscape of Europe, which has cruises along the Rhine and Danube rivers.
“Germany, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal – there are many popular places to visit in Europe, with the summer months typically being a great time to get away,” Helen added.
“To get into the culture of a place is what I enjoy. They live so differently than we do. We buy groceries for a week, they buy groceries for a day. It is interesting to talk to the local residents,” Steve added. “We asked a taxi driver one time if you could take us to where you live, where you shop, your grocery store. … He took us where the kids went to school and we took pictures with them, the grocery store. He was so nice and it was so interesting. I like Europe and each country is so different from one another.
It is pretty, diverse and you really get a sense of our history of where many of us came from.”
While the Kliethermes family enjoys assisting clients in finding their ideal vacation throughout the world within their budget, they also host several annual group vacations that takes travelers to amazing locations with the comfort of a friendly, familiar face to serve as their guide.
“A lot of people like to travel with group, feeling there is more security there. They don’t have to think about anything. Their dinners are planned, the bus tours are scheduled and it is all lined out for them,” Helen said.
Planning both domestic and international excursions, Alaska and Hawaii, again, tops the list for these group trips, having visited Alaska five times and taking groups to these two locations about every three years. Helen said they usually do a cruise once a year at a different location and plan to take a group trip to Israel in 2019, which is currently has 12 people on a waiting list.
“The most interesting trip I’ve been on is Israel. There is so much to see, and it is a popular place for people to travel to now,” Helen said. “You wouldn’t think that many people would want to go to Israel, but we took a group a few years ago and it was full. … We are doing another one in 2021.”
In 2019, the group vacations include Oregon Trails, which includes a visit to the Portland Rose Festival, a short three-day Spirit of Peoria boat cruise along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, a Canyon Lands trip that includes visit to the Grand Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley and Las Vegas, New York and a Danube River Cruise in Europe.
“(During the Danube River Cruise), we fly into Prague and cruise to Budapest. … The river cruise in Europe, the boat holds 160 and we have 84 of those sold already. They are a lot of fun and very popular.”
Helen said Travel Answers stays at least a year ahead with their group trip plans and bookings, with two of the 2019 vacations sold out and already working on 2020.
“They like the group trips because we are right there taking care of anything that may go wrong. In one of our thank-you cards, a lady said she was so appreciative that we held her hand through the airport. She was very nervous of airports. It is important to help,” she said, noting they appreciate the many thank-you cards they receive from their fellow group trip travelers, honeymooners, couples celebrating their anniversaries or families enjoy a dream vacation. Travel Answers also commemorates these special occasions with a personalized card, as well as sends all their clients a welcome home postcard for their return to Mid-Missouri. “They like having that comfort of having someone they know right there with them, taking care of any problems that might arise.”
Travel Answers is located at 3103 S. Ten Mile Drive in Jefferson City. For more information, call 573-893-5262 or visit them at their Facebook page, @TravelAnswersInc.
Helen Kliethermes of Travel Answers provides helpful advice for those wanting to plan their next vacation.
It’s best to book six months in advance. Helen said usually the people that go at the last minute are seasoned travelers. “They’ll say if you find a good deal, give me a call. Their passports are ready and they are ready to go,” she said. “Normally, I suggest to start looking at six months out. We can go through the resorts with you and find the right
Check your passports before traveling. If going out of the country, passports need to have at least six months left before expiring when travelers return back home. In addition, Helen said to make copies of their passports. Even though the copies will not gain them automatic access to the U.S. if they are lost, it will expedite the process when working the U.S. embassy.
Cancellation insurance will save you money. Helen said Travel Answers stresses purchasing cancellation insurance in case a medical issue arises while they are out of the country. “If you slip and fall, breaking your leg or need an emergency surgery, the cost is very expensive. The insurance covers these things, which is very important,” she said.
Documentation is key when traveling with children other than your own. Helen said often family members will take their friend’s or relative’s children, or foster children on vacation, not thinking there are strict regulations on the documents they need if they are taken out of the country. “You have to have a notarized letter giving you permission to take these children out of the country. If you have guardianship or full custody, you have to have the paperwork with you,” she said.
Make list of your medications. Writing down all medications you are taking is helpful in case someone you are traveling with needs to know what medications you’re taking. “If they are on a lot of medications, we will have them list them all and have their doctors sign off on it. In case they need to get them refilled, the pharmacy can call the doctor and get them their medicine,” Helen said.
Let a travel agent help you plan a big vacation. Helen said there is a big misconception that a client has to pay a travel agent. “We get paid through the tour companies for selling their properties. … They cannot get a better price online than they can get through us. … If they book online they are missing out because they are not getting the expertise of someone who has been there dozens of times and help them if something goes wrong when they are on their vacation,” she said.