Travel Expert: It’s My Birthday and I’ll Travel If I Want To

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Travel If I Want To

By Nancy DePalma, Buttoned Up’s Travel Expert

It is said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and while I’ve never been one to shy away from jewelry, something else catches my eye even more – travel. Give me tickets over trinkets any day. For me, nothing rings in a special occasion quite like a memorable trip, whether it’s halfway across the world or halfway up the turnpike.

For me, it started when I turned 16. My friends and I visited New York City for the day, and though it was just a little over an hour north of my family’s home in New Jersey, it felt a world away from my everyday existence. We window-shopped at Saks and had tea at The Plaza. We felt like princesses living the glamorous life, even if it was just for the day. I was hooked. As the years passed and more birthdays rolled around, I tried to do something unique for each milestone birthday. Some were more memorable than others – my 30th birthday was in a hospital delivering my first child. As my husband stares down his 40th birthday, I started thinking about ways to celebrate. It is a big one, after all, and I wanted him to have something to remember. With that in mind, I came up with some fun and new ways to blow out the birthday candles this year. Who ever said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

For the Big Kid

Sometimes, being an adult is great. You get to make your own rules, eat whatever you want for dinner, and even put your feet up on your coffee table if you want. Still, adulthood is not always that much fun. There’s a mortgage and bills to pay, yardwork to be completed, and cars that need to pass the inspection line at the DMV. Perhaps the worst part is the loss of summer vacation. It could be said that summer vacations are wasted on the young. I mean, how stressful is 4th grade really? The kids just don’t know how good they have it, so if you or yours is searching to recapture that youthful, fun-loving spirit, send them to camp. Yup, that’s right, camp. No, not that kind, where you make glitter macaroni picture frames and drink bug juice. I’m talking about surf camp.

Yes, it might be a little bit like rolling one mid-life crisis into a week-long vacation, but can you think of a better way to break free of the grind, master something new, and maybe get a little tan at the same time?

Whether you want to surf the waves in eco-chic Costa Rica, laid-back California, exotic Bali, or head to Hawaii, there’s a surf camp program for you. Can’t slip away for a week or two to catch the endless summer? Opt for day programs in convenient places like Florida, the Jersey Shore, and Montauk (The Hamptons), New York. Surf camps run the gamut. Las Olas caters exclusively to women and is located in Mexico. It combines surfing “safaris” with activities like yoga, salsa dancing, guacamole making, and other fun activities. One of the biggest brands in surfing, Billabong,offers surf camps in a variety of spots, including Southern California, Mexico, Mid-Atlantic region, and even Canada. Their website,, offers great one-stop shopping for programs ranging from day programs to weeklong getaways.

For the Inner (or Outer) Artist

Unless you’re celebrating your 21st birthday, it’s likely that it has been several years (or even decades), since you last sat behind a desk, listened to an enlightening lecture, and learned something new. If you never had the opportunity or time to take a year abroad and while away your hours painting watercolors by the Seine, now’s your chance to indulge your creative side.

Triple Creek Ranch is a posh resort in Montana. It’s the kind of place where you can live out the whole “Go West, young (wo)man” fantasy without having to forsake life’s luxuries. It didn’t win a “World’s Best” award from Travel + Leisure Magazine for nothing. They offer the requisite sporting adventures like fly fishing and horseback riding, but if you’d rather enjoy the outdoors while holding a paintbrush, they hold fantastic workshops and special event weekends run by acclaimed photographers and painters.

It’s owned by Robert Redford and home of the famous Sundance Film Festival, so it’s no wonder that the Sundance Resort is a haven for creatives. If you don’t want to take out your paintbrush, there’s plenty to do here (outdoor activities are plentiful and there’s a great spa), but it would be a shame to miss one of the Art Shack’s workshops. There’s jewelry making, pottery, drawing, oil and watercolor painting, and photography sessions and they’re even open to those who aren’t staying on the property.

For the Foodie

Whether you’re addicted to the Food Network or whip up more of a disaster than dessert, there is a cooking school for you. Just like the surf camps, there are many different options, including everything from afternoon programs to very serious programs lasting several weeks. You can learn to cook traditional French or healthy spa cuisine. There’s truly something for everyone, but unless you want to change careers or earn a certificate, go for one of the programs where cooking is integrated with other activities.
One of the premier hotel cooking programs is offered at The Ritz in Paris. This hotel is the grande dame of international hotels. Ernest Hemingway once famously quipped that he thought Heaven would be very much like the Ritz. It’s all very posh (and pricey) but certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Ritz Escoffier Culinary School, named for the famous chef Auguste Escoffier, has programs teaching everything from baking bread to classic French cooking.

For something a little more casual, tip your hat to the Lake Austin Spa Resort. Set in the Texas Hill Country, this resort centers around well being. The highly rated spa is a focal point of the resort, but wannabe chefs or those who want to revamp their cooking style will love the “Culinary Experience.” It’s a one-week program offered throughout the year and features different chefs from around the country. Programs focus on everything from gadgets and ingredients to healthy cooking techniques.

For the Adrenaline Junkie

Feel the need for speed? There are plenty of places to put the pedal to the medal. Skip Barber Racing School is the granddaddy of them all. Skip Barber trains professional drivers, so you’ll learn from the best. Programs are held nationwide at a variety of tracks (depending on the racing style: Formula One, Mazda race cars, etc.) and are offered in one-, two-, or three-day programs. Charlotte, North Carolina is the home of NASCAR (the Hall of Fame was just opened there) and one of the sport’s top race tracks. The Charlotte Motor Speedway has several driving schools by some of the biggest names in the business. Ever heard of Jeff Gordon, Mario Andretti, or Richard Petty? Visit for more information on their programs and schools.

NANCY DEPALMA has been telling people where to go, what to do, and where to eat or stay for almost a decade while writing extensively about travel and fine dining. She has authored or contributed to eight books and has been featured in a variety of magazines and websites. She writes about travel at her new website and blog, Email her at