Recreational travel is on the rebound — thank goodness — though still with a fair share of challenges. Main & Broad checked in with three local travel professionals for insider tips on the destinations that these experts are booking right now.
Your next getaway, near or far, awaits.
Elegant Elephant Travel, Holly Springs
Andrea Fermanis started traveling to all-inclusive, tropical resorts with her family as a 12-year-old. Since then, she has been building a love for and knowledge of travel, especially everything’s-included resort destinations for families and couples.
“It’s very important to me to recommend places that I have physically been to. I provide my clients the peace of mind knowing that I physically went there, and I will give them the ins and outs — activities they should do, the best restaurants they should go to, the room categories that I feel were the most luxurious.”
Elegant Elephant Travel
Get Away: Turks and Caicos
Amazing beaches, beautiful water and delicious food keep Fermanis coming back to the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos.
“It’s a very small island, and so once you land there, you kinda feel like family,” she says.
An easy trip from the East Coast (likely with one stop in Florida), Turks and Caicos beckons couples and families to its grand resorts and boutique hotels — “You can rent a beautiful bungalow on the water,” Fermanis says. “There are so many cute little restaurants that are right on the beach, cooking fresh fish.”
“If you want to go off for a day and get away from people to see the natural part of the island, all you have to do is rent a Jeep and drive around. It’ll take you about 45 minutes. … It just checks all of those boxes that my clients are looking for.”
Stay: Sanderling Resort, Duck, N.C.
This beachfront resort on North Carolina’s Outer Banks creates the feel of an island getaway, only a few hours’ drive from Wake County.
“That’s the amazing thing about the beaches in North Carolina that I never really knew before I moved here. You really do feel like you are somewhere else,” Fermanis says.
Multiple resort pools, a beautiful spa, a rolling golf course, plus adventurous excursions like wild horses tour and dune hang gliding all combine into a resort-style vacation without even leaving the state.
Curio Travel Designs, Cary
Kati Knowland hated her first experience with international travel — moving to Singapore with her family as an almost-teenager — in the beginning.
“Because I was 12 years old, and everything is horrible when you are 12,” she jokes. “But ultimately it was an opportunity to travel a lot in Asia, and see and experience a lot of new things, and really opened my eyes to the world.”
Those early experiences led Knowland to specialize in family-focused international travel when she founded her agency, Curio Travel Designs.
“My real strength is in creating trips — adventurous, experiential and cultural — that get a family out into the culture of a place to experience the people and the food and the art of a destination, wherever that may be.”
Curio Travel Designs
Get Away: London
Knowland recommends London as a great entry into into international travel, in part because there is no language barrier.
“The way that I like to plan trips for my family clients, in London and elsewhere, is to pair your more traditional sightseeing activities with something hands-on and experiential,” Knowland says.
For example, a visit to the British Museum, which showcases 2 million years of history and culture, could include directed games and scavenger hunts to keep children engaged with the exhibits during the tour.
“Visit the Tower of London and learn about the history (which is pretty entertaining), but then take part in Knight School, where families can learn about how to use a sword, how to joust and how to defend the Tower of London,” Knowland recommends.
Stay: Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina
Southern sophistication meets outdoor adventure at Montage Palmetto Bluff, a 20,000-acre five-star property along with May River in South Carolina’s Low Country. With all the classic amenities you’d expect of a luxury resort, such as fine dining, a spa and golf course, it’s the abundance of available outdoor adventures that Knowland and her clients really love.
“It is like this old South summer camp, but in a luxurious way,” Knowland says. “There is a merit badge program that kids can collect for doing different activities around the property, such as making smores, catching fish, doing archery or paddle-boarding. It gives kids buy-in to the experience, which is always good for a family vacation.”
“It’s a really laid back, but really active place to go. You can go bowling, rent bikes, take guided hikes, visit private beaches by boat — there’s always something going on.”
Concierge Boutique Travel, Fuquay-Varina
For Lisa Zilli, travel planning started as a hobby for her own family of five, expanded to include crafting itineraries for close friends, and ultimately transformed into a career planning custom vacations for local and nationwide clients.
“Every person that comes to me, I listen to them and find out what they like to do. I ask them about their worst vacation and best vacation. I really get to know them, so I can create a great itinerary for them to enjoy,” Zilli says.
“Every client is like a family member or a friend, and that is the way I look at their itineraries, to make sure they have the best adventure and have all the information they need and help them be prepared so they can … enjoy the destination instead of worrying about where to catch the bus or the train.”
Concierge Boutique Travel
Get Away: Italy
“Italy is my favorite destination,” Zilli says. “It’s such a beautiful, culturally and historically rich country.”
From glass blowing in Venice, to picturesque Tuscan wine country to the historic sites of Pompeii, Italy provides a deep well of experiences that immerse guests in the culture.
“I really loved going to Pompeii. We climbed Mt. Vesuvius. It’s really cool to walk the cobblestone streets and see the ridges from the chariots and the ash-engulfed people. To see it is haunting and impactful.”
Zilli and her husband are of Italian descent, which enhances the experience even more.
“The people feel like home to us, because that’s our grandfathers and uncles and aunts that we grew up with. That’s their heritage; it’s familiar to us.”
Get Away: Jamaica
Zilli considers Jamaica to be a hidden gem, underrated amongst Caribbean destinations. A short flight from the East Coast lands guests on a diverse island with amazing natural wonders.
“It has waterfalls. You can go ATVing on the island. (Jamaica) is one of three places in the world that has a bioluminescent lagoon — with algae that glows in the dark,” Zilli says. “It’s one of the top 10 things I’ve ever done in my life.”
“The people are so warm and welcoming. They are really excited to have people visit.”
Island destinations, like Jamaica, can provide stress-free vacationing in many ways. Zilli has booked private villas with personal chefs for large family groups, and also frequently recommends all-inclusive stays.
“You just unpack once and … sit back, and relax and enjoy the resort and everything it has to offer.”
Navigate your next trip like a pro with these tips from the experts.
- Travel is the best gift ever. Material things don’t mean as much as travel does in the grand scheme of things. It provides you with so much.
- It’s very important to make sure that you ask your agent the right questions. Are vaccinations required? Travel insurance? Is on-site testing available?
- Every single island is requiring something different when you book your vacation. If you don’t want to use an agent, then do the research yourself before you depart.
- An extra level of preparation is required right now when traveling. If you are traveling internationally, it is easiest if you can be vaccinated. There are a lot of places where you won’t be able to go into a restaurant at all if you aren’t vaccinated, and that can make for a disappointing trip.
- Patience and flexibility are things you absolutely have to have right now.
- Staffing is a problem all over the world. Some restaurants might not be open or they have an all-new waitstaff, so the level of service may be just a little bit slower.
- You don’t really know when the rules can change. (Flight cancellations, testing regulations or vaccine status to name a few). Travel agents can’t predict or control that, but working with a travel agent, you’ll have someone who is on your side who can help you navigate those changes.
- I like to have two or three different types of masks: cotton, nylon and a disposable mask. If I change it up throughout the trip, it isn’t as cumbersome.
- Bring a digital and a hard copy of everything — itinerary, travel documentation, COVID test results. If you can’t get internet or something happens to your phone, you definitely want to be able to show proof of all your documentation.
- Travel light. You can always do laundry or find a local laundry service.
- Utilize a travel professional to get the best value for what you are paying.