Everyone who loves a holiday will hold a special place in their heart for a favourite destination which they have probably visited many times. The real value in owning timeshare, however, lies in being able to swap your holiday home for thousands of others around the world, allowing you to try something completely different while you discover exciting new places. Once you step outside your holiday comfort zone, you might well be uncomfortable about getting back into it!
My idea of holiday fun has always been more about buildings than beaches...
Give me a bleached stone ruin or a jaw-dropping bit of architecture and I'm happy. Time out from the rat race usually finds me in search of these treasures in countries such as Italy, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Spain - all the usual suspects, so to speak. That was until the day a friend, with whom I shared a passion for funky jazz and blues music, suggested we head off for a holiday in the US, to Minneapolis, a city of all places. I wasn't exactly thrilled by the idea, and it was a holiday that would come at a considerable cost, having to fly out from the UK.
The pull of the promised parties and a mighty music fest at the home of rock superstar, the late artist formerly known as Prince, won the day and saw me flying off to Minneapolis in the US state of Minnesota. To say I was venturing out of my comfort zone was an understatement, and I was doing this against my better judgement when I started to think of the hole this holiday was going to blow in my travel budget for the year.
Well, the music was fabulous. We partied from one end of Minneapolis to the other. The Dakota Club was a personal favourite when it came to music venues; being small and intimate, it was the perfect place to lose myself in the strains of the sassy saxophone, piano and mic. A visit to First Avenue - a mecca for fans of the award winning film, Purple Rain, was an emotional experience as well as a great place to party. Events held at Paisley Park, the home and recording studios of Prince himself, was very memorable. Much to my surprise, the actual building itself turned out to be a fascinating bit of architecture, being built out of white aluminum and having a glass pyramid to light the lobby.
In fact, Minneapolis surprised me. There was so much more to it than the music. We spent a day exploring the amazing Skywalk, a sprawling steel and glass structure built high above the streets of the city so that its residents could still get to work and go about their business in climate-controlled comfort throughout the punishing winters. The city sees an annual average snowfall of 53 inches and so the 11 miles of glass walkways, connecting 80 major buildings high above Downtown Minnie, is not only an awesome engineering masterpiece, but such a fun way to explore the city - even in the summer. I loved the communal areas dotted throughout the Skyway where you could take a break from sightseeing, joining the friendly office workers taking their lunch break.
In the time I spent there I uncovered some amazing architectural treasures. This cool city has a really diverse and unique set of buildings - from the fairytale castle that was built at the turn of the century as a private home for a Swedish publisher and is now the American Swedish Institute, to the Art Deco Foshay Tower, built in 1929 and now put into the shadows by the taller skyscrapers that came after.
There are also 22 lakes in Minneapolis, with the Chain of Lakes comprising five of the largest. A mere 10 minutes from Downtown, you have 15 miles of beautiful paths to stroll, winding through the parkland and meandering along the shorelines, it was one of the city's biggest surprises for me.
Sadly, I didn't manage to explore all the Twin Cities had to offer - as I ran out of time before I got to St Paul, part of the area. However, my flight and hotel are booked for this year, so I'm going to dig a little deeper!
My experience got me thinking that when planning holidays, why do I always start with the destination? Why don't I begin my holiday search with the experience I want and all the great things I want from my time away - and see where that takes me?
I have since had a play on RCI.com's online resort directory. At the foot of the page, The Holiday Types filters serve up a one-click list of holidays worldwide which meets my criteria.
Choose from beach, golf, spa or skiing holidays, and breaks that are suitable for families to enjoy. Once you have your list of initial search results, you can filter even further by ticking the activities and resort amenities you like to enjoy on holiday. Do this before selecting any destination filters, and you may well be surprised to find your perfect holiday in a location you would not have considered previously!
Talking with several RCI members some time back for an article I was writing, I recall many of them telling me how using the experience they loved as the start of their holiday planning journey had opened the doors to some of the best times they have had. Rosemary Hutcheson and her husband, Gordon, have been using experiences to start their journey for a long time.
Rosemary told me: "We have discovered some fabulous new places using search filters to find golf locations for us. We visited Florida to holiday and play golf, getting the idea from the search filters on RCI.com. We are keen golfers and courses in Florida were not too crowded and excellent. Another search led us to our best holiday ever, this time to South Africa where we played golf as well as going on safari and doing so many other things. It was fantastic and not all about the golf."
RCI members, the McGregor family, love to ski together and having busy jobs and children at school, their window of opportunity to go away on holiday as a family is limited, so planning with the RCI.com Holiday Types search helps them to get the holiday they want. Talking about how his family use their timeshare, Stephen McGregor said: "It is an adventure and has taken us to so many new and fabulous places. We enjoyed a ski holiday in Hinterzarten in the Black Forest, which was beautiful. We hadn't realised the area had skiable mountains - the RCI search results flagged it up to us."
If you think about any and every holiday activity or pursuit, start out with that in mind and see where thinking outside the box takes you... Think of one of the most popular of ways to spend your time away (unless you're me) - lazing and playing on a sandy beach - and you're probably thinking Málaga. But beaches abound in some incredibly beautiful places, with nature's best backdrop hugging their shores. Lake Balaton in Hungary is a wonderful summer beach location, for example. Hungary's inner sea has 197 kilometres of shoreline. It is Europe's largest freshwater lake and comes with sandy beaches and the bonus of being close to hiking trails up into the Balaton Uplands National Park and the village of Veszprém, a walled-castle district boasting 13th century frescoes.
Many of our members head for Tenerife, a tiny Spanish island dominated by the mighty Mount Teide. Having been to the top - doing the last stage by cable car - and driven and walked around the Teide National Park, I can vouch for its peculiar 'other worldliness'. I can still feel the absolute thrill of being so very small in that avalanche of nature at its most splendid. It was overwhelming and I will never forget it. Knowing how exciting the Mount Teide experience was for me, I used the Holiday Types search on RCI.com and found, at the time of my search, there were as many as 1,347 lake and mountain destinations across 10 different regions available to RCI members, with 572 of them being in the US. Personally, I liked the look of the Rockies in Canada. Inspired by my Minneapolis holiday, I am now looking to the long-haul locations to surprise and delight me on my travels.
If you own timeshare and want to step out of your holiday comfort zone to explore new destinations, then join RCI and do it with the assurance that although the view from your apartment may be very different from the one you're used to, you know the quality and comfort of your accommodation and resort will be of the same high standard when travelling with RCI membership. Click on the button below to see how easy it is to become and RCI member.
Once you have RCI membership, start exploring the world... Click on the button below to view the more than 4,000 resorts that you can make your home while you discover all that is amazing about your chosen holiday destination.