Singer-songwriter Christa Wells says that in some ways, growing up in a military family prepared her for all the touring she does today. "I lived for four years in western Europe," says the 39-year-old musician. "I love travel and seeing the different ways towns and cities have been built, the ways people live and eat and relate to one another -- the sounds of different languages. (Travel has) taught me about the beauty of diversity. The world is so big and richly textured. We'll never run out of new things to try and experience."
Now based in Raleigh, N.C., Wells -- once named songwriter of the year by the Gospel Music Association -- is promoting her latest album, "Feed Your Soul." For updated tour dates, check out her website (http://www.christawellsmusic.com) or follow her on Twitter at (at)christawells
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. Tough call! I'll say Costa Rica because we had such an incredible experience there a couple of years ago.
Q. To someone who was going to Costa Rica for the first time, what would you recommend that they do during their visit?
A. Get to know the country by experiencing a couple different areas, rather than only being at the beach. Check out the cloud forests, have a driver take you up into the mountains and see the volcanoes. Manuel Antonio is the popular beach area for tourists and it's fantastic, though it's not where the locals go. You'll get to experience the monkeys and the beautiful beaches that just appear before your eyes as you emerge from the trees. No buildings or hotels built up against the sand, only ocean and forest -- paradise. We also loved La Paz waterfalls north of San Jose, near Poas Volcano. You'll walk beautiful man-made paths under and over a number of natural falls and be surrounded in lush greenery and mist the whole time.
Q. What untapped destination should people know about?
A. We spent three weeks on a hillside outside of the southern town of San Isidro del General. It's a quiet, unassuming town in a valley, much less sophisticated than San Jose. In San Jose, as a woman, you feel like you need to be a bit dressed up if you're out and about. In San Isidro, we felt more at home, like anything goes. A humble place. But an unexpected day of joy came when we drove north into the cloud forested mountains just an hour or so outside of the town. The air gets cool and wet and the views across to Mt. Chirripo take your breath away. We stopped at a little old restaurant -- a truck stop, really -- and had hot cocoa before turning back.
Q. What was the first trip you took as a child? And did you love it ... or not so much?
A. When I was about 5 years old, my family flew to Hawaii for a few days. Dad was in the Army and had a work trip. That was the first big trip I remember taking, and the first airplane trip. I loved it! Being on a plane, of course, is excitement enough for a kid, but the beaches were fantastic! Having family time in a faraway place felt really special.
Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. We live in central North Carolina, so we can get to either mountains or beach in less than four hours. Because I travel so much for work, we don't get away for fun weekend trips as often as we'd like, but I'd definitely say western North Carolina is an awesome place to spend a weekend eating local food, hiking and exploring small shops.
Q. If you've ever gone away for the holidays, which was the best trip?
A. Well, we spent Christmas in Costa Rica on that trip in 2010, and it was unbelievably good; just so simple, so restful. We had precious little in the way of gifts and decorations and traditional foods. But we didn't miss a thing, because of the beauty and the family togetherness.
Q. What are your favorite hotels?
A. Having several children, we favor suite hotels, and Marriott's Residence Inn (http://www.marriott.com) gets most of our business when we travel as a family. We look for suites and free breakfasts! But if I'm with my husband, I like to try boutique hotels that have been reviewed well by fellow travelers. For work trips, I have to say Westin (http://www.starwoodhotels.com/westin) has never failed me.
Q. What are your five favorite cities?
A. My favorite cities ... hmmm. That's tough because some cities I love because of the people I know there, not because of the city itself. Having said that, I'll list these as cities I have really enjoyed: Portland, Nashville, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?
A. Home for me is rather undefined because of growing up in so many different places. But we've been in North Carolina a long time now, and the place I've traveled that feels most like this one would probably have to be southern Alabama where the air smells of hot pine needles.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. There are so many places I still haven't seen. One of those I'm going to be able to scratch off my bucket list at the end of August when we visit the three beautiful Canadian cities of Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec. Can't wait!
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. I've gotten fairly good at packing because of my work and I keep it pretty simple. Besides basic toiletries and my wallet, I have my airport outfit -- jeans and black shirt -- lightweight scarf/wrap in my carry-on, a good book, cellphone and pen and notebook, which I seldom actually use but always have on hand.
Q. What would be your dream/fantasy trip?
A. To take an extended trip through South America, Africa, Europe and Asia with my family, volunteering and receiving hospitality from the locals. Hotels are fun, but if you really want to know a people and a place, you live and work alongside of them. I'd love to do that with my family.
Q. What are your favorite restaurants?
A. My favorite restaurants are whatever locals recommend. Fresh, varied produce, surprising combinations of flavors -- I love that. Zest Cafe (http://www.zestcafehomeart.com/), Sola Cafe (http://solacoffee.com/) and Lucky 32 (http://www.lucky32.com/) in the Raleigh area are awesome. Neomonde (http://www.neomonde.com/35year/) is fantastic if you're a fan of Mediterranean food. I love family-owned places and we love Thai and Greek. When I'm traveling and don't know where to go, I will fall back on Panera Bread Company (http://www.panerabread.com/), because I can always count on a good sandwich.
Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?
A. When I'm on the road, my guilty pleasure is mainly overpriced coffee with peppermint!
Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A. If I'm traveling for vacation, I spend a lot of time researching places to stay and places to eat. We have a gluten-free family member, so I try to find a restaurant that is informed and sensitive to food allergies. I love planning trips -- it's half the fun!
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at http://www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun