Stay in California Wine Country

I breathed in heavily and then back out as I saw my breath clearly in front of me. I sat on the stone ledge just outside of my room with my hands crossed as I shivered, wondering why the hell I was freezing on a mid-summer evening. I had been misinformed, as I sat there shivering in the only jacket I had, and one that I had just recently bought.

The summer prior I was spending my afternoons lying on a warm beach every day with friends in between skimboarding and playing bocee ball and washers. Yet something about that moment and summer filled me with a sense of wonder like never before, because as I took another long breath, let it out, and looked up, I saw an expansive sky chock full of stars, which reminded me that I was a part of something bigger than myself. I pushed up from the ledge to stand up and muttered the words I found myself repeating daily that summer: "I'm in freakin' Africa."

Seven years later and Africa still holds a special place in my heart like no other destination for many reasons. I consider that summer the season of my life that the seeds of writing were first planted. I never had anything published as a result of it, but it was the first time I remember writing significantly about something other than what girls I was crushing on. I wrote about people, landscapes, disease, travel, and doing good. It was also then that I knew that I wanted travel to be an inherent part of my life. I would have laughed though if you would've told me that in a few years I would be a professional writer specializing in travel. But this isn't about me. This is about Africa and whether I can convince you to be a part of something bigger than yourself in Africa.

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm a part of Passports with Purpose this year. In its fourth year, Passports with Purpose is an annual fundraiser that calls on the support and assistance of independent travel blogs to raise money for a different project each year. Past projects have included using money raised to build a school in Cambodia and an entire village in India. As I eluded to, money raised this year is going to Africa to build two libraries in Zambia through an organization called Room to Read. This year's goal of $80,000 will cover all construction, library materials, and support for three years until the libraries are handed over to the school system. This isn't just about a building, but about an investment in the lives of children.

"Spencer, just tell me already how to donate!" Of course, I thought you would never ask. Simply go to the Passports with Purpose website to donate. "Great, thanks. See ya." BUT WAIT! There's more!  I've got a little more incentive for you to donate. I'm thrilled to be partnering with one of my favorite hotel brands, Fairmont, to give away a free two-night stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn with a complimentary welcome bottle of wine upon arrival. For every $10 you donate, you'll receive one entry to win this two-night stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.

And why is the giveaway an incentive? For a lot of reasons, one of which being that it's one of the most luxurious hotel brands in the world. The Fairmont Empress in Victoria, Canada remains one of my favorite hotels in the world. Dog lovers may appreciate the Fairmont Sonoma because of Zeus, the Canine Ambassador at the inn. Other notable features include their own honey beehives and Willow Stream Spa, which was rated as one of the top spas by Travel + Leisure.

Also, we're talking wine country. I just returned from my first trip to Sonoma wine country last weekend and am already counting the days to my next visit. Rolling hills, vineyards full of color, endless wine, Lake Sonoma, and the serene Pacific coastline - what's not to love?

To Summarize (With Fine Print)

  • Africa is the bomb. Also, Africa is not a country, but a continent.
  • Passports with Purpose is an annual fundraiser that is working with travel writers and bloggers from around the world to raise $80,000 to build two libraries in Zambia through Room to Read.
  • For every $10 you donate, you'll be entered to win a free two-night stay at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn.
  • You can donate anytime between now and Dec 16, 2011 at 11:59  p.m. PST.
  • The two-night stay includes a welcome bottle of wine upon arrival and invite to Fairmont's daily complimentary lobby wine tasting.
  • Mid-week stay, blackout dates apply, and gift certificate valid until November 30, 2012.
  • The winner will be selected in a random drawing.
  • The prize winners will be notified by telephone, email or mail on or by December 23.