Within two months of going on Travel Weekly’s Cover Stars trip, Laura Featonby had booked a family of four to California to stay in some of the hotels she had visited.

Laura, who set up Laura’s Travel nearly two years ago as a member of homeworking group Independent Travel Experts, admitted she would never have considered California for a family holiday before going on the Cover Stars trip.

“One of the mums from my daughter’s school asked me about a trip to California and I said I’d just been there and so I could recommend hotels to stay in,” said Laura, who said the booking, through Virgin Flight Store, had made the trip all the more worthwhile.

“I really didn’t think of it as a family destination before and now I do.”

The £5,899 booking for two weeks includes stays at five different hotels, flights, and car hire for the family. Two of the hotels, the Hyatt Huntington Beach and the Saguaro Palm Springs, were both properties Laura stayed at during the Cover Stars trip.

“When you price it up against a family holiday in Europe it’s not that expensive,” adds Laura, who is now keen to take her own children back to some of her favourite places on the trip, including Huntington Beach because of all the activities on offer there.

The time spent on Huntingdon Beach even encouraged her to try something she’d never done before – surfing.

“My children couldn’t believe it, I don’t normally even swim in the sea on holiday so it ,” says Laura, who managed to stand on the surf board and ride some waves.

She adds: “I was actually surfing on the crest of a wave, it was brilliant! I’ve already told the children I’ll be body boarding with them when we go on holiday to Cornwall this summer!”

The food and the restaurants in California also impressed Laura, who said the destination was great for “foodies”.

“I love my food and some of the food we tried there was just amazing. There’s a great restaurant culture and quality food at good prices,” says Laura.

One of her highlights was a walking taste tour of Santa Monica to taste different types of cuisine first-hand.

“At one restaurant everything was made of raw vegetables because it’s the new health craze to eat raw food. I think we all loved Santa Monica, it is so trendy,” she says.

Laura’s CV

2012 to date: homeworker, Laura’s Travel, and business development manager, Independent Travel Experts
2004-2012: branch manager, Going Places, Sale, Greater Manchester
1993-2003: a variety of roles from overseas rep to overseas operations manager, Direct Holidays, based in resorts in Portugal and Greece

Laura’s tips:

  • Family destination. Suggest California as a destination for families who want an active, touring holiday. The state is ideal for a multi-centre trip. There’s Huntington Beach for some fun activities, and families could include a day at Disneyland Park in Anaheim.
  • Reasonably priced. Holidays to California are not as expensive as you may think. When you price up the holiday against a European family break you will be surprised and so your clients could be too.
  • Shopper’s paradise. Tell clients to leave plenty of room in their suitcase for all the shopping they’ll do. I loved the Simon Shopping Malls and hotels provide shuttle buses so they are accessible and there are plenty of designer clothes and gifts at great prices.
  • Suits any age. California is for all ages, whether you want to surf, cycle, or walk or if you want to relax and enjoy the views, cafe culture, the beach and great eateries.

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Laura admits she was impressed from the start of her Cover Stars trip by the Virgin Atlantic experience.

“I was bowled over by the Virgin check-in at Stansted Airport,” she says. The experience got even better when she was upgraded to a premium seat.

“It was spacious and relaxing. I thought the entertainment system was great and the staff were brilliant and that made the whole experience,” she adds.

Some of her highlights were Huntington Beach and its “fun and friendly vibe”.

“There was a little town centre which was quite quaint, niche and trendy and I loved the feel of it and a great place for families,” she says.

Other activities she enjoyed on the trip was a cycle ride from Santa Monica pier to Venice beach and a jeep ride to the San Andreas Fault. “We had a laugh in the jeep and the tour company made sure everyone had a good time.”