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I’m kind of a big deal.   At least, that’s the way I felt when I was planning a two-night weekend trip with my husband to Southern Illinois. This area of the state has a lot to offer. Wine trails, a great culinary scene, and plenty of outdoor activities to partake in, just to name a few. Many travel writers spend their days dreaming of the next extravagant tour but often overlook those little weekend trips. Armed with two assignments, I reached out to the tourism bureau to see if they could help me plan activities and meals for the weekend. In the first e-mail I received back, I was offered a zip-line canopy tour with a local company — not only for myself, but my husband too! As our correspondence progressed, we were offered a meal and wine-tasting at one of the local wineries along with another meal at a BBQ restaurant. Little did I know, the BBQ restaurant is kind of a big deal, too. Competing every year in the world championship barbecue contest, Memphis in May (also known as the Super Bowl of Swine), they have taken home three Grand World Champion titles. I also learned that, while in office, President Clinton dined here and loved it so much, he gave the owner top security clearance to board Air Force One to deliver him BBQ. An invitation to enjoy a meal here, on the house, made me feel like a VIP. Our zip-line tour was the best of its kind we had ever experienced. We donned our helmets and harnesses and spent a beautiful morning hiking and zipping through the forest. One of the zip lines came in at over 1,000 feet long and we were able to clock our speed as we breezed past the lush greenery. At the end of the tour, the owner provided us with a disc of all the pictures that had been taken throughout the tour. The cost for it all? Nothing. We spent the afternoon sipping on some fine Midwest wines as we toured around the countryside of Southern Illinois taking in the sweeping views of the national forest that surrounded us. That evening, we dined at a Swedish café and winery. European-style wines paired with a 75-year-old family recipe for Swedish meatballs was the perfect way to end the day. We had an amazing time and enjoyed some great meals on the house. Combine the complimentary zip-line tour, meals, and the paycheck I’ll receive for writing about the area, and I just had a very affordable weekend getaway. Some of my weekend trips have cost me quite a bit of money over the years, but with the knowledge I’ve learned about travel writing, this is the only way I’ll be planning my weekend getaways from now on. My next stop is St. Maarten, where the tourism bureau is busy planning a three-day itinerary for my entire family.

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