Category Archives: Travel Plans

Why My Favourite Way to See Europe is Cruising

When it comes to traveling Europe, it’s safe to say I’ve done it all. I’ve visited Europe with a large tour group and explored Italy on my own backpacking tour when I was 20. So when my parents suggested getting the family together on a river cruise through Europe I agreed without hesitation. Was I worried I was going to be the only person under 35 on this cruise? Yes, but there was no way I was going to pass up another opportunity to visit Europe.

Before the trip, my family wasn’t sure which cruise company to go with. We had a lot of options and it was overwhelming to decide! There are many different cruise companies that operate in Europe. My dad ended up making the final decision with his eyes closed. He chose a river cruise called Scenic Cruises. I’ve never heard of this cruise line before this trip so I was excited for the new experience.

Traveling across Europe on a river cruise was different in many ways. Everything from the pace of the trip to the people you traveled with varied from my past travel experiences. The luxury river cruise my family chose to go on was everything you’d expect it to be when you first hear the words “luxury river cruise”: lavish suites, five-star guest experience and elegant, world-class excursions. My last Euro trip consisted of cheap eats and a constant go-go-go vibe; this river cruise couldn’t have been more opposite.

The first thing I noticed when I boarded the ship was the size: this was no 1000 plus guests ocean cruiser. With only 85 suites and a maximum head count of 169 guests, the ship I traveled on was designed with comfort and luxury in mind. It was an all-inclusive travel experience which meant I not only had free reign of the mini bar in my cabin but  my own personal butler (you have to see it to believe it). 

As a (relatively) young woman who’s had to make her own bed since the age of 10, I was thrilled to discover that for one glorious week, I wouldn’t have to worry about fluffing my pillows or finding spare change for laundry. On top of having your own butler, the cruise line offered nightly turndown service, complimentary laundry concierge as well as 24 hour room service. There were numerous restaurants available for dining as well as unlimited access to a gym, wellness centre, pool, panoramic lounge and sun deck (which lead me to put my guard down for one afternoon and go easy on the sunscreen- big mistake. Huge).

Obviously, I was over the moon with these discoveries; as seasoned cruisers, even my hard-to-please parents were impressed by the attention-to-detail. With a 1:3 crew to guest ratio, however, I shouldn’t have expected anything less than first class.

Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed between traveling on your own and via boat cruise is the touring schedule. With a river cruise, your travel itinerary is already organized and laid out for you. The daily routine in place aboard a cruise is that the boat will move at night and dock by breakfast. The daily land excursions alternate between half and full day and allow for little independent sightseeing, which I guess is the point for the majority of travelers aboard the cruise.

There is little time to go off on your own since the ship has a set schedule to dock and depart every night. Knowing what I do now, I can say it’s smart to do your research before choosing a cruise line.

Each cruise line will vary in style, itinerary and destination. The river cruise I experienced had every day of the trip organized and planned for guests- while I’ll admit it took a huge weight off my shoulders in terms of pre-cruise organization, the pre-arranged schedule did limit my ability to explore a city independently without another 15 people tagging along.

The land excursions, I have to say, are in a league of their own. Curated by the cruise line’s very own “journey designers,” I saw a part of Europe I couldn’t have possibly experienced backpacking on my own. While the attractions were similar, it was the extra attention-to-detail that made me become fully immersed in the country’s culture.

As an example, on day four of my cruise, I got to taste my way around a local market in Vienna, Austria but with an added twist- a local private chef was there to accompany fellow guests and teach us about the delicacies known to the region (there is a half finished note on my Iphone dating back to this excursion that reads, “How to make Bratwurst from scratch”). One of the highlights of my cruise though took place In Freudenberg, Germany. I had the most amazing day celebrating Oktoberfest with guests and locals alike-there was food, there was dancing and yup, there was a staggering amount of beer (beer everywhere!).

Celebrating a classic Bavarian tradition with a crowd that traveled from all over the world to experience it firsthand took a seemingly simple excursion to the next level. While we all took part in the excursion for different reasons- I came for the beer, my parents came for the bratwurst and Andrew from Australia simply wanted to get acquainted with his German roots- we all left with the same awesome memory.

After 15 days floating down the Rhine and Danube rivers, I have to say there’s something to putting your feet up and shelling out some extra cash (okay, a lot of cash) for someone else to do the hard work of planning a trip for you. That was my favourite part of taking the scenic route; if you ask my parents, they’ll reference “wine night” in Budapest, Hungary.

I personally think traveling around on a cruise is one of the best ways to go on a multi-country trip. Why? It’s easy, it’s relaxing and they make it oh-so-convenient. I will say that it’s not for everyone: if you’re an independent traveler or a club-goer, a luxury river cruise won’t give you what you’re looking for.

At 33, I was easily one of the youngest people aboard the ship; however, I wouldn’t write off a river cruise for that reason alone. I found the crowd to be interesting, educated and well traveled. Many were entrepreneurs with their own successful businesses (which would explain how they could afford the price tag). Again, this too, will vary from cruise to cruise.

In light of my early travel hesitations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the river cruise. I am so grateful! I met some amazing people and I got to experience Budapest to Amsterdam all in one shot (thanks mom and dad!)

Lauren Martineau

Professional freelance blogger & writer, storyteller & adventuress. When Lauren's not typing 80 wpm, she's travelling and staying fit.

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The Ultimate Guide To Tipping in the U.S. for Food, Travel, And Hospitality

The conversation about tipping in the U.S. has been in the news more than ever recently, with stories of miserly and generous restaurant patrons alike taking stands on the subject. The restaurant industry is beginning to experiment with alternative tipping, revenue, and pricing models in an effort to iron out many of the wrinkles in an industry where a living wage often depends on the non-requisite kindness of strangers. And for travelers, the tipping question goes well beyond restaurants. In the U.S. industries including transportation and hospitality also rely on tipping to various degrees, so it’s worth a deeper dive into how tips make a difference to the people working to make your stay, travel, or meal that much better.

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Transportation

Taxi drivers who work for a taxi company (as opposed to owning their own vehicle) take home, on average, 33% of their total shift fares. This often works out to $8-$9 an hour after 12-hour shifts filled with stresses like urban traffic, rude/drunk patrons, and minimal bathroom breaks. Acceptable tips for cabbies can start around 10% (or a $1 minimum), but typically range upwards of 30%, depending on a number of factors: efficiency, safety, cleanliness, friendliness, traffic, destination, etc. Around 15% is standard, though most people tip 20 – 25% (in NYC anyway). If the driver help with bags, add an additional $1 – $2 per item is customary, especially if they’re heavy.

Much like the food-service industry, a valet’s base-pay is minimal and assumes tips will compensate. As valets are in charge of making sure the second-most expensive thing most people own (after a house) is navigated cleanly through tight spaces, the pressure is on for them to perform, and they should be tipped accordingly. Around $2 – $5 is standard, and the money should change hands when the vehicle is (safely) delivered. Many people choose to tip when dropping the car off as well to ensure quality service, though it’s not necessary. If there is a flat parking/valet fee, tips are still still expected.

Hospitality

Hotels employ in a wide range of rolls, many of whom are paid around the state’s minimum wage. Bellhops make, on average, $8.73 an hour, with a porter’s hourly wage leaning only slightly better. A standard $1 – $2 tip for each bag every time a bag is handled may not seem like a lot, but it adds up day-to-day. Add in an extra dollar or two if bags are heavy, and a $5 minimum is a good idea if they also escort you to your room. This generally applies to anyone who handles your luggage anywhere, be it a cab, a train, a hotel, or a cruise ship. If someone calls you a cab, another dollar or two is in order. They appreciate it!

The concierge exists solely to serve guests’ special requests. Their base pay isn’t much more than a porter’s, but the standard tipping range compensates them for their unique set of skills. No need to tip if you only get directions from them, but the more difficult the task, and the more time it takes (e.g. securing tickets to a sold-out Broadway show), the more they should be compensated. Tips for the concierge typically run $5 – $20.

Housekeeping, while they don’t often interact with hotel patrons, ensure a spick-and-span experience. Try and tip $2 – $3 per night, left daily in an obvious place. If your room is host to more than three people, or you make more than three-people’s worth of a mess, add a dollar or two for the extra effort. A brief thank-you note clears up any confusion as to if the money was left on accident, and it may make someone’s day a little brighter.

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Food Service

As the industry currently stands, server hourly pay is usually well below minimum wage, in some states as low as $2.13 an hour. It is assumed tips will bring their wage up to a liveable minimum. The front-of-house staff (whom patrons interact with) often pool and evenly distribute their tips, but the kitchen staff rarely receives anything more than their base-pay. The system is imperfect, but restaurant owners are beginning to find more equitable ways to pay front-of-house and kitchen staff alike (though these systems aren’t without their controversies). Until the system is changed, and unless you’re eating in one of the few establishments trying out a new model, you should be tipping your server a minimum of 15%. If the service is exceptionally bad, and you are positive it’s the servers fault, speak to the manager before you get stingy.

A bartenders hourly base-pay is generally better than their table-serving counterparts, but a large portion of their take-home pay (which is likely underreported, and therefore difficult to track) comes down to tips. If all they do is transfer a beverage from a container to your glass (e.g. from a bottle or a tap), $1 per drink is standard. If the drink is a little more complicated, start at $2, and depending on how cute and/or chatty they are, tip to your heart’s content.

Tipping may be a controversial subject, but basic human decency is something we should all be able to agree on. If you’re lucky enough to travel, spread the wealth!

 

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5 Thanksgiving Day Parades Worth Seeing in Person

 

Since 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed it a federal holiday, Thanksgiving has marked the official beginning of the holiday season. Many traditions have developed around the day over the decades from the standard turkey dinner with family, food drives to help the underserved, and of course, football. The day is also known for the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, held annually since 1924 and televised on NBC since 1952. While New York City’s parade may be the most famous, we rounded up five other favorites from across the United States!

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1. Philadelphia, PA

Founded in 1920, the 1.4-mile 6ABC Dunkin Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia is actually the oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country. Like others, it features the usual balloons, floats, and marching bands, but Philadelphia’s holiday celebration is best known for its live performances and celebrities. (This year, members of the World Cup-winning U.S. Women’s Soccer Team will be in attendance.) This year’s parade is particularly family-friendly, featuring performers from Disney on Ice’s Frozen (yes, that includes Anna and Elsa). Be sure to explore the official website and check out a map of the best places to watch from. Those wishing to stay close to the action should try the Hyatt at the Belluevue Hotel or the Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, both of which are well-priced and conveniently located along the parade route.

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2. Detroit, MI

Like the Macy’s Parade in New York City, Detroit’s annual America’s Thanksgiving Parade was founded in 1924 and has been delighting residents and visitors ever since. The parade precedes the annual football game by the Lions (who host the Philadelphia Eagles this year) and features balloons, floats, and the unique Big Head Corps: walking bobbleheads dressed in costumes of animals, clowns, and celebrities. Spectators can even stroll the parade route themselves prior to the main event at the annual Turkey Trot. Visitors to the Motor City should consider a stay at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit or the Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront, both of which are located in the heart of downtown, just steps from the parade route.

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3Houston, TX

Travelers hoping to spend Turkey Day in a warmer locale should look to Houston’s H-E-B Holiday Parade, now in its 66th year. Marching bands, cheerleaders, and elaborate floats are met by 200,000 spectators for a raucous and lively celebration. Spectator access along the parade route is free, although those wishing to can purchase tickets to sit in the grandstands (feel free to bring lawn chairs and blankets to settle in). Santa Claus is scheduled to make an appearance this year, so this parade is a great option for families. Book a room at the Hyatt Regency Houston or the Hilton Americas – Houston for conveniently-located, competitively-priced comfort.

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4. Chicago, IL

One of only three Thanksgiving parades in the U.S. to be nationally broadcast, Chicago’s McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade is now in its 81st year. The 2015 parade will feature marching bands from all over Illinois, elaborate equestrian performances, and a show by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Those planning to visit the Windy City for the extravaganza should try staying in the Silversmith Hotel or the Hilton Garden Inn, conveniently located in the heart of downtown Chicago.

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5. Plymouth, MA

Want as authentic a Thanksgiving experience as it gets? Go back to where it all began in Plymouth. Known as America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Parade, the town’s festivities actually take place the weekend before the holiday. The parade starts at the waterfront and features historical set pieces based on a chronological history of the United States: the colonial period, the Revolutionary Way, the Civil War, Western pioneers, automatives from the 20th and 21st centuries, and a closing float featuring Santa Claus. Musicians include bugle and drum corps, with multiple ceremonies honoring the Pilgrims and Native Americans who celebrated the very first Thanksgiving in 1621. Visitors should stay right on the waterfront, near the action, at the Hilton Garden Inn Plymouth or the Radisson Hotel Plymouth, both competitively priced and comfortably luxurious.

 

 

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How to Stay Comfortable on the World’s Longest Flights

Emirates Airline recently announced the creation of the world’s longest direct flight, a daunting 17.5 hour trip that will fly from Dubai to Panama City starting February 1st. That long flight time might sound daunting, especially when seated in economy. But a little effort and attention can go a long way in taking a flight from unbearable to relaxing, whether travelers are braving the new route from Dubai to Panama City, or just looking to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight more comfortable. Here’s a step by step guide for making the most of a long plane trip.

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Step 1: Choosing a Seat

First of all, try to avoid economy if at all possible. The seats, the food, and the amenities will all improve, as will the enjoyment factor of the trip. If booking a ticket in first class or business class just isn’t budget-friendly, consider using miles to upgrade. To make the next trip easier and start earning miles for the future, enroll in the airline’s frequent flier program or search out credit cards with airline-redeemable points.

If economy is unavoidable, however, the seat can make all the difference. There are a wide variety of websites where travelers can view seating plans based on flights and carriers, such as SeatGuru, SeatExpert, SeatMaestro, and SeatPlans. Think carefully about what type of seat you want. No one likes the middle seat of course, but also there are other things to keep in mind as well.. Certain travelers may prefer the aisle seat if they like to get up and stretch or use the bathroom frequently, whereas the window seat may be preferable for those trying to sleep on night time flights. To avoid engine noise, try to stay close to the front of the plane.

There may even be some possible seating improvements at the airport itself. Check with the desk attendant at the gate to see if there’s an empty row or set of seats on the plane that could provide more stretching room. Be sure to scope out the seats on the plane itself as well in case someone has missed their flight and there’s a better seat open.

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Step 2: Packing the Carry-on

Think of a carry-on bag as the toolbox for hacking a long flight. Packing smart can elevate a trip from boring and uncomfortable to productive and relaxing. Here’s a checklist for the essentials.

  • Before leaving, make sure all devices are charged and loaded with movies, books, and music. It’s best not to rely on a functioning entertainment system on board the plane.
  • Pack things that will help with sleep, such as an eye mask, ear plugs, or sleeping pills. Think twice about cumbersome items like neck pillows unless they’re inflatable.
  • For snacks, bring foods that are high in protein and fiber, since those are often lacking in airline meals. It’s also helpful to treat yourself to something nice on a long flight, so
  • A blanket and a good pair of socks to wear instead of shoes on the plane will make the trip much more comfortable.
  • For the all-important TSA liquid allowance, bring the essentials to stay moisturized and hydrated, such as a facial spritz, moisturizer, lip balm, and nasal spray.
  • Hand sanitizer is also a must on flights to kill bacteria and prevent colds that might be picked up from seatmates.
  • Deodorant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush can also refresh and revitalize travelers on a long journey.

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Step 3: Settling In

First things first: do some seat-side carry-on rearranging. Take out the essentials (headphones, liquids, reading material or devices, socks) and put them in a smaller tote bag or nylon bag to put under the seat. Leave the rest in the carry-on and stow it away. This will allow for much more legroom and better sleep, and the rest of the supplies will still be accessible once the flight begins.

Airplanes can be very cold, so take off your shoes and replace them with a comfy pair of socks. This will also help simulate bed conditions for a restful sleep. Remember to put shoes back on for trips to the bathroom though!

If the flight will cross time zones, the wait for take-off is a great time to set all watches and devices to the destination’s time to help combat jet lag on arrival.

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Step 4: Passing the Time

Now for the flight itself. If it’s an overnight trip, try to get to sleep at what would be a normal hour in the arrival timezone to avoid being groggy on landing. For a daytime flight, many travelers find it helpful to break up a long trip into smaller, more manageable chunks.  Set a phone or watch alarm to go off at hour or two hour intervals and use those benchmarks to divide the trip. This can make a trip both more productive and keep travelers healthy. When the alarm goes off, take the opportunity to get up and do some stretching, which can prevent stiffness and more serious conditions brought on by long flights. Try twisting, folding over, and rolling the head and neck to stay limber. If there’s work to be done, schedule it for the beginning of the flight, and make time for movies, naps, games, or reading later on.

Not to spoil the party, but it’s best to lay off the alcohol and caffeine on long flights. They’re both dehydrating, and the plane is doing enough of that on its own. Stick to water or drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade or coconut water. Remember that hand sanitizer as well — those tray tables probably aren’t cleaned with regularity. Armed with the right resources and tools, even 17.5 hours can become bearable. Sit back, relax, and find a little enjoyment between takeoff and landing.

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Class Isn’t Everything. Today, Enjoy Amazing Flights in First, Business, and Coach

Last week, AirlineRatings.com released its third annual “Best of the Best” ratings—a ranking of airlines by their first class, business class, premium economy class, and long haul economy class offerings.  

The editors at AirlineRatings.com examined (and, in many cases, personally experienced) the in-flight service and amenities of over 450 airlines in order to determine the top airlines in each category, reports Travel Pulse.

The rankings speak not only to the relative quality of the different airlines but also to the ways in which airlines have expanded their offerings over the decades in order to accommodate the shifting needs of travelers. Where once there were only two options for passengers—first class or coach—airlines today offer as many as four classes of travel on the same plane. Read on to learn more about these classes and the airlines that are taking each type of cabin to a whole new level.

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First Class

Where first class used to mean something akin to “free alcohol and bigger seats,” the category of flight has since launched into a whole new world of luxury. First class amenities now range from lie-flat massage chairs with sheepskin mattresses to $40,000 on-flight suites (yes, you read that right) complete with a private bedroom, living room, and en suite shower.

It’s a brave new luxurious world up there in the sky, and according to AirlineRatings.com these 10 airlines (in alphabetical order) have the best first-class cabins on offer:

  • All Nippon Airways
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Swiss International Airlines
  • Thai Airways

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Business Class

As with first class travel, “business class” can refer to a whole gamut of amenities. In general, business-class travelers can expect ample legroom, fully reclinable seats, airport lounge access, priority boarding, and in-flight services such as multi-course meals, hot towels, and champagne. Here are AirlineRatings.com’s top 10 business class cabins (in alphabetical order):

  • Air France
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad Airways
  • Japan Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Australia / Atlantic

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Premium Economy Class

Situated between the economy and business class cabins, premium economy seating is most commonly found on international flights. The range of amenities included in the premium economy class includes extra legroom, wider seats, extra-reclinable seats, adjustable headrests and leg rests, and premium food service. Below are the top 10 airlines (in alphabetical order) that are doing premium economy class right.

  • Air France
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EVA Air
  • Japan Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic / Virgin Australia

Long Haul Economy Class

While “flying coach” may be jokingly equated to “abject misery for the duration of the flight”—just look at headlines denouncing shrinking seat sizes and scaled-back amenities—many airlines have made great strides to comfortably accommodate economy passengers. In fact, some airlines have started to build in more legroom, more reclinable seating, and improvements to in-flight entertainment and even cabin air quality for their economy customers.

At a minimum, economy class flyers can expect a small seat recline, complimentary beverages (and meals on longer flights), in-flight entertainment options, and blankets and pillows. AirlineRatings.com ranks the best long haul economy class cabins as follows:

  • Air New Zealand
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Japan Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways

So there you have it: Whether you’re flying to Vienna or braving the long flight to Tokyo, the class and airline you choose can make a very big difference in the overall quality of the flight. But at the end of the day? Sometimes it’s best to just grin, bear it, and remember that flights are temporary, but travel memories last forever.

 

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CityLove: Granada, Spain

Granada has established itself as one of Spain’s youngest, hippest, and most energetic cities while simultaneously boasting some of the country’s most historic architecture. Plan to explore this city in true Spanish style, by setting out after a relaxing siesta and staying up late into the night.

Start the afternoon with tapas at the renowned Bar Los Diamantes, which has been serving up remarkable food since 1942. If you’re still hungry, try the seafood or aubergine slices. Snap a pic of the meal and earn bragging rights by tweeting it our way.  

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Take an after-lunch stroll to the historic Corral del Carbon, the city’s oldest Arab monument. Built in the 14th century as a coal yard and converted into a space for stage performances in the 16th century, the site now consists of a pavilion, center square, and courtyard encircled by galleries and craft rooms. It’s also home to a bookstore and tourist information office, so remember this spot if you have questions later in the trip.

Climb (or take a cab or bus) toward the famous Alhambra, but don’t get caught up in the tourist crowds. Instead, head to the southern portion of the hill (below the Alhambra) and the beautiful Carmen de los Mártires, a secluded park and historic house featuring Islamic architecture, ornate gardens, an ornamental duck pond, and free-roaming peacocks. 

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Head back downtown for an evening you won’t forget. Le Chien Andalou (aka The Andalusian Dog) is center city’s only Flamenco Cave. Take in the art of Andalusian dance and music in an intimate setting that also features a tasting menu, wines, and beers. 

Tuck in for the night at El Ladrón de Agua, a 16th century noble house that’s since been restored into a modern and beautiful hotel in the heart of Granada. The hotel’s amenities include a café, Wi-fi, library, air conditioning, and monthly art exhibitions featuring regional painters and sculptors. Tweet us your favorite part of the day from the comfort of your hotel room!

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Celebrate National Hot Dog Day near your hotel in New York City - there's bound to be a stand on the corner!

Best Places to Grab a Bite on National Hot Dog Day

Get out the ketchup! Every July 23 is National Hot Dog Day, a summer celebration of the must-have grill food. Eateries all over the world serve up their own version of the classic hot dog, but if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, there are great national — and international — wiener joints out there to satisfy your cravings.

Katz’s Deli

New York has long laid claim to being the home of the American hot dog, and if you’re in the city, you can’t do much better than Katz’s Deli. Order the classic, a big, all-beef hot dog loaded with sauerkraut and just a touch of mustard.

Gene & Jude’s

What makes a true Chicago dog is a much contested , but many would agree that the best place to go is Gene & Jude’s. Their classic, no-nonsense dog is served with mustard, onions, tomato, a pickle spear and some relish, all pushed into a poppy seed bun. What emerges from this is a delectable combination of sharp and sweet flavors.

Dat Dog

New Orleans has recently been making waves in the wiener game, thanks mostly to the strength of local franchise Dat Dog. Never a city to back away from spice, New Orleans finds it own classic dog twist in Dat Dog’s simply named hot sausage, an Andouille-inspired, hand-ground creation that sets the mouth on fire. The French Market Inn, located in the historic French Quarter, is a short distance away from one of their three locations.

Montreal Pool Room

Not eager to let Americans take all the hot dog credit, Canada has put quite a spin on the classic dog themselves. The Montreal dog is steamed, not grilled, and layered with mustard, onions and coleslaw. The best place to grab one? The Montreal Pool Room, one of the oldest and most traditional joints in town.

Domino

For those a little more south of the border, Santiago, Chile is your hot dog mecca. The classic Chilean dog is known as a completo — Spanish for complete, which here means a wiener loaded with mashed avocado, mayo, sauerkraut and chopped tomatoes. The best place in the city to find one is Domino, a soda fountain with multiple locations, which makes it easy to try out for anyone staying at a hotel in Santiago.

Hungry yet? No one’s suggesting you book a flight out specifically to sample these hot dogs, but if you’re in the area, there’s no reason why you can’t do your taste buds a favor and grab a dog to try.

Start Planning Your Trip to the Rio Olympics Right Now

The Rio Olympic Games may not take place until August 2016, but anyone hoping to attend the event in person should start planning their trip now. With more than half a million people expected to attend, a trip to the Olympics is going to require a significant amount of preparation. Check some of the big items off the to-do list now, and you’ll arrive in Rio de Janeiro as a gold medalist in trip planning. Here’s how to get started.

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1. Buy event tickets

Every country has its own official ticket source for the Olympics. In the U.S., that source is CoSport. Individual tickets went on sale back in May, which means tickets are now selling fast. In order to initiate the purchasing process, you’ll need to create an account on cosport.com.

There, you’ll be able to search for and purchase tickets on CoSport’s website. (Keep in mind that each account can purchase no more than 48 tickets.) Because ticket inventory is constantly being updated on the site, it’s a good idea to check back often to see if tickets for the events you want to attend have become available. If you have specific requests pertaining to group purchasing, accessibility needs, and so on, then contact CoSport before purchasing tickets.

If you’re still not seeing the tickets you want, you can try eBay, Craigslist, and other sites. But keep in mind that purchasing through these platforms can be riskier than going through the official reseller.

One important note: When purchasing tickets for different events, remember to allow for travel time between venues. CoSport recommends scheduling at least two or three hours between events that take place on the same day within the same city.

2. Purchase your flight

Think strategically before booking your flight to Rio. You’ll do your wallet a favor by trying not to fly at the same time as the majority of the spectators, like within a few days before the Opening Ceremony and on the day after the Closing Ceremony.

Instead, plan to fly in or out while the games are underway, or schedule in a few extra days of sightseeing on either side of the games. That way, when you do fly, the crowds and prices should be (at least slightly) less astronomical.

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3. Book lodging

Because hotel space in Rio is limited, it’s a good idea to book a hotel or hostel as soon as possible. While it might be tempting to take advantage of the offers for rental apartments online, Olympic representatives have warned visitors to be wary of staying anywhere that hasn’t been certified by a government agency. Your best bet is to book an area hotel, stat.

4. Obtain a visa

Currently, U.S. visitors to Brazil are required to obtain a visa prior to entering the country (to the tune of $160). However, there have been rumors that Brazil may waive the visa requirement for U.S. citizens who attend the Olympic Games.

The safest bet is still to go ahead and secure a visa. (Keep in mind that the process can take several weeks.) But if you want to hold out for the chance of saving the visa fees, then keep following the news to find out what Brazil’s tourism minister ultimately decides. If you have questions, contact the nearest Brazilian embassy or consulate.

While you’re at it, make sure your passport is up to date.

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5. Get the lay of the land

Before landing in Rio, learn what you can about the Olympic stadium and events as well as the surrounding areas. Developing familiarity with the Olympic venues and local customs will make the entire trip go more smoothly. Specifically, it’s helpful to know the following.

  • The competition venues are grouped in four main clusters: Deodoro, Maracana, Barra (the location of the Olympic Park), and Copacabana. Within these clusters, events will be assigned to different zones. Remember that if you want to see several events on the same day, you’ll need to budget time for moving between the different venues.
  • Public transportation on municipal and rapid transit buses is complimentary for visitors traveling to or from an Olympic venue and who are in possession of a valid ticket. Once you’re in Rio, check rio2016.com frequently for the most up-to-date information regarding public transportation.
  • Brazil’s monetary unit is the real. Rio can be an expensive city to begin with, and you can also expect many vendors to impose a 30 percent mark-up during the games. It’s a good idea to start saving for the trip now.
  • August is the end of winter in Brazil, so you’ll want to pack accordingly. Because Rio is located near the coast, expect exceptionally mild winter temperatures; daytime highs can pass 80 degrees while nights are typically in the 60s.
  • Rio is the second largest city in Brazil, and it’s known for its relaxed beach culture, tropical forests, and intercultural music and food scenes. The primary language is Portuguese. If you’re able, plan to explore the local culture while staying in the area.

6. Make preparations

Even though it’s too early to finalize many plans, it’s helpful to start prepping for the more minor details of the trip far in advance. Start creating an itinerary, figure out what sightseeing you want to do in Rio or surrounding areas, and think about security restrictions and what you’ll need during the days that you’re attending the games. The official website for the Rio Olympics, rio2016.com, offers a wealth of information to help you plan the details of your trip.

By doing as much as you can to prepare for a trip to the 2016 Olympics in advance, you’ll spare yourself the last-minute stresses that come with procrastinating on trip planning. While the rest of the world is scrambling to secure visas and book hotels, you can sit back, relax, and get excited for the games to begin.  

 

Whichever you choose, hotels in London and Paris have a lot to offer worldly travelers.

Showdown: London vs. Paris

From the face of Big Ben to the peak of the Eiffel Tower, some of Europe’s capital cities certainly hold a lot of attraction for tourists. Both London and Paris offer travelers not just some great hotels, they also provide top-notch cuisine, museums filled with artifacts, beautiful parks, and landmarks that hold significant and rich histories. Let’s take a look at how these two cities stack up against each other by exploring a few of these key topics of tourist appeal.

Museums

We can’t talk about museums in London and Paris without admitting that The Louvre is the most famous attraction in this particular arena. Just across the river from the Verneuil Patio Saint Germain de Pres, the Louvre displays some of the world’s most popular works, from DaVinci’s Mona Lisa to the statue of Winged Victory. No trip to Paris would be complete without a stop at this most iconic museum. However, it is important to note that London has a variety of immense collections as well to rival that of the famed Louvre. Take a look at the classic works and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum (one of the world’s oldest), or go modern and check out the Tate Museum. The National Gallery, near The Grand at Trafalgar Square, holds over 2,000 paintings to explore. This one has to be a tie, with the majesty and appeal of the Louvre being met by the variety of the London museums.

Parks

An afternoon relaxing in a sprawling city park is one of the true joys of urban traveling. Both London and Paris offer great green spaces, some mere minutes from popular London and Paris hotels. Spending a day in London? The central Hyde Parks is of particular appeal, with a lake, gorgeous trees, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. Regent’s Park is a massive 410 acres, and Victoria Park offers the athletic types a multitude of sporting fields. Paris also has some lovely green space, most notably the Tuileries Garden on the way down to the Arc de Triomphe (visible from Hotel Champs Elysees Mac Mahon). In the end, this one has to go to London. You just can’t complete with the variety and beauty of its many green spaces.

Restaurants

Another joy of traveling to a new city is enjoying the cuisine the place has to offer. Both London and Paris have some great eats. Staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel London – Chelsea? Don’t miss lunch at The Dairy, a restaurant nearby with an ever-changing seasonal menu and craft beers. Paris travelers can delight in Alain Ducasse Au Plaza Athénée, with simple seasonal ingredients and a modern environment. In the end, this one has to go to Paris. French cuisine just offers diners a wider variety of unique culinary experiences.

Landmarks

There are a plethora of landmarks and historical sites to visit in both London and Paris. London, of course, has Big Ben: the home of parliament and the most featured landmark in the city. It also boasts the London Eye (an iconic Ferris wheel), Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London (London Bridge, while famous in song, is overshadowed by the famous Tower Bridge). While London certainly has a lot to offer, head west to Paris and you find the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge and the Notre-Dame de Paris with all its pensive and unique gargoyles. There’s no way to pick a winner in this fight.

In the end, the showdown between London and Paris has to be a tie. Both cities offer everything from cheap hotels to fancy, five-star restaurants. With a variety of parks, landmarks, and more, a traveler could find the perfect vacation at either one of these internationally famous cities.

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The Business Traveler’s Guide to Staying Healthy on the Go

While traveling for work can at times be stressful, it can also provide a nice break from the day-to-day grind of an office job. Then again, breaks from routine can be a catch-22. When it comes to health, for example, experts often suggest the power of habit can be key to everything from a good night’s sleep to a nutritious diet a reality.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three of the biggest hurdles to staying healthy on the go, along with tips on how to overcome them.

Beating Jet Lag

Switching between time zones can wreak havoc on some, with the World Health Organization listing everything from general sleepiness to reduced mental performance to indigestion as possible side effects. Beating jet lag is relatively simple, though. Besides making sure you’re well-rested before departure, the key is to get your body into the new rhythm as quickly as possible. More specifically:

  • Begin the transition before you travel. As the CDC suggests, simply start going to bed an hour or two later than usual if you are going to be traveling west and reverse that shift if you’ll be traveling east.
  • Once you get to your destination, resist the urge to collapse and take a nap as soon as landing and instead stay awake at least until an early local bedtime — even if it means you rise extra early the next morning.

Fueling Up

Food plays a large role in health as well, but the phrase “eating healthy” is a vague one that likely has different connotations for each traveler. Regardless of what it means to you, the main suggestion remains the same: Be prepared. No matter how or where you’re traveling, preparation is the main ingredient to keeping the right stuff in your stomach.

  • For starters, travelers hopping in the car for their business trip have it a bit easier since they can pack a cooler of fruits and veggies as some core eats, both for the travel itself and for staying full while at the new destination.
  • Folks traveling via air should research what’s offered on their airline to gauge how much needs to be packed in advance in order to stay full without sacrificing nutrition.
  • In both cases, keep your bag stocked with easy but healthy snacks to help combat compulsive buying food you might otherwise choose to avoid.
  • Finally, it can be useful to research both the hotel and surrounding area before departing, especially for travelers with food restrictions. (And we’ve previously rounded up some of the best hotels for gluten-free eaters and vegans!) Hunting around for hotels that come with kitchens can also be smart for folks with more severe allergies or other dining out concerns.

Staying Active

When it comes to staying active on a business trip, it can be relatively easy to hit the hotel gym early in the morning. Such an experience can vary dramatically based on the quality of the gym, of course, but an alternative approach is to make physical activity an integrated part of the itinerary.

  • To stay active even when you’re squeezing in meetings, try working in some destinations (perhaps a restaurant if no offices fit the bill) that are walking distance from your lodging.
  • If the weather permits, suggesting a couple walking meets or more active meet-ups is another way to make sure a business trip doesn’t turn into hours sitting in stuffy conference rooms.

All in all, a little extra planning is most straightforward way keep healthy habits on-point even while doing business away from home. Get into the new routine as soon as possible, fuel your body with the right eats, and work some movement into the itinerary to keep a healthy foundation everywhere you go.