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October 2011

October 27, 2011

Five Travel Essentials for the Frequent Flyer

Woman closing overloaded suitcase on bed(Jupiterimages,Getty Images,Thinkstock)
(Jupiterimages/Getty Images/Thinkstock )

When you've spent the last year circling the globe you tend to become proficient on how to make your time on the road a tad bit easier. Unfortunately, since there is no real secret to maneuvering the dreaded airport security, I'll leave you with five travel essentials that will at least make the rest of a travel-lovers experience a little less painful.

5. Lap protector
I won't get into the irony of calling a computer you shouldn't put on your lap a laptop, but anyone who has ever spent a lot of time with their personal computer resting on their lower body has experienced the 21st century version of a leg warmer. It turns out the direct contact is bad for your computer (because it doesn't allow the machine to breath), but it can also leave behind burn marks. An easy (and cheap) solution is a lap protector that provides a barrier between you and the scalding surface. Belkin's Laptop CoolStrip is not only affordable, but also compact enough to travel with. Now every time you want to check your email you don't have to check to make sure you're wearing pants.

4. Luggage scale
You know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me? Well, that's how I feel about paying excess baggage fees. The problem is I also have a problem with over-packing. But thanks to digital luggage scales (like this one from Balanzza), I can stop filling my carry-on bag with my heavy electronic chargers and bulky travel guides in the hopes of getting that scale to drop a few pounds. With this nifty device you simply hook the gadget to your bag, lift, and the weight is displayed right there in black and white. Now you can save yourself the public humiliation at the airport so long as you can remember to weigh your bag ahead of time.

3. Zippered pillowcase
I didn't think you could find so many uses for a zippered pillowcase until I started counting all the ways I put it to use on my trip. 1.) Not only was the zippered pillowcase perfect for covering a hostel pillow that might have more questionable spots than a McDonalds playground, but I also used it to store my valuables (passport, money, etc.) under my head while I slept on planes, trains, and buses. It's easier to catch zzz's knowing that if anyone did go through your bag, all they might get away with is your favorite sweater. 2.) An ideal fix for anyone with allergies. Since I am allergic to feather down this cotton cover gave my skin a layer of protection from anything unknown that might cause me to break out. 3.) Use it to protect fragile items in your luggage that might otherwise get broken or banged up. 4.) If you find that your checked bag is slightly overweight (an "I told you so" is coming if you didn't listen to Tip #4), the zippered pillowcase can substitute for a quick carry-on bag. Next time remember to put it in your suitcase already filled with the heavy items and you'll eliminate the embarrassment of flashing everyone your skivvies while you bend over your suitcase moving personal items from one bag to another.

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Related Topics: Travel Gear · Travel Tips

October 21, 2011

Go on Safari...Without Going to Africa

By Kate Chandler

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Safari (Photodisc)

Ah, safaris. They're the stuff of legendary trips to the far-off grasslands of Kenya or Tanzania. Where the Big 5 rule the roost and everyone wears too much khaki. But you don't have to spend thousands on a trip to Africa to go on safari. There are lots of options here in North America.

1. Safari West, Santa Rosa, California
Get a taste of Africa in the heart of California’s wine country at Safari West. Six-hundred animals, including giraffes, gazelles, and zebras inhabit the preserve. Go for the day, or spend the night in a luxury tent to get the full effect. Fun packages, like “Wine, Wheels, and Warthogs,” offer unique getaway ideas.

2. La Paz, Baja
This safari is of the under-water sort. And, sure, you can pay a fortune for an all-inclusive trip to Baja to see the famous resident whale sharks and giant pacific mantas, but the budget-oriented DIYers out there will be pleased to know that local dive shops, like Desea Adventures, offer two-tank dive packages starting at $130. Snorkeling with sea lions is an option for non-divers.

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is without a doubt one of the world’s most precious resources for geology and ecology, not to mention recreation. Wildlife management is a hot topic in these parts, and on most tours you’ll not only get to see wolves, moose, and bison, to name a few, but you’ll get an insider’s take on the area’s most important, and often controversial, issues. Many outfitters offer trips. 

4. Mexico Monarch Butterfly Trail
Mexico has much more to be proud of than spring break beaches and clichéd telenovelas. An all-inclusive trip, such as this one with G Adventures, will open your eyes to a new side of Mexico’s cities and countryside. Plus, the Monarch migration is nothing short of a miracle, as it takes several generations of butterflies to complete a single migration. The peak months for this trip are January, February, and March. 

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Related Topics: Exotic Escapes · National Parks · Trip Ideas

October 13, 2011

Six College Football Tailgates Worth a Trip

The aftermath (Flickr)

Thankfully football has become more than just a game. There's the mascot, the choosing of the gameday outfit, and most importantly the tailgate...the all day (sometimes days) celebration of 22 men in tight pants chasing the ole pigskin. If you like football, drinking, and food, pack up the cooler and put the rubber to the road, all you need is a pack of brats and a truck load of optimism. Of course, everyone does it a little different, and everyone thinks their way is the best, just ask any diehard wearing full body paint perched on the back of an F150. Here are our six college football tailgates worth traveling for.

University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Oxford, Mississippi
There is no doubt that these Rebels know how to tailgate; their unofficial motto is, "We may not win the game, but we never lose the party!" Named "The Holy Grail of Tailgating Sites" by Sporting News and featured by the New York Times, Boston Globe, and ESPN, the ten-acre plot called "The Grove" is a sea of red, white, and blue on game day.  Under the tents (that have sometimes been set-up as early as 2 p.m. the day before) a visitor will find all things southern: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fine china, chandeliers, and football fans in their Sunday (err, Saturday) best.  But before you visit, make sure to learn the Hotty Toddy cheer, so when someone yells "are you ready?" you know the appropriate way to answer.

Louisiana State University (LSU)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Tiger Stadium, aka "Death Valley," is legendary for the crowd noise created by the fans (the rumble is said to register on a seismograph), but do not think this electrifying experience only exists within the 92,500-seat stadium. Eighty miles northwest of New Orleans, these fans know how to party and, of course, eat. But it's not about the hotdogs and hamburgers here. Drop by on a Saturday morning and you'll follow your nose to gumbo, crawfish, spicy alligator, Cajun sausages, grilled duck, po'boys, and a beignet (deep-fried dough with some sort of sweet topping) for dessert.  Did we mention LSU usually has night games? So you have all day long to indulge; and all night long to forget.

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Related Topics: Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Trip Ideas · US Travel

October 06, 2011

New York City for Families: My Top 3

T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History, New York City (asterix611/Flickr)

New York City is the perennial king of worldwide tourist destinations. It's the place of 1,001 different experiences, tastes, sights, sounds, and perspectives. In fact, there's so much to see and do in the Big Apple, that planning a trip there can seem downright bewildering (and hey, urban lore holds that there are some New Yorkers who've never stepped foot off Manhattan). To add to that Tower of Babel stew of opinions about this great city, here are my three favorite travel experiences with kids in tow in New York City. Don't agree? Got more to add? Tell us in the comments section!

Best Place to Learn: American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side
The American Museum of Natural History is an impressive space that lays out the world and its wonders for ages young and old. As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York's vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you're not overwhelmed once you arrive. Among the museum's various hands-on kids' installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away an hour or more with children ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree. The museum's website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you've had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.

American Museum of Natural History Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Travel Raves · Trip Ideas

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