Posted July 8, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com
(Photo: Adam Burton/Visit Faroe Islands)
This is the year to go someplace epic. In 2015, exotic places are trending and new destinations are emerging. And several of them are more affordable than you might think. Catch a total solar eclipse in the Faroe Islands, see The Hobbit movie set's Hobbit holes on a New Zealand farm, or check out the new ecotourism hot spot dubbed "the next Costa Rica." This roundup of dream trips also takes you to Cuba and a few other emerging destinations where travel restrictions are loosening and the U.S. dollar goes a long way.
(Photo: Romtomtom via flickr/CC Attribution)
Travel to Cuba has been off-limits to American tourists for decades, but U.S. government restrictions are loosening, giving the curious a first glimpse at the country just 90 miles to the south. Last month, President Obama announced that—for the first time since the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in the 1950s—talks have begun to restore full diplomatic relations. For now, Americans can travel to Cuba only with a tour company that holds a special government cultural-exchange license through the newly established People-to-People program. Take a trip sooner rather than later to see Cuba in its most authentic state, before McDonald's and Starbucks find their way onto street corners.
If You Go: Natural Habitat's Undiscovered Cuba tours give you the chance to experience Old Havana's restored architecture, lively salsa music, and big 1950s American cars cruising the streets. You'll tour tobacco farms and hike virtually unknown national parks as you talk politics and issues with Cuban scientists, naturalists, academics, farmers, community activists, artists, business owners, and more.
(Photo: Adam Burton/Visit Faroe Islands)
About halfway between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are one of only two places in the world where you'll be able to see the 2015 total solar eclipse from land. On March 20, the moon will appear to block out the sun and enshroud the islands in darkness for a few minutes at 9:41 a.m., just as it did in the year 1612, according to the old Faroese legend. The remote archipelago country governed by Denmark will mark the event with a major celebration, featuring the symphony orchestra, choirs, dancing, tours, activities, and local cuisine specialties.
If You Go: Ask a local to tell you about the legend of the eclipse. Also keep an eye out for the aurora borealis in the Faroe Islands' clear winter sky. Located near the Arctic Circle, the islands are popular places to spot the lights. This year also debuts a new knitting festival in the small village of Fuglafjørður, the first knitting festival in the area that takes place in people's homes.
(Photo: Christopher Eden via flickr/CC Attribution)
On the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula next to the United Arab Emirates, Oman is a peaceful Middle Eastern gem with stunning beaches, mountains, forests, and deserts that stretch for miles. Only since 1970 has the oil-exporting country established an infrastructure of roads and ports, and then resorts, gradually emerging as a tourism destination. Visitor statistics show a 32 percent jump over the past few years, and Oman tour operators expect to see more growth with several recent new developments: the Opera House in Muscat, international standard golf courses, the Alila hotel opening, luxury catamaran boat trips, and luxury tented beach and desert camping.
If You Go: Get an authentic Arabian experience with Mountain Travel Sobek's Oman Explorer tour, one of the tour operator's new bucket-list trips for 2015. The trip takes you "Wadi bashing" along rocky river beds in a four-wheel drive. You'll also camp in luxury tents on the beach and stroll through Omani villages without a trace of Western influence.
(Photo: Getty Images/esboon images)
In 2015, this Asian country of 63 islands celebrates 50 years of independence since separating from the Federation of Malaysia, and the nationwide commemoration lasts all year long. Golden Jubilee events in Singapore began with a New Year's Eve fireworks display in Marina Bay and continue with a 50th-themed parade in February and a National Day Parade in August. In the fall, the new National Gallery Singapore opens and the National Museum of Singapore will revamp its permanent galleries. As a lasting tribute to the year, a new Jubilee Walk is under construction to connect and mark historic monuments in the civic district and Marina Bay area. A new pedestrian bridge will link Merlion Park to Marina Promenade. Singapore is also the host of the 2015 Southeast Asian Games/Para Games.
If You Go: Between 50th anniversary events, save time to sample the country's national dish: stir-fried chili crabs with tangy gravy. Another authentic food experience is at the open-air hawker center's food stalls. Don't miss Singapore's Chinatown trishaw night tour.
(Photo: Paul Arps via flickr/CC Attribution)
As this isolated Southeast Asian country has begun opening up to visitors over the past few years, tourism has exploded. "We believe that 2015 might be the last year to see a more innocent Myanmar that hasn't been strangled by overdevelopment," says Elias Garcia of Global Basecamps tours. Garcia says you can still visit some areas and be the only foreign traveler, a rare experience in the world today. Although it is quickly modernizing, Myanmar has held onto its traditions. Locals still wear sarong-like longyi attire and prefer to travel by canoe or horse-drawn carriage. The temples of Bagan are a true must-see, on par with the pyramids in Egypt or Angkor Wat.
If You Go: Both the Global Basecamps' Trekking & Temples tour and the Go Ahead Tours' Myanmar: A Cultural Journey through Burma tour take you to Bagan to see one of the world's largest collections of Buddhist temples. The tours also include visits to the gold-plated Shwezigon Pagoda, an important Buddhist pilgrimage site where sacred relics are enshrined.
(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)
Tour companies are calling Nicaragua the next Costa Rica. This verdant ecotourism hot spot has untouched rainforests for hiking, an active volcano where you can go "ash boarding," and quiet beaches that draw international surfing competitions. In Nicaragua, you'll avoid the crowds of neighboring Costa Rica and find prices that are nearly half of what you'd pay across the border. The country also just opened its first five-star resort, Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa, and ocean-view villas are surprisingly affordable. In spite of Nicaragua's war-torn past, perceptions of the country are changing. Nicaragua scored the highest for security levels among Latin American countries in a 2013 Gallup poll.
If You Go: Wander the charming Spanish colonial city of Granada, home to the new boutique Tribal Hotel. The Inn at Rancho Santana opens on the southwest coast this March. In November, the new Emerald Coast Airport opens, offering connecting flights to the beach from Managua's international airport.
(Photo: Robben Island, South Africa via Shutterstock)
A perennial bucket-list favorite, South Africa shows up on the travel radar this year because 2015 marks 25 years since Nelson Mandela walked to freedom. Honor the hero with a visit to the Apartheid Museum or Robben Island (where he spent 18 years), and you'll feel South Africans' sense of pride in their progress. Once you pay for airfare, this country is an excellent value destination, especially as the U.S. dollar is strong against the South African rand. Last year, Cape Town was named the 2014 World Design Capital and was transformed by more than 460 design projects. The initiative spurred tremendous growth in the city's arts and culture, says Shaheed Ebrahim of Escape to the Cape tours. Don't miss the new iconic sites, revamped public squares, quaint neighborhood markets, and design quarters.
If You Go: The smarTours South Africa Highlights & Safari tour hits the Nelson Mandela sites as well as Cape Town, Table Mountain, and Kruger National Park. It also includes a safari experience in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve.
(Photo: Shiraz, Iran via JPRichard/Shutterstock.com)
Iran is still an unexpected destination for most Americans, but the tide is definitely turning. With the 2013 election of a new president in this Persian country, visa restrictions have relaxed and more tourists are visiting Iran. Last year, the inaugural rail journey to Iran with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains sold out in three weeks, prompting the company to add several new departures in 2015. Michigan-based Journeys International also added three guided trips to Iran for 2015 in response to increased demand. "Experienced world travelers are planning trips to Iran as a destination that will help them understand the world more clearly," says Will Weber, founder of Journeys. "Until recently, there was no way to gain firsthand knowledge of Iran."
If You Go: Don't miss Shiraz, the city of poets and gardens. The ancient city of Yazd, known for high-quality silk weaving, rises out of the high desert plateau with homes made of mud brick. Both places are stops on Journeys International's Persia Past & Present tour.
(Photo: Vilnius, Lithuania via Shutterstock)
The European Union welcomed Lithuania into the Eurozone on January 1, 2015, when the country became the last of the three Baltic states (after Estonia and Latvia) to officially adopt the euro. Now that it's easier to make electronic payments and access cash via ATMs, tour companies anticipate that an influx of travelers will visit this relatively undiscovered gem. "Lithuania is like a piece of Old World Europe you haven't seen before, yet it's very sophisticated, fresh, and new," says Barbara Banks of Wilderness Travel.
If You Go: Wilderness Travel will debut a new cruise route this year that includes Lithuania: Summer in the Cities of the Baltic. It will stop in Klaipeda, a center for amber jewelry and home to one of the largest amber museums in the Baltic. If you're touring on your own, take a side trip to the country's capital city of Vilnius to see the beautiful architecture in Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the European cities that was never bombed in World War II.
(Photo: Sara Orme)
Last December, a week after the third Hobbit film in the popular series debuted worldwide, London's Daily Telegraph announced that New Zealand (the real Middle-earth) was voted "Best Country" by readers in the newspaper's annual Travel Awards. Tourism officials expect to see an upsurge in travel to the country and its filming locations, as they did with the release of the first two movies. Also highly anticipated this year, the Cricket World Cup will take place in New Zealand in February and March, and a new luxury Sofitel hotel will open in Wellington to fill a hole in the five-star market.
If You Go: On a picturesque farm, you can tour the Hobbiton movie set, kept intact from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. See Hobbit holes, the Green Dragon Inn, the Mill, and other gardens and structures that appeared in the movies. Then go meet New Zealand's indigenous Maori people, learning their customs and sharing a traditional feast. Collette's A Down Under Adventure and Audley Travel's New Zealand tours include these experiences.
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Read the original story: Best Dream Trips for 2015 at SmarterTravel.
Posted July 1, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com
America's National Park Service runs more than 405 sites, including national seashores, recreation areas, historical sites, and national parks. Collectively, these sites receive about 70 million visitors a year—with more than 10 million of them heading to just one national park in particular (Great Smoky Mountains).
Short of visiting in winter and hiking deep into the backcountry, the parks' popularity can make it tricky to find your own slice of solitude. Tricky, but not impossible. Here are 10 scenic spots you can have all to yourself inside the country's most-visited national parks.
Spruce Flats Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw more than 10 million visitors in 2014. That's more than the Grand Canyon and Yosemite combined. But given that the majority of those visitors saw the park from the scenic highway that winds its way through the mountains, you'll have an easier time finding your own area of the park if you're willing to get out of the car.
More than 800 miles of hiking trails carve their way through Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sprawls across North Carolina and Tennessee. One of the best secret gems is the short, moderately steep trail to the hidden Spruce Flats Falls. The trail, not shown on most park maps, begins behind the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. After parking at the visitor center, head up the gravel path that leads toward the staff housing area. When the trail splits, head right and make your way downhill to the base of the falls. You may pass school groups, but the quick two-mile round-trip hike is worth it to see the nearly 30-foot multi-tiered waterfall.
Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park
Nearly 5 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. About 90 percent of them head to the South Rim, while the remaining few drive the extra distance to the North Rim. But just because you head north doesn't mean you're out of the woods (or crowds) yet. Finding a secret slice of Grand Canyon National Park requires you to think beyond the developed rims.
One of the best spots, kept secret mostly because it requires navigating 60 miles of the unpaved Country Road # 109 and has no services, is the Toroweap Overlook. Located in the northwest of the park, abutting the just-as-remote Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, the Toroweap Overlook (also known as Tuweep) offers visitors to the primitive area views of one of the narrowest and deepest portions of the inner canyon. In addition to the Colorado River 3,000 feet below, you'll see remnants from the area's volcanic activity.
A high-clearance vehicle is must for the last three miles, and it's worth booking one of the nine campsites (available by permit) so you can take in the view at sunrise and sunset while still having time to explore the area's two hiking trails.
Related: 10 Must-See Natural Wonders Near the Grand Canyon
Artist Point, Yosemite National Park
While nearly 4 million visitors come to Yosemite National Park each year, most of them never leave Yosemite Valley. Granted, the seven-mile-long canyon—carved from a river and later enlarged by glaciers—is worth the visit because of its views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. But the real beauty of Yosemite National Park lies in the acres of unspoiled nature it preserves.
Let the hordes of tourists unload for a quick photo op at Tunnel View. You can use this as your parking area to reach the just-as-spectacular view at Artist Point. The trailhead starts on the uphill side of the road. You'll walk along the Pohono Trail for about a half-mile before hanging left when it meets up with the old stagecoach road that leads into Yosemite Valley. After another half mile, you'll know you've arrived when you hear yourself inhaling deeply. Return the same way you came.
Point Sublime, Yellowstone National Park
The world's first national park attracts just over 3.5 million annual visitors, many of which unload from tour buses, wait on Old Faithful, and depart shortly thereafter. Depending on your crowd tolerance, it may feel like there are 3.5 million people sitting right around the geyser at any given point. But with more than 2.2 million acres and over 900 miles of hiking trails, Yellowstone National Park holds a ton of hidden-in-plain sight trails that remains relatively unused despite their easy access.
Travel just over half a mile on the South Rim Trail before heading the additional half-mile to Point Sublime. You'll arguably have better, more expansive views of the yellowy, pink, and orange-striped canyon, the Yellowstone River, and the Lower Falls than you can find at any of the made-for-car viewpoints.
Whatever you do at Yellowstone, as long as you get out of the car and head away from the roads, you'll likely find wildlife, aquamarine pools, mudpots, and waterfalls that the majority of park visitors didn't even know existed.
Related: 10 National Parks You Never Knew Existed
Lulu City, Rocky Mountain National Park
Of the hundreds of trails available to hikers, most visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park opt for summit hikes (the park has 60 peaks that tower more than 12,000 feet) or trails that lead to lakes or waterfalls. The trail to Lulu City doesn't lead to any of these, but it gets bonus points for taking you to the site of a late 1880s mining camp.
You can find the ghost town by starting at the Colorado River Trailhead. You'll parallel the river and, if you're looking, will spot tailings from the Shipler Mine about two miles into the hike. Pass by meadows before reaching remains of cabins and old building foundations on this fairly easy 3.7-mile one-way trail.
To extend your hike and see Little Yellowstone (the park's miniature version of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone), stay right when you come to the fork for Lulu City. Once you're at the canyon, follow the Grand Ditch until you meet the stage road that will take you to Lulu City for a total loop of nearly 14 miles.
Beach 1 and Beach 2, Olympic National Park
Most visitors stick to the rainforest and mountains—Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Quinault—when they visit the Olympic National Park. Those that do opt to visit the coast usually head to well-known beaches like Kalaloch, Ruby, and Shi Shi. All of these places have, indeed, earned their reputation and demand a visit. But for your own strip of sand with easy access that doesn't require a miles-long trek, pay a visit to Beach 1 and Beach 2 before Kalaloch when heading north on Highway 101, or Beach 3 and Beach 4 after Kalaloch (but before Ruby Beach).
Don't confuse these with First, second, and third beaches near The Forks, unless you want to hang out with rabid Twilight fans. Look carefully on the right side of the road for small pullouts where you can park. Some may mark which beach you're at, but it's easy to drive past. Short trails through the woods open up to vast expanses of some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Washington (and sandier than some of their more famous counterparts). As with any coastal visit, check the tides beforehand, look for any signs marking overland trails, and watch for high waves that make the tree trunks scattering the beach quite dangerous.
Related: 10 Crowd-Free National Parks
Petroglyph Canyon, Zion National Park
Most visitors to Zion National Park come for the natural wonders as seen from popular hikes like Angel's Landing, the Narrows, and even the lesser-known-because-it's-so-hard-to-get-a-permit Subway. But if you're not most visitors, consider adding a visit to one of the park's cultural wonders: Petroglyph Canyon.
The canyon is very hush-hush—even if you ask a ranger about it—likely because touching has already eroded some of the other areas in the park known for petroglyphs. Plus, deliberate vandalism continues to threaten the delicate rock art. This particular archeological site features more than 150 figures, nearly all petroglyphs (incised images) with one small red triangle pictograph (painted image). Instead of giving convoluted directions to the site, we urge you to respect the preservation efforts of the National Park Service and consult a park ranger at the visitor's center if you're interested in this piece of history.
Bradley Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Fortunately for visitors to the Grand Tetons, Grand Teton National Park sits below Yellowstone, drastically reducing the number of people that actually stop. For a relatively flat hike leading to iconic Teton scenery, head to Bradley Lake. You can opt to start from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead or the Taggart Lake Trailhead. From either trail, there are multiple paths that stray off, so it's easy to get lost. But the beauty in this is if you have a map, you can make it to Bradley Lake and shake off some of the other hikers—if there are any.
From the Taggart Lake Trailhead, you can make this into about a six-mile loop hike or opt to go a bit further and look for the Avalanche Canyon trail. Unmarked on maps, enough people travel this trail that it's fairly noticeable, despite debris from avalanches sometimes blocking portions of the path. Look for the trail on the north shore of Lake Taggart. As you move up the canyon, cairns mark the path that eventually leads to Lake Taminah. However, if you've made it that far, you have (hopefully) planned for an overnight trip and have bear canisters—this is grizzly country, after all.
Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park
Most people associate a visit to Acadia National Park with a visit to Mount Desert Island. But even though the majority of the park is located there, opt to visit the only section of the park that's connected to the mainland. The Schoodic Peninsula, in particular Schoodic Point at the peninsula's tip, offers quintessential views of waves throwing a salty spray into the air as they crash against granite cliffs.
The park also includes several islands, many favored by birds for nesting, including Little Moose Island, visible from Schoodic Point. Rent a kayak to paddle there, or access it by foot at low tide (just make sure you head out before the tide turns). Paddling to the Porcupine islands—off the coast of Bar Harbor—is another great option.
Related: 27 Places That Will Restore Your Faith in Travel
Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road is considered by many to be one of the world's most spectacular drives. But off this road (the main highway through Glacier National park) you can find one of the most remote sections of the park: Bowman Lake.
Don't get discouraged based on the long trek down pothole-laced roads. The ride is worth it, with a campground at one end of the eight-mile lake and a backcountry campsite at the other. Use the spot as a launching point for day hikes like the Numa Ridge Lookout trail that leads to a fire watch cabin and views of several area peaks and lakes. Or just use the off-the-beaten-path location as an excuse to zen out.
But perhaps the biggest secret of Glacier National Park is to visit now: Fewer than 25 of the park's 150 glaciers remain, with the lingering glaciers expected to permanently disappear by 2030.
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Read the original story: 10 Secret Spots in America's Top National Parks by Kate Sitarz, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.
(Photo: Glacier National Park, Montana via Shutterstock)
Posted July 1, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com
Load up the car—summer is here, which means it's time to indulge in the classic American road trip. Whether you're just heading a few hours away to the beach or venturing cross-country, you shouldn't take your car out of park until you've packed these 10 essentials.
Designed by a New York City Paramedic, the SuperVizor could save your life. Store this little gadget on your car's sun visor in case of an emergency—it's got a stainless steel seatbelt-cutting blade and a carbide tip window punch that will help you escape your vehicle if there's an accident.
Related: 7 Safety Tips for Road Trips
Bobble Water Bottle
Unsure about the quality of water you're getting when you re-fill your bottle at a rest stop? Ease your worries with the Bobble, a reusable water bottle that comes with a replaceable carbon filter designed to make tap water cleaner and better tasting.
Reed's Ginger Chews
Motion sickness can put a damper on any journey. Pack a big bag of Reed's Original Ginger Candy Chews to help stave off nausea. (Ginger root is proven to help with digestive issues.)
Pet Safety Harness
Your pet deserves to be safe in the car, too. Buckle your cat or dog in with a Pet Safety Harness, which works with all pet leads and car seat belts to keep your animals restrained in case of an accident.
Related: Expert Tips for Pet Travel
Just Ahead App
If the national parks are on your itinerary this summer, download the Just Ahead app, a set of audio travel guides that will alert you when attractions and things to do come up as you drive through areas. You don't even need cell phone or internet coverage for this app to work.
BiteSizers Portable Food Scissors
Bringing healthy snacks with you on the road? The BiteSizers Portable Food Scissors eare travel-friendly food cutters. Cut up fruits and veggies into convenient snack-sized portions, and save money and time by not stopping for fast food.
Download the Scout app and you'll feel like you've got an expert guide riding shotgun with you. This app can find the cheapest gas stations near you, read aloud turn-by-turn directions, and find the best parking options near your destination.
Secur Products 6-in1
This little device has everything you need in case of an emergency—a window breaker, seatbelt cutter, a built-in LED flashlight, a flashing emergency red light, and a power bank to charge all your USB devices.
Related: Tiny Travel Gadgets You Didn't Know You Needed
AAA Emergency Road-Assistance Kit
Be prepared for anything with this 42-piece emergency road-assistance kit from AAA. It contains everything that safety experts say you should keep in your vehicle (like a flashlight with batteries, booster cables, duct tape, an emergency poncho, and first aid supplies) all packaged in a handy carrying bag.
Portable DVD Player
Kids aren't quite known for their patience on long drives. Keep them entertained (and quiet) with this super-affordable portable DVD player. It's even got an integrated handle to make it easy for little hands to carry.
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Read the original story: Don't Leave Home Without These Road-Trip Essentials by Caroline Morse, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.
Posted July 1, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com
(Photo: Man With Messenger Bag via Shutterstock)
I don't know about you, but I don't travel as light as I used to. Between my books, magazines, phone, iPad, and a rat's nest of chargers, cords, and accessories, preparing for a flight is no longer a simple process.
Guys, a good backpack or shoulder bag is a must—something that fits all your gear and looks halfway decent while you're carting it around the airport. Sure, you could borrow your nephew's hand-me-down Jansport, but you're a classy adult male, right? Try to look the part.
Here you'll find seven bags that are perfect for seven different kinds of travelers. But before we get to the list, let's review a few tips for shopping for the perfect travel day bag:
- Access: You want to be able to get your gadgets in and out of the bag easily without having to empty the whole bag.
- Construction: Invest in something well-made, especially if you travel a lot. Remember this thing will be shoved under airplane seats, manhandled by the TSA, and possibly crammed into an overhead bin.
- Right-Sized, Not Super-Sized: Make sure you can fit what you need, but don't choose a bag that's unnecessarily cumbersome or bulky (unless you travel with the complete Song of Ice and Fire series in hardcover—in which case, valar morghulis, and you'll probably need a larger bag).
- Comfort Counts: This will likely be the bag you use while exploring your destination. Can you imagine hauling it around Barcelona all day? If not, look for something more appropriate.
(Photo: Genius Pack)
Genius Pack Intelligent Travel Backpack
For the organization nut: This is the bag for guys who need everything in its right place. Tiny (labeled) pocket for your keys? Check. Zippered pouch for sunglasses? Check. Integrated pop-out micro umbrella? You bet. The Genius Pack Intelligent Travel Backpack also includes a laptop sleeve, mobile device charging capabilities, and a compact integrated speaker. (From $59.)
Related: 8 Tiny Travel Gadgets You Didn't Know You Needed
Mercer Messenger Bag from Brenthaven
For the stylish gadget lover: The Mercer Messenger Bag from Brenthaven hides a nerdy soul beneath its classy leather exterior. The bag features an integrated portable charging supply, padded sleeves for your laptop and tablet, and plenty of pockets for your cords and other accessories. The Mercer even boasts added padding on the bottom of the bag for that extra gadget-cradling effect. (From $299.)
Oliberte Flora Rustic Brown Pullup
For the socially conscious explorer: Oliberte focuses on sustainable sourcing and supporting its workers’ rights in sub-Saharan Africa. They also happen to make some great, rugged bags. The Flora is a simple leather rucksack, but the quality and care is undeniable. It's a bag that should last as long as you do, and you'll feel good about the purchase as well. (From $125.)
Related: How to Travel Without a Bag
Men's Estate Saffiano Leather EW Messenger Bag from Fossil
For the traditionalist: There's nothing basic about the Estate Saffiano Leather EW Messenger Bag from Fossil, but its straightforward look appeals to guys who appreciate simplicity. The spacious interior has plenty of room for a laptop or tablet (or both), plus books, headphones, and other travel essentials. Exterior pockets keep your phone, passport, and keys at hand, and the leather and brass details are a nice, understated touch. (From $298.)
Swamis Backpack from Nixon
For when you just have to be a little different: The Swamis Backpack from Nixon is a little funky. It's a roll-top backpack, for starters, and it comes in a number of bold patterns. It's also the least-expensive option on the list and offers a lot in terms of space, comfort, and versatility, not to mention a lifetime warranty. It's a unique bag for a unique gentleman, and also a pretty good bag for the avid traveler. (From $58.)
Related: Travel Essentials That Are Worth the Splurge
Brixton Camera/Laptop Messenger Bag
For the photographer: Whether you're a professional photographer or just an avid amateur, this may be the most stylish bag for transporting all your gear. The Brixton features padded compartments designed to hold a camera, two to three lenses, and a laptop (up to 13-inch); plus two front pockets for cords, chargers, lens caps, and anything else you might need. There's even a sleeve for a tablet. Oh, and it's handsomely constructed, either of waxed canvas with leather details or fully of Italian tanned leather. (From $289.)
BaileyWorks 253 Courier
For the fixie-riding (but mature) skater punk: All this leather and waxed canvas is great, but for a different look try the BaileyWorks 253 Courier. Popular with the bike messenger crowd for its rugged construction and thoughtful details like a reflective strip and waist strap, these bags are handmade in the USA and highly customizable. Choose from almost 20 colors plus add-ons like cell-phone koozies and a water-bottle holder. I’ve had one for 10 years and during that time I’ve never boarded a plane without mine. Oh, and your Black Flag pin will look great on it, trust me. (From $119.)
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Read the original story: The Best Travel Bag for Guys by Carl Unger, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.
Posted June 26, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com
How much should travelers be charged to change their airline tickets?
As much as $200 for a domestic ticket, and hundreds more for an international ticket, according to the airlines.
Much less, according to two consumer-rights groups, Flyersrights.org and the National Consumers League.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, the two sides made their opposing cases. And in the coming weeks, the Committee will make a recommendation to the DOT, which is charged with ensuring that fares and fees are "reasonable."
The airlines' argument is a familiar one: Change fees are actually a consumer benefit, since they're only imposed on cheaper tickets, which save travelers money. And as to the fee amounts, market forces are sufficient to keep airlines from imposing fees that are egregiously high. In other words, it's all good.
The counterargument is that the fees do not reflect the true cost to the airlines of changing tickets, and are therefore a gouge. As a Flyersrights.org representative put it, "They're clearly unreasonable. They are a penalty or fine."
Among the specific recommendations made by the fee detractors:
- Cap change fees for international tickets at $100. (The DOT has more discretion in regulating international fares and fees.)
- Fees for cancellations or changes made more than five to 10 days before departure should be dropped altogether.
- Where fees are charged, they must be more clearly and prominently communicated.
U.S. airlines reported that 2 percent of their total revenue came from change fees during the 1st quarter of 2015, up 5.8 percent during a period when airfares only rose 2.4 percent.
If the airlines have their way, the sky's the limit, and flyers will be the losers.
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Read the original story: Ticket-Change Fees: Time for a Change? by Tim Winship, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.