How to Conquer Your Travel Fears

Posted January 23, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

The New Year is a good time to take a step back and be honest about the issues that are standing between you and great travel. Travel fears may start small, but they can take over and quash the very spirit that inspires us to explore the world. Here are ways to manage some of the most common fears associated with travel, from flight phobias to the specter of food poisoning.

Fear of Not Knowing the Language

Imagine this: You're totally out of your element, in a new place, and suddenly someone is in your face yelling at you in a language you don't understand with an alarming urgency. It's a scenario that, quite rightly, fills many travelers with panicky dread. But by shifting the focus from helplessness to problem solving, these inevitable communication challenges can become part of the sweet adventure of travel.

To tackle this fear, you're going to need tools—some mental, some physical. Patience and the ability to not take these situations too personally will serve you well. Add to your arsenal Google Translate, a phrase book, and a few polite key phrases memorized in your host language and you'll have everything you need to make it through these tense moments.

More: 5 Translation Apps Put to the Test

Fear of Traveling Alone

Loneliness is a powerful emotion on its own, so when you pair it with homesickness and the sense of unfamiliarity in a new place, the thought of traveling alone can feel impossible. But it doesn't have to be lonely. In fact, solo travel can open you up to a new culture and its locals in ways that people traveling with companions miss entirely.

The rise of the sharing economy, in particular, is a boon for solo travelers. It's easier than ever before to find locals with whom to explore a city or enjoy a meal. Choosing accommodations such as hostels (the trend of upscale hostels adds appeal) that foster community can be another great tool for solo travelers. And if going totally solo and independent seems too daunting, there are always group tours, many of which help solo travelers dodge single-supplement fees by pairing them in rooms.

More: How the Sharing Economy Opens New Doors for Travelers

Fear of Flying

It's unsurprising that so many people fear flying—on a very primal level, strapping yourself into a metal tube hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet seems crazy. But flying is among the safest forms of transportation, and air transport empowers us to get around the world quickly and efficiently, so the fear of flying is definitely worth working through.

If your fear of flying is truly debilitating, you should consider enlisting professional help. There are therapists who use cognitive behavioral techniques, meditation and relaxation, and even hypnosis to help people manage their fear of planes. Travelers with less intense flying phobias may find small rituals, such as doing breathing exercises or reading a celeb-gossip magazine during takeoff, help to ease those first fearful minutes of a flight.

More: 10 Tips for Nervous Flyers

Fear of Not Being Connected

If a tree falls in a forest and you don't tweet, blog, or email about it, does it make a sound? Yes! Near-constant connectivity is the norm for many travelers at home, so it can be a pretty big existential shift to be even partly disconnected from the digital world while having real-life experiences. But we, like our forebearers, can bravely explore the world in real time and share it with our friends and followers after the fact.

Allow your relationship to your phone to shift while you're traveling. It can remain invaluable for maps, apps, and pics, but by letting go of some of the day-to-day stuff—the emails, the social media streams, the filling-in-downtime-with-other-screen-time-wasters—you're creating more time and more space to live in the present of the destination you've come so far to see. If you can't do that, though, take heart: In much of the world, you don't have to sacrifice connectivity even when you're far from home. Most carriers have international plans. We're fans of T-Mobile, because free and affordable international coverage is built into most of its plans.

More: 2 More Reasons Why T-Mobile Is Good for Travelers

Fear of Food Poisoning

Unfamiliar ingredients, lax food safety, water-quality issues: The more you educate yourself on food risks in any given destination, the higher the chance you're going to find yourself with a pronounced fear of food poisoning. That's not to say that you shouldn't know the risks of certain foods—for instance, raw vegetables in places where water quality is an issue or street food in destinations where the local population has developed a resistance to certain common bacteria. But there are ways to reduce risk without turning every meal into a breeding ground for anxiety.

Do your research before you go, and come up with a short list of foods and drinks to avoid. This is a great way to focus your fear instead of letting it color every meal. It's also helpful to keep basic food-safety rules in mind (hot food needs to stay hot, cold food needs to stay cold; flies on food is bad; etc.) and let them help steer your restaurant choices.

More: 7 Risky Foods to Avoid While Traveling

Fear of Germs

From news of pandemics to the reality of airplane tray tables (they're crawling with bacteria and viruses), it's no wonder many travelers have a highly honed fear of germs. But germophobia is a slippery slope, one that can turn both the big, wide world and your own home into danger zones.

Keeping a fear of germs in check enough to still enjoy travel takes equal measures of awareness, acceptance, and agency. Yes, you know that pretty much every surface on the plane, at the airport, and in your hotel room is dirtier than would be ideal. But unless you're going to be janitor to the world, you can't change the larger issue. You can, however, make small changes that will positively impact your health. Bring disinfecting wipes and clean off the tray table on your flight. Wash your hands often, with plenty of soap and warm water. And travel with hand sanitizer for those times when you can't get to a sink to wash your hands.

More: The 10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling

Fear of Personal Safety

There's a vulnerability to travel. Neighborhoods are unfamiliar, crowds seem denser, and body language is different enough that you may not always recognize an unsafe situation right away. That's all pretty unnerving, especially when you're trying to balance the opposing forces of safety and adventure.

If a fear for personal safety is causing you to stay home, it's time to empower yourself. Take a self-defense class or read up on personal-safety tactics. When you're traveling, trust your gut. If a situation doesn't feel right, move away from it, and never be afraid to be loud and make a scene. And learning to make physical and verbal boundaries is a skill that's great for travel but also handy at home.

More: Self-Defense Skills for Every Traveler

(Lead Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Travel Fears and How to Conquer Them.  Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

7 Bold Predictions for Travel in 2015

Posted January 21, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Overall, the travel landscape of 2015 will be a lot like the travel landscape of 2014. Air travel will remain a misery for folks in the back of the plane, while hotels, rental cars, and cruises won't change much. Still, you can look for a few new twists, from hot new technology to free Wi-Fi nearly everywhere.

Air Industry: Not Much Will Change

Just about everyone in the travel-forecasting business expects airfares to remain at or near their present levels, despite plummeting oil prices, and we agree: Airlines are finally making good profits, and they like the feeling. The four-airline oligopoly that dominates the U.S. skies is happy with things as they are and will crush any significant challenges to the current order.

The big four lines are wary of further acquisitions that would create even more market concentration. Alaska, Hawaiian, and JetBlue are vulnerable to hostile takeovers. Unfortunately, any takeover would completely trash those lines' brands and would therefore be detrimental to consumers.

The only innovative airline that might make it into the skies in 2015 is Baltia Air Lines, a low-key carrier planning nonstops from U.S. gateways to Eastern European capitals. In addition, the new Eastern Air Lines might fly a few charter trips (but that's really a case of "who cares?"). A return of PEOPLExpress and several other new-line proposals remain vaporware.

New Airplanes Will Benefit Airlines More Than Passengers

The new models that will come into widespread use in 2015 will be of more benefit to airlines than to passengers. Yes, the 787, which Boeing will deliver in quantity, and the A350, which Airbus will start delivering, provide superior cabin altitudes and humidity levels than older planes, but most airlines have elected to install 737-sized economy seats with decreased legroom. This won't improve the gross overcrowding at all. These planes, plus the re-engined A320s coming in next year and the re-engined 737s, 777s, and A330s coming a bit later, will cut airline fuel bills but will do nothing for passengers. All the substantial passenger benefits will be up front, with lie-flat seats becoming the norm on intercontinental flights and increasingly on competitive transcontinental runs as well.

Consumer Issues Will Continue

From a consumer standpoint, there are lots of problems but few solutions. The hotel industry's widespread use of deceptive drip pricing—carving out a portion of the true price and calling it a mandatory fee rather than including it in the advertised rate—is a problem for consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) efforts to eliminate that hotel scam are moving at a snail's pace, if at all.

Even with deregulation, the U.S. government still has authority to require that international ticket-change fees be reasonable, which they clearly are not. Some consumer advocates are working on this, but the outcome is uncertain.

Free Wi-Fi Is Here to Stay

Free Wi-Fi will become almost ubiquitous among hotels, and airlines will also move in that direction. But you can expect a substantial split in Wi-Fi offerings: The free Wi-Fi will be pretty slow, suitable for email and looking at text, but inadequate for streaming video and other high-bandwidth applications. Fast Wi-Fi will be available, too, but for stiff surcharges. Cruise lines will start to offer far more robust Wi-Fi, with new steerable satellite downlinks providing a big bandwidth expansion. But, at least next year, the bill will be stiff.

Say Hello to High-Tech Hotels

Hotels are getting their hype generators into high gear for 2015. Take an ordinary assembly of rooms, stir in a heavy dose of hype, and voila: instant "lifestyle" hotel. The main change will be increased use of technology, which means more keyless or remote room entry, check-in, checkout, ordering of services, and control over room environments. Meanwhile, most of the industry is looking forward to steadily increasing rates.

A Refreshing Focus on Solo Travelers

A new AARP survey showing that some 37 percent of baby boomers want to travel alone is stirring up the complacent "per person, double occupancy" obsession of cruise lines and tour operators. You may start to see more products actually designed for these travelers rather than the prevailing "pair 'em up and ship 'em out" strategy.

New Rail Routes Overseas

While China manages to open 500–1,000 miles of new high-speed rail lines every year, Amtrak is facing slow fiscal starvation, especially from a Congress looking for big budget cuts. The most important rail development for North American travelers is likely to be the completion of the rail link from downtown Toronto to Pearson Airport. Elsewhere, the two biggest European rail projects will not see service until later: The Gotthard Base Tunnel that will drastically reduce train times between Switzerland and Italy will open in 2016, and the Crossrail project in London to link the eastern and western mainlines through the center of the city is not due until 2018.

(Photo: Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images)

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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title What Can We Expect in 2015? Here Are Seven Big Travel Predictions.  Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

Use This Google Trick to Make Your Flight Easier

Posted January 20, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Do you have an upcoming flight on your schedule? Try this: Google "flight status" while logged in to a Google account. A bunch of useful information, including seat, terminal, and gate details; any delay or cancellation information; confirmation number; past flights; and relevant emails will pop up at the top of the search results. Reddit user jasenlee highlighted this useful little travel hack: "It's pretty simple and of course this seems exactly what something Google would do but I love it because I'm no longer looking through tons of emails to find a confirmation number, record locator, etc. to find my flight status."

Creepy? Yes. Useful? Also yes. SmarterTravel editor Dara Continenza tested the trick. She Googled "flight status" while signed into her Google account and saw this:

Google has even more handy travel tricks up its sleeve. Download Google Now for your phone, and the app will tell you when it's time to leave for the airport. Google Now also sends alerts when your flight is late, tells you how long your drive to the airport (or wherever) will take, and displays key details on car and hotel reservations.

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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Use This Simple Google Trick to Make Your Flight Easier.  Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Travel Snags and How to Avoid Them

Posted January 15, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

No matter how well you plan, my recent trip showed me that you still encounter gotchas and snags—some general, some specific to seniors. On the other hand, if you need assistance, regardless of age, you can usually find it.

Hidden Age Limits: I rented a car in Bari, Italy, through RentalCars.com, which seemed to have the best deal. During the rental process, the only age information the website requested was to make sure I was over 25. The rental turned out to be with Enterprise, which shared a desk with subsidiary National at the Bari airport. But when I presented my reservation information and ID at the counter, the agent told me that Enterprise did not rent cars to anyone over age 71. This was my first inkling of that limitation. The agent went on to say that National could rent to older drivers, but that it did not have a car available. My arrival was in the late evening, so I took a taxi to my hotel, near the airport, and got online to book a replacement through the Avis website. Next morning, I showed up at the Avis counter, got my car, and went on my way.

I've been aware for many years that some companies, in some countries, refuse to rent to anyone over 70; Ireland is notorious for its maximum age limits, as well as its refusal to accept credit card collision coverage. But I had never observed this problem in Italy, so the refusal to honor my reservation came as a shock—both from a planning standpoint and a financial one, because my Avis rental cost a lot more than the original arrangement.

In retrospect, I would have been better off renting from one of the big multinationals directly or through AutoEurope by phone. AutoEurope's agents are very knowledgeable about details such as age limits and insurance coverage.

Hidden Hotel Problems: Over the years, I've been a big fan of arranging hotel accommodations through the opaque agencies Hotwire.com and Priceline.com. I have back problems, and I try to avoid stairs wherever I can. So to avoid unpleasant surprises, I normally book 3.5- to four-star accommodations. And I also usually book only one night in case of a problem, figuring that I can usually extend a visit by a day or two, at the same rate, if the hotel meets my requirements. This trip, I bid for a 3.5-star hotel in London, figuring it would be fine. Sadly, however, when I learned which hotel had accepted my bid and checked it out, I found that the hotel had no elevator, and an external picture showed a half-story flight of stairs to get from the street to the entry. Clearly, that wouldn't work, so I rebooked a different hotel through Booking.com. I'm still arguing with Priceline about a possible refund, but I'm not banking on it.

Although common among senior travelers, problems negotiating long stairs are not limited to seniors. And these days, many travelers of any age demand no-charge Wi-Fi. If you have any physical limitation or special requirement, consider very carefully before you risk a nonrefundable opaque hotel bid. And if you go ahead, bid for just one night, check out the hotel, and ask to extend your stay or re-bid only if the hotel meets your requirements.

More on Back Problems: You don't have to be in a wheelchair to want to avoid stairs or require special assistance. Major hub airports—even those with people-movers—can still require extensive schlepping. Don't be embarrassed to ask for a wheelchair or golf cart on arrival. Set it up through your airline, at least 72 hours in advance.

Public transit can also pose a problem. These days, many transit systems post online lists or maps that show which stations are accessible and where to find elevators and escalators. Just Google the name of the transit system and "accessibility." You won't get results everywhere, but it works in lots of places.

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This article was published by SmarterTravel under the title Travel Snags and How to Avoid Them.  Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

10 New Routes That Will Lead to Cheaper Flights

Posted January 15, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Route expansions may not seem like exciting news, but they're a bigger deal than you probably think. Why? Because they often spark competition between airlines and drive down fares on multiple carriers. If your New Year's resolution involves traveling more, it may be time to give one of these new routes a try.

San Francisco to Las Vegas on JetBlue

This month, JetBlue launched new nonstop service between San Francisco and Las Vegas. This route is already covered by nonstop flights from other major players, including Southwest, United, and Virgin America. Right now, the introductory rate on the nonstop route is as low as $148.

Boston to Cleveland on JetBlue

Another nonstop route on JetBlue's horizon is the launch of its 88th destination: Cleveland. This expansion is much needed to fill the void left by United when it dropped more than 100 daily flights to Cleveland in 2014. Expect JetBlue's Boston–Cleveland inaugural flight on April 30.

Denver to Los Angeles and Denver to San Diego on Spirit

The Mile High City is reaching new heights with Spirit. The carrier is adding nonstop Denver flights from two major California cities: Los Angeles (beginning on April 16) and San Diego (launched on January 6). These two new additions make Spirit's ninth and 10th nonstop connections in Denver. And on January 6, Spirit increased its Denver–Chicago service to two daily nonstop flights.

Houston to Aruba on Southwest

Southwest Airlines has set its eyes on the lucrative international market. Starting March 7, Southwest customers will have access to Houston–Aruba with Saturday-only flights. The new Caribbean route also points to Southwest's other ambition: expanding into the Latin American market. In December, the airline filed applications with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fly from Houston to four popular Mexican vacation spots: Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City, and Puerto Vallarta, as well as Belize City, Belize, and San Jose, Costa Rica.

Baltimore/Washington, D.C., to San Jose, Costa Rica, on Southwest

Southwest is also venturing into Costa Rica with flights from Baltimore/Washington International. San Jose is Southwest's introduction to the international market outside of the Caribbean and Mexico—and an aggressive one, with daily nonstops from the nation’s capital.

Houston to Tokyo on All Nippon Airways

All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced new routes from Houston to one of its hub cities, Tokyo. Starting June 12, Narita Airport and Houston Bush International will give United Airlines some healthy competition. Both carriers' Japan/Texas routes are nonstop. This is ANA's 10th North American destination, and one it hopes will be the catalyst to connect Houston to Central and South America.

Houston to Tampa on Spirit

Spirit will soon connect Houston and Tampa with daily nonstop service beginning March 26. This is just one of 10 new routes to Bush International that the carrier announced last month. Other cities with new nonstop air travel from Houston include Baltimore/D.C.; Oakland (seasonal only); Cancun; Los Cabos, Mexico (seasonal only); Toluca, Mexico (seasonal only); Managua, Nicaragua; San Jose, Costa Rica; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; and San Salvador, El Salvador. If these 10 new routes go through (these international markets are not yet wholly approved by the DOJ but are expected to be long before the May launch dates), that'll be 22 city pairs out of Houston International Airport for Spirit.

New York City to Birmingham, England, on American

New York City and Birmingham, England, will soon be paired up with American Airlines flights. Daily service is due to commence on May 7. In addition to Birmingham, American will expand its presence in five other U.K. cities, including Edinburgh, which is also set to launch on May 7. Both new transatlantic routes are seasonal and will be flown under the American Airlines-British Airways codeshare partnership. Higher demand on the Los Angeles—London route is pushing American to increase its frequency to two daily flights beginning March 29.

Miami to Frankfurt on American

Move over, Lufthansa, American is getting back into the Miami–Frankfurt market! A route currently dominated by Germany's flagship carrier, the southern Florida–Frankfurt market hasn't been served by American since 1997, but that'll change with daily service by American come May 14. The two cities make an obvious pair, as one's the banking capital of Europe while the other is a thriving international center.

Boston to Las Vegas on Virgin America

As of January 8 and only seasonally through April 28, Virgin America now offers nonstop Boston—Las Vegas flights four times per week. That's direct competition for JetBlue, which currently covers the city pair and cites it as its second most popular route.

Equally exciting are Virgin America's seasonal flights from New York's JFK to Ft. Lauderdale, which will be offered daily through April 28.

(Photo: Airplane Taking Off During Sunset via Shutterstock)

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Ten New Routes That Will Lead to Cheaper Flights in 2015.  Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

The Surprising Place Where U.S. Dollars Go Further

Posted January 12, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Want a great exchange rate in Europe? Go now.

For years, there's been a premium on visits to Eurozone countries. The exchange rate has made everything—from accommodations to a simple cup of coffee—more expensive for American travelers.

But the euro has fallen to 1.20 against the dollar, the lowest since mid-2010. The New York Times has the nitty gritty (including predictions about stimulus plans by the European Central Bank), but for most travelers, the important part is this: Right now, converted U.S. dollars will get you more for less in Europe.

In addition to the favorable exchange rate, winter is the time to go to Europe for cheaper airfare and hotel stays. In fact, you could easily spend half of what you'd expect to pay in summer by braving the cold temperatures. Whether or not this is a smart strategy depends on your travel style. If, when you imagine yourself in Europe, you conjure up images of strolling through museums, cozying up in restaurants, or hitting the slopes, then you can't go wrong. But if city strolls, park-bench picnics, and country rambles are key factors in your European vacation, then you're better off waiting until spring, great exchange rate or no.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title The Surprising Place Where U.S. Dollars Go Further This Year.  Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

7 Money-Saving Travel Deals for 2015

Posted January 9, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

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Disney World, Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Europe: These are just a few of the destinations where you'll find deep discounts in 2015. We've rounded up the top vacation deals to some of the world's most popular destinations to help you get started on planning your next trip.

Cancun: All-Inclusive Resort and Airfare from $163/Night

Four-night stays at the four-star all-inclusive Krystal Grand Punta Cancun start at $649 per person, based on double occupancy. That includes airfare from Chicago or Orlando (other cities are available at differing rates), hotel stays, and taxes and fees, plus all amenities that come included as part of your all-inclusive stay, such as meals, beverages, activities, and gratuities. Expedia hasn't listed a booking deadline, so this rate could fluctuate at any time.

Search more low prices on Cancun packages here!

 

Sleep in Ireland's Castles: 5-Night Stay, Airfare, and Car Rental for Less Than $200/Night

The Emerald Isle and all its royal treatment awaits! The Ireland Castles Vacation package from Great Value Vacations starts at $999 for a five-night stay in four different castles, plus round-trip airfare (including taxes and fees) and car rental. Prices are per person, based on double occupancy.

Seven-night vacations, including stays at five different castles, are available for an extra $175 per person. Additional options include daily breakfast, spa treatments, and more for $99 extra. Packages must be booked by January 30.

Search more low prices on Ireland packages here!

 

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge: Airfare and Hotel for Less Than $200/Night

Enjoy a stay at Disney's four-star Animal Kingdom Lodge for less than $200 per night between February 22 and June 15, when you book with JetBlue Vacations by February 16. Another perk? The Animal Kingdom Lodge's Magical Express service will pick up your luggage from baggage claim and transport it to your hotel room while you're whisked away from Orlando International Airport on a luxury motor coach! The four-day, three-night package of $585, including accommodations and nonstop airfare to/from New York's JFK Airport, is based on double occupancy and billed per person. Many more departure cities and hotel options are available.

Search more low prices on Orlando packages here!

 

Las Vegas: Airfare and Hotel Vacations from $232/Night

No gamble here—this deal hits the jackpot! Liberty Travel's vacation package at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a top hotel and casino resort on the Strip, offers round-trip airfare, three-night accommodations, a Red Rock Canyon tour, hotel transfers from the airport, and taxes and fees starting at $695 per person, based on double occupancy. Book by May 12. The advertised rate is for travel from San Francisco between June 12 and 15, but other departure cities and dates are available.

Search more low prices on Las Vegas packages here!

 

Montego Bay: Airfare and Hotel Packages from $259/Night

Enjoy a luxurious all-inclusive stay at the seaside Riu Palace Montego Bay from $259 per night. Yeah mon, that's with airfare, too! Plus, it includes unlimited meals and beverages, water sports, scuba lessons, daily entertainment, and all taxes and gratuities.

The four-day, three-night package from Ft. Lauderdale starts at $775 per person. Bookings and travel are good through April 30. Many other departure cities are available.

Search more low prices on Montego Bay packages here!

 

Barcelona and Madrid: 6-Night Vacations, Including Airfare, Hotel, and Rail, from $254/Night

This vacation package includes all you'll need to visit two of the most popular European cities—both in Spain but each with its own unique flair! Great Value Vacations offers six-, seven-, and eight-night packages in Barcelona and Madrid from $1,521 round-trip, including rail transportation between the two cities, flights from the U.S., centrally located four-star accommodations, taxes and fees, and daily breakfast.

Upgrades and tours are available, as is the option to extend the trip with extra days (at an additional cost). All packages are based on double occupancy and quoted per person. The six-night starting rate from New York's JFK Airport on select dates in February is $1,521; other departure cities and dates are available.

Search more low prices on Barcelona packages here!

Search more low prices on Madrid packages here!

 

$150 Off Vacation Packages

Use code 150VACA by March 31 to see savings of $150 on flight and hotel packages from online travel agent Orbitz. The discount will be applied to four-night or longer vacation packages priced at $1,000 or more. Travel before June 30 to take advantage of this offer. The discount code is not applicable to Las Vegas packages.

 

How to Outsmart Jet Lag with an App

Posted January 9, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

An app that helps you beat jet lag: Intriguing, right? Planning for a recent trip to Japan, during which I was going to need to hit the ground running, I decided to try out Entrain, a free app that allows you to monitor your body's circadian clock (its natural daily sleep and waking cycles) and shift it toward a destination time zone to reduce jet lag symptoms. Designed by academics at the University of Michigan, the app gives lighting recommendations (based on your usual sleep schedule, typical daytime light exposure, and particular destination) to help ease your body into a new time zone.

The Power of Light

In search of more details about how light affects jet lag, I reached out to Luc Schlangen, Light and Sleep Scientist at Philips Research. He pinpointed the relationship between light and the circadian clock as one of the most exciting areas of current scientific research on the human body. He explained, "Progress in this area has accelerated since 2000, when researchers discovered a new type of photoreceptor in the eyes, one which powerfully regulates our sleep/wake cycle and our body clock. Through this photoreceptor, light resets our body clock, which prompts our body and organs to carry out their required functions at any time of day."

Setting Up the App

Armed with new confidence about the science behind the app, I began setting up my personal lighting profile. As I started to answer the questions about my daily light exposure, I got more curious about the way it worked, so I called Olivia Walch, the graduate student at UoM who designed the app. She explained that the app was based on a math model that looks at how to adjust a person's personal clock in the least amount of time, using light exposure. She said, "The app is meant to be a mirror of your body's experience." As you're preparing for your trip, you can adjust the app in real time to reflect the light conditions you're actually experiencing, and the app will adjust its recommendations accordingly. "The more accurate you are, the more accurate the model is," Walch told me.

Getting Prepared

After I had submitted all my information, the app displayed the recommendations for how I could adjust my light and darkness exposure in the days before my trip. I was surprised at how extreme the schedule was. Basically, it had set a five-day pattern (you can specify how many days in advance you want to start prepping) of staying in low-light conditions during the day and exposing myself to light at night. This was clearly going to be a logistical challenge.

Light was the key, and from talking to both Walch and Schlangen, I got a better sense of how to manipulate it for my purposes. Schlangen explained, "Under most circumstances, light that is more bright and more rich in short wavelengths, such as blue-rich light, will be more effective than light that is less bright and contains longer wavelengths. As a result, blue light will usually shift the clock more effectively as compared to yellow or red light. Meanwhile, orange-tinted or red glasses absorb blue light. By reducing blue light exposure, orange-tinted or red glasses also reduce the resetting action of any light exposure."

While Walch assured me that no extra supplies were necessary, I thought I'd have better luck with tools that could help me mimic day and night. In the evening hours when I was supposed to be near light, I used the travel-friendly Philips GoLITE BLU. It's about the size of a tile, it comes with its own carrying case, and it delivers intense blue light that most people use to boost energy or manage winter blues. To make daytime less bright, I bought a pair of cheap orange safety glasses off Amazon and wore them during the day.

Using the App

I was up for the challenge of alternating between sunflower and vampire in my light pursuits, but I quickly realized it's really hard to switch night and day. Sleeping with a light on, I couldn't settle into sleep easily and I seemed to wake up more. Not to mention that my husband, who was not traveling, had trouble with the light-on sleep model. After two nights of sleeping with the light on (I abandoned the blue light for overnight use after the first night and opted for a small lamp on the floor next to my side of the bed), we both felt a bit, well, jet-lagged. Throughout the week, I felt mild sleepiness randomly during the day and had an occasional headache that I assume was related to the weird sleep schedule.

During the day, I was supposed to be in darkness. But, practically speaking, it's a challenge—particularly in the days leading up to a trip—to drop everything and sit in a dark room all day. That's where the safety glasses came in very handy. I used them while I worked (computers and other screens emit blue light) and around the house but opted out of wearing them while driving (because that seemed dangerous) and while running errands (because I didn't want to freak people out).

The Results

Tokyo, where I landed, is 17 hours ahead of my departure point of San Francisco. That time difference is a recipe for serious jet lag, as I had discovered on my first trip to Japan decades ago. And when I landed at what was midnight at home, I was feeling pretty beat. But the next morning, I woke up and felt … normal. I dragged slightly that afternoon, but I rebounded by dinner, and by the next morning, I felt like I had been in my new time zone for weeks. I was amazed—and happy that the hard work, slight inconvenience, and mild discomfort during my pre-travel adjustment period had paid off.

General Time-Shifting Guidelines

I like the app because it took my personal sleep schedule (early to bed, early to rise) into account and told me exactly when I should be shifting between light and dark. But Schlangen gave me some general guidelines that offer a bigger-picture view of the approach: 

When Flying West: "If you are flying west, your body clock will need to be delayed so you feel less jet lag upon arrival. Depending on the number of time zones you plan to cross, you can decide to start delaying your body clock one or two days prior to your departure. Delaying the clock is best done by seeking blue-rich light in the later part of your evening to keep you awake and staying up a bit later. However, it is important to keep in mind that the definition of "evening" depends on your regular bedtime. It can mean 9 p.m. for some people but 12 p.m. for others—it's very subjective. Next, minimize any light exposure in the earlier part of your morning, either by wearing sunglasses or sleeping in a bit longer into the morning.

"You can also start resetting your clock only upon arrival as well, but then you should bear in mind that maximizing and minimizing light exposure needs to be done late in the evening and early in the morning at your departure point, respectively."

When Flying East: "If you are flying east, your body clock needs to be advanced. Advancing the body clock is best done by seeking light earlier in your morning, for instance by waking up (with an alarm clock) a bit earlier than usual. Combine that with minimizing blue-rich light exposure in the later part of your evening by wearing sunglasses or going to sleep earlier. You can also start resetting your clock only upon arrival as well, but minimizing and maximizing light exposure needs to be done late evening and early morning at your departure point, respectively."

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Can You Outsmart Jet Lag with an App?Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock and Entrain)

8 Rules for Flying in Winter

Posted January 7, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Air travel is something of a gamble during really bad weather. And that's not likely to change very much, or very fast, over the next year or two. If you're planning a winter trip that involves heading to or passing through a bad-weather area, the watchword is simple: anticipate. Here are eight rules of winter-weather travel—none new, but all worthy of repeating.

Pad Your Schedule

Balance the possibilities of delays or cancellations against the importance of your arriving on time. If you have a can't-miss meeting, celebration, or secondary departure, pad your schedule to allow for a major air-travel snarl. That may even mean traveling a full day early. Recovering from delays or cancellations can involve a minimum of several extra hours, and an extra day is not out of the question.

Avoid Hubbing

Try to arrange nonstop flights. Even if most flights to or from your home airport or destination airports require connections, consider driving up to several hours at either end of your trip to catch nonstop flights. Here in my home area of Medford, Oregon, for example, lots of winter-season travelers drive the four-plus hours to Portland or Sacramento to avoid connecting through fog-prone San Francisco.

Schedule Flights to Minimize Risks

Delays and cancellations have a domino effect throughout the day. Avoid tight hub connections. On most routes, book yourself on flights as early as possible—the later in the day, the worse the situation gets. In a few places, however, local weather patterns may dictate a different strategy: Our airport here in Medford is prone to early-morning fog, for example, so savvy winter travelers try to book themselves on mid-morning or midday departures. San Francisco travelers face the same choice.

Avoid Trouble Hubs

If you can't avoid hubbing entirely, you can at least minimize hubbing risks by routing yourself through a hub not likely to encounter severe winter weather. During the first quarter of the year, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, and Phoenix generally report the lowest percentages of late arrivals. Despite lots of snow, Denver and Salt Lake City also do pretty well—at least they know how to cope with heavy snows. Even though it's in the South, Atlanta doesn't do quite as well as other Sunbelt hubs. The dishonor roll of hubs to avoid is obvious: Chicago/O'Hare, the New York airports, and San Francisco. For travel to Europe, Washington/Dulles is a better winter-gateway bet than airports to the north, and Los Angeles beats San Francisco for travel to Asia.

Have a Plan B

Figure that something might go wrong, and be ready with your own alternative schedule rather than waiting to see what your airline offers. The earlier you start to change, the more likely you are to avoid extended delays. In any major weather event, you airline is likely to waive re-ticketing fees, so be ready.

Keep in Touch with Your Airline

These days, airlines may proactively cancel flights to avoid upcoming problems. And they often waive change penalties several days before an anticipated storm.

Check the Forecasts

You can sometimes spot delays before your airline officially lets you know about them. That means keeping tabs on weather forecasts several days in advance for any airport you plan to use—departure, hub, or destination. Especially check inbound arrivals at any originating airport where you plan an early-morning departure: If the plane can't get in the night before, it won't be there for your morning departure.

Use a Travel Agent

During bad weather, your departure or hub airport will likely be a madhouse, with thousands of travelers trying to find alternative flights. Instead of standing in line at a customer-service desk, have an agent working on your deal as soon as a problem arises.

No matter what, you can't avoid all problems. But at least you can minimize the risks. Anticipate.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Eight Rules for Winter-Weather Travel. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

(Photo: Woman at Airport via Shutterstock)

10 Beaches That Keep the Winter Blues Away

Posted January 5, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Wailea Beach, Hawaii (Photo: Getty Images/M Swiet Productions)

It's easy to embrace winter when it's all fresh and new—bust out those mittens, make a snow angel, sip some hot chocolate. But as winter wears on, dreams inevitably turn to a warm escape as we shovel yet another sidewalk buried in white stuff. As it turns out, relief is a lot closer than you might think, and we've rounded up some of the best picks for a sunny, sandy respite. From romantic getaways to family-friendly islands, these U.S. beaches are certain to take the bite out of winter's chill.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Sanibel Island, Florida

Average High Temperature in January/February: 72°F/73°F

This roughly 12-mile-long, hammock-shaped island off of Florida's southwest coast is one of the best places in the country for collecting shells. It's east-west orientation acts like a huge shelf on which shells from the Gulf accumulate—especially on the beach on the south side of the island. At the eastern tip of Sanibel lies Lighthouse Beach Park, with views of Ft. Myers across the bay and, of course, the lighthouse. You can take a boat tour of the red mangroves on Tarpon Bay (keep an eye out for manatees), but rent a paddleboard instead to justify a morning stop at Bennett's Fresh Roast for some coffee and a homemade maple-bacon donut.

(Photo: Poipu, Hawaii via Shutterstock)

Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii

Average High Temperature in January/February: 72°F/72°F

The temperatures couldn't be any lovelier on the Garden Island in winter. But it is the rainy season, so your best bet is on Kauai's south or west side, the "dry" or leeward sides of the island. Poipu Beach Park has a naturally sheltered shallow pool, perfect for kids. For the adventurers, seven-time women's world surf champ Margo Oberg has run a surf school on Poipu for more than three decades. Brennecke's Beach Broiler has been a fixture on this side of the island for years—and it's the perfect spot to nibble on a pupu platter while watching some of the best bodyboarding waves on the island.

(Photo: Santa Barbara, California via Shutterstock)

Santa Barbara, California

Average High Temperature in January/February: 65°F/65°F

California's Riviera coast is particularly inviting during winter: Days are still comfortably warm, and the winter casts a soft light that turns sunsets neon orange and pink. While the beaches on either side of Stearns Wharf are popular with tourists because of their proximity to State Street and its restaurants and shops, locals (and their dogs) head a few miles west to Arroyo Burro State Beach. Here, you can walk for miles when the tide is low, exploring tidal pools along the way. Near the parking lot is one of the best beach restaurants in Santa Barbara, so pull up a stool at the outside bar at Boathouse for an order of Monterey Bay calamari and a cucumber margarita.

(Photo: VisitHollywoodFL.com)

Hollywood Beach, Florida

Average High Temperature in January/February: 69°F/69°F

Station yourself anywhere along the 2.5-mile Hollywood Beach Boardwalk and watch the nonstop scene of joggers, Rollerbladers, cyclists, and strollers streaming by. Consider picking up a cruiser bike at one of the rental shops along the boardwalk (some even come with cup carriers mounted on the handlebars to carry your beverage of choice) and pedaling north to Hollywood Beach State Park. Then cruise back down to the Sugar Reef Grill for a grilled mahi sandwich with mango salsa. Just steps away, the clear, blue Atlantic is warm enough (75°F or more in winter) for an afternoon swim. And the mild temperatures in the evenings means there's live music (and dancing) nearly every night at the Hollywood Beach Theater, right on the boardwalk.

(Photo: South Padre Island, Texas via Shutterstock)

South Padre Island, Texas

Average High Temperature in January/February: 68°F/70°F

Here, the Gulf of Mexico can sometimes (but not always) be warm enough to swim in winter. But the daytime air temperatures are almost always welcoming on the beaches of this half-mile-wide, 34-mile-long barrier island. If beachcombing starts to leave you restless, adventurous types can hire horses or ATVs for a ride on the beach—or take a dolphin-spotting boat trip or sunset catamaran dinner cruise. If you're still looking for some fun in the water, head to Schlitterbahn's indoor water park, featuring a wave pool, swim-up bar, and kiddie splash pool. At the end of the day, head to Padre Island Brewing Company for grilled Texas quail and a microbrew.

(Photo: Pierre Omidyar via flickr/CC Attribution)

Laguna Beach, California

Average High Temperature in January/February: 67°F/67°F

Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the undeveloped San Joaquin Hills along seven miles of protected coastline, Laguna Beach is an oasis amid Orange County sprawl. To the north, between Main Beach and Heisler Park, the sand gives way to rocky tide pools, where you can spot crabs, urchins, and anemones during low tide. Winter days are usually mild enough for sunbathing or at the very least a leisurely beach stroll. Keep your eye out for spouting migrating whales. Laguna Beach's reputation as an artists' colony goes back nearly a century, and Coast Highway, as it snakes through town, is lined with galleries. Check out the Laguna Art Museum, overlooking the ocean, for its collections and exhibitions celebrating California and its artists.

Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Average High Temperature in January/February: 84°F/85°F

On any given winter day, it's not uncommon to see 10,000-plus people spilling out of half a dozen docked cruise ships and swarming into duty-free shops on St. Thomas' famous Magens Bay. By all means, Magens is a gorgeous crescent of beach and worth exploring. But there are other less-crowded beaches that deliver the Caribbean retreat you're craving when the temperatures back home have plummeted. On the east side of the island is lovely Lindquist Beach, popular with locals on the weekends but a quiet respite on weekdays. If you prefer a beach that's still relatively secluded but with a few more amenities, Bluebeard's Beach on the south side is home to the Ritz-Carlton Club but open to the public.

Hotel del Coronado (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Coronado, California

Average High Temperature in January/February: 65°F/65°F

Cross the San Diego-Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island's namesake two-mile beach. This west-side strand is consistently named one of the prettiest in the U.S. and one of the most popular for families with kids. Bounded on one end by the elegant, Victorian-era Hotel del Coronado, the wide, flat beach is ideal for walking, jogging, or just relaxing on a towel while watching surfers and skimboarders. When the sun starts to set, head across Orange Avenue to the Ferry Landing for fish tacos or ceviche at Candelas on the Bay, served with commanding views of the San Diego skyline.

Grand Wailea Resort (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Average High Temperature in January/February: 82°F/82°F

Tucked on the southwest side of the island, Wailea Beach is one of Maui's best, with its soft, brown-sugar sand and glassy, clear-blue water. The beach is just below the Grand Wailea Resort, and the beach amenities (daybeds, umbrellas) are also shared by guests at the Four Seasons, but the beach itself is open to the public. Because its waters are typically quite calm, it's perfect for first-time snorkelers and timid swimmers. From the beach, you can hop onto the paved Wailea Beach Path, which runs for 1.5 miles and passes by eight resorts and five white-sand beaches and offers a perfect vantage point for spotting whales.

The Cottage (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Siesta Key, Florida

Average High Temperature in January/February: 72°F/73°F

Siesta Key's long, wide, baby-powder-fine beach has been called one of the best white-sand beaches in the world; the pristine sand is nearly pure quartz, and it squeaks beneath your feet. On this eight-mile-long barrier island, just a short skip over the bridge from Sarasota, the party keeps going all winter long, especially at sunset, when locals gather, wine glass in hand, to toast the sun as it slips down over the Gulf. From there, it's a quick two-block walk to The Cottage, which serves some of the most creative seafood on the island. Sit on the front porch and watch the street life pass by, or head down to the patio in back for live music and a signature Siesta Painkiller cocktail.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Best Beaches to Keep the Winter Blues Away.


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