Top 5 Off-Peak Destinations for Fall 2014

Posted September 19, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Nantucket, Cobblestoned Streets During Fall (Photo: Getty Images)

After August—generally the biggest travel month of the year—summer's annual dispatch of surf-loving, guidebook-toting vacationers packs up and heads home. With peak season over, folks bid good-bye to crowded beach towns and coastal cities, leaving travel providers with plenty of guest rooms, beaches, and restaurants to fill this fall. The following five spots are on our radar, thanks to their attractive off-peak pricing and super seasonal attractions.

 

(Photo: The Cottages & Lofts at The Boat Basin)

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket is one of our favorite off-peak beach destinations. Autumn in Nantucket brings so many special seasonal activities that one could argue the island's true peak should fall when the leaves do. Restaurant Week, from September 28 to October 4, bestows bargain-priced gourmet meals on fortunate patrons, with three-course dinners priced from $25 to $45.

Better yet, get your fresh seafood straight from the source—for free! October also kicks off recreational scallop season. Beginning the first of the month, folks are permitted to harvest the mouthwatering mollusks right from the beach.

Cook up some pan-seared scallops in your kitchen at The Cottages & Lofts at The Boat Basin. We found rates as low as $328.33 per night for a two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen and a deck that overlooks the water on Swain's Wharf. Comparatively, the same room is, on average, several hundred dollars more per night during the high summer season. This is the standard pricing structure at Nantucket properties. At the Chapman House, for example, rooms start at $319 per night during summer and drop as low as $119 per night come fall.

You can also snag discounted fall ferry tickets to Nantucket, depending on the operator. The Steamship Authority cuts one-way rates for automobiles from $68.50 in summer and early fall to $43.50 beginning November 1.

 

(Photo: Blue Haven Resort)

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

The Turks and Caicos islands have a reputation for luxury. Bruce Willis and Mariah Carey reportedly have homes here. And lavish beachfront resorts far outnumber budget-friendly hotels. The good news is that in fall, you don't have to spend like Bruce Willis to have an awesome vacation. This is a less crowded, more upscale Caribbean destination set firmly off the beaten path, where alabaster beaches are free of those hectic armies of plastic chairs and towels, no matter the season.

Get the royal Turks and Caicos experience at Joe Six-Pack prices with an off-peak stay on Providenciales, the main tourist center of the islands. Airfares to Providenciales drop sharply during fall months. As of press time, JetBlue is offering flights from New York to Providenciales for $134 each way for select Saturday departures in November; compare this to February fares displayed on Kayak, which run roughly double that. Hotels, too, are markedly more affordable in fall. Autumn deals abound, and standard rates are usually lowest for summer and fall stays. At the beachfront Blue Haven Resort, rates for the cheapest garden-view room start at $300 nightly through December 19, then spike as high as $450 per night for stays during winter months.

In addition to pleasing prices, expect balmy temperatures. As the summer heat wanes, average daily temperatures hover around 75 to 85 degrees.

 

(Photo: Dan Queiroz via flickr/CC Attribution)

Miami, Florida

Miami does a lot to court fall travelers. There's Miami Spice, an extended restaurant week that covers the full month of September. Car aficionados can geek out at the Miami International Auto Show or attend the NASCAR Ford championship race in November. And, of course, the beaches and nightlife don't lose their allure when summer ends.

For further incentive, consider the savings. If you're flying, it's often cheaper to get to Miami in fall than in winter. We found flights on American from Boston to Miami in January for as little as $277 each way, compared to the cheapest fares we found for mid- to late-March departures, which came to $342 each way. It's the same story with United: Our search yielded Chicago-to-Miami nonstop flights for $516 round-trip in November; fares jumped to $573 for the same trip in February. If these airfare differences seem trivial, consider the costs if you're traveling with a family or even as a couple. Sixty bucks a ticket can really add up.

Let's look at sailings out of Miami's cruise port. Sure, this isn't technically a Miami-centric thing to do, but if you're in town and you want to tack a long-weekend getaway onto your trip, you'll save a ton by planning a sailing during fall. Norwegian, for example, runs a three-night Bahamas sailing (Friday through Monday) out of Miami. Prices for this sailing start at $469 per person for an inside cabin in March, compared to $219 for the same cruise in November.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Algarve, Portugal

Portugal's Algarve region—a beach destination along the country's southern coast—draws huge crowds of mostly European tourists during summer. Similar to the French Riviera, the Algarve offers quaint historical towns, picturesque beaches, and, during the high season, a hard-partying club crowd. Yet a quieter mood develops here after the summer-holiday throngs have returned home.
Autumn sees a more serene Algarve, with bare beaches and bargains galore. And if you're after more of a culture-centric European vacation instead of an oceanside escape, the Algarve's cathedrals, castles, and cobblestoned villages will meet your needs in spades.

Consider Four Seasons Country Club, TripAdvisor's number-one-rated hotel for stays in the Algarve. Rates at this assemblage of 96 villas, which are rented by the week, start at €1,170 (about $1,510) in July and August and drop to nearly half that price—€610 (about $788)—in November and December. That's huge. Similarly, rates at popular B&B Duas Quintas drop to €75 (about $97) per night in fall, compared to €95 per night (about $123) during summer.

Can you still hit the beach in the Algarve during fall? Maybe. In early fall—September and October—its Mediterranean climate yields mild, summery weather. Those of you dead-set on surf and sand should plan an earlier fall vacation.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Whether you want to watch whales or the autumn leaves, to bike through Tudor neighborhoods or barhop around waterfront pubs, you'll find that Victoria doesn't lack for fall fun. One of our favorite new attractions to see in Victoria this fall is the Float House, which bills itself as the largest floatation center on earth. Book a 90-minute session in one of the center's five tanks filled with water and Epsom salt and float your stresses away.

Another great stress buster: the thought of all the money you'll save when you visit Victoria in autumn. Between sunny summer and ski season exists a great opportunity for budget-minded travelers: the off-peak fall period. Rates drop at hotels and B&Bs. And museums and restaurants get a little less crowded. At Abbeymoore Manor, a B&B in a historical 1912 mansion, low-season rates for stays between October 20 and December 18 start at $159 CAD (about $145). During high season, rates start at $229 CAD (about $209). Again, at the luxurious Villa Marco Polo Inn, rates start at $185 CAD (about $169) during the off-peak fall season and rise to $250 CAD (about $228) in summer.

It's cheaper to stay there, and it's probably cheaper to get there, too. We ran some test dates through Air Canada's booking system and found November midweek flights from Los Angeles to Victoria for as little as $174 each way. In June, the cheapest fares we spotted for the same trip came to $273 each way.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Fall 2014.

Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

5 Industry Insider Secrets to Booking Holiday Travel Right

Posted September 17, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Holidays-SantaOnComputerHoldingCreditCard-DD

Prices soar, snowstorms rage and airports are packed—it must be holiday travel season! With all of this going on, the last thing you should have to worry about is shooting in the dark to try to get the lowest fares and rates.

So here's our little holiday gift to you: five tips from our industry expert friends over at SmarterTravel. While these won't make things any less stressful around the holiday table, they'll definitely help to make getting there (and leaving) much more merry.

1. No-fly Fridays (and Sundays). Airfares are almost always more expensive on Fridays and Sundays, and this only gets worse during the holiday season—especially the Sunday after Thanksgiving when it seems like every single U.S. citizen is trying to fly home. Spare yourself the sticker shock and don't even try to book for a Friday or Sunday this holiday season.

2. Avoid the bookend days. Speaking of sticker shock, you can expect to get a pretty good case of it if you try to fly on the days that bookend Thanksgiving. Wednesday? <gasp> Friday or Saturday? <double-gasp> If you possibly can, try to space out your travel and fly on the Monday or Tuesday before and after the holiday. The same goes for Christmas and New Years, too—the further away from the holiday you can book, the better.

3. Miss the appetizers. If you you're able, consider flying on the day of the holiday itself. Sure, you might miss brunch with Great Aunt Eunice, or, at worst, the "pigs in a blanket" before dinner, but you'll save a ton on the flight.

4. Not so fast. Waiting it out is a really bad idea for flights—in fact, if you haven't booked yet, you need to start looking right now—but it's actually a good plan for hotels. If you're staying a hotel instead of on your parents' sofa, don't be in a hurry to book just yet. People who booked their hotels for holiday travel as late as even November last year actually saved an average of $50 more than people who booked earlier.

5. Skip your connections. What's the biggest news story every year during the holidays? Yup: Snowstorms and travel delays. So do your best not to be one of those sorry souls who end up on camera explaining that they've been living in the airport for three days—if at all possible, book a non-stop flight. Each connection is a chance for a flight to be delayed or cancelled, and that increases your chances of not making it to your destination on time...or at all.

So there you have it: Our top five tips from industry insiders. But here's one tip from us: You need to book ASAP. Prices are at their lowest now, and as we get into October and November, they're going to skyrocket.

But don't just book the first price you see; prices can vary from website to website—even for the same flight! You can use our search  to input your info and then check the prices all at once across several different sites. Ready? Start searching!

 

Southwest Expands Its International Routes

Posted September 16, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

For most of its 44-year history, Southwest was a domestic-only carrier.

It was only in July that the carrier pushed beyond U.S. borders, with flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

On September 12, Southwest further expanded the scope of its network with the announcement of service from Baltimore/Washington International airport to San Jose, Costa Rica, beginning on March 7, 2015 (subject to government approval).

Looking north, South has recently signaled its interest in flying to Canada, a more likely prospect given the airline's purchase of longer-range B737-800 jets.

Earlier this year, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly alluded to a list of 50 new destinations under consideration by the airline's planning department, half of which he expected to see launched within three years. How many of those will be outside the country remains to be seen.

Southwest remains committed to maintaining a B737-only aircraft fleet, which limits the airline's flying to what it calls "near-international" countries. That presumably rules out Europe and Asia, but leaves plenty of room for expansion to closer-in destinations.

Along with its route map, Southwest will have to update its tagline. No longer "You are now free to move about the country," it's now "You are now free to move about the countries." Soon to be "You are now free to move about North America."  

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10 Niche Travel Product Companies We Love

Posted September 16, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Urban Junket)

This wasn't a story we could research—we had to wait for this one to come to us. A while back, we decided to keep tabs on some of our favorite smaller brands, the ones we stumbled across in the course of our travels, tried out, loved, and have come back to again and again. And now that we have collected enough of these good experiences with great brands, we're excited to share them with you. They're diverse in their offerings—from toiletry-kit treasures to ultrapackable jackets—but all share the distinction of being great travel companions that we can vouch for firsthand.

 

(Photo: Sea to Summit)

Sea to Summit

Even the strictly urban traveler can find something to love in Sea to Summit. The company—which was started by the first climber to scale the entire 29,000 feet of Mt. Everest, from sea level to summit—specializes in well-made, affordable outdoor equipment. Avid adventurers dig Sea to Summit's backpacking gear, but any traveler looking for lightweight travel accessories will appreciate its Travelling Light line. The range of ultralight travel bags, sacks, and cases is constructed with a special fabric known for its strength and durability. And each item weighs a fraction of what you'd normally expect—think 2.4-ounce daypacks and 2.8-ounce hanging toiletry bags.

 

(Photo: Anatomie)

Anatomie

It's definitely travel-friendly clothing, but you may not recognize it at first since there's nary a front-pleat or zip-off pant in sight. That's because Anatomie takes a different—and very refreshing—approach to the concept. Everything in this line of women's clothing is durable, extremely wrinkle-resistant (even when packed less than perfectly in a suitcase), and comfortable—all musts for travelwear. But unlike the majority of brands that cater to travelers, Anatomie makes elegant, flattering, and stylish clothes. And while this total-package approach to travel-friendly clothing comes with a higher price tag (pants run about $200), the adaptability, utility, and classic style of Anatomie makes any item a wise long-term investment. Plus, the company's dedication to customer service (for instance, you can call and they'll help you decide which pants would be best for your body type) makes the selection and purchase process a breeze.

 

(Photo: Flight 001)

Flight 001

Would it be an overstatement to say that Flight 001 has changed the way we pack? No, it would not. Over the years, we've relied on the company's six U.S. stores and online shop for bags, clever travel toiletries, jet-lag remedies, packing sacks, and endless gifts for the avid travelers in our lives. And we love it for that. But it wasn't until we bought the F1 Seat Pak, a multipocket organizer with a little loop to hang over the tray-table closure doohickey, that we were able to reinvent how we carry on. With zippered pockets to divide up all the things you'd need on a flight (ranging from your passport to your earplugs), you can pull it out when you get on the plane and not have to fumble around in your carry-on for the rest of the trip. And between trips, items like inflatable travel pillows and eye masks can stay packed and ready to go for next time.

 

(Photo: lululemon athletica via flickr/CC Attribution)

Craghoppers

Your clothes should have your back. And your front. And, well, pretty much everything in between. That's what we like about Craghoppers, a British outdoor-clothing company that's been keeping adventurers warm, dry, sun-protected, comfortable, and bug-bite-free for nearly 50 years. Its designs offer surprisingly sleek outdoorsy charm and do double-duty with fabrics designed to protect against the best and worst that nature can deliver. We're particularly enamored of the very lightweight and truly tiny-packing Pumori Packaway Jacket for women and the Compresslite Packaway Hooded Jacket for men, which compresses into a stuff sack that fits easily in a suitcase (or even a day bag).

 

(Photo: Humangear)

Humangear

The very things that have frustrated us for years about travel-sized refillable containers for toiletries—that we could shake them forever and not get that last bit out, that they're nearly impossible to clean, that they leak, and that we can never remember what we refilled them with last—are totally solved by Humangear's clever GoToob. GoToobs are soft but durable silicone tubes that you can squeeze every last drop out of (a key feature when you're traveling with minimal amounts of toiletries) and that can be easily disassembled and cleaned. They've also got a built-in labeling system, which means we never have to guess at what's inside. And they've never leaked. Not once. Humangear also makes GoTubb, a small hard-sided container, and a series of other small, clever, travel-friendly products.

 

(Photo: Urban Junket)

Urban Junket

Fashion-forward. Sturdy. Vegan. Non-toxic. There's a ton we love about the bags produced by Urban Junket, a brand we stumbled across while researching the story Travel Bag Details We Love. These bags win us over again and again with their attractive designs, great internal organization, and cool details like secret middle pockets, portable phone chargers, and pass-through pockets for slipping over the telescoping handles on luggage.

 

(Photo: RockItBot)

RockItBot

Ladies and gents, it’s time to rethink the wallet. That's the idea behind Etsy's RockItBot shop. Its handmade all-in-one Nerd Herder Gadget Wallets hold traditional items like credit cards, IDs, and cash, but a slightly larger design, fitted felt pockets, and a snug elastic loop create additional safe storage for smartphones or digital cameras. An array of pockets can hold earbuds, SD cards, passports, lip balm, USB devices, business cards, and whatever else you've got that needs herding. An integrated clip can be used for a small set of keys or can attach to a wristlet that turns the wallet into a clutch. We love the range of fabrics (some are a bit more masculine, others slightly more feminine). The shop also sells tablet keepers (with storage similar to the wallet) and other related accessories.

 

(Photo: Pad & Quill)

Pad & Quill

Minnesota-based Pad & Quill won over SmarterTravel editors by combining gorgeous craftsmanship, local manufacturing, and a surprising way to keep your gear safe with its bags, wallets, and smartphone and tablet cases. The Odyssey Wallet is sized perfectly for travel and fits a passport, a boarding pass, a few credit cards, and money all in one place. And we like the handmade phone and tablet cases not only because they effectively protect electronics as we're toting them around the world but also because they lend us a bit of class as we're doing so. And since they look more like a leather travel journal than an electronics case, they offer a bit of protective camouflage from thieves (unless you happen to be in a place where words are prized more than gadgets).

 

(Photo: This is Ground)

This Is Ground

There are a lot of handmade products on this list, and that's no accident. Travel is, in many ways, a handmade pursuit, built of personal interactions, individual discovery, and the sorts of experiences that can't be mass-produced. That spirit is alive and well at This Is Ground, a small Los Angeles-based company that makes by hand leather electronics and cord organizers, wallets, and more. We're particularly impressed with the Cordito, a roll-up organizer for chargers, wires, and power cords. While sandwich bags are the lightest option for taming the cord wilderness in a suitcase, the Cordito offers a far more elegant and personal solution—and one that comes in an impressive array of beautiful colors.

 

(Photo: Osprey)

Osprey

Ask people why they're devotees of Osprey backpacks and luggage and you'll usually find it's because the gear is lightweight and well made. Osprey has three options suited to travelers: convertible wheeled packs (most with zip-off daypacks), more traditional wheeled luggage, and backpacking backpacks. Another reason to love the company and its gear? The All Mighty Guarantee, which covers any damage or defect in any Osprey product, regardless of how old it is. Any item that can't be fixed will be replaced. If only all luggage had that kind of protection.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Niche Travel-Product Companies We Love.

Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Foreign Places That Accept U.S. Currency

Posted September 12, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Globe on U.S. Money via Shutterstock)

There are many great pleasures of the globe-trotting life, but dealing with pesky Travelex lines is not one of them. Sick of exchange rates, transaction fees, and coming home with pockets filled with useless coins? Here are 10 foreign destinations where you can pay with U.S. dollars, from the sunny and subtropical to the still-undiscovered.

 

(Photo: Roger Wallstadt via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

United States Virgin Islands

While not technically a foreign country (it's an unincorporated territory), the United States Virgin Islands feel like a million miles away—and we couldn't resist including this Caribbean destination. A speedy 2.5-hour flight from Miami whisks stateside trekkers to the Virgin Islands, where U.S. passports are unnecessary. The popular tropical stop's official currency is the U.S. dollar—handy for those looking to splurge on expensive goods in St. Thomas' portside boutiques. High-end labels like Gucci and Coach crowd Charlotte Amalie, where savvy shoppers swamp the jewelry stores, mining for deals on diamonds and Hublot watches. In fact, shopping sprees are among the U.S.V.I.'s big draws: U.S. citizens can purchase up to $1,600 worth of duty-free merchandise here, whereas the rest of the Caribbean caps duty-free purchases at just $800.

 

(Photo: Baths on Virgin Gorda via Shutterstock)

British Virgin Islands

Much like neighboring U.S.V.I., the British Virgin Islands employ the U.S. dollar as their official currency. This connection makes travel between the two island groups especially seamless—and gives the B.V.I. its reputation as a well-established tax haven. Don't have millions in corporate profits to shore up? You can still find a haven of sorts at the Baths on Virgin Gorda; this unusual rock formation is one of our favorite secret Caribbean attractions (and, aside from the swaying palms, it's a lot less shady).

 

(Photo: Historical Buildings in Quito, Ecuador via Shutterstock)

Ecuador

Ecuador's currency has a long history filled with House of Cards-style political intrigue: First, Ecuador employed the peso, then enjoyed a brief dalliance with the franco, then went back to the peso, and finally adopted the sucre, whose value nosedived in the late 1990s during a near economic collapse. In 2000, in order to stabilize the economy, the Ecuadorian government voted to adopt the U.S. dollar as the official currency. The controversial vote led to the ouster of then-President Jamil Mahuad, but the result was inevitable: U.S. travelers to Ecuador can now use the very same dollars they would at home (although Ecuador produces its own nifty centavo coins).

 

Isla Canales, Panama (Photo: LASZLO ILYES via flickr/CC Attribution

Panama

What's better than one official currency? Two, of course. In addition to its Panamanian balboa, Panama accepts the U.S. dollar "at par" (a rate of 1:1). This means that travelers don't have to worry about exchanging money in foreign airports or dealing with fluctuating exchange rates—making Panama an economical destination, at least for now. In 2014, the nation's large-scale canal expansion will come to an end, opening Panama's pristine beaches to large cruise ships and a surge of value-seeking tourists. So, savvy travelers would be wise to grab a fistful of dollars and head down there sooner rather than later.

 

(Photo: Atlantis Paradise Island)

Bahamas

Like the Panamanian balboa, the Bahamian dollar enjoys a fixed 1:1 exchange rate with the USD (and the two currencies share a name and a familiar symbol, $). Despite the equitable rate, it may not get you far in this popular (and oft-expensive) tropical destination. Accommodations can be pricey, but they are abundant, from superluxe ocean clubs to the family-friendly Atlantis. Plus, the added convenience of businesses accepting both U.S. and Bahamian dollars is worth a pretty penny.

 

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (Photo: Daniel Ross via flickr/CC Attribution)

Turks and Caicos

Once overrun by pirates, Turks and Caicos is now teeming with tourists drawn to its serene beaches and clear waters. And while Forbes counts Turks and Caicos among the world's top tax havens, the islands have much to offer to the 200,000-some travelers who venture here for pleasure, not business. In addition to its convenient official currency, there is no sales tax or VAT (value-added tax). It may not be the shopping mecca of St. Thomas or St. Maarten, but the island of Providenciales boasts upscale malls and local boutiques, where those U.S. dollars can be spent on handmade artwork and jewelry.

 

(Photo: Martin Garrido via flickr/CC Attribution)

Vietnam

Vietnam's only official currency is the dong (established in 1978 after the fall of Saigon), but U.S. dollars have long been unofficially accepted as payment in this Southeast Asian nation. Urban tourist centers like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offer visitors much in the way of museums, temples, sacred lakes, and even the culinary arts; affordable accommodations at dollar-friendly hotels add to the allure. But in recent years, the State Bank of Vietnam has made a concerted effort to limit the flood of American dollars into the already-shaky economy, even fining restaurants for listing prices in USD. What this means for U.S. travelers is still unknown, but many travel resources recommend relying on the Vietnamese dong.

 

(Photo: Angkor Wat, Cambodia via Shutterstock)

Cambodia

We recently crowned Cambodia one of our 10 Places You Should Go While They're Still Cheap for a number of reasons, including its immersive culture and inexpensive lodgings. Not only is the country budget-friendly, but cash is king in Cambodia—American cash, that is. You won't need much of it: Travelers can easily live on less than $50 a day and may never need to change over to the official Cambodian riel. However, Lonely Planet recommends that you always "have about $10 worth of riel kicking around, for motorbike rides and markets."

 

Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua (Photo: Montecruz Foto via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Nicaragua

Another one of our 10 Places You Should Go While They're Still Cheap, Nicaragua has been on our radar this year for its diverse natural wonders and relative affordability. The Central American nation has its own currency, the unusually colorful cordoba, but payment in U.S. dollars is widely accepted throughout the country. Don't be surprised if the price goes up the minute you pull out a stack of greenbacks, though: According to some experts, shopkeepers may charge you a bit more when paying in U.S. dollars. Your best bet may be to carry small bills in both currencies, especially outside of your resort.

 

(Photo: Dock on the Coast of Belize via Shutterstock)

Belize

Belize is a nation that defies simple definition. Technically part of Central America, yet outwardly Caribbean with its laid-back culture and spotless white sands, Belize is a former British settlement that currently holds USD-backed currency. Indeed, the nation has never attached its currency to the pound sterling; rather, its legal tender (the Belizean dollar) has always been pegged to the U.S. dollar at a 1:2 ratio. This makes beachy Belize one of the priciest Central American nations but, curiously, one of the cheapest destinations on the Caribbean Sea.

Note: Though many businesses accept U.S. bills, prices in Belize may be quoted in the official currency or in USD. It's wise to ask your tour operator or shopkeeper about their pricing method before you whip out your wallet—especially since the two dollars share the same symbol, $.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Foreign Countries Where You Can Use U.S. Dollars.

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

7 Most Entertaining Airports in the World

Posted September 10, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Zurich Airport)

Movie theaters at the airport? Yep, and a skating rink, too. Here are seven international airports that go beyond free Wi-Fi and luggage carts to offer truly entertaining amenities.

 

(Photo: Esther Westerveld via flickr/CC Attribution)

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport highlights: "Holland Boulevard," a library, Dutch Kitchen restaurant, a museum, and Holland Casino.

 

(Photo: Changi Airport Group)

Changi International Airport, Changi, Singapore

Changi International Airport highlights: Nature trails, gardens, a four-story slide, a rooftop pool, and a movie theater (free admission).

 

(Photo: Munich Airport)

Munich Airport, Munich, Germany

Munich Airport highlights: Airbrau brewery and restaurant, free surfing lessons in the outdoor wave pool (summer only), volleyball tournaments, and a Christmas market.

 

(Photo: zionorbi via flickr/CC Attribution)

Incheon International Airport, Incheon, South Korea

Incheon International Airport highlights: "Spa on Air" sauna, Thai massage, the Ice Forest skating rink, a movie theater, gardens, and traditional musical performances.

 

(Photo: Hong Kong International Airport)

Hong Kong International Airport, Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong

Hong Kong International Airport highlights: A nine-hole golf course, the Aviation Discovery Center, the Dream Come True Education Park, and an IMAX theater.

 

(Photo: Larry Goldstein)

Vancouver International Airport, Richmond, British Columbia

Vancouver International Airport highlights: A 114,000-liter aquarium and a jellyfish exhibit.

 

(Photo: Zurich Airport)

Zurich Airport, Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich Airport highlights: Observation decks and a miniature airport for children.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title The World's Seven Most Entertaining Airports.

8 Cheap Ways to Enjoy a Layover

Posted September 8, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Getty Images/Vetta)

Sometimes long layovers are inescapable, meaning you could be stuck at the airport for hours. But savvy travelers know that there are fun, inexpensive ways to entertain themselves between flights. Read on for eight of our favorite activities that are perfect for killing time at the airport.

 

(Photo: athriftymrs.com via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Listen to an Audiobook

Some flyers find it difficult to read at busy, bustling airports. The constant click-clack of rolling bags, the screeching of children, the loudspeaker announcements reminding the Smiths to proceed with the speed of light toward their departure gate—it's enough noise to make reading all but impossible. The solution? Audiobooks. I'm a recent convert to Audible, which has some 150,000 titles to choose from. (New members even get a free trial audiobook, which means skeptical users can give the site a no-strings-attached try.) Just remember to download the audiobooks before you get to the airport, as download speeds can be sluggish.

 

(Photo: Kiran Jonnalagadda via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Freewrite

Experts often extoll the benefits of writing. In fact, a 2005 study in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment found that expressive writing improves mood and well-being while reducing stress levels and blood pressure. So what better place to work on your self-betterment than at the airport? Whether you pack a laptop or tablet or go old-school with a Moleskine and pen, find a comfortable spot or workspace at the airport and simply begin writing. Relive your recent travels, begin your memoirs, or start the crime novel that's been kicking around in your brain for years. You'll be surprised how much time will disappear. Some first- and business-class lounges have workspaces with desks.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/Eyecandy Images)

Meditate

The great thing about meditation is that you can do it from just about anywhere. First, download onto your iPod or smartphone whatever music you find most relaxing. Then take the time to do some deep-breathing exercises (we like these 10-minutes-or-less recommendations). Carve out your own personal space, whether it's at an empty gate or a quiet terminal corner. Some airports, like San Francisco, have dedicated yoga studios for flyers who need a moment of zen. At other airports, chapels offer peaceful, out-of-the-way places perfect for meditation and prayer.

(Just remember: If a relaxation exercise requires you to close your eyes, make sure your travel partner keeps an eye on your belongings. If you're traveling alone, either sit on your belongings or stick to techniques with eyes wide open.)

 

(Photo: Shardayyy via flickr/CC Attribution)

Stream a Netflix Movie or Series

Unless you really like watching an entire CNN news cycle, the airport television lineup can be a bit bleak. Don't subject yourself to hours of infomercials and not-really-breaking news. Instead, sign up for a Netflix streaming-only account, don your headphones, and zone out for a while. At the beginning of each month, Netflix gets an influx of new movies and television shows, plus the service produces its own original programming. (Trust us, we have watched Orange Is the New Black while stuck in Detroit Metro Airport. For eight hours.) You can check your airport's Wi-Fi speeds in Where to Find the Fastest Wi-Fi on the Road. If you're flying international, Netflix may not work, but here is a sneaky way around that.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Take a Walk

Sure, you may want to stake a claim on the choice seats closest to the gate, but if you've got untold hours to kill, a long walk is a great way to stretch and stay active. Download an airport map so you know where you are going, or if time allows, simply stroll aimlessly from terminal to terminal. A good brisk walk for 30 minutes can burn 100 or so calories, plus you'll familiarize yourself with an airport through which you'll likely pass again on your travels.

 

(Photo: Getty Images/E+)

Download Apps and Games

While stuck at Newark Airport on a long layover, I watched a preteen complain to her mother, "I have nothing to do!" … while waving around an iPhone and an iPad. As of June, there are an estimated 1.2 million apps available for Apple users and another 1.3 for Android users, so use them. There are apps for every conceivable hobby or interest. Some favorite time-wasters are QuizUp, for testing your knowledge against random players worldwide; 2048, a super-addictive numbers game; Duolingo, fun, free language software; and SketchBook Express, for all your doodling needs. Just remember to bring a phone charger so you don't drain your battery.

 

(Photo: Holidayextras via flickr/CC Attribution)

Treat Yourself

Whenever I have a layover that lasts more than a few hours, I allow myself one pampering purchase, even if it's small or cheap. That gives me something to look forward to, even during the endless hours spent waiting for my next flight. Before you get to the airport, look up shops and services in your terminal (or check out our list of cool airport amenities). Then set aside a small amount of time and cash for an in-airport treat, whether it's a new book, an express pedicure, or something as simple as a good glass of wine.

 

(Photo: Paul VanDerWerfH via flickr/CC Attribution)

Grab a Rocking Chair

Sleep pods and ergonomic work chairs may be flashier, but a good old-fashioned rocking chair is still a favorite spot for harried travelers, and many domestic airports still have them. Grab a relaxing tea at the nearest Starbucks, find a rocking chair with a view of the arriving and departing planes, and kick back. Some experts say that the smooth, gentle rocking motion releases endorphins and can reduce anxiety—perfect to combat the stress of flying.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Eight Cheap Ways to Kill Time During a Layover.

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

6 Most Annoying Airline Fees

Posted September 5, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Eye Candy Images/Getty Images)

Airline fees: a big source of irritation for consumers and good joke fodder for comedians. Most newer fees cover services that were formerly included in the price of a ticket, which is annoying, but those services—from handling checked baggage to providing in-flight meals—generate out-of-pocket costs for airlines. Moreover, travelers can choose to avoid paying these fees.

But the most annoying fees are the ones that don't have any rational justification. These include supposedly "optional" fees that, really, are often not optional; fees for actions that benefit airlines; and gouge fees unrelated to any real airline costs. Airlines often waive or reduce these fees for travelers on premium-class or full-fare economy tickets, exalted-level frequent flyers, and travelers using some airline-sponsored credit cards. But ordinary travelers either pay or go without.

 

(Photo: LaMenta3 via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Online Booking Fee

Although this hit is relatively minor, the fee of $10 to $17 that Allegiant, Spirit, and several overseas low-fare airlines assess for online booking is worse than a gouge—it's a scam. Online booking is by far the lowest-cost way for an airline to sell tickets. Issuing fees to flyers who buy online is an outrage. Airlines get away with it because the only no-fee alternative—schlepping out to an airport ticket counter—costs more than the fee and is a waste of time.

 

(Photo: Richard Moross via flickr/CC Attribution)

Frequent-Flyer Award Processing Fee

If you ticket a frequent-flyer award flight less than 21 days in advance of departure, American and United each charge an "award processing fee" of $75. That's 100 percent pure gouge: You do it online, the computers do all the work, and your booking date has no effect whatsoever on the airline's processing costs. Fortunately, Delta doesn't hit you with this one.

 

(Photo: dykstranet via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Same-Day Standby Fee

Most big airlines charge you extra to stand by for an earlier flight on your scheduled day of departure. The fee is typically less than the regular ticket-change fee, at $50 to $75, but it's a gouge. Furthermore, it's annoying, because you're paying a fee for an action that benefits the airline. Say you get to the airport several hours before your scheduled flight, and your airline has seats available on an earlier flight that hasn't left yet. Switching to that earlier flight should be a win-win: You get where you're going earlier, and the airline gets the chance to resell your original seat to someone else. But that doesn't stop the airline from gouging you. Feh!

 

(Photo: Grant Wickes via flickr/CC Attribution)

Frequent-Flyer Award Fee

Many airlines based outside the U.S. break true fares into lowball base fares plus "carrier imposed" surcharges, sometimes called fuel surcharges. Normally, this practice doesn't affect you, because the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to post all-up prices from the very beginning of the fare-search process. Nevertheless, airlines stick it to consumers when they add those fees to supposedly "free" frequent-flyer awards and companion tickets. These fees are a pure gouge and an outright scam. And they can be big: I've seen fees as high as $1,000 on a frequent-flyer award ticket to Europe.

 

(Photo: timo_w2s via flickr/CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Ticket-Change Fee

In many ways, this not-always-optional "optional" fee is the most annoying because it can be such a huge dollar hit—up to $700 per person. Unforeseen circumstances occasionally require that you cancel or postpone a trip. And the travel insurance that airlines offer doesn't cover many reasons for cancellation.

Industry insiders estimate that the actual cost to an airline is somewhere under $50, so the typical fees of around $200 for a domestic ticket and up to $700 for an international ticket are excessive by any standard.

Strange as it sounds, however, there is an offsetting consumer benefit that comes out of change fees (so long as they're reasonable). Absent the fees, lots of business travelers who normally buy expensive flexible tickets might instead buy the lowest nonrefundable fares, figuring to exchange the tickets if the need arises. But if airlines found too many high-fare travelers switching to low-fare tickets, they'd have to raise the lowest fares. So the change fees are, in a sense, helping airlines to keep fares affordable.

 

(Photo: kevin dooley via flickr/CC Attribution)

Early Boarding/Advance Seat Assignment Fee

This is a classic blackmail fee. If you don't pay extra, people who do will snap up the best seats and fill up the overhead bins before you have a chance. As a result, you're almost certain to be stuck in a middle seat, and the chances of finding bin space or two adjoining seats for a couple are very small. It's a clear case of "pay up or suffer."

Which airline fees do you find the most frustrating?

 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Six Most Annoying Airline Fees.

Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Cool Converted Schoolhouse Hotels

Posted September 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Hillside Schoolhouse)

We're sad to report that summer is over and classes are back in session. No longer in school? No problem. We found some amazing schoolhouses around the world that have been transformed into unique hotels, perfect for a back-to-school break. Pack your best Trapper Keeper and Lisa Frank pencils: Here are 10 cool converted schoolhouse hotels you won't mind reporting to.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Miss Clara Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden

In the center of Stockholm, find the refined Miss Clara. The boutique hotel, which made its debut in April, is a former girls' boarding school named after its first headmistress, Clara Stromberg. Within its art nouveau exterior are airy rooms with decidedly Scandinavian design details: dark parquet floors, fluffy white duvets, and ruler-straight lines. The modern lobby even features an original 1910 staircase. But its best feature? Enormous windows that look out onto the bustling street—perfect for daydreaming without the threat of detention.

 

(Photo: Hillside Schoolhouse)

Hillside Schoolhouse, Catskills, New York

At this classic one-room schoolhouse just 90 minutes outside of Manhattan, you'll hardly be roughing it. The 1893 property and its two bedrooms are chicly renovated with salvaged antiques, plush king beds, and C.O. Bigelow bath amenities. The main floor contains a shared dining room and kitchen and two original coatrooms—perfect places to stash your coat and backpack after a day spent hiking the hills or canoeing the Upper Delaware. Of course, guests seeking solitude can just curl up in a vintage chair and enjoy a good book in true Catskills seclusion.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Whitley Hall Hotel, Sheffield, England

The rolling countryside of Yorkshire, England, gives way to the hamlet of Whitley, where visitors can find luxurious Whitley Hall. The Tudor manse was once a private residence where, local legend has it, Mary, Queen of Scots, spent the night in the 1580s. In the late 18th century, the property was converted into a boys' boarding school before ultimately becoming a hotel and restaurant. Now it has 32 cozy en suite bedrooms with four-poster beds (no creaky bunks or bathroom stalls here).

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Washington School House Hotel, Park City, Utah

This chic ski town has plenty of hotel options, but the Washington School House is certainly its most unique. Now an elegant boutique hotel, this limestone building was one of the three original schools in Park City. Now, it's one of the area's top stays according to TripAdvisor reviewers, who love the 12 luxurious rooms, ski valet, fireplace, and heated year-round pool. And just minutes away by foot are all of downtown Park City's pleasures: museums, galleries, spas, restaurants, nightclubs, and, of course, skiing.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Wanderlust Hotel, Singapore

This fantastical, almost dreamlike boutique hotel in Singapore embraces the weird. In the city's Little India neighborhood, the Wanderlust Hotel's rooms are a hodgepodge of styles, with candy-colored lighting, lofted bunk beds, and outré designer wallpapers. In one guest room, a giant typewriter doubles as a couch, while one floor features rooms rendered in different Pantone colors. (It's hard to imagine that this cheeky boutique was once a boring school.) Now if only all of your art projects were this good.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

School House Inn, Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee, Arizona, is what remains of the true Wild West, some 90 minutes southeast of Tucson. Today, the town is filled with well-restored Victorian homes, former saloons, and inactive copper mines—and the quaint School House Inn. Originally built as an elementary school, the rectangular brick building now houses guest rooms with academic themes: the Art Room with oil paintings, the History Room with a letter by Abraham Lincoln, and even a two-bedroom suite called the Principal's Office.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Schoolhouse Hotel, Dublin, Ireland

You'd never know this quiet and quaint hotel in Dublin's leafy Ballsbridge area was once a schoolhouse. The building began its life as St. Stephens Parochial School in 1861 but is now the aptly named Schoolhouse Hotel. It's something of a hidden gem among Dublin's hustle and bustle. Rooms are peaceful, decorated in a warm palette of gold and red. When you're well rested and ready to join the rest of the class, enjoy a drink in the Schoolhouse Bar's airy interior or in one of its cozy reading nooks.

 

(Photo: Tripadvisor, LLC)

Schoolhouse Studio, Taos, New Mexico

This vacation rental via Airbnb is rich in history and local lore. Originally part of the St. Theresa's Mission, the mid-19th-century schoolhouse still retains its spare Southwestern charms: exposed beams, adobe walls, and small windows that face the sacred Taos Pueblo land. Restored with modern amenities, it's now included on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can paint or write in the open-air courtyard, soak in the hot tub, or take a quick five-minute walk to downtown Taos.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

The Conservatorium Hotel, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This property in the heart of Amsterdam, located just between Vondelpark and the Van Gogh Museum, is bursting with history. The building was once a music conservatory—hence the name—before being converted into a sleek, modern hotel. Now, The Conservatorium Hotel's 129 stylish rooms are frequented as often as the award-winning on-site spa, the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre, where cutting-edge fitness equipment and yoga and Pilates lessons are the very antithesis of gym class.

 

(Photo: Liz Devine)

McMenamins' Kennedy School, Portland, Oregon

Since its opening bell in 1915, the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland has been a neighborhood fixture. More than just a hotel, this quirky inn contains a movie theater and a brewery (two of our favorite extracurricular activities). Guest rooms retain hints of their former lives, with original chalkboards and cloakrooms, while rooms in the English Wing, opened in 2012, have literary themes and hand-painted headboard murals. For those who hated gym class, an on-site ceramic soaking pool will wash bad memories away.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Cool Converted Schoolhouse Hotels.

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Things You Should Pack (But Probably Won't)

Posted September 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Woman Holding Orange Suitcase via Shutterstock)

Yes, your passport and wallet (and probably some clean underwear) deserve to be at the top of your packing list. But in the rush to remember the essentials, travelers sometimes underestimate the power of the nice-to-haves. Humble objects, ranging from an empty reusable water bottle to bandages, can save time and money and go far toward boosting the quality of your travels. Here are the items we often forget to pack—and always regret not having in our suitcase.

 

(Photo: Water Bottles via Shutterstock)

Reusable Water Bottle

Reusable water bottles are worth their weight when you travel. Throw your empty water bottle of choice into your carry-on, then fill it up post-security at the airport (if you prefer to avoid water fountains, just ask at a cafe or restaurant) and you won't have to depend on the flight attendant to keep you hydrated. When you arrive at your destination, your next refill is as close as the tap, as long as the water is potable. Even if the water is questionable, you can opt to purchase one large plastic jug of water instead of dozens of smaller ones and just refill your reusable bottle as necessary.

Not only is a reusable water bottle sturdier (and it leaks less) than a convenience-store bottle, it also keeps your water tasting more like water and less like hot plastic. For travel, consider getting a slightly smaller water bottle that fits easily in a purse or bag. There are plenty of aluminum, glass, stainless steel, and hard-plastic options in the 12-ounce range.

 

(Photo: Plastic Bags via Shutterstock)

Laundry Bag

Suitcases are tight quarters. One dirty sock or wet bathing suit can turn an entire vacation wardrobe into a dirt-smeared, olfactory mess. Don't make your clean clothes rub elbows (or knees, or feet) with your dirties—pack a small laundry bag that can contain wet, soiled, and smelly clothes. A simple grocery bag will do, but if you want to get fancy you can also find reusable options such as Flight 001's resin-coated Go Clean Wet Suit bag or nylon Go Clean Laundry bag. And if you forget a bag, check the closet of your hotel room; many still stock a plastic bag for in-hotel dry-cleaning services.

 

(Photo: Travel-Sized First Aid Kit via Shutterstock)

First Aid Supplies

Blisters happen. So do scrapes and scratches. Don't be that person who ends up spending $7 on a pack of five bandages because you forgot to throw a few in your bag when you were packing. In travel destinations, basic first aid supplies tend to be overpriced, and it's not always convenient to hobble to a store post-injury in search of emergency supplies. Instead, make yourself a little first aid kit and keep it with your toiletries. You don't need anything complicated, just a few bandages, some antibiotic ointment (look for the individual-use packs), and maybe some moleskin if you have a tendency to injure yourself with your footwear.

 

(Photo: lululemon athletica via flickr/CC Attribution)

Reusable Shopping Bag

Do you chronically leave a stack of plastic or paper shopping bags behind in your hotel room when you check out? Then you're the perfect candidate for a reusable shopping bag that can be folded up and stowed in your day bag, then whipped out to hold the day's purchases. And since reusable bags tend to be tougher than their disposable brethren, they are handy for heavier purchases and can do double duty as picnic baskets and beach bags.

 

(Photo: Granola Bar Snacks via Shutterstock)

Emergency Snack

There are dozens of scenarios in which an emergency snack might come in handy. You arrive late at a hotel with no room service. You miss your train and find yourself stuck at a country rail station where live pigeons are the only source of protein. Your late-night connection is canceled and all the shops are closed at the airport. Protein bars, nuts, and other items that don't get mushy or need to be refrigerated are perfect snacks to keep stashed in your bag. And let's face it, an on-the-go snack is never unwelcome, even if you sail through your trip food-emergency free.

 

(Photo: Simon Yeo via flickr/CC Attribution)

Extra Memory Card

Two scenarios: In the first, you pack an extra memory card, and when your first is full, you simply flip open your camera, swap in the new one, and get on with your vacation. In the second, you stop everything, have to ask the concierge where the nearest electronics store is, figure out how to ask for the right one in the local language, then pay the marked-up price. Play out these two stories as you're packing your camera as a reminder of why it's always worth it to bring an extra memory card.

 

(Photo: Andrew Braithwaite via flickr/CC Attribution)

Hand Sanitizer

The CDC recommends frequent hand washing to prevent illness. Since hygiene standards vary among destinations, and because the hand-washing trinity of water-soap-drying implement is not always available, keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your day bag is your ace in the hole. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 percent alcohol), rubbed on your hands until they are dry. While hand sanitizers aren't as effective when your hands are visibly dirty, they can be very handy when you're on the go and need a quick clean.

 

(Photo: Lip Balm via Shutterstock)

Lip Balm

Even if you don't normally use lip balm, it can still be an important item to pack. Breathing dry airplane air, being out in the sun, eating salty foods in transit—travel inevitably leads to mild dehydration and chapped lips. And there's something off-putting and vaguely predatory about constantly licking your lips; it's definitely not the way to make friends in an unfamiliar culture. Lip balm can also be used to tame frizzy hair ends, soothe dry cuticles, protect the skin from windburn, and even unstick a stubborn zipper.

 

(Photo: Traveler Holding Passport via Shutterstock)

Copies of Travel Documents

The last thing most people want to do when packing is scan and print or photocopy their passport and other important documents. However, in the unlikely but serious event that your passport or visa is lost or stolen, it's a big help to have an extra copy on hand. Stash the copies in a separate place from the actual documents, so if you lose one, you'll likely still have the other. At the very least, write down your passport number and email it to yourself or simply email the scans of the documents. Losing your passport is panic-inducing and can potentially ruin a vacation, so this is one of those times when it pays to take a few extra just-in-case steps.

 

(Photo: Colorful Flip-Flops via Shutterstock)

More Good-to-Remember

The items that will go farthest toward making your trip easy are going to vary based on your destination and style, but here are a few more things we've found most useful on our journeys:

Flip-Flops: We're not suggesting flip-flops as a fashion statement, but rather as a hygiene measure if you're headed to any spas, pools, shared bathrooms, or other moist and warm environments where a bit of extra foot protection might matter.  

Stain Remover: Last year, editor Caroline Costello reviewed the Tide to Go Stain Eraser and found that it saved her from walking around all day with a giant coffee stain on her shirt. Stain-erasing wipes and pens take up little space and offer quick fixes for messes—a big plus for travelers with limited wardrobes.

Host Gifts: Whether you're visiting old friends, meeting business associates, or will be invited into a home during your travels, it's always nice to come prepared with a small gift. Gift-giving practices vary by country, so before you choose a gift to pack, do a bit of research to make sure it's an appropriate item.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Easy Things You Should Pack but Probably Won't.

Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.


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