Categories
At Home Food & Drink Staycation

Hotels’ Beloved Comfort Food (and Drink) Recipes

After weeks of being largely home bound, the prospect of some outsourced-to-a-hotel TLC is sounding pretty good. And while travel is still off the table, these recipes for hotels’ famous signature comfort foods can help you serve yourself a travel-inspired treat.

Doubletree Cookies

baked cookies on a plate

The rumors are true: Doubletree has taken pity on us in our homebound states and given the world the recipe for its signature chocolate chip cookies. Create your hotel-at-home experience by baking these cookies and then making your quarantine companions pretend to check in (you get to choose if they get upgraded or not) in order to score a cookie. Ingredients are mostly pantry staples, but include a surprising ingredient that must be the explanation for why these beloved cookies taste so good.

Kimpton TV Snacks

Homemade Buffalo Chicken Dip with Cheese and Crostini

There’s a proud tradition of game-day eats, but what do we call the food we prepare to help us keep our strength up through a Netflix series binge? Whatever that word is, apply it to Kimpton’s recipes for upscale game-day eats. Buffalo chicken dip, sausage-stuffed jalapenos, and queso-dip-inspired nachos will get us through. 

Fairmont Biscuits and Scones

Fairmont Biscuits and Scones

Fairmonts around the world bring their A-game to culinary offerings. Among the most quarantine-friendly (and pantry-staple-oriented) recipes are those for buttermilk biscuits, courtesy of the Fairmont Austin; and Fairmont Empress’ scones via a recipe printed on a tea towel and published around the internet. Bonus points for making your own clotted cream

St. Regis Bloody Mary 

The St. Regis Red Snapper Bloody Mary Mix, created exclusively by Arrowhead Farms

Bloody marys are comfort food in alcoholic beverage form. Perfect for breakfast, or lunch, or before dinner, they provide just the right balance of healthy indulgence. And, it turns out, they are eminently adaptable: St. Regis hotels around the world have tweaked the classic recipe to come up with more than 40 signature marys. Meaning even if you can’t travel the world in person, you can still drink your way around the globe. Let’s just hope the next shortage isn’t tomato juice. 

Pizza from Loews

Fresh pizza with tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms on wooden table closeup

Looking for at-home pizza inspiration? Loews Hotels can help with its roundup of pizza recipes from hotels around the U.S. Start with the recipe for its pizza dough and then decide your destination by choosing among favorite toppings at hotels in Chicago, Miami, Orlando, and Minneapolis. 

Breakfast Foods and More Snacks from B&Bs

Gooey Coffee Cake

You know who really has their comfort-food offerings perfected? Bed and breakfast owners. BBOnline’s collection of recipes from B&Bs around the United States includes but doesn’t limit itself to breakfast. There are also dinner recipes, breads, desserts, appetizers, and more. From award-winning coffee cake to pecan pie cheesecake, these recipes will help you bring home that warm, welcoming feeling that B&Bs are known for. 

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Our Favorite Items for the Home

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.
Categories
Health & Wellness Packing

8 Packable Things That Could Save Your Life

Earthquakes. Fires. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Most of us don’t think about these things as we’re packing, but when we visit destinations vulnerable to certain types of disasters, we take on the real risk of an emergency.

I live about 10 blocks from one of California’s major faults, so disaster preparedness is a small but important part of my family’s daily life. Until recently, however, I hadn’t much thought about how to translate the lessons I’ve learned from my local emergency-response community to the realm of travel. But then I realized that many of the most important items to have in the event of a major disaster are not only small and portable, but they have plenty of travel uses as well.

Here’s our shortlist of packable things that could save your life while on the road.

Whistle

plastic whistle

This is something that many people in earthquake-prone regions already have on their keychain. A whistle (opt for a “pealess” whistle, one that does not contain a cork pea, for maximum durability) can help rescuers find you if you’re trapped in a building or under rubble after a disaster. The high-pitched sound can be easier to detect than the human voice, and it can be indispensable when dehydration or crushing has impaired your ability to yell.

Other Travel Uses: Personal safety if you’re walking alone or at night, rallying a group or family, or kicking off an impromptu potato-sack race.

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Flashlight

small flashlight product image

In a disaster, electricity is often the first thing to go. And if you’re in a building or on the subway, you may need a light source to help you find your way out. (While you could use your phone for this purpose, you’ll likely want to preserve its battery for other uses during an emergency.) Choose from the many small, keychain-sized LED flashlights with long battery lives and bright lights that are on the market.

Other Travel Uses: Finding your way back to camp after a midnight trip to the loo, reading in bed at a hotel without waking a sleeping partner, or navigating poorly lit paths and uneven surfaces.

First-Aid Kit

299 piece first-aid kit

Staying as healthy as possible is key in the aftermath of a disaster, and that means effectively tending to minor injuries. First-aid kit basics such as individually wrapped alcohol pads, small packets of antibiotic ointment, and a selection of bandages can help you keep minor abrasions from becoming infected. Plus, they take up virtually no room in a bag.

Other Travel Uses: Caring for blisters, scratches, or bug bites or helping strangers in need of a quick fix.

[st_related]What Do I Need in My Travel First-Aid Kit?[/st_related]

Rescue Blanket

foil rescue blanket

Staying warm can be a challenge if you find yourself exposed to the elements for an extended period. Even if you’re inside when disaster strikes, heating systems may not work. A Mylar rescue blanket is an incredibly light, stowable, and efficient way to stay warm with just your own body heat.

Other Travel Uses: A makeshift picnic blanket, a backup warmth layer for evenings under the stars or at the beach, or a hygienic floor cover for desperate moments when you need a place to rest during an overnight airport layover.

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Neckerchief

Dust from debris can cause short-term breathing problems and long-term health issues. While a simple bandana or neckerchief won’t filter out everything, it will provide coverage against larger airborne particles, and that can be just what you need to get to safety. Since basic bandanas are small and fold up nicely, you can carry a few to distribute to companions.

Other Travel Uses: Containing your cold on an airplane or as dust-storm protection.

[st_related]Skip the Airplane Cold: 5 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick After Flying[/st_related]

Back-up Charger

phone charging pack

Charging your phone requires both electricity and access to an outlet—two conditions that can be hard to meet after a major disaster. Travel with a small battery- or solar-powered charger to prolong the life of your cell phone in an emergency. Even if phone and Wi-Fi systems are down, this will allow you to use your phone as a flashlight, for documentation, and to access apps designed to be helpful in emergencies.

Other Travel Uses: Helping you stay connected (via apps, maps, social media, email, and phone) whenever your phone battery runs low.

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Water

Simple water bottle

Clean water is one of the most important things you can have with you after a disaster. To be prepared, buy a reusable water bottle and fill it every morning. To increase the chance you’ll actually carry it with you, choose a smaller size (for instance, Simple Modern’s 17-ounce bottle) that doesn’t take up much room in a day bag.

Other Travel Uses: Preventing dehydration while saving money and resources.

Food

variety of nut snacks

After a disaster, food is often in short supply. Keep a spare high-protein snack in the bottom of your bag and you’ll be able to maintain energy longer. Nuts and health bars are easy, non-perishable options to have on hand while you travel.

Other Travel Uses: Avoiding blood-sugar spirals when you’re out and about.

More Ways to Stay Safe

fema alerts app screenshots

A large part of surviving a disaster is preparing in advance. Here are two more small steps you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe in the event of an emergency.

Know Possible Destination Risks: There’s no predicting every risk in a destination, but it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the potential vulnerabilities of a place before you arrive. FEMA has a free app (iOS | Android) with tips on how to prepare for and deal with disasters, including earthquakes, severe weather, terrorism, volcanoes, and wildfires.

Keep Your Shoes by the Bed: If disaster strikes while you’re in bed, you’ll want to have a pair of shoes close by to protect your feet from broken glass or other sharp objects that may have fallen on the floor. Before you go to sleep, place a pair of shoes (and socks) within arm’s reach of the bed. In earthquake-prone areas, some experts suggest tying the laces of your shoes together and securing them to a heavy piece of furniture so they’re less likely to slide away in the event of sharp movement.

Our Favorite Items for the Home

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Packing

10 Ultralight Rolling Carry-on Bags Under 6 Pounds

Here’s the thing about ultralight luggage: It’s not always very light. In our opinion, the ultralight category should be reserved for suitcases six pounds and under. But such lightweight luggage can be hard to find.

The Lightest Carry-on Luggage

We’ve rounded up 10 carry-on spinner and roller bags that weigh in under the six-pound mark. They range in price from affordable to splurge-worthy and come with a variety of bells and whistles. From lightest to heaviest (based on manufacturers’ specs), here they are.

IT luggage 22″ World’s Lightest 8-Wheel Spinner

The Numbers: The 22-inch IT luggage 22″ World’s Lightest 8-Wheel Spinner weighs a measly 4.07 pounds.

Why We Like It: This ultra-lightweight carry-on is highly rated on Amazon thanks to easy-glide wheels, surprising durability, and a 10-year warranty.

Lipault Paris Original Plume 20″ Spinner Carry-On Luggage

The Numbers: The 20-inch Original Plume 20″ Spinner Carry-on is just 4.125 pounds.

Why We Like It: The bag manages to squeeze in features such as four spinner wheels and functional pockets without adding a lot of weight to the design.

Jetstream 18-Inch Lightweight Softside Carry-On

The Numbers: The Jetstream 18-Inch Lightweight Softside Carry-On is 4.4 pounds.

Why We Like It: It’s an affordable carry-on that manages to come in under the five-pound mark by keeping things simple.

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Samsonite Lite-Box 20″ Spinner

The Numbers: The Samsonite Lite-Box 20″ Spinner weighs 4.85 pounds.

Why We Like It: With an appealing balance of form and function, the Lite-Box offers a sleek design and was built for strength and handling thanks to details like outside corner protection. Plus, it’s the only hard-sided luggage we could find that is this lightweight.

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Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled Duffel Carry-On

The Numbers: The 22-inch Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Wheeled Duffel weighs 5.19 pounds.

Why We Like It: It’s a rolling bag with the ability to hold more: You can strap additional equipment to the Gear Warrior’s front. It also also has compression straps, lockable zippers, and a bottle opener.

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Aerolite Carry-on MAX Lightweight

The Numbers: The 22-inch Aerolite Carry-On MAX Lightweight weighs 5.3 pounds.

Why We Like It: Aerolite’s lightweight carry-on has roomy pockets, an affordable price, and a five-year guarantee.

Travelpro Maxlite 5 Expandable Carry-On

The Numbers: The 22-inch Travelpro Maxlite 5 is 5.4 pounds.

Why We Like It: In many cases, lightweight comes at the expense of durability. Not so with this elegant, streamlined bag, which was built to be lightweight and tough.

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Bric’s X-BAG 21″ Carry-on Spinner

The Numbers: The 21-inch Bric’s X-Bag Carry-on Spinner weighs 5.5 pounds.

Why We Like It: This dependable nylon carry-on can fit a ton, plus it’s stylish. It doesn’t skimp on features either, with four 360-degree spinner wheels, a telescoping handle, and leather detailing.

Lucas Ultra Lightweight 20″ Spinner

The Numbers: The Lucas Ultra Lightweight 20″ Spinner weighs 5.8 pounds.

Why We Like It: We love its roomy pockets and spinner wheels.

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it luggage 22″ Lustrous Softside Expandable Carry-on

it lightweight luggage

The Numbers: The it luggage 22″ Lustrous Softside Expandable carry-on weighs in at 5.8 pounds.

Why We Like It: IT luggage makes some of the lightest rolling carry-ons (and checked bags) we’ve ever seen. This style has more features (like four wheels or a locking telescoping handle), so it comes in just over the 5.5-pound mark.

What to Pack

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Editor’s note: Ashley Rossi and Codey Albers contributed to this story. This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
At Home Health & Wellness

5 Great Resources for Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga During COVID-19

Whether you’re a regular meditator or considering it for the first time to deal with anxiety, isolation, or the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, these free resources can help you clear your mind, come into the present moment, and soothe your body with gentle yoga.

UC San Diego

This collaboration of The Center for Mindfulness, The Sanford Institute for Empathy and Compassion, and the Compassion Institute offers both live daily streams and recordings of mindfulness and compassion-boosting meditation sessions. Scroll down to the schedule to see the line-up of upcoming sessions like Working with Strong Emotions, Caring for Your Body with Kind Attention, and Parenting with Compassion. Note that you’ll need Zoom to attend the sessions

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has a robust set of free resources in its Guide to Well-Being During Coronavirus. There are articles on topics like how to be intentional about consuming coronavirus news, how to help teens shelter in place, and a round-up of acts of goodness amid the outbreak. There are also live and recorded meditations, sessions, and a three-times-weekly 50-minute Dose of Togetherness to help people feel connected in this time.

Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital

The Center for Mindfulness and Compassion is offering daily free community practices. More than 20 teachers are offering sessions in “mindful movement; bringing kindness to our stress, anxiety, grief and fear; supporting caregiving during this difficult time, and expressing appreciation and love for each other.” Its weekly schedule currently includes both general sessions on topics like mindfulness, compassion, and grounding (including some sessions in Spanish) and sessions targeted to groups like parents, healthcare providers, and caregivers.

Unfold

Unfold Digital is offering free virtual yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30 – 2:50 p.m. ET | 1:30 – 1:50 CT | 11:30 – 11:50 a.m. PT. This series is designed to support the wellness of office workers and can be done without needing to change into exercise clothes. It targets areas of discomfort including low back pain, neck and shoulder tightness, and wrist discomfort.

Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach Half-Day At-Home Mindfulness Retreat

If you’ve always meant to try a mindfulness retreat, this could be your chance. Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach have created this free home-based personal retreat that can help you unplug from the chaos for a few hours and find some grounded calm. It’s geared to all levels from beginners on; all you need is about three hours and some quiet space.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons: Avoid Cancellation Fees with a Doctor’s Note

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket, and until recently I had never been unable to fly due to medical reasons. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Like the time I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that I would be unable to fly due to illness. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons? Get a Letter from a Doctor

Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $200, but the airline was among those that would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.

I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unable to fly due to illness. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.

Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $200 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline confirming I was unable to fly due to medical reasons, at which point the $200 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.

How to Ask for a Cancellation Fee Waiver with a Doctor’s Note

If you need to cancel a flight due to a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:

  • Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
  • Be in touch with your doctor so that he or she can vouch for you.
  • Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
  • Ask your doctor (or a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely, and make it as easy for them as possible to provide a doctor’s note.
  • Provide the airline with as much information as possible about your medical condition, ask nicely, and follow up to check on the process of your cancellation fee waiver claim.

It’s also worth mentioning that Southwest is the only U.S. airline that doesn’t charge cancellation fees.

How to Know If You’re Too Sick to Fly

If you’re wondering if you’re too ill to fly, you’re probably too ill to fly. Need more concrete advice? The CDC has answers: Its Before You Travel Tips page is packed with specific advice about symptoms and special considerations. For instance, if you have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a sinus infection, or any disease (including flu) that can spread easily, you should cancel your travel plans. At that point, you can reach out to the airline and reach out to your doctor to see what you can do about trying to get that cancellation fee waived.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island Luxury Travel

Wish for Rain: The Elemental Splendor of Tofino

“I hope it rains every day you’re there.”

My friend says this as I’m leaving for Tofino, and I laugh. I’m not sure what to make of this unlikely send-off.

By the time I arrive in Tofino, this hope has manifested into dense rain that falls from a matte gray sky. I step off the plane and look up, curious about this wished-for rain, wondering what makes it the sort of guest you invite on vacation. Cold drops pummel my face, challenging the elasticity of my skin; if I were made of sand, the rain would already be carving channels down my cheeks. I shudder involuntarily as a trail of water slides past my ear and settles on the nape of my neck, sending a snaking sensation up my spine. I nestle back into my hood and wipe my face with my already-wet jacket sleeve.

The rain is steady but not dramatic—there are no thunderclaps, no lightning bolts. The impenetrable rainforest surrounding the small air strip signals that this storm is just another day of the usual water cycle commute, southbound.

I’ve packed strategically, and think I’m prepared for the weather. But I’m not. On the tarmac trudge from the plane to the one-room airport, my water-resistant jacket reaches maximum saturation. Soon, my toes are swimming inside my shoes. 

If the West, itself a frontier, has a frontier, this is it. This stretch of Vancouver Island the wildest, wettest, West—where thick forests invent new shades of green with each flicker of sunlight and you’re never far from the roar of waves that have been building strength for 4,500 miles of open Pacific before crashing into Tofino’s rocky shores. On this far left edge of North America, people rush out to meet the rain. In Tofino, home of storm-watching, cold-water surfing, and temperate rainforests, rain is the reason—it’s why people come, and why they stay. 

Tofino’s Alchemy of Rain

Tofino is the end of the road, and no one comes here accidentally. I am no exception—I’ve been dreaming of this place for years. At home in California, I live within sight of the Pacific, yet my daily glimpse is of an ocean tamed by straits and bays into tentative whitecaps or, at most, assertive lapping. In Tofino, however, the Pacific gets a true running start, and I’m ready to see this wild ocean unleashed.

In most places, storms clear a beach. But this is a place that comes alive with each deluge. Here, there’s an alchemy of rain and big waves. Roiling currents, torrential downpours, and surfers claiming every wave—this is Tofino life. Even non-surfers get in on the action; there’s no surer sight than storm-swept shorelines dotted with beachcombers suited up like New England fishing crews, savoring every minute of big weather.

Storm-Watching from the Inside …

Around here, there’s nowhere more famous for pairing wild and welcoming than the Wickanninish Inn, the hotel that invented storm season. I slosh to the hotel, leaving puddles in my wake, unsure about this adventure as I drip my way through the lobby and up to my room. But after a change of clothes and a warm drink beside a hot fire, I begin to understand the wisdom of my friend’s parting wish.

The Wick, as it’s known locally, sits deep in a forest on the edge of the continent; cradled by trees and holding tight to an outcropping that extends out over the Pacific. Inside, hand-carved wooden columns and windows angled for perfect sea views keep nature close. 

Settled inside the warm hotel, I get down to the serious business of storm-watching. I stretch out by the fire and watch surfers take on the storm. I stake out the lobby, which feels more like a living room lined with soft leather chairs and dotted with driftwood tables. I divide my time between watching the waves break around the point and casually inspecting guests—young families, Italian backpackers, retirees, urban sophisticates, honeymooners. I settle onto my sheltered balcony, watching the waves crash into the outcropping just below my room. Not a view goes uninspected, not an overstuffed chair untested.

And yet, the more I watch the rain, the waves, and the dark skies, the more the storm beckons. So instead of putting back on my still-damp jacket—total rookie-wear—I suit up in one of the hotel’s Tofino-grade rubber suits and knee-high galoshes, and set off to discover that the real place to be is not watching the storm, it’s out in the middle of it. 

… And Out

Some beaches are backdrop. Tofino’s take center stage. 

Clusters of rocks frame the long stretch of beach, guarding its edges like continental bastions. As soon as I step onto the sand, this place owns my every sense. The wind catches the ocean’s spray and anoints my forehead, my lips, my nose. My cheeks tighten and flush, awake to the tingle of warm and cold pressing in from opposite sides of my skin. The briny tang rushes in on the stiff breeze; I recognize scents that have relied on the same recipe of salt water, seaweed, and sand for millions of years. There is no horizon from here, just towering whitecaps riding a heaving gray sea. 

I walk for a while and then realize staying still is the only way to take all this in. I stop, crouch down next to a tangle of brown and orange seaweed knitted slickly together, and watch the ocean. The alternating crash of the waves and the waterfall rush of the retreating water creates a rhythm that slows my thoughts and softens my breathing. 

I’ve entirely lost track of time when something, some shift in the breeze, compels me to turn around. I catch sight of the trees at the sand’s border—the trees seem to inhale me, pull me toward it. I walk closer. Here, the tangled branching torrent of the temperate rainforest tumbles down to the edge of the sand.

Standing in this in-between place, I’m struck by the sound of the sea and the rain, these two instruments of Tofino. The symphonic deluge plays the densely forested land-—droplets making each leaf sing a slightly different note—and the crashing waves maintain the baseline for an audience of anyone willing to stop and listen.

I inhale again, and smell the trees as they swap volatile organics for fresh water, flooding the air with Sitka spruce, western hemlock, cedar, and fir. This is a place to feel the earth breathing. I follow a narrow path into the forest, finding my way around the ferns that carpet the forest floor. If I stand still for just a moment too long, I suspect the forest would start to grow up around me, claiming me back.

Hiking the Rainforest

Walking through the temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park in the driving rain, shrouded in waterproof gear, I rediscover something I hadn’t realized was lost: the joy of rain.

I remember playing in the rain as a child and wondering why the adults didn’t join the fun. For a while, they’d hunker under an umbrella and watch us splash and jump, stomp and spin. And then, they’d grow impatient to get back inside, and that would be it. Fun over.

It seemed so strange to me at the time, to act like rain was a hassle instead of the sky inviting you to play. And then it happened: year by year, the delight faded. The thrill of tilting my face up to the rain, arms open to embrace every drop, was replaced by the power of forethought, of being able to imagine the stickiness of a wet jacket, the claustrophobia of soggy socks. Adulthood seemed to leave no room for the ancient pleasure of rain.

And yet, here in the forest, I discover a new form of playing in the rain. The falling drops tickle my face, but the rest of me remains responsibly dry, sheltered within this oversized fisherman’s suit. I wade through pond-caliber puddles and feel the weight of the water pushing up against my boots. I don’t go full Singing in the Rain, but I do stomp, sending out concentric waves and then watching as the water ricochets off the edges of the puddle and bounces back to meet me.

I clear the puddle and walk deeper into the woods. The rain continues, threading its way through the maze of the forest canopy. Drops shatter on leaves around me. 

Another puddle. A stream. A waterfall. The rain and the distant percussion of the ocean. I’ve stumbled onto a family reunion, water greeting the earth after a long trip. Feeding the churn of the seas, the green of the trees; creating congregations in creeks and channels—the land transforms the water, and the water transforms the land. And the water, it will continue to transform, through millions of years of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. But for a moment, it’s home. I realize I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know why. Then I understand, I’m caught up in a wish. I’m wishing for rain. 

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Christine Sarkis experienced a version of the Ultimate B.C. package as a guest of the participating hotels and Visit Canada. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Categories
Food & Drink Packing

10 Important Items That Can Make Any Vacation Rental Feel Like Home

The glories of vacation rentals are many. Even the smallest rentals tend to be a palace compared to a typical hotel room, and you get all sorts of vacation-simplifying extras like a kitchen, grill, or even a washer and dryer. But … for all their abundance, vacation rentals are often missing some of the most important aspects of home. Happily, most are easy to pack. Here are our top 10 items we throw in the car to transform any vacation rental into a true home away from home.

The glories of vacation rentals are many. Even the smallest rentals tend to be a palace compared to a typical hotel room, and you get all sorts of vacation-simplifying extras like a kitchen, grill, or even a washer and dryer. But … for all their abundance, vacation rentals are often missing some of the most important aspects of home. Happily, most are easy to pack. Here are our top 10 items we throw in the car to transform any vacation rental into a true home away from home.

Knives

Vacation rentals are not known for the high quality of their kitchen knives. These tend to be the owners’ second-rate cast-offs (or cheap newer knives), which grow duller with each passing guest. At many rentals, you might have similar luck cutting tomatoes with a butter knife as you would with one supposedly meant for the job.

The solution is simple: Bring your own. Create your own travel set with just two knives: a chef’s knife and a paring knife. Victorinox makes inexpensive versions, and both of its chef’s and paring knives are longtime Cook’s Illustrated favorites, regularly beating out more expensive competitors. Just remember: You can’t pack knives in your carry-on; if you’re flying, they must go in your checked bag.

Victorinox Chef knife

Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife

Victorinox 4-Inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife

Victorinox Classic Paring Knife

A Great Pillow

We’ve all been there. After an amazing vacation day, you settle into bed looking forward to a great night’s sleep only to discover the vacation rental pillow feels like a burlap sack stuffed with tennis balls. If you’re driving to your rental rather than flying, sacrifice some car space to bring a pillow you truly love. If you’re not keen on the idea of dragging your clean pillow along on vacation, get a special pillow just to bring on trips. When you’re not using it, store it with your suitcases rather than in the linen closet to prevent any cross-contamination. Well-reviewed and affordable options include Five Star’s Down Alternative Pillow and the MLVOC, a four-in-one travel pillow.

Mastertex Down Alternative Bed Pillow

Mastertex Down Alternative Bed Pillow 

Tongs

In any kitchen, tongs get the job done. They’re masters of both the grill and the pan, and they make serving nearly anything—from pancakes and pasta to salad—a breeze. They’re also lightweight and portable, so they’re a perfect vacation companion. Bring some tongs and it won’t matter that the rental kitchen’s lone spatula has a melted corner and smells weird. OXO Good Grips 12-Inch tongs lock when you don’t need them so they’ll pack small and save space in your bag.

OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs

OXO Good Grips Tongs

Cast Iron Pan

Perfect browning, even cooking, and no sticking—it’s the skillet trifecta that has made cast iron a favorite for generations. Vacation rental kitchens are notorious for warped aluminum pans just waiting to ruin the most foolproof vacation meals. Bring your own pan and you’ll up your culinary game in an instant. Lodge’s 12-inch pre-seasoned skillet has long been a kitchen and camping favorite, and is at home in any vacation rental kitchen.

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 

Note that if you’re not a cast-iron loyalist (or recent convert), a vacation rental probably isn’t the best time to familiarize yourself with this cooking powerhouse. Instead, try it out in advance (and bring along a scrubber so you can clean it without soap).

Spice Kit

Even if your rental kitchen is stocked with spices, there’s no telling how many years they’ve been moldering in that dusty cabinet. Bring along a small kit with all your favorite flavors to ensure that every meal is a great one. Try a grab-and-go option like Coghlan’s Multi-Spice Pack, which comes pre-loaded with salt, pepper, cayenne, curry, paprika, and garlic salt. Or customize your own kit with ready-to-fill shakers like this six-piece kit from Wealers. Serious about salt? Then pack a salt sampler set, which includes sixteen salts including pink Himalayan sea salt, Hawaiian Onyx sea salt, and Cyprus flake salt, each in its own small tin.

Coghlan's 9961 Multi-Spice

Coghlan’s 9961 Multi-Spice

Roku

The infinite variety of streaming video is yours wherever you go with the Roku Streaming Stick. With access to your Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other accounts, Roku makes it easy to stream your favorites to the HDTV in your vacation rental. It’s small, easy to use, and will save you from settling for the vacation rental’s dusty VHS set of Northern Exposure.

Roku Streaming Stick

Coffee

Kindly vacation rental owners sometimes leave enough coffee to help you make it through that first morning, but from there on out it’s going to be up to you. So come prepared. Coffee drinkers are united by an unequivocal need for morning caffeine, but everyone has a slightly different approach to that perfect cup. If you prefer freshly ground beans, bring along a manual grinder like this one from Ice Coal, which comes with a travel pouch; pair it with the Brewologist Pour Over Coffee Cone, which requires no paper filter. And K-Cup junkies can pack this single-serve Keurig machine.

Manual Coffee Grinder

Manual Coffee Grinder

The Brewologist Pour Over Coffee Filter

The Brewologist Pour Over Coffee Filter 

Clothesline

Even if you’re in a rental with a dryer, it’s still a good idea to bring along a clothesline for towels or bathing suits, items that need to be hand washed, or anything that needs a quick airing out. Travel clotheslines adapt well to a variety of environments, from bathrooms to balconies. Coghlan’s adjustable bungee clothesline is a clever option that packs small, strings up nearly anywhere, and eliminates the need for clothespins, since all you need to do to hang an item is tuck a corner of it into the twisted bungee cord line.

Coghlan's Bungee Clothesline

Coghlan’s Bungee Clothesline

Temporary Hooks

Imagine: A place to hang your robe when you get into the shower, your towel when you head to the hot tub, or your coat when you come in from the snow. At home, you’ve got a hook for every need, but most vacation rentals are woefully short on convenient hanging spots. Enter: damage-free temporary hooks. Pack a set or two and you can create a hook in an instant, and leave no trace when you leave. Command’s Large Plastic Hooks come in sets of three and remove cleanly without surface damage, no tools needed.

Command Utility Hooks

Command Utility Hooks

Corkscrew

It’s not that your vacation rental is unlikely to have a corkscrew. It’s that the corkscrew you’ll find in the vacation rental kitchen only has a 30 percent chance of being anything other than terrible. Here’s why: A corkscrew that’s good enough to use is good enough to be packed with a picnic lunch or an evening trip to the beach—and is unlikely to make it back. So it’s replaced with another, slightly less good corkscrew, and the process repeats itself until what’s in the rental kitchen is a corkscrew nobody wants to use. Go tried-and-true with a red metal affair, or class things up with the Amazon-favorite, wood-and-steel HiCoup corkscrew.

Professional Waiter’s Corkscrew by HiCoup

Professional Waiter’s Corkscrew by HiCoup 

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis is constantly honing her vacation rental bring-along list. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Categories
Fashion & Beauty Packing

8 Great Little Black Travel Dresses

The Little Black Dress is a staple of fashionable women everywhere. The LBD, as it’s affectionately known, offers a sleek, sophisticated look that flows effortlessly from day to night and from office to bar. The LBD, however, doesn’t have to stay at home when you explore the world—in fact, the little black travel dress is an underutilized powerhouse of the suitcase wardrobe.

The perfect little black dress for travel has a few key features. It’s made with fabrics that wash easily and don’t wrinkle. It may have a hidden pocket or two. It is chic enough to stand out in a style-forward world fashion capital like Paris or Tokyo but offers enough coverage for more culturally conservative destinations. Find the right little black dress for travel, and you’ll be airplane cool, museum ready, and suited up for any night out, all at the same time.

Here are some of our favorite little black travel dresses.

Leota Perfect Wrap Dress

If there’s one dress brand you haven’t heard about but should absolutely have in your travel wardrobe, it’s Leota. The brand’s dresses are ultra-flattering, super comfortable, and extremely wrinkle-resistant. The Perfect Wrap Dress is a knee-length, faux-wrap dress made of comfortable no-wrinkle fabric. The secured wrap offers dependable coverage, and the drape of the skirt is forgiving but not frumpy. It comes with a removable belt, which is great for travelers who can travel with multiple looks just by bringing along an extra belt.

[st_related]The 9 Best Jumpsuits for Travel[/st_related]

Betabrand Sweatshirt Travel Dress

Betabrand somehow manages to be both more serious and more playful about travel dresses than just about any other brand. It regularly thinks outside the box to design dresses that deliver travel-specific features without sacrificing style. Best known for its ultimate traveler-friendly Round Trip dress (four form-flattering dresses in one), BetaBrand takes the little black dress in a transit-ready direction with its Sweatshirt Travel Dress. This soft silk-blend jersey dress has a swingy A-line shape. It’s the perfect way to dress up for a long flight—you’ll get pajama-level comfort and arrive at your destination ready to go out to dinner. Two hand pockets plus a hidden zippered pocket offer travel-friendly functionality, and its above-knee length and fitted (but comfortable) sleeves keep the dress looking chic.

[st_related]The 11 Best Spring Dresses for Travel[/st_related]

PrAna Foundation Dress

If you think of PrAna as just a yoga brand, you’re missing out on the label’s travel-friendly designs. Its beloved Foundation Dress is a kind illusionist—it looks fitted, but with its fully lined shirred pencil skirt, it manages to smooth and flatter belly and thighs. The dress is casual enough to wear with sneakers while sightseeing but versatile enough to embellish with nicer shoes and jewelry for an evening out. It’s extremely comfortable, and it simplifies packing, since it combines the comfort of a T-shirt with the coverage of a dress.

[st_related]10 Best Fall Dresses for Travelers[/st_related]

Elan Cover-Up Slip Dress

Elan’s Cover-Up Slip Dress is the little black dress that loves the beach. Designed with travel in mind, this swingy pullover dress has a relaxed fit that hits just above the knee. It’s ideal for looking smart but casual in warm climates, and it’s as at home on the sand as it is on the dance floor. Pair it with a black tank or sports bra to keep the sleek look, or with an underlayer in a contrasting color for a more playful look.

[st_related]Ultra-Packable Travel Dresses for Summer[/st_related]

Athleta Santorini Thera Dress

With its everyday design and bare shoulders, Athleta’s Santorini Thera Dress offers great adaptability in little black dress form. Wear it with a sweater for a more conservative LBD look, or bare your arms for a sexy-but-classy vibe. This semi-fitted swing dress pairs a form-fitting bodice with a flared skirt that sits just above the knee. Built for travel, the lightweight, wrinkle-resistant fabric is incredibly breathable.

Arc’teryx Cala Dress

The Cala Dress from Arc’teryx offers a futuristic take on the Little Black Dress. A high collarless neckline and crisp cap sleeves give it a space-age edge, while the tailored fit and above-the-knee length give it a timeless silhouette. The soft and lightweight Diem polyester offers comfort stretch and wrinkle-resistance. The dress has hand pockets (always a plus), one of which includes a zippered security pocket.

[st_related]11 Ways to Make Traveling Easier on Your Body[/st_related]

Longwu Long Sleeve Bandage Party Dress

Flirty and ultra-affordable, the night-out-ready Longwu Women’s Loose Casual Front Tie Long Sleeve Bandage Party Dress is an Amazon favorite. This lantern-sleeve mini-dress has a wrap-around tie middle that lends the A-line dress hourglass definition. The silhouette is flattering on a variety of body shapes, and can be worn as a dress or as a tunic paired with pants.

[st_related]The 14 Best Travel Dresses with Pockets[/st_related]

Everlane Japanese GoWeave Short-Sleeve Wrap Dress

Everlane’s Japanese GoWeave Short-Sleeve Wrap Dress offers a drapey, wrinkle-resistant look that’s essential for travel. It’s both cute and comfortable, with some added stretch for easy movement. Perfect for this season (and for the next decade), this dress is built to outperform and last a lifetime.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis dresses up for travel. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us to test free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

Categories
Outdoors Packing

How to Pack the Right Jacket (or Coat) for Every Season

The perfect travel jacket is hard to find. It needs to be light but warm, adaptable, and easy to pack. When you’re looking for that perfect jacket or coat to take with you on your adventures, there’s a lot to consider. Here are the features to look for in a winter jacket if space is a concern, plus the lowdown on why summer jackets need to do more than just protect against the breeze, and what you want to make sure to look for when you’re shopping for a travel jacket. Plus, find editor-approved jacket choices for every season.

Essential Features of Travel Jackets

There are a few key attributes you’ll want to look for when you’re shopping for the perfect travel jacket, regardless of season. On-body storage is key when you’re mobile, so make sure it has pockets. Look for wrinkle-resistant fabrics, since your jacket will likely find itself stuffed into an overhead bin, shoved into a day bag, or wedged into luggage at some point on your travels. Coats and jackets in neutral colors can often more easily be dressed up or down, which is key when you’re trying to make every packed item in your suitcase do double or triple duty.

Winter Jackets and Coats

Think Fabric: Performance fabrics used in ski wear and outdoorsy winter wear tend to offer serious insulation without much bulk. Even if your destination is entirely urban, it’s worthwhile to check out options from outfitters such as The North Face, L.L.Bean, Patagonia, Columbia, and REI. For a look that reads city streets rather than ski slopes, opt for black fabric.

Compress, Compress, Compress: Quilted jackets are as at home in New York City as they are on the Pacific Crest Trail. Filled with down or down alternatives, these puffy jackets for women, men, and kids keep travelers and trekkers warm in winter. And best of all for packing purposes, these types of jackets tend to compress incredibly well. Some even come with their own stuff sacks, making it possible to toss the jacket into your day bag.

Accept Defeat Warmly: If there’s one single key to choosing a winter jacket or coat for travel, it’s this: Be realistic about the temperature lows in your destination. If you forgo warmth in favor of packing light, your chattering teeth will likely be the dominant memory of the trip. If it’s really cold where you’re headed, stop thinking about weight. Embrace the warmest, coziest option and assume that coat checks and wall hooks will keep the inconvenience factor low when you’re spending time at museums, restaurants, and other warmer indoor environments.

Jacket Choices for Winter: The perfect winter travel jacket or coat is cozy but not bulky. Here’s our annual roundup of Warm, Lightweight Jackets and Coats for Travelers.

Our Favorite Winter Jackets and Coats

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Spring and Fall Jackets and Coats

Spring and fall jackets just may be the hardest working outwear, since they have to be adaptable to a variety of temperatures and conditions.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold: The Goldilocks quandary is the biggest challenge in spring and fall, when temperatures are more unpredictable. In spring, rain can be an added concern, and in fall, earlier nightfall means colder evenings. Look for waterproof or water-resistant exteriors paired with a cozy interior. Even better are zip-in liners that you can remove as temperatures get warmer.

Embrace the Details: Features are everything in outerwear that is meant for the transitional seasons. Waterproof fabrics come in extra handy since they offer protection and allow you to avoid fully committing to a raincoat. Zip-out liners create jackets that can be warmer or cooler, depending on the day. And stowable hoods offer discrete rain and wind coverage on demand.

Jacket Choices for Spring and Fall: For spring and fall travel jacket inspiration, check out our annual roundup of The 9 Best Lightweight Jackets for Travelers.

Our Favorite Spring and Fall Jackets and Coats

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Summer Jackets 

Yup, you read that right. Except in the hottest of destinations, a light summer jacket can be an essential item to pack. Summer jackets come in handy during rainstorms, cool evenings, and they protect against wind and insects.

Go Wrinkle-Free: Lighter fabrics are often more prone to wrinkles. And since summer jackets tend to spend much of their time stowed (only to be retrieved for chilly mornings or evenings out), it’s extra important to opt for fabrics that resist wrinkles, even when the jacket is wadded up at the bottom of a bag.

Do Double Duty: In summer, jackets protect against more than just the chill. Wind, sun, and insect protection are important factors to consider when selecting summer travel outerwear, as is protection against sudden summer rainstorms.

Jacket Choices for Summer: The best part about summer jackets for women and men is that they double as an accessory to an outfit rather than something that just covers it up.

Our Favorite Summer Jackets

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How to Pack a Jacket or Coat

Nearly all the time, your best bet when traveling with a jacket or coat is to not pack it at all, but rather to wear it in transit. But realistically, that’s not always possible (or comfortable). Some suitcases (like Eagle Creek‘s Coat Keeper feature, which comes standard on many of its suitcases) have an easy way to secure a jacket to the exterior of your carry-on, which means you neither have to wear your outerwear nor make space to pack it. Your next best bet when it comes to packing a jacket is to have brought a jacket or coat that compresses easily without excessive wrinkling. Since many compression-friendly jackets come with their own stuff sack, you can simply stow your jacket in your carry-on, personal item, or checked bag. If you’re traveling with bulkier outerwear that you want to pack, however, you’re going to need a folding strategy. Fold the sleeves inward, fold the jacket in half lengthwise, and roll it up. If you want it to stay as a tidy bundle, wrap a string or rubber band around it to keep it secure.

If you’re looking to pack a suit jacket or sport coat, the stakes are higher, since any wrinkling will be more noticeable. Brooks Brothers has a handy visual guide to folding a suit. Upon arrival, the jacket will likely need a refresh. You can either assume the hotel iron is functional enough to get the job done, or you can take matters into your own hands and travel with a mini-steamer geared to travelers.

Bonus Hack: On-the-Go Cleaning Tip

Jackets and coats don’t get washed as much as other clothes, but as your outermost layer, you want them to stay looking clean and smelling fresh. Keep a dryer sheet in one of the pockets to combat funky smells, and, in another pocket, keep a rolled-up eight-inch length of duct tape that you can use in a pinch as a lint grabber.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Arts & Culture Experiential Travel Food & Drink

The Tuscany Tradition You Don't Want to Miss

Anghiari, in the far east of Tuscany, is in many ways a traditional Tuscan hilltop town. It’s beautiful but not particularly intent on commercializing that beauty, it’s more local than tourist most of the time, and each year Anghiari puts on an annual series of community events.

Late every summer, Anghiari welcomes its theatrical tradition of Tovaglia a Quadri. Tovaglia means tablecloth and quadri means square, so literally the term means checkered tablecloth. But quadri also means stage, a double meaning that really delivers here.

The play is not in a theater—though the town has a beautifully restored one—but in a tiny piazza surrounded by 800-year-old buildings. The piazza is filled with tables covered in checkered tablecloths, at which theatergoers, during the play, eat a four-course meal that often includes the town’s signature pasta dish—a thick spaghetti called bringoli.

The apartment buildings, garages, and shops that surround the square are all part of the action. Actors hang out of windows, gossip in doorways, and shout declarations from balconies.

In Anghiari, Tovaglia a Quadri is a big deal. Would-be theatergoers line up early in the morning weeks in advance for tickets, and getting one is an adventure all its own. Performances run in the evenings for just two weeks each year, and to get a ticket, people wait hours for the chance to hunch over seating charts and negotiate with event organizers for an ideal vantage point.

The 2019 play featured shepherds, migration, and crumbling bridges (a concern of many in this part of Italy after a 2018 bridge collapse in Genoa). In years past, the play has taken on topics like the refugee crisis and the Amazonification of the world. Each year for the last quarter century, the play is written—by the team of Andrea Merendelli and Paolo Pennacchini—just a few months before it’s performed, so it has that right-here-right-now feeling. 

In scope, Tovaglia a Quadri always draws on a mix of local, national, and global issues, and is performed in a seamless blend of Italian, the local dialect, and—helpfully for people who don’t understand much Italian—a lot of easy-to-interpret physical theater.

Tovaglia a Quadri delivers a lively mix of heart, politics, singing … and Italian grandmas. Pro tip: Get the scoop on the plot in advance, and if you don’t speak Italian, sit next to someone who can keep you in the loop.

More from SmarterTravel:

Categories
Island Travel Etiquette

8 Cruise Ship Myths You Shouldn’t Believe

As a longtime avoider of mega cruise ships, I had a lot of assumptions going into my first large-ship cruise. It would be crowded, I thought. I would be incapacitated by seasickness. My only dining choices would be sub-par buffets. Realizing I was floating on a raft of preconceptions before even leaving port, I spoke with some fellow cruise-ship avoiders to develop a list of common reasons people don’t cruise. Once on board, I set out to prove each of these cruise ship myths right or wrong. Here’s what I found.

Cruise Ship Myth #1: The Rooms Will Feel Tight

Unless you’re going super high-end, staterooms on large ships are usually on the small side. But they’re also engineered to use every inch efficiently. For instance, in bathrooms, there may be limited counter space but plenty of vertical shelving (maybe even heated floors if you’re lucky), and in-room televisions are often attached to the wall to free up surface space. Desks usually double as vanities, and shelves are cleverly placed in the closets. Keeping your items organized and packing strategically for a cruise can also go a long way toward maintaining a feeling of relative spaciousness in limited-square-footage rooms.

Cruise Ship Myth #2: It’ll Be Crowded

Cruise ship myths

The mere thought of 3,000 people (or more) entering and exiting a ship through a single doorway is enough to trigger claustrophobia in almost anyone. But it turns out that the way most cruise lines organize boarding and disembarkation pretty effectively limits crowds getting on and off the ship.

Initial boarding as well as leaving the ship at the end of the cruise both take place over multi-hour windows. At ports of call, departure times for shore excursions tend to be staggered, which means most people exit the ship in small groups rather than big crowds.

If you’re particularly claustrophobic, though, you may want to avoid itineraries that stop in ports where ships can’t dock, since that will mean passengers need to be shuttled to the shore on small boats called tenders, a process that can slow disembarkation and allow lines to build up.

Depending on your personality and travel type, there’s probably a type of cruise out there for you. Cruise ships range from smaller expedition ships in the Arctic and Antarctica and luxury mega-yachts in French Polynesia to the typical party-centric itineraries in the Caribbean and everything (and everywhere) in between. Do your research, and you’ll find a ship and itinerary to suit you.

Cruise Ship Myth #3: You’ll Be Eating at a Buffet the Whole Time

Cruise ship myths

Is it the sneeze guards? The heat lamps? The overflowing plates? There are plenty of reasons to dislike buffets—but on most large ships, there are also plenty of alternatives.

Casual diners can find walk-up spots peppered around most ships that offer the likes of pizza, sushi, and ice cream. Formal dining rooms offer easy access to multicourse sit-down dining experiences during meal hours. And specialty restaurants offer a more familiar sit-down, menu-driven experience, plus food you won’t find at the buffet. Some cruise lines even have cooking classes onboard, tasting menus, or pre-fixed options. A number of cruise lines also offer free or sometimes-free room service.

Cruise Ship Myth #4: You’ll Get Seasick

Cruise ship myths

The seasick among us know that nothing ruins a vacation faster than constant nausea. But it’s no reason to write off a cruise entirely. In fact, a surprising number of dedicated cruisers are prone to seasickness.

For most, seasickness is something that can be managed. If you can get out in front of it, you can minimize or even eliminate it entirely with the help of medication (or Sea-Bands, for those with mild symptoms). Two of the most popular medications are Dramamine and Bonine, though there’s a long list of medicines to address the malady.

Before you go, experiment with the different types—some people report sleepiness with some of the medicines but not others.

Cruise Ship Myth #5: You’ll Have to Talk to Strangers

Cruise ship myths

Large cruise lines offer a robust calendar of events each day while also maintaining tranquil spaces for solitary pursuits. Dining areas usually have small-table options where you’re free to sit solo. Libraries, cafes, and other cozy sitting nooks are perfect for people who want a peaceful moment, as are quiet zones like adult-only pools and relaxation spaces.

And if you don’t like initiating conversations with strangers but still want to meet people, check the daily activities calendar, which is packed with gatherings for everyone from history buffs to dance fanatics—there’s sure to be an event that attracts like-minded folks with whom you’ll have plenty to chat about.

Cruise Ship Myth #6: You’ll Only Skim the Surface of Destinations

Cruise ship myths

A common sticking point among non-cruisers is the sense that, on a cruise, you’re only in port for a few hours, so you never get the chance to get to know a destination. Cruise lines understand this, and a growing number of lines are building either a few extra hours (enough, for instance, to check out the nightlife before returning to the ship) or even multiple days in a single port.

On itineraries that do have limited time in port, though, you can take matters into your own hands to get more out of a stop. If none of the ship’s shore excursions offer a local’s-eye view or a closer look at local culture, find your own tour that gives you what you want.

I’m partial to Viator (SmarterTravel’s sister site), which lists tours run by locals offering everything from cooking classes to history walks. And remember that, while a cruise may not offer a deep-dive into a single port, it does offer a good regional overview so you’ll know where you’d like to revisit on your own.

At SmarterTravel, we like to think that cruises are the perfect way to see a destination for the first time, but also for the second time. Cruises provide an introduction to a destination and leave you a reason to come back. By the same token, if you’ve been to a destination before, cruises give you an ideal amount of time to do something you didn’t get to the first time around, or to simply revisit your favorite restaurant, bar, or shop. Either way, it’s a win-win.

Cruise Ship Myth #7: Everything Is Expensive

Yes, cruising can be pricey, but when you take into consideration other travel expenses that certainly add up on the ground, a cruise vacation doesn’t break the bank as much as you think. Yes, there are some super-luxury cruise lines out there where this is not true, but generally speaking, cruises are of good value.

Alcohol especially is sometimes cheaper than you might think. Depending on your consumption and the cruise line you’re on, all-inclusive drink packages are convenient options and can save you some money in the end. Read Cruise Critic’s article about drink packages on cruises to learn more.

Pro tip: Check out last-minute deals for savings on upcoming departures.

Cruise Ship Myth #8: Cruises Are Bad for the Environment

The cruise industry has received criticism for not being environmentally friendly, and while it’s in no way perfect, the Cruise Lines International Association is making strides to be more conscious of the industry’s impact on the environment. Recently, the alliance pledged to cut its fleet-wide rate of CO2 emissions by 40 percent (in comparison to 2008 levels) by 2030. Additionally, the association is committed to protecting the health of the ocean and has programs in place to build coral reefs, collect data, develop best practices for coastal communities, and restore fisheries.

And how’s this for myth-busting? Cruise ships are less than 1 percent of the global maritime community, according to Michael Thamm, Chairman of CLIA Europe and Group CEO of Costa Group and Carnival Asia, via a press release. Thamm reiterates that even though cruise ships are a minority in the larger maritime industry, “[they] are at the forefront in developing responsible tourism practices and innovative technologies.” And while there’s a lot of work still to be done, knowing that cruise lines are committed to changing the standard may offer peace of mind if you’re on the fence about booking a cruise.

What to Pack

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More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Christine Sarkis on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Categories
Cities Travel Etiquette

10 Things Locals Want You to Know About Tokyo

A city can’t always speak for itself, but its locals can. Tokyo may be best known as a frenetic, uber-modern super city, but the people who live there want you to know it for more than that. Locals’ tender, grounded pride hints at Tokyo’s true depth—and its endless opportunities for discovery. From navigation advice to why you should forget the movie Lost in Translation, here are 10 things to know about Tokyo, based on recommendations from locals.

You Should Get Lost

Take a wander, and don’t be too concerned about keeping your bearings all the time, locals advise. So many visitors cling to cabs and the subway that they miss the magic of Tokyo’s smaller neighborhoods and back streets.

“Main streets have the same shops everywhere, but the back streets are unique,” one Tokyo native notes. The intoxicating tangle of side streets—where you can stumble across a hip cafe, an ancient shrine, and a sunbathing cat within a single block—tells the story of daily life here and offers up gems you won’t find in a guidebook.

This Truly Is a Vertical City

tokyo skyline at night.

Assume everything is going to meet you at street level and you’ll miss out on a lot of Tokyo. Unlike the mixed-use buildings in many cities, in which retail is centralized on the ground floor and upper stories are filled with office and residential space, Tokyo’s buildings often use many floors for shops, cafes, and restaurants. Similarly, many of the high-rises dotting the skyline fill their top floors with hotels. The Conrad, the Andaz, and the Mandarin Oriental, for instance, crown tall buildings, offering stellar views of the city from every window.

You Can Overcome the Language Barrier

The language barrier may feel vast sometimes, but it’s no match for Japanese hospitality. Expat locals in particular note that they’ve been amazed, time and again, by the lengths to which Tokyoites will go to help non-Japanese speakers. Sure, it may take some miming and a healthy dose of Google Translate, but the culturally ingrained hospitality and helpfulness mean visitors who ask for help tend to receive it.

Forget Lost in Translation

“Before I moved here, I watched Lost in Translation and thought I sort of understood Tokyo. But it’s all wrong,” says one expat local. Tokyo’s frenetic pace and sometimes inscrutable customs may intensify the travel melancholy of feeling foreign and alone. But frame the city in those terms and you’ll miss what makes it truly special. As common as it is as a movie backdrop for inner dramas and chase scenes, Tokyo is a real place with people going about daily lives—a place where kids play in parks, grandmothers slurp noodles with audible satisfaction, and people go for walks just to take in a beautiful morning. Meet us where we are, urge locals, and you’ll find a city too real for the movies.

Information Is Everywhere

Yes, you’ll be in a place where you probably can’t read most signs, but English-language information is everywhere, if you know where to look. Locals point out the abundance of tourist information booths around the city. Most are staffed with English speakers and have pamphlets and guides in English. You’ll find robust visitor centers in popular districts such as Shinjuku and Asakusa.

Beware Fake Food Fronts

fake food tokyo.

According to a local who devotes his life to helping others discover the joys of food in Tokyo, restaurants fronted by fake food in glass cases or laminated picture menus tend to be chains. Unfortunately, many of the best places to eat are barely marked and not even at street level, which presents a discovery challenge to most visitors. In Tokyo, more than in most cities, it pays to do advance research on where to eat. You will be rewarded for your hard work.

Rules Rule

In Tokyo, pedestrians tend to obey local traffic laws, so drivers don’t necessarily watch for wayward jaywalkers while careening down city streets. Make like a local and stick to pedestrian crossings, and wait until the light turns before you head out into the street.

In general, locals favor following rules, since relative harmony in a city this dense takes working together. So be patient in lines, take your shoes off wherever you see it’s the norm, and if you smoke in public, only light up in designated zones on the street.

Things Are Changing

The Tokyo Olympics are around the corner, and Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, such as Chiba and Saitama, are gearing up for a major influx of visitors. Plenty of public Wi-Fi access, translation tools, apps, English-speaking guides, and more have made the city as visitor-friendly as possible.

There Are Free Guides

If you don’t speak or read Japanese, it helps to explore the city with someone who does. Guides are an incredible resource for discovery in Tokyo, and not all of them are expensive. The volunteer organization TOKYO FREE GUIDE unites knowledgeable locals with travelers from around the world. More than 550 guides, each with a slightly different specialty, show visitors around at no cost (though you’ll be expected to cover transportation, entry, and meal costs for your guide). It’s both an unbeatable and affordable way to hang out with a local and learn about Tokyo.

It All Starts Here

sensoji temple tokyo.

Long ago, Kyoto served as the capital of the country. But in the Edo period, power shifted to Tokyo (which translates to “east capital”) and the city became the center of life in Japan. Literally. According to locals, a bridge in the Nihonbashi neighborhood of Tokyo is the starting point from which mileage is measured in Japan. Tokyo may seem modern, but locals insist that it is at the very heart of history in Japan.

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Categories
Arts & Culture Cities

What Locals Want You to Know About Venice

NVNQVAM DERELICTA. Never abandoned. The phrase emblazoned on the wall of the Doge’s Palace in Venice may have originally related to religion, but it’s a perfect motto for a city that has endured 1,400 years of nearly constant siege—from Barbarians, Napoleonic armies, encroaching waters, and tourist hordes. These days, the high cost of living is driving more natives to surrounding cities; but find a local and you’ll discover a fierce love and protective spirit toward this beautiful, watery oddity of a metropolis. Here’s what Venetians want you to know about Venice.

Special thanks to Monograms Local Host Igor Scomparin and the many other locals who offered up advice, opinions, and great stories about their hometown. 

It’s Good to Get Lost

Here’s a good general rule: If you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right. Even visitors with GPS-like senses of direction will likely be bested by the meandering streets of the city. There’s no better way to explore the lovely maze of Venice than in a haze of mild confusion. The downside of getting lost, of course, is that it takes longer than you’d expect to get anywhere. So, locals advise, give yourself extra time to get around.

Venice Has Its Own Language

It may have a long and rich history, but Italy as we know it has been a country for fewer than 200 years. So it’s no surprise that regional dialects and languages endure alongside mainstream Italian. Veneto, or Venetian, is a distinct language that even has its own dialects. Want to really impress a local? Bust out a “Ciao vecchio/vecchia” (a greeting that roughly translates to “Hi old boy/old girl”), or simply soften the z to an s sound when you say “grazie.”

There’s a Right Way to Enjoy Venice by Water

When Venice was its own city-state, pollution of the water was one of few crimes punishable by death. Today, water is still a sacred and vital part of the city, and, as one local put it, “Venice is best seen from the water.” But water also causes a lot of damage in the city, some of which is preventable.

In the old days, boats were slow moving and people-powered, so they didn’t produce much wake. But now, faster-moving and larger boats create larger waves that penetrate buildings’ isolation layers and do more structural damage. So whenever you can, choose boats that obey the speed limit (yes, Venice waterways have speed limits). In general, vaporetti (water buses) and traditional wooden boats tend to take it slower than water taxis.

Napoleon Has Not Been Forgiven

When Napoleon’s army invaded Venice after a protracted siege, it did everything it could to crush the identity and spirit of the feisty Venetians. That included destroying all of the lions (a winged lion is the symbol of Venice) that were carved, sculpted, and painted onto buildings and bridges. While many have been replaced, if you explore the city with a local, they’ll be sure to draw your attention to the places where once-noble lion heads were chiseled off, leaving behind only rough stone scars that still sting, at least in the hearts of Venetians.

The Acqua Alta Is a Fact of Life

The acqua alta (the exceptionally high tides that flood parts of the city) may be a strange sight for visitors, but for locals, they’re a fact of life. And with habituation comes adaptation, and with adaptation comes an app. Locals (and an increasing number of savvy visitors) know to keep tabs on the tides with an app such as hi!tide Venice (iOS | Android).

Another piece of advice from a local: Don’t have a heart attack during the acqua alta. Since ambulance boats can’t get under many of the bridges during the super high tides, emergency medical care can be compromised. Now that’s good inspiration to skip the extra scoop of gelato.

For a Weather Forecast, Look to the Archangel

“When the archangel pisses on the basilica, it’s going to rain.” The local saying is as colorful as it is useful. It refers to the weather vane (a golden angel Gabriel) that crowns the top of the campanile bell tower in the Piazza San Marco. When the angel turns northeast to face the Basilica di San Marco, it’s taken as a sign of shifting winds and coming rain by locals.

Don’t Walk Between the Columns

When most visitors make their way through the Piazza San Marco and the smaller Piazzetta di San Marco, they’re busy dodging tourists ogling facades, hawkers wearing striped shirts, and long lines of people waiting to see the interior marvels of the basilica and campanile—not looking out for bad luck.

Locals, on the other hand—at least the superstitious ones—make it a point not to walk between the two columns topped by statues of the city’s patron saints that guard the water’s edge. Since the space between the two columns used to be a spot for public executions, it’s considered bad luck to walk between them today.

Love the Region, Not Just the City

Tuscany, Sicily, Umbria. In some parts of Italy, the regions are as well known as the most famous cities. But Venice has long overshadowed its province Veneto, which is a shame for visitors. Mountains, vineyards, and medieval towns dot the landscape beyond the city, offering memorable day trips and extended explorations. Check out Marostica or Asolo, or, if you’re ambitious, head to the nearby Dolomites, the mountain range that you can see from Venice on clear days. There are plenty of other incredible spots to visit nearby, and locals think highly of the province.

Locals Stand Up for Coffee

Venetians have long known what standing-desk converts have only recently discovered: Sometimes, standing is better than sitting. At cafes in the morning, you’ll find locals lining up at the counter, the bar, or tall tables as they knock back their morning espressos. In Venice, standing isn’t just a way to blend in with locals, it’s a way to save some money as well. Coffee enjoyed sans chair tends to be significantly less expensive than the same cup enjoyed from a slightly lower elevation.

Try the Local Specialties

Certain foods are decidedly Venetian, and locals take great pride in them. Squid-ink spaghetti, risotto with prawns and zucchini, and marinated sardines draw heavily from the surrounding waters, while risi e bisi (rice and peas) and pasta e fasioi (pasta and beans) embrace the Italian knack for uniting beans and starch. And world-favorite tiramisu was invented in nearby Treviso and has found a happy second home in Venice.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

How to Properly Disinfect Your Airplane Seat

Imagine a petri dish squirming with bacteria, then add a recline function and limited legroom. Now you’re accurately imagining the typical airline seat. According to study after study, airplanes are filthy places—the average tray table, for instance, is exponentially germier than a home toilet seat. Other top spots for airplane germs include seatbelt buckles, seatback pockets, and the tops of seats (especially aisle seats, since countless people touch them for balance as they walk by in flight each day).

But take heart, germaphobes—and anyone else who doesn’t want to spend their whole vacation hacking up a lung. There are small steps you can take that will make your assigned petri dish a little less squirmy. Here’s how to disinfect your airplane seat and boost your chances of an illness-free vacation.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Disinfecting Your Airplane Seat

With minimal supplies and just a moderate tolerance for weird looks from your fellow passengers, you too can have the cleanest seat on the plane. Here’s how to get there.

Pack Disinfecting Wipes

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes

You’re going to need to plan here a bit and score some disinfecting wipes before you get on the plane. You can opt for a familiar brand name like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, which come in handy packs of nine or 15. Note that these have a pretty intense scent (the lemon is not what I’d call “good lemon,” and whatever the green package scent is smells a bit like a freshly cleaned public bathroom). You can also get disinfecting wipes with a milder scent, or, in a pinch, you could use wipes primarily meant to disinfect hands rather than surfaces, such as Wet Ones Antibacterial Hand Wipes.

Get Your Wipes Out as Soon as You Board

line of people standing on plane

Packing wipes is only half the battle. Once you’ve boarded, you’ll need to overcome your aversion to creating a minor spectacle as you stow your gear, whip out your wipes, and get disinfecting. If it helps, you can pretend that those are stares of envy at your traveling prowess rather than garden-variety side-eye.

Use Your Wipes (Correctly)

airplane seat tray table

There’s a right way to use disinfecting wipes, and many wrong ways. To do it correctly: Wipe down all hard, nonporous surfaces thoroughly. Make sure you read and follow the package instructions about how long the surface needs to stay visibly wet. This ranges from about 30 seconds to four minutes. This is when the germ-killing magic happens, so you can’t rush it. Note that this means you’re going to be provisional for a bit longer before you settle and make yourself comfortable. Kidding: Everyone knows you’re not going to be comfortable on the plane. But at least you can maybe emerge illness-free.

But What About Upholstered Surfaces

row of airplane seats.

Don’t use disinfecting wipes on upholstered surfaces: It won’t work and it will make the fabric wet, which creates a whole separate problem. If you’re concerned about exposure to germs on fabric seats, you can pack a washable and reusable seat and tray table cover. There are also smaller covers that cover just the airplane tray or the headrest.

Bonus PSA About Seatback Pockets

nflight magazine and safety information puts in pocket front of passenger seat

No pocket needs a protector like the airplane seatback pocket, home to one of the airplane’s highest concentrations of germs. If you’re one of those travelers who uses this pocket to stash your water bottle or extra snacks in the seatback pocket, just please don’t ever again. Until some genius (you perhaps?) invents a disposable liner for the seatback pocket, opt for a seatback-pocket replacement accessory like the Flight 001 Seat Pak (I’ve had mine for nearly 10 years and swear by it) or Genius Pack’s High Altitude Flight Bag, which both hang from the seatback tray latch.

What to Pack on Your Next Trip

Consider some of our favorite inflight travel items and most effective antibacterial necessities for an enjoyable and safe flight.

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Try These 6 Items That Will Save Your Health While Traveling

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Christine Sarkis wrote this story. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Island

12 Things You Should Never Do in Hawaii

There may not be one single best way to vacation in Hawaii, but there are plenty of ways to do it wrong. To have a great trip to the Aloha State, avoid these 12 pitfalls. Then again, if nothing says vacation like speeding tickets, painful stings, and bland food, by all means ignore this advice for what not to do in Hawaii.

Don’t Automatically Opt for a Beachside Hotel

waikiki beach

When imagining a perfect Hawaii vacation, many people envision a beachfront hotel with an ocean view. But staying off the beach has its advantages, too. First, you’re likely paying a lot less than you’d pay for an ocean view. High five. And second, you’re not going to get stuck in a beach rut.

Have I mentioned all beaches in Hawaii are public? That means that any hotel’s beach is, essentially, your beach as well.

If you don’t have a default, roll-out-of-bed-and-onto-the-sand option, you’re far more likely to push yourself to find those incredible off-the-beaten-path spots that make a Hawaiian vacation truly memorable. And if you’re not holed up in a resort compound, you’ll also likely eat better food and see more of the island. That’s win-win, in my book.

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Don’t Forget About Resort Alternatives

There may not be quite as many lodging options as there are grains of sand in Hawaii, but it’s close. With their waterslides and swim-up bars, hotel resorts get most of the attention; however, if you’re looking for great overall value, you’d be wise to consider other options as well.

Like hotels, vacation rentals span the spectrum between affordable and upscale—and they will get you kitchens, living spaces, and often nice extras like grills and washer/dryers, too. Vacation club resorts offer a mix of more space and hotel-like amenities.

Hawaii recently made it onto a list of BedandBreakfast.com’s fastest-growing destinations for B&Bs, and farmstays are increasingly popular as well. Hostels, which sometimes have private apartments and other unexpected extras, should be on the radar of budget travelers who want a beach-friendly location.

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Don’t Skip the Car Rental

Unless you really are totally committed to relaxing at your resort and doing nothing more than lounging by the pool, sleeping at the beach, swimming, and eating (not a bad proposition, it’s true), then you need to rent a car.

Hawaii delivers serious splendor beyond resort walls, and you’re going to need a car to visit many of these incredible spots. Hidden beaches, volcanic peaks, wild valleys, and thundering waterfalls beckon from the end of long highways and down bumpy roads, accessible only to those willing to drive (and sometimes hike) for a peek.

Keep in mind that many car rental companies in Hawaii restrict where you can and can’t bring non-four-wheel-drive rental cars. If you’re planning on venturing down unpaved roads, compare policies by rental agency and car type. And if you’re planning to rent a car under age 25, there are other considerations as well.

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Don’t Assume You’ll Speed Through the Car Rental Pickup

You land in Hawaii after a long flight primed to start your vacation. You grab your checked bags and head to the street to grab the car rental shuttle. And that’s when you realize everyone else on your flight (and on every flight that landed around the same time) is headed to one of a few car rental agencies at the airport, too. And then you wait. And wait.

Patience is key, but there are certain steps you can take to expedite the process. Join the rental agency’s loyalty program before you go; that will likely entitle you to stand in a shorter line or skip the line altogether and head straight to your car.

And whatever you do, don’t make anything complicated. On a recent trip, I tried out third-party car rental insurance and wanted to add my spouse to the contract. Thirty minutes later we were still discussing the finer points of car rental policies with the branch supervisor. Never again. Remember: Patience, preparation, simplicity. Repeat this mantra as needed while standing in line.

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Don’t Eat Out All the Time

cheap eats in honolulu

What happens when you take a loaf of bread (or simply the flour to make the bread) and ship it 2,000 miles? The person who eventually eats the bread pays a long-distance markup. There’s no getting around it—eating out in Hawaii is expensive. It’s not just fancy spots, either; local spots (and even the grocery store, frankly) seem pricier than their mainland counterparts.

Even if you feel like it’s just not vacation unless you’re dining out regularly (I am familiar with the phenomenon, being married to a person with this affliction), you can still save hundreds of questionably spent dollars by insourcing some of your meals. Breakfast is an easy one: Head to the local market, pick up some cereal and milk, and occupy the mini-fridge.

If you’re a bit more ambitious, keep sandwich fixings and snacks on hand and make some of your own lunches. After all, a picnic lunch pairs perfectly with a day at the beach.

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Don’t Underestimate Hawaiian Food

I’ll admit I was guilty of this. I don’t like Spam and I’m not a huge fan of finding surprise pineapple in my food. But there’s so much more to Hawaiian food than potted meat and hidden tropical fruit. Over the last decade, Hawaii has done its local bounty proud, finding new and better ways to showcase the incredible interplay of agricultural abundance and rich cultural influences.

How do you unlock the culinary delights of the Hawaiian Islands? By getting out there with an appetite. Hit up a farmers’ market on any island for a taste of what’s freshest. Try some local vodka made with sugar cane and deep-ocean mineral water. Stop at a roadside shack for smoothies. Explore a coffee plantation, then enjoy a fresh cup of the local brew. Stand in line at a food truck for shave ice. Feast on furikake chicken at a local joint, and eat every malasada (a Hawaiian-Portuguese donut) and manju (a bun filled with coconut, sweet potato, and other delights) that dares to cross your path. Try a plate lunch, saimin, poke, and other local specialties you find.

And bring an extra suitcase to fill with local candies and cookies from local candy producers such as Big Island Candies on the Big Island and Nisshodo Mochiya on Oahu.

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Don’t Skimp on Sunscreen

When my dermatologist found basal-cell carcinoma on my face a few years ago, I was surprised. I had a few bad sunburns when I was young, but for decades I’ve been dutifully applying sunscreen and wearing hats. But she said that most people (including me) weren’t applying adequate sunscreen, and weren’t reapplying often enough.

If a thick initial application and top-ups every 90 minutes in the sun seem like a vacation buzzkill, try reframing it this way: You’re on vacation. That means you’re not spending days replying to work emails (if you are, we need to have another conversation), running errands, reorganizing the kitchen cupboards, or commuting. Most of your time is dedicated to fun and relaxation. So consider this the one thing on your to-do list.

And come on, if “apply sunscreen” is the main thing on your to-do list, you are winning at life.

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Don’t Stick to the Same Beach

Hawaii Beach Boardwalk

All beaches in Hawaii are public. Even if they’re at a fancy resort, or surrounded by a gated community, or bordered by private property, beaches must be accessible and open to anyone. And each of Hawaii’s beaches offers a slightly different twist on paradise: calm lava pools and lolling sea turtles, stunning black sand, vivid blue water, wide resort beaches dotted with chaise lounges, and everything in between. No beach is quite the same, which means you’ve got your work cut out for you if you’re harboring beach-expert aspirations.

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Don’t Forget There’s More to Hawaii Than Beaches

Yes, Hawaii is best known for its beaches. Yes, people come from all over the world to bask on its shores. But a trip that ends at the beach misses out on the rich culture and diverse natural beauty of the islands. Learn about Hawaii’s complicated history and strong cultural identity at historical sites and cultural centers. Explore its natural beauty at botanical gardens and along hiking or biking trails. Enjoy the rhythms of local life in its small towns. Your curiosity will be rewarded.

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Don’t Rent Snorkels in Hawaii

Snorkeling

Let’s talk about snorkel rentals. Yes, of course they’re cleaning them, but snorkels go inside your mouth. Would you share a partially eaten Lifesaver with a stranger? What if I cleaned it really well first? See what I’m getting at here?

All the germs aside, there’s the issue of cost. If you just want to rent a snorkel for an hour or two to check out some cool turtles, or stingrays, or brightly colored fish, then it might be cost-efficient. But let’s face it, snorkeling in Hawaii is pretty addictive, and after you’ve done it once you’re probably going to feel like swimming without snorkel gear is like going to an amazing museum with a blindfold. You’ll still be in the museum, sure, but you’re not going to truly enjoy what makes it beautiful.

So what do you do instead? Head to a larger town and find a Costco, Target, or other big box store. In a pinch, you can even head to a well-stocked grocery store. There, you’ll find snorkel gear starting from about $20 for the mask-snorkel combo. Alternatively, you can bring your own from home.

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Don’t Speed

While stuck in a marathon-based traffic jam on the Big Island, I noticed regular cars equipped with flashing lights cruising along the shoulder, bypassing the gridlock. At the time, my husband and I half-joked that some savvy locals had bought stick-on sirens (the marathon creates long lines of stopped traffic every year), but I soon discovered that these totally normal-looking, nary-a-Crown-Vic-in-sight cars make up a significant part of the police fleet on Oahu and the Big Island. Since officers can opt to use their own cars for work, any car can be a cop car. And that means drivers can’t fall back on the keeping-an-eye-out-for-cop-cars approach to pushing the speed limit. So stick to the speed limit and enjoy the scenery.

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Don’t Dismiss Warning Signs

Strong current. Sharp coral. Stinging jellyfish. Wastewater bacteria. You’ll find signs covering these dangers and others at beaches around Hawaii. And let’s put it this way: They’re not just for show. The sand may be soft and the water warm, but these and other beach dangers are real and can be life-threatening.

So on your way from parking lot to beach, take a minute to read the signs so that you know what to look out for. And if what you read makes you think twice about entering the water, consider another beach. That, after all, is one of the great things about Hawaii—there are always more beaches to try out.

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Christine Sarkis does not rent snorkels. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Editor’s Note: This story was first written in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.