Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Oddities

10 Foreign Fast Food Chains We Want in the U.S.

How can America, home of the KFC Double Down, Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, and Carl’s Jr. Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich, not have these amazing foreign fast-food chains within its borders? Here are 10 delicious and forbidden fast-food chains that we wish would move stateside—ASAP.

Food & Drink Oddities Opinion Romantic Travel

In Praise of Krispy Kreme, My Ultimate Destination Wedding Venue

How one editor’s obsession with Krispy Kreme led her to fantasize about nuptials at the North Carolina chain.

“If you had to get married in a chain restaurant, which one would it be?”

My former college roommate posed this question on a road trip that had entered into hour three. We’d long passed Delaware and small talk, and were now wading into “what if” scenarios. My friends laughed.

“That’s crazy!” one replied

“I need to think about it,” said another.

But I had my answer ready: “At Krispy Kreme, saying my vows under the hot doughnuts sign.”

A year earlier, I’d married my favorite person on earth in an elegant, rustic setting. The ceremony was held outside, with tidy rows of white chairs marking out an alfresco chapel. The reception was inside a farmhouse. Peonies topped every surface. Little pewter table numbers organized guests. Champagne bubbled in every fluted glass. It was possibly the most sophisticated moment of my life.

But afterward, I questioned everything but the groom. Why oh why didn’t Krispy Kreme occur to me earlier?

My first Krispy was in Virginia along Route 1. It still sits in a dip in the road between two hills, the midway point of a roller coaster ride. What I remember most isn’t the retro stool seating or the polka-dotted branding, it’s the illuminated “hot doughnuts” sign, lit at night like a vacancy sign at a cheap honeymoon motel. When that signal was on, it was impossible not to swerve my beat-up Volvo into the turning lane. Those doughnuts were part of my report card celebrations and my post-breakup sulks.

I was an easy target: a hormonal, hungry teen who had the appetite to demolish a tub of ice cream. From my first bite of Krispy Kreme’s chocolate iced glaze, I was a believer. Fresh from the oven, shellacked in sugar, and topped in a cap of chocolate, they made me want to write romantic sonnets. Years later, I was still swooning.

As far as I know, there’s only one couple that actually had their wedding at a Krispy Kreme: Sarah Daniel and Kiran Skariah of New South Wales, Australia. Sarah was a student working in the local Krispy who got flirty with Kiran over his usual order, white hot chocolate. They celebrated every subsequent dating anniversary at the venue, so when they got married, they decided to hold the reception there in 2016. 

The wedding was covered by The Sun under the headline “I Dough!” I read about it with the sort of stabbing, hyper-focused jealousy typically associated with stalking an ex on Facebook. The bride was a vision of matrimonial loveliness in white lace standing under an awning that read “Doughnuts & Coffee.” The photo—the caption called them the “sweet-toothed pair”—showed them in a booth, smugly snuggling up in their wedding finery, a glazed doughnut between them. Despite all this, though, they seemed entirely undeserving. I mean, white hot chocolate? That was what brought them together? Not a chocolate iced or even a cruller?

But there’s another nuptial I like to picture: the wedding of Vernon Rudolph, founder of Krispy Kreme, and Ruth Ayers. Their wedding took place in 1939, two years after the company was founded. I imagine Ruth in a Meghan Markle-esque dress, a long-sleeved silk gown edged in ivory buttons, topped with a lace veil streaming to the floor like an embroidered waterfall. Did Vernon carry her over the Krispy threshold? Did they feed each other glazed doughnuts? Did they hold the ceremony under the “hot” light?

The last question I know to be pure fantasy. Although this light seems to be part of the company’s lore since its inception, the first beacon didn’t go up until the ’90s. But the hot light drives customers into a mania and the company embraces it. The company’s app is fully built around tracking illuminated signs as they flash up, essentially acting as a Tinder for hot doughnut hookups. 

And the fact is, its cold doughnuts are delicious but mundane. Yet warm, they’re ambrosia on a conveyor belt. Quite simply, hot doughnuts are hard to get. And as anyone who’s been put through the wringer of love will tell you, when someone plays hard to get, it breeds deep obsessiveness.

Six years after that road trip, I wanted to confess to my husband at last how much I was pining for a do-over wedding at Krispy Kreme, even long after our ceremony. Our conversation wasn’t what I expected.

I turned to him and asked, “Do you ever look back on our wedding and wish we got married in—”

“Legoland?” he said.

Apparently, my husband had his own adolescent dream that our traditional wedding hadn’t met. And that’s when we began plotting our future anniversaries at Krispy Kreme. And Legoland. After all, marriage is about compromise.

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21 Bizarre Special Requests from Hotel Guests

Some of us have only humble hotel requests: fresh towels, a shower with hot water, maybe a restaurant reservation or two … and please, no bugs in the bed. But then there are the travelers who are just a little bit more demanding.

I reached out to 21 hotels, B&Bs, and inns to share the zaniest requests they’ve ever gotten from guests, and they responded with some doozies. From arranging doggie honeymoons to scattering plastic flamingos around the room, these concierges and innkeepers truly went beyond the call of duty.

Editor’s note: The following quotes come from general managers, communications directors, and other representatives of the listed properties.

Swimming with the Fishes

“We had one woman who wanted us to arrange a pedicure with fish that seemingly nibble the hard skin around your toes! And then we had a gentleman who wanted to be christened on Culloden Battlefield because he was convinced he was a Jacobite reincarnated!! We said no to the fish but yes to the christening—a retired minister did it for £75.” —Culloden House, Inverness, Scotland

How Much Did They Pay in Checked Bag Fees?

“Two hundred twenty-two pieces of luggage arrived with the Rolling Stones when they visited the hotel for just two nights in 2003. On another occasion, rock star Don Henley requested that his bed, stored in a truck that follows him on his travels, be placed in his hotel room. However, he later asked that it be removed because he found the Brown Palace bed so comfortable.” —The Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colorado)

At Least You Didn’t Have to Build an Igloo

“The most memorable request for us is the guest who asked for 20 pounds of ice for his penguins. The penguins visited a year or two ago as part of one of the exhibits at the Boston Globe Travel Show. They stayed in the bathtub when they weren’t on display at the show, which was held on site in the Seaport World Trade Center. Twenty pounds of ice actually isn’t too much, and we have multiple ice machines at Seaport, so we filled up four bags for them. We hope the ice helped to keep them comfortable during their stay!” —Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Boston, Massachusetts

In the Doghouse

“We were asked if we could accommodate a guest’s six chihuahuas and we duly obliged, as we have kennels in our underground car park. Another unique request: We had to keep the Jacuzzi private for a guest who wanted to propose to his girlfriend. (She said yes!)” —Cliff House Hotel, County Waterford, Ireland

Play Ball!

“Our area is a baseball mecca, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Every year, a new group of baseball greats is inducted into the Hall of Fame and stays at the hotel (from Babe Ruth back in the day to Andre Dawson). When Bruce Sutter (a pitcher who was first to make effective use of the split-finger fastball) was inducted, his baseball friends wanted to play a prank on him. Bruce had a gray beard, so the day before his induction 12 Hall of Famers, including the renowned Ozzie Smith, asked our concierge to purchase 12 gray beards. Somehow the concierge was able to do it (by traveling all the way to Albany), so when Bruce walked to the podium to accept his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 12 baseball players were wearing gray beards to root him on.” —Otesaga Resort Hotel, Cooperstown, New York

Can We Get Our Horoscope Too?

“Here in southwest Scotland we are situated beside the Galloway Forest, a newly accredited Dark Sky area. That means very little light pollution, and on a clear night from our deck we can view galaxies including the Milky Way above our farmhouse as well as a sky full of stars, planets, comets, meteors, nebulae, and satellites. Our guests have asked for everything from stargazing guides and warm hats to steaming mugs of hot chocolate. We’ll even provide the services of a trained astronomer to show our guests around the constellations!” —Alton Albany Farm B&B, Barr, Scotland

“Honey? Why Is There a Flamingo in My Bed?”

“One hundred plastic pink flamingos were placed in a room at a guest request as a practical joke. We aren’t sure why the guest wanted them, but they were scattered everywhere—tub, bed, desk.” —The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Every Dog Has Its Day

“We put aside our pet-friendly suite for a bride and groom so they would have a place to go after their doggie wedding! Cricket (the bride), a therapy dog who works with seniors at a local residence for women, and Black Magic (the groom), a rescue dog, rode in a limo from the ceremony to our hotel, where we had a pet menu and a wedding cake waiting for them. (Cricket wasn’t too sure about sharing the cake with her groom, but their handler/owner had a way of convincing them to share.) They especially enjoyed their welcome gifts of ‘Hawthorne Hotel’ squeaky bones.” —Hawthorne Hotel, Salem, Massachusetts

That’s Something We’d Rather Choose for Ourselves…

“One guest asked us for a selection of ‘toys’ from Agent Provocateur [a U.K.-based adult clothing and novelty shop]. We got to choose.” —The May Fair Hotel, London, England

We Won’t Even Ask

“The strangest request we’ve gotten was ‘Do not touch the bed!’ The housekeeper was told, ‘Leave the bed alone.’ And a note found on the bed said ‘DO NOT TOUCH!’ Inquiring minds…” —White Cedar Inn, Freeport, Maine

‘Tis the Season

“[We] welcomed guests staying in December who decided to celebrate an early Christmas because he was shipping out for military service overseas. The concierges purchased a tree from one of the local greenhouses and had it placed in the room prior to their arrival. In advance, the wife shipped the concierges their holiday ornaments, stockings, and a few small gifts. Armed with all of those props, the concierges decorated the tree, hung the stockings, wrapped the presents, and staged their celebration all before the guests walked into the hotel for a magical Christmas holiday.” —Sofitel Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois

Quick! Someone Call a Park Ranger

“We get a lot of interesting requests, as well as questions—like ‘What time of the year do the elk turn into moose?'” —Snake River Lodge, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Better Than a Yellow Submarine…

“A guest only wanted to stay in the hotel ‘if we had a fully yellow room.’ Thank God we do, and he finally checked in.” —Home Hotel, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sounds Like That Bachelorette Party Was a Little Too Much Fun

“A bride realized four hours prior to her wedding that she got her dress dirty the night before on a drunken adventure in Seattle. It was a trip to the local dry cleaner for our concierge—he had to assist the dry cleaner with cleaning the wedding dress and shortly after meet the bride at the wedding venue.” —Kimpton Hotel Vintage, Seattle, Washington

Why Don’t You Ask for the Prime Minister, Too, While You’re at It?

“A very affluent guest celebrating his son’s bar mitzvah once requested that the concierge arrange a football pitch and the Israeli soccer team to come and play a match against his son and his friends. Our concierge was able to put him in touch with one of the largest Jerusalem soccer teams, with which they were very pleased.” —Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, Jerusalem, Israel

Finders, Keepers

“Recently an A-list actress from a top-rated television series was staying with us and asked us to provide a personal steamer for her room. … We strive to fulfill any of our guests’ needs that will ensure they have a comfortable stay, so of course we had the steamer waiting in her room when she arrived. No problem, right? Except that despite being asked to leave the steamer in her room when she left, she took it with her.” —Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, San Diego, California

And What About the Feng Shui?

“We had a guest who requested a specific room because of the effect the sun at that angle had on their aura.” —The Eliot Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts

The Butterfly Effect

“On several occasions we have had brides ask that we keep their butterflies in our walk-in coolers for several days prior to their wedding ceremony in our garden, when the butterflies would be released. Unfortunately for our food and beverage department and our sales staff, it is not quite as easy as ‘butterflies shipped in, butterflies go in cooler, butterflies come out of cooler, container opens, butterflies are free, bride and wedding party smile with joy and happiness.’ The butterfly shipping crates list specific ‘thawing’ instructions so the winged lovelies will be active and full of wing at just the right moment. Too long in the cooler and you have butterfly lethargy … too much thawing time and the little lepidopteras become too active too soon and beat themselves up in the box wanting to escape.” —1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

He Can Practice on Us, Too!

“We once had a guest who was in town for a massage therapy seminar and asked if he could give some of our associates massages so that he could practice. That was one request we had no problem granting!” —The Roosevelt Hotel, New York, New York

What the Heck Is a Hinny?

“The wackiest guest request I ever received came by email from a travel agent in Tasmania. She wanted to book a week’s stay for her client, the Anglican Bishop for the State of Tasmania and his wife, and did I know of a place that [the wife] could ride a hinny? After several emails (and Googling the word ‘hinny’), I was quite prepared to meet this fantastic couple. We arranged for them to visit some of our Amish neighbors, she got to visit with their mules (the closest we could come to a hinny), and they made good friends within the community. All in all, it was a wonderful visit for all of us.” —Jan Garrabrandt, Innkeeper, The Artist’s Inn and Gallery, Terre Hill, Pennsylvania

Just Avoid the Beans and It’ll All Be Fine

The following letter was sent to the Hotel Versey Days Inn by Wyndham Chicago, and is so special that we’ll let it speak for itself:

“My baby Billy, who is a cute snorkeling piglet, is my most treasured pet that I cannot go anywhere without. … Billy just has a little problem: Every hour he likes to go outside and play with his soccer ball that he pushes around with his little snout. I tend to keep to his every hour playtime schedule because if not he’ll throw a fit and oink all night. … We want to ask if we’d be able to reserve a room near an exit door with two beds? I did forget to mention that Billy sleeps in his own bed with a fluffy pillow that he loves to lay his small pudgy head upon. By the way, it has been two years [since] Billy has had a runny accident on the bed. I admit that day he had that awful accident was my fault, because I overfed him beans with a chalupa. … I do promise that you will not have to worry about another accident because that is the last time I would ever feed him beans and chalupas.'”

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Beach Oddities Travel Etiquette

What Not to Do at a Nude Beach

From Hawaii to Mexico, Greece to Croatia, and even to the coastal shores of New Jersey, nude beaches abound. These hot spots are great if you want a carefree and clothing-optional getaway. But before you hit a nudist beach, know that strict etiquette reigns supreme. In fact, most clothes-free destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know—and what you shouldn’t do—at a nude beach.

Don’t Assume That a Beach Is Clothing-Optional

Reading somewhere that a beach is clothing-optional does not mean that the beach is actually clothing-optional. Do your due diligence and ensure that the area is truly safe for your naked patronage. To get you started, the American Association for Nude Recreation supplies a short list of nude beaches in the U.S. (there aren’t many), while SmarterTravel has rounded up some of the world’s top nudist destinations.

And if you’re ever unsure as to whether a nude beach is a nude beach? Keep your clothes on. In many places, public nudity is a serious crime that could lead to a fine (or worse).

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Don’t Forget to Research Naturist Resorts

Naturist resorts cater to completely clothing-free vacation seekers, so if you want to go all in (or off), consider these options rather than a one-time visit to a nude beach. From family-friendly campgrounds in the Poconos to luxe all-inclusives in the Caribbean, there’s likely a nudist resort option that suits your style and budget.

Rules at each of these resorts differ, and many are adults-only. As with any hotel stay, read the resort’s policies closely before you book.

At a Nude Beach? Don’t Stare

Once you’re on a nudist beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously, you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. But play it cool: Most nude beach insiders insist that it’s easy, and that at a certain point, you simply stop noticing all the bare skin.

Can’t handle the realities of polite naked society? That’s okay, but stick to clothing-required beaches for the sake of everyone’s comfort.

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Don’t Expect Too Much at Nude Beaches

Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a Playboy Mansion memoir. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and are far more likely to veer into dad bod territory than to look like Channing Tatum in the buff. So don’t expect models at a nude beach and then be disappointed when you see, well, normal humans in all their hirsute glory.

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Don’t Take Pictures at a Nude Beach

A good rule of thumb: Never, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission. This goes for all tourist destinations—from nude beaches to theme parks to UNESCO World Heritage sites—but it’s especially true when the subject of your photo is naked. Always ask explicitly if you may take a photo and make sure photography is even allowed where you are. (Many nudist beaches prohibit it.)

Furthermore, even if you’re okay with someone snapping a pic of you, keep in mind that you have little control over where that photo ends up—from travel review sites to social media to less pleasant parts of the internet.

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Don’t Go Naked in Certain Public Areas

Due to local regulations, many areas at nudist beaches or resorts may, in fact, require clothing, including parking lots, cafes, shops, and so on. Consult any posted signs regarding clothing-required venues and follow them closely. Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist beaches and resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.

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Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

While this doesn’t fall squarely in the etiquette department, it’s still a critical piece of information to have at a nudist beach: Yes, those sensitive areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a slather of sunscreen, preferably one that’s gentle on sensitive skin. Test it a few weeks before you hit a nude beach to ensure that you don’t end up with an unsightly rash somewhere that you definitely don’t want one.

Women's Nude Beach Outfit

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 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Cities Oddities

The 10 Funniest Small Town Names in America

Travel the highways and byways of the U.S. and you just might stumble across Intercourse, Hell, or Cool. Our top picks for small towns with funny names offer more than just a laugh, though: You can also find Gold Rush history, serious fishing, healing waters, a mean ice cream sundae, and ways to save on a trip.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania

Some say Intercourse got its name from an old race course, others attribute it to an intersection of major roads, and some look back to a time when the word had strong connotations of fellowship and friendship. Regardless, it doesn’t get much more wholesome than the village of Intercourse.

In the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Intercourse offers rural scenery and both Amish and Mennonite culture. Lodging options for all budgets and plenty of hearty food at reasonable prices free up vacation dollars for regional treats such as locally crafted quilts and Amish buggy rides.

Boring, Oregon

Named at the turn of the century after resident W.H. Boring, there’s no reason to be bored in Boring, Oregon, located about 30 minutes from Portland near Mount Hood. Visitors can stop by Red Pig Garden Tools, specializing in hand-forged garden tools; take a tour of the Guide Dogs for the Blind’s Oregon campus; or enjoy the outdoors along the Springwater Corridor biking and walking trail. The wealth of free activities and proximity to Portland make Boring an affordable day trip.

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

In Truth or Consequences, the southwestern landscape matches the drama of the town name. Named after a 1950s radio show, the city halfway between El Paso and Albuquerque attracts visitors with its unusual name and famed waters. Truth or Consequences is well known for its geothermal springs, which provide hot water to the many bathhouses in the downtown historic district. Greater Sierra County is rich in ghost towns, deserts, and mountains. As one of the country’s most affordable spa towns, Truth or Consequences is easy on the wallet, too.

Hell, Michigan

As it turns out, Hell does freeze over. Hell, Michigan, that is. Dubbed “Hell” by 19th century farm wives whose husbands returned home drunk after turning their grain into whiskey at a local still, today’s Hell has a sense of humor. Local hangout Screams Ice Cream serves up the Grave Digger banana split, has a coffin of ice cream toppings, and offers Hell-branded souvenirs. Is a T-shirt not enough? You can also get married in Hell or be mayor of Hell for a day.

Cool, California

The town of Cool in the foothills of the Sierras offers visitors a taste of California Gold Rush history and plenty of outdoor activities. Named after an itinerant preacher in the 1800s, Cool sits along historic Highway 49, just a stone’s throw from where gold was discovered in 1848. Cool is less than an hour from Sacramento Airport.

Uncertain, Texas

Located along the Texas-Louisiana border in the Piney Woods region, Uncertain is home to Caddo Lake, Texas’ largest naturally formed lake. The 32,700-acre wetland is full of bayous, sloughs, and Spanish-moss-draped cypress trees. Why Uncertain? Stories of the name’s origin vary: One refers to a notoriously unreliable boat landing site on Caddo Lake, while another has to do with the state of Texas taking too literally the word “uncertain” noted in the name box of the town’s application to become a city back in the early 1960s. Uncertain attracts visitors looking to fish, hunt, birdwatch, and explore the lake by boat. Affordability is a sure thing with Uncertain’s wealth of outdoor activities and rustic lodging options.

Carefree, Arizona

Just north of Phoenix in the high Sonoran Desert sits the town of Carefree. Created in the 1950s as a community dedicated to leisure, it’s a place where you can drive down Easy Street … or Lazy Lane, or Carefree Drive. Area resorts feature golf, spas, and outdoor activities. Downtown, residents and visitors enjoy outdoor concerts and other events. The town’s proximity to the transportation hub of Phoenix makes it an easy destination to be carefree.

Last Chance, Idaho

Driving along Highway 20 in Idaho, blink and you’ll miss your chance to see Last Chance. It’s part of the community of Island Park, created in the late 1940s to circumvent the state’s liquor laws that banned the sale of alcohol outside of city limits. Located about 30 miles south of West Yellowstone, Last Chance may be small, but it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Fishing and hiking are popular pastimes, and travelers also pause in Last Chance for its outdoor supply shops and general store.

Accident, Maryland

Two hours from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in Western Maryland’s picturesque Garrett County, lies the small town of Accident. The name is a happy accident, a reference to an unexpected coincidence between surveying crews. The sleepy town’s biggest draw is the historical Drane House, the oldest standing structure in the area. Nearby activities such as rafting and climbing programs from Adventure Sports Center International offer more reasons to check out the area.

Normal, Illinois

It may sound like a character assessment, but the name Normal actually comes from the 19th-century name, derived from the French école normale, for teachers’ colleges. Attractions in the city of Normal range from the Children’s Discovery Museum to Rader Family Farms. Nearby, find Route 66 experiences and even wineries.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Family Travel In-Flight Experience Miscellany Oddities

The Turbulent Rise and Fall of the Kiddie Wing Pin

How one mini freebie illustrates the story of the airline industry at large.

As a kid, I loved to rummage around the bottom of my father’s sock drawer, where, among the loose change and rolls of breath mints, he stashed his collection of little airplane wing pins. For decades, these were handed out as mementos to child passengers, but my business-traveler dad (ever a 10-year-old at heart) was never above grabbing one for himself. I found his collection of pins compelling then, and today they still fascinate me. In many ways, wing pins have been a weathervane of the airline industry, showing what direction the winds of change are blowing.

Aficionados can often recall their first pin. Tracy Stewart, Managing Editor of Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site), remembers the exact brand. “It was given to me by my dad. He gave me a Delta pin, and I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Likewise, Cameron Fleming, advertising copywriter and creator of the site Fly the Branded Skies, recalls his modest collection as a kid. “I would keep them in a jam jar. I had maybe 12.” As an adult, he now owns 636 pins, which are stored in an industrial filing cabinet and documented methodically on his site. Fleming is in good company. More than 1,300 eBay listings are currently selling junior wings, ranging from a plastic Western Airlines pin going for $2 to a 1940s United Airlines one for $125.

Three airline wing pins on a map.

Wing pins and commercial flight took off in tandem. As early as the 1930s, airlines gave out tiny metal airplane-wing pins to their youngest travelers—usually kids flying for the first time. In those days, these tiddlywink-type handouts were a huge badge of honor; only about one percent of Americans in the 1930s had boarded a commercial flight, and very few were children. “The Civil Aeronautics Board always had the final say in how much airlines could set seat prices,” Stewart says, “and you didn’t see a lot of discounted fares or even youth fares.”

In that era, air travel and the accompanying souvenir would have been quite exotic. “Having that Pan American ‘junior pilots’ pin on the playground would be quite something,” Fleming says. In terms of bragging rights, “it would be like you went to the moon.”

These wings became treasured keepsakes for kids, like baseball cards or marbles, and they fostered similar attachments. Some pins were marked “pilot,” “crew,” or “stewardess,” allowing children to role-play and recreate their flights during play-time. In those days many airlines doled out pilot pins to boys and stewardess ones to girls, proving that even 30,000 feet in the air, there’s still a glass ceiling.

Production of these “junior wings” or “kiddie wings” continued through the decades and peaked in the 1980s. Those years were also a boom time for air travel; propelled by the industry’s deregulation in 1978, the number of passengers doubled to 1 billion in the decade from 1975 to 1985. “Finally, airlines were able to set their own fares and they could be more competitive,” Stewart says. And with rising competition came the drive for airlines to set themselves apart. It’s in this moment “you start seeing airlines giving out lots of freebies like wing pins.”

Fleming also notes that wing pins were a way for new-to-market brands to legitimize themselves, essentially acting like wearable business cards. “It was a marketing symbol that the airline was open for business. Once it had the wings that it could give out to kids, it had arrived.” It also helped that new, cheapie plastic versions of these pins made significantly less of an impact on the bottom line than the costlier metal ones. At the high point, 73 airlines were doling out wings to their youngest clientele.

TWA Junior Hostess Wing Pin.

Of course, these were just part of a fleet of airline-branded items that included playing cards, matchbooks, and keychains. But kiddie pins were singular in that they targeted the next generation of travelers, which put them in an ethical gray zone. A 1978 report by the Federal Trade Commission, the same year as airline deregulation, confirmed that children under age 8 couldn’t differentiate between an advertisement and a personal message. This meant that children saw the pins as toys gifted to them, no different from a faux sheriff badge or secret decoder ring. As such, the pins fostered nostalgia as powerful as any other childhood plaything, but specific to an airline. This was not unlike the branded toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals, which kicked off in 1979. That pairing has met it share of criticism for using Disney characters, Beanie Babies, and the like to entice kids into a lifelong relationship with unhealthy food.

Fleming, however, doesn’t see pins as a “nefarious” act on the airlines part to hook the next generation. “I guess depending where you were in your development, it could mean a lot to you as a kid, and some of those residual feelings would carry on into adulthood.” But ultimately, he sees the pins as an excuse for playtime in a less-than-playful space. Stewart also thinks “it’s just a way of putting kids at ease,” and compares wing pins to a free lollipop at the bank. “For kids, it’s an act that helps soften up an otherwise boring, adult necessity,” he says.

Wherever they fall on a moral spectrum, wing pins have taken a nosedive since their heyday in the 1980s. The early 2000s was a low-point for pins; only around four airlines continued to dole them out. Once again, the pins reflected the larger turbulence in the marketplace. “In 2000, the industry was dealing with a bad economy—nine airlines went bankrupt—and then 9/11 happened and everything went down the tubes,” Stewart says. “After that, you start seeing successful budget carriers springing up. Legacy carriers were forced to mimic the model used by the low-cost carriers to survive.”

The rise of online flight shopping and easy price comparison tools drove a race to rock-bottom prices. With more and more price transparency, airlines couldn’t rely on emotional connections forged by kiddie wings and other paraphernalia to help sell tickets. Nor could they justify raising the price to absorb the cost of those branded items, when even a $10 difference could send travelers to the next airline on search results.

The heyday of wing pins was officially over.

Or was it? In the 2010s, airlines have again risen in profitability, and the wing pin has started to make a few glimmering reappearances. “Delta has them. United has them. American has them,” Fleming says, listing the wing pins that could be currently circulating somewhere above our heads. Delta, Fleming recalls, brought its pins back with a lot of fanfare. “They are so strongly associated with the golden era of air travel that bringing them back really does send a strong signal of company health,” he explains.

Virgin Atlantic Airline Wing pin.

Tellingly in these last few years, pins have popped up outside fuselage walls. On a flight back from London, I ran into a familiar sight: the wing pin. This time, it was being handed out in the airport terminal by a Virgin Atlantic rep next to a “selfie wall.” The pin, on a millennial-pink card, declared, “You’re a future flyer” and came with a postcard instructing travelers to snap a picture and post it with the hashtag #VirginFutureFlyers.

In a way, that’s a return to form for the wing pin. “What’s interesting about them is that they’re an invitation to participate in the brand,” Fleming says. “The idea that you can, on some basic level, be part of the crew is exciting.” Just like in yesteryear, these new wing pins are encouraging interaction, playtime, and “joining a crew,” though now all of that takes place in a virtual world.

It’s not surprising that, in our last decade, wing pins have left the current dreariness of the plane cabin and slipped down the escape ramp of social media. In the past, Stewart jokes, “You’d have a huge hulking seat, like a La-Z-Boy, and the flight attendant would be, say, carving a ham next to you.” Now he says, “the reality is that you’re trapped in a plane with very little legroom.” In other words, in the middle seat of economy, everyone’s wings are clipped. But online, the fantasy of jetting off into the sunset still lives on. And it’s on that runway that airline pins could take off again.

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Oddities Security

Does the Hotel Maid Look Through Your Stuff?

Sometimes people do inappropriate things when no one is looking. Sometimes those people are hotel housekeepers, as was indicated in a hidden-camera video that went viral a few years ago. A clip filmed at a “well-known American hotel brand” revealed a hotel maid messing with a guest’s belongings. The housekeeper picked up the man’s tablet and attempted to use his computer a few times. Nothing was stolen. The video is below.

Although no crime was committed, the idea of a stranger examining one’s personal possessions is unsettling. The video leads me to wonder if my suitcase was ever inspected, my toiletry bag peeked at, or my tablet tampered with. Ideally, no one should rifle through a guest’s belongings. But maybe it happens. And if it does, should we really be worried? Is snooping a legitimate concern for travelers?

I asked Jacob Tomsky, author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, if nosy housekeepers are a thing. Tomsky told me, “Well, in any business it’s possible to unwittingly hire criminal-minded employees. So that can happen anywhere at any job. However, in my 10 years of experience, I’ve found housekeepers to be family-oriented and dedicated to the job. And part of that job is respecting guests’ belongings.”

Even though housekeepers are likely to be alone in a room with your stuff, Tomsky suggested we shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers. He said, “The housekeepers I know are proud to have a decent paying job with health care and wouldn’t risk losing that for petty thievery. Plus they know they are first in line for accusations. That’s why, when things go missing in a hotel, I always look outside of housekeeping. A lot of employees have keys to your room.”

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The blame game is pointless. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent a housekeeper from opening the closet door and snickering at your poor taste in outerwear. But there are proactive steps you can take to protect your privacy and keep your stuff safe. First, operate under the assumption that your hotel room is not as private as you would like it to be. You are not at home. In any hotel, vacation rental, B&B, or what have you, there is always a chance that theft could take place.

According to Tomsky, “I can’t recommend utilizing the in-room safe enough, obviously. If you put in a lock code and forget that code, it’s none other than a manager of security who has the ability to reset the lock. So anything in there is touched by you alone. Use it.”

Tomsky also recommended keeping your belongings well organized during your stay: “Cut down on the clutter. To make a room look clean, housekeepers have to move some items around, especially if your items are splayed out everywhere. And I’d say a great deal of suspected ‘theft’ is actually just loss. You leave important items all over the place and it’s absolutely possible those items will get bunched up with the linens and tossed down the chute into the laundry. I’ve been in the pit, looking for lost items. Only once did I find what we were looking for. Use the safe. And keep it neat.”

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If you really want to calm your paranoid worries, leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door for the duration of your stay; this way, your room won’t get cleaned and you can feel confident that no one touched your unmentionables or flipped through your dream journal.

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

Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel Business Travel Luxury Travel Oddities Passenger Rights Travel Trends

What Fifth Freedom Flights Are, and How They Could Save You Money

If you’ve never heard the term ‘fifth freedom flights,’ you might be missing out on a lucrative way to snag a deal or use your frequent flyer miles. But to explain why, we have to start from the early days of airline regulation:

Back in 1944, airlines and governments from around the world got together in Chicago and designated a series of five official “freedoms of the air,” including that states have control over their own air space and ground landings. The fifth freedom, however, is an airline’s “right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one’s own country.”

One example of a fifth freedom flight, according to SmarterTravel’s sister site Airfarewatchdog, is: “Singapore Airlines operates a flight from Houston (IAH) to Singapore (SIN) that heads eastward with a brief stop in Manchester, UK (MAN). With fifth freedom rights, a passenger can fly only the Houston to Manchester segment of that flight with no need to travel onward to Singapore.”

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These rights are not automatic: They’re negotiated between governments. And coupled with the third and fourth freedoms—flying between an airline’s home country and a different country—negotiated fifth freedom flights can benefit both airlines and travelers in a few ways:

Airline Benefits of Fifth Freedom Flights

On some very long flights, airlines make midpoint stops to refuel, maybe change crews and, often, to serve travelers headed to/from the midpoint stop: In the above example that’s Manchester, U.K. Fifth freedom rights allow an airline to gain extra revenue by selling fifth-freedom tickets from the midpoint to the final destination.

Example: On its Auckland-London flights via Los Angeles, Air New Zealand sells fifth-freedom tickets from Los Angeles to London along with its third-freedom tickets from Auckland to Los Angeles and London.

On other flights, traffic might be insufficient to support nonstop flights from an airline’s home base to a single distant city—but sufficient to support service to two cities by flying nonstop to one point and then a short connecting flight onward to a second, more distant city. Which then justifies selling fifth-freedom tickets between those two distant points.

Example: KLM sells fifth-freedom Buenos Aires-Santiago tickets on its flights running from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires to Santiago.

Traveler Benefits of Fifth Freedom Flights

Here’s why that all matters: Frequent flyer seats are often easier to come by on fifth-freedom flights than on local lines. Conversely, fares on fifth-freedom flights are sometimes (but not always) lower than local-line fares, which you might be more loyal to.

Here are some things to remember when checking for an advantageous fifth freedom flight to use your miles on or snag a deal:

In a few cases, a fifth-freedom flight is the only nonstop between two distant cities. See our original example: Houston to Manchester, England, on Singapore Airlines. In that case, you’re less likely to find a deal.

In other cases, a long-haul international flight may operate a short connecting flight with a wide-body plane, while local airlines use only smaller 737s and 320s. This difference is important mainly to travelers in business class, where long-haul planes typically have roomy, lie-flat seats while competitive single-aisle planes have only standard economy with a blocked middle seat.

Example: Emirates Airlines flies large Airbus A380s between Sydney and Christchurch, N.Z.

Search engines typically list fifth-freedom flights along with third-freedom flights, but there’s no way to identify a flight as fifth-freedom unless you know the airlines’ routes.

Are Fifth Freedom Flights Going Extinct?

Here’s a complete list of fifth freedom flights operating to/from the U.S. courtesy of Overall, in the long run, the availability of fifth-freedom flights is a moving target. As long-haul planes gain additional range, tech-stop flights are disappearing.

Example: Air New Zealand will eliminate the Los Angeles stop on its Auckland-London flights later this year, and last year Cathay Pacific eliminated a Vancouver, B.C., stop on a New York-Hong Kong flight. As smaller planes stretch their range, separate nonstops are likely to replace multistep long-haul flights, and local airlines will start flying nonstops where only fifth-freedom flights operate now.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

Arts & Culture Oddities

5 Surprising Countries Where English Is the Official Language (And One Where it Isn’t)

Want to travel somewhere that speaks your language? You may have more choices than you think. These five English speaking countries aren’t the ones you’d expect—and there’s even one you’d never guess doesn’t have English as an official language.


Playa Asuncion street at Caye Caulker island in Belize

Belize is the only English-language-official country in Central America. As a popular tourist destination, English is spoken by everyone, and many prices are listed in U.S. Dollars (the Belize dollar is tied to the U.S. Dollar with a fixed exchange rate), making it a comfortable destination for first-time international travelers.

English is not the only language spoken in Belize—nearly half of the population is fluent in an impressive three languages: English, Spanish, and Kriol.

Although Belize was first settled by the Maya around 1500 B.C.E, the country was colonized by the British in the 1600s and eventually became the Colony of British Honduras, which is why English wound up as the official language. In 1981, Belize won full independence, but the official language of English stuck.

[viator_tour destination=”746″ type=”1-mod” tours=”60459P14″]


:Tourists on safari game drive in Botswana

Botswana has both an official language (English) and a national language (Setswana), and you’ll find both spoken throughout the country if you visit. English is used for official documents and formal written communications, whereas Setswana is primarily used as a spoken language. Including English and Setswana, there are over 30 different languages spoken throughout diverse Botswana.

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View of City Hall, Georgetown, Guyana

Guyana is the only country in South America with English as the official language. This is a leftover byproduct of British colonization—Guyana gained independence in 1966. Although English is the official language, most Guyanese have Guyanese Creole as a first language.

[viator_tour destination=”22314″ type=”1-mod” tours=”17193P4″]


Unidentified women sit outside Taj Mahal in India

India has two national languages—English and Hindi. There are also 22 other officially recognized languages that are used by sections of the population, including Bengali, Punjabi, and Urdu. However, just because English is an official language doesn’t mean you can expect everyone you meet in the country to speak it. According to one report, only about 30 percent of Indian residents speak English.

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 local people performing traditional ethnic folkloristic dance in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe holds the Guinness World Record for the country with the most official languages, clocking in at 16. English is one of those languages, as are Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa.

[viator_tour destination=”5308″ type=”1-mod” tours=”101086P3″]

And the One Where It Isn’t

The Statue of Liberty in New York City

Although English is taught in schools and used everywhere in the country, the United States actually has no official national language. According to the CIA World Factbook, “English has acquired official status in 32 of the 50 states; Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii, and 20 indigenous languages are official in Alaska.”

Traveling? Consider These Carry-On Options

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.


10 Surprising Ways to Offend People in Other Countries

You may not have mastered the local language, but try to remember these etiquette points when you’re traveling. Everything from a simple hand gesture to how you drink can offend people in other countries—so read on and make friends, not enemies, abroad!

Never Fill Your Own Glass

Thirsty in Japan? When you’re drinking alcohol with others, it’s considered polite for people to serve each other rather than refilling your own glass. If your cup is empty, and you want more, try refilling a friend’s—hopefully, they’ll decide you need a top-up, too!


Oh, you think you’re fancy, huh? If you’re catching a cab alone in Australia or New Zealand and climb into the back seat, the driver is going to think that you’re stuck up. Solo passengers should sit in the front of the taxi with the driver.

Thumbs Down on Your Thumbs Up

Keep your thumbs to yourself if you’re visiting Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Italy, or Greece—your finger of approval is basically telling a local “up yours.”

Don’t Eat With Your Left Hand

Many cultures that eat with their hands reserve one hand, the left hand, for use in the bathroom. So if you dig into communal food with that hand, expect your fellow diners to lose their appetites in the Middle East, India, and parts of Africa.

USA, not America

“I’m from America.” If you say this in South America, you’re implying that only the United States is “America,” when of course anyone from South America could also be called American. Be more politically correct and tell someone you’re from the United States.

How Odd!

If you send someone an even number of flowers in Ukraine, you’re not sending the romantic or get well message you intended. Even numbers of flowers are reserved for funeral bouquets, so be sure to send an odd number to your Ukrainian friends.

V is Not for Victory

You think you’re ordering “two” drinks at the pub or wishing peace to someone, but in the United Kingdon and the Republic of Ireland, you’re basically flicking someone off. Two fingers with the palm inward is insulting—flip your hand around so the palm is facing outward to communicate a more peaceful meaning.

No Footsie

Avoid pointing the bottom of your feet at anyone in Asia, India, and the Middle East. Feet are considered the lowest and most unclean part of the body in many Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist countries, and pointing your soles at someone is disrespectful.

Round and Round It Goes

If you find yourself sharing a pint with a group of Brits or Australians, be sure to know the rules of the round. Don’t buy too many or not enough rounds—not standing your turn makes you look stingy and rude, whereas buying too many rounds makes you a showoff. Also, don’t order the most expensive drink at the pub when someone else is buying and then water for yourself when you’re footing the bill—everyone sees what you’re doing!

Here’s a Tip: Don’t Do It

Whereas in America (sorry, the United States) you’ll offend both the server and your dining companions if you don’t tip, you can offend people in Japan and South Korea if you do tip. In fact, you’re more likely to have your tip returned to you, with the waiter saying that you left too much money. (Sometimes, a service fee is already added into the bill, which is obviously okay to pay.) Read and download our expansive Tipping Guide for more info on this faux pas.

Traveling? Consider Some Favorite Carry-On Options

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Have you ever made a cultural faux pas abroad? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Arts & Culture Holiday Travel Oddities

12 New Year’s Traditions from Around the World

New Year’s Eve is a big deal all around the world. Families and friends come together to party, count down to the new year, and maybe even get that lucky kiss at midnight. But some cultures have their own unique traditions ranging from the spiritual to the fun to the bizarre (looking at you, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands!). Some are straight-up dangerous and others you might love enough to adopt as part of your own celebrations.

Eating 12 Grapes

Madrid, Spain-December 8, 2014: New-Year's tree and "House of the Post Office" on square "Puerta del Sol" in Madrid

Make a Wish on Your Suitcase

Man pulls yellow suitcase on the road

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Oddities Travel Trends

How Travel Has Changed in the Past 10 Years

As we head into a new decade, let’s take some time to acknowledge the incredible events and momentous changes in the travel world since 2010.

2010: Death of the Printed Boarding Pass

person holds two paper boarding passes

Mobile boarding passes became the norm in 2010 when United Airlines starting implementing them.

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2011: Security Lines at Airports Becomes Less Painful

man enters the tsa precheck line at airport

In October 2011, the TSA launched its PreCheck program; there are now more than 200 participating airports and 8.54 million members.

[st_related]From the Archives: More than 1 Million People Enrolled in TSA PreCheck[/st_related]

2012: Ridesharing Picks Up Momentum

lyft mustache car san francisco

Over the summer of 2012, Lyft quietly launched as a part of the company Zimride, a long-distance intercity carpooling company. A year later, its founders sold Zimride to focus on developing Lyft and competing with Uber.

[st_related]From the Archives: Are Uber and Lyft Making City Congestion Even Worse?[/st_related]

2013: Transatlantic Travel Becomes More Accessible (and Cheaper)

exterior of a norwegian air airplane

In May 2013 Norwegian Air Shuttle launched transatlantic flights with routes from Oslo and Stockholm to New York JFK. The airline expanded rapidly and now offers flights to Europe from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Francisco, and more.

[st_related]From the Archives: Norwegian Air Is Quietly Dominating the Transatlantic Airfare Market[/st_related]

2014: NYC Honors Victims of September 11th

world trade center in new york city

In spring 2014, the National September 11 Museum opened, followed later in the year by One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the U.S. and the Western Hemisphere. The following spring, One World Observatory opened and now the area is a popular tourist attraction for NYC visitors.

[st_related]From the Archives: 5 Ways 9/11 Changed How We Travel[/st_related]

2015: Overtourism Is on the Rise

Locks at pont des arts symbolize love for ever, december 1, 2012 in paris.

One year after a portion of the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris collapsed, the infamous “love locks” were removed in June of 2015. The weight of the locks, which were added by tourists over the years, caused the collapse and brought attention to the impact of tourists on cities’ infrastructure.

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2016: Cuba Opens for Less-Restricted Tourism

Jetblue inaugural flight to cuba from usa.

The 2016 JetBlue Flight 387 was the first regularly scheduled commercial flight to land between Cuba and the U.S. in 55 years and was a significant milestone in the evolving relationship between Cuba and the U.S.

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2017: People Travel en Masse for the U.S. Solar Eclipse

crowds gather to watch the solar eclipse in usa

It was estimated that more than 154 million people, or 70 percent of the American population, ventured outside to view the solar eclipse. With 12 million living in the path of totality, advanced estimates predicted that between 1.8 and 7.4 million people would travel. Regardless of the exact statistics, many hotels and tourism destinations reported a spike in visitors and revenue during the eclipse.

2018: Tourism Reaches a Global High

overtourism in dubrovnik croatia. crowds on the street

According to the UNWTO, international tourist arrivals reached a record of 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals, a rise of six percent over 2017. This is well above the UNWTO’s long-term forecast of 3.8 percent growth per year for the period from

2010 to 2020.

2019: Scandals and Restrictions Hit the Global Sharing Economy

Travel around the world with airbnb. logo airbnb and city on background. home concept.

In the past decade, the global sharing economy has had its challenges both financially and legally for companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb. This year, Airbnb faced what might be its biggest scandal to date with the uncovering of hundreds of fake listings.

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2020: The Future of Cruising

exterior of scarlet lady the new virgin voyages cruise ship

The much-anticipated Virgin Voyages will make its maiden voyage in March of 2020. The adults-only cruise line promises a unique experience, and cruisers everywhere are anxious to see what the Richard Branson version of cruising will entail.

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Beyond: Is Space Tourism a Thing?

Astronaut does a space walk in as he upgrades cameras on the orbital platform.

In June of this year, NASA announced that it is opening the International Space Station to new commercial opportunities and private astronauts.

Check back in January for a full list of our predicted travel trends for the new year.

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Noemi de la Torre contributed to this story.

Holiday Travel Oddities

The 5 Creepiest Holiday Traditions in Europe

Many holiday traditions in the U.S. probably seem weird from an outside perspective. For instance, trampling our fellow citizens to get a cheap deal on Black Friday, dragging a tree indoors to decorate, and gathering around in the cold with thousands of other people to watch a silver ball slowly drop a few feet. But some holiday traditions that are celebrated in Europe seem downright creepy. Here are some of the strangest holiday traditions from around Europe.

Krampus, Central Europe

Krampus masked people in graz at a krampus festival  

In case the thought of a stranger (Santa) breaking into your house through your chimney weren’t creepy enough, Austria and other central European countries have given the mythological man a sinister friend—Krampus. Krampus tags along with St. Nicholas, and while St. Nicholas doles out candy to the good kids, Krampus’ job is to punish the naughty ones.

This demonic-looking character beats bad children with birch branches or kidnaps them in his sack and takes them away, never to be seen again.

If you want to experience the true terror of Krampus, watch this movie about him (after the kids are in bed).

Mari Lwyd, Wales

 The gloucestershire morris men dancing outside the subscription rooms, with mari lwyd

Knock, knock. “Who’s there?” A horse skull puppet, and it’s challenging you to a rap battle. This is the standard scene in Wales around the Christmas season, when groups accompany a person dressed up as a horse’s body with a (hopefully) fake skull on top and go door to door asking to come in via a rhyme. The people inside the house must come up with a better rhyme response in order to win. After the battle, the Mari Lwyd (which translates to “gray mare”) and group are allowed inside and given food and drink before they head off to the next door.

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The Yule Cat, Iceland

Huge cat is sitting on the house roof. yule cat.

I hope you’re not trying to roll up to your Christmas celebration in last year’s clothing. If you do, prepare to be eaten by the Yule Cat. Icelandic tradition says the Yule Cat (aka Jólakötturinn, if you’re on a first-name basis with the cat) will eat anyone who hasn’t obtained new clothing by Christmas. Imagining being nibbled at by an adorable kitten for your fashion crimes? Think again: The Yule Cat is a giant beast, one that’s large enough to see into the upper windows of your house (so he can check on your clothing).

Grýla, Iceland

folklore figures on the main street of akureyri, iceland gryla and her husband

In case the Yule Cat wasn’t terrifying enough, Icelanders also have to contend with Grýla, the Christmas witch. According to legends, Grýla lives up in the mountains, and her hobbies include taking advantage of the dark winter days to show up in villages and steal naughty children.

It’s not just children who should fear the Christmas witch—she allegedly also ate her husband when she got bored with him.

Grýla has been around since the 1300s, but according to Terry Gunnell, the head of the Folkloristics Department at the University of Iceland, she’s still out there living her best life in the mountains. Gunnell told the Iceland Monitor, “There’s a rumor concerning Grýla, that she’s dead and has stopped eating children. I think that’s nonsense, and that she’s living a great life in the mountains still eating her human sushi.”

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Perchta, Germany and Austria

 local carnival parade with traditional wooden masks also known as swabian-alemannic fastnacht. - image

In America, if you’re bad, Santa brings you a lump of coal. In Germany and Austria, though, things get more punitive.  If you misbehave, Perchta, a two-faced witch, will put on her terrifying visage and slit open your stomach, stealing your organs and filling your belly with rocks and straw. If you’re good, she’ll put on her nice face and leave you a small silver coin and your organs intact.

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

Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities Oddities Outdoors Travel Trends

The 25 Best Places to Buy a Vacation Home in the U.S.

The best place in the U.S. to buy a vacation home is Sevierville, Tennessee, in the foothills north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That’s the lead finding of a new report from Vacasa, the major vacation home rental site. The report names the top 25 locations for buying a vacation home based on capitalization, or “cap rates,” which is a ratio of home cost and the income a property can produce by being rented out.

The top rating of Sevierville is based on it having the highest cap rate: 10.3 percent. The top 24 places to buy a vacation home have cap rates between 4.5 and 9.3 percent. Here’s what they are.

The Smartest Places to Buy a Vacation Home

Market Median home sale price Cap rate
1 Sevierville, TN $239,976 10.3%
2 Killington, VT $208,828 9.3%
3 Davenport, FL $255,390 8.4%
4 Whittier, NC $178,000 7.9%
5 Kissimmee, FL $264,863 7.2%
6 Dauphin Island, AL $345,281 6.7%
7 Myrtle Beach, SC $213,950 6.2%
8 Key West, FL $763,109 6.1%
9 Fort Bragg, CA $509,500 5.9%
10 Big Sky, MT $585,000 5.4%
11 Blue Ridge, GA $273,000 5.4%
12 Gulf Shores, AL $345,135 5.3%
13 Panama City Beach, FL $347,430 5.3%
14 Warren, VT $262,003 5.3%
15 Marathon, FL $639,000 5.1%
16 Kihei, HI $708,161 5.0%
17 Scottsdale, AZ $513,301 5.0%
18 Orange Beach, AL $475,026 4.8%
19 Harbor Springs, MI $256,303 4.7%
20 Rhododendron, OR $315,744 4.7%
21 Ellijay, GA $243,000 4.7%
22 Seaside, OR $373,258 4.7%
23 Waikoloa, HI $575,422 4.6%
24 Cocoa Beach, FL $370,406 4.6%
25 Destin, FL $484,154 4.5%

Technically speaking, the cap rate on a rental property is the net operating income (NOI) a rental property can produce divided by the property cost. As a result, the best places to buy are not necessarily the places where property is cheapest, Property prices in several locations in the survey are high, with median home sale prices of $763,109 in Key West, $708,161 in Kihei, Hawaii, and $639,000 in Marathon, Florida, but the cap rates are good because rental income is also high.

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The best places to buy tended to group a bit:

  • Florida has the most listings, at nine, with a mix of high-price-high-rent beach locations and lower-price-lower-rent inland areas. Three additional top spots are in the adjacent Alabama Gulf Coast beaches, with locations scoring medium-range home prices and cap rates.
  • The Smoky Mountains area claimed four locations: Ellijay and Blue Ridge, Georgia, and Whittier, North Carolina (on the south side of the Great Smoky area) in addition to Sevierville, Tennessee.
  • Most top spots are either beach or mountain destinations. But you can also do well with properties in some cities, like Fort Bragg, California and Scottsdale, Arizona.

Good buying opportunities span the country, from Killington, Vermont, to Waikoloa Village and Kihei, Hawaii, to Big Sky, Montana, to Scottsdale, Arizona. The location with the lowest buy-in price, is Whittier, North Carolina, at $178,000 and a relatively high cap rate of 7.9 percent. Other areas with low buy-in prices include Killington at $208,929 and a second-best cap rate of 9.3 percent, along with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at $213,950 and 6.2 percent.

Vacasa’s data come from its own extensive data base of property values and rental rates. Of course, you can’t assume that any property in one of these areas would be a good investment: You need to scout the property to assess its location, design, condition, and suitability for rental use. And you might want to consider whether you would like to use it on your own vacation periods.

Owning property in an area enjoying a reasonably good economy can be an excellent investment. But I’m not an investment advisor; you need to find one or work the numbers youtself to decide whether to buy a vacation home.

Readers: Have you considered owning, or currently own, a property in any of these areas? Comment below.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Experiential Travel Oddities Travel Trends

9 Nudist Destinations Where You Can Take It All Off

Picture your perfect vacation: a peaceful cabin in the woods, a sun-kissed beach, maybe a quiet European town. Now, imagine enjoying each of these places without any clothes on.

If this idea only makes the scenario better then these nine nudist destinations around the world are for you. They range from the hidden nudist villages to  luxurious clothing-optional hotels—and they all offer the chance to strip away your worries… and your clothes.

Cap-d’Agde, France

Cap-d’Agde is the mecca of naturism. Described as the nudist capital of the world, this town doesn’t just have a nudist zone, it has an entire nudist village. Every single part of the Naturist Village is made for those who want to break free from the restrictions of clothing. Here, you can go about daily tasks like doing groceries and getting your hair done, all in the nude.

Because of the unique nature of the village, entrance is highly regulated, and visitors are required to fill in access forms to get permission for their desired length of stay. Once inside, it’s all about enjoying your natural self. But don’t think you’ll be able to share any part of your visit on social media: video and photography are quite restricted.

Where to stay: Stay at Natureva Spa to avoid having to leave the Naturist Village. It’s the perfect uninterrupted nudist vacation.

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Miami, Florida

Miami is a city for hedonism. Everything from the food to the nightclubs is meant to treat the senses—and the beach is no exception. Though there are many topless beaches in Miami, those who want to take it a step further can head over to Haulover Beach. This beautiful county park boasts one of the most popular public nude beaches in the U.S.

Joining in the fun is as simple as going into the fenced section and laying in the sand. If you visit in July, you can participate in the beach’s whimsical National Nude Recreation Week events.

Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbor is about a mile from Haulover Beach, so you can cut down clothes-wearing time and get to beaching a la nude faster.

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Vera Playa, Spain

On the beautiful Coast de Almeria, Vera Playa has an entire naturist zone. This zone includes long strips of beaches, as well as numerous apartments and resorts, promenades, and restaurants. If you wish to, you can spend your whole vacation without putting on clothes— nudity in any part of the naturist zone is not just encouraged, but expected.

Where to stay: Vera Natura Apartments provides a nudist home away from home with beachfront access within the naturist zone.

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Little Beach, Maui, Hawaii


If you’re more about the experience than the amenities, this is the place for your nudist within. Little Beach in Mākena State Park does not offer many facilities, but provides the experience of connecting with nature. To get there, you must cross a rocky footpath that leads to a splendorous view of the ocean. Swimming and wildlife watching are the preferred activities at this secluded clothing-optional beach. For a magnificent experience, participate in the Sunday Sunset Drum Circle that features fire dancers, music, and a joyous nudist community.

Where to stay: Hotel Wailea provides a luxurious and relaxing stay in Maui. Car rental is available for guests who wish to drive around this beautiful island.

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Ontario, Canada

The eastern province of Ontario has a number of nudist resorts that offer lakes and forests instead of beaches. The secluded nature of these resorts means naturists can be themselves in comfort. In communal spaces, guests are encouraged to interact and connect with like-minded people.

Where to stay: Bare Oaks Naturist Family Park is all about embracing the freedom of nudity and the beauty of nature. Spend your days hiking in the woods, swimming in the lake, and paddling through streams, all au naturel. 

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Florianopolis, Brazil

Praia do Pinho is one of those destinations you have to work for. Cradled by mountains, this secluded beach on the coast of Brazil is protected from fame by its relative inaccessibility. You’ll probably need a car, but it’ll be worth it to be in on this naked secret.

Where to stay: Girassois da Lagoa Guesthouse offers a homey waterfront experience. It’s the perfect place to set up base when you’re not out looking for hidden beaches.

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Byron Bay, Australia

The Australian nudist community tends to flock to Byron Bay. The clothing-optional sections at Tyagarah Nature Reserve and Belongil Beach offer chill vibes and fun events like the annual Anzac Day Nude Cricket Match. Even if you can’t make it to the event, no worries—nudist volleyball games are as regular as sunny days here.

Where to stay: Wake up to the sound of the ocean at Bluewater on the Beach. Located right on Belongil Beach, naked fun in the sun is never far.

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Sylt, Germany


Spending your precious vacation time getting to the one nude beach that’s close to you can be pretty frustrating. Luckily, Germans don’t waste time, and don’t want you to, either. Perhaps this is why the island of Sylt has made every single one of its beaches clothing-optional. The freedom of having choices coupled with no naked time wasted make for a perfect vacation.

Where to stay: Enjoy comfort steps away from the beach at the Dorfhotel Sylt.

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Vernazza, Italy

Spiaggia di Guvano might be the best destination on this list for travelers who love to get off the beaten path. Getting to this secret beach is an adventure that requires you to bring your own flashlight and cross through an abandoned tunnel. At the end of the tunnel is a quiet little beach where you can leave your clothes on the sand and soak in the beauty of Cinque Terre away from the suffocating crowds.

Where to stay: You’ll have to wear clothes at Affittacamere da Nicolina, but the views are worth it.

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Traveling? Consider the Carry-On from Away

The carry-on from away
The Carry-On from Away

Although you may not need a lot on your nudist vacation, this baby is perfect for your trip nonetheless. With 360° spinning wheels, a TSA-approved lock, a super hard exterior shell, and a USB-port for charging whatever it is you need charged, the Carry-On from Away is built to be your last.

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Editor’s Note: This story originally misidentified Haulover Beach as a state park rather than a county park. It has been corrected.

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