Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Cities Outdoors

The Safest Places in Central America for Travelers

Editor’s note: This story was researched and written before the current COVID-19 pandemic. While we look forward to traveling again soon, we recognize that the most important thing we can all do right now is to stay home. For the most current information about COVID-19, check the CDC website.

With active volcanoes, Maya ruins, and extensive coastlines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, Central America is an idyllic destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Given the region’s history of political instability, many foreigners are wary of visiting, wondering if Central America is safe, and end up missing out on the cultural, historical, and culinary richness of the seven countries that comprise it.

But while these fears are justified in some cases, you shouldn’t judge an entire region by its news cover. Not every country in the area is experiencing conflict, and while caution is always advised no matter where you travel, you certainly won’t be stepping into the war zone Central America is often made out to be.

To help you have an amazing—and safe— trip, we have compiled a list of the four safest countries to visit in Central America.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins over the heart of every visitor with its “Pura vida” philosophy. The entire nation exudes a relaxed vibe that calls you to breathe in and enjoy life—something that’s not too difficult to do here. During your time in this mesmerizing country, you can watch sea turtles hatch on quiet beaches, climb the Arenal Volcano, or see monkeys and jaguars at the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Often considered a pioneer of eco-tourism, Costa Rica takes great pride in its natural resources and its status as a megadiverse country. In fact, 98 percent of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, and 26 percent of its territory is made up of protected natural lands. Because of this natural richness, the country attracts intrepid adventure travelers who come to surf tall waves, zipline through canopies, rappel down waterfalls, and white-water raft down swift rivers.

As for safety, foreigners usually don’t have much to worry about. The Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the 33rd most peaceful country in the world. For comparison, the U.S. is ranked at 218. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives it a level 1 warning, making it safer than Spain and Italy in the eyes of the U.S. Basically, you should exercise common sense precautions like avoiding dark streets at night and hiding your valuables.

Costa Rica takes such pride in its commitment to peace that it doesn’t even have an army. As if that weren’t enough, it is considered one of the best countries in Latin America for LGBTQIA travelers, given locals’ open-minded attitudes towards sexual diversity and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Ready to book your tickets yet?

Panama

panama city skyline at sunset panama.

If you judge Panama by its rankings on the Global Peace Index and the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory, you’ll soon be at ease. The former ranks Panama at 47th, and the latter suggests a level 1 advisory. Do keep in mind that certain areas should be avoided, including the Mosquito Coast, and the Darien region along the border with Colombia. Again, normal safety measures are recommended to avoid being pickpocketed or mugged, particularly in urban centers.

Now that you know Panama is much safer than most people believe, you should also know that it is much more interesting than most people imagine. In fact, many people simply know Panama for its famous canal, which continues to be a tourist attraction but which is not by any means the only thing the country has to offer.

Sure, take a scenic flight over the canal to see it for yourself, but also allow some space in your itinerary to swim with whale sharks in astonishing Bocas del Toro, or to soak up the metropolitan glitz of Panama City. Adventure travelers will also find plenty of thrilling activities, like hiking through cloud forests, watching the migration of humpback whales in the Pacific, and climbing the country’s highest point, Baru Volcano.

The best part about Panama? It seems like tourists have yet to wise up about it, so you can enjoy small village beaches and forest treks without hordes of Instagram-hungry tourists.

Belize

boat on great blue hole belize.

Yet another wonderful but often overlooked country in Central America, Belize is impressively diverse for its tiny size. The English-speaking country boasts jungles riddled with Mayan ruins, the second largest reefs in the world, and idyllic islands scattered along its coast.

Divers absolutely love Belize because of the diversity of its reef, but also because of its famous Great Blue Hole. This underground sinkhole is the largest of its kind, and is equally impressive from above and from underneath the water’s surface. In fact, the great conservationist, explorer, and diver Jacques Cousteau included the “hole” as one of his favorite diving spots on the planet.

Even if you’re not a big fan of diving in a dark, seemingly unending ocean abyss, the Belize coastline offers plenty of opportunities for swimming in warm waters, paddle boarding, and kayaking through mangroves. One of the best things to do is to simply lay in a hammock with a bottle of cool beer in your hand and enjoy the sun kissing your skin.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives Belize a level 2 warning, which is the same level as countries like France and the U.K. That said, increased precaution is recommended, since its proximity to Mexico inevitably makes it part of Central America’s drug route. The south—where many of the country’s Mayan ruins lay hidden by the jungle—is of particular concern, so we recommend researching before planning a trip, or going with a trusted tour company.

LGBTQIA travelers might want to rethink a trip to Belize, as locals tend to have a more conservative mentality and may even be hostile to non-heterosexual couples.

Guatemala

santa catalina arch in antigua guatemala

Like Belize, Guatemala has a level 2 warning from the Department of State. Certain areas present an increased level of risk, specifically the areas along the drug trade route. It is recommended that travelers do research before deciding their itineraries, particularly if they plan to go to remote regions that are not as frequented. Again, visitors looking to explore natural or rural areas might want to consider using a trusted tour company with local guides.

Once you have taken the necessary precautions, don’t even consider missing out on picturesque Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, this well-preserved colonial town is one of the most beautiful towns in Latin America. Cobblestoned streets and colorful balconies are perfectly complemented by the volcanoes that surround the town, providing breathtaking views from almost any street.

Another must-see destination in Guatemala is Lake Atitlan, one of the most important in the region. If you want a simple thrill, you can hike around the lake and enjoy the invariably impressive views it provides. Those with a harder adrenaline addiction can opt for more extreme activities, like paragliding over or scuba diving.

No history or Indiana Jones lover can afford to skip out on the mighty Tikal National Park, the former capital of the Maya Empire. Surrounded by the jungle that once hid it, Tikal boasts the tallest existing pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, and is considered one of the most important archaeological treasures of the continent.

If this doesn’t seem like enough, you can also ride through the canyons of Rio Dulce, learn about Afro-Guatemalan culture at Livingston, explore the caves of Verpaces, and delight your taste buds with the country’s rich culinary tradition.

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Categories
Air Travel Health & Wellness Travel Trends

5 Charts That Show COVID-19's Impact on Air Travel

How much of a hit has air travel taken during the COVID-19 pandemic? The short answer: Like nothing anyone has seen before. Even airline experts with long memories can’t remember a comparable impact of some critical event. Yes, 9/11 stopped air travel cold, but the immediate effect lasted weeks, not months. And the nation had a visible system in place—TSA screening—squarely aimed at preventing similar events in the future.

And while statistics vary depending on source and assumptions, public data makes clear that U.S. airline passengers are down about 90 percent for this time of year. International passengers are down at least as much, and domestic air travel in many parts of the world is also down, or shut off completely. Rewards site Upgraded Points recently put those staggering numbers into visuals, which offer a holistic view of the situation thus far.

Here’s what stands out in terms of the about-face COVID-19 has forced upon travel, and data visuals by Upgraded Points that illustrate them.

While very few people are flying (which we’ll refer to as foot traffic), air traffic is higher. As of late-April, about half of all U.S. domestic flights are regularly being canceled despite a 90 percent drop in foot traffic.

The discrepancy between foot traffic and flights is explained by one simple fact: The recent U.S. stimulus bill that offered rescue funds for airports and airlines requires that U.S. airlines continue serving the points they usually serve—which they are doing, by flying virtually empty planes.

Similar effects are seen in Asia and Europe, where foot traffic is down at least 75 percent and many airlines are not required to continue service.

For example, Porter Airlines has suspended all flights, as has RyanAir and Royal Air Maroc. More carriers have suspended all international service, including South African Airways, Turkish, Avianca, and Qantas. The number of daily commercial flights flown globally has decreased by 76.5 percent.

Airlines are having a tough time finding places to park their idle aircraft. As an odd consequence, Southwest is, for now, the world’s largest airline in terms of seats flown per day.

Airports are taking a similar hit, and with a drastic reduction in passengers comes a drastic reduction in workers. Several big multi-terminal fields have concentrated flights into one or two terminals and closed the others. 

All this means big-time economic losses: 4.6 million job losses are projected in the U.S alone in 2020. Sources estimate a loss of 4.6 million jobs in the U.S. travel industry—and counting. It’s no surprise that most airline stocks are tanking. According to International Air Transportation Association (IATA), only Asia looks to lose more passenger revenue this year than North America.

Currently, airlines are offering some very attractive fares, both for the near and long term. Transcon economy round-trips, for example, starting at less than $300 for travel in May; you can (but probably shouldn’t) fly to London for less than $400. But premium-cabin fares are still high.

At present, most airline schedules show minimum service operations through September 30, which is about when U.S. stimulus money is expected to run out. At this time, nobody knows whether conditions will allow airlines to start rebuilding schedules by that time or face widespread closures. For now, most states remain closed or in some state of closures.

The ancient curse “may you live in interesting times” certainly applies to today’s airlines and travelers alike.

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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.

Categories
Miscellany Road Trip

Driving Between States During the COVID-19 Pandemic? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most states have issued shelter-in-place orders and instructed residents to stay put in their homes to help flatten the curve. However, some people are still required to drive to reach jobs that have been deemed essential (or who work in states that have relaxed shelter-at-home ordinances). Others have driven to be with family or to hunker down at second homes. But is driving between states safe—or even allowed? There is some uncertainty as to whether Americans can drive domestically. Here’s what you need to know.

Can I legally drive between states during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Technically, yes. The U.S. Constitution protects the right to travel and move freely within the country, so it would be unconstitutional to prevent Americans from crossing state borders. However, the federal government does have the authority to impose quarantine orders on travelers to combat the spread of contagious diseases. State governments and local authorities also have the power to enforce such measures within their borders, and are doing so.

If you plan on driving within the United States, the only restriction you may face is a mandatory self-quarantine upon arriving in another state. This is particularly true for those driving out of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. At the time of publication, these states have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

For instance, governors in Rhode Island and Texas have implemented interstate travel restrictions. These measures stop drivers at the border to remind them of quarantine requirements. In other states, municipalities have added their own restrictions within their borders. Newark, New Jersey (and the nearby towns of Irvington, Orange, and East Orange) is turning around drivers when they suspect nonessential travel. In March, the Outer Banks in North Carolina closed its bridges and opened roadblocks and police checkpoints to prevent secondary home owners and renters from entering the isolated islands. The closures are an attempt to keep the virus out, but have also been enacted because the remote islands have limited hospital beds and grocery supplies.

Note that no states have blocked drivers from passing through on their way to their final destination.

Will I have to quarantine if I drive between states?

States are discouraging interstate travel by imposing quarantine requirements or recommendations for travelers or people returning home from other states. Many states, like Wisconsin, recommend residents cancel or postpone all nonessential travel, and if it can’t be avoided, to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the state. In Arizona, new arrivals from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are required to self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their visit—whichever is shorter. Arrivals are not allowed to self-quarantine with anyone they did not travel with, including family and friends.

Florida has enforced a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period for anyone arriving from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, as well as Louisiana. Meanwhile, states like Hawaii and Alaska are requiring all arrivals to self-isolate regardless of which state they are arriving from (though it goes without saying that you can’t drive to Hawaii).

What should I consider before I drive between states?

First, is your drive essential? COVID-19 has been reported in all states, and some areas are experiencing rapid community spread of the disease. Staying home is the best way to flatten the curve and save lives. If you still must get behind the wheel, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks you to keep some things in mind. First, is COVID-19 spreading where you live? You may not realize that you are infectious, especially if your symptoms are mild or you don’t have a fever. Before you drive to another state, consider the risk of passing COVID-19 to others during travel, particularly if you will be in close contact with older adults or those who have a serious underlying medical condition.

Second, if COVID-19 is spreading at your destination, but not where you live, you may be more likely to get infected if you travel there than if you stay home.

Which states have enforced border screenings?

Florida, Rhode Island, and Texas have set up checkpoints along interstates and border crossings. Keep in mind that these stops don’t restrict entry to out-of-state travelers. Drivers are required by State Troopers and the National Guard to fill out a form and declare where they plan to shelter in place for the duration of their 14-day quarantine (if required). That information is then relayed to the state’s health department and allows public health officials to follow up via a call or an unannounced visit at a later time to make sure that you followed self-quarantine orders.

In Texas, travelers who exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, coughing, etc.) will be escorted by an officer from the Department of Public Safety to their place of quarantine. There are exceptions, though: commercial vehicles, law enforcement, emergency personnel, and essential workers who work in the state or are passing through to get to their place of employment are allowed to bypass checkpoints.

What is the punishment for driving between states?

There’s no punishment for driving between states, but the added roadblocks are in place to discourage non-essential travel. Anyone found guilty of providing false information may face fines or serve jail time as punishment. Citizens who disobey local government’s social distancing and self-quarantine orders could face either jail time, a fine—or possibly even both. Some states have announced even higher fines, such as $5,000 in Maryland and $25,000 in Alaska. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that anyone who was caught ignoring stay-at-home orders in New York would face a maximum fine of $1,000.

How can I safely drive between states?

If travel is essential, driving is safer than taking commercial flights or public transportation. Renting a vehicle is still an option, though safety concerns need to be addressed. Renters should disinfect high-contact surfaces such as the steering wheel, dashboard control, and seatbelts, and should avoid touching their faces while driving.

Driving your own vehicle poses the least risk. However, you should remember that risk increases as you make stops to eat, fill your car with gas, or sleep in rented accommodations. Limit your interactions with other people as much as you can, and pack enough food and water for the trip to avoid having to make multiple stops.

If you have to leave your vehicle during the drive, maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people. To further protect yourself and others from infection, it’s best to wear a face mask—this is especially important if you are traveling to a state where wearing face masks in public is mandatory. States such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and certain counties within California all legally require face masks in public.

Before you decide to drive out of state, visit the destination state’s government website to find updated information on whether you are allowed to cross the state’s borders. Remember, staying home is still the safest option.

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Categories
At Home Food & Drink

The Best Coffee Machines and Delivery Services

Bring the cafe to you with the best coffee makers and coffee delivery subscriptions. Your morning cup has never tasted better.

The Best Coffee Makers

The best coffee makers will make your drink just how you like it—in just a few minutes.

Dash Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Dash Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Cold brew is less acidic and smoother than regular coffee—not to mention a delicious treat on a hot day—but it usually takes more than 12 hours to steep and make. When you want cold brew instantaneously, Dash’s Cold Brew Coffee Maker has you covered. In just five minutes, this easy-to-use coffee maker will brew up to 42 ounces of cold brew or 16 servings of cold brew concentrate.

You can brew light, medium, or dark strength with the twist of a dial. The gadget is easy to clean as well—just run water through the system.

AeroPress

Aeropress

The AeroPress is a favorite among serious coffee drinkers, and it’s surprisingly easy and quick to use—plus this tiny gadget takes up zero counter space in your kitchen. The AeroPress can make regular coffee as well as espresso shots, and clean-up takes seconds. The included paper microfilters filter out all the grounds and grit, or you can use a more eco-friendly reusable stainless steel filter.

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Bodum Pour-Over Coffee Maker with Permanent Filter

Bodum Coffee Maker

Brew a great cup of coffee in less than five minutes with Bodum’s easy pour-over coffee maker. Available in a 17-ounce, 34-ounce, or 51-ounce carafe size, it makes exactly as much coffee as you need. You’ll never have to buy another coffee filter again—the kit includes a reusable stainless steel mesh filter that filters better than paper and helps extract the aromatic oils from the beans.

Capresso CoffeeTEAM TS

Capresso Coffee Maker

Freshly ground coffee just tastes better, which is why the coffee you get at a cafe feels like more of a treat than what you make at home. Capresso’s CoffeeTEAM TS makes it easy to have fresh-ground coffee without all the hassle of grinding your own beans—simply pour whole beans into the gadget’s air-tight hopper (so it doubles as a storage spot for your beans) and press a button to brew the coffee. The built-in conical burr grinder will perfectly measure and grind the beans for you before making you an amazing cup of coffee.

This coffee machine is programmable, so you can choose your grind settings, the number of cups, and the time that you want it to brew.

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Hamilton Beach 2-Way Brewer

Hamilton Beach Coffee Maker

Wake up to the smell of fresh-brewed coffee with Hamilton Beach’s 2-Way Brewer. Just add the beans the night before and program the coffee maker to start at whatever time you like, and it will automatically have a cup of coffee waiting for you when you wake up. Sleeping in? The warming plate will keep the coffee hot until you get to it.

To save on dishes and clean-up time, you can brew directly into your mug—or into the 12-cup carafe when you’re making it for multiple people.

Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

Mr Coffee Coffee Maker

Make your own espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes with the touch of a button with this coffee maker from Mr. Coffee. The 15-bar pump system brews rich and strong espresso shots, and the automatic milk frother makes creating foam super simple. Just fill the easy-to-clean water and milk reservoirs and pick the drink you want from the touch panel, and the machine will do the rest.

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The Best Coffee Delivery Services

A good cup of coffee starts with having the right coffee beans. These coffee delivery services will bring freshly roasted beans directly to your door.

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee

Skeptical about trying a coffee subscription? Blue Bottle is offering the chance to try its delivery service for free (just pay for shipping), scoring you a bag of premium coffee at no cost.

The service consists of small-batch, sustainable coffee that is roasted to order and shipped within 48 hours.

Take the quiz before you order to find the coffee that’s right for you.

Hawaii Coffee Company

Hawaii Coffee Co

Hawaiian coffee is famous for a reason—it’s smooth and delicious. Treat yourself to 100 percent Kona coffee from the Hawaii Coffee Company, or to the more affordable (but still easy to drink) 10 percent Kona Blend. The company is currently offering $5 shipping and a 10 percent off coupon on all orders.

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Trade

Trade Coffee Beans.

Take a virtual tour around the U.S. via your taste buds with Trade’s coffee subscription service. Take a short quiz about your tastes and preferences, and Trade will help you discover new flavors and roasters from across the country. You’ll get great coffee as often as you want it, plus help support small coffee roasters.

At the time of writing, Trade was offering 30 percent off your first bag, plus free shipping.

Driftaway Coffee

Driftaway Coffee

A Driftaway Coffee subscription starts with a four-profile tasting kit. You’ll rate each coffee in your kit, and Driftaway will use that data to match you to your perfect coffees for future deliveries.

The coffees are sourced from small coffee farms, and each delivery will include a story about the origin of the coffee.

Need to get your coffee situation sorted out at home ASAP? Get Driftaway Coffee’s Work From Home Coffee Kit, which includes the tasting kit, an Aeropress, and a Porlex Mini manual burr grinder.

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Volcanica Coffee

No matter what kind of coffee you like, Volcanica Coffee is sure to have it. Shop by categories like blend, region, decaf, organic, low acid, rainforest, shade grown, cold brew, and more.

Or try one of the many gourmet flavored coffees, which contain no sugar and come in flavors like amaretto, caramel chocolate, crème brulee, and white Russian.

Intelligentsia

Intelligentsia Coffee

Never run out of coffee (or tea) again with Intelligentsia’s subscription service. Choose the amount you want delivered and how often, and if you want whole beans or pre-ground. Browse the Intelligentsia coffee or tea offerings and pick the ones you like, or tell Intelligentsia which flavor notes you want, and it’ll pair you with the perfect beans.

Coffee is available from around the world, with a focus on ones that are currently in season. Prefer cold brew? Try Intelligentsia’s Cold Coffee Box, a naturally sweet blend of Ethiopian and Latin American coffee that can be drunk straight out of the box.

Don’t want to commit? You can buy bags of coffee without the subscription, and Intelligentsia will ship it to you for free.

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goodboybob

goodboybob coffee beans

goodboybob roasts its coffee every Tuesday and ships it out every Wednesday, so your beans are guaranteed to be fresh. The classic subscription starts from $15 per delivery and can be sent out every two or four weeks, and you can choose how many bags, which coffees, and which roast you want.

Or treat yourself to the rare subscription, which starts at $130 per month. This delivery features hard-to-find, award-winning coffees that are worth the price tag. These roasts are shipped in a custom, reusable wooden box and come in jars to keep the beans extra fresh.

Atlas Coffee

Atlas Coffee

Spice up your morning coffee routine with Atlas’ Coffee of the Month Club. The service curates micro-lot coffees from around the world and sends you a fresh 12-ounce bag each month. Your box will include freshly roasted coffee beans, a flavor notes guide, a fun postcard from the coffee’s country of origin, and brewing tips. You’ll expand your palate and discover new coffees that you won’t find in a store.

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Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness Travel Trends Women's Travel

The Best Travel Leggings of 2020

Whenever I travel, leggings are a must. They’re the perfect travel-day outfit, especially when paired with a baggy sweater or long shirt, for a chic but comfortable look. There’s so much to love about a good pair of travel leggings. They’re slimming, they stretch, and they don’t take up tons of room in your suitcase. Plus, should you feel the need to utilize the hotel gym or join a pop-up yoga class, you’ll be ready for a workout.

The Best Travel Leggings

Below I’ve divided the best travel leggings into the three most useful categories for travelers: the best leggings with pockets (to hold your phone and documents), the best leggings to make a fashion statement (to show off your personality), and the best leggings that don’t look like leggings (to travel comfortably incognito).

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Travel Leggings with Pockets

Lululemon Speed Up Tight

The sleek cool Speed Up Tight has sweat-wicking fabric and four-way stretch—and four pockets. With two side pockets large enough for your phone and two waistband pockets perfect for tucking away cash, these leggings are a great choice for the active traveler with stuff to carry.

The North Face Motivation Pocket 7/8 Tights

From the North Face, the Motivation Pocket 7/8 Tights provide support and storage. They feature two discreet thigh pockets, an extra-wide waistband, and are also available in a similar cropped style.

Core 10 Onstride Run Full-Length

With both mid-rise and high-rise waistband options, Core 10’s Onstride Run Full-Length Leggings are customizable for everyone, and they come equipped with a drawstring for adjustability. The two side-panel pockets and a stylish behind-the-knee mesh detail prove that these travel leggings combine function and fashion.

alo High-Waist Cargo Legging

The High-Waist Cargo Leggings from alo features numerous pockets throughout the leg but are stylish enough to run errands in, and comfortable enough to work out in. They’re also available in multiple colors, such as black, bone, and olive branch.

Clever Travel Companion

The Clever Travel Companion leggings pack comfort and security into one ultra-functional pair of pants. These leggings for travel are equipped with two zippered pockets. The first is big enough to hold your phone and passport; the second slightly smaller pocket is still large enough to fit your credit cards and keys.

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Travel Leggings That Make a Fashion Statement

Outdoor Voices 3/4 Two-Tone Leggings

With blocks of navy and black, the 3/4 Two-Tone Warmup Leggings are chic while still maintaining an athletic look, which makes them great for both the airplane and a jogging trail. The material is sturdy, comfortable, and opaque, so you won’t have to worry about anything showing through. If you’re a big fan of the color block style, make sure to check out the Outdoor Voice’s tri-colored Zoom Leggings, too.

Columbia PFG Tidal™ Legging

Up for some serious adventure or maybe just a day hike, but want cute leggings that still work? Sturdier than the average yoga pants, the PFG Tidal™ Leggings will perform well in the great outdoors. Made of moisture-wicking and UPF 50 sun-protecting fabric, these travel leggings are smooth to the touch and even include a large pocket on the side.

Girlfriend Collective Trail Compressive High-Rise Legging

For a fashion statement that’s extra comfortable and eco-friendly, the Trail Compressive High-Rise Leggings from Girlfriend Collective really deliver, and come in a slew of gorgeous colors. Made from 25 recycled water bottles, sizes also range from XXS to 6XL, so there is truly something for everyone.

Beyond Yoga High Waisted Alloy Ombre Midi Leggings

With bright blue coloring and plenty of shimmer, there’s a lot to love about these statement-making leggings. The metallic splatter ombre is a unique plus.

Palazzo Leggings

If your flair is a little more bohemian, check out these high-waist lounge pants for a fashionably daring set of pants that are just as comfortable and flattering as any pair of leggings. They’re affordable, available in lots of different patterns, and fabulous for flying.

Travel Leggings That Don’t Look Like Leggings

Betabrand Dress Pant Yoga Pants

If you want to make sure you’re maintaining a little class while staying comfortable on your flight, check out the Dress Pant Yoga Pants from Betabrand. Made of comfortable, stretchable material, they’re totally chic. I love that they come in multiple colors and are perfect for a business-casual look.

Wit & Wisdom Jeggings

If you need jeans to complete an outfit, but dread the discomfort of wearing denim on a long-haul flight, get yourself a pair of jeggings like Wit & Wisdom’s Jeggings, made of lightweight stretch denim that can be worn around the city or to a casual dinner. No one will ever know the difference.

Blank NYC Faux-Leather Jeggings

Sport a lean silhouette with an edge with these super-stretchy faux-leather and faux-jeans leggings from Blank NYC. These flattering jet black jeggings are also very comfortable and will go a long way in your travel wardrobe.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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

Categories
Food & Drink In-Flight Experience Travel Etiquette

7 Foods You Should Never Eat on a Plane

Bringing your own food on the plane makes perfect sense, both for your taste buds and your wallet. But whether you’re packing your own snacks or buying a gate-side meal to-go, you should avoid these seven foods—for your sake and those around you.

Food You Can’t Finish

Pineapple on a plane

If you decide that a long flight is the time to tuck in to a special treat, more power to you. Just make sure you have time to finish it—or that you’re okay with throwing it away before you land. In most countries, you’ll have to declare any food (even packaged items) before entering, and something that you’ve opened up might not make it in.

Fresh fruits and vegetables usually won’t be allowed in, either, due to agricultural concerns. (The U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency offers this helpful guide, but other countries will have different rules.)

Instant Soups

woman eating noodles on a plane.

Some people will tell you to bring a cup of noodles or other instant soup aboard a flight and ask the flight attendant for boiling water during meal service. Although a mug of hot soup may sound enticing, it’s a bad idea to keep a cup of scalding liquid near your lap when turbulence could strike at any second.

Plus, many prepackaged ramen cups have close to half of your daily recommendation of sodium, which certainly won’t help you fight jet bloat.

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Noisy Foods

Man eating salad on plane

Crunch… crunch… crunch. Put down the chips or raw vegetables—your seatmate does not want to listen to you chew. Crunchy foods can sound louder than a jet engine when you’re basically chewing right in your seatmate’s ear. Remember that the person next to you has nowhere to go, so save the noisy foods for when you land.

Messy Foods

woman eating sandwich on plane.

If you’d struggle to tackle what you’re eating on a full-sized table with actual metal utensils, don’t attempt it on a tiny tray table with flimsy plastic forks and minimal elbow room. Airplanes aren’t given a deep cleaning between most flights, so you might be leaving crumbs or other leftovers behind for the next occupant of your seat.

[st_related]10 Germiest Places You Encounter While Traveling[/st_related]

Smelly

In-Flight Meal

If you’re tempted to bring hardboiled eggs, tuna fish, or other strong-smelling food aboard, stop and think about whether everyone trapped in the small cabin with you wants to smell what you’re eating. (The airlines are big offenders on this one, too—often offering a fish option at dinnertime.)

Greasy Foods

Woman eating greasy food on plane.

Grabbing a fast food meal can be the cheapest and easiest airport option, but it’s really not the best choice for flying. A greasy meal ticks both the “smelly” and “messy” options, and the often-high sodium content of fast food options contributes to jet bloat.

[st_related]8 Foods You Should Never Eat Before Flying[/st_related]

Peanuts

eating peanuts on plane.

Tiny packets of complimentary peanuts have mostly disappeared from planes due to the growing number of peanut allergies in the world. Packing a peanut butter sandwich or bag of nuts isn’t just inconsiderate—it could also be dangerous if you have a severe allergy sufferer on your flight.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Caroline Morse’s travels on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline and on Twitter @CarolineMorse1.

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

Categories
Booking Strategy

OP-ED: Travelers Should Be Entitled to Airbnb Refunds During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dealing with canceled travel plans amid COVID-19 is frustrating for everyone: travelers, tour providers, airlines, hotels, and of course, vacation rental owners and hosts.

However, my recent experience with canceling an Airbnb for a 12-person group trip in early May (booked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) was particularly off-putting, and it turns out I am not alone. Just look at the tweets and replies section of the Airbnb Help Twitter account and #Airbnbrefundnow.

Airbnb’s Refund Policy Due to COVID-19

When my travel partner and I made the appropriate decision to cancel (not postpone) our trip in early May (we have an international traveler in our group, an essential healthcare worker, and a group over 10 people traveling from five different states) we thought there would be no issue given the company’s statement that our trip dates fell within its current cancellation refund policy. And as much as we would have preferred to postpone and taken a credit, it wasn’t an option for us.

Here’s the policy language updated on April 9, 2020 (the policy prior to this was even vaguer): “Reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020 and May 31, 2020, are covered by the policy and may be canceled before check-in. Guests who cancel will have a variety of cancellation and refund options, and hosts can cancel without charge or impact to their Superhost status. Airbnb will either refund, or issue travel credit that includes, all service fees for covered cancellations. In order to cancel under the policy, you will be required to attest to the facts of and/or provide supporting documentation for your extenuating circumstance.

“The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual to reservations made after March 14, 2020. 

“Cancellations will be handled according to the extenuating circumstances coverage in effect at the time of submission, and reservations that were already canceled will not be reconsidered.”

This was the Airbnb refund policy when we first initiated our cancellation request (prior to April 9)

At first glance, the refund policy seems reasonable enough. And the actual process for requesting a cancellation because of COVID-19 was easy and well-explained; travelers simply can choose the COVID-19 reason for canceling under their Trips page and request a full refund.

The Reality of Airbnb’s Refund Policy: Hosts Decide

However, this is where the policy becomes blurred as it turns out it’s actually up to the host to make the final decision in accepting or denying the cancellation and refund request, not Airbnb (the company) as the policy makes it seem.

I spoke with two other travelers, one with a late-April booking and another with a mid-June booking (this is even outside of the current policy’s date window), and both hosts accepted their refund request right away, no additional documentation needed. I also spoke with another traveler who even had her late-May booking get canceled by the host. However, we were left with our host declining to accept our cancellation and refund request.

I get it, this could be the host’s main form of income, and at the time of writing, Airbnb was only offering hosts 25 percent of what they would normally receive through their cancellation policy. What didn’t seem right, though, is that the company makes it seem like Airbnb would be issuing the refunds and travel credit, not the hosts.

For a company that was about to go public pre-pandemic, the fact that it’s letting its hundreds and thousands of hosts determine whether a traveler gets a refund for a trip is absurd. There should be a cut-and-dry policy in place like there are with airlines and hotels. At the very least, the company should be automatically refunding the profits it makes from service fees. And while these policies aren’t all perfect, it’s certainly better than leaving things up to the over 650,000 current Airbnb hosts, all who will have varying needs and opinions.

What to Do If Your Host Doesn’t Give You a Refund

According to the policy, “If the host doesn’t agree, you can still cancel and your refund will be determined by the host’s standard cancellation policy,” or “If your reservation doesn’t qualify for either the extenuating circumstances policy or your host doesn’t agree to cancel, you can always message your host to find out if they’re willing to give you a larger refund through the Resolution Center.”

So, based on this information, our options were to accept a 50 percent refund (if canceled before April 30, according to our specific host’s policy) or message our host and explain our situation again and potentially go through the Resolution Center. But these steps seem to only be necessary if your reservation doesn’t qualify for the extenuating circumstances policy. What we couldn’t easily figure out though, was how did our reservation apparently “not qualify”?

When you try to uncover what does qualify as an extenuating circumstance in relation to COVID-19, you’re rerouted around the Airbnb Help center, where there is no clear determination on what circumstances exactly qualify. No wonder our host didn’t want to cancel or give us a refund … there’s no clear outline on what should qualify as a refund, even though our travel dates and time of booking were within the policy’s time frame for valid cancellation. There is a separate, non-COVID related emergency and unavoidable circumstances page that lists travel restrictions and epidemic disease or illness as items that “require special review.”

Instead of accepting the host’s cancellation policy, we chose to message him and explain that we had a person in our group flying from overseas and that the traveler who made the original booking was an essential healthcare worker in New York City, but he still refused to grant us a refund. Since we couldn’t come to an agreement, the host was adamant that he didn’t want to cancel any of his May bookings (even though Airbnb clearly outlined that these bookings should be canceled or postponed) until the situation with COVID-19 was clearer, we had to go through the Resolution Center.

The Resolution Center is an automated chatbot and calling is discouraged unless you have a booking within 72 hours. Through the chatbot, we received information that we needed to prove our extenuating circumstances with proof of a canceled flight, a doctor’s note, government-mandated travel restrictions, or a signed letter proving that one of us is an essential worker. Finally, we had some sort of answer.

When we started the process, the travel restrictions that applied to us expired before our travel dates, so we weren’t able to use those as proof and we didn’t have proof of canceled flights yet. And while we expected both the stay-at-home orders to be extended and to encounter flight cancellations in our group, we were nervous that if we didn’t start the refund process request before April 30, we might fall under the guest’s normal cancellation policy and only receive 50 percent of our money back. 

Eventually, my travel partner had to get a signed letter from the hospital where she works to process the refund. We were beyond frustrated both that she had to take the time and energy to fight this process and that the hospital she works at, in the epicenter of the U.S.’s COVID-19 cases, had to spend time producing the letter for us. 

I do want to applaud Airbnb and thousands of hosts for their part in helping host heath care workers for free around the world. I also acknowledge that we’re all doing the best we can right now. But personally, this experience has made me decide to only use Airbnb as a last resort in the future.

Other Vacation Rental Booking Sites’ Refund Polices

For reference, HomeAway and VRBO’s current policy includes automatic refunds from the portion of the booking that they make, called the Traveler Service Fee, for bookings thru April 30. Both companies are also refunding the fee on bookings through May 31 (if booked before March 13). However, you do have to call to request the refund for May bookings. In addition, both brands are encouraging property owners and managers to issue refunds when credits are not an option, and are rewarding property owners and hosts who do so.

You Tell Us: Send us an email or share this on social media (tag @SmarterTravel) with your thoughts on how to handle vacation rental cancellations during COVID-19.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story contains opinions of the writer and does not reflect those of SmarterTravel or Tripadvisor (our parent company).

Categories
Air Travel Health & Wellness

How Will You Know When It’s Safe to Travel Again?

Sign up for the Johnny Jet Daily Travel Tip newsletter here for more from JohnnyJet.com.

Many avid travelers may be wondering when we can start traveling again. While we don’t have a definitive answer just yet, some places are inching closer to reopening the skies and roads. The decision ultimately comes down to when medical experts say we have sufficiently succeeded in flattening the curve, and when businesses and local governments think it’s safe to start opening back up for business. Even though hotels and airlines are stepping up to help during the pandemic, travel is likely to resume gradually once travel advisories expire and airlines slowly reintroduce flight routes. 

Some places may open sooner than others, depending on the country, state, or even the community. While there are some things frequent travelers can do now, such as staying on top of expiring airline miles, knowing when we can safely travel again is a bit of a waiting game.

Here are some of the things you can expect will need to happen before travel can be a possibility.

Fewer Reported Cases

The world has changed considerably since the last global pandemic, which was from 1918 to 1920. Back then, you took a boat or train to travel. Thanks to air travel, we can go almost anywhere in a matter of hours. As convenient as it may be, faster travel also makes it easier for illnesses to spread quickly. As a result, governments are being extra cautious about reopening travel too soon.

The baseline to ease current travel restrictions may be the number of cases tallied by the World Health Organization (WHO), which releases daily situation reports. These reports include countries’ newly reported cases, deaths, and each country’s number of days since the last reported case.

Each daily situation report puts case numbers into an epidemic curve chart. This chart is also color-coded so you can track case numbers by region. The WHO reported 81,572 newly confirmed cases on their April 19, 2020, report. In comparison, only 16,556 confirmed cases were reported a month earlier on the March 19, 2020 report. 

Aggressive Testing Can More Accurately Flatten The Curve

More nations are ramping up access to testing while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control release daily testing updates and infection spread forecasts.

Testing as many people as possible makes it possible to more accurately calculate the actual infection rate and predict future spread rates. The number of confirmed cases may increase as more people take tests. However, the more testing there is, the more likely it is we can contain cases, and that the infection curve overall will eventually decline.

Johns Hopkins University tracks the number of daily cases by country. The number of new cases is currently decreasing in some nations, including Germany and China. However, most places have yet to experience a consistent downward trend. Carnegie Mellon recently launched a symptom tracker map in partnership with Facebook: The tool displays the estimated percentage of people with COVID-19 symptoms in a geographic area.

Consistent testing and prolific symptom reporting, even after the curve flattens, can help leaders begin to forge travel policies and avoid a second peak in cases as nations reopen.

Travel Guidance for the Foreseeable Future

It’s still technically possible (although not recommended) to travel in the United States, and, in some emergency cases, internationally. However, adjusting back to our prior travel habits will be a very gradual process. These preventative measures are likely to stay for the foreseeable future:

  • Social distancing of at least six feet 
  • Wearing a mask in public
  • Extensive cleaning of airplane cabins and public areas

Other prevention measures will also likely go into effect to reduce the spread. Policies and habits may change as we learn more about how coronavirus spreads and mutates, and some already have. For instance, TSA changed its policies earlier this year, allowing passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage (instead of the 3.4-ounce limit). 

We’ll also learn how to be receptive to the most effective prevention and treatment measures. Travel authorities may implement these measures to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus.

Temperature Checks

Airlines could begin to regularly check the temperatures of customers before allowing them to board the aircraft. Stores and other public places may instill a similar practice, and you may not be able to board if your temperature is above a certain level. If you’re flying internationally, customs agents may begin to check temperatures too. (But, this of course won’t help much if individuals are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.)

CDC guidelines for airline crews already require staff to report potentially ill flyers before an aircraft lands in its destination. Possible reasons may include having a measured fever above 100 degrees or simply exhibiting feverish symptoms, and/or a dry cough or difficulty breathing.

Monitoring body temperatures could prevent some ill travelers from flying. However, the World Health Organization states this preventative measure alone isn’t enough; again, passengers may not yet be exhibiting symptoms, or they may be asymptomatic. 

Mandatory Self-Quarantines

Countries may continue to require a minimum 14-day self-quarantine for all arrivals. If traveling abroad you may need to disclose your travel plans and where you’re staying/quarantining upon arrival. Quarantine rules vary by nation, and typically apply whether you’re a resident or visitor. Governments across the globe may enact broad travel restrictions and not allow travelers from highly-affected areas to enter their country. 

Some U.S. states already require a mandatory quarantine for all incoming visitors: Hawaii’s 14-day self-quarantine is one such example. 

Contact Tracing

Another preventative measure nations are rolling out is contact tracing. Smartphone apps can alert you if you come into contact with an infected or at-risk person. If you test positive, your phone app can automatically notify others you came into close contact with for the last 14 days. Contract tracing apps make it easy for travel providers to know their passengers’ recent social patterns, and if you’ve been in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. 

Immunity Passports?

Authorities have suggested the idea of an immunity passport to travel between countries, but it remains unclear whether or not those who have had the virus become immune—and for how long. Much focus is on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, an effective and safe vaccine takes at least 12 to 18 months to develop and test in clinical trials. Although still in the early stages, antibody testing has also been suggested as a method of “reopening” the country, though it’s still too early in immunity research to tell.

Travel post-COVID-19 may not be the same as pre-COVID-19, at least for a while. Achieving worldwide immunity can take years, and could be the ultimate measure before many believe it’s safe to travel again.

Bottom Line

Much uncertainty remains, and we’ll need to continue to modify our daily habits until the infection risk dissipates and some types of travel are again permitted. Only aggressive testing and other preventative measures can restore a confidence to travel again.

Until then, cooking an international dish or streaming a virtual tour can help to quell our travel hunger, and to look forward to when it’ll be again safe to make new memories around the globe.

More from SmarterTravel:

Johnny Jet travels to 20+ countries a year to share firsthand knowledge of reward travel, credit card deals, destination tips and more.

Categories
At Home Entertainment Health & Wellness Outdoors

Forest Bathing Audio Experience

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

Let’s head into nature for a guided virtual forest bathing experience. Traditional forest bathing strengthens your relationship to nature by connecting you via your five senses.

We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in and let’s imagine a peaceful walk through a beautiful forest. Along the way, we’ll practice some traditional forest-bathing techniques to help you relax and connect with the outdoors.

Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.

Discover more Virtual Vacations.

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Categories
At Home Fashion & Beauty

Plaka Slipper Socks Review: The Pair of 'Shoes' We're Living in Right Now

Give your feet some love with these super comfy slipper socks by the footwear brand Plaka. As most of the U.S. is in mild springtime weather, it’s just a little too hot for slippers but too cold to go barefoot all the time. Enter the slipper sock. With these slipper socks, you can check your mail, take the dog out, and work from home without having to change your shoes. And the best part is, they’re foldable and super packable, so we can take them with us once we’re traveling again.

Plaka Slipper Socks Review

Price and Where to Buy: Plaka Slipper Socks are available on Amazon and Plaka’s website for $29.95.

How the Plaka Slipper Socks Rate

  • Usefulness: 9/10. While in quarantine I find my feet getting too warm in my normal slippers, but I also keep having to put on socks and shoes when I go to take out the trash or check my mail. The slipper socks have solved both of these problems and are super comfortable while I’m sitting at my desk.
  • Durability: 9/10. I wouldn’t go for a long walk in these, but the rubber bottoms are very durable and even have some grip support.
  • Portability: 10/10. The slipper socks fold up super small so you can easily travel with them or throw them in your purse.
  • Style: 8/10. I bought the heather gray color, so the neutral color combined with the minimalist style means these slipper socks go with pretty much everything.

Final Verdict: If, like me, you’re struggling with which footwear to wear while working from home, these slipper socks are your answer. They are comfortable, have a minimalist style, and are the perfect fit: not too tight to the point that they’re heat-constricting, but also not so loose that they lack support.

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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
At Home Packing

5 Cheap or Free Ways to Upgrade Your Travel Arsenal Now

Itching to be able to travel again? The time will come, and there are many ways you can prepare—but perhaps the best way is to upgrade some of your travel must-haves and test them out while you’re stuck at home.

Here are some cheap or free strategies for readying your travel arsenal with items that can also help you stay comfortable and relaxed at home.

Inflatable Back Pillows for Working from Home (and Eventually the Plane)

Therm-a-Rest’s Lumbar Travel Pillow.

Working from home can be rough on your back—as so many new remote employees are finding out. You know what else can be rough on your back? Plane travel. Use this opportunity to try out some travel pillows as a solution that can eventually double as the perfect plane pillow. I personally prefer a lumbar option like Therm-a-Rest’s Lumbar Travel Pillow, which provides support that prevents you from slouching and deflates to pack away when you’re not using it.

A Portable White Noise Machine

Yogasleep Rohm.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important in stressful times, plus it’s scientifically proven to be crucial for a healthy immune system. White noise machines can help, and portable ones like the Yogasleep Rohm are both affordable and perfect for packing when you get back to travel. The relaxing lull of white noise is a must-have in your too-quiet future hotel rooms.

Repair (or Damage-Proof) Your Suitcase

broken wheel on suitcase.

Don’t come out of quarantine ready to travel but with a broken or about-to-break suitcase. Short of buying a new, pricey spinner in these tough times, it’s worth considering that you can fix or break-proof your trusty carry-on. You can read more here about how to fix a broken suitcase, but some handy improvements include:

Use Luggage-Organizing Straps at Home

luggage organizing strap samsonite.

Another luggage add-on, organizing straps for packing can also be a handy at-home organizer you can look forward to using on your carry-on. The adjustable, buckled straps are perfect for organizing and hiding at-home cables that have become an eyesore, and later they’ll easily compress clothes and gear to pack smaller into a size-restricted bag.

Spring Clean with Packing Cubes

vagreez packing cubes.

Putting away your winter clothes to make room for spring ones is a lot easier if you employ some packing cubes to organize items into groups. Use your old packing cubes for storage and upgrade to some shiny new ones you’ll be eager to road-test later.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories
Beach Cities Health & Wellness Island

10 Dreamiest Beachfront Resorts in the World

We may be safe at home right now, but we’re already dreaming about our next vacation. At these dreamy digs on some of the world’s best beaches, you can sink your toes into warm sand and find your ideal place in the sun. Divide your time according to your own rules: Learn to paddleboard or parasail, reel in a magnificent fish, or simply lie back and adjust your hat as the sun moves across the sky. Read on for 11 out-of-this-world beachfront resorts to add to your bucket list.

LUX South Ari Atoll, Maldives

LUX South Ari Atoll, Maldives

LUX South Ari Atoll is the only hotel on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu. Pristine beaches and crystal clear water are steps away from the thatch-roofed suites. Looking for a retreat? Pamper yourself in the ocean-view spa. Want a more active holiday? LUX South Ari Atoll  is a prime spot for snorkeling and whale-shark spotting.

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

This dreamy beachfront resort is located on a private island in Seychelles. Six Senses Zil Pasyon has 30 villas to choose from, each with stunning vistas of the ocean and surrounding islands. Book a spa treatment and soak in the beautiful landscape of this sustainable gem.

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Bali

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay, Bali

Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay has done a great job of integrating elements of Indonesia into this hotel—from the lobby to the villas modeled after a Balinese home. Discover the island’s cultural heritage through onsite artist workshops and take a tour of the resort’s temple with a high priest.

Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand

Vana Belle, A Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand

Vana Belle is all about privacy, with 79 suites and villas all tucked into a secluded cove over Chaweng Noi beach. Each suite and villa has a terrace with a private pool and stunning views of the beach or of the lush rain forest.

Ocean Club Resort, Turks And Caicos

Ocean Club Resort, Turks And Caicos

Even though the Ocean Club Resort is packed with things to do, the best one might be to do nothing at all. Of course, you can scuba or snorkel to see yellow tangs, parrot fish, and turtles, go bonefishing, or arrange for the resort to drop you off on one of the 30-plus deserted islands in Turks and Caicos so you can spend the day Robinson Crusoe-style. Or, simply sleep late. Think about reading a book. Order a drink. And watch the sun set.

The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas, Jericoacoara, Brazil

The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas, Jericoacoara, Brazil

Malhada Beach was named one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by the Washington Post. Make the most of it at The Chili Beach Private Resort & Villas. This exclusive boutique hotel has only six rooms, so you’ll be able to truly get away from it all.

Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius

Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Mauritius

Experience tasteful paradise at Le Touessrok, a resort that cuddles up to Trou d’Eau Douce Bay in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It has all the requisite amenities: nearby reefs for diving and snorkeling, southern trade winds for sailing, and ample turquoise waters for swimming and admiring.

Travaasa Hana, Hana, Hawaii

Travaasa Hana, Hana, Hawaii

Maui’s Road to Hana is as famous as its beaches. A journey to Travaasa Hana, which sits just off that road, leads to an older, quieter Hawaii, complete with waterfalls tucked into lush forests. The original Sea Ranch Cottages opened here in 1947 and became a favorite retreat for generations of travelers seeking barefoot elegance. Today, Travaasa runs the resort in the picturesque Hana community, where Hawaiian culture is still the focus. Daytime activities include outdoor yoga classes, horseback rides, spa treatments, and Hawaiian cooking classes. You won’t miss the glitz of the more populated beaches.

Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Thonga Beach Lodge, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Seek out this untouched escape, where golden beaches and turquoise waters sit adjacent to coastal forests, a silvery lake, and a wetland park. The five-star eco Thonga Beach Lodge makes the most of its natural setting. It’s the ultimate beach safari, located just south of Mozambique’s fabled sands on the western edge of the Indian Ocean. The lodge sits in a dune forest overlooking a pristine beach. During winter, you can spot nesting turtles and whale sharks.

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa, Motu Tevairoa, Bora Bora

Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa

You won’t want to cross Bora Bora off of your bucket list after spending a few days at The Pearl. It’s worth returning to again and again. The full-service resort sits on one of Bora Bora’s islets, facing the main island. The peaceful retreat stuns with 360-degree vistas. Keep it calm by spending your days snorkeling in the crystal-clear water, hiking up a tropical mountain, or sailing on a catamaran.

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Categories
At Home Travel Technology

8 Smart Home Products That Will Save You Time, Effort, and Money

Make your house work for you with these smart home devices that will save you time, effort, and money. From a robotic trash can to a WiFi extender, these gadgets will make staying in just a little easier.

Townew Self-Sealing Trash Can

Townew Self-Sealing Trash Can

We don’t yet have a robot that takes out the trash, but technology has advanced to the point of a self-sealing and self-changing trash can. All you have to do is press a button and the TOWNEW trash can will seal the full bag (which puts an immediate stop to any odors, unlike tying a bag). Pull it out, and the TOWNEW closes the lid and automatically pulls a new trash bag into place.

A built-in motion sensor automatically opens the lid as you approach to throw away trash, so you never need to touch the can.

Tineco Pure One S12 Smart Cordless Stick Vacuum

Tineco Pure One S12

Make vacuuming a chore that you look forward to (or at least don’t dread) with Tineco’s Pure One S12 Smart Cordless Stick Vacuum. This super lightweight vacuum comes with two rechargeable batteries (that can be charged simultaneously with the included wall-mounted dock), so you’ll never have to wait while one battery charges. Not having to deal with the hassle of a cord makes vacuuming take much less time, and the trademarked iLoop Smart Sensor Technology automatically adjusts suction power so you don’t have to switch settings when going from carpet to hardwood.

The vacuum comes with a variety of attachments (like a dusting brush and crevice tool) that makes it simple and satisfying to vacuum everything from your ceiling to your sofa.

Best of all, the Tineco has a self-cleaning filter tool that doesn’t require you to rinse it out in the sink like most other bagless vacuums.

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eero 3-Pack Wi-Fi System

eero 3-Pack Wi-Fi System

Does your Wi-Fi give up on you every time you move to a certain spot in your house, or someone else logs on? Never suffer through a buffered video chat or painfully slow movie again, with the 3-pack Wi-Fi System from eero. The system is made up of three tiny, discreet boxes that you place unobtrusively around your house to blanket up to 5,000 square feet in fast and reliable Wi-Fi.

eero works with your existing internet provider and is incredibly easy to set up (the plug-and-play setup takes less than 10 minutes). The system includes free encryption and other security measures that are updated automatically to keep your data safe.

Plott Cubit Smart Virtual Reality Measuring Tool

Plott Cubit Smart Virtual Reality Measuring Tool

Tackling some home improvement projects? Make measuring a million times easier with the Cuibt Smart Virtual Reality Measuring Tool. Instead of fumbling around trying to hold a measuring tape and write down your measurements, this smart home gadget automatically saves measurements straight to your phone. The Cubit uses dual lasers to take ultra-accurate measurements, and the wheel measurement feature makes it easy to size up irregular objects and corners.

The Cubit’s app works like a free interior designer—snap photos of your space, use Cubit to measure it, and then play around with your project until it looks exactly how you want it. Then Cubit will provide step-by-step directions to implement your project in real life, making it easy to do everything from creating a gallery wall to hanging a shelf.

Lockly Secure Pro

Lockly Secure Pro

Never lock yourself out again with the Lockly Secure Pro smart lock. This smart home gadget is easy to install on your existing door (and comes in a deadbolt or latch version) and can be opened via Bluetooth, keypad, or with your fingerprint.

Lockly’s patented keypad design switches the placement of the digital numbers with each use, so even if someone is watching, they’ll never be able to guess your pin.

You can set one-time codes for deliveries, workers, or guests, or even let in someone remotely via the app.

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Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight

Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight

Arlo’s Pro 3 Floodlight Camera keeps an eye on your property for you. The bright, motion-activated light will instantly illuminate a wide area when it senses movement. The built-in security camera with a 160-degree viewing angle captures full color, 2K HDR footage (even at night) so you can clearly zoom in on objects or faces. A hidden speaker allows for two-way audio, so you can hear and speak to visitors.

For extra security, you can program the built-in smart siren to be triggered remotely or in case of an emergency.

The floodlight camera is easy to set up and includes a rechargeable battery so you don’t need to worry about wires.

Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8

Manage your home with the Amazon Echo Show 8. With an 8-inch HD screen you can set up the Echo Show anywhere in your home and use it all day. The Echo Show 8 lets you make video calls, stream the news, listen to podcasts/audiobooks, control all your smart devices (including security cameras, lights, and thermostats), display photo slideshows, give you step-by-step cooking directions, display your to-do list, check the weather/traffic, and more.

Concerned about privacy? You can disconnect the device’s microphones and camera with one press of a button, or use the built-in shutter to cover the camera.

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Phillips Hue Smart Light

Phillips Hue Smart Light

If you always secretly wanted The Clapper but never got one, you can now achieve your turning-off-the-lights-without-getting-out-of-bed dream with the Phillips Hue Smart Light. These Bluetooth-enabled bulbs can be turned on and off or dimmed via voice command with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or the Google Assistant.

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At Home Luxury Travel

5 Hotel Comforts You Can Get for Your Bedroom

I can’t tell you how to get turndown service every night, but I can show you the best ways to make your bedroom feel like a hotel room. It’s easier than ever to find the same sheets, mattresses, and more that your favorite hotels use. Follow these tips to get five-star-worthy sleep every night.

Recreate Your Favorite Hotel Bed

Marriott hotel mattress.

Want to recreate the feel of your last Marriott stay at home? You can buy the same experience at Marriott’s online shop, which sells the same brand of mattresses, bedding sets, and pillows that are used in the hotels.

Want to find your favorite hotel’s beds at a more affordable price? It’s fairly easy to find what mattress the property uses with a quick online search. For example, Westin touts its world-famous Heavenly Bed, but it’s a widely known secret that the Heavenly Bed is just a Simmons Beautyrest mattress, which you can find for much cheaper at places like Wayfair.com. Added bonus: Wayfair allows you to return mattresses for free for up to 100 days after you buy it, so you can really sleep on your decision.

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Pillows

Marriott pillows

Discovered your new favorite pillow on a hotel’s pillow menu? Find out which pillow it was using DOWNLITE’s hotel bedding finder search engine. The brand makes pillows for a number of different hotel chains, so you can find the exact model you want and then purchase your pillow on Amazon. Or go directly to the hotel’s website—like Marriott, many other brands have their own bedding shops.

Sheets and Blankets

Garnet hill down alternative

Even if you don’t splurge on a new mattress, topping off your old bed with luxurious new sheets can transform your sleep. The majority of luxury hotels use all-white bedding for that crisp and clean look, so emulate that style for upscale impact. Look for high-thread-count sheets made from percale, which tends to feel lighter and airier than other materials. The Company Store’s 400-Thread Count Supmia Percale Sheet Set is made from American-grown cotton that feels amazing—the set has an option for an extra-deep fitted sheet so you don’t have to fight with a fitted sheet that slides off the corners of your mattress in the middle of the night.

Luxury Hotels use duvets rather than old-fashioned comforters—this helps rooms look cleaner and more pulled-together, and allows just the cover to be washed in between guests, rather than the whole comforter. Garnet Hill’s Signature Down-Alternative All-Season Comforter is the perfect choice, thanks to its cruelty- and allergy-free filling, which gives you weight without overheating. This duvet manages to be light in the summer months but still cozy during the winter.

Top off the bed with an extra blanket for warmth (or just for style). Garnet Hill’s Twisted-Rib Cashmere Throw is made from an indulgent 100 percent cashmere knit that’s sourced from purebred Kashmir goats in Mongolia to make the softest blanket I’ve ever felt. For something a little lighter, The Company Store’s Cotton/Bamboo Blanket is the perfect layer for summer months when most other blankets are too hot.

Blackout Curtains

Remote control blackout blinds

The best hotels have blackout curtains that leave your room pitch black, no matter the time of day. Splurge on remote-controlled blackout roller shades that can open and close without you needing to get out of bed. Or, for the more frugal and less lazy among us, a good pair of blackout curtains will not only block light but also insulate the room in winter and keep the heat of the sun out in summer.

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Decor

Dimmable light

Dimming the lights before bed lets your body know it’s time for sleep. A dimmable table lamp for your nightstand allows you to read or relax with minimal light.

Hang a calming photo across from your bed to help you unwind and clear your head before going to sleep. Photo-printing site Fracture will print your photos on glass for a luxury look with no frame required.

Add a plant that doesn’t require much light or maintenance to your bedside table—studies have shown that plants can help purify the air, helping you breathe better at night.

Some of Our Favorites Bedroom Essentials

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

Some review products are sent to us 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.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.