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The Best International Phone Plans for Travelers

Comb the web for a bit, and it’s not hard to find horror stories of overseas cell phone usage gone wrong, with people paying more for data than they did for their airfare or accidentally spending a month’s rent on background app refreshes. Data download fee disasters seem almost to be a rite of passage for many modern travelers. And with public Wi-Fi networks becoming riskier and riskier, you want to make sure you are also safely connected abroad now too.

Mobile hotspots are a way to beat these fees outright—but if renting still another piece of metal is going too far, or if you think a basic roaming plan will cover you, I’ve gathered details and pricing information about the best international phone plans from five major providers.

International Phone Plans: What You Need to Know

[st_content_ad]When you travel abroad, you will usually be connecting to the cell towers of third-party providers other than your own cell phone company. This means that your cellular provider must pay an access or connection fee to that third-party network, a cost it will pass on to you, usually at a markup. These fees typically show up on your phone bill as “international roaming data” fees.

These costs apply to everything you do with your phone—phone calls, text messages, and, importantly, data usage of all kinds. On this last item of data usage, it is crucial to understand that, unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, every use of your phone incurs a data toll.

That means that viewing and downloading email, browsing the web, viewing social media, and mapping all incur data charges, as do applications that we sometimes assume to be “free,” such as Skype and WhatsApp.

A simple example: While traveling without an international phone plan, you know that making calls while overseas costs extra, so instead you use your WhatsApp number to make calls. Unless you are connected to Wi-Fi, however, WhatsApp is using cellular data, so you are getting charged at your provider’s international roaming data rate. How much does that cost?

On AT&T, international usage costs with no plan in Europe are as follows:

  • Phone calls: $2.00/minute (no charge for incoming calls)
  • Texts: $0.50 per text and $2.05/MB (no charge for incoming texts)
  • Data: $2.05/MB

WhatsApp’s data use depends on whether you are on a 2G, 3G, or 4G network, but on 4G this study by AndroidAuthority puts WhatsApp calling data use at about 750 kilobytes per minute, so a one-minute call using WhatsApp will cost you about $1.50.

Meanwhile, Google Maps uses about six megabytes every 10 minutes, a cost of $12 to go a few miles in your car.

Clearly, data usage can get very costly very fast. To get around that, here are your options for the best international phone plans as of early 2020.

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International Phone Plans with AT&T

Of its several international phone plans, AT&T’s simplest offering is the International Day Pass, which is available in more than 100 countries and costs $10/day for unlimited calling and texting as well as whatever data plan you have at home. One nice feature of AT&T’s plan is that you are charged only for days on which you use the package, so if you are on Wi-Fi all day or never turn on your phone, you save the $10.

Note that Mexico and Canada are included in some AT&T plans, so you don’t need an international package in those countries.

For longer trips, AT&T has two Passport plans. One offers 2GB of data for $70/month and the other offers 6GB for $140/month, including unlimited texting and phone calls for 35 cents a minute.

International Phone Plans with Google Fi

Google Fi is a newcomer to the wireless market, and isn’t for everyone; you won’t get the full benefits of the plan unless you have one of six compatible phone models, including Pixels and select Moto and LG phones. Currently, Google Fi is in beta testing for iPhones and works in part with many Android models.

Google Fi’s international phone plan, the main draw for many customers, is extremely straightforward: “Data abroad costs the same as at home.”

Google Fi offers both an unlimited plan, starting at $70 for one line, and a flexible plan, which costs $20/month for unlimited domestic calls and texts, $10/GB per month for data, and $15/month for an extra person to share your data plan. Internationally, the only substantive difference is that voice calls cost 20 cents per minute; otherwise, your international plan is the same as your domestic plan.

An important caveat is that if you are outside the 200 destinations where Google Fi is available, you will have to get a local SIM card; otherwise, you will not be able to use your device unless you’re on Wi-Fi.

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International Phone Plans with Sprint

Sprint is among the companies that include international connectivity in their standard plans. All Sprint plans that have Sprint Global Roaming enabled include free basic data and unlimited texting in 200 destinations; calls cost 25 cents per minute.

Note that while there is no extra charge for Sprint Global Roaming, you must take the step of adding it to your plan to qualify for the benefits.

The free data comes at up to 2G speeds, which may seem slow compared to what you are used to at home. For faster data speeds, Sprint’s Global Roaming package offers 4G LTE data for $5/day or $25/week in most destinations (it’s $2/day or $10/week in Mexico and Canada, and $10/day or $50/week in China).

International Phone Plans with T-Mobile

T-Mobile has carved out a niche for itself by offering only unlimited plans at fixed prices depending on how many phone numbers you have, starting at $30/line for four lines. T-Mobile also piles on some unexpected benefits with the Magenta plan, including unlimited streaming, in-flight texting, and one hour of data on Gogo-enabled flights.

For travelers, the most interesting element is that texting and data in more than 210 countries are wholly included in the Magenta or Magenta Plus plan.

Even the Essentials plan includes texting abroad as well as 2GB of data outside of coverage areas in Mexico and Canada. The downside, though, is that the standard overseas speed on the Essentials plan is much, much slower than normal connectivity at home. For faster speeds, T-Mobile has two options. The Magenta plan gives you data and texting abroad and an hour of in-flight Wi-Fi, for $5 more per month. Magenta Plus costs $13 extra per month and gives you double the data speed and unlimited in-flight Wi-Fi, as well as 5GB of 4G data in Mexico and Canada, HD streaming, and some other features such as voicemail to text. See T-Mobile’s website for more details on its phone plans.

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International Phone Plans with Verizon

Verizon’s Unlimited Together – North America plan includes unlimited calls, texts, and data in Mexico and Canada—one catch being that after you download 512 MB of data, speeds will be reduced to 2G levels. Otherwise, Verizon’s TravelPass plan is very similar to AT&T’s, with a $10 charge per day, per device to get the same plan you have at home. If you are not on one of the unlimited plans at home, Verizon charges $5/day for coverage in Mexico and Canada.

Verizon also offers monthly international travel plans ranging from $70/month for 100 minutes, 100 sent texts, and 0.5GB of data to $130/month for 250 minutes, 1,000 sent texts, and 2GB of data in more than 185 countries. Pay-as-you-go rates vary for texting and calling, but the standard data charge is $2.05/MB. See this page for all options.

Alternatives to International Phone Plans

If you are going abroad for an extended period of time, you may want to consider some other options to an international phone plan.

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Using Your Own Phone with an International SIM Card

If you would still like to use your personal phone abroad, then consider purchasing a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM card) to use in your own cell phone while you’re traveling internationally. A SIM card is the part of a cell phone that holds the identity information and other personal data; if you switch your own SIM card for one that you purchase in another country, you can have all the benefits of a local phone (such as low in-country calling rates and a local phone number) without having to buy a whole new phone.

You can also purchase an international SIM card that can be used in many different countries. This is a good bet for multi-country trips or for travelers who travel regularly to many different regions around the world. However, the option of replacing the SIM card is only available on unlocked phones. Ask your phone company if your phone’s SIM card can be unlocked.

You can purchase prepaid international and country-specific SIM cards from websites such as Cellular Abroad, Telestial, or OneSimCard. As always, you’ll want to do some comparison shopping before you purchase to find the best rates for the country or countries you’ll be visiting.

Pros:
Rather than buying a whole new phone, you can simply buy a SIM card for your existing phone — which is cheaper and takes up less space in your luggage. You’ll enjoy low local rates for calls, texts, and data within whichever country you’re visiting.

Purchasing an International Cell Phone

Depending on your destination country, you may be able to purchase a local phone with a domestic calling plan. Local plans are often similar to the one you have on your current cell phone; domestic rates are cheap, and the most basic cell phone models are quite affordable.

Research cell phone companies in the country you will visit or look for a local cell phone store. Just make sure that the carrier you choose is popular and well known. Do not buy a cell phone from someone on the street just because you think you’re getting a “deal.”

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Frequent travelers who spend a lot of time in one international location will be best served by purchasing a phone in their destination. Students studying abroad and travelers with international vacation homes or family in another country should also consider purchasing an international cell phone.

Pros:
You’ll enjoy low rates for calling within a foreign country.

Cons:
Fees may be quite high for calling the United States.

You may run into a language barrier when trying to buy a phone. If you don’t fully understand the contract you are signing, do not sign your name.

Renting a Cell Phone

If your phone doesn’t work abroad or you don’t want the hassle of adding and removing a pricey international plan, you may want to look into renting a cell phone through a service such as Cellular Abroad, TravelCell, or TripTel. The company mails you a phone, and your rental includes a return shipping label so you can return the phone after your trip.

The phone you’ll receive will be a local phone, good for making calls in the country in which you are traveling. However, if you are spending more than a week or two in one destination overseas, you may save money by purchasing a local phone and subscribing to a local phone plan, as rates for renting a phone can quickly surpass the cost of a cheap cell phone in a few weeks. Also, domestic calling rates for rental phones may be higher than rates offered by local cell phone service providers.

Rates for rental phones are typically twofold; renters pay a daily, weekly or monthly fee for the cell phone rental and an additional fee for calling minutes. This means that even if you’re not using your phone, you can still be charged the minimum fee for the rental unit. Some rental phone plans have higher rates for calls outside the country, and some don’t—compare plans to see which is best for you. Incoming calls and texts on rental phones are your cheapest option, as they are often less expensive than outgoing calls (or even free). If you are using your rental phone to call home, have your friends and family call you at a designated time and you will save some cash.

Renting a cell phone is best if you’re making a lot of calls but not going on a lot of trips. On a single trip where you make just one or two calls, you may end up paying more for the actual cell phone rental than for the calling minutes.

Pros:
If your usual cell phone won’t work overseas and you’re an infrequent traveler, you save money by renting a phone instead of buying one.

Cons:
Beware of hidden charges. Minimum minute stipulations, charges for incoming calls, or steep roaming rates may apply to your rental. Always make sure you read and understand the fine print.

To avoid charges if you lose a rental phone, you may want to purchase rental insurance at an additional cost.

Top-Rated Travel Gear for Traveling Abroad

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

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

What You Need to Know About Flying with a Service or Emotional Support Animal

In recent years, there’s been a marked increase in emotional support animals on planes—and many of them have made headlines. Perhaps you heard about the emotional support peacock who was turned away from a United flight, or the emotional support pig who was allowed onboard but then kicked off for disruptive behavior. And then there was the emotional support hamster whose owner flushed it down an airport toilet after she wasn’t permitted to bring it aboard a Spirit flight.

Various laws protect the right of people with disabilities to fly with trained service animals or emotional support animals, but there are occasional circumstances in which airlines can deny them boarding. The Q&A below will help you discover the difference between service animals and emotional support animals, learn how you can fly with your animal, and find out your rights if you’re a fellow passenger who’s allergic to animals.

What is a service animal?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a fairly narrow definition of a service animal—”a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

The Air Carrier Access Act, which governs the rights of air travelers with disabilities, currently has a broader definition. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation: “Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) a service animal is any animal that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability; or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.” However, the Department of Transportation has proposed rules that would limit service animals to dogs only. (This story will be updated if these rules take effect.)

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What is an emotional support animal?

In general, emotional support animals provide comfort to their owners but have not received the types of specialized training that service animals have. The U.S. Department of Justice provides the following example in the case of a person whose dog helps with anxiety attacks:

“The ADA makes a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals. If the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and take a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. However, if the dog’s mere presence provides comfort, that would not be considered a service animal under the ADA.”

Which types of service and emotional support animals are allowed on planes?

According to new guidance on service animals from the Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines will be required to accept the most common types of service animals: dogs, cats, and miniature horses. Other types of animals may also be allowed onboard, but airlines do not need to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, or spiders.

If you’re traveling internationally, keep in mind that foreign carriers flying into or out of the U.S. are only required to accept dogs, and that other countries may have different regulations for service animals. Many foreign countries also have quarantine restrictions that could affect your animal’s ability to pass through customs.

Some airlines require that service and emotional support animals be at least four months old. The animals are generally expected to travel in the passenger’s lap or on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat. Animals must be clean and well behaved.

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Under what circumstances can emotional support and service animals be denied?

Aside from the species restrictions listed above, airlines can also deny boarding to animals who threaten the health or safety of other passengers, cause a disruption, are too large or heavy for the aircraft cabin to accommodate them, or will not be allowed to enter the destination country.

For safety reasons, your service or emotional support animal cannot block aisles or emergency exit rows.

What documentation is required for service and emotional support animals?

Airlines may require documentation and/or 48 hours of advance notice for emotional support or psychiatric service animals. This documentation may include a note from your mental health professional as well as the animal’s vaccination or other health records.

Passengers with physical disabilities do not need to provide advance notice that they are bringing a service animal, though an airline may ask for veterinary health or vaccination records when you check in. The airline may also ask for verbal confirmation that your animal is indeed a service animal.

If your flight is longer than eight hours, your airline may require you to submit a form stating that your service or emotional support animal won’t need to relieve itself or that it can do so in a sanitary way.

What if I’m allergic to animals?

The right of a disabled traveler to bring his or her service animal aboard a plane is protected, even if there are other passengers with allergies. Airlines cannot legally limit the number of service animals on planes or ask for advance notice, so even if you call your carrier a few days before your flight, the airline might not be able to give you an accurate estimate of how many animals will be onboard.

Your best bet is to ask the agent at your departure gate if there will be any service animals or pets on your flight, and if so, that you be seated as far away from them as possible. If you miss this step and end up next to a service animal, you can also ask the flight attendant to help you find another seat. In extreme cases, the airline may work with you to book you onto a later flight.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notes that most animal allergens aboard planes are carried into the cabin on passengers’ clothing, so if your allergies are severe, it’s a good idea to carry any necessary medications with you such as an inhaler or an EpiPen, regardless of whether there is a service or emotional support animal on your flight.

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What if I’m scared of animals or I don’t want to sit next to one?

Notify a gate agent or flight attendant and ask to be moved to a different seat.

What is my airline’s policy regarding service and emotional support animals on planes?

Service and emotional support animals are transported without an extra charge. While all U.S. carriers must follow the same broad laws that govern the transport of service and emotional support animals, there are slight differences in policy from one airline to the next. Click on the links below to see your airline’s requirements.

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

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Senior Travel

The 10 Best Wheelchair-Accessible Hotels and Resorts Around the World

Many handicap-accessible hotels and resorts around the world offer accommodations for travelers with disabilities, but that doesn’t ensure that all of your room’s features or the property’s amenities and venues will be fully accessible.[st_content_ad]

In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires by law that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, hotels, transportation, and other facilities. In the European Union, the European Accessibility Act is in place, but it’s not as wide-reaching as the ADA, and other countries have no official programs requiring accessibility at all. However, that should not discourage a traveler with a disability from visiting those destinations.

No matter where you’re traveling, global brands like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG tend to have the best options when booking hotels for the disabled. Still, it’s always best to call ahead to your chosen hotel to get specifics about the width of the doorway, shower and tub set-up, grab rails, bed height, and other details so there are no surprises when you arrive. If you need rental equipment at your destination, such as a wheelchair or scooter, companies like Special Needs at Sea will deliver equipment to hotels in 68 countries around the world.

This list of handicap-accessible hotels and resorts highlights many of the best amenities for disabled travelers in North America and abroad.

Noelle: Nashville, Tennessee

Noelle: nashville, tennessee.

This 224-room experiential boutique hotel is located in the heart of downtown Nashville adjacent to Printer’s Alley. The historic luxury property features 10 fully accessible modern guest rooms with 32-inch doorways, roll-in showers, bathroom and bathtub grab bars, remote-control-operated lights and blinds, doorbells, and other useful amenities. It also offers hearing-accessible rooms and/or kits, and the property is pet-friendly. The fitness center, art gallery, boutique, and all restaurants and lounges, including the Hidden Bar beneath Noelle, are accessible during a stay at one of Music City’s most unique handicap-accessible hotels.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:12907868″ /]

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Resort at Squaw Creek: Olympic Valley, California

Resort at squaw creek: olympic valley, california.

This resort property is one of the most impressive handicap-accessible hotels, thanks to its Disabled Access Ambassador, who assists disabled guests with navigating the property and planning their time in the North Lake Tahoe region. The hotel features 14 ADA-compliant rooms with features such as accessible peepholes and lower climate controls and closet poles. The sink and vanity are wheelchair accessible, and the bathrooms have roll-in showers. The rooms also offer audio-visual smoke detectors, close-captioned television decoders, telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD), and a telephone and front door alerting device. This wheelchair-accessible hotel offers ramps and elevator access to restaurants and other resort amenities.

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Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz: Berlin, Germany

Scandic berlin potsdamer platz: berlin, germany.

This centrally located property is one of the best hotels for the disabled in Berlin. Its 60 handicap-accessible hotel rooms feature adjustable-height beds and plenty of space for maneuverability. The bathrooms are also spacious with accessible amenities and roll-in showers; wheelchairs can also fit under the sinks. The corridors of the hotel are extra wide, and the restaurant is barrier-free, so wheelchair users can serve themselves at the breakfast buffet. A unique feature is the property’s barrier-free representative, who provides training to the staff so they can better assist their guests with special needs.

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Halekulani: Honolulu, Hawaii

Halekulani: honolulu, hawaii.

Located on Waikiki Beach, this luxury resort affords stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and nearby Diamond Head. The handicap-accessible hotel offers 14 ADA-compliant rooms specifically designed for travelers with wheelchairs. These accommodations feature modified bathrooms, lower closet rods, and accessible door peepholes and air conditioner control panels. There are wheelchair ramps throughout the property, and all of the restaurants and facilities are accessible. The hotel also has a pool lift for guests and ADA-compliant parking stalls. Hearing-impaired kits are available upon request.

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Grand Velas Riviera Maya: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Grand velas riviera maya: playa del carmen, mexico.

This luxurious, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort is located on the Caribbean coast, adjacent to the Yucatan Jungle in Playa Del Carmen. There are three distinct experiences offered at Grand Velas Riviera Maya: the romantic oceanfront Grand Class resort, family-friendly accommodations at The Ambassador, and the secluded Zen Grand surrounded by the Mayan Jungle. Each experience offers two ground-floor suites that are accessible, with wide door entrances and roll-in showers. The restaurants and bars have ramps, and there is a ramp with access to the beach. The resort also has wheelchairs on site. Zen Grand and Grand Class offer electric wheelchairs to guests at no additional charge.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1204526″ /]

Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa: Lake Placid, New York

Mirror lake inn resort & spa: placid, new york.

This beautiful resort property is picturesquely situated on Mirror Lake overlooking the Adirondack High Peaks. The handicap-accessible hotel offers five ADA-compliant guest accommodations in two different room categories, with six accessible parking spaces. Two dining venues are wheelchair accessible, including AAA Four Diamond-rated The View Restaurant and the property’s casual option, Taste Bar & Bistro. All of the property’s meeting rooms, as well as its main lobby, library, living room, spa, and fitness room, are accessible. The indoor pool also has an individual pool lift, and there is a transfer wall for whirlpool access.

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InterContinental David: Tel Aviv, Israel

InterContinental david: tel aviv, israel.

Guests of this centrally located hotel in Tel Aviv will appreciate the property’s impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea and accommodations at one of the city’s best hotels for the disabled. The InterContinental David boasts 10 fully accessible rooms featuring bedside and bathroom grab bars, roll-in showers, wheelchair-accessible closets, panic buttons, and other amenities. Hearing-impaired devices and ionizers for respiratory conditions are available on request. The hotel also has wheelchair-accessible parking and easy access to restaurants and other on-site facilities. Service dogs are permitted.

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Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate: Orlando, Florida

Omni orlando resort at championsgate: orlando, florida.

This 15-acre handicap-accessible resort stands out for its proximity to Orlando’s theme parks and attractions but offers a great escape at the end of the day. The property’s 42 ADA-compliant rooms feature many amenities, including lower light switches, peepholes, deadbolts, and closet rods. They also have roll-in showers and accessible toilets, sinks, and grab bars. Visual alarm notifications are available for the hotel alarm, door, and phone. The entire property is wheelchair accessible, including the pool area with a lift and hot tub area with a transfer station.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1171099″ /]

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Sandals Barbados: St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados

Sandals barbados: st. lawrence gap, barbados.

This new adults-only, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort features a long list of included amenities, plus three luxurious accessible rooms. Two are in Sandals‘ LX category with a private balcony and soaking tub, and one is an SLX suite. This swim-up suite features a large private patio and soaking tub with zero-entry access to the resort’s Crystal Lagoon pool. All three accommodations boast accessible showers with grab bars, a lowered magnifying mirror, a 34-inch vanity, and a grab bar in the toilet area. Eleven of the resort’s restaurants are wheelchair friendly, and the beach is accessible. The property also has one beach wheelchair and two standard wheelchairs for guest use.

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Novotel Melbourne on Collins: Melbourne, Australia

Novotel melbourne on collins: melbourne, australia.

Melbourne is a wheelchair-friendly city that offers visitors an accessible metro and various activities for people with disabilities, including surfing. (Yes, surfing.) Novotel Melbourne on Collins is one of Australia’s best handicap-accessible hotels, boasting seven accessible rooms that are some of the largest in the city. The property is centrally located on Collins Street, directly above the upscale St. Collins Lane shops. Its spacious standard queen and deluxe king rooms are bright with large windows, and have extra living space and wider doorways. The bathrooms are also generous in size with roll-in showers that have fold-down seats and handrails. All hotel venues are wheelchair accessible. The hotel’s pool is currently under renovation and will become handicap accessible, including a pool lift, by mid-December 2019.

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Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Award Finalist in journalism and an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, USA TODAY, Cruise Critic, Reader’s Digest, Forbes Travel Guide, TripAdvisor, and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles. Follow her on PratesiLiving.com and on Twitter and Instagram.

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Island Luxury Travel Travel Trends

11 Bucket-List Destinations in Asia with Nonstop Routes from the U.S.

Getting to many parts of Asia from the U.S. is a notoriously difficult process characterized by long flights and expensive fares. However, with a rise in the number of nonstop routes connecting the continents, it’s now possible to find easier-to-reach places to visit in Asia.  These 11 cities have nonstop routes from the U.S. Even better, most of these routes are with U.S. carriers or their partners, so you can book using points to maximize savings.

Nonstop Routes to Amazing Destinations in Asia

Whether you plan a bucket-list holiday around these Asia nonstop flight destinations, use them as a gateway to other destinations, or see them as just the inspiration you need to book a long-overdue family trip, you’ll be happy to board just one flight to get there.

Like this story? I also recently rounded up European cities with nonstop routes from the U.S.

West Coast to Tahiti

Tahita overwater bungalow

Fly nonstop to this tropical paradise from San Francisco and Los Angeles with United, Air France (SkyTeam partner), or Air Tahiti Nui (an American and Delta partner). Additionally, budget airline French Bee flies from California nonstop to Papeete, but does not have a U.S. affiliate airline.

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Minneapolis/St. Paul to Incheon, South Korea

riverwalk boats incheon south korea

Delta operates a nonstop flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Incheon that clocks in at just under 13 hours. Use the city as a gateway to Seoul and the rest of South Korea.

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Detroit to Shanghai, China

night view of shanghai skyline

Head to Shanghai, China’s financial hub, on a nonstop flight with Delta from Detroit. From here you can access neighboring cities like Suzhou, Nanjing, and even the neighboring province of Jiangsu.

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Denver to Tokyo, Japan

streetview of tokyo

On United (and its partner ANA), you can get to Tokyo nonstop from Denver in 12 hours. Explore the city’s 24-hour buzz, thriving food scene, and action-packed fish markets, or use it as a gateway for other Japanese cities and travel via high-speed bullet train.

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Seattle to Singapore 

infiniti pool at marina bay sands singapore

As of fall 2019, you can fly nonstop to Singapore from Seattle with Singapore Airlines (Star Alliance Member). The airline is famous for having the longest flight in the world (Newark to Singapore) and consistently wins best-airline awards, so you’re in good hands on this long haul.

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New York to Manila, Philippines

Facade of manila cathedral, manila, philippines

If you’re longing for the beaches of Boracay or want to experience the capital of Manila, you can take a nearly 17-hour flight from New York (JFK) to Manila. Note that this flight is operated by Philippine Airlines, which at the time of publication, does not have any U.S. partner airlines or alliances. 

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West Coast to Vietnam

street tourists hoi an vietnam

As of fall 2019, Vietnam Airlines has secured an air carrier permit in the U.S. and will announce nonstop flights soon, potentially including flights connecting Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi to possible hubs like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, or even New York or Dallas. The airline also recently signed a two-way codeshare agreement with Delta, which is a promising sign for the confirmation of potential routes. 

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Los Angeles to Osaka, Japan

osaka castle

American (operated by Japan Airlines) offers a nonstop route from Los Angeles to one of the increasingly trendy places to visit in Asia, Osaka. Osaka is increasingly popular with American tourists, and now travelers can take advantage with this nonstop route to visit Osaka and nearby Kyoto.

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Chicago to Hong Kong

city view of hong kong
Before sunset

With American Airlines (and its partner Cathay Pacific) you can fly nonstop from Chicago to Hong Kong. It’s about 16 hours and puts you close to other notable destinations like Macau and Shenzhen.

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New York to Taipei, Taiwan  

view of taipei skyline

Taiwan is accessible via a 16-hour flight from the East Coast of the U.S. on both China Airlines (SkyTeam partner) and EVA Air (Star Alliance). Head to Taipei for famous night markets, tea plantations, and of course, boba (bubble) tea.

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Washington D.C. to Delhi, India

india new delhi

Air India, a Star Alliance member, flies nonstop from Dulles to Delhi three times weekly. The journey takes just over 14 hours, and from Delhi, the rest of India is accessible via train or plane. 

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What to Wear in Asia:

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Categories
Health & Wellness

9 Ways to Make Long Train Rides More Comfortable

When it comes to comfort, most travelers would pick trains over planes any day. Train cars usually offer more leg and elbow room than airplane cabins, there are no seatbelt signs to keep you from getting up and moving around, and the slower pace of travel makes time zone changes less taxing. And yet, being stuck in a seat for hours on end means long train rides can still be tough on the body and mind.

[st_content_ad]From seat recommendations to advice on what to pack for train travel, the following tips will help make your next long rail journey easier and more comfortable.

Spring for an Upgrade

If budget and availability allow, upgrading your seat is perhaps the most important thing you can do to make a long train ride more comfortable. That might mean booking a sleeper cabin instead of a seat so you can lie down on overnight rides, or a first- or business-class seat instead of a spot in coach to land yourself more legroom, a footrest, and greater recline.

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Choose the Right Seat

Window seats on planes are popular with travelers who like to enjoy the views and/or have something to lean on, and window seats on trains have the same appeal—if not more so, since you’re even more likely to have scenery worth seeing out the windows of a train.

Many trains have both front- and rear-facing seats; if you’re prone to motion sickness, snag one of the former so you can see where you’re going.

Pack Props

Let’s face it: A standard train seat may be comfortable for some, but it won’t suit passengers of every size and height. Got short legs? Consider bringing an inflatable footrest so your feet aren’t dangling the whole journey. Suffer from lower back or tailbone problems? Pack an inflatable seat cushion to take pressure off your spine on long train rides, or a lumbar support pillow to prevent lower back pain after prolonged sitting.

If you’re planning on trying to sleep in your seat, bring a cozy microfiber blanket and your travel pillow of choice.

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Bring Your Own Entertainment

A tablet stocked with books, movies, and music can be a lifesaver on long train rides, but you’ll need a plan for keeping it charged. Some trains have power ports at every seat; make sure you have the right adapter for your charger if you’re traveling in a foreign country. On trains without power outlets, consider bringing a portable charger to keep your devices running longer.

Consider bringing along some low-tech forms of entertainment, too, like travel games or even a simple pack of cards.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

When deciding what to pack for train travel, comfy clothes should be at the top of your list. This is not the time to pack your tightest skinny jeans or your highest heels; instead, opt for clothes with a relaxed fit that are made with soft, stretchy fabrics. Options include ultra-stretch chinos for men, high-rise black leggings for women, and slippers for those late-night trips to the bathroom on an overnight train.

It’s always a good idea to wear layers in case the temperature on the train is too hot or cold for your taste.

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Block Out the World

Part of the appeal of traveling by train is watching a variety of landscapes slip by outside your window, but once darkness falls—or if you simply need a nap—you might want to block out your surroundings for a while.

A luxurious silk sleep mask and a set of ear plugs can shield you from harsh overhead lights and the chatter of fellow passengers. Noise-canceling headphones are a good option if you like to fall asleep to music.

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Choose the Right Bags

One of the best things about traveling by train is that the luggage restrictions are typically less onerous than those of the airlines. Amtrak, for example, allows each passenger two personal items, two carry-on items, and two checked bags—for free.

The good news is that you don’t have to try to fit a week’s worth of clothes into a bag the size of your kid’s school backpack in order to avoid fees. The bad news is that you still have to lug your stuff through the train station and sometimes (depending on the train) heave it into an overhead luggage rack—so it still behooves you to pack relatively light. This 20-inch carry-on weighs just five pounds and is easy to lift onto luggage racks and maneuver down narrow train aisles.

Because larger suitcases may be stowed in an inaccessible part of the train, you’ll want to have a smaller bag to keep near your seat with valuable items such as gadgets, travel documents, your wallet, and medications. Consider a tote bag or day pack for this purpose.

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Bring Your Own Snacks

Some upscale long-haul trains serve gourmet feasts on white tablecloths with real silverware—but if you’ll be taking a not-so-luxe train, your options might be significantly less appetizing (think salty convenience foods and overpriced snacks). That’s why you might want to stock up on your own favorite eats.

Fortunately, the airlines’ 3-1-1 rules for liquids and gels don’t apply on trains, so you can bring items like yogurt or veggies with hummus, stored in a small travel cooler. Tasty, healthy options that don’t require refrigeration include nuts, granola bars, fruit, and trail mix. Prefill a reusable water bottle to save yourself money on drinks.

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Freshen Up

After a long day or night on a train, freshening up a little can help you feel cleaner and less rumpled. Give your face a quick wipe-down with a water-free cleansing cloth, get the sour taste out of your mouth with a spray of Listerine Pocketmist, and kill off any germs you picked up from your armrests with a squirt of antibacterial hand gel. And having some travel-size deodorant on hand is never a bad idea.

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

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel

Budget Airline Primera Air Shuts Down After Expanding $99 Transatlantic Flights

Editors’ Note: On October 1, 2018, Primera Air announced it will cease operations immediately. The following story was published on September 11, 2018.

Cheap Europe flights are about to get even cheaper for Americans on the East Coast: Primera Air is rolling out a big increase in transatlantic flights for this fall and next summer. As of mid-September, the upcoming schedule calls for non-stop flights to Europe on 17 different routes by next summer.

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Six are routes it is currently operating, two new routes will start later this year, and the remainder will be seasonal for 2019:

From Boston:

  • Brussels, four weekly starting June 2, 2019
  • Berlin, four weekly, three weekly starting June 9
  • Frankfurt, four weekly starting July 16
  • Madrid, three weekly starting August 16
  • London Stansted, four weekly are currently operating
  • Paris’ De Gaulle, three weekly are currently operating

From Montreal:

  • Frankfurt, three weekly starting July 16, 2019
  • Paris’ De Gaulle, five weekly starting October 28, 2018

From New York JFK:

  • Berlin, daily from June 7, 2019
  • Frankfurt, daily from June 16

From Newark:

  • Brussels, daily from May 9, 2019
  • London Stansted, daily flights are currently operating
  • Madrid, daily from August 16.
  • Paris’ De Gaulle daily flights are currently operating

From Toronto:

  • Madrid, three weekly, from August 16, 2019
  • Berlin, three weekly from June 9
  • Frankfurt, daily from June 21
  • London Stansted, four weekly are currently operating
  • Paris’ De Gaulle, four weekly are currently operating

From Washington Dulles:

  • Paris, five weekly from October 28, 2018

Seats are already on sale for all of these flights. One-way fares start at $99, $149, or $199, depending on the route. Flights will offer the same five far service levels as currently: three in conventional economy, two in premium economy.

[st_content_ad]As with most budget airlines, expect baggage, meal, seat assignment, and other fees to be extremely high. Primera will continue to use A321s on its current routes but will add new 737 Max 9 planes at the new bases in Germany and possibly in Spain.

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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.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Cities Road Trip Sustainable Travel

10 Speedy Train Routes in Europe That Are Faster Than Flying

While Europe doesn’t have the caliber of high-speed trains that Asia is known for, the continent certainly has better train travel than the U.S. Train routes in Europe are often affordable and easy, especially when traveling within the Schengen zone. Train travel has plenty of advantages over flying: You’ll arrive right in the city center, the fares are often more affordable, and you won’t have to deal with security lines.

[st_content_ad]Here are 10 train routes in Europe that will get you to your destination quicker than flying—some may even surprise you.

All data is taken from Omio, which analyzed bus, train, and flight times from its database. Note that flight duration includes the time required to be at the airport beforehand, taking into consideration the time to get through airport security.

London-Paris

Save yourself over three hours by taking the Eurostar between London and Paris. Plus, you’ll arrive right downtown as opposed to airports that are far from the city.

Duration by Train: Two hours and 16 minutes

Duration by Plane: Five hours and 40 minutes

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Florence-Naples

These two famous Italian cities are about 300 miles apart, and you can travel this train route in Europe much faster than flying. A one-way journey on ItaliaRail takes just two and a half hours as opposed to the five hours it takes to fly.

Duration by Train: Two hours and 50 minutes

Duration by Plane: Five hours 

Madrid-Valencia

Travel between the coast and Spain’s capital in about an hour and 40 minutes with Spain’s high-speed train, AVE—it’s almost twice as fast as flying.

Duration by Train: One hour and 42 minutes

Duration by Plane: Three hours and 10 minutes

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London-Manchester

If you’re headed to London for a European vacation, why not add on the lesser-visited (but equally as cool) Manchester? In just over two hours on Virgin Trains you can hit up Manchester’s music, shopping, and sports scenes. Or save money by flying into Manchester from the U.S. and then taking the train directly to London’s city center—more than 10 major U.S. cities (on both the East and West Coasts) have direct flights into Manchester.

Duration by Train: Two hours and 11 minutes

Duration by Plane: Three hours and 35 minutes 

Bologna-Rome

Save over an hour between Bologna and Rome by taking the train instead of flying. There are multiple train companies that do this route quickly, so compare prices and times between Italotreno and Trentitalia’s high-speed train, Frecciargento.

Duration by Train: Two hours

Duration by Plane: Three hours and 15 minutes

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London-Amsterdam

You can now take the Eurostar between London and Amsterdam, and it’s almost an hour faster than the time it takes to fly. The train stops in Brussels, where you switch to a Thalys train that goes straight to Amsterdam’s city center.

Duration by Train: Three hours and 41 minutes

Duration by Plane: Four hours and 30 minutes 

Munich-Vienna

Surprisingly it takes just about the same amount of time to travel between Munich and Vienna on a train as a plane. The rail journey is just slightly faster with Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed sprinter train.

Duration by Train: Four hours and 10 minutes

Duration by Plane: Four hours and 15 minutes

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Barcelona-Madrid

The high-speed rail between these famous Spanish cities was created by Renfe about 10 years ago, and it’s the quickest way to travel between the two cities. Use the hour-plus that you save to explore sights like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid.

Duration by Train: Two hours and 30 minutes

Duration by Plane: Three hours and 45 minutes 

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Milan-Zurich

Save yourself the hassle (and a little time) by taking the train between Milan and Zurich instead of the train. The 135-mile journey can be completed in just over three hours by train on Trentitalia.

Duration by Train: Three hours and 23 minutes

Duration by Plane: Three hours and 46 minutes

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Amsterdam-Paris

Save some time for baguettes and coffee by taking the train between Amsterdam and Paris instead of flying. The route on Thalys takes just under four hours and will get you right to the city center.

Duration by Train: Three hours and 48 minutes

Duration by Plane: Four hours

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Categories
Booking Strategy Money Travel Etiquette

10 Most Misleading Travel Terms

If you spend enough time comparing hotels, flights, and tours, you’ll eventually realize that many words have very little meaning in the travel industry. You might think that there would be some sort of common agreement on travel terms across hotels that would define what makes a suite a suite or a deluxe room better than a standard room, but no such agreements exist. Travelers are often surprised to find that what they booked is not quite what they expected.

Here are some travel hype words you should take lightly, and that might even signal you should do a little more research.

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‘Deluxe Room’

[st_content_ad]Whether you travel once a year or year-round, you’ve probably run into this word over and over again comparing hotels. But do you know what it really means? Across hotel websites, “deluxe” is a travel term usually used to upsell a room that is the same size as a standard room and looks like a standard room, but usually only has one feature that makes it any better.

According to Merriam-Webster, the official definition of “deluxe” is “notably luxurious, elegant, or expensive.” When it comes to travel, though, it could mean anything from bedsheets with a higher thread count to the addition of a coffeemaker. So when it comes to selecting a “deluxe” room, the only part of that definition you can really count on is that it’ll be slightly more expensive.

Before deciding to upgrade to anything deluxe, make sure you understand exactly how much more you’re paying for. Otherwise, you might find yourself paying a hefty margin for a fancy word.

‘Suite’

While it’s not as vague and thrown-around as often as “deluxe” is, “suite” is another word that doesn’t seem to have a concrete meaning. For some, a suite might mean multiple bedrooms, or at least a separate living room and kitchen area. However, when you’re comparing different hotel suite options, they can range in size and layout dramatically.

Even hotels that market themselves with the word itself in their names, such as Candlewood Suites or Comfort Suites, often have vastly differing opinions on what the word means. At Candlewood Suites, accommodations can be a bit basic, but there are multiple rooms and a full kitchen. Suites at Comfort Suites don’t necessarily have multiple rooms and extra amenities, but may be a little bit bigger than your standard hotel room with a few “deluxe” touches thrown in.

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‘Boutique Hotel’

Let me start by saying that I adore boutique hotels. I love their small-scale attention to detail and that each one has a distinct look and design. That being said, “boutique” is a relatively new and trendy word that gets thrown around far too often, and few people know its true definition. Some people say that a boutique hotel can only be considered such if it has fewer than 100 rooms—but if that were the case every truck-stop motel across the country could slap the word “boutique” above the vacancy sign.

If you really want to experience a boutique hotel, look for something petite and artsy. A boutique hotel should feel like an independent hotel with its own distinct, locally focused style—even if it’s owned by a bigger hotel conglomerate. For example, MGallery is a boutique hotel brand owned by Accor Hotels. In Melbourne, Hotel Lindrum pays tribute to the building’s history as a pool hall. In Prague, the Century Old Town Hotel is an homage to Franz Kafka, the city’s most famous author. True boutique hotels use design to evoke a historical connection to their location.

‘Stars’

What’s the difference between a five-star hotel and a four-star hotel? It depends who you ask. When you’re looking for hotels across booking sites like Expedia or Travelocity, it’s not uncommon to see different “star” ratings on the same hotel. Depending on the source, hotel star ratings are based different things: Expedia, for example, takes into account “hotel amenities, media reviews, customer experience, and professional benchmarks” to come up with a rating. Meanwhile TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) simply displays an average of customer reviews.

You could spend hours trying to compare all the different ratings of one hotel to decide how good it is, but should you? Probably not. Ratings are arbitrary and the rules are constantly changing, so it’s better to do your own assessment of what you need in a hotel, and how well it will suit your needs.

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‘High-Speed Internet’

Having typed in many hotel Wi-Fi passwords for access to lagging Internet, I feel comfortable saying that the phrase “high-speed internet” is one common travel term that doesn’t mean anything. With fluctuating numbers of guests, hotel internet is notoriously finnicky and vastly unreliable—especially when traveling abroad or to rural areas.

If you need a fast connection on your trip, don’t ask the hotel about its Internet speed. Instead, check out Hotelwifitest.com (SmarterTravel’s sister company) which collects Internet speeds of hotels across the globe. Do a quick search before you book if you’ll need fast Internet, and if you’re unfamiliar with internet speed measurements, run a quick test from your home connection for comparison. This will give you a good idea if the hotel’s Internet will be better or worse than what you’re used to.

‘Hotel Fitness Center’

Nobody really expects a whole lot from the hotel fitness center, do they? Personally, if there’s a treadmill, some weights, and a yoga mat—I’m happy. While it’s not uncommon for fitness rooms to be on the small side, some are seriously claustrophobic excuses for a “fitness center,” and the equipment can be pretty basic. Also, keep an eye out for fitness rooms that aren’t necessarily located in the hotel: Many hotels, especially in large cities, have a deal with nearby full-service gyms that allow hotel guests to use their facilities. While it’s nice to be able to use a real gym, you might not be as motivated to work out if it’s located a block or more away from where you’re staying.

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‘Walking Distance’

For those who hike the Appalachian Trail, “walking distance” means from Georgia to Maine. For those of us who are running late to dinner downtown, however, walking distance better mean under 15 minutes. Probably one of the most subjective travel terms in the industry, never take “walking distance” at face value, and always consult Google Maps.

‘Access to Public Transportation’

Like walking distance, “access to public transportation” can mean just about anything. If you’re relying on public transportation to get around, it’s more helpful if your hotel is located on a major stop than if you have to walk 20 minutes to get there. Similarly, this phrase could mean the hotel is near a bus line that will take you to another bus line that will finally connect you to the main subway, when you really only want to buy a pass for the subway. If deciphering bus schedules and managing transfer tickets isn’t your idea of a good time, make sure to map out the routes you’ll take before you make the booking.

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‘Continental Breakfast’

I’ve spurned too many sad displays of near-stale white bread  to ever feel contented by the phrase “continental breakfast.” So what is a continental breakfast? The term has British origins, originally referring to the light breakfasts of mainland Europe, and Merriam-Webster officially defines continental breakfast as “a light breakfast (as of rolls or toast and coffee).” But when modern travelers, especially Americans, hungrily approach a hotel breakfast spread, we want options and, at the very least, a waffle maker. If access to a quick yet substantial breakfast is important to you, call ahead to see what the hotel really offers in their continental breakfast. If you don’t think that will be enough food for you, scout out some nearby cafes or brunch spots instead.

‘Quaint’

While this may be a fine word for a historic bed and breakfast or inn, be wary of any hotel describing itself as “quaint.” It might just be old. If scratchy sheets, peeling paint, and musty smells aren’t your idea of “quaint,” you might want to shop around for a more modern hotel.

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

Categories
Booking Strategy Entertainment Travel Technology

Now You Can Order Food and Buy Tickets on Instagram

Like your friend’s food photo on Instagram? Now you can book a table at that restaurant, buy tickets for a pre-meal movie, or order delivery all without leaving the app.

[st_content_ad]The popular social media platform is partnering with a number of companies to add action buttons to business pages that will allow users to “Reserve, Get Tickets, Start Order, or Book” directly within Instagram.

As of today, Instagram is utilizing: Acuity, Atom Tickets, Booksy, ChowNow, Eatstreet, Eventbrite, Fandango, GrubHub, MyTime, OpenTable, Reserve, Restorando, Resy, SevenRooms, StyleSeat, Tock and Yelp Reservations. Appointy, Genbook, LaFourchette (SmarterTravel’s sister site), MINDBODY, Schedulicity, SetMore, Shedul and Vagaro will be added to the feature soon.

According to Instagram, “more than 200 million daily active Instagrammers visit a business profile each day”, so this could be a big impact on how you book travel and other activities in the future.

We can’t book your plane tickets for you, but don’t forget to follow SmarterTravel on Instagram for destination inspiration!

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Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

10 Must-See Atlanta Attractions

When considering Atlanta attractions, visitors often find that there’s a perfect blend of past and present, of history both gone and in the making. Yet while this combination can be entrancing, it can also be overwhelming.

The Top Must-See Atlanta Attractions

To make things easier, here are the top 10 Atlanta tourist attractions you should consider when you visit.

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Piedmont Park

[st_content_ad]One of locals’ favorite spots in the city, Piedmont Park is a green respite from modern life. If you catch Atlanta on a sunny day, head here to walk or bike along scenic paths, play sports, and lay on the grass. In the warmer months, you can also have a picnic, bask in the sun, and plunge into the pool.

Fox Theatre

More from smartertravel: atlanta travel guide 10 best hotels in cheap airport fun things to do must-see attractions a visitor's neighborhoods the eats restaurants great spots try southern food what wear pack for atlanta

With architecture inspired by the Middle East and the characteristic opulence of the grand theaters of the 1920s, Fox Theatre is one of Atlanta’s most beloved landmarks. The architecture and intricate gilded decorations are enough to get people to pay just to tour around the place, but most visitors come to enjoy one of the numerous movies, concerts, and shows the theatre offers.

In its lifetime, Fox Theatre has seen performances by the likes of Elvis Presley and Madonna. It also premiered the now-famous Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse cartoon, and hosted the world premiere of the Phantom of the Opera touring production.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

One of the most symbolic Atlanta points of interest, this group of landmarks commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Landmarks include places that were important to Dr. King’s life, such as his childhood home and the church where he preached.

There are also several sites dedicated to the fight for human rights. Visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, and the touching “I Have a Dream” International World Peace Rose Garden.

Georgia Aquarium

georgia aquarium

Holding the title of largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium is a must-see Atlanta attraction. It houses more than 100,000 animals in its six galleries, which include different ecosystems. The most popular place in the aquarium is the magnificent Ocean Voyager exhibit. Here, visitors walk through an acrylic tunnel, as they see sharks, whales, and other species swimming around and above. Other highlights include shows and a shark tank diving.

Atlanta History Center

Atlanta history center

If you enjoy museums and history, the highly interactive Atlanta History Center will thrill you. The enormous property includes various houses where visitors can see what life was like for different social classes in several time periods. Go along with the costumed actors to see the harsh realities of plantation life in the 19th century, as well as the luxury enjoyed by the southern upper class in the 1920s.

History buffs will also love the numerous galleries, the Margaret Mitchell House, and the Civil War artifact collection, which is amongst the biggest in the country.

Stone Mountain

Stone mountain

This quartz monzonite boasts the largest bas-relief in the entire world, and, as such, is well-worth a visit. Its history is shrouded in controversy due to an attempt to make it the “Mount Rushmore of the South” by carving the figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis —three key figures for the Confederacy— on it. The figures are still there, despite heavy criticism, but visitors also come to the mountain to enjoy its beautiful surroundings. The view from the top is astonishing, and the mountain includes a wildlife preserve, a beach, restaurants, and even two golf courses.

Fernbank Museum of Natural HistoryFernbank museum of natural history

This natural history museum is highly immersive, quite impressive, and packs lots of fun. Visitors can now enjoy the recently opened seven acres of trails for interactive exhibits and hands-on activities. Families can also enjoy the IMAX theatre, which presents a series of educational movies covering various topics. However, the crowning jewel of the museum is its dinosaur collection, which includes the first fully assembled Argentinosaurus, the largest dinosaur discovered to date.

CNN Center

CNN center

Step into the world of broadcasting at the CNN world headquarters. Anyone can enter the network’s building and enjoy shopping and eating, but those who want to get a behind-the-scenes look can join a 50-minute studio tour. These tours take visitors on an in-depth journey that allows a detailed insight into each step of the broadcasting process. If you’re lucky, you might even get a chance to sit in on a live broadcast.

Oakland Cemetery

Oakland cemetery

Originally built as a six-acre garden cemetery, Oakland Cemetery now hides the history of Atlanta in its soil. Civil war soldiers, mayors, and even Georgia icons like Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell are buried here. The mausoleums and sculptures are surrounded by winding paths, ancient oaks, and magnolias.

The cemetery is divided between class and race, a reflection of the painful history of racism and segregation in the city. But the cemetery also reflects progress, most notably with Maynard Jackson, the first African-American Mayor of Atlanta, being buried in the historically white part of the cemetery. Here, history still lives and breathes through the memorials of the dead.

High Museum of Art

High museum of art

Originally designed by Richard Meier, this museum is the leading art museum in the entire Southeast. With collections ranging from Renaissance to Contemporary art, this is one of the most intellectually stimulating Atlanta attractions.

The highlight of the museum is its 19th and 20th century American art collection, though it also counts with an impressive number of works by 19th century French masters, a sub-Saharan African art collection, and photography exhibitions. The museum is praised for its busy event calendar, which includes an annual film series with foreign and independent art.

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[viator_tour destination=”784″ type=”3-mod”]

– Original reporting by Mariana Zapata

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel Weekend Getaways

A Visitor’s Guide to Atlanta Neighborhoods

In Atlanta, sometimes it seems like every other block claims its own identity. If your head hurts when trying to figure out the map, don’t despair. Even locals get confused about Atlanta neighborhoods.

A Visitor’s Guide to Atlanta Neighborhoods

To help you cruise smoothly through the city’s complicated urban division, here’s a guide to the most important and interesting Atlanta neighborhoods.

[viator_tour destination=”784″ type=”3-mod”]

Midtown

Midtown atlanta

[st_content_ad]Atlanta’s “Heart of the Arts” is on the rise, and it’s unlikely to slow down anytime soon. You could spend the entire day here and never run out of things to do. With cultural institutions galore, you can enjoy the High Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Museum of Design, and the everlasting Fox Theatre.

If you’ve gotten your cultural fix, you can relax at Piedmont Park, or go on a shopping spree along Midtown Milet. Sprinkle all the sightseeing with amazing food. Get free-range and vegetarian food at  R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, a culinary staple of the city, or get fancy at the elegantly decorated warehouse that houses ONE Midtown Kitchen.

Stay after the sun sets for some of the best nightlife in Atlanta. Head to gastropubs like TAP for a chill night out, or to clubs like Opera Nightclub and Sutra Lounge when you want to party like a real Atlanta local.

East Atlanta Village

East atlanta

If you’re the type of person who dislikes seeing a Starbucks everywhere you travel, you’ll love East Atlanta Village. One of the Atlanta neighborhoods with the most local pride, EAV boasts a myriad of local places you won’t find anywhere else. From independent bookshops and artisan bakeries to small bike shops and locally owned restaurants, it’s as if every place in East Atlanta Village lives and breathes EAV spirit.

The neighborhood is also famous for its arts and music scene, with bars, nightclubs and live performances powering its nightlife on the daily, and a number of music festivals being held here. The Atlanta Mess-Around, A3C, and the East Atlanta Strut find a home in these streets and at bars like The Earl and S29.

Little Five Points

what to wear in atlanta

This eclectic neighborhood is where the alternative youth comes to play. Little Five Points has multiple vintage clothes and record stores, independent bookstores, vegan restaurants, and a number of truly great dive bars. Creative self-expression is the name of the game, with even restaurants and shops inventing eye-catching decorations for their facades.

The neighborhood is decorated with murals and thought-provoking street art, much of which is hidden in small alleyways and streets.  Head to The Vortex for a coronary bypass burger, or to  Tijuana Garage for some amazing Tex-Mex. Then, hop to The Porter Beer Bar and to Wrecking Bar BrewPub to enjoy microbrews. For great performances, go to 7 Stages, or walk around long enough to inevitably see free performance art on the streets.

Sweet Auburn

Sweet auburn

This historically black neighborhood was a thriving center for African-American enterprise throughout most of the 20th century. It is now forever linked to history of the country as the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitors can learn about the activist’s life through tours of his birth house, the church where he preached, and even his resting place.

There’s also the International Walk of Fame, with footprints from some of the most prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement. The black American experience at the African-American Panoramic Experience Museum seeks to retell American history through the eyes of its black citizens.

But even though Sweet Auburn has a deep and rich history, it has also been able to continue to thrive into modernity. Foodies love the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which opened in 1918 and continues to offer fresh produce and meats, as well as artisanies to customers. And don’t be persuaded to leave at night—the bar and club scene here is electrifying. For Caribbean music and dancing until your feet give out, there’s no place like the Royal Peacock Nightclub.

Inman ParkInman park

 

Why do tourists flock to this pretty but mostly residential neighborhood? The answer is simple: food. Opened in 2014, the Krog Street Market renovated an old warehouse and turned it into a place where all kinds of flavors meet. Superica serves amazing steaks, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is as splendid as the name promises, and Gu’s Dumplings might just bring you to tears of joy. The communal “living room” makes it easy to meet and hang out with the locals. Once you’re full, check out the other shops around the market or walk off your meal at the nearby Krog Street Tunnel.

Downtown

restaurants in atlanta

Atlanta’s Downtown may not have the boho chic and urban trendy vibes of other neighborhoods, but there is much more to it than skyscrapers and business offices. Landmarks include local favorites like Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium. But while they are both part of what makes Downtown interesting, its true charm resides in the hidden art galleries at Castleberry Hill, the performances and street art at Fairlie-Poplar, and the exhibitions at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Buckhead

Buckhead

Find the glitzy side of Atlanta at Buckhead, where everything is pretty, shiny, and expensive. With impressive historic mansions and newly built luxury apartments, this is the most upscale of Atlanta neighborhoods. People flock here to enjoy shopping for high-end fashion at Lenox Square, the Shops Buckhead Atlanta, and Phipps Plaza.

Architecture buffs also love to visit the Swann House, one of the most opulent houses that comprise the Atlanta History Center. Treat yourself at one of the numerous gourmet restaurants, enjoy cocktails at rooftop lounges, and finish the night getting lost in the neighborhood’s glamorous clubbing scene.

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– Original reporting by Mariana Zapata

Categories
Cities

10 Secret French Villages to Discover Before the Crowds Do

Imagine the perfect trip to France, and you probably picture the chic streets of Paris, the glittering beaches of the Cote d’Azur, and the fertile vineyards of Burgundy and Champagne. But your vacation wouldn’t be complete without following the lure of small French villages, where cats wander down quiet cobblestone alleys and patisserie windows beckon with tempting displays of macarons and fruit tarts.

Secret French Villages You Probably Don’t Know About

With tourists and motor coaches crowding their medieval streets, some French villages are in danger of being loved to death. These 10 villages aren’t completely off the tourist map, but they remain unspoiled by mass tourism, and offer visitors a glimpse of everyday life in the French countryside.

L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, Provence

[st_content_ad]Pastel-painted shops and colorful flowerboxes line the canals that course their way through “the Venice of Provence.” The sun-splashed French village of L’Isle Sur la Sorgue is best known for its antiques, and hosts two annual antique fairs (at Easter and in August). If you’re not up for the crowds, visit other times of year and browse the hundreds of antique stores and art galleries scattered around town.

Where to Stay: After a recent renovation, the centuries-old Grand Hotel Henri has reopened to guests with its trademark elegant rooms and warm staff.

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Noyers-sur-Serein, Burgundy

Just a couple of hours southeast of Paris, one of the most charming French villages sits on the Serein River. Noyers is surrounded by well-preserved medieval ramparts that protect its cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. Visit the small folk museum, or hike to the atmospheric ruins of Chateau de Noyers-sur-Serein for aerial views of the village.

Where to Stay: The pet-friendly Le Gratin Mondain oozes with rustic charm. Breakfast and dinner are available on site.

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Calvi, Corsica

A 13th-century citadel looms over the seafront town of Calvi, located on the northwestern coast of the island of Corsica. Stroll along the seafront promenade or relax on the long white beach fringed with pine forest. Locals claim that Christopher Columbus was born here, and visitors can still see the ruins of the house where he supposedly lived. For Calvi’s best views, hike up to the hilltop church of Notre Dame de la Serra.

Where to Stay: The centrally located Casa Bianca offers easy access to Calvi’s historic core and the beach. Rooms are modern, clean, and air-conditioned.

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Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy

Wandering amid the half-timbered houses of this picture-perfect French village will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Beuvron-en-Auge is located along Normandy’s 25-mile Cider Route, which means you can sample delicious apple ciders and brandies in restaurants all over town—with a side of local Camembert or Livarot cheese, of course.

Where to Stay: Le Pave d’Hotes offers five individually decorated rooms, each with satellite TV and minibar. Breakfast is included and served outside in the garden on warm, sunny mornings.

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Collioure, Occitanie

“In the whole of France there is no sky as blue as the one above Collioure,” said the artist Henri Matisse, who once lived in this Catalan-influenced fishing village just 15 miles from the Spanish border. It’s easy to see why Collioure appeals to artists, with its brightly painted shops and cafes overlooking the turquoise waters of the harbor. There’s even a well-maintained castle worth visiting.

Where to Stay: Hotel Madeloc offers moderately priced accommodations within walking distance of the village center. Spring for a balcony room to enjoy a view of the surrounding hills.

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Yvoire, Rhone-Alpes

Unspoiled Yvoire has a spectacular location right on Lake Geneva, and it’s one of the best French villages for strolling, thanks to its flower-bedecked cobblestone lanes and the manicured paths of Jardin des Cinq Sens. Because most visitors arrive on day trips from nearby Geneva, Switzerland, consider spending the night so you can appreciate the quiet evening and early-morning hours on the lake.

Where to Stay: Villa Cecile is the perfect place to relax and indulge, with its two seasonal outdoor swimming pools and small on-site spa.

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Dinan, Brittany

You may as well keep your phone or camera out at all times in Dinan, because there are Insta-worthy scenes around every corner. Geranium blooms spill out of flowerboxes, sailboats bob on the River Rance, and blue and red shutters offer bright pops of color against medieval stone walls. The main drag, called Rue du Jerzual, feels right out of the Middle Ages.

Where to Stay: Just outside the city walls is the Hotel de la Porte Saint-Malo, which offers simple yet comfortable rooms. Public spaces include a garden and a common room with a fireplace.

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Espelette, Basque Country

Espelette is a different local flavor than other French villages—literally. It’s best known for the Espelette pepper, and you’ll see the long, narrow chiles hanging out to dry all over town, their skins a vibrant red against the whitewashed walls. Also worth seeing are the town’s traditional Basque church and a 16th-century castle that now houses the tourist office and educational exhibitions.

Where to Stay: Hotel Euzkadi overlooks the main square and offers comfortable rooms and a large swimming pool. Sample Basque specialties at the excellent on-site restaurant.

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Oingt, Rhone

Oingt is one of the “golden stone villages” of the Beaujolais wine region, named for the warm honey color its medieval limestone buildings turn to in the setting sun. While there are a few interesting sights in Oingt, including the Church of Saint-Mathieu and a tower that affords visitors sweeping vistas over the surrounding wine country, the greatest pleasure of visiting this French village is simply wandering its quiet cobblestone streets.

Where to Stay: Stay within biking distance of Oingt at Chateau de Bagnols, an 11th-century fortress that’s been converted into a Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel. Choose a room decorated in either modern or medieval style, and enjoy garden, courtyard, or vineyard views.

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Gerberoy, Picardy

About an hour and a half northwest of Paris is the sleepy French village of Gerberoy, nicknamed “the town of roses.” Visit during the warmer months to wander through the Henri Le Sedaner Gardens, named after a French painter who once took inspiration from the town’s quiet lanes and centuries-old houses. The annual rose festival in June celebrates Gerberoy’s most famous blooms.

Where to Stay: Located just six miles from Gerberoy is Le Moulin des Forges, a B&B set in a restored watermill.

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Sarah Schlichter never met a medieval village she didn’t like. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Experiential Travel Oddities Security Travel Etiquette

10 Travel Safety Tips You Can Learn from the CIA

Mathew Bradley spent more than 14 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, and now this former CIA agent is the Regional Security Director, Americas, for International SOS (a medical and travel security assistance company). I spoke to him via email to ask his top travel safety tips, both at home and abroad.

Travel Safety Tips from CIA Experts

Here are Mr. Bradley’s top travel safety tips based on his training and experience as a CIA agent.

What travel safety tips does the CIA give to its employees?

  1. Maintain a low profile. CIA employees don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
  2. Research your destination before you go. Part of keeping a low profile is knowing the local customs and blending in. Act like you have been there before.
  3. Plan your ground transportation and hotel arrangements in advance.  We never leave home without contact details for every stage of our itinerary.
  4. Stay aware of your surroundings. [Do] the research to know what fits in the location where you are.

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What should tourists do in case of an emergency while traveling?

  1. Have a plan before you go out. Know where you will meet if separated from your group following a terrorist attack, violent protest, or other incident.
  2. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you should be back. They should know who to call if you don’t check in.
  3. For natural disasters, plan ahead to avoid hurricanes and wildfires. If in an earthquake zone, have a plan for what to do in case of an earthquake.
  4. The CIA has a heavy influence on planning because in a crisis situation, you don’t have time to plan. You can execute what you have planned, but if you don’t plan ahead, you won’t know what to do.

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What does a CIA agent always pack for a trip?

A doorstop. When you lock yourself into your hotel room at night, slip the doorstop under the door to keep intruders from being able to force the door open.  The doorstop is effective even when the chain or other external locks give way.

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What is your number one travel safety tip?

Plan ahead! Travel is more enjoyable when it goes smoothly, and it goes smoother when you have a plan. Also, don’t take your passport out of your hotel. The number one way to ruin your trip is to lose your passport. You don’t need it on the street, and no one will steal it from your hotel safe. Plan for safety and security like you plan for fun and entertainment, and you, too, can travel like a CIA operative.

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Follow Caroline Morse Teel on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for wanderlust inspiration and more travel safety tips. 

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities

10 Exotic Dream Trips You Can Take in 2018

For many of us, the new year brings dreams of new travel destinations. And even if your other dreams and resolutions for 2018 have already fallen to the wayside, it’s not too late to make this the year that your dream trip becomes a reality. Whether your ideal getaway involves sun-soaked beaches, fairytale castles, epic long-distance hikes, or exclusive safaris, there’s an adventure for every taste and budget.

The Best Dream Trips for 2018

Here’s a sampling of the best dream trips you can take in 2018—many of them newly designed for the year ahead.

Visit an Exclusive Private Game Reserve at Thanda Safari in South Africa

[st_content_ad]Imagine a place where Africa’s famed Big Five game animals—lions, elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards, and Cape buffalo—roam freely in a spacious natural habitat, protected from hunters and poachers yet easily accessible to curious travelers. Imagine yourself there in the foothills of South Africa’s Drakensburg Mountains, led by a seasoned tracker and armed not with a hunting rifle but a camera. Now imagine you have an expert wildlife photographer at your side to teach you the secrets of capturing these magnificent animals up close in the African Bush.

At Thanda Safari, a five-star World Tourism Award-winning private game reserve in South Africa, you don’t have to imagine it. You can live it with a stay at the luxury reserve’s upscale lodge, luxury camping tents, or private villa. This African outfitter combines all of the traditional elements of a once-in-a-lifetime safari with a commitment to supporting the local Zulu culture and caring for the environment. There’s no better time to visit than in 2018, when South Africa celebrates Nelson Mandela’s centenary.

Important Information: Local staff and guides enhance the experience and provide cultural immersion opportunities. Guests can opt to stay in a traditional safari lodge, a luxury safari camping tent, or a private villa.

Provider: Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve

Price: ‎$687 to $1,389 (based on average rates for a standard room)

Sail the Coast of Sri Lanka with G Adventures

Sri Lanka, an island nation in the emerald waters of the Indian Ocean, is the up-and-coming destination for international travelers in Southeast Asia. But more interest naturally means bigger crowds, too, which is why G Adventures‘ intimate new seven-day sailing trip around the southern coast of the island is a perfect way to discover this rising destination in 2018. In addition to exploring ancient forts, remote beach towns, and tiny fishing villages, you’ll also have ample time to relax, surf, and snorkel.

This is a brand-new itinerary for G Adventures in 2018, making it a must-book dream trip for avid travelers who want to be the first to see a hot destination that’s high on rewards and low on crowds.

Important Information: Travelers must be at least 16 years old to book this trip. Light physical activity, including hiking, kayaking, rafting, and walking, is required. This is a small-group trip with a maximum group size of eight people.

Provider: G Adventures

Price: Starting at $1,359 from G Adventures

Hike Japan’s Long-Distance Paths with Walk Japan

Beyond the bright lights and sensory overload of Tokyo, Japan’s rural past lives on in its serene long-distance walking routes, many of which are offered as guided trips by tour operator Walk Japan. Nakasendo Way, one of the five established routes used during the Edo period, once connected Edo—modern day Tokyo—to Kyoto for pedestrian travelers. Today you can take a guided walking tour of Nakasendo Way for a taste of old Japan—while still benefitting from a few modern amenities, like baggage transfers between stops.

Important Information: Walk Japan’s five-day guided tour of Nakasendo Way: The Kiso Road can be booked for travel in March, April, May, June, September, October, or November. A longer and more strenuous alternative is also available.

Provider: Walk Japan

Price: Starting at 216,000 YEN (about $1,900 USD at time of publication) from Walk Japan

Uncover the Mysteries of Easter Island at Explora Rapa Nui

A far-flung and mystical destination hundreds of miles off the coast of mainland Chile, Easter Island (called Rapa Nui by its indigenous people) often finds its way onto the bucket lists of passionate travelers. Just 63 square miles in size, Rapa Nui packs a lot of adventure into its small stature: Think volcanos, beaches, wild horses, and of course moai statues—the famous “Easter Island heads” that have confounded explorers and archeologists for centuries.

There’s no better way to see all of Rapa Nui than with a stay at the famed Explora Rapa Nui lodge, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018. At Explora, you can select from more than 30 guided explorations of the island based on your personal interests and fitness level. And at the end of the day, you’ll return to the lodge for a glass of Chilean wine or a frisky pisco sour, or perhaps indulge at the spa amid a luxe environment with waterfront views.

Important Information: Local staff and guides enhance the experience and provide cultural immersion opportunities.

Provider: Explora Rapa Nui

Price: $996 to $1,754 (based on average rates for a standard room)

Animate Your Summer at Disney’s New Toy Story Land in Florida

Last year it was Pandora—The World of Avatar. Next year, it will be Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. But don’t overlook this summer’s big Disney Parks reveal: Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Featuring new rides like the Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers, as well as a carnival-themed 4-D arcade, Toy Story Land is primed to be the hottest ticket in Orlando this summer.

Important Information: Final dates have yet to be announced, but Toy Story Land is expected to open in time for the summer travel season. Some Disney hotels will also feature Toy Story décor this summer.

Provider: Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando

Price: Starting at $99 for a one-day pass to Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Relax at a Floating Hotel Off the Coast of British Columbia

Located in the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of British Columbia, the spectacular Ocean House floating hotel offers isolation-seekers the ultimate opportunity to experience a remote part of the world in virtual solitude.

Newly opened in 2018, the Ocean House offers three-, four-, and seven-night adventure travel packages highlighting the culture and natural environs of the local Haida people—all with unexpectedly luxurious touches. Activities include guided rainforest hikes amongst old-growth forests and up-close explorations of ancient Haida villages now returning to wilderness. Pair a stay at the Ocean House with the floating hotel’s sister property, the Haida House, located in the village of Tlell on Haida Gwaii’s east coast, for even more opportunities to explore and relax.

Important Information: Packages include return flights to Vancouver, as well as helicopter transfers to and from Ocean House. Meals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and adventure activities are also included.

Provider: Ocean House in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia

Price: Starting at $4,410 per guest

Discover Cyprus, a Mediterranean Alternative to Croatia, with Intrepid Travel

Tourists love the Mediterranean Sea so much that Europe’s most popular coastal countries become a sea unto themselves every summer—a sea of tourists, that is. But that’s not the case in sunny Northern Cyprus, a dream trip candidate that remains gloriously unspoiled by mass tourism. One of the best kept secrets in the region, Northern Cyprus delivers peaceful beaches and plenty of sunshine, sans crowds.

Intrepid Travel‘s new eight-day Northern Cyprus guided trip lets you explore ancient monasteries and fairytale castles (including Saint Hilarion Castle, said to be the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Snow White and Seven Dwarfs), swim along the coast, and relax against an idyllic Mediterranean backdrop. It’s relatively inexpensive, too—especially considering what you get for the price: private transportation, seven nights’ accommodations, bread and cheese making experiences, a day cruise, and multiple castle and monastery visits.

Important Information: This eight-day trip runs four times between May and October 2018. The minimum age of participants is 15 years old. Maximum group size is 12 people.

Provider: Intrepid Travel

Price: Starting at $1,054 from Intrepid Travel

Witness Iceland’s Northern Lights with Wilderness Travel

Once ignored considered more of a stopover than a destination in and of itself, Iceland is now among the top dream trips for adventure seekers and casual tourists alike. Yet even with its recent surge in visitors, the country shows no hint of being spoiled by its popularity. Perhaps that’s because the best parts of this sparsely populated island nation remain inaccessible except to the hardy few who venture into its vast and icy wilderness.

New for 2018, upscale adventure outfitter Wilderness Travel has assembled what might be the ultimate Icelandic experience: eight days of hiking, snowshoeing, and star gazing during the darkest months of the year in search of the elusive Northern Lights. If snowshoeing across lava fields and spelunking through lava tubes is your jam, this is the trip for you.

Important Information: This eight-day winter trip is recommended for those who are physically able to complete all excursions. Departures are offered in February, March, and November 2018.

Provider: Wilderness Travel

Price: Starting at $7895 from Wilderness Travel

Explore the Galapagos by Catamaran with Exodus Travel

The Galapagos Islands need no introduction, but this new-for-2018 dream trip offers a whole new way to see this remote archipelago with popular adventure travel company Exodus Travel: onboard the Nemo II, a First Class Motor Sail Catamaran with room for the whole family.

This brand-new itinerary is the perfect trip for those looking to bring a dream family vacation to life. The itinerary includes snorkeling, guided walks through the islands, and plenty of up-close photo opportunities in Exodus Travel’s trademark responsible travel style.

Important Information: This is a leisurely trip appropriate for most fitness levels. The minimum age for participants is eight years old. Maximum group size is 14 people. Departures are available in April, July, and August 2018. A local leader accompanies travel parties on their adventure.

Provider: Exodus Travels

Price: Starting at $5,655 for adults and $5,385 for children from Exodus Travel

Experience Europe’s Last Great Adventure with Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

You have to be a certain kind of traveler to hear about a place called the “Accursed Mountains” and think to yourself, “Yes, that sounds like a dream trip to me.” If you’re just such a traveler, then a) we are kindred spirits, and b) get yourself to the Albanian Alps—the so-called Accursed Mountains—to discover a seemingly endless wilderness of alpine lakes, rugged river valleys, secluded villages, and staggering limestone gorges.

This is, in many respects, the last underexplored wilderness in Europe, and Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel‘s eight-day guided trip takes you there for a week’s worth of hardcore hiking against an indescribably spectacular backdrop.

Important Information: This trip requires a high level of physical fitness. All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included. You will spend five nights in hotels and two in local guesthouses. Departures are available in June and September 2018.

Provider: Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

Price: Starting at $1,349 from Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

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Josh Roberts believes the best trips involve long hikes and muddy boots. His life goals haven’t changed much since he was a kid: He still wants to be Indiana Jones when he grows up. Follow him on Instagram at @jauntist and on Facebook @JoshRobertsBooks.

Categories
Budget Travel Packing Security Solo Travel Student Travel Travel Technology Travel Trends

Travel MiFi: How a Mobile Hotspot Can Help You on the Road

Finding fast, reliable internet access while traveling is often harder than it should be—as you know if you’ve ever relocated to a coffee shop or spent hours bent over a knee-high table in a hotel lobby because the Wi-Fi connection in your room was lousy. Sure, you can use your phone’s cellular connection, but that can come with coverage outages or hefty roaming charges. Relief is now available in the form of mobile hotspot devices (often called MiFi).

How Does a Mobile Hotspot Work?

[st_content_ad]In the simplest terms, a mobile hotspot device is a modem, usually more or less pocket-sized, that connects to cellular towers and rebroadcasts the signal as a Wi-Fi network that you and fellow travelers can connect with at any time. When you use these devices, you are using a cellular data connection not unlike a cell phone data connection—but without piling up bytes against your cell phone data.

Most companies allow five to 10 devices to connect at one time, which is plenty for most travelers. Notably, the connection is secure, which spares you from connecting to unprotected public connections all the time. A few travelers I know skip hotel and cafe networks and rely almost entirely on mobile hotspots for this reason, especially when working on their laptops.

Most providers work in multiple countries out of the box, so if you are moving around there is no need to get new SIM cards, reset the device, or deal with other similar hassles.

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How to Get a Mobile Hotspot Device

There are two main ways to obtain a mobile hotspot device: to buy your own or rent one for the duration of a trip. The former is a good option for folks who will need the coverage on several trips per year and don’t want to hassle with receiving and returning devices; there is usually a discount on the daily connection rate to help offset the cost. Renting is good for folks who don’t travel as frequently and don’t want to pay for the device, which typically costs anywhere from $49 to $99.

When purchasing a device, typically you buy it and then pay a set daily rate on days you connect to the service.

When renting, you’ll typically order a device via the company website for your travel dates. The company then ships a device to you by expedited delivery (or you can pick up at company and affiliate branches, or even at airport kiosks). The package you receive will include return mail instructions, packaging, and prepaid shipping and tracking labels, and at the end of your trip you ship it back (or take it to a provider office or kiosk if you prefer).

Reputable Mobile Hotspot Providers, with Pricing

I have used XCom Global in the past due to excellent coverage, service, and price point, but unfortunately they went out of business last month. Other providers include the following, with pricing for their unlimited data plans:

Tep Wireless: $8.95/day to rent; $99 for the device and $8/day when purchased; available in more than 100 countries

Skyroam: $9.95/day to rent; $149.99 for the device and $9/day when purchased; available in more than 110 countries

XOXO WiFi: 9.50 euros/day to rent; available in 110 countries

My Webspot: 9.90 euros/day to rent (with lower costs in select destinations), mostly Europe-based; delivers to your lodging and you return by prepaid post from the last country on your itinerary; available in more than 100 countries

For a longer trip, costs can start to pile up—but compared to the $14.95/day Wi-Fi cost I saw at a Boston hotel recently, which of course you could only use while in the building, it can pay off even for domestic trips.

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Create-Your-Own Travel MiFi Option

You can also purchase an unlocked mobile hotspot device that is not tied to any specific service, and then purchase a SIM card in the country you are visiting—but for many travelers, the added hassle of finding, pricing out, and then visiting a SIM card provider upon arrival is not worth the trouble.

Mobile Hotspots Through Your Phone Company

Most cellular companies offer a hotspot option for your smartphone, which works great for many people. Your phone company’s plans may be cheaper than a mobile hotspot provider, too; for example, AT&T’s “Mobile Share” plans for up to 10 connecting devices range from $30 – $80/month for high-speed data up to 10 gigabytes a month, after which you get slower data speeds but still are not charged extra.

Remember, though, that cellular carriers have limited coverage areas, and their plans attach only to their own network, while most of the dedicated MiFi device companies establish relationships with multiple cellular carriers, which can greatly increase the effective coverage area.

This summer my family used a mobile hotspot device in the Lithuanian countryside, in Copenhagen, and in the Lofoten Islands in Norway, well above the Arctic Circle—and found coverage to be constant and most of the time faster than the Wi-Fi at our lodging.

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Is the Connection Fast Enough?

Since you are using a cellular data connection, transfer speeds can slow down, especially when you connect multiple devices, but I have used these devices extensively and been satisfied in almost every situation. On my last two long trips, connection speeds were faster and more reliable on the MiFi device than the Wi-Fi at three of the four places I stayed. At one place, a rental house, the Wi-Fi was out for 36 hours due to a large Comcast outage, and the MiFi straight out salvaged the trip.

A sports photographer I know who has a monthly plan with his phone company told me that his connection is often better than hotels, and that it has been indispensable when shooting from hockey rinks—proof that you never know when or where you will need your own mobile hotspot.

Travel MiFi: What to Watch Out For

If you are renting a device temporarily, make sure you’re aware of the start and end dates of your contract. On a recent trip using XCom, for the start and end dates I was in airports in the United States, so I didn’t really need the MiFi those days but ended up paying for them nonetheless.

Understanding the coverage area is also critical. Some plans are cheaper than others but are available in fewer countries, so if you purchase based on price alone you may be disappointed.

Finally, all of the services above offer some version of unlimited data. If you are connecting more than one device and/or more than one person, the freedom and peace of mind that unlimited data offers is probably worth the few bucks you might save each day on a metered plan.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.