Categories
Romantic Travel

The Ultimate Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for Travelers

Surprise your favorite jetsetter with one of these Valentine’s gifts for travelers—they’ll delight anyone who’s got a heart full of wanderlust.

Valentine’s Gifts for Travelers

Whether you’re looking for a fun gift for a friend or a romantic present for your significant other, you’ll find great inspiration on this list.

And be sure to check out our idea list on Amazon, featuring 50-plus items curated by our editors.

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Her

Herbivore Botanicals Hydration Trio

This trio of travel-sized beauty products will keep her skin moisturized and healthy while traveling in the winter months. Kit includes Herbivore Botanicals’ famous body polish as well as a face mist and lip conditioner.

Personalized Gift on Etsy

If you’re looking to give a thoughtful and custom gift this year, check out Etsy’s hundreds of handmade gift options for Valentine’s Day. With travel-related items like a custom memory box, a personalized map keepsake box, and a star map print, you’ll easily find something she’ll treasure. All you need is a specific date or place you want to remember.

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Parachute Cloud Cotton Robe

Any traveler will love this super comfy bathrobe that packs light and will keep you warm … because not every hotel has a five-star bathrobe.

Foley + Corinna Crossbody Bag

This is a stylish and practical bag for a traveler—its shape and handle are on-trend, and its medium size and zip-top closure make it great for urban adventures.

[st_related]9 Great Crossbody Bags for Travel[/st_related]

Allbirds Wool Runners

Wool Runners from Allbirds

With spring on the horizon, a pair of Allbirds are the perfect gift for giving as a head start to the new season. From her favorite workout to a trot through the city, these lightweight, breathable sneaks will get her anywhere she needs to go.

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Him

Snowe Classic Terry Bathrobe

Gift the gift of a plush hotel robe that he can enjoy at home. This one is midweight and made of 100 percent long-staple cotton, which does mean it shrinks, so size up accordingly.

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Osprey Daylite Shoulder Sling

If he’s an active traveler or day hiker, the Daylite Sling bag will be a great gift. The practical, lightweight, and slim bag is unisex and comes in different colors; read my full review, here.

Man Crates

Offering one of the most unique gifting experiences for men on the market, Man Crates has a variety of different box options. From this incredibly Personalized Barware Crate to a literal Zombie Annihilation Crate, there’s truly something for any kind of guy.

Travelon Revolution Underseat Carry-on Spinner

If short, weekday business trips are the norm, then Travelon’s new underseat carry-on spinner can be a useful gift. Made to fit under most airplane seats, it’s roomy and practical with a laptop compartment, easy-access front pocket, and anti-theft features.

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Battery Case for iPhone

Here’s the perfect gift for the guy whose phone is always on low-power mode. With a charging case always attached, his phone will never die again.

Valentine’s Day Gifts for the Both of You

Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Instant Film Camera

Any traveler will love this fun, instant-print camera. It’s lightweight to pack and comes in a classic design. It even has features like a double exposure, a high-performance flash, and macro mode.

[st_related]10 Instant-Print Cameras Recommended by a Travel Photographer[/st_related]

Umbra Hangit Photo Display

Hang your favorite vacation photos and memories with this DIY-inspired photo display. The kit comes with wire twine cords, wooden wall mounts, and clothespins to hang all your captured moments.

Wine and Cheese Picnic Set

For your partner who is like the wine to your cheese, get this Plush Picnic Set (bonus points for pre-packing the bag with a good bottle and a map to a picnic spot). The tote is insulated to keep things cold and comes with everything you need for a romantic afternoon: a wooden cheese board, cheese knife, corkscrew, bottle stopper, napkins, and shatterproof wine glasses.

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Shutterfly Photo Book

Impress your S.O. (or friend) with a custom photo album of a memorable trip together. Shutterfly makes the process easy with travel templates to choose among; or, you can have Shutterfly design it for you.

Eatwith Gift Card

The online platform Eatwith offers unique dining experiences in cities around the world and sells gift cards for booking. It’s the perfect travel gift for someone if you’ve already booked a trip … or are trying to hint at planning a new one.

Travel-Related Gifts We Love

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

More from SmarterTravel:

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Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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

Categories
Family Travel Romantic Travel Weekend Getaways

The 3 Most Festive Christmas Destinations in the World

With the holiday season upon us, many travelers will be heading home to celebrate with family. But, some Christmas destinations are magnificent enough to make us wonder if there really is no place like home for the holidays.

Whether you’re looking for a tropical spot or a winter wonderland, there are endless possibilities for holiday travel. However, these three destinations are a step above the rest. Here’s why you should have Puerto Rico, London, and Munich at the top of your Christmas getaway list.

London

(Photo: Christmas in London via Shutterstock)

This one seems like a no-brainer—London is a world-famous Christmas destination, and for good reason. From ice-skating and festive lights to Christmas markets, musicals, and caroling, Britain’s capital has something for every holiday-season traveler.

There are dozens of Christmas markets in London alone (see also Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool) that boast shopping, food, crafts, and games. Hyde Park’s massive Winter Wonderland features acrobats, carnival rides, and a full ice rink. These markets typically have free admission and are open until a few days before Christmas.

But, the celebrations don’t end there.

December 26 is Boxing Day in the UK, which extends the festivities. This national holiday is another historic day of giving, on which English servants used to get gift boxes from their employers. Nowadays most people don’t have to work (or, in this year’s case, get the following Monday off), and will spend the day with family, outdoors, at sporting events, and take advantage of holiday savings at the start of an annual sales season.

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Puerto Rico

(Photo: Bogdan Migulski via flickr/CC Attribution)

If the holiday season flies by too fast for you every year, try heading somewhere warmer. The American Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico boasts the longest Christmas season in the world, and for good reason. While London’s celebrations are supplemented by Boxing Day and go until New Years, Puerto Ricans stay full of holiday cheer until the Festival of Saint Sebastian in mid-January. There’s also Three Kings Day—a staple in most Hispanic countries—which is celebrated January 6, and New Years, which is just as fun as Christmas. All of these days come with a long list of traditions.

Christmas is the island’s busiest time of year. Tourists and locals alike eat seasonal treats like arroz con dulce (rice pudding) and coquito (coconut-based eggnog with rum), while carolers mill about and an endless array of festivals take over San Juan.

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Each December 31st, Puerto Ricans ring in the New Year with parties around the island. Revelers take part in the popular yet odd tradition of eating a grape for each chime of the clock in the seconds before midnight. Three Kings Day means parades a plenty, and the following week you can dance and shop your heart out at the Festival of San Sebastian. Local artisans will set up shop and Puerto Ricans will parade around Old San Juan in honor of the patron saint of soldiers and athletes.

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Munich

(Photo: Christmas in the Marienplatz via Shutterstock)

Germany has some of the oldest and most heralded Christmas markets in the world and is about to see an influx of tourism in 2016 thanks to the German Beer Purity Law’s 500-year anniversary. Each Christmas, the massive Christkindlmarkt in grandiose Marienplatz Square emerges to mark the beginning of holiday celebrations in the heart of Bavaria.

Winter festivals, toy villages, and craft markets take over early, with most opening in mid or late November. Germans don’t have a Thanksgiving to delay their affinity for strings of lights and decorated trees. Even Munich’s five-star airport is home to a seasonal Christmas Market, which stays open until December 27, so visitors returning home can be immersed in the festivities until they’re boarding their departing flight.

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You Tell Us: Which winter wonderland suits you best? Comment below.

More From SmarterTravel

Editor Shannon McMahon has visited both London and Puerto Rico and can attest to their Christmas spirit. Follow more of her adventures on Twitter @shanmcmahon_.

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

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Categories
Arts & Culture Holiday Travel Oddities

12 New Year’s Traditions from Around the World

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

Eating 12 Grapes

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

Make a Wish on Your Suitcase

Man pulls yellow suitcase on the road

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

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Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Holiday Travel Miscellany Theme Park

North America’s Top Christmas Markets

The cozy smell of chestnuts roasting on open fire pits. A warm cup of mulled cider cradled in your mittened hands. Soft flecks of snow falling as you walk among shop stalls filled with glittering merchandise that just begs to be gifted.

Europe, and Germany especially, are famous for their traditional holiday markets, but the scene above can be relived right in your own backyard. Take a seasonal spin through this showcase of 10 amazing Christmas markets around North America to find one near you.

[st_related]Europe’s Best Christmas Markets[/st_related]

 

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

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Categories
Holiday Travel Luxury Travel

The 8 Most Outrageous Gifts From Around the Internet

Wondering what to buy the billionaire (or favorite SmarterTravel columnist) on your list? Look no further than these outrageously over-the-top gifts from Neiman Marcus, Goop, and more. I’ll take one INCircle trip please … [st_content_ad]

007 Aston Martin

007 aston martin

For the person who orders their martini “shaken, not stirred” and introduces him- or herself  by last name, first name (unironically), this Aston Martin gift package is a Dr. No-Brainer. Whimsically priced at $700,007, the package includes a limited-edition Aston Martin DBS Superleggera designed by Daniel Craig, an all-platinum Seamaster Diver 300M OMEGA watch, and tickets to the world premiere of No Time to Die. Better hope that premiere has solid valet parking for that new Aston Martin.

The Amphibious Sub-Surface Watercraft

Amphibious sub-surface watercraft.

Shopping for more of a Bond-villain figure? The Amphibious Sub-Surface Watercraft is sure to please any evil genius. This submersible craft is part car, part boat, and part submarine, letting you drive right off the road and into the water, where you can hang out in the bottom cockpit and check out what’s going on under the sea.

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Carolina Bucci Forte Beads Advent Calendar

Carolina bucci forte beads advent calendar

Priced at just $913, Carolina Bucci’s Forte Beads Advent Calendar is like giving a $38 present every day of December until the 25th, which makes it seem totally affordable until you have to pay that $913 credit card bill. Some assembly is required: behind each elegant door sits two-hand carved beads that your recipient can thread together to make their own jewelry piece on Christmas.

INCircle Trip

Jade mountain st. lucia.

This gift is one of the best kinds to give (one you’ll also benefit from, because hopefully the recipient will feel pressured to bring you). The lucky giftee will get to bring along three guests (two after you) on a private jet to five of the world’s most luxurious vacation destinations. For just $575,000 you’ll get to fly from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains to a spa resort in Italy before swinging by the Icehotel in Sweden to watch the Northern Lights. After dropping off your private jet in St. Lucia, you’ll helicopter to the ultra-exclusive Jade Mountain resort, before finally returning back to the U.S. with a stop in Park City.

[st_related]16 Treat-Yourself Gifts That Are Too Good to Give Anyone Else[/st_related]

Jaguars for Everyone

Adult’s jaguar xk120 mini roadster.

Need a matching parent/child gift? Look no further than Hammacher Schlemmer, where you can get The Adult’s Jaguar XK120 Mini Roadster (a toy car that will fit an adult for $20,000) and the Children’s Ride On Jaguar Convertible (a toy car that can fit a child for $399). Let the race begin.

A Pet Paradise by Rockstar Puppy and Denise Richards

Denise richards with dogs.

Sure, the billionaire in your life may have everything she needs already, but her poor pup probably doesn’t. Win over the dog and you win over the owner, and the best way to do that is with Neiman Marcus’ Rockstar Puppy package, in which you can design a $70,000, one-of-a-kind doghouse that’s probably nicer than most people’s houses.

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The Mixed Martial Arts Trainer

The mixed martial arts trainer.

You saw the intense backlash to the Peloton Holiday gift ad. If you’re going to gift exercise equipment, make it one that your recipient can really work out her rage on, like this Mixed Martial Arts Trainer from Hammacher Schlemmer. For $7,000, you’ll be able to fight an avatar with grappling, wrestling, and jujitsu.

Cloverleaf 2 Person Picnic Hamper

Cloverleaf 2 person picnic hamper.

A picnic can be a nice, romantic, and inexpensive date. Or it can cost nearly $2,000—your choice. If you want to go big, gift Fortnum & Mason’s Cloverleaf 2 Person Picnic Hamper. Your gourmet feast will include a cheese board and knife, wine bottle holder, picnic blanket, and china. Food not included.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.

Categories
Booking Strategy

The Worst Times to Hit the Road for Thanksgiving Travel 2019

They say misery loves company, right? There will be plenty of company, at least, on the nation’s highways (and airways) this week, as an estimated 55 million travelers embark on Thanksgiving travel.

And according to AAA, that’s a lot more than usual. This will be second only to 2005 for the busiest Thanksgiving holidays since the organization began tracking data in 2000. Roughly 1.6 million more people are expected to travel this year compared to last, a 2.9 percent increase.

[st_related] 10 Strategies to Survive Staying with Family Over the Holidays [/st_related]

The vast majority of those travelers are expected to drive: 49.3 million, compared to 4.45 million people traveling by air. Some 1.9 million people are expected to travel on either rail, bus, or other modes of transportation.

Go Ahead, Make My Wednesday

If you’re planning to do your Thanksgiving travel on Wednesday this year, think again (or pack a ton of snacks). Wednesday is typically the busiest travel day of the year. And don’t say AAA didn’t warn you: “For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with trips taking as much four times longer as commuters mix with travelers.”

This likely comes as no surprise, of course. Most people have no choice but to travel on Wednesday either due to work or school (or both). But for travelers who can, AAA and INRIX recommend leaving on Tuesday or even Monday. Monday also tends to be a better deal, according to AAA, which says “[Monday] has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week.” Little late for that advice, but maybe worth remembering next year.

The Worst Times for Thanksgiving Travel in Your City

As for that Wednesday slog, here’s a look at just how bad the ride could be in a handful of major metropolitan areas.

Metro Area Worst Time Wednesday, Nov. 27 Delay Multiplier
Atlanta 5:30-7:30 PM 3.5x
Los Angeles 5:00-7:00 PM 3.5x
New York 5:15-7:15 PM 3.5x
Boston 4:30-6:30 PM 3.4x
Houston 5:00-7:00 PM 3.4x
San Francisco 2:00-4:00 PM 3.2x
Washington DC 3:00-5:00 PM 2.8x
Seattle 4:00-6:00 PM 2.7x
Detroit 5:15-7:15 PM 2.6x
Chicago 4:15-6:15 PM 2.4x

Bottom line? If you have to leave on Wednesday, try to be on the road before noon, prior to the mid-to-late afternoon crunch. And if you’re looking for alternative days to travel this holiday season, you can find them here.

Readers: Are you traveling for Thanksgiving this year?

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Categories
Family Travel Holiday Travel Travel Etiquette

10 Strategies to Survive Staying with Family Over the Holidays

Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Staying with family is great in many ways. You have time to catch up and make new memories, and you don’t have to pay for a hotel. But you’ll pay in other ways, such as having to sleep on an air mattress and sacrificing alone time. Here’s how to survive an extended stay with relatives this holiday season.

Make Your Bed More Comfortable 

woman sleeping on sofa

Relegated to a futon, air mattress, or pull-out couch? There are a few things you can do to make your sleeping arrangement more comfortable. Air mattresses get colder than real beds (the air inside cools overnight, making you chilly). Pad it with extra blankets, or use a sleep sack, which is easy to pack and provides a ton of warmth. I’ve used this one by Blue Water to stay warm while sleeping on planes and while camping, and it really works.

Push the air mattress up against the wall if possible so your pillows don’t fall off while you sleep, and put a blanket or a yoga mat underneath the mattress to make it less noisy when you move around.

For futons or rock-hard mattresses, a self-inflating sleeping pad is easy to use and will save your back.

Even if you’re staying in a great guest room, most normal bedrooms don’t come with blackout curtains like those you’ll find at hotels, so be sure to pack an eye mask that will block out light. This mask is contoured to allow for eye movement during sleep, but still prevents light from getting in.

Earplugs are also essential if you’re a light sleeper (or just go to bed earlier/get up later than other people in the house). Or bring a travel-sized white noise machine if you really want to drown out the world.

Stuck in the living room? You could go all out and pack a privacy pop-up indoor bed tent if you want to make a statement about the importance of alone time.

[st_related]9 Tips for Being a Good Holiday Houseguest[/st_related]

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Hand turn on aroma oil diffuser the table at home 

Getting stressed? Take a deep breath to help relax. If you’re staying in an environment that you’re not used to (for example, sharing a house with smokers or pets when you’re allergic), bring along a tiny travel air purifier for your room. This can make a big difference and help you breathe easier.

Get Some Quiet Time

woman talking dog for a wlak autumn 

Spending time with other people 24/7 can be tough. But you’re going to be a better guest and family member if you take some solo time to decompress each day. Take a walk, or excuse yourself to take a nap and use the time to sleep or read. If you’re coming home to a deadline-driven family, you could appear busy while also carving out alone time by offering to run errands on your own.

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Stay Charged and Connected

mother daughter sofa cell phones

If a big group is staying at your family’s house, the Wi-Fi will get overwhelmed quickly. If it’s important to you to stay online, bring along a Wi-Fi hotspot so you avoid the frustration of slow internet. A travel-sized power strip can also save the day if everyone is fighting over one outlet to charge gadgets.

Work Out

asian woman jogging

There’s a reason the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot is so popular. Whether you head out in the morning for a quick run or get a day pass to a local gym, working out can give you an excuse to get out of the house for a bit. Exercise is also a proven stress reducer and mood enhancer, and will also make you feel less guilty about eating all that home-cooked food.

Knit running shoes like Nike Frees are lightweight and easy to pack, so bring a pair with you. You can also use them to go for a walk with the family after a big holiday dinner.

Can’t get out of the house? Pack exercise bands, which take up minimal space and can be used for an easy at-home workout (or to stretch after a long travel day or a rough night on the couch).

[st_related]The Best Travel Workout Gear[/st_related]

Don’t Dominate the Bathroom

African american girl brushing teeth with dad

Chances are, you won’t have a private bathroom while staying with family, so don’t leave your toiletries scattered all over the sink and shower. This innovative bag is a great solution, as it lets you lay out all your toiletries on a flat surface to use; when you’re done, simply fold it up and take it back to your room.

Be Your Own Climate Control

drawer of sweaters

 

Unlike at a hotel, you don’t get control over the thermostat when staying with family. If you know the house is going to be cold, pack extra layers. In shoe-free houses, travel slippers keep you comfy. Merino wool sweaters are easy to layer without looking out of place, and a pashmina can double as a blanket. House too hot? A portable fan can be a lifesaver, and also act as a white noise machine at night.

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Pack Modest Pajamas and a Robe

mom daughter holiday pajamas

You probably don’t think twice about what you pack for sleepwear at a hotel, but you might want something a little more modest if you’re staying in someone’s home. Don’t forget to pack pajamas and a robe you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in, for those middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

Bring Board Games

board games family table

Worried about being bored? Pack travel-sized games that are fun for the whole family. Family Feud, UNO, and Scrabble are all good choices (depending on how competitive the crowd is).

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Offer to Grocery Shop, Cook, or Buy Dinner

woman making dinner

Try to make your visit as easy on the host as possible. Just because it’s your family doesn’t mean they’re responsible for cleaning up after you and cooking every meal. Show up with a restaurant gift card to let them know a few meals are on you, or offer to go grocery shopping and cook for everyone while you’re there.

Be Appreciative

macaroons box

Your presence is not your present. Make sure to show appreciation to your host for putting you up. A thank you note is never a bad idea. Some good gift ideas include: a bottle of wine and a wine chiller, a gift basket full of tasty treats, an easy-to-care-for plant, or a framed family photo.

What to Pack on Your Trip

Staying with the family can be both a joy a struggle, but it’s nothing some retail therapy can’t fix. Dress to impress this holiday season with some favorite styles from Madewell, Everlane, and more.

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

Don’t Come Empty Handed

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

Categories
Fashion & Beauty Holiday Travel

16 Treat-Yourself Gifts That Are Too Good to Give Anyone Else

You know who deserves a gift this holiday season? You. You’ve (almost) made it through the year, and that calls for a celebration. Treat yourself with one of these traveler-friendly presents that are too good to gift to anyone else.

Click and Grow Smart Garden 3

Click and grow smart garden 3.

 

Tired of coming home from your travels to a windowsill full of dead plants? Give yourself a green thumb with the Click and Grow Smart Garden 3. This cool indoor garden does all the work for you so your plants can thrive, even if you abandon them. The self-watering container only needs to be filled up every few weeks, and the LED grow lights will give your plants just the right amount of fake sun. The Smart Garden 3 will grow up to three different types of plants at once. Choose from edibles like basil, red sweet peppers, and arugula, or opt for decorative flowers such as cornflower or lavender. The seeds come in specially designed pods that save you from digging in dirt and are full of enough nutrients that you won’t need plant food.

Rothy’s Merino Wool Flats

Rothy's merino wool shadow flats.

Rothy’s devotees, your prayers have been answered—the favorite shoe company of many a traveler has released merino wool versions of its most popular styles, which means you can keep wearing them all winter long. The Merino line uses a combination of merino wool and Rothy’s signature recycled water bottle material to create an incredibly comfortable and climate-controlled shoe that wicks away moisture and prevents odors. The classic goes-with-anything flat is my favorite for travel, but the new material is available in everything from loafers to booties.

Victorinox Touring Wheeled 2-in-1 Carry-On

Victorinox.

Whether you need a new backpack or a new wheeled carry-on, the Victorinox Touring Wheeled 2-in-1 Carry-On has you covered. This nifty bag converts in a flash from a rolling suitcase to a backpack, and functions beautifully as both. At six pounds, the bag is lightweight, but it’s packed with useful features including a padded laptop pocket, a zippered expansion section, and plenty of storage space.

[st_related]10 Strategies to Survive Staying With Family Over the Holidays[/st_related]

Pakt Coffee Kit

Pakt coffee kit

Going to need a lot of caffeine to make it through this holiday season? Treat yourself to the Pakt Coffee Kit, a complete travel brewing system that lets you make a hot cup anywhere. The kit comes with a super portable electric kettle (that’s also handy for making oatmeal or soup in your hotel room), a collapsible stainless steel dripper, and a travel cup. Sound like a lot to pack? Everything is designed to ingeniously nest, and will take up about as much space in your bag as a pair of shoes.

Calpak Power Luggage Tag

Calpak power luggage tag.

Never fight a stranger for an airport electrical outlet again. Calpak’s Power Luggage Tag looks like a regular luggage tag, but it hides a secret charger inside. This stylish luggage tag will not only help you identify your bag, but it holds a 2000 mAh power battery inside that can quickly charge your phone or other gadgets. The battery pack easily slides out, so if you have to gate-check your bag, you’ll be able to leave the luggage tag on while pocketing the battery pack as per FAA regulations.

[st_related]The Ultimate Holiday Travel Survival Guide[/st_related]

Lo & Sons The Waverly 2

Lo & sons the waverley 2

Treat yourself to four bags in one stylish package with Lo & Son’s The Waverly 2. This versatile bag can be worn as a crossbody, belt bag, over-the-shoulder purse, or wristlet. Inside, plenty of pockets will keep you organized, including a secure zipper pocket with card slots that let you leave the wallet behind and bring just the essentials. This bag is made for city trips, with an easy-access exterior card slot that keeps your metro card at the ready.

LARQ Self-Cleaning Water Bottle

Larq self-cleaning water bottle.

Germaphobes, give yourself peace of mind this flu season with LARQ’s self-cleaning water bottle. You’ll never again have to wonder if your bottle is really getting cleaned by your attempts to swish soapy water around inside the narrow opening. Instead, the LARQ uses a UV light to sanitize your bottle (and the water inside) in minutes. Plus, this insulated vessel will keep your water cold all day long.

Samsonite Wheeled Underseat Bag

Samsonite

Never be forced into the dreaded gate-check again. Samsonite’s Wheeled Underseat Bag will fit neatly under the seat in front of you, but still holds everything you need for a weekend away (or longer, depending on how well you pack).

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Drunk Elephant Travel Set

Drunk elephant travel set.

The Drunk Elephant brand is beloved by beauty bloggers, reviewers, and skincare aficionados. Pamper your skin on your next trip with Drunk Elephant’s Travel Set, which includes perfectly portable versions of the brand’s best-selling sunscreen, face cleanser, eye cream, and more.

The Grommet Quilted Jewelry Portfolio

Grommet jewelry portfolio

Carry your jewelry safely and stylishly in The Grommet’s Quilted Jewelry Portfolio. The handmade leather case keeps your necklaces, rings, earrings, and bracelets organized and untangled. It even prevents your baubles from getting tarnished, thanks to a treated suede LusterLoc lining inside.

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Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2

Ultimate ears wonderboom 2

 

Treat yourself to tunes anywhere you go, with Ultimate Ears’ WONDERBOOM 2 portable speaker. This travel-sized (420 grams) package packs a big punch, pumping out crisp sound from 360 degrees. The wireless speaker lasts for 13 continuous hours of playtime, is waterproof, and even floats so you can bring it anywhere.

Jaybird Vista

Jaybird vista

Go truly wireless with Jaybird’s Vista earbuds, which deliver amazing sound without any cords. The ultra-lightweight earbuds are waterproof and sweatproof and have a firm sport fit that stays in during even the toughest runs. The battery will last for up to six hours on a single charge, and the charging case adds another 10 hours to get you through even the longest plane ride.

[st_related]7 Tiny Travel Gadgets You Can’t Leave Home Without[/st_related]

Born Olio Boots

Born olio boots

 

Give yourself the gift of fashion and comfort with Born’s Olio boots. These full-grain leather boots mold to your feet for a comfy fit. A 1 1/3 inch heel offers the perfect amount of lift, and the microfiber sock and removable footbed add tons of cushioning. This is an ideal pre-holiday gift to yourself, as you’ll want to wear them with all your festive outfits this winter.

Matador FlatPack Toiletry Pack

Matador flat pack

Matador’s FlatPack toiletry bottles are the revolutionary invention your toiletry kit has been waiting for. Made from a waterproof fabric, these bottles are five times lighter and three and a half times more compact than typical plastic travel-sized bottles, but still hold up to three ounces of liquids/gels/pastes. The squeeze bottle design means you’ll never have to waste money on a travel-sized toothpaste again. These large-mouthed bottles are easy to fill and have a spot on the snap loop where you can label which product is inside.

Coyuchi Organic Sateen Travel Sack

Coyuchi travel sack

I’m always freezing on long-haul flights, and I have a perfectly justified distrust of airplane blankets, so I make sure to pack Coyuchi’s Organic Sateen Travel Sack when I fly. Think of it as an extremely portable sleeping bag, one that can protect you from gross plane seats or questionable hotel bedding, all while keeping you surprisingly warm considering how light the sateen fabric is. The sack folds down small and flat, so you won’t even notice the weight in your carry-on.

Frances Austen Reversible V Neck Cashmere Sweater

Frances austen sweater.

Soft, warm cashmere is the ultimate treat yourself gift. Frances Austen takes the luxurious material and turns it into a gorgeous reversible sweater that can be worn with the V in the front or the back—perfect for travel. The sweater is made from 100 percent Italian-spun cashmere and won’t pill or degrade, even after multiple wears.

What to Wear this Season

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

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Travel Trends

How to Maximize Vacation Time Off: The Ultimate Guide

You need a vacation. But when you have limited time off, there’s a lot of pressure to do it right—so much pressure that many Americans skip out on vacation altogether, leaving precious paid time off unused. But time off is good for you, good for those around you, and good for the company you work for. Whether you have one week or four, there’s a way to make your time off feel abundant. Here’s a customizable plan to maximizing your vacation time.

One Week Off

One week of vacation time per year may not seem like much, but if you dole it out carefully, you can make it feel like so much more. There are some who think going all in and using the whole week in one go is the way to do it. The chance to totally unwind for five workdays straight may be the right thing to do. But be warned: it’s going to make those other 51 weeks of the year feel pretty long. Which is why you should consider the piggyback technique, in which you use the days one or two at a time and tack them onto any paid holidays your company already offers.

Use the piggyback technique most effectively by pairing the weekday holiday with your paid vacation days in the same week. So for Memorial Day, instead of taking the previous Friday off, take the Tuesday after the long weekend off. That way, you’ll get the dual benefit of days off and a significantly shorter work week, which will make the following weekend come faster and feel more like an extension of your vacation.

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Two Weeks Off

Two weeks is, sadly, pretty standard for American workers. But, used strategically, it can give you both a long vacation and a series of shorter ones to keep you feeling refreshed and inspired.

If you’ve got two weeks, use a week of it all at once. You’ll get that feeling of freedom and relaxation that comes from nine days (two weekends and one work week) in a row away from your workplace. Use the other week to piggyback on paid holidays (see one week, above, for details).

And if you’re aching to really get away, create a plan to use both weeks at once every other year. After all, when you’re traveling far, you want to make the long flight worth it (and give yourself time to get over the jet lag). This year-on-year-off approach gives you bigger trips to look forward to while preserving the benefits of more shorter vacations.

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Three Weeks Off

With great power comes great responsibility. A surprising number of three-weekers come to see vacation time as a logistical challenge. Don’t be that person. Embrace vacation time as vital and start planning.

As a three-weeker, you can take two weeks off in a row, a move that maximizes that glorious vacation feeling. During the first week, you’ll slowly disengage from work stress and melt into the vacation mindset. By the second week, you’ll be in full vacation mode and able to reap the benefits of the time off. Two weeks all at once is also a great way to do a bigger trip. So go ahead: Plan big and look far. You can do it.

Then use the additional five days as vacation extenders for long weekends and company holidays. You’ll return refreshed and inspired.

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Four Weeks and Beyond

Congratulations—you’re living the dream. But you, like your three-week-off brethren, are at greater risk of losing out on vacation time if you feel like you don’t have time for that time off. But I’m going to let you in on a strangely-well-kept secret: You have time. And it’s worth making the extra effort to use it.

Take a two-week vacation at least every other year. You can then divide the rest of your time into shorter segments to give yourself the treat of regular smaller vacations. Four-day weekend? Why not. Extensions around holiday weekends? Go for it. But remember, vacation time is only vacation time if you actually use it.

Luggage Essentials for Your Next Trip

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Christine Sarkis is a big fan of the rare-but-amazing two-week vacation. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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

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Categories
Fashion & Beauty Packing

Splurge vs. Steal: The Best Travel Gifts at Every Budget (from $11 to $2,200)

So you want to give that someone special something useful for their travels, but you’re either on a budget or looking to go big with your gifting. I took 20 popular travel gifts and found a steal option and a splurge option to satisfy everyone on your list.

Mirrorless Camera

Mirrorless camera

Steal: The Panasonic Lumix GX850 4k Mirrorless Camera’s lightweight features and self-facing flip screen make it an ideal gift for avid travelers who like to document their travels.

Splurge: The Sony Alpha a7IIK Mirrorless Digital Camera captures superior high-resolution photos and videos for more avid photographers, but it still has a lightweight body frame.

Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

Wireless bluetooth headphones

Steal: Cshidworld’s wireless earbuds are an affordable alternative to the well-known AirPods. This pair of headphones is waterproof, and the case doubles as a portable phone charger.

Splurge: Apple’s popular AirPods need no explanation and, for many, do live up to the hype. Plus, the latest version, the AirPods Pro, is now available as of fall 2019 and is sure to be one of the hottest gifts to give this year.

Laptop Backpack

Laptop backpack

 Steal: Matein’s laptop backpack is a sturdy and budget-friendly multi-functional travel backpack. Complete with an external USB port and pass-through luggage strap, it compares well to more expensive packs.

Splurge: Incase’s ICON Backpack is an organized traveler’s dream. With plenty of pockets and placements for tech products, plus easy-to-access side pockets, any frequent flyer will love this bag.

Travel Inspiration

Travel inspiration

Steal: For those looking to give the gift of travel inspiration, the new, second-edition Atlas Obscura book makes a perfect present.

Splurge: If you really want to impress someone, gift them a photo book or frame a photo of their favorite place; better yet, use their own travel photos. Check out Artifact Uprising for custom prints, calendars, frames, album books, and more.

In-Flight Comfort Set

Inflight comfort set

Steal: Zideli’s 4-in-1 in-flight comfort set includes a lightweight blanket, inflatable pillow, eye mask, and earplugs, so you can rest easy on your next red-eye.

Splurge: Really spoil them with a 100 percent cashmere set from Jet&Bo. This luxe gift comes with an ultra-soft travel blanket, eye mask, socks, and carrying case.

Universal Adapter

Universal adapter

Steal: TryAce’s universal power adapter comes in a two-pack and works in 190 countries. Smaller than a phone and listed at an unbeatable price, this is an ideal gift for travelers.

Splurge: Gift Flight 001’s high-quality 5-in-1 Universal Adapter is a convenient stocking stuffer for travelers; it can be used in 150 different countries and includes a USB port.

Convertible Bag

Convertible bag

Steal: Camelbak’s convertible backpack/tote Pivot Tote is a stylish and functional bag made with repurposed materials.

Splurge: The Studio Bag by Caraa is a luxe backpack that smartly converts to a messenger bag. Luxe leather details and innovative construction make this a stylish traveler’s dream bag.

Spinner Carry-on

Spinner carry-on

Steal: AmazonBasics’ Hardshell Spinner Suitcase is lightweight and has built-in TSA locks, telescopic handles, and 360-degree spinner wheels.

Splurge: If you really want to impress this holiday season, Tumi’s Latitude International Hardside Carry-On Luggage is a fan favorite.

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Skincare Set

Skincare set

Steal: The travel section at many CVS store locations has improved over the years, and you can even shop its trial section online. You’ll find stocking stuffers like micellar water, face masks, makeup remover wipes, shea sugar scrub, and beeswax lip balm.

Splurge: To really wow, gift a custom skincare set by Proven Skincare. Your recipient takes a comprehensive online quiz, which takes into account everything from genetic background, age, and lifestyle to how frequently they fly. Based on these (and 47 other factors), Proven sends a custom cleanser, sun-protective day cream, and night moisturizer.

Classic Black Leggings

Classic black leggings

Steal: These stretch leggings by Duluth Trading Co. are a true workhorse. They’re super stretchy, comfortable, moisture-wicking, and machine-washable. They also have UPF 40 sun protection and do double duty, either as a pair of tights or worn on their own.

Splurge: Tried-and-true Lululemon Speed Up Tights are many travelers’ go-to travel uniform. The leggings now come in super stretchy and soft fabric, Full-On Luxtreme.

Travel Wallet

Travel wallet

Steal: The best-selling Zoppen Passport Holder Travel Wallet has more than 150 five-star reviews on Amazon, and for good reason. Not only does it hold seven cards, a passport, an ID, a pen, a boarding pass, cash, and a phone, it also comes with a detachable wristlet and has RFID-blocking capabilities.

Splurge: Spend some more and gift your favorite traveler Aspinal of London’s Classic Travel Wallet. Tabbed sections hold your boarding pass, passport, and documents. There’s also a pocket for coins and cash. You can even personalize your gift with free embossing.

Mini-Crossbody Bag

Mini-Crossbody bag

Steal: The small but mighty Travelon Anti-Theft Metro Stadium Mini Crossbody holds and protects your essentials so you can focus on exploring a new city. The bag comes complete with an RFID-blocking pocket and slash-resistant straps.

Splurge: This lightweight and compact bag by MZ Wallace can easily go from day to night with the switch of a strap. It holds everything you need for a day walking tour but won’t weigh you down.

Travel Scarf

Travel scarf

Steal: For those who are always chilly on flights, consider the HappyLuxe Travel Wrap. Made with eco-friendly MicroModal fabric, this made-in-the-U.S. travel scarf has a hidden pocket and an air-activated neck warmer.

Splurge: For ultimate luxury, consider Bleausalt’s The Travel Wrap. Made from sustainable beechwood, this large scarf is ultra-soft and doubles as a blanket.

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Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses

Steal: Sunglass brand Sunski makes polarized sunglasses that are extremely budget-friendly. Choose from any of the unisex styles in a variety of shapes and colors; they’ll be sure to please.

Splurge: You can’t go wrong with classic Ray-Ban sunglasses, and the company’s polarized lens are ahead of the game, with more than 70 years of development in every lens.

Monthly Vitamin Packs

Monthly vitamin packs

Steal: Health-wellness brand Rae makes affordable, 30-day supplies of supplements for energy, hydration, pre- and probiotics, sleep, and other aspects of health.

Splurge: Ritual makes a cult-favorite multivitamin made with only nine essential ingredients, providing just what your body needs. The capsules are vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, and nausea-free.

Toiletry Bag

Toiletry bag

Steal: The Toupons Travel Toiletry Organizer Bag is top-rated on Amazon for good reason: It is water-repellent, has four zippered compartments, and comes with a two-year warranty.

Splurge: This Hunter Toiletry Bag from Dagne Dover is made of high-quality, water-resistant neoprene and comes with two zippered air mesh pouches for organization.

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Card Holder Phone Case

Card holder phone case

Steal: Nothing is more useful to a frequent traveler than a phone case that does double duty as a wallet. The SAMONPOW Card Holder Cover holds two cards in a hidden back slot and is well reviewed on Amazon.

Splurge: Or splurge for a leather-bound wallet case from Bellroy, which holds up to three cards. The card slot opening even doubles as a kickstand for the phone.

[st_related]The Ultimate Holiday Packing List[/st_related]

Hiking Boots

Hiking boots

Steal: Columbia’s Newton Ridge hiking boots for men and women are affordable, waterproof, and durable for serious hikers. Reviewers rave about the comfort and note that the boots fit true to size.

Splurge: Gift the hiking boots made famous by Reese Witherspoon in Wild, the Mountain Light Cascade (women’s sizing) from Danner. For men’s sizing, gift the similar Mountain Cascade Clovis.

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes

Steal: Transform your favorite traveler’s life with a set of packing cubes. The AmazonBasics four-piece set has durable zippers, and the cubes are machine-washable.

Splurge: For those travelers with an Away suitcase, there’s a perfect fit: The brand makes a set of four cubes sized to fit into its suitcases.

Smartwatch

Smart watch

Steal: Fitbit’s Versa Lite Edition is a goal- and community-oriented smartwatch that’s also useful for travelers. This smartwatch has a battery life up to four days, is swim-proof, and has 24/7 heart rate tracking.

Splurge: The new Apple Watch Series 5 will undoubtedly be one of the hottest gifts to give this season. It is water-resistant, has up to 18 hours of battery life, has two heart sensors, and can be purchased with just GPS or GPS and cellular (at additional cost).

Some of Our Favorite Outfit Picks for the Season

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Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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Categories
Airport Frequent Flyer

Your Ultimate Stuck-at-the-Airport Toolkit

You’re stuck. Maybe it’s a long layover, maybe it’s a flight cancellation, or a blizzard.

However it happened, you’re stranded—for a few hours or longer—along with thousands of other people. Resources are limited, and you’ve got to act fast. Here’s what to do.

Know Your Rights

In the U.S., no federal law or regulation specifies what, if any, rights you have in the case of a flight cancellation by your airline. Instead, each airline has its own policy regarding delays, cancellations, and compensation. Which is why at SmarterTravel, we’ve created a handy flight-cancellation rights guide that you can download below.

Free Download: Ultimate Guide to Flight-Cancellation Rights

Plan Your Escape

Contact the Airline: For the best chance of success, you’ll want to multi-task. Stand in line at the airport while simultaneously calling your airline’s customer service line (program the number into your phone before leaving on your trip). And if you’re having trouble speaking to someone in person or over the phone, try the social media route. Many airlines use Twitter to address customer service issues.

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Get a Room: If you and thousands of other people suddenly find yourself stranded, you’ll need to book a room quickly unless you want to wait out an overnight delay in an airport chair. There are a number of last-minute booking apps, but when we travel, most of us use Hotel Tonight. Its discounted last-minute rates are great, and its app is user-friendly.

Find a Day Trip: If you’re stuck at an airport during the day, but can fly out before an overnight hotel stay becomes necessary, consider a day trip. A number of airports offer a list of day-trip itineraries for people with long layovers, trips that are easy to get to from the airport via public transportation. For instance, one of Japan’s most popular temples is a short train ride from Tokyo Narita Airport. And from Frankfurt Airport, beer tasting in Bavaria is a quick trip. Many airports have bag checks (though some still haven’t reinstituted them since 9/11), which allows you to stash your suitcase and travel light on a day out.

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Make the Most of Being Stuck at the Airport

Hunker Down: Airports are notoriously uncomfortable places to grab some shut-eye, but when you’ve been awake for 20 or more hours, even a vinyl chair can look like a bed. I’ve had success using the Guide to Sleeping at Airports to help me find the least uncomfortable options when I need to overnight at an airport.

[st_related]10 Tips for Sleeping Safely at the Airport[/st_related]

Know Your Airport Amenities: As airlines cut down on basic amenities, many airports are increasing theirs, offering stranded passengers nearly pleasant ways to pass the time. Airports offer everything from yoga rooms to exercise bikes, and from napping pods to showers and spas.

Find a Fun Activity: Giant slides, butterfly gardens, movie theaters, behind-the-scenes tours—airports around the world offer unexpected, and totally fun, ways to pass the time. Download your airport’s app or check its website to see if it has any quirky offerings.

Comfy Clothes to Wear When You’re Stuck at the Airport:

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Beach Cities Family Travel Holiday Travel Island Theme Park

The 10 Best Christmas Vacations for Travelers

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December is a magical time for people around the world, and traveling during this most festive of seasons lets you experience a truly global spin on the holidays. Indeed, Christmas travel not only allows you to take full advantage of school and office closures, but also gives you and your family the opportunity to take in rich traditions from all over the world. The best Christmas vacations are meaningful, multicultural, inclusive, and filled with warmth and cheer.

Going beyond the obvious Christmas destinations like New York City and Paris, here are 10 of the world’s best places to go for Christmas, including those that are holy to Christians—as well as those that are decidedly not.

Rome, Italy

christmas tree in front of st peters basilica rome.

Vatican City, which is ensconced within Rome, is the home of Catholicism, making it one of the world’s best places to go for Christmas. Many practicing Catholics yearn to see the Pope give Christmas mass at the breathtaking St. Peter’s Basilica. Tickets to this epic yet solemn annual event are free, but you’ll need to reserve yours at least two months in advance. Instructions about how to do so are here—note that you’ll need access to a fax machine.

If you can’t get tickets to the papal mass, you can watch Pope Francis deliver his urbi et orbi homily live on a big screen from St. Peter’s Square, shop the lively Piazza Navona Christmas Market (or the Christmas market at the Spanish Steps), inspect one of the city’s many detailed nativity scenes, go ice skating near Castel Sant’Angelo, visit the Hanukkah menorah at Piazza Barberini, or simply stroll around to enjoy this sparkling city all dolled up for Natale.

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Quebec City, Canada

holiday decorations in quebec city.

Quebec City is magical any time of year, but winter makes it all the more so. Old Quebec, with its European-style streets and Old World charm, thoroughly transforms into a veritable Christmas village, exuding a very specific type of cozy, snow-covered magic.

The whole city is strung with beautiful lights, the German-style Grand Marche Christmas Market sells one-of-a-kind gifts, and family-friendly offerings abound, including the Quebec Aquarium Light Festival, La Parade des Jouets (“The Toy Parade”), and the chance to meet Santa at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and other spots around the city. You can also attend Christmas concerts, taste distinctive sweets, and stay through New Year’s Eve to experience the midnight fireworks over Quebec City’s Grande Allee, alongside the party-loving locals.

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Israel

fireworks and holiday decorations in jerusalem.

How better to spend Christmas than by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? It’s hard to beat Bethlehem as one of the world’s best Christmas destinations. The ancient town’s Church of the Nativity is where Jesus was born, and the annual celebrations there are meaningful and memorable. There are performances in Manger Square, inclusive Christmas masses with audiences from around the world, twinkling lights and ornaments, a parade and other processions, and Christmas markets and trees.

In nearby Jerusalem, there are biblical places galore, including the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus walked, as well as the Church of the Ascension, where Christians believe that Jesus ascended to heaven. Jerusalem also has one of the Middle East’s most impressive Christmas markets. And Jewish people visiting Jerusalem during this time of year will be deeply moved to see the menorah being lit at the Western Wall each night of Hanukkah.

In northern Israel, Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown in the Galilee, also hosts Christmas celebrations worth experiencing. On Christmas Eve, a colorful parade makes its way through town, with the procession ending at the Church of the Annunciation with fireworks as well as a Christmas mass. Surrounding the event are outdoor Christmas and Hanukkah markets, Santas, religious services, and festive lights.

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North Pole, Alaska

santa's house and sleigh in north pole alaska.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a town called North Pole. And if ever there was a Christmas-themed entire town, this is it. Santa’s always available for visits in the Santa Claus House—where 400,000 letters per year addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” land. (Local volunteers respond to every letter.) And the streets have names like Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane.

Even if you can’t arrange a trip here exactly on December 25, no worries: It’s Christmas here all year long, although only December attracts ice sculptors from around the world displaying their prodigious talents.

North Pole is just 13 miles southeast of Fairbanks, but if you want to stay overnight at this ultimate (if only slightly kitschy) Christmas vacation destination, there are several comfy hotels, as well as RV hookups and campsites.

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Southern California

child and lego santa legoland california.

The best Christmas vacations for families are in Southern California. Mix blessedly snow-free weather with mile after mile of coastline—not to mention decked-out theme park after decked-out theme park—and you’ve got yourselves a Christmas vacation to remember.

At the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, there’s post-fireworks “snow” every night, a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree, holiday-themed parades, explosions of decorations, multicultural seasonal music, and holiday overlays to several beloved rides, including It’s a Small World and the Haunted Mansion. Disneyland makes a heartwarming effort to include traditions besides those that celebrate Christmas—a klezmer band and Jewish food tip a hat to Hanukkah, soul food is offered for Kwanzaa, and Latin favorites get presented for Navidad.

Over in Buena Park, Knott’s Berry Farm transforms into “Knott’s Merry Farm,” with Christmas-themed shows, a Christmas Crafts Village, and nightly snow in Ghost Town. In Studio City, Universal Studios hosts “Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” including an impressive projection show centered around Hogwarts Castle, as well as “Grinchmas,” with a huge tree and caroling Whos. Down in Carlsbad, LEGOLAND has the world’s biggest LEGO Christmas tree, limited-edition holiday treats, live holiday shows—and yes, a LEGO Santa. Keep heading south for San Diego Zoo’s “Jungle Bells,” during which the renowned attraction turns into a light-filled wonderland.

When you’ve had enough of theme parks, head to Malibu or La Jolla for a relaxing December afternoon on one of the Pacific Coast’s best beaches. Or head into the heart of Los Angeles for some culture. L.A. is a particularly great place to celebrate Kwanzaa: Pasadena has hosted a notable Kwanzaa celebration for 30 years now, led by Thanayi Karenga, the daughter of Kwanzaa creator Maulana Karenga. And South L.A. puts on the annual Kwanzaa Heritage Festival and Block Parade and candle-lighting ceremony.

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The Canary Islands, Spain

christmas decorations in tenerife.

Although Barcelona’s Día do los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, is one of Spain’s most celebrated festivals, certain types of travelers might prefer for their Christmas travels to take them to Spain’s Canary Islands instead—which are actually not on the European continent, but off Africa’s northwestern coast.

Picture this for your December holiday: 900 miles of sun-drenched coastline, nativity scenes sculpted from sea sand, Christmas markets selling traditional pastries called truchas, Christmas feasts at local restaurants, open-air Yuletide concerts, and New Year’s Eve fireworks on the beach. Best. Christmas. Vacation. Ever?

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Southern Iceland

northern lights over mountain in iceland.

For true winter lovers, South Iceland is among the world’s best places to travel for Christmas. Faced with all-day nighttime, this remote island knows how to cheer things up during this dark, frigid time of year with lots and lots of twinkling lights. Visitors partake in Arctic adventures in the plentiful snow and ice, including dog sledding, exploring ice caves by snowmobile, skating on frozen lakes, sampling Christmas buffets in restaurants, and strolling Iceland’s charming Christmas markets.

Southern Iceland provides some of the world’s best views of the northern lights—it’s a great place to check “aurora borealis” off your bucket list. And hotels here let travelers experience Iceland’s Christmastime tradition of getting visited by not one but 13 Santa Clauses. The festively decorated Hotel Rangá, for example, lets kids into the folklore by inviting its young guests to leave a shoe in the windowsill to get a holiday treat from the country’s festive elves.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

christmas decorations in san juan puerto rico.

On Christmas Eve—Noche Buena—in San Juan, locals enjoy huge, traditional dinners of pork, rice, and beans. But more importantly, they drink coquito, a creamy, eggnog-like rum cocktail that signifies the occasion. After the feast, roam Old San Juan’s lit-up cobblestone streets and join (or just watch) the parrandas, which are Puerto Rico’s take on carolers, during which groups gather in front of houses late at night with traditional instruments to sing the lively songs of Navidad. In short, the events that happen here every December 24 make Puerto Rico one of the world’s best places to go for Christmas.

Stay on the island for New Year’s Eve and beyond, especially if you’re overnighting at the iconic Caribe Hilton, just as Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren used to do. The property is famous for creating the piña colada, and also for hosting epic New Year’s Eve parties. This year’s bash will be bigger than ever, thanks to the hotel’s recent $150 million renovation. If your schedule allows, stay in Puerto Rico until at least January 6, since Día de Los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, is the island’s biggest annual celebration.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

lagoa christmas tree rio de janeiro.

Another of the world’s best places to visit for Christmas is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and not just because the city’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue gets magnificently illuminated with the works of significant artists.

On December 1 every year, Rio debuts Lagoa, the world’s largest floating Christmas tree—more than 170 feet tall—to fireworks and fanfare on Copacabana Beach. The impressive tree stays lit and floats on the water until early January.

Rio is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the weather during Christmas is generally quite warm. There are Christmas Day concerts on Copacabana Beach, holiday pastries called panettone and rabanadas in the city’s bakeries, and plenty of restaurants that serve traditional Brazilian Christmas dinners to travelers. On Christmas Eve, the parties start late, with feasts typically beginning at 11:00 p.m. and the celebration escalating at midnight.

Stay through New Year’s Eve for unforgettable fireworks over Copacabana and the company of some of the world’s most enthusiastic partiers.

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At Sea

holiday decorations on carnival cruise ship.

If the mere idea of all the effort that goes into celebrating Christmas at home—shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, hosting—works you into a cold sweat, take a deep breath, call your relatives, and tell them you’re going on a Christmas cruise instead.

Holiday sailings make for the best Christmas vacations for families, and can be a fantastic option for cheap Christmas vacations. Many holiday voyages are reasonably priced and go to beautiful destinations around the world, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean to the Christmas markets along European rivers—the Rhone, Seine, Rhine, and Danube.

Onboard, there’s as much holiday theming as you can bear: ugly sweater contests, elaborate holiday shows, massive Christmas trees, Santa appearances, carolers on deck, huge gingerbread houses, mistletoe and wreaths, midnight mass, Hanukkah menorah lightings, and traditional Christmas dinners. Check out the offerings from Royal Caribbean, Carnival (featuring the Grinch!), and Norwegian, as well as Disney‘s Very Merrytime Cruises.

The best part? You’ll be able to kick back and enjoy the celebrations while others are doing the work—kind of like being a kid again.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Holiday Travel Money Travel Trends

The Cheapest Time to Buy Holiday and Thanksgiving Flights for 2019

When do you find the lowest fares for Thanksgiving and December holiday travel? Right now, says the latest data from Hipmunk, derived from analysis of historical buying patterns. Specifically, you can find the lowest fares for both Thanksgiving flights and the winter holidays during the first week of September. But don’t give up if you miss that week:

  • Thanksgiving flights are relatively cheap for the weeks of September 9 and 16 and again the weeks of November 4, 11, and 18.
  • Christmas fares are relatively low again the weeks of October 6, November 18, and, surprisingly, the weeks of December 2, 9, and 16.

Why It Matters More This Year

These findings are in general agreement with reports from other sources for previous years: Your best bet is to buy about three to four months in advance. But buying early might be a particularly good idea this year: Airlines flying the 737 MAX will probably not have their full availability for the holidays so the entire system will have fewer available seats than airlines had planned. Hipmunk mined its purchase data to develop figures for average round-trip coach airfares for domestic travel.

When to Buy Thanksgiving Flights: The Details

Based on past data, Hipmunk found the lowest average Thanksgiving flights, at $417, for the week of September 2. But fares remained in the range of $425 to $440 through the first week of October, and dropped again to around $425 the first three weeks of November. Somewhat oddly, the worst week for low fares was October 14, at $476, and they rose again, to $465, the week of November 25.

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When to Buy Holiday Season Flights: The Details

Christmastime fares seem to be more volatile, with larger week-to-week swings. No other time of year came even close to the average $389 fares found the week of September 2. The week of October 7 was next best, at around $408, with further drops to about $420 the week of November 18 and $450 to $470 the weeks of December 2, 9, and 16. You’ve already missed the worst week in the data base, when the average fares were around $490—even higher than last-minute—although the last minute average was almost as bad, at $480 during the week of December 23. And the weeks of October 21 through November 11 were also bad, with average fares ranging between $470 and $480.

The take-away is that your risk is lowest if you buy early. But if you’re willing to risk a small fare hike to wait for a great promotional fare, you can afford to delay buying your tickets for several weeks. As always, the best recommendation is: “When you find a good fare, pounce.”

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When to Travel; When Not to Travel

Hipmunk also did a comprehensive breakdown of average fares for the mix of feasible departure and return days. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, conventional wisdom holds that the best times to travel are on the Thanksgiving Day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and that the worst days to travel are the Wednesday before and Sunday after the holiday. Hipmunk’s figures say that’s only half right. Sure enough, the three highest fares were on trips returning on Sunday. As expected, the Wednesday-Sunday trip topped the list. But for some strange reason, fares for a trip leaving on Wednesday and returning Friday were near the lowest.

The trip with the lowest average fares was leaving Thursday and returning on Friday, at $307. But other low-fare options included Monday-Friday, Tuesday-Friday, and Thursday-Saturday, at $310 to $323. The three worst trips were Wednesday-Sunday, at $483, Tuesday-Sunday at $459, and Monday-Sunday at $456. Fares varied narrowly from $395 to $420 for other date combinations.

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With a midweek Christmas this year, there are no obvious weekend peaks. Still, the conventional worst-trip dates, Saturday, December 21 to Sunday, December 29, showed a top fare average of $547. The best trip by far, at $247, was leaving Christmas Day, December 25, and returning the next day. Next best was a big jump up, to $322 for Tuesday to Friday, followed by Christmas Day to Sunday, at $335. Other bad trips were Sunday to Sunday, at $507, and Saturday to Friday, at $491. Hipmunk did not extend its coverage to the following New Year’s week, but presumably fares are high on the Sunday following.

The conventional take-aways here for major holidays are:

  • The lowest fares usually involve traveling on the holiday, itself—an obvious case, because those are the days travelers want to be where they’re going.
  • The highest fares usually involve returning on the Sunday following the holiday—another obvious finding, given that most people want to maximize their vacation time but need get back for work or school on Mondays.

Fare differentials for other dates generally cluster in a narrow range between the maximum dates. Beyond avoiding the worst dates if you can, you’re probably better off timing your trip to meet your best convenience rather than shaving a few bucks off airfares. For more information, see The 12 Best and Worst Days for Holiday Travel This Year.

What to Wear on Your Next Flight

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

 

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

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.

Categories
Booking Strategy Road Trip

Here Are the Worst Times to Travel This Memorial Day Weekend

AAA is out with its annual Memorial Day travel forecast, which outlines not only how many people will hit the road this year, but when.

According to the organization, “INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Thursday, May 23 and Friday, May 24 in the late afternoon as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers.” While that’s not exactly surprising, considering this is a weekend holiday and all, what is interesting is just how much worse your expected travel times could be. Many metro areas will experience traffic that is three times worse than usual. (When is that infrastructure bill coming again?)

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“Drivers in the most congested metros should expect much worse conditions than normal,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the morning and evening commuting times or plan alternate routes.”

Here are AAA and INRIX’s best guesses for the worst travel times in several U.S. cities:

Metro Area Worst Day for Travel Worst Time for Travel Delay Multiplier of Normal Trip
Atlanta Thursday, May 23 4:30 – 6:30 PM 2.2x
Boston Monday, May 27 3:45 – 5:45 PM 3.0x
Chicago Friday, May 24 3:30 – 5:30 PM 1.6x
Detroit Friday, May 24 2:30 – 4:30 PM 1.7x
Houston Sunday, May 26 2:15 – 4:15 PM 1.0x
Los Angeles Friday, May 24 4:30 – 6:30 PM 1.0x
New York Thursday, May 23 4:45 – 6:45 PM 2.0x
San Francisco Saturday, May 25 1:00 – 3:00 PM 1.6x
Seattle Monday, May 27 3:30 – 5:30 PM 1.0x
Washington, D.C. Monday, May 27 3:45 – 5:45 PM 3.0x

 

Millions Will Hit the Road for Memorial Day Travel

All in all, some 43 million Americans will take a trip this year, an increase of 1.5 million over last year. And despite rising gas prices, AAA expects 37.6 million people to drive, an increase of 3.5 percent compared to last year.

“When gas prices are expensive, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less, or look for free activities,” said AAA gas price expert Jeanette Casselano. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”

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Air travel will also increase this year, to 3.25 million people, a jump of over 4 percent.

“Americans are eagerly anticipating the start of summer, and expensive gas prices won’t keep them home this Memorial Day weekend,” said Paula Twidale, vice president at AAA Travel. “Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth. Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”

All that said, numbers like this make a compelling case for a relaxing and traffic-free staycation. But if you’re determined to get out and about this Memorial Day, hopefully this info helps you avoid some of the worst backups and headaches on the road.

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Readers, what’s your trick to avoiding the Memorial Day travel rush? Do you leave in the middle of the night? Do you travel off the beaten path? Or do you simply fire up the grill and lounge in the backyard?

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Booking Strategy

The Most Popular Memorial Day Destinations for 2019

May is here, which means Memorial Day–the unofficial start to summer–is just around the corner. Memorial Day isn’t the biggest travel holiday of the year, with many people choosing quick, local getaways (read: driving, instead of flying).

Still, it’s a popular time for air travel as well, and CheapOAir is out with its list of the most booked destinations for Memorial Day, as well as the average airfare for each, in case you’re still weighing a last-minute getaway. The numbers also offer a preview of the overall cost of traveling this summer (high season for air travel), as fares are trending downward compared to the same time last year.

“Average airfares, both international and domestic, are at a lower price point this time of year ahead of the peak summer travel season when prices are expected to increase significantly,” said Tom Spagnola, CheapOAir Senior Vice President of Supplier Relations.

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Domestically: Orlando, New York, and Las Vegas top the list, with average fares to Orlando coming in slightly under $300:

Destination Average Roundtrip Airfare
Orlando, FL $293
New York, NY $310
Las Vegas, NA $368
Los Angeles, CA $342
Denver, CO $312
Chicago, IL $325
Atlanta, GA $268
Miami, FL $398
Houston, TX $308
Seattle, WA $356

Internationally: London, Cancun, and Mexico City led the way. London makes sense as a quick “long-weekend” trip from most of the East Coast given the reasonable flight time. Overall, Memorial Day airfares to Europe are fairly reasonable.

London, England $573
Cancun, Mexico $568
Mexico City, Mexico $393
Paris, France $569
Rome, Italy $830
Barcelona, Spain $883
Montego Bay, Jamaica $695
Lima, Peru $666
Madrid, Spain $524
Dublin, Ireland $767

Readers, are you planning a Memorial Day trip this year? Did you pay more? Or will you stay closer to home? Comment below.

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