Categories
Fashion & Beauty Packing

The Best Warm Tights for Winter Travel

[st_content_ad]You don’t need pants to keep you warm in the cold. Check out these nine winter tights that will keep your legs feeling toasty while still looking stylish.

Hue Heat Temp Tights

hue heat temp tights.

Hue’s Heat Temp Tights look like regular opaque nylons but are made from a special temperature-regulating material that traps more heat than regular tights. To add to the coziness, these winter tights have a no-bind comfort waistband.

Oiselle Moto Lesley Tights

Oiselle Moto Lesley Tights

Designed by runners for runners, Oiselle’s Moto Lesley Tights won’t fall down or restrict you while you’re out jogging. These are made to be worn in all conditions, with an ankle-length fit and a spandex/polyester fabric blend that keeps you warm.

[st_related]10 of the Warmest Winter Hats[/st_related]

Warner’s Ultra-Soft Fleece Tights

Warner’s Ultra-Soft Fleece Tights.

Fleece-lined tights are the ultimate winter style hack—they feel as cozy as pajama pants but look professional. This pair from Warner’s has plenty of fleece on the inside but is still thin enough to wear under a dress.

Berkshire Cozy Tight

Berkshire Cozy Tight.

Berkshire’s Cozy Tights are lined with fleece all the way through the foot. Available in a variety of colors, this line of winter tights accommodates everyone with sizes from petite to 4x.

[st_related]7 Must-Have Travel Toiletries for Dry Winter Weather[/st_related]

Manzi Run-Resistant Tights

Manzi Run-Resistant Tights.

Tired of throwing away a pair of tights with a run in them after just one wear? Manzi’s Run-Resistant Tights are extra durable and extra warm. They come in a variety of colors, all of which are opaque enough to keep you covered.

Heat Holders Thermal Tights

Heat Holders Thermal Tights.

Heat Holders’ Thermal Tights use an insulating yarn to keep your legs warm. The inside of these tights is lined with a soft, brushed-fleece fabric that will help keep warm air next to your skin.

[st_related]The Worst Winter Travel Gear (and What to Pack Instead)[/st_related]

Yogipace Fleece-Lined Thermal Tights

Yogipace Fleece-Lined Thermal Tights.

Yogipace’s Fleece-Lined Thermal Tights were designed with tough outdoor conditions in mind. Not only are these winter tights fleece-lined for warmth, but they are also water- and wind-resistant on the exterior. There’s a back zippered pocket and a hidden waistband pocket to keep all your valuables secure.

Hot Chillys Micro-Elite Chamois 8K Solid Tight

Hot Chillys Micro-Elite Chamois 8K Solid Tight.

Thin enough for layering, the Hot Chillys Micro-Elite Chamois 8K Solid Tights are moisture-wicking to get rid of any sweat before it makes you cold. These winter tights are great for travel, thanks to a bio-silver yarn that has antimicrobial and anti-odor properties.

[st_related]The 33 Best Winter Boots and Shoes for Travel[/st_related]

L.L. Bean Craft Lumen SubZ Wind Tights

L.L. Bean Craft Lumen SubZ Wind Tights.

The Craft Lumen SubZ Wind Tights have two layers of wind-blocking fabric on the front to keep any cold air from getting to your legs. The tights’ reflective print helps keep you visible at night, making these leggings perfect for any evening adventures.

More from SmarterTravel:

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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
Arts & Culture

The 10 Most Anticipated 2020 Books

From thrillers to nonfiction, these are the 10 most anticipated 2020 books that you’ll want to pre-order immediately. Apologies in advance for making your to-read list for the year even longer.

The Witches of Willow Cove, Josh Roberts

In The Witches of Willow Cove, the debut novel from SmarterTravel’s former Executive Editor Josh Roberts, 13-year-old Abby Shepherd discovers that she and several of her schoolmates are descended from witches and that her town, Willow Cove, is home to a secret past with ties to the Salem witch trials. Soon Abby must decide who to trust when every adult in her life seems to be keeping secrets of their own.

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, Anthony Bourdain

World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, Anthony Bourdain.

Beloved chef and travel writer Anthony Bourdain was working on a new book when he died, which will be published posthumously this year. World Travel: An Irreverent Guide features Bourdain’s musings on some of his favorite places, accompanied by essays written by Bourdain’s friends and family.

[st_related]8 Best Travel Books and Their Real-Life Destinations[/st_related]

Joy at Work, Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein

Joy at Work, Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein.

You’ve sparked joy in your house, and now Marie Kondo wants you to take that same approach to work. This guide by famed declutterer Marie Kondo and Rice University business professor Scott Sonenshein will help you tackle both the physical work clutter (papers, desks) and the non-physical (emails, pointless meetings).

Saint X, Alexis Schaitkin

Saint X, Alexis Schaitkin.

Although fictional, Saint X’s story feels ripped from the headlines. The plot centers around a fictional Caribbean island (Saint X) where a college-aged woman on vacation with her family goes missing. What happens after makes this book both gripping and moving.

Wow, No Thank You, Samantha Irby

Wow, No Thank You, Samantha Irby.

In need of a laugh? Pick up Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You, a book of hilarious essays inspired by Irby’s real-life experiences. The book touches on topics from friend dates to Hollywood, all with a great sense of humor.

[st_related]The 15 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights[/st_related]

Seven Lies, Elizabeth Kay

Seven Lies, Elizabeth Kay.

[st_content_ad]What’s a little lie between friends? The story of a deep female friendship, Seven Lies starts with just one small lie from the protagonist and quickly spirals into deeper, darker falsehoods. The truth is finally revealed at the end of the book, in a twist that you’ll never see coming.

Black Sunday, Tola Rotimi Abraham

Black Sunday, Tola Rotimi Abraham.

Tola Rotimi Abraham’s debut novel Black Sunday has already garnered tons of buzz in advance of its February debut. The novel follows the lives of two sisters as they grow up and apart in Lagos, Nigeria.

[st_related]12 Best New Books to Read on Winter Trips[/st_related]

Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener

Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener.

Ever wonder what it’s really like to work at one of those big-money startups in Silicon Valley? Anna Wiener pulls back the curtain to expose the good, bad, and plain crazy in her memoir, Uncanny Valley, set in the tech industry at the peak of its success.

The Lion’s Den, Katherine St. John

The Lion’s Den, Katherine St. John.

Expect to see The Lion’s Den, publishing in May, at beaches and pools everywhere you go this summer. This ultimate beach read has all the essentials you need for an escape: a billionaire boyfriend, a yacht, a Mediterranean background, and plenty of secrets to keep you guessing.

[st_related]10 Engrossing Audiobooks for Road Trips or Plane Rides[/st_related]

Amnesty, Aravind Adiga

Amnesty, Aravind Adiga.

If you’ve read either of Man Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga’s previous books (The White Tiger and Selection Day), then you’ll be thrilled to see he has a new novel out. Amnesty is the story of Danny, a Sri Lankan refugee working illegally in Australia after his visa is denied. When Danny uncovers evidence of a crime, he must make a choice—tell the police and risk deportation, or keep it to himself and possibly let a murderer go free?

Our Favorite E-readers and Accessories

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

Categories
Fashion & Beauty

The 8 Warmest Winter Gloves and Mittens

Hands are one of the first body parts to feel the cold. Prevent frozen fingers this winter with these ultra-warm gloves and mittens. Using unique technology and space-age materials, all of these picks will keep you dry and toasty even during a raging blizzard.[st_content_ad]

Seirus Xtreme All Weather Gloves

Serius Xtreme All Weather Gloves.

Looking for winter gloves that are easy to pack? Seirus’ Xtreme All-Weather gloves are incredibly thin and lightweight, yet still 100 percent waterproof and warm. Perfect for winter hiking or running, these gloves are fleece-lined and breathable, with a patented DryHand insert to keep your hands dry even during intense physical activity.

Savior Heat

Savior Heated Gloves.

If handwarmers just aren’t cutting it for you, try the Savior Heated Gloves. These waterproof and wind-resistant gloves use rechargeable batteries to keep a constant heat inside. The heating element runs along the back of the hand and up the fingers, so every part of your hand will stay toasty.

Carhartt Waterproof Insulated Glove

Carhartt Waterproof Insulated Glove.

Carhartt’s heavy-duty waterproof insulated gloves use FastDry technology to dry these gloves out quickly, so you never have to put cold, soggy gloves on again. A reinforced digital grip palm helps you keep ahold of your phone or whatever else you need, even when it’s too cold to feel your fingers.

[st_related]11 Warm, Lightweight Jackets and Coats for Travelers[/st_related]

Global Vasion Heated Gloves

The Global Vasion Heated Gloves are another great option if you’re looking for a pair with its own heat source. These touchscreen accessible gloves have a large-capacity battery that will keep your hands toasty warm between 3 different heat settings for hours on end. Even with the battery off, these rechargeable fleece-lined gloves are still plenty warm.

Columbia Bugaboo Interchange Glove

Columbia Bugaboo Interchange Glove.

Columbia’s Bugaboo Interchange Gloves can be worn three different ways: as just a lightweight liner, as a waterproof rain glove, or as an ultra-warm glove that combines the liner and outer layer with Omni-Heat insulation.

[st_related]The Worst Winter Travel Gear (and What to Pack Instead)[/st_related]

Backcountry Gore-Tex Snow Mittens

Backcountry Gore-Tex Snow Mittens.

Designed for skiers, Backcountry’s Gore-Tex Snow Mittens will keep your hands warm in even the fiercest storms. The Gore-Tex outer keeps moisture out, and the synthetic insulation works wonders even while wet. These mittens are even padded at the back to help protect your hands in tough conditions.

Oros Endeavour Mittens

Oros Endeavour Mittens.

Science meets comfort in Oros’ Endeavour Mittens, which use Solarcore (the same material NASA uses to insulate space shuttles). The mittens are fully insulated and even add extra insulation over the fingertips to keep your hands completely warm. They’re wind-resistant yet still breathable, so your hands won’t get too sweaty.

[st_related]10 of the Warmest Winter Hats[/st_related]

Marmot Warmest Gloves

Marmot Warmest Gloves

Marmot’s Warmest Gloves live up to their name. A patented MemBrain insert keeps water out while still being breathable, and a PrimaLoft lining keeps your fingers from freezing no matter what the temperatures are outside. There’s even an internal heater pocket in case you want to stash in a handwarmer.

Don’t Forget the Rest of Your Body

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

Frigid temps call for more than just a pair of gloves. From scarves and hats to a piping hot cup of joe, these winter essentials will keep you  warm and cozy all season long.

More from SmarterTravel:

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
Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Business Travel Entertainment Experiential Travel Food & Drink Luxury Travel Romantic Travel

14 Things a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You (And 6 Things They Can’t)

Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]

That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.

What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You

Save You Money

The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.

Recommend Fitness Facilities

If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.

Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available

If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.

Get Tickets for You

Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.

Keep You Safe

A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.

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Help You Celebrate

Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.

Help You Do Your Job

A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.

Help You Look Good

A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.

Fix Sticky Travel Problems

A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.

Get You a Table

Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.

Recommend Local Service Folks

Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.

Create a Custom Itinerary

If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.

Help with Special Needs

If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.

Provide Assistance Before You Arrive

The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.

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What Your Hotel Concierge Can’t Do for You

Gossip

Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.

Illegal or Immoral Activities

You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.

Babysit

A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.

Float You a Loan

They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.

Sell Stuff for You

Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.

Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows

Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.

[st_related]15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You[/st_related]

Tips for Using a Hotel Concierge

Don’t Be Shy

You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.

Give Them Some Time

Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.

Present the Concierge’s Card

When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.

Not All Concierges Are the Same

Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.

Traveling? Get a Carry-On That Does More

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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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.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.

Categories
Money

Everything You Need to Know About U.S. Customs and Duty-Free Allowances

You’ve been out of the country on a much-deserved vacation. About an hour before your plane lands, the flight attendant hands you a U.S. Customs declaration form. Chances are you purchased a few souvenirs or gifts during your travels—so which ones do you have to declare? The answer: Every item you didn’t have with you when you originally left the United States.

You’ll be asked how much you paid for each, including all taxes—so it helps to keep those receipts in an easily accessible place. You may also want to pack all of these items together so that you can find them quickly if you’re chosen for inspection.

You must declare all items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return to the United States, including gifts for other people as well as items you bought for yourself. This includes duty-free items purchased in foreign countries, as well as any merchandise you intend to sell or use in your business.

Contrary to popular belief, purchasing something in a duty-free shop does not necessarily mean you don’t have to pay any duties or taxes on it; the item is only duty-free in the country where you bought it. If the value of the item falls outside your personal exemption (see below), you will have to pay U.S. duties on it.

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Register Your Items

To avoid confusion, you might want to register certain items with U.S. Customs before you leave the United States—that way you can prove that you owned an item before you left. This is particularly worth considering for expensive foreign-made items like laptops or watches. You can register the items at the nearest CBP office or at the international airport from which you are departing—just request a Certificate of Registration (CBP Form 4457) and have the items (including serial numbers) handy.

Duty-Free Exemptions

In most cases, travelers are permitted to bring up to $800 worth of merchandise back to the United States without having to pay duty. (Numerous exceptions apply.) Keep in mind that only one liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and 100 cigars may be included in this exemption.

Family members who live in the same household and travel together generally may combine personal exemptions. Children and infants have the same exemptions as adults except for alcohol and tobacco products. If you bring back more than your exemption, you will have to pay duties.

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Duty-Free and Reduced Rates

Items from certain countries may be duty-free under previously negotiated agreements with the United States government. Typically, items from Caribbean and Andean countries, certain sub-Saharan African countries, Israel, Jordan, Chile, Singapore, Canada, and Mexico are allowed into the United States at a duty-free or reduced rate. However, keep in mind these items still need to be declared when you re-enter the United States.

Also, household effects—such as furniture, paintings, carpets, linens, and similar items—are duty-free if you’ve used them for at least a year while living abroad, and they are not intended to be sold or used as gifts. For more information, see the CBP’s guide to duty-free or reduced rates.

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Currency

You can take out or bring unlimited “monetary instruments,” as the U.S. Customs folks call cash, money orders, traveler’s checks, and the like, but if you are carrying more than $10,000 worth, you must file a Currency Reporting Form with U.S. Customs.

Prohibited and Restricted Items

Some items—such as absinthe, firearms, fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, meat products, and some cultural artifacts—are restricted and will only be admitted into the U.S. under special circumstances. Others, including most drug paraphernalia and items from embargoed countries, are prohibited entirely. Check the CBP’s list of prohibited and restricted items before you leave.

Paying Duty at U.S. Customs

If you owe duty, it must be paid upon arrival in the United States. You may pay with U.S. currency, a personal check drawn on a U.S. bank, or a government check, money order, or traveler’s check (as long as the amount isn’t over $50 more than the duty you owe). Some locations also accept payment with Visa or Mastercard.

Mailing Items from Overseas

Your exemption applies only to those things you have on your person when you return to the United States; if you mail anything back, you’re responsible for paying the duties and taxes on those items separately. For more information, see the CBP’s information on sending items back to the U.S.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Genevieve S. Brown and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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.

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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.

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

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.

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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
Family Travel In-Flight Experience Packing

11 Ways to Stay Organized While Traveling

Even the most prepared tourist can feel completely off-kilter when staying in new surroundings or dealing with the many unknowns of travel. Thankfully, a bit of preparation and some clever travel organization hacks will keep any trip from devolving into utter chaos. Here are a few on-the-go travel organization tips to keep you sane, no matter where your journeys take you.

Download Itinerary Apps

Tripit app screenshot

The days of juggling printouts of flight info, hotel reservations, rental-car confirmations, schedules, maps, and directions are over. With the help of itinerary apps, you can organize all of your itineraries on your smartphone. The best of the bunch is TripIt. Simply forward confirmation emails to TripIt and it will generate a complete itinerary for you, then customize your itinerary by adding maps, directions, and notes. You can even share your account with others, making group travel a cinch.

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Use a Packing List Before and During Your Trip

ultimate packing list

You should always make a packing list before you even pull your suitcase out of the closet. (And to get started, download a copy of our Ultimate Packing List.) But what about when you’re on the road? It may be a good idea to print a duplicate copy and pack it in your suitcase. That way, you can check it against your belongings while on the road to ensure you leave no item behind. When you’re repacking at the end of a long vacation, you can check items off as you place them back neatly in your luggage.

Use Packing Cubes

eBags classic packing cubes for travel

A trusted workhorse in organizing your travel bag is packing cube sets. I’ve used durable eBags packing cubes for years to separate clothes by type and to keep my toiletries and accessories separate. Packing cubes are the easiest way to turn your suitcase into a compartmentalized closet, and make unpacking at your destination incredibly simple.

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Organize Your Technology

Cocoon cpg10bk grid-it! accessory organizer

Carry a lot of technology with you on your travels? Then you know how easily cords get tangled and gadgets get lost. Cocoon makes several accessory organizers that feature an organization system with rubberized elastic bands to hold your chargers, headphones, backup storage, and other accessories in place (some even come with pockets for your tablet and computer). These flat, lightweight cases fit easily into carry-on bags and are invaluable on the road.

Carry a Well-Organized Wallet, Satchel, or Money Belt

Bellroy leather travel wallet cocoa

A high-quality, well-organized wallet is indispensable for travel: This one has plenty of pockets for clever storage, but isn’t too bulky to pack and stick into your pocket or handbag. Eagle Creek has a number of smart options with sufficient organization for your passport and boarding passes, while Bellroy’s leather travel wallet earns praise for its clever, sleek design and included mini travel pen.

You can also get a designated small satchel or discreet money belt to use on your travels—this will force you to prioritize what you need and make you less susceptible to theft. I’m a fan of small cross-body satchels with secure zippers like Travelon’s Anti-Theft Crossbody. Secret pouches that can go under your clothes or a coat also work well, like Zero Grid’s Neck Wallet, if you want something stealthy and light.

[st_related]17 Essential Passport Wallets and Holders for Travelers[/st_related]

Hang Your Toiletries

hanging toiletry bag

Anyone with a hefty toiletries bag knows how hard it is to keep all those tiny travel items organized and accessible. The solution is a hanging version—you can hang it open at the hotel to see all your toiletries at once, and still zip it up and stash it away when you need to. 42 Travel’s unisex toiletry kit has high-density, water-resistant fabric and mesh pockets that let you see inside its biggest compartments while it’s hanging.

Organize Your Seatback

AUTOARK standard car seat back organizer,multi-pocket travel storage bag

Family road trips are a blast until you realize you need something you packed away in the trunk. Keeping everything you’ll need in sight is simple with a seatback organizer. Autoark’s insulated multi-pocket version has a main bag that’s big enough to fit drinks and snacks inside, plus outer compartments for all your smaller necessities.

[st_related]10 Road Trip Essentials: How to Stay Safe, Sane, and on Track[/st_related]

Organize Your Undies

underwear pouch organizer

The only way to pack underwear is to awkwardly attempt to fold it, fail, ball it up, and stuff it in the corner of your suitcase, right? Wrong. Underwear bags are a life-changing travel accessory, especially for women packing bras and other intimates that can get lost or damaged in a stuffed suitcase. Mochithings’ Underwear Pouch v2 has a zippered section perfect for stacking bras or other undergarments, plus small top-flap compartments and a detachable zippered pouch. All your tiniest necessities will be at your fingertips when you need them, and not buried or tumbling out when you open your bag.

Use Plastic Bags

Travelon packing pouches,

Simple plastic baggies come in handy for many packing situations—dirty clothes, wet items, carry-on liquids, jewelry, etc. Whether you grab a handful of Ziploc kitchen baggies or invest in reusable multi-sized ones like Travelon Packing Pouches, keeping some stashed in your suitcase is one of the easiest travel organization tips on this list.

[st_related]12 Clever Ways to Use Plastic Bags When You Travel[/st_related]

Unpack Immediately

Living out of a suitcase can lead to a disorganized vacation. When you arrive at your destination, always unpack immediately, even if your trip is a short one. Fold clothing and place it into dresser drawers, hang up any garment that may wrinkle, arrange your shoes in the closet, and unpack your toiletries in the bathroom rather than leaving them in their quart-sized plastic baggie. You’ll feel more relaxed and at ease, and you won’t be pulling clothing out of a rumpled pile on the floor.

Recreate Your Home Environment

There’s something about a hotel room that makes even the neatest person messy (and turns the naturally disorganized into a hot travel mess). One thing I always do when staying in a hotel is to make my surroundings as home-like as possible.

At home, I keep my keys and wallet on a table near my door, so I recreate that in my hotel room by placing a bowl or box near the door for my purse, keys, wallet, lip balm, etc. That way, I never forget to grab something essential as I’m heading out for the day. When possible, I unpack my clothing into the same dresser-drawer configuration that I use in my own dresser at home, and I arrange my cosmetics and toiletries in a similar fashion in the bathroom. I even charge my iPhone in the same location as I do at home. It sounds a bit type A, but it keeps me organized during hectic trips—and it ensures I never leave anything behind.

What are your best travel organization tips? Share them in the comments.

More from SmarterTravel:

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Shannon McMahon, Dara Continenza, and Margaret Leahy contributed to this story.

Categories
Packing Travel Technology Travel Trends

7 Travel Electronics the Least Tech-Savvy Travelers Will Love

Not all travelers are packing high-tech travel electronics or plugging in every chance they get, but there are plenty of everyday items that travel better when they incorporate some technology. These travel electronics provide low-tech solutions to common travel challenges like staying in touch, easily sourcing potable water, and protecting your personal property while traveling.

These are the best travel electronics, ranging from those with charge-free simplicity to low-tech gadgets that require little to no tinkering.

RFID-Blocking Wallet or Purse

 rfid-blocking-wallets

Safeguard yourself from electronic pickpockets looking to lift personal data from chips inserted in passports, IDs, and credit cards. Simply put those important documents in RFID-blocking wallets like this spacious women’s leather clutch or this men’s passport wallet, which makes room for cash and cards, too.

Water-Filtering Bottle

 LifeStraw go water filter bottle

A low-tech solution to sourcing clean, potable water, a filtration water bottle means you can hydrate at just about any water source. The LifeStraw Water-Filtering Bottle claims to filter out 99.9 percent of water-borne bacteria, making even the grossest water drinkable. That includes water from questionable sources such as ponds and lakes when you’re camping, and tap water in destinations where you’d normally not drink from the faucet.

[st_related]12 Things You Should Never Pack[/st_related]

Universal Power Adapter

 BESTEK universal travel adapter 220v

It’s time to upgrade your universal power adapter. Today’s adapters simultaneously perform prong-adapting and power-converting duties, so your gadgets don’t get fried in nations with different voltages. Amazon’s most popular power adapter/converter is the Bestek Universal Power Adapter, which can charge seven items at once. 

Charging Phone Case

Lonlif battery case for iphone

You can map your destination, stay in touch with everyone, and keep your entertainment accessible while traveling—but you can only do that if your phone has battery life. The best way to keep your phone charged without having to carry all those cables is by popping your phone in a charging phone case. Make sure to get a charging phone case that fits your particular phone’s model, and one that’s waterproof, to boot.

[st_related]10 Waterproof Travel Tech Accessories That Could Save Your Next Trip[/st_related] 

E-Reader

amazon prime perks reading

Who has space to spare in their luggage when we’re all just trying to avoid paying bag fees? Lighten your load by trading in paperbacks for an e-reader. The latest iteration of the Amazon Kindle holds twice the amount of content, is waterproof, and starts at $129 (check for sales during the holiday shopping period).

Tracking Device

tile key finder

Ever get distracted by the sights and suddenly realize one of your valuables is gone? Quickly locate lost items with a tracking device like Tile. The tracking device will ring when in range of a member of the Tile community, and its location will be shown on the Tile app even if you’re out of range. Attach a tracking device to your luggage, camera, keys, phone, wallet, purse, or anything else you’d be hard-pressed to replace.

[st_related]How to Check for Hidden Cameras in Your Hotel Room[/st_related] 

Fitness Tracker

Use a fitness-tracking device such as the Fitbit to keep key health metrics such as heart rate, spent calories, and sleep patterns at your fingertips. Achieving weight-loss goals is easier thanks to fitness trackers that help you count steps while you’re on the road. Fitbit Pay on newer models also now offers the ability to pay on-the-go. If you’re willing to go a little more high-tech, Smartwatches can also be used as fitness trackers.

Travel in Comfortable Style

No matter where you’re headed on your next trip, comfort is key during travel. Show off your high-tech gear with a cozy yet fashionable style to pair.

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:

Patricia Magaña refuses to succumb to travel electronics like e-readers and instead makes room in her bag for a good book. Follow her on Instagram @PatiTravels.

Categories
Arts & Culture Entertainment Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience Miles & Points Money Travel Technology

10 Secret Amazon Prime Perks You Probably Aren’t Using

Travelers know convenience often comes at a price. And while some services don’t pay for themselves, Amazon Prime and the included Amazon Prime perks can be a worthwhile investment for tech-savvy and entertainment-driven travelers.

Membership now costs $119 annually (or $12.99 monthly); for that price, you get well-known benefits like free two-day shipping, access to exclusive deals, and Prime Video. But the real boon for travelers are the lesser-known Amazon Prime perks that deliver trip-ready extras like entertainment, last-minute delivery, photo storage, and even frequent flyer points. Here’s how to use Amazon Prime perks to become a more prepared and happier traveler.

How to Use Amazon Prime Perks for Travel

Amazon sign in page of website with a finger touching the screen

Want to give it a go? Try the Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial.

Already a Prime member? Sign up here to receive a weekly member-benefits newsletter and make the most of your membership.

Prime Reading and Audible

kindle ereader pile books

As an Amazon Prime member, you can read books like The Handmaid’s Tale and the Harry Potter series for free with Prime Reading. The feature offers over a thousand free books and magazines to download on any device with a Prime membership. I think it’s one of the best secret Amazon Prime perks out there, especially for frequent travelers. As a Fire Tablet user, I browse this section before any long flight and download at least one free book for my trip.

Also be sure to check out Amazon’s Audible channels or audiobooks, with discounts for Prime members.

Insider Tip: For Kindle users, a Prime membership grants you access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where you can borrow one book at a time, along with one pre-released book per month with Amazon First Reads. To learn more about using your Kindle, see 9 Secret Amazon Kindle Tips You Probably Don’t Know About.

[st_related]15 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights[/st_related]

Offline Downloads for Entertainment

woman mobile device airplane seat

One of the best lesser-known Amazon Prime perks perfect for travelers is offline downloading for TV shows and movies. You can even search for this feature on the Amazon Video app. Just go to the Library icon, hit “Refine,” and filter by the “On Device” option. All downloads will go to a download folder on the app, or you can watch directly from the show’s or movie’s page.

[st_related]11 Funny Books to Read on Your Next Trip [/st_related]

Shipping Benefits: Prime Now

Amazon prime now app on smartphone screen close-up

Yes, most people know free two-day shipping comes with a Prime membership, but did you know about the Amazon Prime perk that offers free same-day delivery? This feature is available in 10,000 cities (you can check availability by zip code here), and it’s perfect for travelers. Whether you’re packing last-minute and need a specific item or you forgot something and need it delivered to your hotel room, Prime Now is a great benefit for travelers. In select areas, Prime Members can get secure in-home, in-garage, and even in-car deliveries with Amazon Key.

[st_related]12 Amazon Shopping Tips to Save You Time (and Money)[/st_related]

Insider Tip: Did you know that you can earn rewards for future purchases with free, no-rush shipping? If you don’t need your Prime order right away, select No-Rush Shipping and receive a discount or reward for a future purchase. Prime members can also select an Amazon Day, which means you can have all of your orders arrive on a specific day of the week.

Access to Exclusive Products and Deals

Amazon prime day graphic

An Amazon Prime membership grants access to a variety of products and deals that can save you money on travel-related products and clothes. Prime members have early access to Lightning Deals (also called Prime Early-Access Deals), Prime Exclusives, and a whole day or two dedicated to member shopping deals, Prime Day, which is typically in July.

Another one of the lesser-known Amazon Prime perks is a service called Amazon Elements. This Prime-exclusive line is limited right now (only baby wipes and vitamins so far), but the idea behind it—a dedicated store that uses customer feedback and reviews to create better products—has the potential to become an invaluable tool for travelers who only have enough suitcase space for high-performing products.

Amazon is also providing discounts at Whole Foods for Prime members: Get an additional 10 percent off sale items and special deals on select items.

Insider Tip: If you order through Alexa-enabled voice shopping, you get access to even more deals and discounts as a Prime member.

Prime Photos and Drive

With Amazon Prime, you get unlimited photo storage via Amazon Photos, which is perfect for backing up your vacation photos and storing your favorite memories. Photos are easily organized, you can share photos in a “Family Vault,” and you can even order prints directly from Amazon.

Prime members also get 5G of free storage for files, videos, and anything else you want to store on the cloud with Amazon Drive.

[st_related]How to Back up Your Travel Photos on the Go[/st_related]

Prime Music and Video

man watching prime video on ipad

With Amazon Prime, you get unlimited, ad-free streaming on Amazon Music. And while Prime Music has over two million songs, Prime members also get a discount with Amazon’s other music streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited.

Another one of the lesser-known Amazon Prime perks is Prime Video streaming, which grants you access to award-winning original movies and TV shows like Manchester by the Sea and The Man in the High Castle. Amazon also hosts other network TV shows like Mr. Robot and The Sopranos. Prime Video also has a library of popular shows and movies to rent and buy.

Insider Tip: You can add premium network subscriptions to your Prime membership via Amazon Channels. This allows you to watch channels like HBO, STARZ, and Showtime without having a cable or satellite account.

JetBlue Affiliation

JetBlue passengers can earn three TrueBlue points for Amazon purchases made in flight. Just make sure you understand which products are excluded from the offer—this includes things like subscription Kindle products and Amazon Fresh.

Amazon Credit Cards and Points

Amazon prime rewards visa signature card.

Making the most of every dollar you spend is another Amazon Prime perk. Prime members have exclusive access to certain credit cards: The Amazon Prime Store Card and Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card.

The Visa card gives you five percent back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases and two percent back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores, with no annual fee. You can redeem your points for Amazon purchases, and the card also has travel benefits like no foreign transaction fees, baggage delay insurance, and travel accident insurance.

The Store card lets Prime members receive five percent back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, has no annual fee, and gives access to promotional financing.

Some credit card companies let you “Shop With Points” on Amazon, though you won’t get Prime benefits.

Insider Tip: All Prime members can earn two percent rewards on debit spending when you reload an Amazon.com Gift Card Balance with a checking account.

Food Delivery: Prime Pantry and Amazon Fresh

Amazon fresh insulated grocery delivery bags on front porch

Amazon Prime members also receive exclusive access to Prime Pantry. This service allows for convenient delivery for household items like toiletries, delivered straight to your door. Prime members also receive coupons and discounts on hundreds of items through this service.

If you want to schedule a delivery at a vacation rental or to have items waiting upon your return home, check out Amazon’s grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh.

Discounted Memberships: Student and Family

If you’re ready to join Amazon Prime, look into some of the discounted membership services first to see if you qualify. Right now Amazon offers Amazon Family and Prime Student at discounted rates.

Amazon Family costs $119 per year with a free 30-day trial, but lets you create a household—meaning multiple users—for shared family benefits. Amazon Family also comes with discounted prices FreeTime Unlimited—a subscription service for kids’ entertainment—as well as special discounts on household products and diapers.

Prime Student comes at the discounted rate of $59 per year with a six-month free trial to start and a special student page filtered for college-specific needs.

Want to learn more? See Every Amazon Hack You Need to Know, Whether You’re a Prime Member or Not.

Our Favorite Perks from Amazon Prime

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: SmarterTravel.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Holiday Travel

12 Amazon Holiday Shopping Tips to Save You Time (and Money)

If you save your holiday shopping for the last minute or are looking for quick and easy gift ideas, then Amazon online shopping is your saving grace—these seven Amazon holiday shopping tips will help save you time and money this season.

Need gift ideas? Check out our gift guide, featuring the top-selling products on Amazon by category that are under $10.

1) Easy Returns and Secure Package Deliveries

Amazon now offers customers the option to have holiday orders shipped to a self-service Hub Locker, available at over 900 locations in the U.S., including Whole Foods and partner locations like Rite Aid, GNC, and Stage stores, as well as at Health Mart independent pharmacies. Check out locations here. Prime members also have access to Key by Amazon, where members can choose to have packages delivered inside their home, car, or garage (in select areas only).

You can store your package at Hub Lockers for up to three days for no additional cost, which is convenient for hiding your Amazon holiday shopping gifts from curious eyes. Another option for gift hiding comes to Prime members with Amazon Day, which means you can have all of your orders arrive together on a specific day.

And when it comes time for returns, if you don’t want to mail your item back with a trip to the post office, you can return your online gift purchase in person at Whole Foods and select Kohl’s locations (where they’ll even package it for you) or at other Hub Locker and Hub Counter partner locations.

[st_related]18 Gift Swap Ideas That Every Traveler Will Want[/st_related]

2) Last-Minute Travel Gifts 

Buy gift cards to travelers’ favorite services, like Airbnb and Southwest, right on Amazon. The website offers virtual gift cards for tons of travel-related services, which make for a quick and easy gift. Another easy-to-give gift? A magazine subscription to their favorite publication.

3) Last-Minute Shipping

For Prime members (or at an extra cost for non-members) you can guarantee gift delivery within 48 hours for the majority of products offered on Amazon. New this year, Amazon is also offering Prime Free One-Day Delivery and millions of items are available for Same-Day Delivery. This means you can theoretically save your Amazon online shopping until just before the holidays—although I recommend getting a head start so you don’t miss out on top-selling travel products.

As an added bonus, Prime members get free Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods food delivery, so you can avoid the grocery store for your holiday food shopping.

4) Amazon Lists

Don’t forget about yourself! Amazon’s List function is ideal for saving gift ideas, for others and for yourself. Look under the drop-down menu labeled “Account & Lists” and click “Your Lists” to start adding products. Lists are a great way to see what your partner or kids want for the holidays: Just ask them to create their own and you can buy directly from their selections. 

5) Shop and Save with Curated Gift Guides

Check out Oprah’s Favorite Things and Mariah’s Must Haves for curated gift guides, handpicked by your favorite celebrities. And as an added bonus Amazon hosts dozens of other curated gift guides as well as staggered sales throughout the season.

6) Earn Points for Travel

Some travel businesses have partnerships with Amazon, like JetBlue, which allows you to earn points while you shop. Use your TrueBlue account to access your special link to earn points for holiday shopping on Amazon. Hilton also lets you shop on Amazon with points, so you can save on gifts thanks to any recent Hilton hotel stays.

[st_related]Earn JetBlue Points for Amazon Purchases[/st_related]

7) Follow the Treasure Truck

In select cities, you’ll find Amazon’s Treasure Truck—a traveling pop-up shop that offers flash sales on specific items available that day. Sign up for text alerts in your area, and you’ll get notifications on the truck’s whereabouts and what’s on sale. Simply reply to the text if you want to purchase anything, and then you can head to the truck’s location to pick up your item.

8) Voice-Enabled Shopping

If you have an Alexa-enabled device like Amazon’s Echo products, Fire Tablets, or Fire Stick, you can order your holiday shopping gifts via voice command. Simply say, “Alexa, order … on Amazon” and your Amazon holiday shopping can be done while you’re making dinner or watching TV. You can even ask Alexa to turn on your Christmas Tree lights with a smart light switch, play a game, or suggest a family-friendly conversation topic.

9) Pay with Amazon for Added Savings

Here are deals offered by Amazon for the holidays:

  • Get a $15 promotional credit when you purchase $50 or more in Amazon Gift Cards. Limited to first-time gift card customers.
  • Amazon Cash: Get a $5 Amazon credit when you add $20. Limited to first-time Amazon Cash customers.
  • Amazon Prime Credit Cards: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Cardmembers and Amazon Prime Store Cardmembers with an eligible Prime membership will receive 15 percent back on Electronics bestsellers on Amazon.com from now to December 22.

10) No-Brainer Gifts with New Amazon Products

Shop the latest Amazon Devices for 2019, which will sure to be best-selling gifts this year:

11) Keep Everyone Entertained with Prime Video

Every Friday, Amazon is releasing new deals on Prime Video and members can save 40 percent or more on popular movie rentals.

12) Feel Good About Your Shopping

Amazon supports plenty of small- and mid-size businesses, and you can shop products from these types of business in the Storefronts portal.

Take your holiday gift-giving to another level by using AmazonSmile (a program which donates a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to a charity of your choice) and Charity Lists, which are lists created by charitable organizations of products that they need and purchased items are sent directly to the charity.

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Categories
Fashion & Beauty

Gifts For Haters: What to Buy for the Person Who’s Impossible to Shop For

Some people are impossible to shop for. If you can’t name a single thing someone likes (and doesn’t already have), try thinking about what they hate instead. Then buy something to make them hate it less. Here are the gifts that the haters—from nervous flyers to germaphobes—will love.[st_content_ad]

The Person Who Hates Flying

MAXTID weighted lap blanket

First, you’ll need to identify why your giftee hates flying. Are they afraid? If so, a weighted blanket has been shown to help with anxiety, and there are travel-friendly, portable ones available. Or, the book Flying Without Fear has rave reviews on Amazon from those who swear it’s helped them overcome a phobia of flying.

If they just hate being trapped in a tiny seat for hours, give them the gift of a distraction, with noise-canceling headphones or FlyTunes, a small gadget that allows someone to use their own Bluetooth headphones with in-flight entertainment.

The Person Who Hates Germs

Lifestraw_Home_Pitcher.

The LifeStraw Home Pitcher is the perfect gift for people who hate germs, plastic, or both. This seven-cup glass pitcher filters out bacteria, parasites, micro-plastics, heavy metal, and more to improve the taste of your water and make it significantly safer.

Or, if you’re shopping for someone who claims to want to bathe in hand sanitizer after a particularly germy flight, grant their wishes with a case of travel-sized hand-sanitizer.

[st_related]9 Products for Germaphobes to Bring on Every Trip[/st_related]

 The Person Who Hates Hotels

sleep eye mask mzoo.

You can’t magically make someone’s own bed appear across the world, but you can help make hotels better with the gift of a sleep mask and earplug set.

Willing to spend a bit more to help your hater? It’s a lot harder to hate a five-star luxury hotel than a motel, so you could also treat your traveler to a gift certificate that will allow them to upgrade.

The Person Who Hates Technology

Kodak instant print digital camera green.

For the Luddites on your list, an instant-print digital camera will stop their complaining about smartphone photos being trapped in the mysterious cloud.

If they reluctantly embrace technology in certain situations (like a Kindle for long trips), give them an e-reader cover that makes it look like a real book.

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

 The Person Who Hates Chain Coffee

Mr. coffee’s single cup coffee maker with travel mug and grinder.

Too good for Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks coffee? Satisfy the coffee snob’s need for a fast (but good) cup with Mr. Coffee’s Single Cup Coffee Maker With Travel Mug and Grinder. This gadget takes less time than the drive-through and delivers a cheaper and better cup of coffee. With just one press of a button, the machine grinds coffee beans and brews a cup of coffee right into a travel mug.

Help them keep their to-go cup at the perfect temperature with Ember’s Temperature Control Travel Mug, which uses smart technology to keep the contents inside at the perfect temperature for up to two hours.

The Person Who Hates Checking a Bag

Travelpro maxlite underseat luggage.

Give the gift of never having to be “gate lice” (you know, the people who hover competitively around the boarding gate, ready to charge onto the plane as soon as their group is called in an attempt to secure a precious piece of overhead bin real estate). Armed with a rolling suitcase that will fit underneath almost any airplane seat, your recipient can relax at the airport bar until final boarding is called, safe in the knowledge that their bag won’t be forcibly gate-checked.

[st_related]10 Underseat Carry-On Bags You Can Take on Any Flight[/st_related]

 The Person Who Hates Traffic

Moodo portable fragrance diffuser.

Help your favorite road-rager achieve Zen in traffic with the Moodo portable fragrance diffuser. This perfectly sized stocking stuffer fits in the cup holder of most cars and diffuses calming aromatherapy. The fragrances are produced in Grasse, France (the fragrance capital of the world), which boosts the luxe vibe of the gift by association.

Or, get them a subscription to audible, Amazon’s audiobook service, so they can at least do something productive while stuck in traffic.

The Person Who Hates Travel Clothing

 bluffworks’ brand-new travel pant

If you know a frequent traveler who shuns traditional travel clothing (think: cargo pants and hiking sandals) gift her something from Bluffworks’ brand-new women’s line. Although it’s a travel-clothing company, Bluffworks prides itself on not looking like one, so you can get normal-looking shift dresses, tops, and pants all with the travel-features you need (like hidden pockets and wrinkle-resistance).

[st_related]Ridiculously Comfortable Travel Clothes That Don’t Sacrifice Style[/st_related]

The Person Who Hates Being Out of Touch

portable phone battery charger.

Know someone whose smartphone is glued to their hands at all times? Give them the present of more power, with this ultra-slim, credit-card sized portable charger for smartphones. This little device lets you charge two gadgets simultaneously and quickly.

The Person Who Hates Wearing the Same Thing as Someone Else

custom andover pullover fleece

Made in New England and designed by you, a custom PolarFleece allows even the pickiest fashionista to customize the perfect fleece, right down to the seams. These ultra-soft pullovers can be designed in thousands of different combinations, so you’ll never see someone else wearing your look. Choose the color for the body, sleeves, collar, snaps, and more; plus, decide for yourself that always controversial question: pocket or no pocket

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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
Cities

The 10 Best Spots for Shopping in Houston

There’s no shortage of great shopping in Houston, from the largest mall in Texas to local boutiques and art galleries. The following Houston shopping guide will help you make the most of your visit.

The Galleria

You haven’t truly experienced the Houston shopping scene without a stop at The Galleria, which is visited by more than 30 million people each year. It’s the state’s biggest mall with hundreds of stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, GAP, Gucci, and Lucky Brand Jeans. In addition to shopping and dining, there’s also an indoor ice skating rink (open year-round), plus two swimming pools, multiple beauty salons, and a children’s play area. It’s all too easy to spend your whole day here.

Uptown Park

Near the Galleria at the European-style Uptown Park, find exclusive retailers such as Ann Taylor LOFT, Bill Walker Clothier, Elizabeth Anthony, and the Longoria Collection. There are also several restaurants here.

[st_related]Houston Travel Guide[/st_related]

Memorial City Mall

Another popular Houston shopping center is Memorial City Mall, located a few miles west of the city. The city’s only American Girl store is a big draw, but there are dozens of other shops including TUMI, Old Navy, Macy’s, and the Disney Store.

River Oaks District

For some of the most upscale shopping in Houston, head to the River Oaks District. You can find designer clothes and shoes, fine jewelry, and high-end specialty items such as crystal and cigars.

River Oaks Shopping Center

Not to be confused with the River Oaks District (it’s about three miles away), the River Oaks Shopping Center dates back to the 1930s, and is one of the oldest shopping centers in the country. It’s home to an art deco movie theater as well as dozens of shops such as J. Jill, GAP, Barnes & Noble, and Chico’s.

Rice Village

Just a couple of blocks from the Rice University campus, Rice Village has more than 300 stores for browsing. The mix of national chains (like Chico’s and Urban Outfitters) and local boutiques makes this a fun and eclectic place to hunt for clothing, housewares, jewelry, and gifts.

[st_related]SmarterTravel Spotlight: Magnolia Hotel Houston[/st_related]

Sawyer Yards

If paintings, pottery, or other unique works of art are on your must-buy list, head to Sawyer Yards. This creative hub houses hundreds of local artists who open their studios to visitors during special events year-round, such as Second Saturday each month and biannual art shows in the spring and fall.

Lucchese

There’s no Texas souvenir like a pair of cowboy boots, and the best place to find them is the flagship store of Lucchese Bootmaker, located near the River Oaks District. Alongside boots the store sells apparel, accessories, and Texas-themed home goods.

Katy Mills

Bargain hunters should head out of town to the outlets of Katy Mills, about 25 miles west of Houston. Retailers here include Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, Adidas, and many more.

Houston Premium Outlets

Can’t get enough outlet shopping? Houston Premium Outlets is another shopping center that’s worth the trip (it’s located in Cypress, about 30 minutes northwest of Houston). Fill your shopping bags with discounted offerings from brands like Hugo Boss, Armani, DKNY, and J.Crew.

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Sarah Schlichter was hosted by Marriott and Visit Houston. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. June Naylor contributed to this story.

Categories
Money Travel Technology

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

Travel experts (myself included) will always recommend that you rely primarily on plastic while traveling: specifically, credit cards for big-ticket items and debit ATM cards for cash on arrival. The longstanding issue with that practice has always been foreign transaction fees—but you might be surprised to hear that this pesky type of fee is becoming less and less relevant.

In many cases you can now avoid foreign transaction fees entirely, while in others you’ll pay them, but will ultimately lose less money than any other cash-acquirement option. For foreign travel, especially, you can’t beat plastic: In fact, you may actually need credit cards in more and more places as they opt out of cash all together. Cashless retail outlets are becoming widespread, especially in Sweden and across China, with some places refusing to accept any paper currency at all.

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Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Credit Cards

Credit cards have improved dramatically in recent years for overseas purchases. About a decade ago, most banks had a three percent surcharge on foreign credit card purchases—even purchases in U.S. dollars. But now, most big issuers—including Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, and American Express—offer multiple credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. For the most part, cards that target travelers typically no longer have foreign surcharges. To see a list of cards without foreign transaction fees, see Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site).

And although you can use a credit card to withdraw cash, that’s not a good idea: With all banks, cash withdrawal on a credit card comes with interest charges, plus fees, as well. The biggest trap for use of credit cards outside the U.S. is now the attempt by some merchants to bill you in dollars rather than local currency. The trap? They convert your bill at a lousy exchange rate. If a transaction ever prompts you to choose between dollars or the local currency, always choose the local currency. Also keep in mind that, even if your card charges a small fee, it’s likely less than the fee any currency exchange counter will take from you.

The best ways to deal with credit card purchases to avoid foreign transaction fees are:

  • Use whatever no-surcharge credit card serves you best.
  • Don’t let anyone try to bill you in dollars rather than the local currency.
  • Don’t use a credit card to acquire cash.
  • If your current card adds a surcharge—and you don’t want to apply for a different card—a loss of three percent is still a lot less than your loss converting currency at any exchange counter.

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Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Debit Cards

The foreign transaction fees situation is not as good with debit cards, but still improving.

In most of the world, you can use an ATM card issued by a U.S. bank at an ATM in a foreign country to withdraw local currency. The actual exchange is carried out by the international American Express, MasterCard, or Visa networks, and the exchange fee is typically one percent or less. But most U.S. banks add a surcharge of $3 to $5 per withdrawal from any ATM other than its own ATMs, including virtually all ATMs outside the United States. Many add an exchange surcharge on top of that, as well. And the local ATM operator may add a fee.

For a while, the Global ATM Alliance offered no-fee withdrawals on Bank of America debit cards when used at another member bank’s ATM, but Bank of America later imposed a three-percent exchange surcharge. The main exceptions are many small banks—most notably savings banks, online banks, and credit unions—that waive debit card transaction fees and cover other fees on foreign withdrawals.

And a new debit card problem has emerged in recent years: Many big international hub airports have kicked out ATMs operated by local banks and substituted ATMs operated by exchange bureaus, such as Travelex. The signs on these ATMs say “no fees,” which is somewhat true: Your money is exchanged at the same retail rate you get at the exchange counter, and that rate is typically around 10 to 15 percent worse than the official bank rate. And then there’s your own bank’s fees.

Ways to withdraw local currency from a local ATM without piling on the foreign transaction fees are:

  • If your usual ATM card is from a big bank with stiff withdrawal fees, consider opening a no-fee checking account at one of the many small banks that waive or cover foreign ATM charges.
  • If you don’t have any local currency when you arrive in a foreign country, avoid airport ATMs operated by exchange bureaus if you can. If you can’t, get only as much as you need to get to your hotel.

And finally: Traveler’s checks? Not if you’re living in the 21st century. You’ll have a lot of trouble finding a bank that will exchange these checks, if you still have them. A lot has changed in travel banking in the past couple of decades—for the better.

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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.

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

Categories
Airport

9 Things You Should Never Buy at the Airport

Fair pricing is a rare thing in airports. A captive audience of consumers coupled with high operating costs at stores’ airport locations make for manifold markups, from expensive cuisine to pricey parking.

Things You Should Never Buy at the Airport

To save money, do some research ahead of time and compare costs—especially when you’re in the market for one of these nine items.

Duty-Free Merchandise

Duty free shop airport

It may be possible to snag a duty-free deal once in a while, depending on your airport. But it’s important to know that duty-free in no way ensures a good buy. “Duty-free is almost never a deal for the casual shopper out to get a bargain,” said Jason Clampet in a report from USA Today. “You can save significant amounts if you’re a smoker who lives in a state with high taxes, but you’ll find that electronic goods, beauty products and luxury items such as designer purses usually cost less at home or online,” advised Clampet.

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins agrees. Perkins saw significant markups on items such as iPads and liquor, compared to retail prices (with local shopping taxes included) available elsewhere. The solution? When making duty-free purchases, do a little homework. Go online ahead of time and do some cost comparisons beforehand.

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Foreign Currency

men exchanging money airport

Since currency exchange desks in airports often hit travelers with sky-high transaction fees, the airport is probably not the best place to exchange your money. It sure is convenient, so if you’re willing to pay the price for that, so be it. A good strategy is to get foreign currency by taking out money at an ATM in your destination; this way, you’ll likely get the best interbank exchange rate, which is usually much better than rates offered at airport exchange counters. Contact your bank before your trip for more information on any possible foreign transaction fees.

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Bottled Water

man purchasing bottled water from vending machine airport

The Vapur Flexible Water Bottle is our favorite solution to expensive airport water bottles. Stop buying water bottles in your terminal at three bucks a piece and invest in one of these foldable, reusable containers. Fill it up at a water fountain after you’ve gone through airport security. It’ll pay for itself after just a few uses.

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Souvenirs

souvenirs airport shop

Plan ahead and be sure to buy your souvenirs before you’re at the airport, waiting for your flight home. Airport souvenir stores usually hawk severely marked-up merchandise that can be found elsewhere for a lot less. Plus, the wares tend to be quite unoriginal: trite Statue of Liberty T-shirts, cityscape mugs, key chains in the shape of Dutch canal houses.

There are exceptions to this rule, as some airports offer unique finds, like gifts crafted by local artisans. (Portland International Airport has some great Made in Oregon stores.) Our advice, as always, is to do your research before you get to the terminal so that you can compare prices. You could even take a quick look at what’s on offer when you land, and then buy whatever you need when you return to the airport upon departure.

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Neck Pillows

Trapped in their terminals, travelers are at the mercy of anti-consumer pricing schemes, especially when it comes to necessary travel products like neck pillows. Order your neck pillow online ahead of time, and keep an eye out for special offers and sales. At the time of publication, we spotted the MemorySoft memory-foam travel pillow selling on Amazon for $14. We also recommend the Travelrest pillow, which sells for $25 online.

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Restaurant Meals

mcdonalds fast food restaurant airport terminal

You may have noticed that restaurants commonly charge higher prices for menu items in airport locations than they do elsewhere. There’s reason for this: Restaurants’ operating expenses are generally higher at airports than at street locations. But food costs can vary even by the terminal, heightening the confusion for travelers who want to compare prices.

To sidestep the gouge, bring your own lunch from home. Or avoid sit-down restaurants and seek out more affordable snacks.

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Wi-Fi

woman using laptop airport wifi

Although many airports offer free Wi-Fi, some hubs are still firmly entrenched in the dark ages, charging flyers to search the Web while waiting to depart. Before you enter your credit card number, though, see if you can get connectivity for free. Some ways to do this: Sit near the entrance of an elite flyer’s lounge or in an airport hotel lobby, both of which might offer free Wi-Fi that’s not password protected.

Or try your terminal’s Starbucks. Although all Starbucks stores offer free Internet, airport locations are sometimes the exception. Some offer free connectivity; some don’t. Check the Starbucks store locator online before you get to your hub to find out.

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Magazines (While Abroad)

magazines airport newsstand

You’re not normally taking a big hit to your budget when you grab the latest copy of National Geographic at the terminal newsstand. But when overseas, watch out. Imported U.S. magazines cost a lot more than those sold at home and can sell for well over the recommended list price at overseas airports, even if they’re old (mostly due to taxes and shipping costs). I was almost charged more than $10 for a months-old issue of Martha Stewart Living at Guayaquil Airport in Ecuador. Sorry, Martha, but I returned it to its shelf. Instead, subscribe to your favorite magazine before heading out for your trip.

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A Parking Spot

cars parked long term parking lot airport

You’ll frequently find the better price at off-site parking lots, rather than at airport lots. Do your research. (Have we said this enough?) Look for off-airport parking through services like AirportParking.com.

Which items do you avoid buying at the airport? Share your tips in the comments.

What to Wear at the Airport

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 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Family Travel Food & Drink Island Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

Why Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit Is the New Cancun

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Throughout the 30-minute drive from Puerto Vallarta to the brightly colored surfer town of Sayulita, there was one thing, besides the ocean views, that remained constant: New construction. The region of Riviera Nayarit, which got its name from Mexico’s tourism board of the same name, has a “made up” label of sorts, created in hope of differentiating this section of Mexico’s Pacific coast from its more popular neighbor, Puerto Vallarta.

The new construction, however, is about the only thing in common between each of the 23 distinct communities on this stretch of coastline. A vacation to Riviera Nayarit means experiencing different cultures, beaches, and activities, depending on which part you stay in.

Later this year the Conrad Playa Mita hotel is opening, and renovations are finishing at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita. Also new this year is the Marival Armony Punta de Mita. Come 2020, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts will open the Rosewood Mandarina. One&Only Mandarina Resort and One&Only Mandarina Private Homes will also open next year, at a location with breathtaking ocean views, cliffside bungalows, an ocean-fed pool, all on a long strip of a pristine and remote beach.

AMResorts’ Dreams Punta de Mita Resort & Spa and Secrets Punta de Mita Resort & Spa are also both slated to open in 2020. Coming in 2021 is Auberge Resorts Collection’s Susurros del Corazon. In 2022, a new development called Costa Canuva will open featuring a Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton Reserve.

And 2019 visitor numbers support the hotel expansion projects. According to the tourism board, the region saw a five-percent increase in North American travelers compared to last year, and the average occupancy rate was 82 percent in the southern part of the region: the Bay of Banderas.

Interested in seeing this up-and-coming slice of Mexico before the crowds arrive? Here are the best ways to experience Riviera Nayarit.

Best Places to Visit in Riviera Nayarit  

colorful banners in mexico town.

Puerto Vallarta, the closest airport, is only 15 minutes away from the start of the Riviera Nayarit. And the farthest part of the region where most tourists visit, San Blas, is about three hours away from Puerto Vallarta. Riviera Nayarit’s close proximity to Puerto Vallarta makes it accessible via many North American hubs: Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Toronto, and Calgary. And for those who want to explore more of Mexico, there’s a new toll road being developed between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta which will be about a three-hour drive. Within the region, there are also new roads being constructed to connect the towns along the Bay of Banderas.

Here are the best places in Riviera Nayarit to visit, in order of closest to farthest from Puerto Vallarta and the airport:

  • Nuevo Vallarta: A community of all-inclusive and family-friendly resorts on the Bay of Banderas; many properties have beach access.
  • Punta de Mita: A luxury development area where celebrities vacation.
  • Sayulita: A surfer-town made (in)famous by the reality show Bachelor in Paradise. It’s about 30 minutes to this section of the region, and the town is a popular place for surfing, shopping, and hanging out by the beach. It’s also one of Mexico’s famed pueblos magicos, a government designation for culturally significant towns.
  • San Francisco (San Pancho): San Pancho is what Sayulita was 10 years ago before the crowds found it. The sleepy town—about 15-minutes north of Sayulita—has a new eco-boutique hotel, remote beaches, and local charm.
  • San Blas: This is the northern-most point of Riviera Nayarit and a popular area for bird-watching. Back in the late 1700s, this was the most important port on the coastline and you can learn about its history as a fishing village. 

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Getting off the Resort in Riviera Nayarit

hidden cave beach in mexico.

While many come to the area to enjoy time at resorts, the region offers plenty of activities to enjoy off-resort as well.

For nature and water lovers, there are islands and national parks; Isla Marietas is the most famous one for its “Hidden Beach”. There are also two biosphere reserves: Isla Jaguar-Marismas and Isla Isabel National Park. And no matter what area you stay in, you’ll have opportunities to deep-sea fish, jet-ski, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, and more. During May through September whale sharks are spotted throughout the area, and the whale-watching season for blue whales, orcas, humpbacks, sperm whales, and more begins mid-December and ends in May.

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Birdwatching is a popular activity along the water, and there are also plenty of interior hiking trails and jungle walks to take that have gorgeous views of the coastline. It’s recommended to book an experience with a local guide, and you can learn more about Riviera Nayarit hikes here.

For culture visit the small towns along the coastline, like San Pancho. While perusing the towns, try a mezcal tasting class at a local mezcaleria like La Baba del Diablo. Isla de Mexcaltitan, which is often referred to as the “Venice of Nayarit” for its urban canals, is also a worthy day trip. And while resort dining is convenient and tasty, try at least one local meal off-site; the region is famous for pescado zarandeado (grilled fish) and aguachile (shrimp ceviche).

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Lastly, there’s plenty of golfing. The Punta Mita area especially is a popular vacation destination for golfers, home to two courses designed by famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. In total, the region has eight courses and is home to the only green in the world that’s on a natural island.

Best Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

stretch of beach on mexicos pacific coast.

From family-friendly properties to affordable hotels, there are plenty of hotels in Riviera Nayarit for every type of traveler.

All-Inclusive Resorts in Riviera Nayarit

All-inclusive resorts are the way to go if you want to check-in and forget about planning. The Nuevo Vallarta area and Punta Mita have concentrated sections of all-inclusive resorts. Here are three well-reviewed options:

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Luxury Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Celebrities have flocked to the Punta Mita area of Riviera Nayarit for years. Here are two of the most famous luxury hotels:

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Boutique Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Up-and-coming sections of the region are home to quaint, smaller, boutique hotels. Here are options in Sayulita and San Francisco:

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Family-Friendly Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Riviera Nayarit is a haven for families on vacation. Here are three well-known, family-friendly hotels in the Nuevo Vallarta area:

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Affordable Hotels in Riviera Nayarit

Budget-conscious travelers will be happy to know that there are plenty of options for them as well; check out these three affordable hotels in the region:

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What to Wear in Riviera Nayarit

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

Ashley Rossi was hosted by Riviera Nayarit. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.