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Gas and Money-Saving Road Trip Tips

Over the past few years, gas prices have experienced significant fluctuations. After reaching multi-year highs in the first half of 2022, with the national average peaking at about $5 per gallon, prices have shown a general downward trend. Looking ahead, forecasts suggest a continued decline in gas prices. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that retail prices for regular-grade gasoline will decrease to an average of about $3.09 per gallon in 2024.

Tips and tools for saving money on gas on your next road trip.

So, is it time for a road trip? Maybe... Gas price trends are influenced by various factors, including global oil production, regional supply and demand, and geopolitical events. It's also noteworthy that prices tend to be higher on the West Coast, particularly in California, due to state taxes and environmental regulations.

Here are 5 apps and websites to help save money on gas on your next road trip:

Each of these apps offer a range of features for finding the best gas prices, earning cash back, and planning fuel-efficient routes. By leveraging these tools, you can make more informed decisions and potentially save a significant amount of money on fuel expenses.

Also, consider these tips and strategies to save money on gas during road trips:

January 6, 2024. Photo by Sergey Tarasov (Unsplash).

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Campfires and Tents - Best Camping Spots

Ok, it's January 1st and I'm already dreaming about escaping the city for long hikes and campfire-cooked grub when the temperatures get warmer and the days get longer...

Plan a camping trip with friends and family.

Planning ahead for camping during the summer months is essential, especially if you're thinking about visiting a national park or popular campground. Here are a few websites that can help you find and reserve campgrounds:

For inspiration, here are 10 amazing campgrounds for groups of friends and family:

Wherever you're planning to camp and enjoy the wonders of nature in 2024, here's to a year of adventure and exploration!

January 1, 2024

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Spa Trends to Watch

A while back, we posted about vinotherapy, chocolate treatments, and spiritual spa experiences. Over time, the spa industry has evolved and innovated, transitioning from traditional relaxation-focused services to more holistic, personalized and unique experiences.

10 trends in destination spas.

As we look ahead towards the new year, many spas are continuing to embrace new approaches and redefine the spa experience. Here are 10 trends in destination spas that are shaping the future of wellness travel:

1. Eco-Conscious Retreats: In response to the growing awareness of environmental issues, spas are increasingly adopting eco-friendly practices. This includes using sustainable materials in construction, harnessing renewable energy, and offering organic, locally-sourced spa products. These eco-conscious retreats not only offer a serene environment but also the satisfaction of knowing that your relaxation doesn’t come at the expense of the planet.

2. Digital Detoxes: In an era dominated by screens, more spas are offering digital detox programs. These retreats encourage guests to disconnect from their devices and reconnect with nature and their inner selves. Activities such as yoga, meditation, and nature walks are central, helping visitors break free from the digital world’s constant buzz.

3. Personalized Wellness Journeys: Spas are increasingly offering personalized wellness programs tailored to individual health goals and needs. This bespoke approach often includes consultations with wellness experts who design specific treatments, diet plans, and exercise regimens, ensuring a holistic and effective wellness experience.

4. Mindfulness and Mental Wellness: There's a growing recognition of the importance of mental wellness alongside physical health. Spas are incorporating mindfulness practices and stress management programs. From guided meditation sessions to workshops on emotional well-being, these offerings aim to provide a comprehensive approach to health.

5. Integration of Technology in Wellness: While digital detox is a trend, there's also a contrasting trend of integrating cutting-edge technology into wellness. This includes virtual reality meditations, AI-driven health assessments, and app-based wellness programs. These technological integrations offer innovative ways to enhance relaxation and health monitoring.

6. Cultural Immersion Experiences: More spas are integrating cultural experiences into their offerings, allowing guests to immerse themselves in local traditions. This might include traditional healing practices, indigenous spa treatments, or locally inspired cuisine. These experiences not only enrich the spa experience but also provide a deeper connection to the destination’s heritage.

7. Focus on Immune Health: In the wake of the global pandemic, there's an increased focus on immune health. Spas are offering programs that include immune-boosting treatments, nutritional advice focused on strengthening the immune system, and exercises that enhance bodily resilience.

8. Outdoor Wellness Spaces: The appreciation for outdoor spaces has grown, with more spas creating expansive outdoor wellness areas. These include gardens for meditation, outdoor treatment rooms, and nature-based therapies. The healing power of nature plays a crucial role in these settings.

9. Family and Multi-Generational Wellness: Spas are becoming more family-friendly, offering programs that cater to all ages. This shift recognizes the importance of wellness for everyone, from children to seniors, and provides opportunities for families to experience wellness together.

10. Sustainable Food Philosophy: Finally, the connection between diet and wellness is being emphasized with a shift towards sustainable, nutritious food offerings. Spas are partnering with local farms, focusing on plant-based menus, and educating guests on healthy eating.

These trends reflect a broader shift in the wellness industry, highlighting a holistic approach to health that is both environmentally conscious and deeply personal. Whether you choose to stick with something more familiar or branch out and try something new, the evolvoing landscape of destination spas promises something special for every traveler. So, take your pick!

December 6, 2023

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Pets - Bring 'em or Leave 'em?

In recent years, it's become increasingly popular for pet owners to bring their furry companions along on their journeys. The American Pet Products Association reports that over 37% of pet owners traveled with their pets in 2022, marking a notable increase from previous years. This surge in pet-inclusive travel has prompted airlines, hotels and others travel providers to reevaluate and expand their pet-friendly policies.

Tips and resources for traveling with pets.

From in-cabin flight options for small animals to pet-friendly rooms and amenities at hotels, the industry is adapting to meet the needs of this growing segment of travelers. Below is a summary of some key elements of pet travel policies across major airlines and hotel brands including the fees for bringing pets along with you.

Personally, I'm a bit surprised at this phenomenon. Perhaps that's because of my No Pets Allowed lifestyle and homestead. I adore visiting my parents' dog and treat her as if she's my own kin, but not sure I love the idea a flight or hotel full of pets. Sounds too much like a Gary Larsen cartoon in living, panting, barking color. Please don't hold that against me. And, while it may not be popular opinion, there are several reasons why you shouldn't fly with pets that are worth considering.

Pet policies at hotels can vary widely, each brand and property having specific guidelines and fees:

    Marriott Hotels: Marriott offers over 1,500 pet-friendly hotels across the U.S., but the policies, including pet fees and weight limits, vary from property to property. Most of their pet-friendly hotels allow domesticated dogs, cats, and, yes, birds, and fish. Notably pets are welcome at all Residence Inns, TownePlace Suites, and Element by Westin locations. Marriott makes it easy to search specifically for pet-friendly hotels and resorts.

    Hilton Hotels: Hilton welcomes four-legged guests at over 5,000 hotels across the U.S. and Canada including at Hampton Inn, Home2Suites, Embassy Suites, and Hilton Garden Inn. While the exact policies vary, guests can generally expect to pay a $50-75 non-refundable fee per pet, per stay.

    Wyndham Hotels: Wyndham's pet policy also varies by location. The standard policy at Days Inn by Wyndham welcomes one or two pets of any size, with fees ranging from $0 to $50 per night. Similarly, Super 8 by Wyndham generally allows two pets up to 50 lbs for a fee of up to $50 per pet, per night.

    InterContinental Hotels (IHG): Not all IHG properties are pet-friendly, and their policies, including pet fees and weight limits, differ by location. However, pets are welcome at all Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, and Kimpton Hotels. Candlewood Suites typically charges a non-refundable fee based on the length of stay, with fees up to $75 for 6 nights and $150 for longer stays.

    Choice Hotels: Generally, Choice Hotels allows two dogs per room, subject to specific weight restrictions and fees (ranging from $10 to $75 per pet, per night). For instance, Comfort Inn & Suites and Quality Inn's pet policies welcome up to two pets, with weight and breed restrictions, and charge a nightly fee per pet.

    Hyatt Hotels: Hyatt allows a maximum of two pets per room, with weight restrictions typically at 50 pounds. The pet policy and fees vary across different properties. For example, Hyatt Place locations welcome two dogs with a combined weight up to 75 lbs for a fee of $75 for stays up to six nights and $175 for longer stays.

Pet policies and fees of the 5 largest U.S. airlines:

    Alaska Airlines: Alaska offers a couple options for what they call "Fur-st Class Care". Pets can travel in the passenger cabin for a fee of $100 each way. This is subject to space availability, plane size, and restrictions specific to travel to Hawaii and international destinations. For those preferring to have their pets in the climate-controlled baggage and cargo compartments, Alaska charges a fee of $150, or $100 for specific categories like travel within Alaska, active duty U.S. Military, or U.S. Military dependents on travel orders. In terms of cabin accommodation, Alaska can accommodate one pet in first class and five in the main cabin, with the requirement that pets must remain inside their carriers at all times during the journey.

    American Airlines: American's pet policies restrict in-cabin pet travel to cats and dogs only. Each passenger is allowed to bring up to two pets that are at least 8 weeks old and do not exceed 100 lbs including the carrier. The in-cabin/carry-on pet fee is $125 one-way, and the pet plus container must weigh no more than 20 lbs combined. For pets traveling in the cargo area or as checked baggage, the fees vary and are confirmed at the time of booking.

    Delta Airlines: Delta's pet policies permit small dogs, cats, and household birds in the cabin for select destinations. All pets must fit into a pet carrier and meet age requirements depending on the type of travel: at least 10 weeks old for domestic travel, 16 weeks old if traveling to the U.S. from another country, and 15 weeks old for travel to the EU. The carry-on pet fee is $95 per kennel for travel to or from the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands, and $200 for international flights. However, for certain destinations, pets must travel as cargo and cannot be brought into the cabin.

    Southwest Airlines: Southwest's pet policies allows small domestic cats and dogs that are at least 8 weeks old to travel in-cabin under the seat in front of you. The pet fare on Southwest Airlines is $95 per one-way per pet carrier. It’s important to note that pets must remain inside their carriers throughout the flight.

    United Airlines: United offers detailed rules and recommendations for traveling with pets. The fee for this service is $125 each way for domestic flights and $200 for international flights. To travel with United, pets must be at least 2 months old for domestic flights and 4 months old for international flights. Unfortunately, United does not allow pets to travel in the cargo hold.

In summary, while all the leading hotels and airlines offer pet-friendly options, the fees, weight limits, and the types of pets allowed vary significantly. To avoid any confusion or issues while traveling, it's important to confirm the specific pet policy of your planned hotel and airline well in advance.

Renting a car? Leading car rental companies, including Hertz and Avis, typically have pet-friendly policies that allow customers to travel with their pets. These policies usually permit pets in vehicles without additional fees, but they place the responsibility for any damage caused by the pet on the renter. For instance, Hertz welcomes pets in their cars and allows them to be added to the reservation in advance. Most car rental companies require that vehicles be returned clean and free of pet hair and odors to avoid cleaning fees, which can be substantial (up to $450 in the case of Avis). It's important to note that while these policies are generally consistent across company locations, there have been instances of individual locations not fully complying with the corporate policies.

Staying at a vacation rental home? If you're renting a vacation home on Airbnb, VRBO or similar, the pet policies are typically at the hosts' discretion. Airbnb permits hosts to detail their pet policies in the “house rules” section of their listing and allows them to charge a one-time cleaning fee for pets. Service animals are an exception, as they must be accepted by hosts in most circumstances. Similarly, VRBO mandates the acceptance of service animals in all properties in the U.S., regardless of the host's pet policy. For non-service animals, guests can filter for pet-friendly properties on VRBO, but they should be aware of any additional fees or specific rules set by the host. In both platforms, the flexibility in pet policies means that guests traveling with pets need to review individual listing details to ensure compliance with the host's requirements. For example, our friend Dave R. shared his experience traveling with their dog: "We took our dog (mid-sized black lab) with us for extended family vacation on Oregon coast. It was fun being able to play with the dog on the beach and not to have to pay for putting her in the kennel. The downside is that when we went out for meals, we had to leave her in her crate for long periods of time as required by the landlords which didn't make her very happy."

Looking for pet-friendly destinations and activities? BringFido maintains a directory of 10s of thousands of pet-friendly activities, events and restaurants around the world.

Shopping for pet-travel gear and accessories? Finally, as it's holiday season, if you're looking for a gift for your pooch, check out Rover's Travel Store which is full of great products for your next trip.

December 3, 2023

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Adventure Travel, Risks and All

Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.

Adventure travel for groups.

Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek, writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.

Bangs' latest book, "The Art of Living Dangerously" captures the essence of what it means to embrace life's risks and adventures. A seasoned adventurer, Bangs weaves a compelling narrative that blends personal anecdotes with insightful reflections on the nature of risk-taking and the pursuit of the extraordinary. He transports readers to some of the world's most remote and challenging landscapes, while delving into why we seek adventure. The book is not just a catalogue of daring exploits; it's a thoughtful exploration of how stepping out of our comfort zones can lead to personal growth and a deeper understanding of the world.

These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).

For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?

December 1, 2023

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Ski Trail Maps and Apps

Ski trail maps have certainly evolved over the years. Historically trail maps were simple, hand-drawn illustrations. Today's digital snowsport trail maps offer high-resolution, 3D representations of ski areas providing skiers and snowboarders with a more realistic and interactive view of the terrain and the ability to explore ski resorts with unprecedented detail and accuracy.

These digital maps offer features like real-time location tracking, route planning, and even augmented reality experiences. This evolution not only enhances the skiing experience but also contributes to safer navigation and better planning for skiers and snowboarders. And the integration of digital maps with apps and wearable technology has further personalized the skiing experience, allowing users to track their individual performance.

Two popular apps that we've chosen to highlight are FATMAP and Slopes. Each of these apps offers unique features catering to the needs of winter sports participants, from casual resort skiers to avid backcountry adventurers. (Of course, there are dozens of other apps out there to consider.)

Now, if all this tech talk leaves you feeling a bit nostalgic for old school maps, is the site to visit. has an extensive collection of over 15,000 ski maps from around the world, with content that dates back 90 years. For example, check out this 1969 trail map from Crystal Mountain, Washington:

Crystal Mountain Trail Map via

November 23, 2023.

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Winter is coming! Our list of the top snowsport destinations for groups

Prepping for winter with deep lunges to get those quads in shape? Waxing your skis? If your idea of adventure includes snowflakes and slopes you have a lot of options. In fact, there are over 400 ski areas in operation across 37 states. But, which are the best?

Ski and snowboard with friends and family.

Over the past decade+, select ski resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen Snowmass, Park City, Jackson Hole, and Telluride have consistently remained among the most highly rated destinations. These resorts have maintained their popularity due to a combination of factors including their terrain, snow reliability, lodging and dining options, and non-ski activities. Meanwhile other ski destinations have seen a rise or fall in their rankings and popularity due to several factors including:

The National Ski Areas Association estimates that roughly 12 million people visited a U.S. snowsport resort during the 2022/2023 season but, from our research, there isn't a definitive source of ski resort popularity over time.

Ski magazines (e.g., SKI, and Snow), travel publications (e.g., Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler), and others regularly release rankings and reviews of ski resorts. These rankings are often editorial reviews or based on reader surveys and cover various categories like snow quality, terrain, and family-friendliness.

Having reviewed all of the above, here's our list of the top snowsport destinations for groups:

Please let us know if we're missing your favorite ski or snowboard destination. Perhaps Heavenly or Killington? And check out our Ski Guide for Groups for a ski trip checklist and other planning resources.

November 22, 2023

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San Juan Island Boating

As the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, it's a great time to start planning (or perhaps dreaming) of Spring and Summer adventures and travels. For inspiration, we're revisiting this story of two amazing weeks boating in the San Juan Islands. We also added resources to help you plan, or simply imagine, a glorious vacation on the water.

What a trip! Bird watching. Kayaking. Whales diving under our boat (and me in tears with a mixture of fear and awe). Dining like royalty on freshly caught crabs. Anchoring and tying up to docks around the islands. Meeting other boaters and reveling in the comaraderie. Feeling more relaxed than I have in years. Meeting up with family and dining with friends on various stops along our cruising route. Ah, that's the life. Now, back to reality and awaiting the Visa bill.

San Juan Island boating vacation

Each island has a unique flavor, as does each harbor and bay. Although the charm of Deception Pass State Park (on Whidbey Island), Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (both on San Juan Island), Fisherman's Bay and Spencer Spit (both on Lopez Island) is specific to each locale and its inhabitants, I found Sucia Island the most mesmerizing.

Sucia is a state park unto itself without permanent residents, a fossil bed, a tranquil respite from urban sprawl, a sanctuary for birds, vultures, seals, and very possibly a mouse or two. It offered what I needed most - silent nights and a bounty of nature to explore. The abundant plant and tree diversity was pointed out to me by my forester companion (who also doubled as skipper and chef - what would I do without him?!). He identified species as we hiked along the 15 miles of trails around the island. I believe there were approximately 14 tree species alone; each time we saw a new one, our heads would tilt back to find the top (I was looking at the beauty of it all while he analyzed the tree health and age). Madrona, firs, cedar, oak, maple, juniper, aspen, alder, yew - the list seemed as endless as the seascape, viewable from various bays, inlets, rocky embankments, and beaches around the island. Sucia is a wonderland for nature lovers. I know I'll return.

Quick tips for boating trips:

  1. Take a wearable PFD (i.e., a personal flotation device) and wear it.
  2. Learn how to tie knots before the boating or sailing trip.
  3. Practice at least once jumping off the boat to the dock to secure the lines (when docking) so the vacation isn't your first time doing it (this is both for safety and to avoid looking like a novice at the docks when your boat cruises in).
  4. If you're not the skipper, be a great crew member by being alert for instructions and thinking ahead to anticipate problems and needs.
  5. In peak boating season, plan ahead for places you must see by making reservations (and wing the rest - leave room for flexibility based on weather and whim).

Ready to go but don't own your own boat?

Chartering a boat can be a wonderful experience, offering unique opportunities to explore coastal regions, islands, and open waters. Here are three well-regarded marketplaces where you can find boats to charter with and without crews:

When considering a boat charter, always ensure to check reviews, compare prices, and understand the terms and conditions of the rental, including safety procedures and insurance coverage.

Whether you charter a boat, take a cruise, or book a sunset sail as part of a group trip, boating is a great way to go. And many cities and destinations offer fun and accessible ways to enjoy time on the water without requiring any prior boating skills. However you go, getting out on the water offers a unique perspective.

This story was originally published September 2006. Updated November 18, 2023.

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Traveling Baby Supplies

Parents can spoil themselves when traveling with infants or toddlers by renting baby supplies, such as cribs high chairs and strollers, rather than lugging them through airports or hassling with them en route.

Here are a few companies that rent baby supplies for travelers:

While it may not solve all your problems ("Are we there yet?"), these companies offer a practical and stress-reducing way for parents to travel with young children, ensuring that the necessary baby gear is readily available at their destination.

November 18, 2023

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Holiday gatherings means meal planning & preparation. What’s a host to do?

The holidays are fast-approaching, a prime time for family gatherings. And one thing is a given at family events of any size: food. Organizing meals for family reunions and groups of friends can be delightful but also stressful and challenging.

Planning a family or friends gathering

Here are five tips to help you manage this smoothly:

1. Plan Ahead with a Menu: Start by creating a menu that caters to various tastes and dietary restrictions. If appropriate for your group, include a mix of vegetarian and gluten-free options to ensure everyone has something they can enjoy. Planning the menu in advance allows you to organize shopping lists and prepare some dishes ahead of time.

2. Use Sign-up Sheets for Potluck Style: If you're opting for a potluck, use digital sign-up sheets like Google Forms or Sheets. This helps to avoid duplicate dishes and allows family members to showcase their specialty recipes. It also distributes the cooking load, making it easier for everyone.

3. Bulk Cooking and Prepping: For main dishes, consider recipes that can easily be made in large quantities, like casseroles, stews, or pasta dishes. Preparing some components of the meals a day or two in advance can also reduce stress. Items like desserts can often be prepared in advance.

4. Set Up Stations: Organize the dining area with different stations for appetizers, main courses, desserts, and drinks. This helps to manage the flow of people and reduces crowding. Stations can be themed (e.g., a kids' station with child-friendly foods) to make the dining experience more fun.

5. Consider Dietary Needs and Allergies: Make sure to label foods, especially if they contain common allergens like nuts, dairy, or gluten. Offering a variety of choices ensures that those with dietary restrictions or allergies can still enjoy the meal.

The key is in planning and communication. Make sure everyone is aware of the plan and, as appropriate, their responsibilities. Our post on the art of delegation may also be helpful.

Ready to get started planning your group gathering? Here are a few excellent sources for recipes that can cater to a wide range of tastes and dietary needs:

Remember, the essence of holiday gatherings is to create an atmosphere of warmth and joy. The goal is to create happy memories and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!

November 16, 2023

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Group-Friendly Golf Meccas

Where do the expert golfers go? You know – the smooth swingers with enviable handicaps. Don’t we all long to tee off at a place of undisputed beauty and repute? And nothing’s better than sharing such a grand moment with friends.

Group golf get-away with friends

Here’s our list of group-friendly golf meccas for you to plan a golf get-away with friends and put your link lovin’ ways to practice.

Arizona: The greater Phoenix and Scottsdale region is one of the biggest golf areas in the U.S. due to both the quality and quantity of courses. Plus, there’s plenty of après golf entertainment - restaurants, nightlife, spas and more - making it an ideal place for group trips. Here are five highly regarded courses in the area. Each of these courses offers something a bit different, whether it's a PGA-level challenge, scenic vistas, meticulous course conditions, or pure natural beauty. Note, the peak season for golf in this area is during the cooler months, roughly October to May.

    • TPC Scottsdale – TPC Scottsdale offers two courses, the Stadium Course and the Champions Course. The Stadium Course is a must-play for its famous 16th hole and overall PGA Tour experience.

    • Troon North Golf Club – This club offers two 18-hole courses, the Monument and the Pinnacle, both of which are highly regarded. They are known for their beautiful desert landscapes and challenging play.

    • Grayhawk Golf Club – With the Raptor and Talon courses, Grayhawk is a great option for all skill levels. The courses are immaculately maintained and offer beautiful views of the McDowell Mountains.

    • We-Ko-Pa Golf Club – We-Ko-Pa also has two courses: Cholla and Saguaro. Both courses offer stunning views free of any homes or urban development, providing a pure golf experience.

    • The Boulders – The Boulders is renowned for its North and South courses which feature a backdrop of dramatic rock formations and desert landscape.

Hawaii: The Aloha State is a brilliantly natural spot for golf. With the sea as scenery (and course hazard) and a naturally hilly landscape to challenge any golfer, it’s no wonder Hawaii boasts so many glorious courses. Here's a handful of the best courses across the Hawaiian Islands to consider:

    • Kapalua Plantation Course (Maui) - The Plantation Course is renowned for its dramatic ocean views and is the host of the PGA TOUR's Sentry Tournament of Champions. The course is a challenge for all levels of golfers and is known for its unique, undulating terrain.

    • Nanea Golf Club (Big Island) - Although more exclusive and harder to get into (as it's a private club), Nanea has stunning views and offers a world-class golf experience.

    • Mauna Kea Golf Course (Big Island) - Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Mauna Kea Golf Course has been revered since it opened in 1964. The course offers stunning ocean views from nearly every hole and is known for its signature 3rd hole where golfers must tee off over an ocean cove.

    • Princeville Makai Golf Club (Kauai) - The Makai Golf Course at Princeville is one of the most scenic golf courses in the world. With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, it offers a series of oceanfront holes that are both beautiful and challenging.

    • Wailea Golf Club (Maui) - Wailea offers three 18-hole courses: the Blue, Gold, and Emerald courses. The Emerald Course is often cited as friendly for a wide range of skill levels, featuring stunning ocean views with less demanding tee shots.

Hilton Head, SC: Hilton Head Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, serves as a fairway haven to numerous golf courses. With the first course opening in 1961, Hilton Head has earned its title "The Golf Island," through careful craftsmanship. But there's more to Hilton Head than just golf. The island offers beautiful beaches, bike paths, restaurants, and other activities, making it an excellent choice for groups that might also include non-golfers or for days when you want a break from the course.

    • Harbour Town Golf Links at Sea Pines Resort - Perhaps the most famous on the island, this course is home to the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event. With its iconic lighthouse at the 18th hole and designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus, it is a must-play for any golfer visiting the island.

    • Heron Point by Pete Dye at Sea Pines Resort – This course offers a challenging but fair round of golf. It's a great complement to Harbour Town in a resort that offers multiple top-notch courses.

    • Atlantic Dunes by Davis Love III at Sea Pines Resort – This course is a complete reconstruction of the historic Ocean Course, the first built on Hilton Head Island, and has been transformed into a modern masterpiece with native dunes and indigenous flora.

    • Palmetto Dunes (Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course) - Palmetto Dunes offers three courses, but the Robert Trent Jones Oceanfront Course is the most notable. It has one of only two oceanfront holes on the island and offers a good balance of beauty and challenge.

    • The Arthur Hills Course at Palmetto Dunes - Another course within the Palmetto Dunes Resort, the Arthur Hills Course stands out for its beautiful layout, incorporating rolling fairways with plenty of water hazards to navigate around.

Myrtle Beach, SC: This self-proclaimed Seaside Golf Capital of the World lives up to its name with 100 golf courses laid out over undulating low country land and the majority of the Myrtle Beach golf courses being open to the public. Plus, many host professional and amateur tournaments. If you want a golf challenge and picturesque beauty, Myrtle Beach offers both with courses crafted by a host of world-renowned architects. This giant outdoor playground is also great for families. With 60 miles of beach and numerous hotel and resort options, you could also plan a family reunion here and incorporate golf into the mix.

    • The Dunes Golf and Beach Club – This Robert Trent Jones-designed course is one of the most prestigious in the area and is often ranked among the top 100 courses in the U.S. It's known for its history, challenging layout, and stunning coastal views, especially on the par-3 9th hole, which overlooks the ocean.

    • Caledonia Golf & Fish Club – Often rated as the best course in the Myrtle Beach area, Caledonia is known for its picturesque charm and superb course conditions. The course is set on an old rice plantation and is as beautiful as it is challenging.

    • TPC Myrtle Beach – This Tom Fazio design offers a tour-quality experience and has hosted senior PGA Tour events. It's a balanced test of golf that rewards good shots and provides an array of strategic challenges.

    • Barefoot Resort & Golf – With four courses designed by Davis Love III, Greg Norman, Pete Dye, and Tom Fazio, Barefoot Resort is a golfer's dream. The Love Course, in particular, is highly regarded, but all four offer a top-notch golfing experience with unique challenges and design elements.

    • True Blue Golf Club – The sister course to Caledonia and also designed by Mike Strantz, True Blue offers wide fairways, large greens, and an array of interesting risk-reward holes. It's known for being one of the more creative and visually striking courses in the area.

Pebble Beach, CA: Pebble Beach is a legendary spot for golfers, famous for its stunning ocean-side courses and challenging play. The Pebble Beach Resort features four stunning courses that either hug the coast or have spectacular views of the water. There are many other hotels and resorts reasonably close to the courses and in nearby seaside towns such as Monterey and Carmel. Some of the resorts may offer packages that include rounds at several of the courses mentioned below. Also be prepared for changing weather conditions; it can be sunny one moment and foggy the next, so pack appropriately for the course.

    • Pebble Beach Golf Links - No list of Pebble Beach courses would be complete without mentioning this iconic course. A host of several U.S. Opens, it's one of the most famous courses in the world, known for its cliff-side fairways and breathtaking views of Carmel Bay.

    • Spyglass Hill Golf Course - Often considered one of the toughest courses in the world, Spyglass Hill offers a mix of scenic holes with ocean views and forest-lined fairways. It's a challenging but rewarding course for skilled golfers.

    • The Links at Spanish Bay - This course provides a true Scottish links experience, complete with stunning coastal dunes, rolling fairways, and the sound of bagpipes at the end of the day. It's a great place for friends to enjoy a round in a beautiful setting.

    • Poppy Hills Golf Course - This course is known for its firm, fast, and fun play. While it doesn't offer ocean views, its beautiful forest setting provides a different type of serene environment to enjoy a round of golf.

    • Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Shore Course) - Though it's a private club, if you have the opportunity to play here through a connection or special event, it's well worth it. The Shore Course offers a variety of ocean-side holes with spectacular views of the Pacific.

Scotland: Scotland is often considered the "Home of Golf" and has some of the most iconic and historic golf courses in the world. When planning a trip with friends, it’s essential to consider not only the quality of the courses but also the experience they offer, including the clubhouse atmosphere, scenery, and the overall vibe. Here are few of the best courses in Scotland for groups of friends looking for an unforgettable experience:

    • St. Andrews - As the traditional home of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews is a pilgrimage site for any serious golfer. It's a public course with a ballot system for tee times, so planning ahead is crucial.

    • Carnoustie Golf Links - Known for its difficulty, Carnoustie has hosted multiple Open Championships. The Championship Course is a stern test of golf and is steeped in history.

    • Royal Troon Golf Club - Located on the west coast of Scotland, Royal Troon is another regular Open Championship venue. It offers both the Old Course and the Portland Course, but the former is where the history and the challenge are.

    • Muirfield - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield is one of the oldest and most esteemed golf clubs in the world. The course is a regular host to The Open Championship and offers a classic links experience.

Of course, there are many other glorious golf destinations and courses for a group gathering. Whether local or further afield, when considering the best options for your group look for courses that offer not just great play but also excellent facilities (including food and drink!) and the right balance of challenge and enjoyment for varying skill levels. The green fees at many of these prestigious courses come with a steep price tag, particularly during their peak seasons, and securing a tee time can require booking well in advance. To help streamline planning and find better deals, look for multi-course packages that provide better rates and allow your group to experience more than one course during your trip.

November 9, 2023.

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Travel Light, Sans Golf Clubs, Skis or Other Sports Equipment

There are several companies that will ship luggage and sports equipment (golf clubs, skis, bikes, snow and surf boards...) to your travel destination. These services take the hassle out of traveling with bulky bags and heavy items and make it easier to get your luggage and gear from point A to B. It’s a great way to simplify and de-stress the travel experience. Particularly larger, busier airports can be difficult to navigate. Skipping bag check lines and long waits at the baggage carousel (not to mention the oversize baggage area) can ease and streamline your trip. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.

Ship sports equipment and luggage to your destination

Shipping options, pricing, and terms of service vary from company to company, so it's important to review the latest info from each provider including their shipping guarantees and insurance options. That said, in general, here’s how these service work:

    1. Online Booking and Scheduling: Visit the company’s website to set up and book your shipment. During this process, you will be asked to provide details such as your pick-up location, destination, desired shipping dates, and information about the luggage or equipment you are sending. There may also be service level options (e.g., economy to express) based on how quickly you need your items to arrive.

    2. Pricing: Pricing is determined by factors such as the size and weight of the items, the distance they will travel, and the chosen speed of service. Each company offers a quote at the time of booking.

    3. Packing Your Items: You are responsible for packing your bags or equipment as if you were going to check them in at an airport. For specialty items like golf clubs or skis, companies like Ship Sticks may offer guidance or provide specialized packaging to protect your gear during transit.

    4. Labeling and Documentation: After booking, you typically need to print out shipping labels and, if you're shipping internationally, any necessary customs documentation. In some cases, the company might send you label pouches or even arrange for a driver who will attach the shipping label upon collection.

    5. Collection: You can arrange to have your items picked up from your home, office, or other specified locations. The actual collection is usually handled by third-party couriers affiliated with major shipping carriers like UPS, FedEx or DHL. Alternatively, you may also have the option to drop off your luggage at a local carrier store or a designated drop-off location.

    6. Shipment and Tracking: Your items are then shipped through the company's logistics network, which is often a partnership with well-known carriers. Throughout the journey, you can track your shipment using tools provided by the company, receiving updates on their progress to your destination.

    7. Delivery: Your items are delivered directly to the destination you specified, such as a hotel, golf course, vacation home, or even directly to a cruise ship or sporting event.

    8. Guarantee: Many of these services come with a guarantee for on-time delivery, adding a layer of assurance. Their customer support teams are also typically available for inquiries and to resolve any issues that may arise.

Here's a list of some well-known and well-reviewed shipping services:

    1. Luggage Forward - Luggage Forward specializes in door-to-door luggage and sports equipment shipping worldwide. Luggage Forward is known for its dependable service and has earned 4.7 stars on Trustpilot.

    2. SendMyBag - SendMyBag has also gained a positive reputation for its international luggage shipping, often being noted for its competitive pricing and clear communication. SendMyBag has a 4.6 star rating on Trustpilot.

    3. Ship Sticks - ShipSticks Ship Sticks has received accolades from golfers for their reliable and easy-to-use service, which is tailored to the needs of golf travel. Ship Sticks has a 4.7 rating on Trustpilot.

    4. BikeFlights - For cyclists, BikeFlights is often the go-to service. The company has built a solid reputation for careful handling and efficient delivery of bicycles, which are items that require special attention during shipping. BikeFlights has a 4.8 rating on Trustpilot with over 40,000 reviews, the most of any company on this list.

    5. Luggage Free - Luggage Free has been noted for its premium, white-glove service, and is often highlighted for providing a stress-free experience with high levels of customer satisfaction. Luggage Free has a 4.7 star rating on Trustpilot.

Each of these companies provide varying levels of service, tracking options and customer support to ensure your items arrive safely and on time. Availability of these services may also vary by location. We recommend visiting their websites to confirm availability, compare prices, service options, and recent customer reviews to find the best option for your specific needs. You may also want to consider choosing a company that specializes in the type of shipping you require.

Lastly, it's also worth considering the oversize baggage fees of the airline you're planning to travel. These fees vary airline-to-airline based on the size and weight of the baggage as well as the route (especially for international flights). Oversize and overweight baggage fees change over time but typically start at $100-$200 per bag, each way, and are often in addition to any standard checked bag fee. Some airlines may waive oversize fees for items like skis or golf bags on particular flights.

November 6, 2023

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Group reservation options at the largest U.S. hotel chains

Group rates at hotels can offer several benefits, including:

For more details, our Group Reservation Guide includes additional insights, a list of group reservation myths, and tips for speedy group reservations.

Make group reservations at Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham, IHG, Choice and Hyatt hotels.

To help you get started, here are links to group booking resources for the six largest U.S. hotel chains:

Want to explore other options? is independent of any hotel brand and promises to meet or beat any price for your group's travel needs when reserving 10 rooms per night or more at a hotel of equal or greater quality. caters to a range of groups, including sports teams, reunions, weddings, more.

Once you’ve decided on your group’s destination and have your lodging set, here are links to group booking resources for the five largest U.S. airlines to help you get there.

October 31, 2023

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Haunted Hotels Abound

Groups looking for a bit of spookiness might consider staying at one of these well-known haunted hotels. Even if you're skeptical about the paranormal, a night at one of these ghostly lodgings might just make a believer out of you. And, to provide a glimpse into the eerie experience at these hotels, we’ve included TripAdvisor reviews from travelers who stayed at a few of these establishments.

The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado - The inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining," this hotel is rumored to be haunted by various spirits, including past guests and employees. As one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, “Something tugged on my ear when I was in bed, and I knew my husband was sound asleep at the time. I thought I saw a woman wearing an old-fashioned hat looking down at me. If ghosts freak you out, stay elsewhere."

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas - Famously known as "America's Most Haunted Hotel," the Crescent has been the focus of numerous paranormal investigations.

The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California - This retired ocean liner, now a hotel and museum, is purportedly haunted by the spirits of past passengers. Does this sound like a place you'd like to visit? "After dark, I took the Queen Mary's haunted tour and saw a lot of scary places including the haunted ballroom... and the pool, which was the creepiest place of all because a photo taken by another guest showed an apparition."

The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas - This historic hotel is believed to be haunted by the spirits of past guests, including Teddy Roosevelt.

The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California - This iconic beach hotel is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who took her own life there in the 1890s. This reviewer shares their experience: "We were staying in Room 4101, in the California Cabanas. The last two nights, the local ghosts came to visit us—for hours they turned the lights on and off, moved around the room, and adjusted the temperature to extreme heat and cold. My advice: If you aren't able to handle this type of stuff, don't check in!"

The Marshall House in Savannah, Georgia - This historic hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of former guests and Civil War soldiers. What's the most haunted room you ask? "I was staying in room 414, which is rumored to be the most haunted room at the hotel. In the middle of the night, I woke up to a spirit nurse trying to take my temperature."

The Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, California - This iconic hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.

For those interested in venturing further afield, here are five notable haunted hotels in Europe:

Happy Halloween!

October 28, 2023

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Planning a Successful Family Reunion - Part I

Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.

1. Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.

2. Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.

3. Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.

4. Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:

Continue reading Part 2.

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Planning a Successful Family Reunion - Part II

Continued from Part 1.

Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.

5. Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation destinations such as Hawaii or San Diego, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:

6. Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:

When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):

7. Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.

Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:

Finally, thank you to everyone who sent us feedback. Here's what we heard:

Suzanne B. shared, "We were looking for options as everyone seems to be strapped financially. I appreciate your time and service in compiling this for us."

Marina T. wrote, "Planning these sort of things are really time consuming and I think you just made it that much easier :)"

And Marilynn S. added, "I think it is SO important to plan games and activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget. Sometimes a reunion at a park or campground is more work than booking a hotel or cruise ship but isn't it worth having ALL your family attend - not just those that can afford the reunion fees?"

This article was originally published March 2006.

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Meet the Bride: Wedding Taskmaster

Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, like the brides that are in charge. I say "brides in charge" because, let's face it grooms, once you plan that elaborate proposal and are engaged, the bride takes over from there. Yes, you help. But it usually is in reaction to requests, however subtle or overt, from your bride to be.

Ceremonies roughly fall into five major categories: Budget, moderate, luxury, elopement and destination weddings. I recently participated in my sister's wedding which fell somewhere between budget and moderate and was a bit of a destination wedding at a lakeside resort. Every detail was perfectly planned and the wedding went off without a hitch all because of the bride's event planning experience and gentle task-manager skills.

Family, friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen were excited for the wedding and geared up for an extended weekend at a lakeside resort. And we were all assigned tasks to do either weeks before the wedding, the day of the ceremony or after the ceremony. When we arrived at the wedding location two days before the event, my lovely bride sister had a three-ring binder with all her wedding coordination plans neatly organized in print. That binder contained the secrets to the most organized wedding I've participated in. If you don't want to hire a wedding coordinator and want to do it yourself, here's how my sister did it. Amend this to suit your wedding's needs/tastes and assign anyone you want to the task(s). The key is delegation and proper follow-up by the bride (and groom).

Tips and Tasks Before the Wedding

Tasks for Wedding and Reception Set-Up

Tasks for Leaving the Wedding

My sister must have had many more tasks I was unaware of, but it all happened so smoothly, I didn't notice. Next family wedding I attend or participate in, I'll be fully prepared. Thanks, sis. ;-)

This article was originally published October 2007.

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Top States for Destination Weddings

For their breathtaking landscapes, natural beauty, rich history, cultural allure, and diverse entertainment offerings, here’s our list of the top 10 states for destination weddings.

    1. Nevada: Las Vegas, often called the "Wedding Capital of the World," is famous for its swift, simple, and frequently impromptu weddings. The city's numerous chapels, combined with its entertainment and nightlife, make it the #1 destination for out-of-state weddings. However, beyond the Strip, Nevada also boasts stunning desert landscapes and luxury resorts. For couples beginning their planning, the Las Vegas tourism board's wedding guide is an excellent starting point.

    2. Hawaii: With its tropical beaches, lush landscapes, and romantic sunsets, Hawaii is a top choice for many couples. Each island offers a unique backdrop, from the dramatic cliffs of Kauai to the bustling beaches of Waikiki. There are no state residence or U.S. citizenship requirements to get married in Hawaii. Couples can find everything from caterers to florists and photographers on the Go Hawaii website.

    3. Florida: Popular spots like Miami, the Florida Keys, and various Gulf Coast locations attract out-of-state couples (particularly those from the Northeast), seeking a sunny and sandy wedding. The state also boasts numerous luxury coastal resorts and, of course, there’s Disney World. The Visit Florida wedding planning guide provides details on getting married in Florida and offers ideas and inspiration for exceptional venues.

    4. New York: Beyond the allure of a New York City wedding, upstate New York offers beautiful venues in the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and the Finger Lakes wine region. With its iconic landmarks and cosmopolitan charm, New York City is especially popular among international couples traveling to the U.S. to tie the knot. New York State was one of the first states in the nation to legalize marriage for LGBTQ individuals. I Love NY’s LGBTQ New York Wedding Guide incudes details about licensing rules and LGBTQ-friendly venues.

    5. California: No other state offers such a diverse landscape and range of options for destination weddings. From beaches to the wine country of Napa and Sonoma, coastal towns along the Pacific Coast Highway, glamorous spots like Beverly Hills, and rustic settings in the majestic Redwoods or Sierra Nevada mountains – the choices are vast. Visit California provides dozens of venue options to help you craft the perfect celebration.

    6. Colorado: For those seeking a mountain backdrop, Colorado provides breathtaking venues in places like Aspen, Vail, and Estes Park. Whether in summer or winter (indeed, even winter), Colorado is the destination for high-altitude weddings. If you’re eager to wed in Colorado but mountains aren’t your thing, Colorado offers an array of venue options from dude ranches and historic hotels to luxury resorts.

    7. South Carolina: Exuding Southern charm, South Carolina boasts beautiful beachfront, coastal, mountainous, and urban settings to say “I do.” Charleston, especially, has surged in popularity in recent years. With its historic ambiance, cobblestone streets, and moss-draped oak trees, it ranks as one of the premier wedding destinations in the Southeast. TheKnot provides a comprehensive guide to assist couples in obtaining a marriage license in South Carolina.

    8. Louisiana: With its rich Cajon and Creole heritage and Bayou beauty, Louisiana presents diverse settings that make it an excellent choice for destination weddings. New Orleans stands out, especially its historic French Quarter, vibrant music scene, and festive atmosphere, as a favorite for many out-of-state couples. Moreover, the state’s world-renowned cuisine, featuring dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, po’boys and beignets infuse a distinctive flavor into wedding feasts. The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Weddings offers resources ranging from help obtaining a marriage license to arranging a second line and assistance with your group hotel reservation.

    9. Arizona: Home to some of the country's most picturesque landscapes, from the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon to the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona offers a unique and stunning backdrop for any wedding. Additionally, with over 300 days of sunshine each year, Arizona is a dependable choice for outdoor ceremonies. However, be mindful of the extreme temperatures in the summer! Whether you prefer a luxurious resort in Scottsdale, a rustic ranch setting, or an intimate desert ceremony, Arizona is an excellent choice. If you’re contemplating tying the knot in the desert, the Brides guide to planning a successful desert wedding offers helpful tips and recommendations.

    10. Alaska: This choice might be unexpected and less conventional, but for adventurous couples, seeking a truly unique experience, Alaska presents an opportunity to marry amidst majestic glaciers, snow-capped peaks, tranquil lakes and picturesque rivers. In certain parts of Alaska, during specific times of the year, the sun barely sets. This provides extended daylight for festivities and unique photography moments. However, Alaska’s weather is unpredictable, so it’s crucial to be prepared for a range of conditions, even in summer. “Anything can happen in the great wide open” notes Alaska Bride. Check out their tips for planning an outdoor wedding. Finally, it’s worth noting that some of Alaska’s most breathtaking locations are remote, potentially leading to higher travel costs and time for guests attending the celebration.

Naturally, "top destinations” is subjective and this list may change based on trends, economic factors, and global events like pandemics. Ultimately, it isn’t just about the scenery, weather or cultural significance of a location; it’s about what’s best for you, your partner and the loved ones celebrating with you. Finally, before you get too far down the road with planning, be sure to check and know the current marriage license requirements. Happy wedding planning!

October 16, 2023

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Airline group reservations -- Great options not always the best fares

Group air reservations offer several benefits for groups of 10 or more traveling together for events such as weddings and family reunions. One of the primary advantages of a group reservation is the ability to hold a block of seats with a deposit, rather than paying the full ticket price upfront. Additionally, there is typically flexibility with passenger name changes up to a specific date. This flexibility is especially helpful if some attendees are unsure whether they will be able to attend and others may take their place.

However, several factors can influence the cost-effectiveness of group fares. Depending on the group’s size, travel dates, and destination, group fares might be more competitive than refundable tickets. However, they often cost more than other, less-flexible, ticket options available online. It's worth noting that larger discounts, if available, are typically reserved for bigger groups, usually those with 50 or more travelers.

One of the appealing aspects of group bookings is the assurance that everyone will travel together on the same schedule and pay the same amount. Yet, with early planning, there is usually good availability of individual seats on most flights and, if group members are prepared to book in advance, fares may not vary substantially. It's also vital to understand that group fares are subject to availability, including potential blackout dates. Planning in advance is crucial to avoid such limitations. Additionally, group fares might have fees for changes, additions, or cancellations, so it's important to read the terms carefully.

For those considering group bookings, most airlines have a dedicated group booking department. If you can't locate their group desk online, call the carrier's main booking line to inquire about making a group reservation. Also, remember that you will need to designate a group leader to be the primary contact with the airline.

To help you get started, here are links to group booking resources for the five largest U.S. airlines:

Check out our group reservation guide to learn more about the benefits of group reservations and get wise to some group discount myths.

October 12, 2023

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Personalized book, movie and podcast recommendations for your next trip

The team at Likewise, known for their app that offers personalized recommendations for movies, TV shows, books, and podcasts, just launched a new AI companion called Pix. Pix builds on Likewise’s content and recommendation engine and makes it fun and easy to explore and find entertainment options on any topic, anytime.

If you’re like me, and you’re planning a trip to someplace new, you enjoy reading about your destination in the weeks or months leading up to the trip and like to travel with books -- fiction or non-fiction -- that enhance your travel experience and help you to learn about the history and culture of your destination.

Whether you’re heading to Mexico with your family and want to read about the history of Chichen Itza and Mayan Civilization before visiting the ruins, attending a destination wedding in Hawaii and want to download a couple of surf movies to watch on the flight, or planning a trip to Las Vegas with friends and want to queue up a few podcasts to sharpen your golf game or prep for the black jack table, Pix delivers a custom set of recommendations in seconds.

Pix is also great for more generic recommendation lists such as “funny movies about family vacations” or “movies about wedding planning.”

Recommendations from Pix

Pix typically returns a half dozen recommendations. That has its pros and cons. Pix lists are not comprehensive (there are likely other great options not included), but it’s also not overwhelming (you won’t be scrolling through results trying to decide what to read, watch or listen to). I expect Pix recommendations will continue to improve and be increasingly personalized over time.

So, if you’re looking for a good read for an upcoming trip, a show to binge on that long flight, or need a little humor to help you get through the group travel or event planning process, give Pix a try. Pix is free at, by email at, or by texting 1-877-839-8749.

Also check out Likewise's TravelList which offers editorially selected entertainment lists such as "The Best Beach Reads of the Year to Unwind With on Vacation," "The Most Iconic Movies Set In Boston," and "The Ultimate Beach Watchlist To Manifest Your Next Vacation."

October 5, 2023

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Tailgate Party Winner: Ole Miss

Tailgate parties conjure up images of football fans gathering near stadiums, camped out for the pre-game hours and sometimes well-into the game to celebrate their alma mater or favorite team. The tailgate party may be as American as applie pie, bringing college friends together for weekend reunions or regular reconnections.

Top 5 places to tailgate.

While there are many great tailgating spots, here are five of the top places for college tailgating, known for their festive atmosphere, passionate fans, and great food:

1. University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss") - Oxford, Mississippi

The Grove, a 10-acre green space in the center of the Ole Miss campus, is one of the most famous tailgating spots in the country. Fans arrive days in advance to set up their tents and prepare for the game. The atmosphere is festive and welcoming, with fans dressed in their best outfits and enjoying Southern hospitality at its finest.

The New York Times describes the Grove as the social event in Oxford, Mississippi, not just for the students or alumni, but for the whole town:

"Ole Miss's stadium accommodates 60,580 people, and devotees of the Grove argue that the Grove accommodates more. It is every kind of party you can describe, at once: cocktail party, dinner party, tailgate picnic party, fraternity and sorority rush, family reunion, political handgrab, gala and networking party-hearty — what might have inspired Willie Morris, one of Mississippi's favorite sons, to declare Mississippi not a state, but a club... The party is technically a picnic. Originally an informal tailgating get-together when most serious pregame socializing took place at Ole Miss's fraternity and sorority houses, by the 50’s the Grove started to become its own pregame tradition.

2. Louisiana State University (LSU) - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tailgating at LSU is a unique experience, with fans setting up grills and cooking delicious Cajun and Creole dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish boils. The air is filled with the sounds of live music and the smell of delicious food, creating a festive atmosphere that is unmatched.

3. University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin

Tailgating at the University of Wisconsin is a great experience, with fans gathering on State Street and Regent Street to celebrate before the game. The atmosphere is fun and lively, with fans enjoying brats, cheese curds, and other Wisconsin favorites.

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Michigan

The Big House, as the University of Michigan stadium is known, is one of the largest stadiums in the country and provides an amazing backdrop for tailgating. Fans gather in the parking lots and green spaces around the stadium to enjoy barbecue, play games, and celebrate their team.

5. University of South Carolina - Columbia, South Carolina

Tailgating at the University of South Carolina is a true Southern tradition, with fans gathering at the State Fairgrounds and other locations around the stadium to enjoy barbecue, play cornhole, and celebrate with friends and family. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming, with fans from both teams often mingling and enjoying the festivities together.

October 2, 2023

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Best Sunsets

No matter what destination your travels take you to, sunsets seem be a reason for people to gather, drinking in the cloud art and colorful sky. Sunsets form rituals. On a recent vacation sunrise and sunset were the big events of the day. We set our daily rhythm and schedule around them, and watched other travelers do the same.

Friends and family sunset

Sunsets are a cue for vacationers to gather for dinner and to pose for happy snapshots for their family holiday cards. The soft-light hues are radiant, often an explosion of colors like a big bang punctuating the day's end. No two sunsets are alike. I'm sure of it.

Whether you're looking for a vibrant city sunset or a tranquil natural backdrop, these locations offer some of the most stunning evening views in the U.S.:

Sunset viewing tips:

Finally, as there's no way to be objective about such ethereal, transcendent beauty, based solely on personal opinion, here's my list of top sunsets:

  1. Oia on the island of Santorini, Greece
  2. 2nd Beach in the Olympic National Park
  3. Sucia Island in the San Juans
  4. Marinas anywhere
  5. Jerusalem
  6. Via del'Amore in Cinque Terre, Italy
  7. Kauai's western-most beach (I can't recall the name)
  8. Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica
  9. Kerry Park, Seattle, WA (amazing cityscape and Puget Sound views for sunset)
  10. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (for the memories alone)

Where have you seen the best sunsets?

Mary Jo M. says, "One of my favorite places to watch a sunset is from the area by the Netherlands Carillon in Washington DC. There''s a large expanse of grass for a picnic, and you can sit there and watch the sun go down as the lights on all the monuments come up."

September 15, 2023

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Planning Guides

Group travelers have unique needs, depending on the trip purpose. Bachelor party planners debate over which type of alcohol to consume and whether or not a stripper is appropriate. Family reunion organizers decide how big of a reunion to have and where to have it. Brides and grooms deliberate on pros and cons of a destination wedding or a home-grown wedding.

Group travel planning

Peruse these planning guides to find tips, advice, and new approaches to planning anything from a road trip, to family vacations, to ski trips, to weddings, to girls getaways, and more.

Family Reunion Planning Guide: Gathering the generations together takes time and patience, but is worth the lasting memories.

Group Getaways with Friends: Travel with college friends, poker pals, other couples, golf buddies, or just the girls.

Wedding Planning Guide: Whether the ceremony is a quick Vegas-themed affair, in a dreamy destination, or where you live and work, the devil is in the details. Here are tips to simplify the wedding planning process.

Ski Guide for Groups: Snowboarders and skiers alike can use this essential planning tool of ski resorts, checklists, and aprés ski activities before hitting the slopes.

Group Reservation Guide: Tips for negotiating group hotel rates, group flight reservations, and more.

Clubs, Teams, Organizations Guide: Become a group trip planning expert with tips about group reservations, how to organize a trip with ease, and other helpful advice.

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Featured Destinations

Getaways, weddings, birthdays, vacations. Whatever trip is on your horizon, chances are the goal is to have fun. Here are destination guides with plenty of activities and tips for all kinds of groups:

Featured destinations for group travel.

Las Vegas
With Las Vegas dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, it's no wonder that our research shows more groups planning trips to Las Vegas than any other destination.

Lake Tahoe and Reno
In the crook of California's elbow lies a playland of great natural beauty, world-class ski slopes, Vegas-style entertainment, and plenty of gold-rush history.

Playground for adventurers, golfers, wildlife watchers and snorkelers, the Hawaiian island of Maui attracts families, friends and romantics to her beaches, lush mountains, award-winning golf courses and moon-like national park.

Mexican Riviera
Beloved by beach buffs, honeymooners, surfers, and cruisers, the Mexican Riviera — that scenic stretch of coastal communities between Mazatlán and Acapulco — entices more and more travelers to its sun-drenched shores each year.

New York City
Urbanites are drawn to this city's lights, cameras, and action like lipstick to Liza Minnelli. From Broadway shows to boutiques to world-class art and Central Park, there are plenty of ways to bite into the Big Apple.

This magical Florida mecca entices families and visitors to hop around theme parks, splash in water parks, golf, and escape realism for endless entertainment.

San Diego
Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude.

San Francisco
Laid back and cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse, and a hotbed of social progressive movements, the City by the Bay has plenty to entertain families and groups of friends who are nature lovers, wine tasters, beachcombers, golfers, or seafood foodies.

Washington, D.C.
So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.

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Hooked on Mountain Biking

No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. I recently went mountain biking with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world, I realized there's a whole new world of exploring out there for me. I've biked before, but not like this. And, while I'm discovering the joys of mountain biking long after the rest of you, it's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?

In the ever-evolving landscape of adventure travel, mountain biking has ascended to be a mainstream pursuit, offering an invigorating blend of physical challenge, nature immersion, and communal spirit. For groups of friends and family, the allure of mountain biking lies not just in the thrill of the ride, but in the shared experience of exploring diverse terrains and creating lasting memories.

Top mountain biking destinations and tour operators.

Top Mountain Biking Destinations & Tour Operators

Recognizing the growing demand for guided mountain biking adventures, tour operators across the U.S. offer high-quality, safe, and memorable experiences tailored for groups of all sizes and skill levels. With their guidance, travelers can delve into the heart of America's most stunning landscapes on two wheels. Here are some of the most popular mountain biking destinations and select tour operators in each of these markets:

1. Moab, Utah: Moab is the jewel in the crown of American mountain biking destinations. Its iconic Slickrock Trail, a rollercoaster of petrified sand dunes, offers a unique biking experience that's both challenging and exhilarating. Beyond Slickrock, Moab's vast network of trails weaves through a Martian landscape of red rock formations and deep canyons. For groups, Moab offers a range of trails suitable for various skill levels, ensuring that everyone from beginners to experts can enjoy the adventure together.

    • Rim Tours: With over 30 years of experience, Rim Tours offers expertly guided mountain biking tours across the Southwest. Their tours are known for their attention to detail, safety, and route selection, making them an excellent choice for groups and families. Rim Tours' guides are not only experts in biking but also in the geology and history of the regions they explore, adding an educational element to their trips.

    • Western Spirit Cycling: Based in Moab, Western Spirit Cycling specializes in multi-day mountain biking tours. Their itineraries cover some of the most scenic trails in Moab and beyond, including the majestic landscapes of Utah and Colorado. Known for their guides and well-planned routes, they cater to both novice riders and experienced mountain bikers, ensuring a rewarding experience for everyone.

2. Crested Butte, Colorado: Often hailed as the birthplace of mountain biking, Crested Butte's charm lies in its extensive trail network set against a backdrop of stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. Trails like the 401 offer breathtaking views of wildflower meadows and aspen groves. The town's welcoming vibe and diverse trail options make it an ideal destination for groups and families looking to combine biking with a taste of Colorado's mountain culture.

    • Chasing Epic Mountain Bike Adventures: Operating in several top biking destinations, including Crested Butte, Chasing Epic offers all-inclusive, multi-day mountain biking trips. Their packages include guides, high-end bikes, and personalized itineraries, making them a popular choice for groups seeking an upscale biking adventure. They excel in creating trips that balance challenging rides with the enjoyment of local culture and cuisine.

3. Bend, Oregon: Bend stands out for its unique high desert geography, offering over 300 miles of trails. The Phil’s Trail Complex is a favorite, with routes winding through dense forests and open meadows. After a day on the trails, groups can enjoy Bend's renowned craft beer scene, with many breweries offering a relaxing backdrop for recounting the day's adventures.

    • Cog Wild Bicycle Tours: Cog Wild offers a wide range of tours suitable for all skill levels, from leisurely half-day rides to challenging multi-day adventures. Cog Wild is acclaimed for their local knowledge, which ensures that each group experiences the best trails and sights that Bend's unique landscape has to offer. Their tours often include delicious meals and the option to sample local craft beers, making them a hit with groups seeking a holistic Bend experience.

    • Pine Mountain Sports: Pine Mountain Sports offers guided mountain biking tours that cater specifically to the needs and skills of the group. They are known for their personalized approach, ensuring that each experience is tailored to the preferences and abilities of the riders. Whether it's a family outing or a group of seasoned bikers, Pine Mountain Sports provides a safe and enjoyable adventure on Bend's extensive trail network.

4. Brevard, North Carolina: Nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Brevard offers a different take on mountain biking. Here, riders can explore the Pisgah National Forest with its lush forests and cascading waterfalls. The area’s trails range from smooth, flowing singletracks to challenging technical descents, making it a versatile destination for groups of varying abilities.

    • Sacred Rides: As one of the pioneers in mountain bike tourism, Sacred Rides offers guided trips in Brevard and other notable biking destinations. Their tours are renowned for combining thrilling rides with cultural immersion, providing an all-encompassing experience. They cater to a range of skill levels and place a strong emphasis on sustainable travel practices.

    • The Bike Farm: The Bike Farm offers guided rides in the Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Forest. They are unique in their approach, providing custom experiences that match the skill and interest levels of the group. Additionally, The Bike Farm offers skills clinics and camps, perfect for groups looking to improve their mountain biking abilities while exploring the trails.

5. Park City, Utah: As the first IMBA Gold Level Ride Center, Park City boasts over 400 miles of trails. The Mid Mountain Trail epitomizes the area's appeal, offering a mix of easy riding and more challenging sections. The town itself provides a picturesque base for groups, with its historic Main Street, diverse dining options, and range of accommodations.

    • White Pine Touring: White Pine Touring offers a range of tours that showcase the beauty and diversity of Park City's trail system, which is renowned for its variety and accessibility. Their expert guides are not only adept at navigating the trails but also in providing insights into the local ecology and history, making each trip educational as well as exhilarating.

    • Park City Bike Demos: While known for bike rentals, Park City Bike Demos also offers guided tours. Their unique approach allows groups to test out different types of bikes while exploring Park City's trails, making it an ideal choice for those looking to combine a biking adventure with the opportunity to experience the latest in biking equipment. Their knowledgeable staff ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants.

Not quite ready to book a trip to one of these amazing destinations? Love the idea of bringing bikes along on your next camping trip or planning a mountain bike adventure with friends? The MTB Project, Trailforks and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's TrailLink are great resources for finding mountain bike trails close to home.

Weaving through trees on a trail of bare roots and rocks left my wrists a wee bit jarred. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.

July 10, 2023

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Chocolate Spas, Heaven on Earth

It's as if my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasy of living amid treats and sweets grew up with me!

Chocolate spas offer an indulgent experience that tantalizes the senses with the rich, comforting appeal of chocolate. These unique wellness centers use chocolate not only as a delightful treat but also as a key ingredient in various spa treatments.

The Spa at The Hershey Hotel, located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is renowned for its comprehensive menu of cocoa-infused treatments. From facials to massages, each therapy promises relaxation and sensory pleasure. The highlight is the signature chocolate bath, a luxurious soak in a blend of milk and cocoa, (literally an immersive chocolate experience) embodying the spa’s commitment to indulgence and pampering.

Another chocolatey destination is the Hotel Café Royal’s Akasha Holistic Wellbeing in London. This spa offers a unique "Cacao Cuisine" package, which combines cacao-based spa treatments with a chocolate-themed afternoon tea. The treatments include a cacao body exfoliation followed by a deeply relaxing massage with cacao bean oil, offering a blend of gastronomy and wellness that caters to both chocolate aficionados and spa enthusiasts.

In Zurich, Switzerland, the Dolder Grand’s Spa takes the chocolate experience to a sophisticated level with its “Chocolate Dream” package. This luxurious treatment includes a full-body chocolate wrap, known for its moisturizing and antioxidant properties, followed by a soothing massage. The experience is enhanced by the serene and elegant ambiance of the spa, nestled within the picturesque Swiss landscapes.

Beyond their irresistible aroma and taste, chocolate-based treatments offer skin rejuvenation, thanks to the antioxidants found in cocoa. These spas use cocoa butter and dark chocolate, believed to hydrate the skin, improve circulation, and reduce signs of aging. The appeal of chocolate spas extends beyond physical wellness; they provide memorable and emotionally uplifting experiences, leveraging the joy and comfort often associated with chocolate.

What's next? Snickers spas with peanut wraps and nougat facials? Why doesn't the spa industry just splash us with Chardonnay and dip us in dark, dreamy, drippy chocolate syrup until we're so sick of our guilty pleasures that we seek wholesome, back-to-the-basics activities like dinner with the four food groups or jogging.

June 20, 2023

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Predicting airfares - To buy or not to buy?

Airfare is one of the great unpredictables in travel. Travelers forever have planned vacations around airline prices. Sure there are well-known seasonal factors (Hawaii is most expensive over Christmas and so on...). But predicting airfares is challenging.

Today, savvy travelers looking to get the best deals on flights have a variety of tools at their disposal. These platforms use sophisticated algorithms and AI to predict whether the cost of a flight is likely to go up or down, helping users decide the best time to book their tickets.

Kayak and others (e.g., Skyscanner) also offer Price Alert features that make it easy to track fares on specific flights or flights to specific destinations and will notify you when fares change.

Way back in 2006, Seattle-based startup Farecast was the first to launch airfare predictions. Farecast initially offered airfare predictions for travelers departing from Seattle and Boston to over 100 destinations. The site provided users with information on whether the lowest fares for their trip were rising or dropping over the next seven days, along with expected price movements, confidence levels, and purchasing tips. This innovation marked a significant step in the use of data and predictive analytics for travel planning. Microsoft acquired Farecast in 2008. Microsoft subsequently shut down the flight price prediction tool in 2014.

Farecast air fare predictions.
Screenshot from Farecast website, 2006.

June 7, 2023.

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Surviving the In-Laws at Family Reunions & Celebrations

Remember the man or woman at your last family holiday party who sat quietly in the corner, eyes glazed or buried in a book or their phone? Is this person you?

Family gatherings and celebrations are great events. They're an opportunity to reconnect with extended family members, visit with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.

But for your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other, attending family events may come with its own set of challenges.

If you're the in-law, partner or special friend attending the event, here are some helpful suggestions to make the experience smooth and enjoyable for everyone:

    1. Be Respectful and Polite: Always show respect to all family members. Remember to use polite manners, say "please" and "thank you," and be considerate of everyone's feelings.

    2. Dress Appropriately: Find out the dress code in advance and dress accordingly. Whether it's casual or formal, showing that you've made an effort can create a positive impression.

    3. Offer to Help: Be proactive in offering assistance, whether it's helping to set up, cook, or clean up after the event. This shows that you're willing to be part of the team.

    4. Engage in Conversations: Show interest in family members by engaging in conversations. Ask questions, listen actively, and share appropriate stories about yourself. The bigger the gathering, the more likely you are to find someone with tastes and interests similar to yours.

    5. Avoid Controversial Topics: Steer clear of sensitive subjects like politics, religion, or personal finances. Focus on neutral and positive topics instead.

    6. Bring a Gift: It's a nice gesture to bring a small gift for the host or the family, such as a bottle of wine, an appetizer, dessert, or a flower arrangement.

    7. Be Mindful of Traditions: Every family has its own traditions and customs. Be respectful of these and participate where appropriate.

    8. Know Your Limits with Alcohol: If alcohol is being served, be mindful of your intake. It's important to stay in control and make a good impression.

    9. Support Your Partner: Stay attuned to your partner's needs and provide support. This might mean being by their side during conversations or giving them space if they need it.

    10. Express Gratitude: Before leaving, thank everyone who contributed to the party and express your appreciation for being included in their celebration.

Have a spouse or partner who might benefit from these tips? Pass them along. After all, as the saying goes, "a happy spouse is a happy life."

April 11, 2023.

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Wedding Guests Contributing to Honeymoons

The high, and seemingly ever-increasing, costs of travel and accommodations make it challenging for many newlyweds to realize their dream honeymoons.

Enter honeymoon registries! Honeymoon registries make it easy for couples to create a list of desired experiences, accommodations, or activities for their honeymoon, much like a traditional gift registry. Instead of, or in addition to, registering for physical gifts like household items, couples can list elements of their honeymoon, such as flights, hotel stays, excursions or meals. Wedding guests can then contribute financially to these items or experiences, helping the couple fund their dream trip.

This type of registry has become particularly popular among couples who prefer experiential gifts over traditional ones. And many guests prefer contributing to a honeymoon fund over purchasing traditional registry items. This approach enables them to be part of creating a memorable experience for the couple, rather than giving a material object. Afterall, who remembers who gave them a set of knives, place setting or set of towels for their wedding?

Honeymoon registries

Here is a handful of popular honeymoon registries:

Of course, it's important to compare options and to understand the terms of service before committing to one of these services. We also recommend reading recent customer reviews at sites like Trustpilot.

Thanks to Corinne M. for writing to share her honeymoon registry experience: "I checked out several registries - used Honeymoon Wishes and absolutely loved it! Everything was so professional and my guests raved about it. They even took the time to read my whole registry to my Grandma over the phone!"

March 10, 2023.

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How to be a Good Group Travel Leader

By guest blogger Jeff Gayduk

If you've ever traveled with family and friends, you know what an enjoyable, rewarding experience it can be. Until something goes wrong of course, then everyone turns their attention to the group leader for a quick resolution.

If you're planning your own group trips, being out on an island like this can become very uncomfortable. Here's some tips to help get you through:

  1. Prepare for the best but plan for the worst. While your co-travelers are on vacation, you're working - at least to the extent that everyone is safe and secure. Understand the logistics of your trip and have a contingency plan in case something goes awry. Collect emergency contact information for all your travelers, and a list of any medication they may be on. This way, if something does go wrong, you are prepared to deal with medical professionals and family/friends back home.

  2. Pass out Chill Pills. True story - one group leader gives each of her travelers a sugar pill on the first day of the trip while explaining that at one point during the trip some thing's not going to go as planned, because, well that's the way travel is. She advises them to ingest the pill at the first sign of distress. It sets the mood for a relaxing trip.

  3. Share the responsibility. Not an accountant? Somebody in your group is probably good with numbers. Assign them the task of group accountant for shared meal or drink expenses. Look for buddies that can also help arrange transportation, tours, and make sure everyone stays on schedule and is prepared for the day's activities.

  4. Protect your investment. Travel insurance used to be thought of as an unnecessary expense that was geared for seniors. However, with today's tumultuous travel climate and tighter restrictions on private insurance policies it's a necessary evil. Look for a travel insurance policy with "cancel for any reason" options.

  5. Go with a pro. If handling hotels, sightseeing, meals and activities is too much of a load - find a capable tour operator to plan your group's trip. This is especially true with overseas travel, with companies like Globus, Go Ahead Tours and Collette Vacations specializing in working with small groups. Another benefit? The group leader travels free with as little as 8 paying passengers (shh!).

Group travel planning can be a fun, rewarding experience if you follow these guidelines. For more group travel know-how, visit our magazine website.

Jeff Gayduk is a 24-year veteran of the group travel industry and the founder and publisher of Leisure Group Travel magazine and InSite on Leisure Group Travel e-newsletter.

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Know Your Event's Walk Score

Is being able to walk to nearby restaurants, bars, coffee shops and shopping important to your attendees? What about access to public transportation?

There's a lot of talk about "green" events these days and the best way to make your event fun and green is to choose a location with convenient access to the amenities and activities your attendees want and that doesn't require them to drive long distances or wait in endless cab lines to get around.

The folks at Walk Score, which measures the walkability of any address, just ranked the most walkable covention centers. Here's the top 5:

Rank Convention Center City Walk Score
1 The Moscone Center San Francisco, CA 98
1 America's Center St. Louis, MO 98
3 Reno-Sparks Convention Center Reno, NV 97
4 Salt Palace Convention Center Salt Lake City, UT 95
5 Phoenix Convention Center Phoenix, AZ 94

Visit Walk Score and know the walkability of your next event location.

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Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding - Help Protect Coral Reefs

By guest blogger Susan Wolf

On your next trip to Hawaii you may notice signs in local dive and retail shops supporting the "Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding" campaign. The stickers are part of a larger effort to protect Hawaii’s magnificent coral reefs by discouraging the practice of using food to attract fish for tourists to view. Several companies, including retail giants Longs Drugs and Walmart, have followed the lead of marine recreation businesses across the state and have agreed to discontinue the sale of recreational snorkeling fish food in all of their Hawaii locations.

Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding

The use of fish food by tourists and tour operators can have negative consequences for both reefs and the tourism industry, according to Liz Foote, Hawaii Field Manager for the Coral Reef Alliance, and Carlie Wiener, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Foote and Wiener spearheaded the “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign, working to convince businesses that selling fish food is ultimately a poor business practice. With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, the State Division of Aquatic Resources, Project S.E.A.-Link, and other partners, the two have spent years enlisting businesses to stop selling and using fish food, as well as educating visitors and locals alike about the effects and dangers of fish feeding.

Impacts on Fish and Tourists

By feeding the fish, humans are affecting the natural ecological relationships on the reef. For example, when herbivorous fish are fed by tourists, they eat less algae. With a reduction of grazing activity by these fish, the algae is left to flourish and potentially smother the reefs. For tourists, there are often incidents of accidental fish biting at popular tourist destinations where fish are fed by dive companies and snorkel tours.

Large Retailers Sign On

The recent effort to secure buy-in from the large retailers in Hawaii was taken up by San Francisco attorney Joshua Rosen, who learned about the project while visiting Hawaii last winter. Rosen believes that the companies decided to act responsibly because of their own appreciation for Hawaii’s marine life, and because it is in their best interest to become involved in local community efforts and support the long-term health of Hawaii’s economy, which depends upon visitors having a good experience with the marine environment.

Susan Wolf works at The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). CORAL provides tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown into the only international nonprofit that works exclusively to protect our planet's coral reefs.

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Collaborative Trip Planning with Google Wave

Check out this demo of Trippy, a Google Wave application that integrates Lonely Planet's content into a collaborative trip planning experience.

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Five Ways to Make Family Travel More Affordable This Fall

By guest blogger Barbara Messing

Being a mom who works in the travel industry, I’m always getting questions from other parents about how they can plan a getaway with the kids that won’t break the bank. These questions range from “Where should I go to get the best value?” to “How can we save money on holiday travel?” to “What is a great family-friendly destination?”… just to name a few. And while the state of the economy has many families feeling stretched, there is a silver lining when it comes to travel. The travel deals out there are better than I’ve seen in years, making this fall a great time to take a family vacation.

I am seeing two interesting trends in the industry these days. First, people are booking their vacations closer to the actual travel dates, as they want to have the best picture possible of their life before they make the decision to book their travel arrangements. Second, I see the “power of the purse” in action, with more women making the majority of travel decisions and taking responsibility for booking family getaways. I call it the “anti-Clark Griswald effect.”

So how do you get the most for your money when booking travel for your family? Here are five ideas to make family travel affordable this fall:

1. Picking the right destination: Deals are abundant, but especially at family destinations this year, so now you just need to decide where to go. Occupancy levels at popular family resorts were already low, and with families back to school the hotels have even more empty rooms. If you can steal a break with the kids this Fall, San Diego, Orlando, Hawaii and Los Angeles all offer amazing value this season and plenty of entertainment for your family.

2. Finding flights: Prices are great right now as airlines are trying to fill seats with earlier and more aggressive fares than normal fall sales. Airline prices change constantly, so look for these low fares now and when you see a great fare, book it immediately. A handful of airlines still offer child discounts, but as a general rule, you will find a better deal if you look out for the lowest fares you can find online and special sales. These are inevitably lower than the full-priced child fares. You can sign up for sale and fare alerts with your favorite airlines and travel sites.

3. Consider all-inclusive resorts: All-inclusive resort vacations are a family’s best friend and are offering some of the best discounts I’ve seen in years. Perfect for a cross-generational family beach vacation - everyone can eat, stay and play at an all-inclusive with one set price. Plus, most resorts offer a “kids camp” so that the parents can enjoy some downtime with a fruity drink and a book by the pool—a rarity on most vacations.

4. Timing is everything: If you want to save even more money and score some incredible deals on flights or beach vacations, try between now and December 19th, when the demand and prices are low. The next few months before the holidays are a great time to visit Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean for some of the lowest rates of the year. Vacation packagers will often offer rates at 4-star All-inclusive resorts that include airfare for around $100 per day during these low-season times. Often children under 12 are able to stay and eat for free at these resorts, so check around for the best pricing.

5. Booking holiday travel: If you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet, I would suggest doing that now. October is a very good time to book travel because you will still see some good options on pricing and routes. I have a couple of recommendations to keep both your costs and stress in check. If possible, try to fly nonstop out of a popular airline hub. You will find more competition among airlines and thus better pricing. More importantly, by flying nonstop you will not get stuck at one of your connections with your tired and cranky family, nor will your luggage with all of the Christmas presents end up at the wrong airport. If you do have to make a connection, try flying on the off-peak days of the holiday and when picking your routing, avoid hubs that get frequent weather delays. Finally, treat yourself well. If you don’t want to sleep on grandma’s air mattress, check out the amazing hotel rates during holiday weekends. Business travelers who head home for the holidays leave empty hotels, which translates to great discounts to gain your business. Or even better, leave the kids on the air mattress and enjoy a hotel getaway for yourselves.

An avid traveler with stamps from over 50 countries on her passport, Barbara Messing applies her passion for travel to her role as vice president of Travel Ticker and new business development at Hotwire. Barbara is responsible for overseeing the new Travel Ticker product, which delivers handpicked, insider deals to motivated travelers. You can also find Barbara on Twitter @Travel_Ticker, where she was recently ranked as one of the top 21 travel twitterers by Condé Nast Traveler.

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Fall is here. Enjoy it!

By guest blogger Elliot Cohen

Temperatures have finally dropped and people are donning coats and scarves and heading out to brave the... 60 degree weather? C’mon folks, it’s not THAT cold out yet! Take off your earmuffs and enjoy the pleasant early fall weather before you need those coats and scarves for real.

Until then, how about you plan a weekend that celebrates Autumn in New York, or in Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or any other urban center where fall means finally having some fun outside in the sun.

The good thing about cities, is that they’re big. That means there’s lots of free, outdoor, fun things to do in Manhattan, and endless number of places to visit in Philadelphia, enough historic sites to keep you busy for days in our nation’s capital, and you won’t have to fight over picnic spots in Boston. These cities come well-equipped with reliable public transportation (so you can leave your car at home), they’re easy to get to, and most of all, the American big city is family and kid friendly, especially those cities that include huge parks.

And huge parks are where it’s at this fall. Many families have trimmed down their vacation budgets this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t vacation at all. Splurge on an urban fall weekend and you’ll find that “splurging” doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Especially when Mother Nature doesn’t charge a dime to show off her stunning display of fall foliage.

During your 2009 fall family weekend getaway, make sure you enjoy some fun in the shade at these free fall foliage wonderlands:

Elliot Cohen is CEO of, a leading US Road Trip Planner. What other people do you know who are so passionate about travel that they build their own travel site? Since being an internet entrepreneur is kind of demanding, Elliot doesn’t have nearly enough time to road trip like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still organize family picnics in Central Park or a weekend boat trip to peep at Catskills and Hudson Valley fall foliage ...both things that you and your family should consider, too!

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Visit to the High Arctic

By guest blogger Roger Herst

You don't travel to the Canada's high Arctic without a good reason. Aboard the Akademik Iofe, a converted Cold War Soviet spy ship, my enthusiastic shipmates and I headed north from Resolute Bay into the Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Aboard are professional photographers, geologists, meteorologists, zoologists, professors, writers and just plain lovers of the polar regions. The majority had been to the Antarctic, a large land mass at the South Pole surrounded by water. The opposite north pole is quite different. Here at the top of the planet is ocean covered with sea-ice but surrounded by land.

Travel to the arctic.

I joined this band of brothers in order to tweak my latest novel, No Land too Desolate, a geo-political thriller set in this semi-frozen region, populated by Inuit in scattered in distant villages. These hardy people once derisively referred to as Eskimos still maintain their traditional hunting-fishing cultures, surviving in bitter sub-zero cold without sunlight for four full months of the year. The best and only time for those of us from warmer climates to visit is during the summer when the days are long and the sun never dips below the horizon. Don't dream about the legendary northern skies. There's no darkness to view these heavenly bodies.

In the course of our short trip, it's hard to observe the effects of global warming, though experts who keep annual statistics are unanimous in their evaluation. Each winter the sea ice is thinner and each summer a great deal less survives exposure to sunlight when cold once again heralds the coming of winter.

We travel to shore twice a day to explore the tundra aboard Zodiacs. Near glaciers one can witness calving as tons of ageless compacted snow and ice tumble into the sea. This material is 100 million years old. As this ancient ice floats beside my Zodiac I snatch a hunk to nibble in my mouth, without doubt the purest water I have ever tasted. Small air bubbles trapped in this ice have survived from earliest geological time. In my mouth I sample oxygen and nitrogen older than the air breathed by Abraham 1600 BCE or by an ancient Pharoah, 2500 BCE!

My fellow explorers and I feel privileged to be here, realizing how we live only on the skin of this vast planet. Mother Earth doesn't belong to us. We are only visitors who like the native polar bear and walrus come and go, leaving this eternal legacy to future generations.

Roger Herst is the author of several novels, short stories and scholarly articles. He is an ordained Rabbi with a doctorate in Middle Eastern History, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and the Hebrew Union College. He is an avid tennis player and musician. There’s nothing outdoors he doesn’t love.

August 19, 2009. Photo by Roger Herst.

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6 Ways to Green Wedding Travel

By guest blogger Kate L. Harrison

An important piece of wedding planning is coordinating transportation and trying to anticipate the travel needs of your guests. These arrangements are often dependent on the season, timing, and location of your wedding. However, wherever and whenever you wedding is, there are many great eco-friendly transportation options to choose from.

Ditch the limo.

First Stop: Let Go of The Limo

According to The Wedding Report, about 75% of couples travel to and from their wedding in a limousine, at an average cost of $674. Just think about how many tons of CO2 and how much money you can save if you choose an eco-friendly option instead! For example, imagine the attention and the fabulous photographs you and your fiancée would get if you traveled to your wedding on a trolley, bus, or subway. Don’t have that far to go? Consider a more romantic option like a tandem bicycle for a farm wedding, an elegant horse and carriage ride for a wedding on a historic property, or a boat for a wedding at the water’s edge.

If you still have your heart set on a limo, see if you can rent a hybrid limo, and always ask the driver to pick up the entire bridal party in one location. This will decrease driving time and save you money too!

It’s Electric!

The hybrid, alternative fuel, and electric vehicle rental market is growing quickly and all of these options are significantly better for the environment than traditional limousines. Look online for car services and rental companies that offer electric, hybrid, biodiesel, or other eco-friendly vehicles in your area. When you find one, post a link on your wedding website to make sure your guests who are in need of rentals use them as well.

Keep It In One Place

One of the easiest ways to decrease the impact of your wedding is to have your ceremony and reception in the same location. The average wedding has 160 guests, so even if four guests pile into a car (which is unlikely; probably most cars only carry two guests), that’s still forty vehicles driving from one location to the next, which adds up to a lot of carbon emissions. A single location eliminates the problem, and saves your guests the hassle and headache of getting from one place to another. If that location is close to public transportation, you guarantee that getting there will be a snap and will have minimal impact on the earth.

Provide Transportation for Everyone

Have a lot of guests staying at a hotel, or all together in one place? Consider hiring a bus or van to move everyone en masse. If you provide snacks and drinks on board, a wedding bus can be a highlight for you and your guests. A trolley is a fun option too, and if you find a company that has electric trolleys, it’s even better. This is also a good way to decrease car travel if you have your ceremony and reception in different locations.


Carpools are a good way to decrease the total amount of pollution your wedding generates, and they give you, your friends and family the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. Cars produce the same amount of pollution whether they carry one passenger or five, so help your guests carpool by setting up a ride board on your website and encouraging guests who live in the same area to connect with each other ahead of time. You can even set up a Google Sheet and just have guests share their plans and contact information.

Reduce What You Can, Then Offset Rest

Once you reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding as much as possible, you can use a carbon calculator to figure out the remaining impact an offset it. Carbon-offsetting can be especially useful for a wedding with a lot of guests traveling in by plane or car, or a destination wedding.

Remember that when it comes to the travel associated with your wedding, every choice makes a difference. Choose the options that work best for your celebration and your guests’ needs, and you’ll be off to a responsible, sustainable start to your news lives together.

Kate L. Harrison is the author of The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget and Founder and CEO of The Green Bride Guide, a comprehensive resource with everything you need to plan a green wedding.

August 16, 2009. Photo by Jessica Barnes.

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Airport Hub Cities as Meet-Ups

Finding the best spot to gather with family or friends all over the map
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

When planning family reunions or get-togethers with friends, the first question is, "Where should we go?" Destinations factor heavily into travel planning.

When group travel is short in duration such as a 3-day weekend or 4-day stint, it is wise to minimize travel time and maximize time together. Soaring gas prices also contribute to a need for creative travel.

The best way to achieve maximizing time together and saving on flying time is to fly into a "hub" or "focus" city. A hub is a central airport through which multiple flights are routed—they vary according to airline. Airlines also have focus cities—a large number of non-stop flights are routed into these destinations. These focus cities tend to be major coastal cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and New York. Hub and focus cities are usually in or near large cities with plenty of entertainment options and activities—perfect for weekend getaways. Same applies to hub railway cities in Europe and elsewhere.

I recently organized a mini meet-up for a few writer friends coming from Colorado, Chicago, Argentina and New York. We figured out that Miami was the easiest, most convenient place for all of us to fly into because there were non-stop flights into Miami from everyone's origination cities.

Major Airline U.S. Hubs

American Airlines
Hubs: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami
Focus Cities: New York (with its 3 major airports), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington Dulles

Delta Air Lines
Hubs: Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City
Focus Cities: New York (JFK), Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando

United Airlines
Hubs: Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles
Focus Cities: all West Coast cities

(If the Delta and Northwest merger goes through, travelers may benefit from a larger route network. This might be true internationally. Delta has extensive operations in Europe as Northwest does in Asia. It remains to be seen if domestic options will improve.)

In Europe, hub/focus cities include: London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan and Zurich. And, the new "Open Skies" agreement should expand the offerings.

Open Skies
Travelers wanting to fly non-stop nationally or internationally will benefit from the recent "Open Skies" agreement. For decades, rules restricted trans-Atlantic air travel. Since April 2008, any European airline can now fly from any European airport to any point in the U.S.; all U.S. airline carriers will now be able to fly from any American city to any European city.

The high cost of fuel is throwing a wrench into the good news, but hopefully, as a result, fares could eventually drop and direct flight choices should increase.

Freak weather conditions and delays can occur anytime, any place. But when you’re traveling non-stop, you can eliminate the worry over missed connections. Less time spent at airports and in transit equates to more time spent with family and friends.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

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Sailing Over the Canadian Alps

By guest blogger Clark McCann

Looking straight down between my knees 6,000 feet to the blue expanse of the Frazier River, I catch a sudden gut-shot of vertigo and fear. Reality check: I’m a mile in the sky, borne forward by a soft paraglider wing that can fold up like a cheap suit when struck by turbulence. I suck in a couple of deep slow breaths, steady my gaze on the distant horizon of snow crusted peaks, and the queasy moment passes. "Okay, you wimp," I tell myself. "You paid for this ride, now enjoy it!" I lean back in my padded harness, comfortable as an easy chair, and look up at my beautiful red wing, inflated with air, bearing my weight—and life—through the winter sky. I make a slow turn to the right to look back at the sheer icy face of Mt. Cheam, where minutes before I had taken off from the gentle south side, turned back across the ridge, then flown out over the magnificent Frazier River valley. Below was a checkerboard of green pastures, in the distance lakes and mountains, as pretty as any landscape in Switzerland.
Less than four hours before I’d left Seattle by car with a half-dozen paragliding fanatics, led by Marc Chirico and his wife Lan, all of us eager to fly off of 7,200 Mt. Cheam in British Columbia.  Among us were seasoned veterans with more than a thousand flights, as well as beginners, like me, with less than 100. One brave girl had just seven solo flights. Marc and Lan run Seattle’s most respected paragliding school and have trained hundreds of pilots over the last decade. Located at the foothills of the Cascades in Issaquah, the school sits at the foot of Tiger Mountain, one of the best paragliding sites in the Pacific Northwest.

Driving straight north to Bellingham we crossed the Canadian border at Sumas, then headed East on Highway 1 along the Frazier River. Near a town aptly named "Hope," we climbed aboard a small helicopter that ferried us up to the summit of Mt. Cheam, three at a time. The ride was spectacular, and harrowing, as the chopper ducked around swirling clouds and looked for clear air and a level spot near the summit to set us down. Once on the mountain, we found ourselves in a cold, alpine environment. I was worried about the clouds and poor visibility. What if we get socked in and we can’t fly off and the chopper can’t pick us up? My fears subsided as the mists rose in the warming sun and we caught a window of clear skies to launch from the steep snow slope.
Now, relaxing into my flight, I’m amazed by the smooth air—not a ripple of turbulence. I indulge myself with a series of lazy turns to better admire the view and still arrive at our grassy landing field with plenty of altitude. After a soft touch-down, we give each other high-fives and head to the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs for beers and pizza.

Too exhilarated to drive back, some of us elect to spend the night at the resort hotel, spending hours outside in the warm mineral waters, talking and reliving our winter flying adventure.

If you’re interested in group paragliding, and live in the Seattle area, contact Marc Chirico at Seattle Paragliding for tips, lessons, training and more. For reputable schools in other parts of the country, contact the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Contact the Harrison Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia for more information about accommodations.

Clark McCann is a Seattle area freelance writer and adventure sports enthusiast.

April 16, 2008

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Top 10 American Outdoor Towns

Groups these days are goin' green like other types of travelers. Sustainability means many things to many people: carbon off-setting, carpooling to save on fuel, choosing environmentally-friendly hotels, packing out what you pack in while hiking or camping.

MSN published a list of top 10 green American towns with an outdoor way of life. How is this sustainable? Green surrounds these places, living local is a way of life and developing an appreciation for nature is as easy as stepping outside and breathing the clean, fresh air.

Looking for an alternative to noisy cities and tourist-packed destinations? Gather a group together for a family or friendship reunion at any of these off-beat U.S. towns:

  1. Lake Placid, New York
  2. Hood River, Oregon
  3. McCall, Idaho
  4. Salida, Colorado
  5. Boone, North Carolina
  6. Livingston, Montana
  7. Ely, Minnesota
  8. Davis, West Virginia
  9. Bethel, Maine
  10. Haines, Alaska

The top 10 list from MSN is courtesy of co-authors Sarah Tuff and Greg Melville based on research from their book "101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play."

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Timeshare Reality Check

By guest blogger Sarah Gagnon

Timeshares are becoming more and more popular; however, the long-standing stigma surrounding them still exists. There are plenty of voices in the travel industry talking about the positives and negatives of vacation property ownership and it is easy to get confused. Here are the ins and outs of the industry, the market and usage opportunities. Also, some helpful tips in case you are interested in taking advantage of the potential benefits of vacation real estate ownership.

Timeshares aren't evil. In fact, many people find that they are innovative, useful and valuable. That does not mean one shouldn't use caution when considering ownership. The concept of timesharing is inherently helpful, but the same cannot be said for every individual out there trying to make money. This is where the timeshare reputation has suffered in the past, and - although things are improving - continues to suffer today.

Timeshare history: As the timeshare industry struggled to progress in the 1970s and 80s, scams were recurrent and the bad name stuck. However, as associations like ARDA began to step in and refine the process and the amount of scamming dramatically decreased.

Resorts: Resorts are one type of timeshare and unfortunately, many resorts entice travelers into buying timeshare by using high-pressure sales tactics and deceitful information at very long, uncomfortable presentations. Furthermore, resort rates are high due to their large-scale advertising campaigns.

Resales: But there is good news about timeshares. The reason so many people still prefer vacation property ownership is that there are relatively easy ways to avoid the risks of buying timeshare. The most important way is to buy resale.

Timeshare resales can offer vacation value:

Timeshare resales aren't perfect. But you can potentially save a ton of money and avoid headaches provided you take the same precautions anyone would when purchasing property. Timeshare resales basically succeed everywhere that timeshare resorts fail.

Timeshare resale benefits: For the money, resales are incredibly effective. You can also find good deals and timesharing can be less expensive than hotels. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about accumulating day-to-day bills. You own the timeshare, so you have a vacation every year already paid for. To sweeten the pot a little more, you can use exchange companies to trade your property and travel all over the world. All in all, if you want to vacation with freedom and flexibility while enjoying low cost and luxury, timeshare resales are something to look into.

Guest blogger Sarah Gagnon, M.A., works for Sell My Timeshare Now, a resale company, and is also known as the "Travel Lady-Bug."

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Tips for Making Group Trips Great

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

On a group trip, even when you're traveling with family and friends, you usually find the good, the bad and the unexpected. The good—you make a new friend. The bad—one annoying person drives everybody insane. The unexpected—you visit a destination or attraction you never would have discovered on your own that blows your mind.

No matter where you go, any great trip begins with smart planning. Here are some tips to consider as you get your family, friends or wedding party ready for a trip together:

Test drive the group: Your wild friend Bob and crazy Uncle Larry may be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night but they might drive everyone nuts during a two-week trip. Before spending a vacation together, try a long-weekend group trip to see what the dynamics are like. Then, plan accordingly.

Set ground rules: It is very important to make the "ground rules" crystal clear at the beginning of the trip. It helps to have them written down and handed out (even to your family members). Ground rules can include how costs are divided up, daily departure times, who’s responsible for driving, etc.

Timing is everything: When traveling as a group, the "on-time" issue usually causes the most friction. Invariably, one or two people are always late for the morning blast-off and/or wander off at stops and are nowhere to be found when it’s time to hit the road again. Nip this situation in the bud immediately! It’s not only annoying but unfair to the rest of the group.

If a gentle (or harsh) reprimand doesn’t work, a) assign an on-time "buddy" to the person (this task can be rotated among the group members); b) simply state that the car/van/bus will take off at the appointed time and persistent latecomers will be responsible for getting to the next stop on their own. (You can put this in the ground rules memo.)

Schedule downtime: Don’t let the desire to see everything blind you to the need for daily downtime. Be sure to plan for time to relax by the pool and/or change clothes back at the hotel.

Staying connected: Even on vacation, we are all so attached to our need to check e-mail. Find out in advance from your hotels if there’s a WiFi connection in the rooms or if there’s a business center for those who don’t have or don’t want to bring a laptop. Also, check if there is a hotel "hotspot" charge to access the internet.

Provide options: You may love your family and group of friends, but spending every waking moment together for a week or two can be trying. Plan optional activities and restaurant choices so individuals or smaller groups can branch off on their own.

Activity options could include a choice of museum hopping, shopping or a sports activity. For restaurant choices, contact your hotels in advance and get three good restaurant suggestions for each place you’ll stop for meals. You might wind up eating together anyway, but it's good to provide choices for those who might need a break from a little too much togetherness!

Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

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German Group Journeys

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

Germany is a wonderful place to visit for anyone who loves art, architecture, culture and history. It's also a bike rider's paradise. On a group trip with your friends, family or wedding party, there's plenty to do and see in every region of Germany.

Bike, Art and Culture - Here are some ideas for places to visit with a focus on art and architecture. You can tour these areas by bike (it's easy to rent bikes locally) or by car:

Focus on Art - Muenster and Kassel:

Focus on Industrial Design - The Rhur Region:

Focus on Medieval Architecture – Lower Saxony:

Focus on Modern Art and Architecture – Düsseldorf:

Focus on Culture and History - Berlin:

Sightseeing highlights include: The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by internationally-renowned architect Peter Eisenman. Sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand, with landmark status, have become a canvas for modern graffiti art. There are museums galore and contemporary art lovers can tour hot, new galleries with Go Art! Berlin.

The tourism offices in all these places can help you arrange any kind of group trip—city tours, bike tours, museum visits. Almost everyone in Germany speaks English and those that don't will still make every effort to help you. In Germany, it isn't just the art and culture that shines, even the sparkling-clean restrooms are impressive! So, no excuses. Get your group organized for a great journey to Germany.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

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Maui: Pacific Island Adventure


A playground for outdoor trekkers, golfers and beach loungers, the Hawaiian island of Maui attracts families, friends and romantics to her beaches, lush mountains, renowned golf courses and rugged volcanic crater. Discover with your group why Conde Nast Traveler dubbed Maui the best Pacific island for the 16th straight year and ranked Maui number two for all destinations in the world in 2006.

Activities Galore

Watch the sunrise atop 10,000-foot Haleakala Crater and bike down to the Pacific Ocean from its rim. Try fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, surfing or parasailing off the coast of Lahaina or go hiking in the West Maui Mountains. With Maui being home to authentic ranches and rodeos, you can also opt for a horseback riding tour from a ranch along trails that lead to the beach. Kids will enjoy the Maui Ocean Center, largest tropical reef aquarium in the world, where turtles, sharks and other marine creatures swim, play and eat. Golfers have their pick of world-class golf courses on Maui. And you won't get a true sense of the Aloha State without feasting at a luau or taking in a Polynesian show.

Land Adventures

Trek around Haleakala National Park, one of only a few of national parks in Hawaii. Near Haleakala tumble the Wailua Falls where hikers can stop and picnic near the oasis. Drive the road to Hana, a stunning road trip with winding paths carving around steep cliffs. Bring your camera and sense of adventure. The road to Hana cuts through lush mountains with unparalleled ocean vistas, but the curvy road is infamous for turning some passengers (and drivers) into white-knucklers. Maui is also home to authentic rodeos, ranches and cowboys, so saddle up at a ranch for a horseback riding tour through hills or along a beach. Maui Ocean Center, largest reef aquarium in the world, is a perfect way to entertain the water-logged kids. Visit Lahaina's art galleries, shops, boutiques and craft displays after eating at Lahaina's many restaurants.


Maui is consistently ranked one of the best golf destinations in the world, plus host to professional tournaments. Kapalua and Wailea golf courses draw more skilled golfers, but all levels can enjoy the links at over 15 courses around the Valley Island. Nearby neighboring island of Lanai (easily accessible by boat) also offers two championship golf courses in private, tranquil luxury. Want more relaxing golf? Try golfing on jungle-dense Molokai, with two golf courses, one by the sea and another in the deep woods. No tee times or golf pros. Just ample time to perfect your swing.

Water Sports

Snorkeling. Surfing. Parasailing. Fishing. Whale watching. Scuba diving. Maui offers numerous ways to enjoy the Pacific. Take a surfing lesson or just hit the waves from Lahaina. Try windsurfing near Kahului. Numerous tours offer whale-watching and snorkeling adventures, often to nearby crescent-shaped Molokini island where you can snorkel around the reefs, then head to another area to snorkel with sea turtles and peer at colorful coral. Many tours also boat past schools of bottlenose dolphins and spinner dolphins to find them leaping and twisting as if playfully putting on a show.


Maui boasts an array of beaches for every taste. Kaanapali Beach is a long white stretch of sand for beachcombers, snorkelers and swimmers. Other popular beaches include Big Beach in Makena, Black Rock near Kaanapali for renowned coral snorkeling, Black Sand Beach, Changs Beach, Hana Bay, Hamoa Beach, HA Baldwin Beach Park and many more rocky and sandy shores.

Best of the Web for Maui, Hawaii

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State Tourism Sites

If you're putting together vacation plans with friends or family, there are great resources online for researching destinations, activities and attractions. Many state tourism sites offer travel ideas for where to go and how to entertain your group; quality sites have practical information, beautiful photos, give an accurate glimpse of what to expect from visiting the area, and are easy to navigate.

In alphabetical order, here are links to the official tourism websites for all 50 states:

Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming

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Making the Most of Volunteer Vacations

By guest blogger Leah Mayor, PhD

Volunteering abroad can be one of the most rewarding travel experiences. Choosing a pre-organized group trip means valuable knowledge, resources, and information will be available to help you integrate and immerse yourself in a new destination.

After living and volunteering abroad for more than three years in different countries as well as conducting years of research on the subject, here are a few tips to help you make of the most of your experience traveling abroad both as an individual and group traveler.

Think about long-term impact. Even if you are only volunteering for a few weeks, aligning yourself with an organization means that you are a part of an on-going relationship with a community.  Choose an organization that reflects the kind of relationship that you want to share with that community abroad and hopefully you will find ways to be a part of it even after returning home.

Know why you are going and align your motivations with your actions. Not long ago, I spent 6 months helping volunteers acclimate to their new surroundings in Mongolia.  I worked with a woman who espoused that her main motivation was to immerse herself in another culture and learn from intercultural interactions.  Unfortunately, she spent most of her time in her tent avoiding the heat, the flies, and the very kinds of interactions that led her there. Clearly, her actions were not in-line with her goals. When volunteering abroad, you can expect to have to put more energy into situations simply because they will feel "new." Defining clearly your goals and intent will help you to reach out to more situations and opportunities so that you can achieve your goals and will lead to a more satisfying and transformative trip.

Consider your skills and the destination. Choosing a volunteer destination is not just about where you want to go on vacation. While many of us dream of riding through Mongolia on horseback or circumambulating Mt. Kailash this is not what the volunteer vacation is about. If you really want to travel to make a difference then your skills can help you determine where we go.  Consider the kind of impact you can make abroad.  When you are researching groups to volunteer with tell the organization about your skills and what you have to offer and see if they have any suggestions. Making an impact will help you to have the trip of a lifetime!

Do your research. Nothing is more important before departure than knowing what you are getting into. Talk to people who have done the trip before, learn what kind of support you will have in your volunteer experience. Learn what you can about the kinds of people who choose the trip. Often Web sites and promotional materials show the best face of an organization. Talking to people will help you to assure that this is indicative of the actual experience there. There are some organizations that don't follow through in providing the kind of relationship with tourists or the community that they say they do.  Figuring this out is part of your job in ensuring an amazing volunteer experience.

Look inward and outward. I have spent years working with international organizations and individual travelers to understand their motivations and experiences. While most of us emphasize the cultural understanding gained through travel, the truth is that our deepest insights are personal. Travel is a marvelous opportunity to come to a clearer sense of our own cultural lenses and to cut through limiting aspects of our own culture. When seen this way, time abroad can open an opportunity to live more authentically and free from cultural expectations. But it is important to not simplify the cultural codes of others. It is one thing to believe that "Life for Mongolians is simple." It is another to understand the meaning of this more closely resembles "Coming to Mongolia has simplified my life in ways that I hope to retain when I return home."

Bon voyage!

Leah Mayor holds a PhD in Adult Education from Cornell University and continues to conduct research and write about travel.

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Travel Carnival 12: Potpourri

A potpourri of travel topics from how to ditch your travel companion to touring Paris to a (much-needed) rant on airport noise pollution and a top 10 list of tourism-competitive countries. Read on...!

Brilliant Insights

Destinations and Experiences

Travel Tips

April 18, 2007

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

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11th Carnival of Travel: Culinary Commentary

If you travel for food, read on. The 11th carnival of travel is filled with thoughtful (even mouth-watering at times) commentary on food for herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores alike. Each article is fresh and flavorful.

Thanks for tuning in. Hungry for travel yet?

February 16, 2007

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

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Kid-friendly Golf Resorts: Ten ways to know one when you see one

By guest blogger Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

Love family vacations? Love golf? Bringing the two together has never been easier, as more hotels and resorts are wooing parents with excellent golf schools and family-minded packages. But how will you know if a resort’s family golf program is really as kid-friendly as promised?

You can tell a lot simply by reading the property’s brochure or web site, says Jerramy Hainline, director of instruction at the Hilton Golf Academy, whose three resorts welcome over 350 kids each year. Compare how the resort describes its junior golf instruction with how it portrays its adult offerings. “If there’s very little difference in how the classes are described, it’s more than likely that the resort hasn’t tailored anything for kids,” says Hainline. “If a resort or school truly wants kids there, it will have made accommodations to offer junior golfers a quality experience.”

What else should you look for? Here are 10 more clues that a resort will deliver a golf vacation that’s truly a family affair:

Bio: Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the Editor-in-Chief of, a family travel website with resort and hotel reviews, how-to articles, readers’ tips and recommendations, and planning advice for kid-friendly vacations.

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10th Carnival of Travel: Outdoor Adventures

This 10th carnival focuses on the wide range of outdoor adventures - family vacations, group trips, expats traveling abroad, volunteer vacations, solo treks. The list goes on. Enjoy!

Dear Diary: Many posts had a diary-style essence, so I grouped them together here.

That's all, folks. The 11th edition of the carnival of travel will be themed food or culinary travel (including beverages, etc.).

January 15, 2007

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

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Need Help Planning a Large Gathering? Act like a Pro

Organizing a large family reunion, destination wedding or meeting is a lot of work, and the process can quickly become overwhelming. Where to hold the event? How much space is needed? Which facilities can accommodate the group? Who are the good caterers and other service providers in the area? What should be on the menu?

Corporate meeting and event planners do this every day for the most demanding customers in the travel business. And thanks to MiMegasite you can benefit from many of their tips and tools, even if your budget doesn’t include professional planning help.

Read articles on food and beverage planning. Gain insight on new and improved facilities and activities in their destination guides. Use the meeting space planner to determine your square footage requirements. Looking for space options in San Francisco? The facility search tool has information and links for over 900 options, which you can narrow down based on room requirements. Photographers in Phoenix? The supplier search tool has contact and other information for 54 of them as well as recommendations in 46 other supplier categories.

Getting started is often the hardest part, and MiMegasite lowers that hurdle so you can focus on making the right choices for your group.

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9th Carnival of Travel: Potpourri

'Tis the season to have as random of an assortment of travel subjects as appetizers you can cram on a holiday plate. The 9th carnival of travel is a mix of topics. Here goes!

Travel Companions: 3 amazing stories

Travel as Inspiration: thought-provoking tales

Rants and Warnings: comic and tragic truths of travel

Travel Tips: miscellaneous nuggets of wisdom

That's all for this edition. Theme for the upcoming edition is Outdoor Adventures.

December 18, 2006

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

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8th Carnival of Travel: Inspiration

With both winter weather woes and holiday cheer running rampant in December, the 8th carnival of travel is devoted to inspiration. Many of the posts below serve as ideas for group travel destinations or attractions and shining examples of why we travel.

Grab a cup of Chai, tea, or coffee and enjoy the latest travel carnival.

  1. Joe Kissell presents "The Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers: Interesting Thing of the Day," saying, "An 11th-century Parisian abbey later became the home of a fantastic museum of arts and trades, which is to say, mostly inventions. But the exhibits aren't the only interesting things about the building." This "holy grail for invention lovers" holds Foucault's Pendulum. Ooooh, I'm intrigued.
  2. Tim Abbott presents "Wild at Heart", illuminating "inspiration in wild places, large and small" whether trekking in the tracks of elephants or following children's feet. A reflective gem of an article.
  3. Pam Mandel presents "Wien, Wien, Nur Du Allein" as an ode to falling in love with Vienna, imagined. Poetically crafted prose.
  4. Kelly Vaughan presents "To Know Is to Remember That You've Seen; to See Is to Know Without Remembering" saying, "Kapadokya (Cappadocia), an enchanting kaleidescope of weird geology, Christian saints, stone houses, underground cities, clay pot kebaps, tumbling pigeons, snake-design carpets, temperamental hairdressers, hot air balloons, phallic symbols, fairytales, fireplaces, and tavla. It's hard to know where to begin." Beautiful photos accompany this inspiring Turkey travelogue.
  5. Jennifer Miner presents "St. John Eco-travel and Eco-tourism" and shares the extent of environmental volunteer work being done to keep Caribbean island St. John green.
  6. Joe Donnachie presents "Paul's Bike Ride from Italy to London - Part One." This first part of a 650-mile epic ride through the Alps, the French countryside, and ultimately home to the UK is inspiring for athletes or adventurous travelers alike.
  7. Maureen O'Brien presents "Lake Tahoe Vacation," with numerous stunning photos from her family's recent homeschool educational trip. Nice to see a homeschool mom take the kids to areas around the country to sights they've studied.

Travel tip entries from other bloggers:

December 4, 2006

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

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San Francisco Getaway Guide

San Francisco's multi-cultural artistic flair and waterfront location, combined with world-class vineyards just a quick drive away make for ideal weekend trips. This laid back City by the Bay was home to tie-dye, a hotbed of progressive social change during the 60s revolution, and is the cosmopolitan, creative center of the West Coast today.

A family-friendly town. A hip, metropolis for trendy urbanites. A strong gay and lesbian community. San Francisco truly offers something for everyone.

Top sights, activities, and attractions:

Music scene
San Francisco has a history of producing and drawing bands to entertain all sorts of crowds. From the Dead Heads of the 60s generation to the modern mosh of musical sounds, there are clubs, bands, and famous groups galore.

Art scene
Museums, galleries, theater, dance companies, performances, cabarets, and events. SFMOMA is a world-class modern art museum with paintings (Henri Matisse), photography (Ansel Adams), and more. Plus, don't miss the art galleries in Sausalito and around San Fran.

Shopping scene
From mall-famous iconic shops like the Gap, Anne Taylor, and Tommy Hilfiger to quaint boutiques with hand-crafted scarves, shirts, pottery, jewelry, and more, San Francisco offers a trendy shopping experience for all ages and tastes.

Food fare
In & Out Burgers are nearly as famous as their t-shirts. You simply must find one and indulge. Vegetarians abound in this health-conscious city so you can not only splurge on a milkshake instead of a burger at In & Out Burgers, but you'll have a wide selection of restaurants with fabulous international cuisine. From fresh seafood restaurants to Chinatown's dim sum to Mexican food with guacamole to make you cry like a baby, San Francisco dishes up delectable bites.

And the drinks are a gastronomic wonder, too. Not only does San Francisco neighbor Napa Valley, a world-renowned wine-growing region, but the city has enough clubs, bars, and hip establishments to make metro-philes swoon (without spilling a drop, of course).

Stinson Beach for road trippers, the beach by Golden Gate Park for families who want quick access to the city but also a long stretch of sand for sandcastles, the Presidio's San Francisco Bay beach for photo ops of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and beyond. Or how about Baker Beach for nudists?

Districts and Day Trips

  1. The Mission District – Think eclectic eateries, happening nightlife, and a Hispanic history with a heart. The Mission could possibly be San Francisco's trendiest hang-out.
  2. Haight Ashbury – Home of the Grateful Dead, tie-dyed shops, and an area made famous by the 60s, this area still has classic townhouses, funky shops, and is near Golden Gate Park. It's a sidewalk collection like a virtual shrine unto the hippie movement. Eat one of it's famous burritos and wander through the past and into the new shops that typify the revitalization of this neighborhood.
  3. Muir Woods National Monument – Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (one of the largest urban national parks in the world), this woodsy wonder is a hiking area just north of San Francisco and named for the famous naturalist John Muir. Pay a visit to this quiet reprieve and look up at old growth redwood trees.
  4. Napa Valley – Nestled in Napa Valley with honey-colored hills akin to Tuscany, California's wine country is famous for its grape nectar. Take a road trip from the city to Napa for wine-tasting, hot air ballooning, bicycling, spa-going, and more.
  5. Sausalito and Tiburon – Two of the Bay Area's most quaint towns are just 20 miles north of the city across the bay. Best way to get there is via ferry on Pier 41 near Fisherman’s Wharf. Art galleries, novelty shops, boutique clothing stores, restaurants are all easily walkable and the views of San Francisco from these waterfront towns are spectacular. Bring your camera and stay for lunch. Sausalito resembles a Mediterranean seaside village and Tiburon is akin to a New England coastal town. Great for families.
  6. North Beach neighborhood – Walk through Little Italy and taste a cappuccino and pastry from the old country. Plenty of shops and attractions to keep you occupied in this former Beatnik hub.
  7. Berkeley – Home to University of California Berkeley, this town across the bay from San Fran is full of shops and is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
  8. Pebble Beach Golf Course and 17-mile Drive at Pebble Beach – Pebble Beach is world-famous for its golf course, luxury spa, and winding drive with several breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. If you are a golfer, plan ahead and book a round of golf at this famous course well in advance.
  9. Monterey Bay Aquarium – One of the world's largest aquariums, this marine sanctuary is perfect for the kids or the kid in you. Plan to spend the night in this town that was the setting for John Steinbeck’s books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.
  10. Carmel – With quaint tree-lined streets of boutique shops, cafes, and art galleries, this town is near Pebble Beach and Monterey and great for road trips from San Fran.
  11. Sonoma, St. Helena, Calistoga - Art galleries, wineries, spas. In that order. Sonoma has art galleries, quaint shops, good eats, and a community theater not to mention the plethora of wineries in Sonoma County. St. Helena is located between Calistoga and Napa and a quaint town with award-winnning restaurants  and wineries nearby. Calistoga is a spa haven for those who crave a good massage.

Best of the Web for San Francisco

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Travel Companions from Hell

I've been on a handful of trips where travel companions suddenly turn into the companion from hell. Sometimes they are foreigners on a group tour, other times it is a family member or friend who I adore but drives me nuts on a particular day.

Traveling with others is a litmus test of patience, flexibility, and ability to compromise. We all have our limits. And when someone tests those limits, the results can get ugly.

I'd like to hear from you all. Any readers with quick stories that are funny, a little scary, or at very minimum just plain "story worthy?" Let's hear 'em. I'll start it off and hope to see comments with other stories. Think of it as blog therapy.

My travel companion from hell: While traveling overseas for the very first time (to Colombia, no less) for a wedding, two us went on an day trip. The excurion was a small cruise off the coast of Cartegena. The Caribbean waters and tiny droplets of islands were intoxicating. Scenery I'd only seen on romantic travel brochures floated past me. I was trippin' on the good vibes. However, on the cruise, my friend and I met two other American tourists - the only other Americans on the entire boat (probably in the entire country at that time). We gringos sat near each other to chat since we all barely spoke Spanish. The American woman of the couple was a stereotypical, unworldly, rich American. Demanding. Loud. Snotty. English only. And she pronounced "hola" with the "h." I was embarrassed to share a flag with this woman. At one point the woman grabbed my arm and said, "Will you order me a soda?" I took her money to get the drink. When I returned I handed her bottled water as that was the only non-alcoholic drink they had and she yelled at me and - here's the kicker - pinched my arm hard with fury.

I've since had many pleasant experience meeting other Americans abroad while traveling. But this woman put new meaning with the term "bad trip." I felt sorry for her husband who looked like he couldn't say boo for fear she might strike him.

Any other travel companions from hell out there? Please avoid using real names.

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Virginia is Still for Lovers… of Food, Wine, and Relaxation

By guest blogger Andrea Deagle

Are you fond of television shows where people go to an old building and have a paranormal experience? Consider yourself a history buff? Do you like cooking demos that let you taste the food? Does 45 minutes sipping wine while watching a sunset sound appealing? Virginia – the Old Dominion – is still a terrific place to sightsee and now offers ways to investigate the unknown and indulge in the here and now.

More than a family vacation spot, Williamsburg has become a town rich in visual arts, fine food, and ecotourism. Located in the Mid-Atlantic, this charming town has the good fortune of entertaining visitors year-round. It's a place where you can feel at home, get a taste of the South, brush up on American history, and feel safe.

Whether touring with a bus group (a great way to get discount attraction tickets) or with family, there is so much in the surrounding 50 miles. To get started, here is the baker's dozen of essential ingredients for your Williamsburg "to do" list (day trips included).

  1. Jamestown Island (National Park Service) – This is the real beginning of America – 1607. Stories of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and the amazing New World colony lay here on the banks of the beautiful James River.
  2. Jamestown Settlement – Three reconstructed ships are open to public; rebuilt James Fort (houses, church, blacksmith) and the Indian village are also open; plus a state-of-the-art museum with London to America and Africa to America journeys.
  3. Colonial Williamsburg – An architectural wonder, this is a fully restored 18th century city with a great combination of living history, relaxing walk-about opportunities and decorator’s dreams. Take the Tavern Ghost Tour hosted by tavern employees.
  4. Art Galleries – Merchant's Square, near the College of William & Mary, is home to 15 galleries and shops and a short walk from the historic area of Williamsburg.
  5. Williamsburg Cuisine – Seven bistros, three colonial taverns, a theater kitchen, two nationally-acclaimed dining rooms, and great barbeque are a sampling of how this town offers something for everyone.
  6. Ecotourism – Grab your binoculars to spot some of the many bald eagles that nest here. Bicycling, kayaking, and hiking on trails are all available as low environmental impact activities. Also, check out the nearby Great Dismal Swamp for wildlife and recreation.
  7. Busch Gardens – Voted "most beautiful theme park" for 16 consecutive years by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, this park offers a different twist with a European theme and top-rated roller coasters, the famous Clydesdale horses, and renowned live shows.
  8. President's Park – Think you can name all U.S. presidents? You might after a visit here. Walk the trail through busts of all presidents, a collection of first ladies' gowns, and the oval office set from Saturday Night Live.
  9. Williamsburg Winery – There are superb wines being produced here, plus a restaurant, tastings, gift shop, and museum.
  10. Yorktown – Take a short drive to Yorktown, historic site for the last battle (and surrender) of the Revolutionary War. York River waterfront area has shops, restaurants, and river tours.
  11. Virginia Tidewater Plantations – See ruins, farms, majestic mansions – all captivating and part of the American fabric.
  12. Richmond – Home to revolutions of many kinds from Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech, the capital of the Southern Confederacy, and the African-American strive for civil rights. Also, take time to visit Virginia's capitol building.
  13. Relax – Golf (plenty of courses), shopping (from eclectic to mainstream), spas, water (Water Country, Virginia Beach, your hotel's pool), gardens, and playgrounds.

Like many destinations, there are different reasons to go at different times of the year. Virginia summers can be hot and humid, but this is a great time to plan some "get wet" activities. Winter is mild and peaceful, with the occasional snowfall to make it magical. Spring is azaleas, tulips, daffodils, and school kids. Fall may be one of the perfect times to visit. Foliage peaks at the end of October and the weather averages the high 60’s.

For additional information, the Virginia Tourism Corporation has extensive Web-based guides, and Williamsburg has two sites, and  Group tour information can be found on all Web sites.

Andrea Deagle is a native Virginian and resident of Williamsburg. She is currently Director of Group Sales for the Hampton Inn & Suites Historic and has been involved in the travel industry for over 20 years.

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Discovering Serenity - The Rise of Spiritual Spas

In an era where the pursuit of mental wellness is as crucial as physical health, a new trend is emerging in the world of wellness: the spiritual spa. Blending ancient traditions with modern wellness techniques, these sanctuaries offer more than just physical rejuvenation. They are gateways to spiritual awakening and emotional healing, catering to those seeking a deeper sense of well-being.

At its core, a spiritual spa is a retreat that emphasizes inner peace and spiritual growth alongside, or in place of, traditional spa treatments. Unlike conventional spas focusing primarily on physical pampering and relaxation, spiritual spas aim to nurture the mind and soul. They provide a sanctuary for individuals to disconnect from their hectic lives and reconnect with their inner selves.

Spiritual spas often encompass a variety of practices and treatments, each designed to foster holistic well-being. Meditation and mindfulness sessions are staples, offering guided experiences that help quiet the mind and cultivate inner peace. Yoga and other movement therapies are frequently available, providing a physical dimension to spiritual practices.

Energy healing treatments, such as Reiki or chakra balancing, are also common, aiming to align and heal the body's energy systems. Many spas offer spiritual counseling and workshops, providing guidance on personal growth and emotional healing.

Nature-based activities are integral, with many retreats set in serene, natural locations. These activities can range from nature walks to outdoor meditation, helping guests to reconnect with the natural world. Nutrition and detox programs are often part of the experience, focusing on foods that cleanse both the body and the soul.

Finally, cultural and spiritual rituals are a unique aspect of many spiritual spas. These can vary widely depending on the spa's cultural and spiritual orientation, offering diverse experiences like sweat lodges, fire ceremonies, or traditional healing rituals.

Booking a Spiritual Spa Experience:

When searching for a spiritual spa, consider what aspects of spirituality and wellness are most important to you. Are you seeking a yoga-centric experience, or are you more inclined towards meditation and mindfulness? Do you prefer a specific cultural or spiritual tradition? Answering these questions can help narrow down your options.

Websites like offer a comprehensive listing of spiritual retreats worldwide, complete with user reviews and detailed descriptions. It's also worth checking out wellness-focused travel agencies, which can provide personalized recommendations based on your preferences.

When reserving a spot, consider the timing and duration of the retreat. Some retreats are weekend getaways, while others offer longer stays for deeper immersion. Be sure to inquire about the level of physical activity involved, especially if you have any limitations.

Spiritual spas are not just places to relax but are transformative spaces where one can embark on a journey of self-discovery and spiritual renewal. Whether nestled in the tranquil mountains, perched by the serene seaside, or tucked away in a lush forest, these retreats offer a pathway to a more connected, peaceful, and mindful existence.

Article updated December 2023.

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5 Tips for Planning a Winter (Ski) Resort Wedding

By guest blogger Blair deLaubenfels

Does the idea of a winter wedding complete with sleigh rides, making tracks through fresh powder, hot toddies, and friends around a roaring fire make you feel warm and cozy inside, but the idea of planning for one leaves you cold? Then try these 5 tips for simplifying winter wedding planning.

How to plan a winter wedding.

1. Choose a resort that offers something for everyone. North America is full of fabulous places to ski and snowboard, but not all of your guests will be enthusiastic about heading to the slopes. Pick a location that offers a wide range of activities and choices for everybody. Resorts like Whistler, Breckenridge and Vail offer first class nightlife, dining and shopping, as well as plenty of other relaxing and entertaining options for guests of all ages.

2. Hire a local consultant. Even if you're quite familiar with the area you've chosen, finding a highly recommended wedding planner who has lots of experience planning weddings at that destination is a must. Ask for references and check them. Once you've found someone you're comfortable working with, set a budget you can live with and supply the consultant with as much information about the preferences of the guests on your list as you can. Stay in close contact as changes arise.

3. Book early. Peak times at coveted ski resorts are often booked a year or more in advance, so be sure that you get your reservations all set 12 to 18 months before your wedding. Send out invitations as soon as you've made your arrangements so friends and family have plenty of time to schedule time off and travel.

4. Help your guests plan. Have your consultant provide a detailed itinerary to each person attending. Be sure that it includes a map of the area, transportation arrangements to and from accommodations and events, an hourly time-line for your wedding day and the days leading up to it, as well as contact information for your consultant and local emergency numbers. In addition, guests who aren’t familiar with ski resort living will appreciate a packing list with all the items necessary for them to keep warm and safe.

5. Consider taking your photographer with you. Seattle wedding consultant Dianne Greene, of Distinctive Weddings and Events, recommends that you hire a photographer who lives near you so that you can meet and see their work before your wedding. When your photos and album are ready you'll be able to pick them up in person, insuring that you get what you paid for.

Blair deLaubenfels is Senior Editor for Junebug Weddings.

Photo supplied by Whistler photographer David Buzzard

Postscript: Thanks to the anonymous reader who reached out to share that "Lake Placid, NY is also a great place for a winter wedding. Complete with sleigh rides, etc. Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympic Games two times, 1932 and 1980. It is the only city in North America to have that distinction. In addition to skiing at Whiteface, there is bobsled and luge, the Olympic Museum and tons of great restaurants, shops and a really great spa."

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Luxury Golf Courses

No two golf courses are alike. And there's nothing like driving a ball down the creme de la creme of fairways and putting on luxury greens. There's no definitive list and everyone will have their own preferences. This list represents a mix of courses known for their historical significance, architectural brilliance, challenging layouts, and luxurious amenities. We also selected a list of courses that are available to the public.

    Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula, California: Known for its stunning ocean views and challenging layout, Pebble Beach has hosted numerous PGA Tour events. The course is part of a world-class resort offering luxurious accommodations and amenities. It is advisable to book several months in advance, especially for peak season and weekends, with resort guests possibly having priority.

    Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland: The birthplace of golf, this course is rich in history and tradition. Known for its rolling fairways, deep bunkers, and strategic play, it offers breathtaking views of the Scottish coast. Booking up to a year in advance for guaranteed tee times is recommended, along with a daily ballot system for some tee times.

    Bethpage Black Course, Long Island, New York: A public course known for its demanding conditions and beautiful, well-maintained layout. Bethpage Black has hosted several major championships and is revered for its challenge and beauty. Tee times can be reserved online 7 days in advance for New York residents and 5 days for non-residents.

    Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, Wisconsin: Set on the banks of Lake Michigan, this course is known for its links-style layout and has hosted several PGA Championships. Advance booking several months ahead is recommended during peak, summer season.

    TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Famous for its 17th hole island green, TPC Sawgrass is home to The Players Championship. It's known for its challenging layout and luxurious amenities. Booking a few months in advance, particularly during peak seasons, is recommended.

    Cape Kidnappers, Te Awanga, New Zealand: Set in a dramatic landscape, Cape Kidnappers offers stunning ocean views and a layout that's both challenging and scenic. Advanced booking is advised, especially from October to April.

    Kapalua Plantation Course, Maui, Hawaii: This course is renowned for its beautiful setting and has hosted the PGA Tour's Sentry Tournament of Champions. It's known for its panoramic ocean views and challenging layout. Reservations are recommended in advance, especially during the peak winter months.

    The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: A historic resort with several golf courses, including the Old White TPC, a public course that hosts the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic. It's advisable to book a few months in advance, particularly for summer visits.

    The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina: Known for its stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, this public course has hosted several major championships, including the PGA Championship. As with other courses on this list, booking several months in advance is recommended for peak times.

    Royal Birkdale Golf Club, Southport, England: This public links course is one of England's finest and has hosted multiple Open Championships and Ryder Cups. It's known for its challenging layout and coastal setting. Advanced booking is generally recommended, especially during summer months.

Playing these courses isn't cheap. Costs can vary significantly but, depending on the course, a round might cost $500 or more. In some cases, costs may also depend whether you're staying at the resort hotel. ​ List updated November 2023.

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Outdoor Survival Courses

Imagine you're on a day hike and dusk sets in a little too early. You're low on water. No food left. And no map. As dark settles on the ground, your feet quicken pace to match your racing heart. Will you make it back in time? Are you on the right trail? Can you even see the trail? Or what if an small avalanche rolls across your path in the snow on a winter hike or snowshoe adventure? How would you survive if a day hike goes wrong?

A New York Times article covered courses designed to train people how to survive with just the clothes on their backs and a sharp knife. How Survivor or Lost TV episodal! Seriously, if you're ever in the deep woods, it might not be a bad idea to know what to do. The New York Times article details a group survival trip taken by the author. Gathering nuts and wild onions for a soup over a fire made from twigs and no matches, these troopers brave the cold and learn a greater appreciation for Mother Nature and human's inventions to stay warm and fed.

This type of adventure might be a creative bonding experience for groups of friends. Not that there aren't a significant amount of women who'd do this, but I can particularly imagine this as a guys experience: "putting hair on chest" and proving to themselves they can hunt, gather, make fire, and survive under adverse conditions. A worthy right of passage. If someone can survive in the wild on minimal accoutraments, they've earned my respect.

These courses offer survival training from one-day sessions to nine-week courses:

  1. Arizona: Ancient Pathways
  2. New Hampshire: Jack Mountain Bushcraft and Guide Service

Know of other courses or guides who offer survival training?

Source: New York Times

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Health Precautions When Traveling

By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part two of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take

Preparations and precautions can and should be taken when traveling in groups, especially to foreign countries. Here are the Consumer Reports on Health risks and precautions to be taken to prepare better for a trip. They go hand in hand with travel insurance to provide traveler peace of mind.

Traveler's Diarrhea
Most common illness, strikes up to 60% of visitors to developing countries

Motion Sickness
Nausea as a result of the inner ear, eyes, and body sending conflicting signals to the brain while flying, boating and driving

Jet Lag
Insomnia, irritability, and foggy-headedness caused by a sudden time-zone shift

Insect-Borne Diseases
Across much of Latin America, Africa and Asia, mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fever are serious concerns

High Altitude Sickness
Headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting resulting from a rapid increase in elevation

Blood Clots in Airplanes
Prolonged sitting increases the risk of leg clots, potentially causing a life-threatening lung embolism

Car Accidents and Other Injuries
Accounts for about 1 in 4 travel-associated deaths

Avian Influenza A (H5N1)
Transmission to humans is rare, but the influenza is widespread in birds

Source: Courtesy Consumer Reports on Health

Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager for Travel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.*

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Travel Insurance Insider's Tips

By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part one of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take

Since the September 11 attacks, many travelers and group travel organizers have become increasingly concerned with their health and safety while away from home. As a result, many companies have launched travel protection products to give travelers peace of mind.

Here are common travel insurance options for individuals and groups, plus tips for finding what's right for you:

Medical Evacuation: Provides emergency transportation for a traveler who has a medical emergency, which is especially important when traveling to remote areas.  Medical evacuation membership programs offer an array of additional benefits, such as lost luggage compensation and guaranteed hospital admission.

The fine print:

Travel Health Insurance: These policies typically cover expenses that a traveler may incur from being in the hospital or seeing a physician while traveling. Coverage may also include benefits such as trip interruption, trip cancellation, travel delay, extreme sports and identity theft assistance. Note: Coverage may also include medical evacuation coverage, but several companies offer medical evacuation as an independent service.

The fine print:

Although, thankfully, the majority of people travel to and from their destination with no medical emergencies or other issues, it's nice to have peace of mind and protection from unforeseen events. A tip for groups: purchase coverage together because groups usually receive discounted rates. Finally, here's a list of travel preparations and risks in various regions of the globe. Bon voyage!

Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager for Travel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.

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Group Tours: What to Ask Before You Sign Up

The Seattle Times republished an article on what to ask before signing up for a group tour. It goes well with our previous coverage of group tour preparation such as 10 Tips: How to Choose the Right Group Tour and Lucky 7 Tips from a Volunteer Vacation Leader.

In planning a multi-day group tour, volunteer vacation, or multi-week trip abroad, all of these questions are useful for determining which group tour is right for you.

  1. What is the max. number of people on the tour?
  2. What kind of bus is used?
  3. Does the tour company sublet its tours or use its own employees?
  4. Is the tour guide a native English speaker?
  5. Is the tour offered in English?
  6. Will you get the same tour leader in each location or local leaders per town?
  7. Are all entrance fees included?
  8. Are tips included also?
  9. Are hotel transfers part of the package?
  10. Can the tour guide change the itinerary when weather changes?

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New York City: Lights, Cameras, and a Whole Lotta Action

New York is alive with non-stop action year-round. In this pulsating city of cabbies, world-class theater, chic trends, and super stars, it can be hard to find peace and quiet. But that's not why Manhattan is famous. Travelers scurry from around the globe to feast their senses on this one-of-a-kind, razzle-dazzle city with heart and soul.

Trend-setting styles. Culinary delights. World-renowned shopping (both bargains and luxury goods). Theater and shows for any audience. Classic and contemporary art. Musical genius. Financial power. The rich and famous. Architectural juxtapositions. It's no wonder visitors return again and again to soak in a city with so much life.

Holiday HooplaFor the holidays, the Big Apple puts on the ritz with over-the-top decorations (think buildings wrapped in glittery red bows), activities that people wait the whole year for (ice-skating), and a certain buzz in the middle of snowflake season that you can't find anywhere else.

The Great White Way boasts musicals for an assortment of audiences. Which ones appeal to your group? Here are suggestions to get you started:

Activities & Attractions
Famous attractions have appeared in movies for decades and draw visitors daily for different reasons. Here's why first-time metro-loving groups visit the Big Apple and a few reasons why urban hipsters keep coming back for more.

Arts & Current Culture
New York City offers some of the world's finest art collections at museums and galleries and is a hotbed of artistic and architectural innovation. It's also home to contemporary cultural icons like major league baseball stadiums and TV tours.

Beyond Manhattan
While Manhattan is New York City's most famous and visited borough, there are four others that draw visitors for distinct reasons. Quick highlights:

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, a famous suspension bridge connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan, and walk along New York City's first historic (and still swanky) district, Brooklyn Heights. Then stroll through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden with more cherry trees than Washington, D.C., and visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art that showcases one of the world's largest Egyptian collections. And of course, the kids will love Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

The Bronx
The Bronx has a surprising history (previously home to John F. Kennedy, Anne Bancroft, Tony Curtis, Edgar Allen Poe) and amount of attractions for visitors. The Bronx Zoo is the largest urban zoo in the U.S. Yankee Stadium, home to New York's Yankees, is an American icon, so plan ahead and book baseball tickets and stadium tours early. The Bronx also has a greater percentage of green space than any other borough and any other urban area in the country (24% of its 42 acres are parks). Van Cortlandt Golf Course is the first American public course and is part of Van Cortlandt Parks' two square miles of riding trails and other parkland areas.

With the bird lovers 9,000-acre Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, New York Mets' Shea Stadium, and the U.S. Open Tennis Championship USTA National Tennis Center, Queens is a cultural center it is own right. It's also home to two major east coast airports (JFK and LaGuardia), and boasts the Museum of Moving Images with the largest collection of moving image artifacts in the world. Plus, two film studios reside in Queens, so look sharp in case you're "discovered."

Staten Island
Explore the 2.5 mile boardwalk at South Beach, take the free (yes, free) Staten Island Ferry ride from lower Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through New York Harbor to arrive at the northern shore of Staten Island, visit the largest collection of Tibetan art outside of Tibet at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. And there are plenty of nature reserves, historical and cultural museums and sites, as well as national recreation areas on this island.

Best of the Web for New York City

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Food Lover Cities: Top 10

For food enthusiasts looking to indulge in a gastronomic journey across the United States, here are ten cities that stand out for their unique and diverse culinary offerings:

Want another opinion?

For a deeper dive into the top food cities and their unique culinary offerings, you can refer to the following lists from respected sources:

The relative cost of dining in these cities varies, with places like Las Vegas and San Diego likely being on the higher end due to their status as tourist destinations. In contrast, cities like Omaha and Louisville might offer more affordable dining experiences, especially with a focus on local and farm-to-table cuisine.

These are simple, subjective lists of cities that offer fabulous food, but it's always interesting to think of the city and what niblets it's famous for, then drool while planning a trip to sample dishes. Mmmm...

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Garden Tour Destinations

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
See How to Organize a Group Garden Tour as part one of a two-part series.

Doing a garden tour with family or friends is a nice activity for all ages; and there are gorgeous gardens across the globe. Have a look at these sample garden tours to whet your appetite for plants, flowers, shrubs, and all things botany:

Philadelphia: Gardens Galore

Washington State: Celebrate spring

The right mix of climate and soil has made Washington State a wonderland for flowers. Each year during peak bloom season, festivals are held throughout the state to celebrate the glorious variety of flora. You can walk through tulip fields, visit lavender farms, stop at nurseries and get gardening tips from professional growers.

England: Britain in bloom

England is a divine location for garden lovers because of the wide variety of garden design styles (formal, informal, etc.). You can attend the Chelsea Flower Show in May or the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July, when the perennials and roses are at their best. Be sure to include stops at gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and the Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley gardens—240 acres with model gardens offering planting ideas.

France: Vive les fleurs!

France is a dream destination for glorious gardens. Everywhere you turn, there's another botanical beauty--from the Bagatelle Gardens in Paris, filled with irises and roses, to the formal gardens of Versailles and the world-renowned gardens of Claude Monet at Giverney in Normandy. In the Loire Valley, Villandry is thought to be one of the most beautiful and authentic Renaissance gardens. On the French Riviera, the Rothschild's Villa Ephrussi, with its seven distinct gardens, is a must see and in the south of France the terraced gardens at Chateau Val Joanis are a visual wonder.

Morocco: Everything's coming up roses

The Caribbean: Garden jewels

Several Caribbean islands are a floral paradise.  Jamaica’s botanical gardens are a showcase of showy, exotic plants. You can visit them all--Hope Gardens, the Goodson Garden, Cranbrook Flower Forest and Shaw Park Gardens.

Cruises: On-shore gardens

If you love gardens and cruises, here's a way to combine the two:

Final thoughts on visiting gardens:
Booking an organized garden tour is a wonderful option. The tours are led by horticulture experts, everything is arranged for your group and you stay in lovely accommodations. But, these tours can be a bit pricey. (They range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars per person. However, most garden tour companies will give a price break if you are booking for a group.) So, in addition to selecting a garden destination, you need to factor in your group's budget.

You can always book rooms at a centrally-located hotel or resort in your preferred area and arrange day trips on your own from there to the various gardens. However, plan it so that wherever you go, a garden trip will be a delightful experience for everyone in your group. And when at a family reunion, destination wedding, weekend getaway, retreat, and so forth, don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

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How to Organize a Group Garden Tour

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
See Garden Tour Destinations as part two of this two-part series.


If you and your family and friends are garden enthusiasts—or just like to look at pretty fleurs—going on a garden tour is a wonderful experience. For garden experts in your group, it's a great way to get new planting ideas. And, for those who just like to gaze, visiting colorful gardens is a visual treat.

Go on a garden tour lead by horticulture experts or set your own itinerary. You can visit magnificent gardens close to home or as far away as your imagination (and budget) takes you! Schedule your trip to coincide with well-known flower festivals or just try to arrive when the gardens will be at peak bloom. The only rule of thumb (or green thumb) is to start researching and planning now. Don't wait until spring to arrange your trip.
How to begin researching a garden tour vacation:

  1. Garden Clubs: Nearly every state in the union has a garden club. Many organize local home and garden tours each spring; some organize tours to other parts of the world. You'll find links to garden clubs nationwide on the National Garden Clubs' Web site.
  2. Public and Botanical Gardens: Many gardens offer tours of their own lovely grounds as well as tours of other gardens. Here's a list (and links to) Botanical Gardens to visit in the United States.
  3. Gardening Magazines and Web sites: You can pick up great ideas on gardens to visit by flipping through a gardening magazine or checking out a gardening Web site. See Horticulture or Garden Visit and the National Gardening Association's events calendar.
  4. Garden Tour Companies: There are several excellent garden tour companies. Just looking over their itineraries will inspire you to pack your bags and get your group in gear. These companies arrange everything for you and can also create custom tours for your group: Coopersmith's; Jeff Sainsbury Tours; Brightwater Holidays.
  5. Word of Mouth: If you have friends and neighbors who love gardening, perhaps they've gone on a garden tour and can offer some suggestions. If not, just look at these garden tour destinations for ideas.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

Photo provided by Jeff Sainsbury Tours

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Top 10 Thanksgiving Dinner Topics

Turkey day is almost here. Families will gather across America to feast on meat, stuffing, mashed carbs, cranberries, and some form of green veggie dish. Aside from the obvious Congressional overturn, dinner table conversations will inevitably turn toward personal life, especially since relatives and/or close friends are gathered in one place.

Use the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to start planning family reunions or trips with friends. At minimum, share upcoming travel plans. You just might discover useful tips on what to do/see in an area or thoughtful advice on how to solve a trip planning issue from your wise resources at the table. Ten table topics:

  1. Family reunion plans: Start the discussions among your immediate family and any relatives at the table on ideas for the next reunion.
  2. Brainstorm ideas for reunion locations, (someone's house? a destination that everyone can travel to?) themes, (someone's birthday? an important anniversary?) and timing. These are three critical early planning steps for reunions. Why not discuss while you pass dishes during Thanksgiving, or are all on a walk the day after Thanksgiving, or gathered around the fireplace visiting?
  3. Upcoming weddings: Gather ideas from decorations to music to locations if you're the bride or groom; and if you're going to attend a wedding soon, ask for ideas on wedding gifts.
  4. Spring break trips for college students, teachers at the table, or parents who use that opportunity for a family vacation: Gather ideas, brag about trips already set, or ask to borrow items needed such as snorkel gear, binoculars, etc.
  5. Winter or ski travel plans for the upcoming season: Thanksgiving is traditionally more than turkey, it's the start of ski season at slopes across the Northern Hemisphere. Plan a ski trip with family and/or friends. The deals are as fresh as the snow, but will be harder to get later in the season. After dinner, take a trip to the computer and research ski resorts and accommodations that fit people's budgets.
  6. Road trips: The beauty of a road trip is the wandering nature of the journey. Because you can detour to so many tiny towns and off-the-beaten path areas, you may want to gather ideas from the brain power at the dinner table so you don't miss something.
  7. Any travel abroad is usually planned several months to a year in advance, and sharing ideas or learnings from research about the area is great table conversation. You may even be surprised at who else around the table knows about a certain country. Some of the best conversations can be jump-started by someone saying they are traveling to a foreign country within the next year.
  8. Trips with friends: Share upcoming plans for trips with friends (road trips, girls getaways, bachelor parties) and find out who might know about the destination and surrounding attractions. Use your family and friends as resources.
  9. Delegation: with so many loved ones around during this holiday, this is a perfect time to delegate assignments for planning reunions or weddings to people who can help. Shuttling people to and from the airport, decorations, meals, activities, child care, rain plan alternatives, etc.
  10. Ask for planning tips from family, relatives, and close friends at the table. Whatever upcoming vacation(s) you're planning, asking for help can yield sage advice. You might be surprised at what you learn.

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Responsible Tourism Awards

Update: View all Responsible Travel's 2004-2016 Tourism Award winners.

Now here's the mother of all lists for anyone interested in volunteer vacations, eco-tourism, sustainable travel, or simply preserving either the environment or local economies. Who isn't in favor of at least one of those?

Get inspired by Responsible Travel's 2006 Responsible Tourism Awards. The list will make me you want to toss work aside and dream up a vacation to help the planet stay glued together. The award list gives a brief analysis of the unique qualities that made category winners win. In considering a destination with environmentally sound practices - this list can serve as a great resource.

Award highlights:

The list was nominated by a combined total of 1200 readers from Responsible Travel, The Times, and Geographic Magazine.

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Layover Quick Tours

When you have hours to kill between flights and are in a foreign country airport, there are an increasing amount of tours and activities to occupy your mind (and your kids, if you're a parent). Read full story at New York Times.

Amsterdam has a 4-hour tour of a clog factory with a canal ride that you and the kiddies can take for a couple hundred dollars, for instance. Great way to get a peek at a place you're just passing through but is a detour from your itinerary.

I once took the train into London and spent a day shopping and walking through cobblestone streets in between Washington, DC and Tel Aviv, Israel. It was a great way to pass the time and helped me stretch my legs. Good to know tours and activities are out there though.

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Themed Girls Getaways

Now here's a novel idea for that next trip with gal pals: themed girls getaways. The upshot is to get creative when getting together with friends and make the trip memorable and a hoot to boot! Read the full list via the link, but here are the highlights. Love them all.

  1. TV show themes: Think Charley's Angels (mystery dinners, etc.) or "split into tribes and pull a Survivor." Perhaps Saturday Night Live skits and performances instead of charades?
  2. History: Think about decades (20s flapper, 60s hippie, 70s disco, 80s valley girl) or go way, way back in time to the Renaissance or ancient Egypt with room for creative costumes.
  3. It's a small world: Budgets can be tight, so rather than blowing your whole savings on one trip, rent a vacation home and pick a country or region and cook meals from Italy, France, Mexico, Thailand. You can also choose the appropriate music and activities to match the culture.
  4. Out of this world: Space is vast, and so are the possibilities with this theme from Star Trek to superheros!
  5. Classics: Put a new twist on classic themes such as carnivals (games?), westerns/cowgirls (pie-throwing contest?), or pirates (treasure hunt?).

Any other great ideas out there?

Source: GirlTrip

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How to Avoid Family Vacations from Hell

I just discovered a site called BabyCenter with loads of good family and parenting articles. One of the best articles I've read in a long time about family travel is called "Family Vacation Disasters and How to Avoid Them." Classic.

Parents who are pregnant, who have infants, toddlers, or older kids will all gain some wisdom from this sage advice. There are numerous real stories from parents that teach good lessons. And anyone who travels with friends or family members who have kids, you'll also get a kick out of these stories. But overall, my favorite part was the 7 Ways to Avoid Vacation Hell. Here are my favorite excerpts:

  1. Call ahead: A sure sign the hotel is kid-friendly is if you inquire about how friendly they feel toward kids and they say, "We've got a camp run by an art teacher." Bad sign: "I think there might be some crayons around here."
  2. Think outside of the box: Travelwise, faster or cheaper is not always better. Your whole life you've probably sought nonstop flights, but now it might actually be easier to get out and run around halfway through. Or you might want to invest in a seat for the baby, even though you don't have to. For a short trip, you might consider taking a train — so you can cuddle and nurse the baby — instead of driving.
  3. Do your driving at night: Plan car trips after bedtime. The kids will sleep, there will be less traffic, and you may even get to have your first adult conversation in months! Also, you can snack uninterrupted on the good chocolates you've been hiding from the children.
  4. Have a bathroom plan: If you're traveling by car, consider bringing a potty with you so your new toilet-trainer has a familiar place to sit. Bring emergency diapers on the plane. Plan plenty of bathroom stops for any trip longer than ten minutes.
  5. Do less: It sounds simple, and it is. You'll have years of vacations with your kids: Do less now, and enjoy your time with them. It's the one week of the year when you don't need to rush everyone — so don't. One good rule of thumb: While you're planning your itinerary, plan for half of every day to be free, unscheduled time.

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Unique Road Trips

Road trips conjure up images of weekend getaways to the country, usually with a campsite or remote B&B or hotel as a destination. Solo road trips are unique in that they usually involve the adventurous independent person seeking space, ready to soul search.

But group road trips are unique in that they offer stunning scenery to experience with close friends or family. Road trips are a special way to bond since they involve so much time together - in vehicles, on the trip, and then returning home. You have to be willing to give and take, compromise, pitch in (i.e., share the gas money), and bring music everyone might enjoy (rather than your cousin's college garage punk band with barely audible lyrics that scream to an indiscernible beat).

Two unique ways to travel the road with groups:

Harley-Davidson motorcycle rentals: Awww, yeeeah. Nothing beats Harley hair and the open road, not to mention the cool personas you can pull off at pitstops along the route. While you likely need a motorcycle license to rent, this type of trip could be the trip of a lifetime for the right group. I'm picturing spring break for college students, or just a group of friends reuniting for some adventure.

Model T group tours: California road trips through Yosemite National Park with stops at  other notable attractions is the way to go. That's if you prefer to step back in time to yestercentury when the engines were newborn, the roads dusty, and wide open expanses of scenery were yours for the day or the week (depending on your preference - rental vs. full week tour). I'm picturing extended families gathering for a unique tour through California's back roads.

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Group Trip Profiles Unmasked

Are you the group geek? Along for the ride and prefer not to bother with trip details? Enthusiastic about one very specific element of the trip but indifferent about others?  See how to use your natural talents to the fullest when planning that next group trip.

Here are common group profiles I've witnessed over the years:

  1. Group geek: The one who must bring a cell phone, blackberry, or other widget lest they feel isolated from their real world of technology. This is also the person who brings a GPS and on camping trips, ski trips, or outdoor adventures and everyone ends up appreciating this person the most. Sound familiar?
    Suggestion: Careful not to geek out by tripping on the latest iPod or Zune features. Instead, think outward and perhaps suggest a GPS treasure hunt activity for the gang while traveling together. Offer your uber efficient Internet research skills for the troop leader in finding the best hotel and give your quick comments in the hotel discussion area of search results, then post it to the group's trip home page.
  2. Troop leader: The idea person. The charismatic rally gal/guy. The motivated one who seems to have an internal compass pointing them in the right direction and helping them make decisions quickly, gather input, urge people to make reservations on time, offer activity options, and send out invites. This person is the point person of the trip, who can get as frazzled about pulling loose ends together as excited for the trip itself. Sound familiar?
    Suggestion: A smart troop leader delegates. If you prefer to be in control of certain trip aspects, just make sure you ask for input on key decisions such as hotel rooms, etc.
  3. Indecisive: They love their friends, family, or the people with whom they'll travel. Or perhaps they like the ski club with whom they'll swish down the slopes. They're an open person who sees all sides of arguments and is likely philosophical. The good thing is they really don't care which mountain to ski on, what time the group leaves, which shuttle is used for transportation, as long as they're on the slopes. Problem is people sometimes need input and opinions so they can make decisions about where to stay. While the indecisive person oscillates between choice A and B because they may not want to hurt anyone's feelings who recommended either, ultimately decisions need to be made. "Whatever everyone else wants" can be a disguise for "I have no freakin' idea!" Sound familiar?
    Suggestion: Take a stand. Take your pick. Your flexibility and openness is appreciated, but your vote counts and is desired. In trip blog discussions, join in on conversation topics so decisions can quickly be made. Just as on election day, your voice counts.
  4. Whiner and/or Frequent Special Requester: Surprisingly, these people may not realize they are doing this because it can be so subtle. The overt whiners are obvious and tend to bring the group down by taking every opportunity to moan about something or other. Subtle whiners can hold back key trip decisions by being slightly selfish or continually making changes to pre-set plans; for instance, saying they agree to a wine-tasting tour but later announce that they might go on a no alcohol detox diet (after the tour has been booked) so may not be able to participate. These are the special request kings/queens. The high maintenance types. We all want what we want, but consensus (which may mean compromise) on group trips is imperative. Sound familiar?
    Suggestion: Careful not to let negative feedback cloud the pre-trip planning process. Remember the trip is geared around everyone and remind yourself how great the rewards will be: seeing old friends and getting away. If you have a special request, you may be able to arrange that separately. Or save the most important special request to share with the group.
  5. Group Socialite: This type of person wants to be in the heart of everything all the time. That doesn't mean they necessarily have to be the center of attention (although extreme versions exist). But they have more energy than most people and often push to stay up late, go the extra distance on physical activities, and even make new friends while traveling. This natural extrovert is an ideal person to help get the word out about the trip if you're organizing a trip where you can invite anyone. Sound familiar?
    Suggestion: You're a natural trip promoter and might be the best person to help organize key parts of the trip such as researching activities, etc. Let your enthusiasm bubble over into the trip planning process.

Who am I missing? Know of any other group profile that sounds familiar?

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Underwater Poker

For a trip with a little adrenaline and other worldly experience, try an underwater poker tournament. Merging the excitement of scuba diving with the cerebral challenge of poker, underwater poker offers a novel way to enjoy these two popular pastimes.

Play poker underwater.

To participate in underwater poker, you will need a full scuba set, including a tank, regulator and, depending whether indoors and on climate, a wetsuit. Communication underwater is key, so an underwater writing slate and/or establishing hand signals in advance is a good idea. And, as this underwater poker player explains, "if you’re thinking of setting up an underwater game, make sure to have enough weights on hand for the table, chairs, players, and cards. Most plastic poker cards are waterproof, but it may be worth it to double check and invest in some that are especially heavy." Managing buoyancy and strategizing in poker simultaneously offers a distinctive challenge and twist. Note: You must either be scuba certified or willing to be trained how to dive.

We haven't found a site that maintains a list of places you can play underwater poker but here are a few examples of past tournaments to inspire your search!

Whether you're a seasoned poker player seeking a new challenge or a diving enthusiast looking for a novel experience, underwater poker offers a unique experience that will test your skills in a completely different world.

Image source:

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World Heritage Sites Over-Crowded

It's no shock, but sooner or later we all had to realize the best global places to visit would be discovered by more tourists and eventually get overrun, threatening the natural charm and character of area and/or the site itself.

Such is the case with some of the World Heritage Sites in Asia and elsewhere. Booming global tourism industries are meeting the increased demand for travelers to go the distance and see something extraordinary. At a cost. National Geographic Traveler created their own rating of World Heritage Sites based on sustainable tourism.

Top 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:

  1. Norway's West Fjords (rating 87)
  2. France's Vezelay (rating 81)
  3. Spain's Alhambra and medieval Granada (rating 81)
  4. New Zealand's Te Wahipounamu (rating 80)
  5. Mexico's Guantajuato (rating 80)

Bottom 5 World Heritage Sites, by NGT's sustainability rating:

  1. China/Tibet's Potala Palace, Lhasa, and environs (rating 46)
  2. Italy's Venice and its lagoons (rating 46)
  3. Ecuador's Galapagos Islands (rating 44)
  4. Panama's Portobelo-San Lorenzo (rating 41)
  5. Nepal's Kathmandu Valley (rating 39)

Every traveler should read the full list and consider the impact of flocking to see an international treasure. Then do what you can to support improvements, if possible. It's sort of a macro-economic tragedy of the commons. Food for thought.

Kristin C. shared this comment, "A sensitive and well-thought out approach needs to be adopted when tackling issues like world heritage sites slowly being ruined due to an excess of turism. No doubt, it's a well timed step to come out with a list of such sites and directives on how to adopt sustainable tourism to help protect our global heritage. Thanks. We agree!

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Kids As Trip Leaders

Ask any proud parent and they'll tell you their kid is their highest priority. That means when deciding where to go for vacation, toddlers and kiddies usually factor into the equation. Without having the finger dexterity to book tickets or cognitive development to plan itineraries or agendas, little munchkins across the world help set the pace and plan for family vacations or reunions with friends who have kids.


I recognized this when my nephew was born this year (my first nephew ever!) and our whole extended family decided to gear Thanksgiving around where he (and his parents) live. We just may decide to adjust schedules around baby for Christmas as well. Why not? As the first grandchild in our family, we're all enamored and want to spend as much free time as possible before he's grown up and it's too late. OK. So it isn't that urgent. But you get the point.

And when kids are in school with more pronounced likes, dislikes, and interests, parents can consider what types of vacations to take the kids on: nature explorations, camping trips, road trips to the national parks, beach vacations at luxury hotels, sailing adventures, overseas travel, theme parks, etc.

When organizing that next group trip with the kids, consider how much is being determined by the kids themselves. Their influence is significant.

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Snowshoeing: An Eco-Friendly Winter Activity

As winter blusters its way in, snow fans who want to get their fill of the powder, but away from the crowds and off the beaten path, can reap magnificent rewards with snowshoeing. It's a great group sport for the following reasons:

  1. Like skiing, you can snowshoe at your own pace. Like hiking, this often leads to good conversation with various members of the group, depending on your speed, etc. Unlike skiing, you rarely lose your group to lift lines and runs and can mostly stick together yet with the freedom hiking allows to stop and snack, look at vistas, etc.
  2. Safety in numbers: Should avalanche danger exist, or one person gets injured, there are multiple people to take action and mitigate problems or help in any other way.
  3. Orientation: If solo trekking while snowing, your tracks can easily get erased with new snow, causing some disorientation of where the trail is or which way is north; therefore, it's always good to count on at least one other to share responsibilities for staying on track.
  4. Photo ops: You won't just get scenic shots. You can get proof you were there by having a friend take your photo next to Mt. Spectacular.
  5. Green travel in action: Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience winter without noise pollution (as in snowmobiling), expensive gear (as in skiing + lift tickets), and low impact on the environment (it's essentially you, the elements, and your snowshoes).

Want to learn more? REI has a great beginner's guide to snowshoeing that covers everything from how to choose snowshoes to how to dress for snowshoeing, and some basic techniques.

And if you're looking for inspiration, AllTrails makes it easy to explore the best snowshoeing trails in U.S. and to find great trail options near you.

Finally, thanks for all of the great comments!

Kristen C. wrote, "I once had a friend try to convince me to snowshoe and originally I had no interest. But later, I discovered that snowshoeing is nothing more than hiking with stunning views and more access. Now it's one of my favorite pastimes."

Jackson B. shared, "I justy tried snowshoeing recently and it was a really great experience! A few people have told me how great it was, so I decided to try it for myself. I'm not a big skier, so I was looking for a new winter sport. Now I'm convinced that snowshoeing is a great option!"

Marlene N. "Thank you for the motivation, spring is almost here but there is still lots of snow in Montana - I am going to dig out my snowshoes once again."

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10 Best Holiday Shopping Spree Trips

For the ultimate girls getaway with a mission, I say take your gal pals to a town full of entertainment and plenty of good shopping to give a little something unique for Christmas this year. Find the perfect gift for your sister, mom, friend, cousin, boyfriend, husband, and so forth. Getting away before the holidays (when sales are on, travel deals abound, winter temperatures are at bay) can be worth the trip.

1. New York City

2. Los Angeles

3. San Francisco

4. London

5. Chicago

6. Washington, DC

7. Whistler, BC

8. Las Vegas

9. San Diego

10. Denver

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Travel Carnival 7: Surprising Joy When Traveling

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

If happiness is where you find it, and traveling inevitably brings surprises, then you can likely expect surprising joy while you travel. The 7th carnival of travel brings many perspectives on travel and the element of surprise.

These don't fall into the surprising joy theme, but have value nonetheless:

Thanks for participating and reading this edition of the carnival of travel.

October 31, 2006

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Gift Vacations: A Luxury Travel Treat

The New York Times ran a story on a new trend for millionaire vacations: why travel alone when you can afford to take your friends and family and pay for them? Group travel doesn't discriminate against cash in pocket, banks, investments, etc. Everyone travels for the same reason when planning a group trip: to stay connected to close friends and family.

This new luxury travel trend - dubbed as a result of the rich in America getting richer and not being shy to foot the bill to spend quality time with people - presents interesting opportunities for group travel, along with dilemmas.

On my boating trip this summer (split the costs evenly), one of our stops was Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. We happened to arrive during a mega yacht meet-up and our 33-foot wooden boat was dwarfed by many pristine, fiberglass ships. For the size of little quaint Roche Harbor (at least that's how I remember it from my childhood) it seemed ridiculous. But after reading this NYT article (which is intriguing, and a must read) now I wonder how many people on yachts were on gift vacations.

If you have the means to plan a luxury trip with friends and family (whether you gift it or not), you can use TripHub to coordinate and share trip details.

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How Do Guys Bond?

OK, let's keep this civilized. No snickering. It's a serious question. With all the whoopla about "mancations" and guys traveling together for fun (groups of buddies/pals/friends/comrades have traveled together for getaway/bachelor/etc. trips for a while, but the travel industry just clued in) I decided to investigate.

When childhood pals, college friends, frat boys, ski club members, or just friends from life decide to get together to reconnect or bond, how do they pass the time? Whether road tripping or flying somewhere, bachelor parties, casual reunions, and sporting (golf, ski) get togethers are all part of the rituals of reconnecting.

Guy getaways can include anything from golfing, skiing, boating, fishing, hunting, club-hopping, lady-gawking, cigar-smoking, beer-chugging, gambling, or even metro activities such as meeting up in a city of choice and relaxing together at clubs.

Outside magazine recently emphasized how important the buddy system is (traveling with at least one other for safety) and listed great articles on various ways men bond, using famous figures such as Eddie Vedder, Jack Handey, and others for how to play on vacation. Plus, a few lessons for athletes who get too competitive.

Source: Gadling

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TripHub Invites Clubs, Teams, Organizations to Plan Trips

Since TripHub launched, the group trip planning tools have been ideal for family and friend trips such as weddings, reunions, birthday vacations, girls getaways, and mancations/guy trips. But today there are advanced settings that allow more types of groups - clubs, teams, parent groups, religious organizations, spring breakers - to plan trips. That's right. More group fun. And more functionality.

In general, all group trip organizers now have more control over the way to structure a trip, the settings, who to invite, and how guests can access the "trip home page." New tools for planning trips that are ideal for clubs, teams, organizations, and larger groups include:

  1. A URL for every trip to promote and publicize via MySpace pages, church newsletters, school Web sites, ski team flyers, even word of mouth. This greatly expands the possibilities for trip organizers.
  2. Advanced settings allow trip organizers to control who has access to the trip details and who is invited to participate. Trip organizers no longer need to know the email addresses of every single guest, or even all who may join the trip. This opens the doors for clubs, organizations, and membership groups to create a trip, retreat, away game home page, promote the URL of the event, and allow people to invite themselves or request an invitation.
  3. Email notification capabilities so trip organizers and members of the group can opt to ping people when they've started a Trip Blog discussion, or added something to the Event Schedule. This is a convenient way to keep the group informed when key changes (i.e., accommodations discussions have begun or a hotel has been booked) or announcements are made (deadlines to sign up for the trip are posted).

How can clubs, teams, organizations use the new features? Great question. Here's how:

  1. Ski clubs can set up a trip and post the URL to the club Web site or in a monthly newsletter. Existing or potential club members can see the details and request an invitation to join the trip.
  2. Parents can now coordinate travel to tournaments, performances, and other events with other families. Families can view trip details, join the trip, and discuss transportation options, and other travel logistics.
  3. Religious organizations can plan events using TripHub to communicate details of a retreat or pilgrimage. Trip URLs can be publicized via a newsletter or in the weekend program. Members can request invitations. Retreat details can be hidden so only approved members can view them.
  4. Spring breakers include college students planning to head to Florida, Mexico, Hawaii, California, Europe, or the nearest beach. Students can recruit attendees by linking to their TripHub trip from their MySpace, or via a flyer in their living space, common area, etc. Participation can be capped, but anyone who finds the URL can join the trip.
  5. Sports fan groups can plan trips to college or pro games (or tailgate parties).
  6. Adventure / activity clubs can organize trips around their favorite sport or activity such as kayaking, hiking, camping, scuba diving, biking and discuss details with fellow fanatics about their passionate pastime.
  7. Alumni associations can plan reunions or tailgate parties for home games for alumni.
  8. Tour groups can even set up trips using TripHub and plan trips using these new tools. For instance, if you are a trip leader with a women's travel group, an educational tour leader, etc. you can set up a trip and share the URL with either known participants or publicize the trip URL to recruit more participants.
  9. Any other membership or affinity group can plan a group trip using the free group planning tools.

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Event Venues

Planning a wedding, a milestone birthday, anniversary party, or any other organized group event? Scope out potential locations on a site specializing in helping you find event venues. Eventective is a searchable with Google maps per U.S. city flagged with event locations. Full addresses and basic overview information about each venue is also available.

Do your own digging around the site and find the ideal location for your next group event.

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Musical Trips

Gadling's Neil Woodburn blogged about his 24-hour experience in Las Vegas to see The Pogues which got me thinking. Not only was I jealous of his having gone to see one of Ireland's best, modern, and eclectic bands (in my humble opinion), but there are so many other bands worthy of traveling (road trips included) to a destination to see them with a good group of friends.

This is my quick hit list:

  1. Grateful Dead (oh wait, not an option anymore)
  2. Bob Dylan
  3. Pearl Jam
  4. Rusted Root
  5. Sheryl Crow
  6. Simon & Garfunkel revival concert
  7. The Shins
  8. Belle & Sebastian
  9. Pink Martini
  10. Kelly Joe Phelps

Music Festival Wizard provides comprehensive information about music festivals across the U.S. and is a great resource for music lovers.

What bands or musicians would inspire you to travel with friends for a concert?

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Avoid Common Holiday Headaches

Holidays are just around the corner. Families and friends will gather to spend quality time reconnecting. While the holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year, there are several prep steps to take to avoid the typical holiday stress.

Here's how to avoid common holiday stressors by planning ahead:

Long lines: Avoid long lines at airports by taking an extra day off of work (on less busy travel days), or traveling when flights are less likely to be full. Be flexible.

Travel expenses: Book early to save on flights and hotels. If you see a sale price for a package deal (hotel + airfare) or hotel, or flight, you should grab it as prices are only likely to increase as the date approaches. Also, consider airports nearby but not exactly where you wanted to go and consider renting a car, taking a train, or a puddle jumper plane to your destination. Sometimes, creative planning can get you there for cheaper. Shop around on discount sites or even use sky miles to help out.

Rides to and from airport: Nothing is worse than standing in the cold outside an airport hoping your ride shows up soon, at that terminal, at that airport, on that day.

Where to stay: If gathering at a relative's house, discuss or share accommodation options together.

No peace and quiet: Want to ensure you have a little solo time on your trip, so you aren't inundated with family 24/7? Here are a few tips for getting time to yourself through the joys of iPods, books, exercise, and dogs.

Missed opportunities: Plan ahead on attractions, shows, museums, theater events, golf tee times, and other activities that could be sold out.

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Wine-Tasting Vacations

Exploring the diverse wine regions of the United States with friends is a perfect blend of adventure, relaxation, and culinary delight. From the rolling hills of California to the hidden gems of Oregon and beyond, America's vineyards offer an array of wine-tasting experiences.

Whether you're planning a girls getaways, birthday celebration, wedding, or simple getaway with friends here are some great destinations for wine tasting across the U.S.:

1. Napa Valley, California: Napa Valley is a world-renowned wine region, offering an array of prestigious vineyards. Visit the famous Robert Mondavi Winery or discover smaller, intimate vineyards in the Stags Leap District. Stay: Auberge du Soleil provides luxury accommodation with stunning views of the valley.

2. Sonoma County, California: Known for its diverse wine offerings, Sonoma County is home to over 400 wineries. Don't miss a visit to Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens, and for a quieter experience, try the boutique wineries in Russian River Valley. Stay: The Farmhouse Inn offers a charming and luxurious stay in the heart of wine country.

3. Willamette Valley, Oregon: Celebrated for its exquisite Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley is home to over 500 wineries. Domaine Drouhin Oregon is renowned, while smaller vineyards like Bergström Wines offer a more intimate tasting experience. Stay: The Allison Inn & Spa, nestled in the valley, is a perfect luxury retreat.

4. Finger Lakes, New York: This region is known for its superb Rieslings and scenic lake views. Visit the well-known Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery or explore smaller vineyards like Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard for a more secluded experience. Stay: The Inns of Aurora provide a picturesque lakeside stay with historic charm.

5. Paso Robles, California: Paso Robles is gaining recognition for its diverse and high-quality wines. Justin Vineyards & Winery is a must-visit, and boutique wineries like Tablas Creek Vineyard offer unique tasting experiences. Stay: Hotel Cheval offers elegant accommodations in the heart of Paso Robles.

6. Walla Walla, Washington: This region is known for its friendly wine community and excellent Syrahs and Merlots. L'Ecole No 41 and Woodward Canyon are iconic, while smaller wineries like Dunham Cellars provide a cozy atmosphere. Stay: The Marcus Whitman Hotel combines historic elegance with modern comforts.

7. Santa Barbara, California: The Santa Barbara Wine Country, with its cool-climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, is a must-visit. Explore the renowned Sunstone Vineyards & Winery or discover hidden gems in the Santa Rita Hills. Stay: The Bacara Resort & Spa offers luxurious beachside accommodations.

8. Texas Hill Country, Texas: This region has emerged as a wine destination with its unique Texas-style wines. Becker Vineyards is a standout, and smaller vineyards like Grape Creek Vineyards offer a more personal experience. Stay: The Fredericksburg Herb Farm provides quaint cottages in a serene setting.

9. Virginia Wine Country, Virginia: Virginia's wine country is rich in history and diverse in its wine offerings. Visit Barboursville Vineyards for a taste of history, and explore smaller vineyards like RdV Vineyards for an exclusive experience. Stay: The Inn at Little Washington offers luxurious accommodations with acclaimed dining.

10. Michigan Wine Trails, Michigan: Michigan's wine trails offer a delightful array of vineyards, especially known for their Rieslings. Black Star Farms is a standout, and exploring the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail leads to smaller, charming vineyards. Stay: The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa provides a scenic and luxurious base for exploring the area.

While the U.S. boasts a remarkable variety of wine regions, the allure of international wine tasting destinations cannot be overstated. Globally, several regions stand out for their exceptional wines and breathtaking landscapes, drawing enthusiasts from around the world.

In Europe, France’s Bordeaux region is legendary, offering a chance to taste some of the world's most prestigious wines amidst historic vineyards. Similarly, Italy's Tuscany, with its picturesque landscapes and renowned Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, is a dream destination for wine lovers. Spain's La Rioja region is another European gem, celebrated for its rich and full-bodied red wines.

Beyond Europe, the Southern Hemisphere presents its own wine havens. Australia’s Barossa Valley is famed for its bold Shiraz, while New Zealand’s Marlborough region offers world-class Sauvignon Blanc amidst stunning scenery. In South America, Argentina’s Mendoza region captivates visitors with its high-altitude vineyards and excellent Malbec, and Chile’s Central Valley is known for its diverse and high-quality wines.

Each of these international destinations provides a unique wine tasting experience, steeped in local culture and history. From the rolling vineyards of France to the dramatic landscapes of New Zealand, these global wine regions are not just about tasting exceptional wines; they're about immersing oneself in the world's diverse and rich tapestry of viticulture and enology. A visit to these renowned wine regions is a journey through history, culture, and the art of winemaking, promising an unforgettable experience for wine enthusiasts.

Wine tasting with friends is not just about the wine; it's about the shared experiences and memories created in some of the world's most beautiful locales. From the lush valleys of Napa and Tuscany to the unique landscapes of Central Otago and Mendoza, each destination offers a unique blend of scenic beauty, cultural richness, and exceptional wines. These destinations promise an unforgettable group getaway filled with the joys of discovery and the pleasures of the palate.

So raise a glass of chardonney or merlot and bring back new bottles of wine to dazzle your friends (or yourself) when you return from vacation.

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Ironman Quest: Smells Like Team Spirit

Whether you're scoring points on the field or rooting in the stands, team sports are a bonding experience among groups of friends and like-minded jock and jills. Athletes of all levels compete in leagues of softball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, year-round.

Others choose individual sports and only race against the clock and their own athletic skill in marathons, triathlons, walk-a-thons, and race for the cure type events. Groups can occasionally join forces for training, but when it comes to the fiercest, most grueling sports, it takes a unique individual with an independent spirit.

Such is the case with the Ironman triathlon, a famous event where fit athletes swim for two miles, bike over 100 miles, and finish by running a marathon. It's inspirational for anyone who's attempted a race, played sports, or even tried to stay in shape. Ironman participants are in a league of their own. The athlete in all of us has to admire them, which is why they usually have a team of supporters cheering them along the route and ready to share in the momentous accomplishment of crossing that finish line. Groups of athletes, fans, friends, and family often travel to these events to witness a bit of athletic history.

A new movie, What It Takes, documents four Ironman participants' training and preparation for the 2005 event. You don't have to be an Ironman to appreciate the sheer physical and mental prowess it takes to do a triathlon of this magnitude. This film follows Peter Reid, Heather Fuhr, Luke Bell, and Lori Bowden (three of them previous world champions) for a year on their quest to the 2005 Ironman finish line. For an insider's look at one of the pre-eminent sports competitions, take a look. It opens in select cities across the U.S. this  month. And you can enjoy the movie from the comfort of a theater seat, popcorn and drink in hand.

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Travel Carnival 6: Family Travel in All Its Glory

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

The 6th carnival of travel is family-themed, with a couple of posts at the end that are unrelated to family specifically; but if you stretch family a little and read between the lines (friends as family, medical advice for families) you'll see it's all related. After all, it takes a village.

Couples as family

Non-family travel related carnival posts

That's all, folks. Next edition will have the theme of Surprising Joy While Traveling.

October 16, 2006

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Broadway Group Ticket Tips

Broadway shows entice travelers from around the world. They are a great excuse to escape hot, summer days or chilly, winter nights. And the star-studded casts, Tony Award-winning choreography, and finger-snapping music turn girls getaways, family reunions, bachelor parties, and vacations with friends into more memorable occasions.

Theatre entertainment is no different from the travel industry on defining groups, in that there's no real consistency. Yet when you travel with friends or family, you're a group, no matter your size. With that, I researched several popular Broadway show theatres to get the skinney on what constitutes a group and what your group should know before booking that Manhattan trip.

  1. Most theatres for major Broadway shows had a range of minimums for group discounts to apply, and if your group happens to be smaller than 10 (even 8 or 9 people) you likely can't get a group "deal." However, there are many other ways to bargain hunt for shows, you just need to be a little flexible (see #5 below). Here are group minimums for some of The Great White Way's hottest shows:
  1. Often, group tickets are available for a more limited time than individual tickets. The closer to the show date, the less likely you are to get group rates. Plan to get a head count and tickets early. A couple months in advance is preferred.

  2. Group tickets can be purchased online at the theatre's Web site, or at a consolidator site such as Best of Broadway or via phone.

  3. Group discounts vary from show to show and theatre to theatre, but can be sizeable. Beauty and the Beast tickets as listed on Best of Broadway, for instance, are currently discounted $25 - $40 per ticket, depending on the seating section.

  4. Last minute individual tickets are also available, but not guaranteed. If you didn't plan ahead to get group discounts or were unable to plan that far in advance (perhaps the head count wasn't finalized until one week prior to the trip) then there are a few options. You can always walk up to a TKTS box office the day of a performance to check on last-minute tickets. Or look at last minute tickets from a few days in advance.

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Lucky 7 Tips from a Volunteer Vacation Group Leader

By guest blogger Suzzanne Lacey

So, you say you're a giver. Giving up your vacation time for a good cause could be the most satisfying way to spend a week or two of your life. But how should you spend it? Which volunteer opportunity fits you best? I've led countless group trips and have learned a few lessons along the way. Here are my tips for volunteer vacationers:

1. Core mission matches your values: Do you agree with and support the organization's mission? Consider this first before agreeing to join a group. It takes patience and commitment to volunteer with a non-profit, and altruistic as the cause may be, you should believe 100 percent in what you're doing since you're giving up free vacation time and money. There are many types of volunteer vacations: counting sea turtles, excavating a Roman fortress, tutoring children. You can also travel solo or take the family. Overall, it's important to remember that this is work. Tax-deductible work, but work nonetheless.

2. Commit to the trip: Organizers of such trips (educational tours, for instance) need volunteers to be committed and available so they can assist on the trip. Be prepared to do the work needed on the trip and sign up only when you can fully commit. It's helpful for (yourself and) the organization. If you're making cheese on an organic farm in France, spend time researching the region. If teaching English in China, head to a shelf at your library or bookstore that will enlighten you on China's history.

3. Donations, in addition to fees, help: Yes, you're giving your much appreciated free time to help a worthy cause, but often the non-profit still struggles with funding. In many instances, volunteer vacations require that you pay part or all of your way. However, for those that don't (you're lucky if you find this) you can still donate money to the cause. Most non-profits include administrative fees in the trip price to offset overhead costs, but like all "good causes," anything extra, even in-kind donations (accounting advice or an old scanner in good condition) can help. Expect to pay fees from $600 to $3500 for a volunteer vacation.

4. Sleeping situations: Get ready for an experience. You're on an adventure and chances are you'll have an opportunity to sleep anywhere from a dorm room to a tent—and you'll have a roommate if you don't travel with a friend or family. Please be kind and know that you're on a peace, educational, or environmental mission and your time, as your roommates' time, is valuable. But standards may be different than what you expect. Keep an open mind and go with the flow.

5. Keeping in touch: I don't go anywhere without my laptop. As group leader, it's not only necessary for my work, but also how I keep in contact with friends and family. Skype is a brilliant technological invention. Simply plug in a microphone and headphone and talk anywhere in the world for pennies, or even for free. When I was in Austria last May, I spoke to my parents, two friends, and a colleague for $1.50 total. If you don't carry a laptop with you, many cyber cafés around the world are Skype-ready. If you really feel adventurous, for about $12, you can acquire a local phone number where people can call you around the world for free.

6. Free time: Expect some free time. All volunteer vacations build in time to get to know your surroundings. It is expected that you'll want to do some exploring, since the destination is likely new to you. Just as you would prepare for any other vacation, research places to go during your free time. When you're at the bookstore picking up that sea turtle book, grab a destination guide, too.

7. What to wear/bring: Find out what clothing is truly appropriate for the trip from the organization ahead of time. Don't be caught in the Amazon without rain gear or in Mississippi with only long-sleeve shirts in the heat of August. Ask what you should bring and what you should leave at home. Any good organization will have a list ready and should be more than happy to pass it and other information along. They should also be willing to respond to any preparation question, no matter how small. Ask away!

Most important is being open to new experiences. There will be moments of shock and awe. You'll also become aware of your weaknesses and strengths.

There are still moments on my trips that surprise me. I spent some time in the southern U.S. this past summer and learned there was such a thing as a "flying, giant cockroach." This turned out to be a problem for many on the trip. But as we ended up laughing about our irrational fear of something so much smaller than us, I still slept with the sheets wrapped around me like a cocoon and my walkman headphones tucked tightly on my ears. It was a comical couple of days on the program. It was also the only city we left on time and the first one we laugh about at reunions. Volunteer vacations are made of lasting moments that don't fall into any itinerary or description. But you can count on them being more than worth the time or money for the unique adventure.

Suzzanne Lacey is a freelance journalist and Founder and Executive Director of Museum Without Walls, a non-profit that plans and gives educational tours around the world.

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Flight Cancellation Woes

The New York Times recently published an article on the increase in flight cancellations and the impact on travelers. It's a great read, not because the topic is pleasant, but because it gives insight and helps you realize you are not alone. It also makes me wonder why air. You should definitely read the whole article, but the upshot is:

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Cancel, Refund, Change Tips

Budget Travel Online has a list of 10 Tips to Cancellation, Change, and Refund Policies that seem relatively evergreen. I say relatively, because as quickly as airlines can sell a window seat, that's how quickly a policy can change. That aside, these are ten good guidelines to consider before booking trips.

Also, there are links to major airlines' refund policies so you can see what specific airlines offer for refunds currently.

The biggest thing to keep in mind: there is no universal cancellation policy in the travel industry. Each supplier, each airline, each hotel, travel operator (Expedia, etc.) has their own version. Read the fine print on each and never be shy to ask questions.

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Outward Bound for Groups

Outward Bound has an excellent reputation for putting individuals and groups into wilderness adventures that challenging them while helping them grow and bond. If you are part of a club or team and looking for a way to share an unusual outdoors experience and come back united, this is a great option. I've never done it myself, but have heard nothing but praise from those who have.

These are the types of groups they cater to:

Across the U.S., Outward Bound expedition leaders take groups backpacking, kayaking, sailing, dogsledding, and camping.

If you have experience with Outward Bound, please share your thoughts or tips. We'd love to hear!

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Wedding Shows

For the second time in my life, I'm going to attend a bridal show with a good friend who just got engaged. The bride-to-be is giddy with ideas, excited for the big day, and relieved her boyfriend finally popped the question.

Friends and family kick in immediately following engagement announcements to help with wedding planning. Best man and maid of honor, along with wedding parties, are carefully selected by the couple. But brides start their research, often gathering ideas for how to celebrate and tie the knot by asking for advice and going to wedding shows.

Enter friends and family. At wedding shows, there are vendors with cake samples and wedding dresses, plus make-up artists, decoration professionals, and wedding coordinators. There will likely be wedding packages offered for destination weddings and honeymoon ideas. With a dizzying array of options, it's nice to bring friends and family along to these events so the bride can get feedback from those she trusts. If people are scattered around the country or world, weddings shows can be great reasons for a girls getaway weekend.

If you are the bride or are a friend or family member of the bride, here are links to bridal/wedding shows across the country:

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Luxury Travel Tips

Want five-star service no matter where you travel? Only the best for your destination wedding or family reunion all costs aside? Need to getaway with friends, treating yourselves with lavish luxuries savored for special occasions (or simply required as your standard of living) and can afford to spend? Here are several tips for luxury group travelers:

  1. Escorted luxury tours by Abercrombie & Kent
    Numerous tour operators provide high quality experiences abroad or within the U.S. Arrange a group escorted tour or independent tour where your group has more free time to explore the area on your own, yet still in the lap of luxury. Abercrombie is a leader in luxury group tours.
  2. 10 lavish hotels worth the splurge by A Luxury Travel Blog
    Worldwide luxury hotels and resorts where you can expect the highest service, most beautiful scenery, and a feeling of utter pampering.
  3. Luxurious destination spas by Spafinder
    Pampering at spas is a given, but when you go to destination spas, the minute you step foot onto the property, the entire vacation experience is geared toward your comfort. A slice of heaven on earth.
  4. Charter jets for groups by Flexjet
    Tired of crowds, lines, and lower quality service of economy flights? Charter a private jet for your group. There are many to choose from and if you split the cost between the group, the price may not be as high as you think. Or you may decide the extra price is worth traveling together with convenient, speedy service.
  5. Outlandishly expensive things to do in New York City by PocketChangeNYC
    A free weekly newsletter features deals to drop your jaw on high pricing in New York. It's "everything you love to hate and hate that you love."
  6. High tech portable sommelier by Vagablond
    This robot sommelier can identify wines and make food pairing recommendations, so say its Japanese manufacturers. Gadget lovers can bring it along on luxury vacation for kicks.

Ready to plan that lavish trip of the century (or month, for those who can afford the frequency) with your pals or extended family?

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New Sustainable Travel Org for Group Leaders

Sustainability is an increasingly popular topic in many industries and travel is no exception. It has ecotour adventures, volunteer vacations with sustainable  missions, and organizations such as the Tourism & Hospitality Institute for Sustainable Development in Switzerland dedicated to driving long-term sustainable solutions. Here's a snippet from their site:

I'm for this green Swiss conglomerate of travel professionals. In thinking about group travel, it seems important to plan trips with friends, family, clubs or teams that take into consideration the impact of travel on the environs. Vacations are breaks from responsibility. We all need that, which is why we have high expectations of service and entertainment when traveling. But if any association member responsible for organizing group trips, leader of group tours on a regular or semi-regular basis, or individual traveler is interested in studying green travel, this organization seems like a good reference.

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Orlando: Florida's Magical Mecca

For families, reunions, weddings, group getaways, and more, Orlando rolls out its magical red carpet for every guest. Castles, fireworks, movie sets, water parks, shows, roller coasters, world-class theme parks and rides, golf, and romantic activities all await Orlando's visitors. As one of the most popular worldwide travel destinations, this sunny city delivers fun on a silver platter, but not necessarily out of budget. There are several affordable ways to enjoy the attractions and activities that make Orlando a year-round playground.

Top Attractions

Theme parks enchant every kid and the kid in everyone.


Walt Disney World Resort

Step foot on this quandrant of theme parks and walk into fairytales and animal kingdoms, parades of Disney characters, and entertainment variety for every member of the group. Downtown Disney is where the nightlife happens with Cirque du Soleil, restaurants, dance clubs, and shopping. Weddings are organized at Disney hotels and parks through Disney's Fairytale Weddings and Honeymoons. The four theme parks are world-renowned for blurring lines between dreams and reality, tales and non-fiction, and making the movies, characters, and world of Disney come to life with whimsy, rides, and a bit of pixie dust.


Universal Orlando

Stroll around Universal Studios and you're likely to see Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood cruising around the streets. There are plenty of rides, shows, and attractions to entertain for a day or more, including a boat ride with a Jaws encounter, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, and a new Shrek 4-D ride. Thrills galore. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster is also sure to bring goose bumps and keep your heart pumping, Seuss Landing brings the Dr. Seuss books to life with rides and shops, and Universal CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex with live music, movies, nightlife, entertains romantic couples, groups of friends on a getaway vacation, and families.


This world-class marine theme park features a new Orca whale show with Shamu, and the park's first family-friendly roller coaster, Shamu Express. Sea-themed thrills vary from the tallest and only floorless roller coaster in Orlando, the Kraken, named after the mythical sea creature, to guest feedings of sea lions and dolphins. Like Disney and Universal, SeaWorld is a family-friendly park, but also entertaining for adults who like a big splash on their vacation.

Outdoor Adventure

Don't let the theme park prominence of Orlando fool you. While the parks celebrate themes we value in life: movies, nature, science, culture, culinary delights, participatory entertainment such as rides and shows, you can enjoy walking around the parks, taking rides that splash through water to cool off on hot, summer days, and swim in the pools that most major hotels have. For many, this is exercise and activity enough.

For group travelers who want to break free from the parks and explore the Orlando's landscape and beyond, there are 168 golf courses to play, hot air ballooning, and renowned beaches just a day trip away. You can go horseback riding at a ranch or rent a Harley-Davidson hog and head out on the highways looking for adventure. Plus, there's a 19-mile biking, skating, and walking trail near Lake Apopka and a plethora of tennis courts around Orlando at at its many hotels and resorts. Play tennis morning, day, or at lighted courses at night.

Arts & Culture

The main draws to Orlando are the theme parks. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find an array of shopping, restaurants, theater, and other things to do. For a little culture go to the Orlando Opera, the Shakespeare Festival at Loch Haven Park, the ballet (central Florida's only pro ballet), Millenia Fine Art for an impressive contemporary art display, or Cornell Fine Arts Museum with both European and American fine arts, sculptures, and decorative arts. You can also take the kids to Celebration, a unique town, listen to Bach by Orlando's orchestra, visit the outdoor Southern-style Harry P. Leu Gardens, take the family to see a Broadway show (they regularly play in Orlando), or head for Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its showcase of the Czech sculptor's art in his home, in a gallery, and outside in the Winter Park garden.

Activities Galore for Families

More Orlando Fun

Day Trips

Events Guide and Calendar

Photos provided by Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.

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Find a great restaurant for your next celebration or group event

Updated for 2023.

Harvest time is now. Weather is cooling. Leaves are afire with color. And activities turn more indoors, often to creature comforts such as cooking, culinary tours, regular meals with families, and food in general.

To inspire your next special meal or gathering, these three sites offer annual rankings of the best restaurants in the U.S.:

For special occasions (birthday parties, bachelorette parties, engagement parties, rehearsal dinners for weddings) and holiday gatherings, treat your group, family, and/or friends to a sumptuous meal. You can also treat yourself and call it "research" for new holiday meal or family reunion dish ideas. Expensive though these restaurants may be, sometimes life's worth a little indulgence, especially during the colder months. Bon appetit!

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Travel Carnival 5: Photos Worth 1,000 Words

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

Welcome to the 5th travel carnival, where photos speak volumes. A few entries include photos (applause, please) while others do not. Nonetheless, there's quite a potpourri of perspectives and journeys. Read on...

Carnival submissions sans photos:

Thanks for reading and, contributing bloggers, thanks for sharing your perspectives and photos.

September 29, 2006

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Holiday Travel Planning Tips

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:

2-3 months in advance (minimum)

1 month in advance

1 week in advance

3 days in advance

Holiday day

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Group Hugs

Nothing beats a good hug. From your grandmother/father, mom/dad, your husband/wife, your sister, brother, best friend, child. And when groups get together for club or team events, family reunions, getaway vacations, or weddings, a few things become inevitable. You'll eat too much. Laugh a lot. Take a group photo. And hug.

If you're lucky, you'll find yourself embraced in a group hug, armed locked, joy and silliness sprouting up all around you. Family, friend, or other bonds bring you close together. Hugs are greetings and goodbyes: physical symbols of those bonds between us. They remind us that, despite our temporal existence, we're all in this together. Hugs are good.

I was browsing around Technorati today and saw this free hug campaign video on YouTube. It's worth viewing... the whole video is quite funny, and poignant. In an urban area, a man with a sign saying "free hugs" looks like a freak, but by his simple and persistent act of love, winds up drawing crowds and a growing number of hugs from others, including group hugs. Sound ridiculous? See for yourself. Then turn around and hug the person to your left. You're sure to extract a smile, from both of you. :-)

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Sharks Bites: What Every Swimmer Should Know

Unpleasant yet intriguing as the subject of sharks and the sea may be, I found some good data on Divester for vacationers who surf, swim, scuba dive, snorkel, and enjoy all sorts of water sports. Summer may be over, but many friends and families will soon take trips to beach destinations such as Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico, or Australia where the sand is as warm as the day.

Sharks are out there. It's true. They are one of the great predators of the sea. But whales still rank higher on the marine food chain, and I've heard they can take a Great White shark down (someone correct me if I'm wrong). Nonetheless, one of the things that stirs shark fears is all the media hype coupled with ignorance about the true nature of shark attacks. How common are they? Divester examined a 200-page report called Finding a Balance. If knowledge is power, here are some statistics to help quell your fears (and mine).

And since the International Shark Attack File reported that there have have been 870 reported, documented shark bites worldwide since 1990, chances are extremely slim you'll have an issue.

Once on a snorkeling tour with my sister, she saw a 4-foot long reef shark swim about 20 feet below her, but the shark had no interest in the snorkel group. Of course, if you're intrigued by sharks enough to swim near them, there are plenty of "swim with sharks" tours out there. Go, adrenaline junkies, go. Me? I'll linger ashore sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, taking quick dips to cool off.

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Clubs and Teams Travel Guide

You're a member of a church that takes spiritual retreats. Perhaps your tennis or ski team travels for competition. Or your alma mater organizes football tailgate parties for home and away games. You could be a soccer parent planning away games with other parents. Or even belong to a swanky book club that travels to Italy after reading Under the Tuscan Sun. Whatever your lifestyle is, membership organizations (clubs, teams, associations, etc.) are great ways to stay active and pursue interests while meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends or colleagues.

For like-minded individuals who travel together, here are planning resources for organizing your next group trip.

How to Book Group Reservations

How to Pack Properly

Tips for Traveling en Masse

Quick Checklist for Club, Team, or Organization Group Trips

  1. Prepare a budget. How much will it cost? What are the shared expenses? What are deadlines for deposits, etc.? A basic spreadsheet with all big pre-trip shared expenses will help if you're organizing or on a committee for a given trip or retreat.
  2. Collect money for shared expenses such as hotel rooms and transportation. You can track money owed using TripHub's money tracking tool.
  3. Get release forms. If your trip is a school scenario with kids traveling with parents, coaches, and chaperones, you'll need to make sure release forms are signed.
  4. Make dining reservations and arrangements for your group. Depending on group size, some restaurants may or may not be able to accommodate you, so book well in advance (even a couple of months). Groups get cranky when not fed, which makes for a stressful, less fun experience for everyone. Arrange for meals on group trips to people sated and/or energized.
  5. Order custom group t-shirts. Nothing screams "team spirit" like a gaggle of people wearing matching uniforms. Geeky though it may sound to some, it's still unifying. Not only can you easily identify each other in crowds, but you'll have a memento from traveling together. You can even put a logo, photo, or pithy slogan on it.

TripHub allows you to easily plan and coordinate trip details so everyone stays informed about trip plans and itineraries. It's ideal for groups where there are varied interests, budgets, needs, etc. Here's how TripHub can help clubs, teams, and similar groups plan trips:

  1. Determine location and destination for the trip
  2. Create a trip home page
  3. Invite team/club/association members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
  4. Discuss trip details with travel companions
  5. Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
  6. Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions (or share travel information if already booked elsewhere so the group knows when people arrive, leave, and where they're staying)
  7. Discuss hotel options

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Ski Guide for Groups

Carving around corners, bumping down moguls, breathing in cool mountain air and sweeping views. Ah, the essence of skiing. What a rush. Plus, there's also the company of like-minded ski aficionados. Ski villages offer whatever nightlife you crave, from a quiet family dinner to dance floors for shaking your groove thing with friends.

Ski trip planning for groups.

Boarders and skiers put their passion for powder to practice on slopes across North America from mid-November through March (later if snowfall permits). Skiing is an ideal activity for groups, fostering camaraderie and a healthy dose of competition among friends and family. It allows adventure-seekers to vacation together, skiing off on separate runs if desired and meeting up at the lift lines to swap slope stories. At the day’s end, everyone regroups for some après ski activities. Here’s a guide with tips and resources to help you plan your group ski trip with ease.

Planning Ski Trips

  1. Find a mountain and ski resort for your group
  2. Invite friends, family, or team/club members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional colleagues)
  3. Discuss trip details with travel companions
  4. Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
  5. Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions and share booking details

Ski Trip Checklist

When planning a group ski trip, there are plenty of factors to keep in mind. Does anyone in the group require child care for their kids? Is anyone interested in taking group ski lessons and how varied are the ski skill levels? Is everyone buying group lift tickets before arriving or while there? Here's a quick list of things to consider before you go:

Top Ski Resorts in North America

Take your pick of ski areas and regions (Colorado, California, Pacific Northwest...) for the upcoming ski season and start planning your ski trip. There are simply too many ski areas to list, but here's our list of the top snowsport destinations for groups.

Ground Transportation Options

Find out what options are available at the airport and ski resort your group is heading to. If you're on a budget, shuttle services offer group rates. One of the greatest benefits of a group trip is being able to split costs such as transportation to and from venues.

Ski-In, Ski-Out Accommodations

Convenient for those who plan to spend most of their trip skiing, you can save gas and glide right outside your hotel door. Hotels, condos, and resorts can all fall into this category. Examples include Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Sunshine Inn (Banff's only ski-in/ski-out hotel), and The Loft at the Mountain Village 3-bedroom condo in Park City.

Vacation Rental Homes

One of the best ways to enjoy a group ski trip is by renting an entire house. I've done this several times and it's usually been the best option.


Most ski resorts cater to skiers and the fact that you're a relatively captive audience, having traveled through snow-covered roads to the mountain. So there's plenty of shopping variety from outdoor gear to apparel boutiques to candy shops to cafés.


Whether driving or flying in for a weekend getaway or vacation with friends or family, ski destinations often have more to offer than just mountain with slopes. There may be historical or art museums/galleries, or nearby attractions such as lakes to explore. Find out what interests your group most and offer suggestions before the trip.

Nightlife, Restaurants & Bars

You can always find a variety of restaurants, many of them high-end, to recharge after a day on the slopes. And all major ski resorts (Whistler, Vail, etc.) have nightlife equally as invigorating as the day life (if you're in a party mood). But there are also quaint, charming pubs and restaurants as well as the cheap eateries. If your group is set on a certain type of food or restaurant, book reservations as early as possible to ensure a seat.

Wintry Activities

Most ski resorts offer snowbirds other ways to play in the snow either before or after they ski (or when taking a day off of the slopes):

Best of the Web (Ski Related Links)

Jackson B. wrote us to say, "The ski vacation ideas outlined in the article are simply fabulous. It's going to be a great season!" Thanks Jackson, we agree!

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Scuba dreamin' on such a winter's day

Since I'm terrified of being masked and submerged for extended periods, my water activity typically consists of snorkeling in shallow bays near shore but I hope to one day get up the courage to take my first dive. The underwater world promises an experience unlike any other full of adventure and serenity.

Tips and resources for your first SCUBA trip.

Whether you're planning your first or fiftieth dive, here are some of the world’s most famous and beginner-friendly scuba diving destinations to inspire your next trip:

    1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia: The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic diving destination, perfect for beginners. With its warm, clear waters and abundant marine life, it’s a diver's paradise. The reef is home to a kaleidoscope of coral and fish species, providing an ideal and gentle introduction to the underwater world.

    2. Roatán, Honduras: This Caribbean gem offers crystal-clear waters and a mesmerizing array of sea life. The shallow dive sites and minimal currents make Roatán an excellent choice for novices. With its affordable dive packages, it's also a great option for those looking to dive on a budget.

    3. Koh Tao, Thailand: Known as the ‘turtle island’, Koh Tao is famous for its easy dive sites and vibrant marine biodiversity. The island’s calm and shallow bays are perfect for beginners, and there’s a high chance of encountering sea turtles, making for an unforgettable first dive.

    4. Bonaire, Caribbean Netherlands: Bonaire is renowned for its accessible shore dives and exceptionally clear waters, ideal for beginners. The island's protected marine park ensures healthy coral reefs and a rich assortment of marine life, providing an excellent environment for new divers to explore.

    5. Maui, Hawaii: The island of Maui is a dream for novice divers, with its diverse marine life and stunning underwater topography. Molokini Crater, in particular, offers sheltered and calm waters, teeming with colorful fish, making it a safe and enchanting spot for your first dive.

Booking Your Dive Trip:

Several websites offer dive travel packages tailored to beginners including:

Preparing for Your First Dive:

Before embarking on your underwater journey, it’s smart to be well-prepared. Here are some things to consider before your first dive, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience:

    1. Choose a Reputable Dive School: Your safety and learning experience depend largely on your instructor's expertise. Opt for a certified and experienced dive school or instructor, preferably affiliated with recognized organizations like PADI or NAUI.

    2. Health and Fitness: Scuba diving can be a physically demanding activity. Ensure you are in good health, and if you have any medical conditions, consult a doctor beforehand. Fitness is essential, but you don’t need to be an athlete to dive.

    3. Understanding the Basics: Familiarize yourself with basic diving principles and techniques through introductory courses. Understanding how to use the equipment, managing buoyancy, and learning about pressure changes are crucial.

    4. Breathing Techniques: Learning proper breathing techniques is vital. Unlike on land, divers should breathe slowly and deeply to conserve air and control buoyancy.

    5. Equalizing Pressure: As you descend, pressure increases. It’s important to learn how to equalize pressure in your ears and mask to avoid discomfort.

    6. Communication Underwater: Underwater, you can't speak, so divers use hand signals. Learn the basic signals for communication with your instructor and dive buddy.

    7. Respect for Marine Life and Environment: Underwater ecosystems are delicate. Learn about and practice responsible diving etiquette, like not touching or disturbing marine life and being mindful of your fins to avoid damaging coral.

    8. Dealing with Anxiety: It’s natural to feel anxious before your first dive. Breathing exercises and open communication with your instructor can help alleviate anxiety. Remember, it’s okay to go at your own pace.

    9. Equipment Familiarization Before diving, get familiar with the scuba gear. This includes the mask, snorkel, fins, regulator, buoyancy control device (BCD), and wetsuit. Knowing how to use these properly enhances safety and confidence.

    10. Practice Makes Perfect: Most beginner courses include practice sessions in a pool or shallow water. Take advantage of these to get comfortable with the gear and the feeling of being underwater.

Finally, a good friend added that you shouldn't dive the day before flying home from your vacation. The general rule recommended by most diving organizations, including PADI and DAN (Divers Alert Network), is to wait a minimum of 18 to 24 hours after your last dive before flying. This guideline applies regardless of the depth or duration of your dive. For those engaging in multiple dives or deep dives, a longer interval may be advisable. This precaution helps reduce the risk of decompression sickness, which can be exacerbated by the lower air pressure in airplane cabins. By adhering to this guideline, you can enjoy your diving experience and subsequent flight with peace of mind and safety.

Article updated December 2023.

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Best Spas (updated)

Spas offer a respite from daily stress, a transformative means to health, and boost the spirit. Massages melt muscles with seductive aromatherapy, perfect pressure points, and release knots, putting your body and mind at ease. Nothing beats a good masseur or masseuse.

In the pursuit of unparalleled relaxation and rejuvenation, world-class destination spas stand out as sanctuaries of wellness and luxury. These exceptional retreats, nestled in some of the most beautiful locations across the globe, offer much more than just spa treatments. From personalized wellness programs to sumptuous accommodations and gourmet cuisine, these spas provide a holistic experience that caters to the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of their guests.

What makes a world-class destination spa? Here are some of the key criteria:

Places on our hope to visit list:

Looking for more inspiration? Check out:

But are any of the spas listed in these rankings really the best? Such a subjective word: best. What makes a spa ideal for you?

From my personal experience (so far!), the best spa I've gone to was in Calistoga. Here's why it was amazing: When I walked in, the clock was at least 10 minutes slow and the front desk clerk smiled, "Welcome. No worries about the time, we're on spa time." My shoulders dropped with relief. No stress here. After calmly slipping into a robe in the dressing room, I drank cucumber-flavored water before the masseuse brought me to my sea salt soaking tub. After the soak, I had the massage of a lifetime. The masseuse was a magician with strong, experienced hands who worked every knot out of my back and shoulders, then had me doing a breathing exercise while she released tension from my neck and left my body and mind dizzy with delight. Being on vacation in Napa Valley also helped with the carefree mood. Still, I highly recommend Indian Springs Spa.

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What's Your Travel Style?

Whether you're planning your next vacation or daydreaming about distant lands, what's your travel style? Or, perhaps, what style would you adopt if you could? Let's explore the diverse travel personalities that wander our world...

The Luxury Traveler: Picture yourself sipping champagne aboard a private jet en route to an exclusive island resort. This travel style is all about luxury and indulgence. Staying in opulent suites with stunning views, dining in top-tier restaurants, and experiencing private tours or yacht cruises define this lavish approach. It's for those who believe that a journey isn't just about the destination, but how you experience it in utmost style and comfort.

The Budget Backpacker: Conversely, imagine exploring the world with just a backpack, a map, and an adventurous spirit. This style is the epitome of budget-friendly travel. Staying in hostels, relishing street food, and seeking out the most cost-effective experiences doesn't diminish the richness of the journey. It’s about maximizing experiences while minimizing expenses, proving that real adventure doesn't have to be expensive.

The Cultural Enthusiast: For some, travel is a deep dive into new cultures and histories. This style involves immersing oneself in the local lifestyle, visiting historical sites, museums, and indulging in local cuisines. It's about understanding and experiencing the world through the lens of its diverse cultures, whether that's participating in traditional festivals or learning a local dance form.

The Nature Lover: Imagine being surrounded by the unspoiled beauty of nature. This style is for those who seek adventures off the beaten path, in the heart of natural landscapes. Camping under starlit skies, hiking through dense forests, or kayaking in serene waters – it’s a blend of adrenaline and tranquility, a pursuit to connect with the planet's raw beauty.

The Digital Nomad: In today's connected world, some travelers blend their wanderlust with their digital lives. Equipped with the latest gadgets, they document and share their journeys online. Whether it’s working remotely from a quaint café or live-streaming urban explorations, this style is about staying connected and making the world your office.

The Spiritual Traveler: Lastly, there are those who travel in search of inner peace and spiritual growth. This style focuses on journeys that are more introspective, such as meditation retreats, yoga sessions in serene locations, or silent retreats in tranquil settings. It’s a path of self-discovery and connecting with something greater than oneself.

My style of travel is much more low key and low tech, usually finding as many ways to disconnect as I can. Think margarita in hand after a kayak paddle, feet up watching a sunset. And the best travel moments I often forget to snap photos because I'm too busy enjoying them. Now, that's my style of vacation.

Each travel style offers a unique way to experience the world. Whether you're drawn to luxury, adventure, culture, nature, the digital realm, or spiritual journeys, there's a travel style that matches your desires and dreams. So, what's your travel style, or which one do you aspire to experience? The world awaits your answer, ready to unfold its wonders in the way that speaks to you the most. Happy exploring!

Article updated December 2023.

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Autumn Trips with Smallish Crowds

The enchantment of fall is best experienced amidst its vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and where you can kick up the fallen leaves before they become mulch.

For those seeking to escape the crowds and immerse themselves in the tranquility of autumn, there are places where the fall foliage is as breathtaking as it is serene. Here are a few destinations for viewing fall colors, emphasizing lesser-known parks and scenic routes, and recommending quaint accommodations to enhance your experience.

1. Letchworth State Park, New York: Often overshadowed by the famous Adirondacks, Letchworth State Park is a treasure trove of autumn colors. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” its deep gorges and lush forests offer a spectacular palette of reds, oranges, and yellows. The best views are along the Gorge Trail, which offers stunning vistas without the throngs of tourists. Stay: The charming Letchworth Farm Bed & Breakfast offers cozy accommodations and picturesque views of the surrounding countryside.

2. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia: This scenic drive is famous for its fall foliage, but there are still stretches where peace and solitude can be found, especially on weekdays. The section near Asheville, NC, is particularly stunning. Pull-offs like Glassmine Falls Overlook provide secluded spots for leaf-peeping. Stay: The quaint Applewood Manor in Asheville combines comfort with easy access to the parkway.

3. Door County, Wisconsin: Door County’s peninsula, surrounded by Lake Michigan, is a haven for autumn colors. The area's state parks, like Peninsula State Park, are less crowded and offer a blend of golden hues and waterfront views. Stay: Stay at the White Gull Inn for a historic and intimate setting, complete with homemade breakfasts.

4. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, New Mexico: This lesser-known route near Taos loops through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The drive is lined with aspens turning brilliant yellow, offering a unique southwestern fall experience. Stay: The Adobe & Stars Bed and Breakfast in Taos provides a comfortable base with stunning mountain views.

5. Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada: This vast park is a mosaic of maple, oak, and aspen trees. The Western Uplands Trail offers solitude and an unspoiled autumn spectacle. Stay: The cozy Arowhon Pines inside the park offers rustic yet elegant cabins nestled in the wilderness.

Experiencing fall’s colors in these lesser-known locales not only provides a respite from crowds but also offers a more intimate connection with nature’s autumn display. By choosing the roads less traveled and staying in charming, local accommodations, you can fully immerse yourself in the season's beauty and tranquility. Remember, the best fall experiences are often found off the beaten path.

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Food Tours

I recently wrote about culinary tours and just read a CNN article about the trend in culinary tours and cooking classes, shedding light on why we travel for food. Here are some excerpts about the growing popular movement to experience culinary delights up close and personal while on vacation.

"I think that the foodie market is related more or less to the baby boomer demographic," said Dr. Rich Harrill, director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. "You have people who are retiring, people with lots of discretionary time and income, some level of sophistication. They're educated, they're interested in wine, they're interested in food."

The article goes on to suggest that while countries like Italy, France, and Spain are "hot spots for culinary tourism," you don't have to travel too far off the beaten path or make a major time commitment to participate.

One culinary class pupil reminisces fondly, "When you travel through the world exploring food, you get this interesting window about the culture and the environment because food is the bridge between the land and the culture."

Courses are limited to Arizona, Las Vegas, Hawaii, California, Carolinas, Florida, and Mexico but those are golf hot spots anyway. The descriptions, photos, par stats, player ratings all come in handy. But the fact that you can actually book a tee time is highly convenient. Now all you need to do is practice your putt.

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Green Travel

Green travel, a term synonymous with sustainable and eco-friendly tourism, has significantly reshaped the tourism industry. This concept emphasizes minimizing the environmental impact and promoting the well-being of local communities while exploring the world. The journey of green travel as a recognized and valued aspect of tourism offers a fascinating study of evolving traveler consciousness and industry response.

The Genesis of Green Travel: The roots of green travel can be traced back to the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a period marked by a growing awareness of our impact on the planet. However, it wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the concept of sustainable tourism began to gain traction. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro was a pivotal moment, highlighting sustainable development's importance, which includes sustainable tourism.

Evolution of the Trend: Initially, green travel was largely about conservation - protecting natural habitats and endangered species. However, over the years, its scope expanded. By the early 2000s, it began encompassing a broader range of concerns, including supporting local economies, preserving cultural heritage, and ensuring ethical practices in tourism.

In recent years, with the alarming acceleration of climate change, green travel has become more urgent and nuanced. Travelers and industry players are increasingly considering carbon footprints, seeking ways to reduce and offset emissions associated with travel.

But, when is "Green" Meaningful in Travel? The term "green" is most meaningful in travel when it translates into tangible, positive impacts on the environment and local communities. This means going beyond just eco-friendly practices to embrace the principles of sustainability in a holistic way - economically, socially, and environmentally.

Criteria for substantive green travel include:

Several websites and platforms have emerged to help travelers make informed, eco-friendly choices. Some notable ones include:

As our planet faces unprecedented environmental challenges, green travel presents an opportunity for us to explore the world responsibly. By choosing sustainable travel options, we contribute to the preservation of the planet and its diverse cultures for future generations. The evolution of green travel reflects a growing global consciousness about the impact of our travel choices, heralding a more responsible and sustainable approach to exploring our world.

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Cell Phone Use on Flights

As the cabin doors close and the airplane taxis towards the runway, a familiar announcement echoes through the aisle: "Please switch your mobile devices to airplane mode." This directive, a staple of the pre-flight ritual, underscores the evolving relationship between air travel and digital connectivity. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and individual airlines are continually reassessing policies on cell phone use in-flight, balancing technological advancements with safety and comfort.

The FAA's current stance, shaped by decades of regulatory evolution, permits the use of mobile devices in airplane mode during all phases of flight but restricts voice calls and cellular data. This policy aligns with the concerns about potential interference with aircraft navigation and communication systems, a subject of ongoing research and debate.

Individual airlines, meanwhile, have their own policies that often mirror or extend FAA regulations. For instance, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, echoing the FAA's guidelines, allow passengers to use smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices in airplane mode. However, they maintain a strict no-cell-phone-call policy to preserve the cabin's tranquility.

As technology advances, the FAA and airlines face growing pressure to accommodate passengers' desire to stay connected. The introduction of Wi-Fi on planes was a significant leap in this direction, allowing travelers to browse the internet, send emails, and use messaging apps – all while cruising at 35,000 feet.

Yet, the prospect of passengers making voice calls mid-flight stirs a contentious debate. Proponents argue for the convenience and necessity in our hyper-connected world, while opponents raise concerns about noise pollution and the invasion of personal space in an already confined environment.

Beyond policies, there's an emerging conversation about etiquette. Before departure and upon landing, when the use of cellular networks is permissible, passengers often seize the opportunity to make calls. Etiquette experts suggest that this window, while legally acceptable, calls for mindfulness. They recommend keeping conversations brief and discreet, using earphones, and being considerate of one's volume – a nod to the shared nature of the travel experience.

My 2c... Whatever happened to disconnecting from it all to let yourself sleep, watch a movie, read, write, or even daydream? In my humble opinion, there's something to be said for forcing yourself to chill, to unwind. Even if the plane is the last place any of us want to do so.

Regardless how each of us may feel about it, as we soar into an era where the lines between connected and disconnected worlds blur, the FAA and airlines navigate a complex web of technical, regulatory, and social considerations. The outcome of this journey will ultimately shape how we experience air travel, striking a balance between staying connected and respecting the shared space in the sky.

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Guys Getaways vs. Mancations

Mancations. (Men, are you cool with this term? Sounds a little goofy to me...) The term emerged in the 2000s and since then hotels and resorts have been adding male centric vacation packages that include a range of activities, from poker and off-roading to spa treatments and culinary instruction.

Here are some of the most popular mancation activities:

The Urban Dictionary defines a mancation as: "The most ultimate man-only vacation. Usually this trip involves heavy drinking, getting kicked out of something, and nearly dying. At camp sites, everybody who is not a mancationer hates the mancationers, likely because they can not understand the sheer awesomeness that is mancation."

That said, mancations are not just about indulging in stereotypical male activities. Rather they are about the opportunity to bond with the guys. And spending quality time with friends can mean different things to different people.

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Travel Carnival 4: Nature's Bounty

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

Welcome to the 4th travel carnival, where a flurry of travel articles have come in since the 3rd edition. Even during (or perhaps because of) end-of-summer vacations, travel bloggers took time to write or share their travelogues, tips, and musings. The theme this time was Nature's Bounty; however, many off-topic submissions came in and I've decided to include them. Enjoy!

Nature's Bounty

David Stanley presents "Manitou Beach and Last Mountain, Saskatchewan" saying, "In the heart of the Canadian prairies, 126 kilometers southeast of Joni Mitchell's hometown Saskatoon, is a lake with a natural salinity of 12 percent, which is 3.5 times saltier than the world's oceans and 50 percent saltier than the Dead Sea."

Joe Kissell presents "The Perito Moreno Glacier / Breaking the ice rules" saying, "This river of ice in Argentina is much like other glaciers, though on average, it's neither retreating nor advancing. But it's face divides a lake into two, and dramatic, periodic ruptures reconnect the two sections." Joe believes "size matters" and that "hiking on a glacier is like hiking on a giant snow cone."

Smita presents "Igatpuri - Unchartered Territory" where two trekkers go off the beaten path in India to verdant, hilly pastures for (what is clearly) an experience of a lifetime.

Trevor presents "Travels in Nepal #16: The Climb to Namche Bazar" with reflections of his trek in Nepal, reminding us all to stop and smell the proverbial roses (in his case, soak in the views) and set your own pace in life.

Kelly Vaughan presents an article on "Turkey through the eyes of a New York City teacher" about one of her first weekends while living in Istanbul for a year. This piece details a weekend of exploration and paints a colorful image of what you can expect when traveling to Turkey. Ah, Turkey. A beautiful country with a fascinating history.

Mary Jo Manzanares presents "Washington DC: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens" saying, "So much natural beauty so close to our nation's capital. It's worth the time to take a short drive to see the aquatic gardens." The sexy stills of the flowers make me want to fly back east to visit this garden that's on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jennifer Miner presents "GPS Devices and Geocaching" noting, "Geocaching is like a worldwide scavenger hunt. Taking my handheld GPS with me on a trip to Maui forced me to do more than just lounge by the pool..." discovering ancient petroglyphs on the trek. Jennifer also presents "Santa Monica Shangri-la", recommending this hotel for families who desire a 180-degree Pacific Ocean view.

Unrelated to Nature's Bounty ...but amusing nonetheless

Whew. That's a lotta travel blogging. But what insights.

September 15, 2006

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Voluntourism Goes Mainstream

There has been an increasing interest among travelers in having meaningful and impactful experiences during their trips, along with a noticeable shift towards more responsible and sustainable forms of tourism. This includes a desire to engage in activities that positively contribute to the local communities they visit. Consequently, volunteer vacations, also known as voluntourism, have become a significant segment of the travel industry.

Voluntourism is particularly popular among younger travelers, including Millennials and Gen Z. These groups often seek experiences that are not only unique but also allow them to give back to communities or causes they care about.

The variety of volunteer opportunities available worldwide—from wildlife conservation to teaching, healthcare, and community development—makes it an attractive option for a wide range of travelers with diverse interests and skills.

The rise of social media has played a significant role in popularizing voluntourism. Travelers often share their volunteer experiences online, inspiring others to engage in similar activities.

While volunteering on vacation is popular, it has also faced scrutiny and criticism. Concerns about the sustainability and actual impact of certain volunteer projects have led to calls for more ethical and responsible practices in voluntourism.

Several group travel companies are known for leading voluntourism trips, offering a range of experiences in various parts of the world. These companies often stand out for their commitment to sustainable practices, community engagement, and providing meaningful volunteer experiences. Some of the notable ones include:

So find a cause you believe in, choose an area around the world to explore up close, and give your time and talents on the vacation of a lifetime. Plan the trip with family members or other band of like-minded folks and the trip will be even more memorable.

Finally, we really appreciate the thoughtful comments we've received on this article:

Will V. wrote to share, "As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I believe this is an excellent trend in travel. However, sometimes the cash-costs associated with voluntourism seem (to me) to be inflated. In the same way that buying 'green' or recycled goods should bot be more expensive than buying 'regular' items, I don't think the costs for doing good work should increase your vacation. Once travel operators can figure out how to make money AND encourage their visitors to do some good, I think we''ll see this trend explode. Then, all we have to worry about is whether the 'good deeds' vacationers are doing are what's best for the locals!"

An anonynous reader, wrote, "Philanthropic Travel is an alternative to Voluntourism for families who desire an authentic cross cultural connection with locals and the humanitarian outreach projects that enhance those locals lives. Many travelers prefer not to use their time in a foriegn country while sleeping in spartan accomodations Peace Corps style. Instead, they are choosing to enjoy the experience, accomodations, ambience and cuisine they expect while dedicating a morning or afternoon to personally connecting with the people their generous tax deductible contributions will support. Philanthropic travelers have funded in projects like these in Zambia, Burma, Tanzania and elsewhere in the developing world."

And Andy W.B., who works for Global Visions International, reached out to share more details about GVI's programs: "We send out approximately 1,500 volunteers per year on a variety of responsibly run projects and expeditions. These include programs in about 30 countries, with themes from teaching in indigenous communities in Latin America, Africa and Asia to wildlife conservation in all the same areas. Examples include working with orangutans in Sumatra, desert elephants in Namibia and vervet monkeys in South Africa alongside teaching programs all over the world from Ghana to Nepal, Guatemala to Peru and even unique and extensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) programs run in Tulum, Mexico."

Article updated November 2023.

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Culinary Tours

Food and wine touring is one of the best methods of travel, and a growing trend. You meet locals, often take the road less traveled, taste exquisite regional cuisine, sample rare wines, and try a culture on for size. These scrumptious tours come in all flavors and cater to groups.

Cooking classes abroad

My mom and I participated in a group cooking class while in Florence for a destination wedding. 20 guests from the wedding bonded, made new friends, and spread the spirit of the wedding through the days leading up to the ceremony. With the chef supervising, ingredients prepped, and kitchen utensils at hand, we broke into smaller groups and worked on our respective culinary assignments. Mom and I were with the tort table following a simple recipe for a lemon tort while others prepared a beef entrée, appetizers, and salads. After baking and cooking, we all feasted on our homemade Italian food and drank vino at a big banquet table. Bonus: We all got to take home the recipes and aprons. To this day, it's still one of my most memorable meals. Thanks to Apicius, the Culinary Institute of Florence.

Wine-tasting abroad

The same destination wedding trip to Italy also gave me the opportunity to take a small group wine-tasting tour. We visited quaint, lesser-known wineries and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant in a rural village just outside of Florence. Chianti's 300 acres between Florence and Siena are filled with hills and various wine-growing conditions, producing a range of bouquets. We sampled soft wines, dry wines, and robust wines not marketed in the U.S. Apparently, the American market demands certain grapes and types of wine, but often the local vintners shake their heads in wonder because they know the superior bottles don't sell well on the mass market. Reason alone to do a wine-tasting tour: rare finds. These tours are a great way to meld with the rural areas, sample the fruits of its earth, and pass the time with a little culture.

Pick and choose your favorite culinary tour. Your body, mind, and gut will thank you for it, and it's ideal for group trips. A few suggestions to whet your appetite:

Wine-tasting tours
Bordeaux wine tours
Napa Valley wineries
South Australia wine-tasting tours

Beer-tasting tours
Guinness tours in Dublin
Anheuser-Busch Brewery tours
Redhook Brewery tours in Washington state (near Seattle) or New Hampshire
Samuel Adams Brewery tours in Boston

Food & culinary tours and classes
Cooking classes in France, Spain, and Italy

Food & music tours (eat 'til you ache, dance 'til you drop)
Chateau St. Michelle Winery concerts in Woodinville (near Seattle)
Celtic music and food tours in Ireland and Scotland

Taking a culinary or wine tour with family or friends is a priceless experience, great for girls getaways, bachelorette parties, wedding guest activities, and so on.

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Find Your Happy Place

My San Juan boat trip reminded me how many happy memories are accumulated by taking the time to play. Each year Americans let oodles of vacation time lapse or expire. What a waste! When stressed in your post-vacation daily grind (which is practically inevitable), we all need happy places to go mentally and remind ourselves that life was exquisite once, it'll be exquisite again. Vacations provide happy places. And after two weeks cruising around islands, my memory is full of smiles.


Happy place #1: From my kayak, I skimmed shallow bays, investigated reefs, met face to face with cliff embankments and dared the sea to roll me.

Happy place #2: From our wooden boat, I could sunbathe wherever I wanted and made a nice nest inside the cabin.

Happy place #3: From the top of an island, I peered out like an explorer and let the wind blow my hair into tangles as I soaked in the silent serenity of rock meeting saltwater.

Happy place #4: From the shoreline, walking barefoot in 60-degree water, I contemplated rocks and driftwood. Where did they all originate?

Happy place #5: In the company of friends and family, we shared food, caught up, played guitar occasionally, but mostly just enjoyed being with each other.

Where's your happy place?

Thanks to Willy V. for writing to share his happy place, "As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia, I spent many long weekends on nearby Lake Malawi. Restful, quiet, and undeveloped, there aren''t too many places on earth I'd rather visit to unwind than Cape Maclear, a little outpost perched on the lake."

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10 Tips: How to Choose the Right Group Tour

By guest blogger Phyllis Stoller

If you're considering going on a professionally-arranged group tour, there are key things to ask about in the first ten minutes of your research. Here are the 10 most important things to consider:

1. References: Make sure the references the wholesaler gives you are for similar groups to yours. Example: if they only take European travelers, you might find group needs differ from those of Americans.

2. Small print averse? At least read cancellation penalties and figure how much you can lose if your trip does not meet its numbers. Airline ticket cancellations are usually the surprise loss. Note: a substantial group organizer will have some pull and flexibility with your hotel/airline choices.

3. Hotel quality: Google the hotel used in the capital city on the itinerary for a general flavor. If the hotel is a condition of your contract, make that clear up front. Many group contracts only specify X hotel or similar.

4. Red flag the word "from" on pricing. It means you are looking at the lowest price.

5. Trip pace: If breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, you'll be on a leisurely moving trip. I recommend usually 2 meals a day for groups over 25; it moves the trip along. Ask where the meals are held: hotel or restaurant.

6. Financial security: Most group deposits are payable by check only, so credit card acceptance will not gauge financial stability of your wholesaler. But check for travel insurance availability and, if the group tour organizer/operator offers insurance, make sure you know the name of the insurer.

7. Trip length: Forget number of days, most wholesalers include "travel days."

8. Check trade association memberships like ASTA, BBB, and length of time the company has been doing groups exclusively. Many agents doing individual reservations will tell you they also do groups. Other gauges: a 24-hour emergency number, ability to issue tickets themselves, country specialists, pre-printed customized labels, luggage tags, etc. will tell you this is a real company.

9. Prompt responses from the company mean they are group-friendly. Prompt email responses means they cater to Internet savvy travelers.

10. Customer service: Check that the company has a street address and more than one person in their group department.

Get a few quotes and don't be shy to ask for more information on any issue.

Phyllis Stoller has been a group tour organizer for 15 years and is currently President of Women's Travel Club*, wholesale operator and largest such group for women in North America. For 15 years Women's Travel Club has run group trips for women.*

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Travel Carnival: 3rd Edition

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

The 3rd carnival of travel brings a kaleidoscope of perspectives on family travel, adventures into lesser known territory, solo sojourns, traveling with friends, and travel tips. The carnival keeps rolling, and the writing stays fresh and engaging, making me want to get out and travel.

So, I think I will. For the next two weeks, I'll be on a boat trip in the San Juan Islands hiking, kayaking, and doing some serious relaxing. Next carnival of travel will be in mid September. Until then, enjoy this thoroughly eclectic assortment of travel articles.

Please Pass the Olives - Food brings people together, even when they don't speak the same language. Pam brought me right back to being in Italy with one of the most enjoyable reads I've had it a while! I really must visit another Tuscan villa. It's time.

Hidden Gems: Hell - Replete with puns, wit, gorgeous photos, and one helluva sense of adventure, this trip to Hell, "a small corner tucked away on Grand Cayman's northwest corner" on the dreaded 6/6/06 is quite a tale from Willy at Gadling.

Himalayas: Room With View, and Bath - Basia's sense of humor and adventure took her all the way to the Himalayas, nearly to Everest, and on a brief detour to a hot, steamy experience of a lifetime. An unbelievable trek.

Paris Catacombs - Beneath the streets of Paris lies a vast network of catacombs, containing the bones of an estimated six million former residents. Joe's account of his journey to the catacombs of Paris is haunting and fascinating all at once. Perhaps an idea to see the dark side of the City of Lights? A thought-provoking post indeed.

River City Food and Wine - An anniversary trip culminates in Montreal, with reviews of lunch, dinner. If you've never been to this Canadian city, this post gives a snapshot (literally and figuratively) of what to expect. The Botanical Gardens and a glass of pear cognac are first on my list, if I ever go.

10 Tips to Help You Deal with Airport Security - Directly from a flight attendant, here are tips to maneuver through airport security, when the code keeps changing colors. While specific requirements will change depending on circumstances, the tips are still relevant.

Because You Can't Depend Solely on William Shatner's Word - If you've ever used Priceline or been curious how much of a deal you'll really get, Mike at Pocket Change sheds some light on a site aimed at helping Priceline users make informed bids from other Priceline users.

Hold the Mustard, Please - When a nine-year-old and her mother (Kelly) go out for crab in Maryland, they get more than they bargained for.

Trinity Prep School - Landing Inside Our Books - Incorporating educational travel with homeschooling, Maureen blogs about a family trip where the kids experienced the wonders of discovering the Great Lakes and Louis and Clarke path through both the eyes of the authors and themselves.

A Journey of 13,000 Miles - Two men are going for the Guinness Book of World Records, attempting to jet ski from Alaska to Florida (13,500 miles) without a support team. They're currently just reaching Mexico's waters.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial - Foo Chuan describes why you should visit the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, located in Taipei City, Republic of China. This memorial honors the late President Chiang Kai-shek.

My Forgettable Trip to Egypt - Part I - Simonne returned from a trip to Egypt with a less than favorable impression. My take aways? Don't go to Cairo for a pleasant stroll in the big city; instead, learn how to walk like an Egyptian (and not get hit by cars). Also, there's no such thing as a free camel ride, especially by the pyramids.

August 18, 2006

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Vacations for Generation Y

Here's something shocking. Call me a Gen X traditionalist, but Gen Y kids have it easy when taking family vacations. Not only are rental SUVs equipped with DVDs so kids can substitute road trip daydreaming (something no doubt good for their brains) with spacing out blankly at a screen, now hotels are taking Gen Y travel targeting to the hilt.

Oahu's Hilton Hawaiian Village now offers YSpa with massage and other treatments for teens and tweens. I guess it isn't enough to enjoy a family vacation, snorkeling and swimming in the sun-kissed waters of Hawaii. Now kids need pampering for all their hard school work (and parents foot the bill)? If I reflect back on my teenage years (ack, don't make me!) I think I would have died to have a spa vacation. But now that I'm an adult and can afford the services for myself, I realize what a treat spa services are. If they had been handed to me as a teen, I don't think I would have the same appreciation for such an indulgence.

When these Generation Y kids grow up, what will they have to look forward to as a treat?

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Universal Packing List

In preparing for an upcoming boating vacation, I got to thinking about what I needed to bring. I've never taken an extended boating trip and keep peppering my captain with questions. He's the boating veteran, chef, and navigator - but I'm the list maker. It's all in his head (flares, battery charger, food, packing essentials) and I needed to see a concrete list so I could get organized, too.

Luckily, I just learned about the Universal Packing List, a one-of-a-kind application that helps you quickly prepare for most trips. You simply fill in details about your trip, and the it spits out your list for free. Exactly what I needed.

I tried out the application for my boat trip and was impressed. It doesn't have a particularly snazzy design, but the basic list is all you really need. I selected "All items" for my packing list length (you have a choice of "normal length" "just critical items" and more) and found a plethora of things to do before leaving (from handling spare house keys to holding mail) as well as a full packing list.

Opt to view the comments. They're helpful and specific. Examples: bring a collaged photocopy of pictures of loved ones if you think you'll get homesick, leave most wallet contents at home and only bring the basic credit cards and ID (so if stolen, you don't have to also replace your library card, video rental card, and so forth).

Obviously, each trip has its specific requirements, but the Universal Packing List is about as comprehensive a starting point as it gets.

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Early Fall Festivals

Are you a last-minute traveler? Spontaneous to the core? If so, you're probably too busy enjoying summer to think about early fall. But you may to keep a few festivals on your radar. September is a golden time of year for cooler weather, for warm, gentle breezes, for parents who get to usher their kids onto school buses or into schools, for the buzz of summer to wind down, and for people to plan those last days of summer vacations.

There are several September festivals for all spectrums of life: families, music lovers, art adorers, food fanatics, and more. Here's a snippet of what's on the horizon for late summer, early fall.

Sausalito Art Festival, Labor Day Weekend (early September)
The Mediterranean-style seaside town of Sausalito, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has hosted the world-famous art festival annually since 1952. "The best local, American, and International Artists bring their combined perspectives, virtuoso skills, and more than 20,000 original works of art — including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, fine glass, woodwork, mixed media, and photography."

Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, September
"...three days of world-renowned musicians performing live on the famous Telluride Town Park stage, late night jams in the local juke joints, 50 choice microbreweries serving up their handcrafted "cream of the barrel" during Saturday's Grand Tasting, the Rainbow Kids area, free Acoustic Artist Series, Blues For Breakfast, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp."

La Tamale Festival, in Los Angeles, September
This red hot event is in its second year, drawing 60,000 visitors. You can enjoy a kids pavilion, world record-eating contests, tamale-making classes, and as much spicy Latin sauce as you can dish up.

Russian Mosaic Festival in Philadelphia, September
This free festival will be a day packed with music, dance, and entertainment. This year's seven-hour concert program is set to showcase the Russian community's original folk, classical, and ballroom dancing performers.

Plano Balloon Festival in Plano/Dallas/Fort Worth, late September
A "something-for-everyone" event, this festival is filled with plenty of hot air. Cow-shaped balloons awe the crowds from above, hot air balloons offer rides, a team of expert sky divers do stunts out of planes. All this with entertainment, food, and plenty to keep the kiddies occupies.

Visit to find a wide range of other arts, cultural, music, and family festivals in the U.S. and around world.

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Your Wedding - Your Way

Stress-free wedding planning that reflects your personal style.

By guest blogger Blair deLaubenfels

Getting engaged brings euphoria, joy, and expectation. But all too often the initial excitement that comes from saying "yes" to the big question gets lost in the attempt to answer all the little questions like who to hire, what to wear, where to get married, and how much will it cost.

Here are five fun steps to help plan the wedding of your dreams, personal style in tact.

1. Share your deepest desires

Great partners care about each other's dreams and know how to lend support to help them come true. Before you run out and tell your family and friends your big news, sit down with your fiancé and make a list based on your deepest desires.

2. Set up your support team

With the help of trustworthy friends, supportive family members, and recommended wedding professionals, you'll be able to design a stress-free wedding. Put together a friends and family team based on love, reliability, and interest, and give some thought to the unique skills and talents each individual can bring to your day. Don't be shy to delegate.

Choose the professionals you need by recommendation. Hire an experienced wedding consultant that can share their expertise with you or ask friends who have been married recently. Talk to other wedding professionals and look for businesses that have won local and national awards and recognition. Check references! It doesn't take long and the feedback you get will be invaluable in bolstering your confidence, or steering you clear of a costly mistake.

3. Agree on a budget

This is one of the toughest parts of wedding planning. The average wedding in the United States costs between $18,000 and $25,000 depending on where you live. Use your priority list to set a comfortable budget. Splurge on the things that are really important and get creative about the rest.

Junebug Weddings image editor Kim Bamberg and her husband Adam shared their desires and set their budget in a truly inspiring way. They discovered that they had both always dreamt of getting married in France and that Kim had envisioned herself in a gorgeous gown since she was a little girl. Before anyone told them their dreams were too outrageous, they found the perfect chateau just outside of Paris, rented it for a whole week for less than the average reception cost in Seattle, and invited their friends and family to join them on a once in a lifetime vacation. With cake from the neighborhood boulangerie, flowers from a local market, and the most memorable wine on the planet from the vintner down the lane, Kim was ecstatic when she made her way down the aisle in her Madina Vadache designer original.

4. Reflect your personal style

Do what feels most like you! Most cowboys aren't crazy about tuxes with tails, and fashionistas usually aren't comfortable in anything but the very latest haute couture. Don't let magazines, advertisements, or other peoples' expectations drive your choices. There are a million options to choose from in every aspect of wedding planning. Find the elements for your wedding that are all about you and really make them your own.

5. Relax, and let the magic happen

You're in love, and this can be one of the best times of your life.

I've attended countless weddings and heard about all the little things that cause stress and worry. In almost all cases those distractions have turned out not to matter in the end. Learn about your partner's dreams, think creatively to develop a comfortable budget, involve your friends and family in unique ways, and let your style shine through. Chances are, your wedding will be perfectly you.

Blair deLaubenfels is Senior Editor for Junebug Weddings, which features a list of some of the country's most exceptional wedding photographers who are available for travel all over the world.

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Ecotour Adventures

Ecotourism is a growing trend in travel. As our world shrinks, thanks to globalization and population expansion, sustainable travel naturally tags along as people want to help preserve communities, native habitat, and the little creatures that inhabit the planet.

Step out of the ordinary and raft down a river, tour a village, meet the locals, and touch nature without leaving too much of a mark. Here are a few eco-friendly tours and organizations to get your green trip with friends or family started.

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Flights at Code Red and Orange

With recent arrests of terrorists plotting to target flights from London to the U.S., there is a temporary code red on flights from London to the U.S. and temporary code orange for flights into the U.S. What does it mean for travelers to travel under a code red or orange?

Smarter Travel gives insight on deciphering the codes. Here are airport security short-term changes known to be in effect:

USA Today's blog Today in the Sky gives a run down of the various airline policies for handling the temporary security situation. American Airlines canceled six flights today, United revised its ticketing policy to give travelers a break in changing travel plans and re-booking seats, and other airlines alert travelers to give even more time at airports for tightened security measures.

Homeland Security issued a release about cooperating with Britain to ensure traveler safety and stated, "These measures will continue to assure that our aviation system remains safe and secure.  Travelers should go about their plans confidently, while maintaining vigilance in their surroundings and exercising patience with screening and security officials."

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A Toast to Vacation

Nothing says vacation like a table full of drinks. At least within my circle. It's the start of a ritual, a conversation starter, ice-breaker, or at least has been that way for eons. This photo was from a trip to Hawaii with my family, so we felt obligated to get in the mood at the airport with the most tropical drinks on the menu.

I find, however, that I alter my drinking patterns according to the trip, and who I'm with. Solo sojourns often include sips of red wine to accompany my pondering while journaling. Family reunions usually involve the ol' one-two routine of microbrew then water, microbrew then water, microbrew then water (due to daily extended "happy hour" at my family reunions). And getaways with my girlfriends varies as widely as the type of trip we're on, from wine tasting to slugging beers at pubs to swirling iced Baileys around in my glass and mouth. The list goes on.

On many vacations I often drink only water, usually as part of a health kick. But parties, vacations, or getting together with friends so often center around the drinks in our society, not drinking can seem odd.

Consider throwing a bachelor(ette) party without shots of tequila, a family reunion without Uncle Jim's finest Scotch or that special bottle of Brunello di Montalcino, a wedding without the ceremonial champagne toast, or a weekend golfing with the guys (or girls) without a round of drinks. It can be done. But would it be as fun? Whether people drink or not is their own choice, but having the option at a group social setting seems standard in our culture. And I accept this. If I'm not in the mood to drink, I usually have a glass of water in hand and, if asked why I'm not drinking, sometimes make up clever reasons for drinking water and entertain myself with the responses. Good party fun.

Health or religious reasons aside, I think social drinking (especially on group vacations) is here to stay. What do you think?

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TripHub Re(de)fines Group Travel Planning

Today, it just became easier to plan a vacation with friends and family. TripHub launched several new features this morning, adding to an assortment of online travel collaboration tools.

You can still invite people on trips and track who's coming (similar to Evite), share itinerary information, upload a trip photo (perhaps a prom picture for a bachelor/ette party?), search for and book flights, hotels, activities, car rentals, plus discuss hotel options within your group all in a central hub or home page.

All that helps simplify group travel planning tremendously, but two new features go the extra mile.

Trip Blogs: Now you can start discussions on any topic related to your trip such as transportation, dining reservations, what to wear, solicit votes, and more. You can upload photos in posts (as long as they are publicly available photos and not behind a firewall or from your personal computer), and the Trip Blog within your trip is private. Although private to your travel mates, careful not to give away any surprise birthday gag gifts, as all trip members can view and comment on any trip topic started.

Event Schedules: Also new today are agenda-like event schedules that offer even more structure and ease to the group travel planning process. Anyone can add an item (flight arrival times, dinner reservations, tour dates, show times, party details) for the whole group to see. It's a great way to look at all the key information in one tidy spot; plus, you can print and take it with you.

More cool tools:

TripHub's travel planning service is free. If you're ready to plan a family reunion, take a multi-generational trip, go on a girls getaway, plan a bachelor party, even plan a wedding, TripHub helps simplify the planning process.

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Travel Carnival: Take Two

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

Mmmm... what a beautiful collection of travel-related blog posts! Traveling down a canal with grandparents, stepping outside your comfort zone to do a solo international trip, giving street pedalers the finger, finding yourself in a German boot camp, and making new friends while traveling. This 2nd edition carnival of travel is fresh with perspective on life and the road less traveled.

Chookooloonks: Connections - With a beautiful account of connections in our ever-shrinking world, Karen Walrond opens our eyes and hearts to the wonders of traveling and the unexpected blessings of making connections with strangers. Are strangers so strange after all?

Hurrah! I’m in London! - First impressions of London and traveling solo are always interesting. What sticks with me from Cain's trip is his wit, sense of adventure, and keen observations about sometimes feeling small in a big world. Great read!

Babblogue of India - Travel to India with beautiful photos that you're likely not to see elsewhere. A snippet of Lakshmi's travelogue while traveling with her husband.

Trip Report: Visiting New York City with Kids - Great account of family travel to New York City... activities planned in advance, a lesson for us all in patience and strategic planning. If we could all be as organized as The Family CEO.

Bonjour from Paris! - A wonderful snapshot of a day in the life of Georgina touring Paris... and a sneak peek at the newly refurbished L'Orangie with the "greatest hits of Classical Modern art" (Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Modigliani)... It's been a while since I've toured a classic art museum and this post gets me in the mood for oil paintings.

Washington DC: U.S. Botanic Garden - An outdoor museum of fleurs and plants amid the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Think the U.S. capital is one big building lined city? Mary Jo Manzanares offers a rare look at what grows and flourishes near the Capitol Building; a great tip for travel to D.C.

Travel Destination - Your Friendly Travel Guide - Gaudi strikes again, and Lewis writes about one of Barcelona's most extravagant designs by the master Spanish architect that is still in construction, a century after Gaudi's death.

After All, You're My Westerwald - In Pam's own words, "A bad hotel, a surly waitress, the smell of meat, and an unhappy duck." What could be more intriguing? This post had me laughing between sips of tea. For anyone who has traveled to foreign land and encountered hall of fame characters along the way, this is for you.

Road Tripping with Yardbird - Katherine Dynes takes a solo road trip before picking up her grandmother for 1500 more miles. Three of her best road trip tips: don't stay at a hotel with a parking lot full of RVs or a staff that gets cranky when you use their ice machine to fill your cooler. Plus, find out why truckers suck in adverse weather conditions and why highways are like Starbucks.

Giving Hawkers the Finger - At India Ink, Basia gives one of the most pragmatic and insightful tips for travelers tired of getting heckled by street vendors ("Buy jewelry!" "Sunglasses cheap just for you!"). Try her peaceful protest approach and meditate on it.

Trinity Prep School - Our Erie Canal Tour - A story of a family who traveled down the New York State Canal System of waterways with all the generations, taking their homeschooling learning into action to see what western expansion helped invent. This educational tour is a great idea for summer family travel.

Birdwatching in Washington - Bird watchers keep a sharp eye on nature's small, flighty creatures like no one else. John's observations (of a D.C. guy) from visiting Washington state for the first time shows us all what we may otherwise overlook when gawking at bigger landmarks like mountains, or even visiting with people. Thanks for a reminder to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

San Juan Islands - Sweet. One of my favorite places on Earth is the cluster of islands off the northwest coast of Washington state. Rhonda at Girls Getaways shows us a great escape for any kind of traveler, mainly those who fancy adventure and activities and raw natural beauty.

August 4, 2006

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Mi Hacienda Es Su Hacienda

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

When planning a family reunion or wedding, taking over a small resort for your exclusive use works wonders. Certain criteria apply to site selection: The resort (or villa or hacienda or block of rental homes) should be a superior facility, offer sumptuous food, non-intrusive service, first class accommodations, and a secluded setting away from distractions.

There are a number of properties around the country (and the world) that exemplify such high standards. Here are tips on how to research your group's idyllic casa away from casa:

  1. Look for places that have the feel of a private estate, an ambience of another time and place and are so well run that you (the planner) can relax and enjoy yourself as well.

  2. Pick a spot with a distinct change of atmosphere to reinforce the concept of getting away from it all. Also, make sure it's the type of place where guests are pampered and made to feel special. You can feel the difference in the level of relaxation for guests when a resort is reserved for your group's exclusive use.

  3. Small resorts with a residential feel and hotel amenities work best for groups of friends and/or family. The sense of being on a private estate helps people let their guard down and unwind, fostering camaraderie—the reason you all wanted to get together in the first place!

Prep Steps Before You Go

  1. Before your group arrives, send the property a detailed list of a) The names of all the people in your party, b) The names of people sharing rooms and c) Of those sharing rooms, which ones require a double bed or two single beds.

  2. Charm also has its downside. In a hotel, most rooms are uniform but in an estate or hacienda, every room is unique, both in size and decoration. Make your guests aware of this beforehand so cousins don't get miffed because one has a nicer, larger room.

  3. If the property offers activities (such as horseback riding or tennis) or has a spa facility (with facials and massages), check if these services need to be booked in advance. If so, let your guests know and provide a way to tally who wants what when - before you arrive!

  4. If you are going to a resort outside the U.S., make sure everyone has a valid passport (and remembers to bring it).

Recommended Haciendas in Chile and Mexico

Hacienda Los Lingues in Chile: Hacienda Los Lingues is about an hour south of Santiago in the heart of the wine-producing Cachapoal Valley. It's one of Chile's oldest and best-preserved estates and the same family, whose home it's been since 1599, now runs it as a hotel. The debonair Don German Claro Lyon and his family are your delightful hosts.

If you're looking for old-world, South American charm, the Hacienda Los Lingues is the spot. Shaded verandas lead to 18 rooms and suites furnished with heirloom antiques, family photos and memorabilia.

Activities for groups: a) wine tasting - there's a lovely vineyard on the property and day trips to local wineries; b) horseback riding - the stable of "Aculeo" horses, related to the famed Lipizzanas, is world-renowned.

And, if looking for a destination wedding spot, you can get married in the estate's beautiful, traditional Chilean chapel. You'll feel as if you're on the set of some fantastic South American movie.

Hacienda Temozón in Yucatan, Mexico: In the early 1990's, abandoned (and formerly luxurious) haciendas from the economic heyday of the Yucatan region around Merida, were restored and converted into luxury hotels. Hacienda Temozón, about a half hour from Merida, is the grandest of three newly-restored properties, now part of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

As a result, you get the best of both worlds: a sense of the affluent lifestyle enjoyed during the economic boom and lovely, modern amenities. Much of the original décor, such as intricately-decorated floor tiles and beamed ceilings, has been preserved in the 28 elegantly-furnished rooms and guest quarters.

Spacious gardens, a spectacular swimming pool, and spa make this an ideal place to relax. It's also an excellent base for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Yucatan peninsula and the surrounding Mayan architectural sites.

There is also a 17th-century church on the property, ideal for weddings.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

August 3, 2006

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Family Reunion Myths Revealed

My family has been having reunions since I was little girl with goldilocks. For the third in a row, we've gotten together on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Over the years, I've discovered a few myths that I hope will help any reunion planner in preparing for that next family reunion.

Myth 1: I won't drink too much
Be honest. Unless you're making a conscious effort to not drink at all, chances are you'll drink more than usual.

Myth 2: I won't eat too much
Family reunions are all about the food. Obviously, the reason to get together is to reconnect. But more effort goes into meals for this occasion than most other parties. Here are summertime recipes for family reunions.

Myth 3: I won't get a sunburn
Chances are you will, unless you're extra careful to apply sunblock throughout the day, and stay out of the sun during peak midday hours.

Myth 4: I will get ample sleep
It always seems that something is disrupting a perfect night's sleep: varying hours of going to bed, staying up late, getting up early for scheduled activities, kids over-excited, etc.

Myth 5: I will visit with everyone
Chances are slim that you'll have meaningful conversations with all attendees. But the connections you make are important, a link to your past, and a way to keep in touch with extended family. Make a mental list of the top three people you really want to reconnect with and make an effort to do so. You'll thank yourself.

Myth 6: Like other vacations, I'll relax as much as I want
There's an air of formality in a family reunion that is unlike friends traveling together or immediate family taking a vacation. Relatives come together who are genetically similar, but often live very different lives, in different places. You may feel the need to connect with select (extended) family members, while others are interested in visiting with you. This can be tiring, albeit rewarding.

Myth 7: Recycling will take care of itself
People tend to be much more lax about following recycling rules when at a big gathering like a family reunion. A mini tragedy of the commons. Luckily for my family, I have one highly type A uncle who takes big plastic garbage bins, labels them each with his neat hand writing ("plastics," "trash," "glass"), and strategically places them around the main eating/gathering area. We tease him, but appreciate his orderly tendencies.

Myth 8: Injuries are avoidable when family gathersAs for all other vacations (and life in general), safety is important. Have a first-aid kit and phone handy for emergencies. If you have any doctors in your family, the trip organizer may want to locate that person ahead of time and ask if they could wear a cell phone during the reunion just in case.

Myth 9: All the in-laws will fit inAll in-laws are not created equal. Pay attention to spouses or significant others who aren't socializing as much as others and make an effort to include them in conversations. Ask them about their family reunions, family dynamics, family heritage. Or learn more about what they enjoy doing in their free time. Family reunions can be intimidating for the non-genetically related.

Myth 10: My kids (grandkids, nieces/nephews) are the cutestAll kids are adorable in their own quirky or beautiful ways! Careful of becoming that obsessive family member who talks only of your kids (grandkids or nieces/nephews) and has no interest in any other subjects, or continually draws conversations back to your kids. It's wonderful to see such love and devotion to the kids, but even the kids (if they could speak up for themselves) would blush at all the gush.

What are other family reunion myths? Share your stories.

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Mexican Riviera: Bliss on the Pacific

Beloved by beach buffs, honeymooners, surfers, and cruisers, the Mexican Riviera — that scenic stretch of coastal communities between Mazatlán and Acapulco — entices more and more travelers to its sun-drenched shores each year.

It's the West Coast's Caribbean — a hot, bright cure for the winter blues and blahs, where visitors can reliably expect temperatures in the 80s all year long. Mexico's Pacific Coast is also starting to rival Hawaii as a fashionable wedding destination, and couples wanting beachside betrothals can choose from a low-key village celebration in Zihuatanejo to a swank hotel gala in Puerto Vallarta.

This prime swath of real estate bordering the jungle-clad Sierra Madre range began booming in the 1970s, when the country's government began a push for tourism along the Pacific coastline. Acapulco started even earlier, attracting affluent jet-setters to its spanking-new hotels in the 1950s; however, Puerto Vallarta lays claim to catching the eye of the average tourist, who arrived in droves to the site where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made a film and a tempestuous home in the city's cobblestoned hills in 1963. In contrast, Mazatlán's popularity grew gradually as travelers discovered the beach appeal of this working seaport. Most representative of the tourism push are the sister towns of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa. Only four miles apart, they couldn't be more different. Zihua maintains its fishing-village charm by government mandate: building codes are strict and therefore development is minimal. Ixtapa, on the other hand, was born fully fledged as a resort, and vacationers are beginning to flock to its high-rise hotels, trendy restaurants and bars, and the latest in water-sport thrills.

Today the Mexican Riviera sees thousands of cruisers arrive daily to its ports. But for groups vacationing sans big ship, the best way to visit is to fly in and rent a car or hire one of the plentiful taxis, many of which double as tour guides. Activities and excursions continue to burgeon as local entrepreneurs find new and novel ways to show off their region's charms. And then there's all that sand, sun, and sea.

Top Attractions

Puerto Vallarta: The place to be in PV is on the malecón, a palm-lined beachside promenade punctuated by whimsical sculptures by various Mexican artists. From the walkway's southern end, cross over to the zócalo (town square); in sight is Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral, whose gilded crown replicates that of Mexico's 19th-century Empress Carlotta. By leg power or taxi, climb the steep, narrow cobblestoned streets of the city for a glimpse of Casa Kimberley, once Liz Taylor's hideaway, and vistas of red-tiled roofs overlooking the bay. For kids, there's Splash Water Park for all things aquatic, from water rides to sea lion shows to dolphin swims. A short drive south leads to Playa Mismaloya, filming location for Night of the Iguana and now a popular site for weddings.

Mazatlán: Travelers into history should make Mexico's largest port their base camp, where they'll find nearly 500 architecturally significant buildings to admire, and most within the city center. Among them: the 19th-century Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, with its twin yellow spires and baroque interior; the 1874 Teatro Ángela Peralta, a lavish Italianate theater still in use today; and the restored townhouses surrounding Plazuela Machado. Hire a taxi or stretch the legs on a walk out to Cerro del Vigía for far-reaching vistas and a view of El Faro Lighthouse, whose altitude is second only to Gibraltar. Mazatlán Aquarium treats the curious to a peek into Mexico's underwater world, with a sea lion show and tanks of sharks, eels, and other ocean denizens.

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Laid-back Zihuatanejo offers few attractions, and that's the way residents and repeat visitors like it. Ideal for an intimate wedding group, Zihua offers sun, sand, and serenity on gentle beaches wrapped around a protected bay. Stroll Paseo del Pescador, a colorful bayside promenade with open-air restaurants and vendors; head away from the waterfront and experience a friendly town sans glitz and hype. A walk down Las Gatas Beach leads to El Faro Lighthouse and panoramic views. In contrast, Ixtapa is where the action is — mostly on the wide beaches and in the hopping nightclubs. Families can swim with dolphins at the Delfiniti Dolphinarium and enjoy the wave pools and water slides at Magic World aquatic park.

Outdoor Adventure

Puerto Vallarta: Forty miles of white-sand beaches serve as languid launching points for parasailing, banana boating, water skiing, jet skiing, and surfing. To the south is Los Arcos National Underwater Park, a prime spot for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving amid granite rock formations. The jungle's proximity to the city means that visitors can make like Tarzan by launching from a rope into a deep pool and zipping along cables set high above in the treetops at Canopy El Eden, setting for the film Predator. Great for groups are golf and mountain biking and hiking tours; in winter, whale-watching excursions sail in search of migrating humpbacks. Year-round, party cruises abound; more demure groups may opt for a sunset dinner cruise.

Mazatlán: Along with 10 miles of beaches offering the usual sand-and-surf sports, Mazatlán's waters are known for sportfishing and nature cruises — two activities perfect for groups. Glide through mangrove estuaries to spot herons, bitterns, and the elusive roseate spoonbill, or try a hand at reeling in marlin or sailfish (catch-and-release is the general rule). Take a kayak or a boat ride to snorkel the calm waters surrounding Isla de Venados, or join a horseback tour on Isla de la Piedras. Body surfing is big at Playa Olas Altas; Playa Bruja, north of the city, has the waves to host an annual surfing tournament. Hardy souls can take guided hiking trips into the nearby Sierra Madre mountains.

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Zihuatanejo's most popular beaches, playas Principal, La Ropa, and Las Gatas, offer palapas with hammocks for lazing and gentle waters for swimming and snorkeling, the latter best at Las Gatas. Anglers can hook up with a local guide to go panga fishing for roosterfish or head into deeper waters for marlin, sailfish, and bonita. On Ixtapa's two-mile-long Playa el Palmar, windsurfers, paragliders, jet skiers, and water skiers ply the waters. Golf enthusiasts can make tee times at Palma Real or Marina Ixtapa golf clubs, both of which offer group discounts. Canyons and reefs at dozens of local dive sites beckon to scuba divers, while Ixtapa Island's fragile coral reef lures snorkelers. Smaller beaches offer their own charms, including horseback riding through coconut plantations at Playa Linda.

Arts and Culture

Puerto Vallarta: More than 30 galleries and civic buildings around the city showcase local and international works of art, many of which can be found on a stroll through El Centro, the heart of PV. History buffs will want to visit the Museo Arqueológico and Museo Río Cuale for their collections of pre-Columbian artifacts. Plays, dance, and open-air movies take place regularly at the Cuale Cultural Center, as do theatrical productions at the Santa Barbara Playhouse on Olas Altas. At the malecón's Los Arcos Amphitheater, mariachi and ranchero grupos perform regularly; come evening, it's a popular place for socializing and listening to local musicians.

Mazatlán: Arts lovers will want to time their visit to take in a performance at the ornate and historic Teatro Ángela Peralta; events include ballet, opera, concerts, and movies. Fiestas full of folkloric entertainment take place weekly at the Hotel Playa Mazatlán and El Cid Castilla Beach Hotel's La Pergola Theater. Shoppers seeking authentic wares should avoid the touristy jewelry and souvenir stores — far better are the covered Mercado Municipal and open-air shops of Old Mazatlán, particularly on Saturday nights, when Plazuela Machado becomes the weekly Artisans' Bazaar. The Museo de Arqueológia and Museo de Arta exhibit local artifacts and artworks, respectively; the latter can be purchased at the nearby Galería Nidart.

Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Neither fishing village nor resort community have yet to develop an arts scene; still, there are a few places not to miss. In Zihuatanejo, the Museo Arqueológico de la Costa Grande exhibits pottery and stone artifacts, maps, and murals dating from or illustrating the earliest peoples along this part of the Pacific. Behind Zihua's Paseo del Pescador lies the Mercado Turístico de Artesanías, an open market with more than a hundred vendors selling genuine crafts and goods. Bargaining is welcome. (A smaller artisans' market is on the main boulevard in Ixtapa.) Many of the hotels in Ixtapa host folkloric fiestas and dance performances.

Day Trips

Mexican Riviera Events Guide and Calendar

Puerto Vallarta



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Lake Tahoe and Reno: A Mountain Range Runs Through It

In the crook of California's elbow lies a playland of great natural beauty, world-class ski slopes, Vegas-style entertainment, and plenty of gold-rush history. Straddling the northern Sierras where California and Nevada meet is the region's crown jewel: Lake Tahoe, the nation's highest alpine lake of its size and its second deepest (after Oregon's Crater Lake). With a shoreline measuring 72 miles long, this brilliant cobalt lake draws sun-worshippers to its many beaches during summer; come November, ski aficionados gather into groups and flock to the slopes of more than a dozen ski resorts in the area. And it's not just deep powder and groomed runs that make this region a wintertime paradise: wide-open valleys are crossed with trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, sleigh rides, and backcountry telemark skiing. After the spring snow melt, all this open wilderness turns into prime hiking, mountain-biking, and horseback-riding terrain.

Lake Tahoe & Reno Group Travel Guide

On the eastern side of the Sierras lies an entertainment capital of a different color: neon-bright Reno. Las Vegas' laid-back cousin, Reno offers casino gaming and revues in a high-desert community that has thrived since long before the first roulette wheel was rolled into town. Once known as the nation's divorce capital, Reno and its environs now are a hot destination for weddings, whether in a 24-hour chapel or on the shores of nearby Tahoe. Both industry and an arts scene are burgeoning, and visitors are increasingly discovering Reno as a year-round destination for nocturnal exploits and daytime adventure. Connected by both interstate and scenic byway, Reno and Lake Tahoe beckon to groups seeking the best of both worlds.

Top Attractions

Nature gets top billing in this scenic segment of the Sierra Nevadas, yet not every attraction warrants strapping on ski or hiking boots. Make time on the itinerary for a trip to Carson City, Nevada's capital, for a trek down the landmark-lined Kit Carson Trail, or head to Virginia City, a one-time boom town that's home to Chollar Mine, the only remaining Comstock Lode silver-mining operation open for touring. Closer in, casinos share Reno's streets with numerous national historic landmarks, many of which can be viewed on a Historic Reno Preservation Society walking tour. High above the city, Lake Tahoe's shores are graced with architectural gems such as Tallac Historic Site, a set of opulent summer houses from the gold-rush era; the 1936 meld-into-the-landscape Thunderbird Lodge, now a popular place for weddings; and the 1929 Vikingsholm, a Scandinavian castle at the head of Emerald Bay. In nearby Truckee, the Donner Party saga is told at Donner Memorial State Park's Emigrant Trail Museum.

More contemporary attractions appeal to fun-lovers of any age, including Reno's Wilbur D. May Museum and Arboretum, a parkland complex with exhibitions, nature walks, and the Great Basin Adventure amusement park; and Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center, with star shows and weekly telescope viewing. More than 200 cars from vintage to experimental comprise the National Automobile Museum, while nearly that many animals — including a rare liger — reside at Sierra Safari Zoo. In Tahoe, admire Emerald Bay's aquamarine waters from the deck of the MS Dixie II, a restored paddlewheeler departing from Zephyr Cove. In winter, the Tahoe Queen paddlewheeler doubles as a water-borne ski shuttle by taking skiers to and from the North Shore.

Outdoor Adventure

With the snow pack averaging 40 feet a year, schussing down area slopes is an obvious main draw. No less than 15 resorts give skiers and snowboarders their choice of chutes and half-pipes, and a dozen or so snow parks offer groomed cross-country trails or tubing runs (many with rentals and rope tows). Resorts such as Squaw Valley and Heavenly challenge hard-core skiers with natural jumps and double-diamond runs, while Northstar-at-Tahoe and Tahoe Donner have plenty of beginner terrain to suit the family or easygoing gathering of friends.

Non-skiers in the group needn't worry about finding outdoor action. Trails that lure hikers in summer become tracks for snowshoers come winter. Many of the resorts offer frosty fun: dog-sledding at Kirkwood, ice-skating at Squaw's Olympic Ice Pavilion, and sleigh rides at both. At Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area, small groups can rent a wilderness cabin for a cozy night in-and out-of the elements.

In summer and fall, hikers head to the mountains for trails that lead to alpine meadows and panoramic views. Many start from the region's numerous state parks, from the lengthy Lost Lake Trail at Sugar Pine Point to the easy Balancing Rock Nature Trail at D.L. Bliss. For pure mountain's majesty, hike a piece of the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail from one of 12 trailheads; mountain bikers tackle the Flume Trail for sweeping vistas from an 8,000-foot-high single track. Tahoe's beaches draw water-sports fans for kayaking, water-skiing, wakeboarding, and more; Reno's Truckee River Whitewater Park at Wingfield keeps kayakers close to the casinos. Outdoorsy groups can also fly-fish or raft the Truckee River, ride horseback through the backcountry, golf one of 40 regional courses, or go aloft in a hot-air balloon.

Arts and Culture

Throw a coin into the heart of Reno and you'll hit a casino offering gaming and top-notch entertainment. Among the hottest venues are the ever-popular El Dorado, with big-name performers in the showroom, rock and blues bands in the Brew Brothers pub, and sexy dance environs at BuBinga Lounge. Others on the hit list: The Garage at the Reno Hilton, featuring dual bars and a cigar lounge, and the Peppermill Fireside, its plasma screens, free appetizers, and firepit a hipster's draw. In Tahoe, Harrah's Altitude Nightclub hums with showgirls, wild lighting, and an oxygen bar; the Improv at Harvey's Lake Tahoe dishes up yuks from up-and-comers and stage vets, and Breeze at the Tahoe Biltmore brings an eclectic lineup to its stage.

For more sedate diversions, start by strolling the Riverwalk in Reno's Truckee River Arts District, an area of galleries, theaters, open-air concert venues, the 1910 McKinley Arts and Culture Center, and a third Saturday Wine Walk. Artworks that interpret the land and changing environment make the Nevada Museum of Art a must-see. The University of Nevada, Reno campus hosts concerts by the Reno Chamber Orchestra and the UNR Performing Arts Series; the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Reno Philharmonic (who also play a Summer Pops Series at outdoor venues), the Nevada Opera, the Broadway Comes to Reno series, and the surreal Magic Underground illusion show.

Arts are a mostly seasonal event in Tahoe. Summer sees the start of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor State Park's lakeside amphitheatre, the Valhalla Arts and Music Festival at Tallac Historic Site, and the Lake Tahoe Music Festival, with most concerts held at Squaw Valley. Year-round cultural fare comes courtesy of the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society, whose three-museum complex traces the history of the Tahoe area and the indigenous Washoe people.

Slopes for Skiers

Après Ski/Summer Sights

Day Trips

Lake Tahoe and Reno Events Guide and Calendar

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Washington, D.C.: Capital Diversions

So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.


This is not dry educational overload, however. Many of the sights can be toured with knowledgeable and entertaining guides — and many offer reserved tours and special events for groups — and intriguing opportunities for witnessing the city in action can be had, such as watching the Senate in session or money being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

At night, the suits come off and the atmosphere turns from all-business to a lively urban scene. The performing arts season lasts all year, from the National Symphony performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to jazz combos at various hip nightclubs to theater, opera, ballet, comedy, rock concerts, and children's shows at venues all around the city. A number of the metro area's museums and historic sites offer their own events: cultural film series, early-music concerts, Shakespearean theater, author readings, and lectures that discuss the latest findings in their field. There's plenty of dance clubs to satisfy the party-people in the group, and the city has become a gourmet's destination for fine fare from celebrated chefs.

Yet amid all of this culture and Capitol conduct lies a surprising amount of open green space, where visitors can clear their history-saturated heads with an afternoon of bicycling along a historic towpath, riding horseback along paths once trodden by Civil War soldiers, or simply getting the group together for an easy hike in summer or heading to an ice-skating rink in the cold months. Not bad for a city that 200 years ago was nearly abandoned for being a mosquito-infested swamp.

Top Attractions

What's not a top attraction in the nation's capital? Yet with so many places of interest in close proximity to each other, it's easy to fill the must-see list with check marks. Start at the tree-lined National Mall, a two-mile-long grassy expanse flanked by the U.S. Capitol on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Guided group tours (reserve in advance) of the Capitol visit several floors and allow a peek into the galleries if the Senate or House is in session. Public tours are also offered at the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (when not in session). Get some fresh air by strolling the U.S. Botanic Garden; groups can reserve a 45-minute guided tour of the 4,000-plant Conservatory.

The Mall's monuments, memorials, and museums guarantee hours — really, days — of enlightening exploration. A gauntlet of Smithsonian museums lead to West Potomac Park, crowned by the Washington Monument and its photogenic reflecting pool and also site of the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, and those honoring veterans of World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War. Surrounding all that marble are the Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin's necklace of cherry trees, whose spring blossoms merit their own festival. North of the Washington Monument lies the White House, which groups of 10 or more can tour if they put in an advance request with their member of Congress.

Visiting this nucleus of historic sites and beyond can easily take up an entire vacation. One way to squeeze it all in is an Old Town Trolley Tour, accessed at any of the trolley's stops, including those on the Mall as well as the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, and the two-centuries-old houses of Georgetown. The Tourmobile follows a similar hop-on, hop-off route that also includes Arlington Cemetery, where visitors pay homage to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy gravesites, and the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial. There's no need to rent a car for self-guided explorations — public transport is comprehensive and easy to navigate, even off the tourist routes to places such as the 18th-century Octagon House and the Woodrow Wilson House and presidential museum (both offering group tours).

Outdoor Adventure

With more than 300 parks in this cultural hub, urban green space is easy to find. National Mall visitors can take a breather in East Potomac Park, where diversions include golf courses, a public pool, and biking paths along the river. Anacostia Park in northeast D.C. has a golf course and driving range, an aquatic center, tennis courts, and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Visitors craving wild nature should head out to Rock Creek Park, a 12-mile vale that deserves a day's exploration in itself, or at least a few hours to relax in the ample play and picnic areas, golf, hike or ride horseback on wooded trails, or bike or skate paved pathways. Combine exercise with edification with stops at the 1765 Old Stone House and the remains of the 1861 Fort DeRussy, both within park boundaries.

Perhaps D.C.'s best example of historic value meeting outdoor fun is the Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which follows the 185-mile-long canal — from 1824 to 1928, the main route for transporting coal to the city — from D.C. into Maryland. The towpath is a popular ride for bicyclists; hiking trails lead into deciduous forests where woodland creatures may be spotted. The gentle canal waters offer a view of the park from a kayak, canoe, or mule-drawn canal boat tour (summer only). In winter, birdwatchers are often rewarded with sightings of pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and hooded mergansers.

Sports fans in the group can cheer on the Washington Nationals baseball team at RFK Stadium; in fall, the Washington Redskins provide spectator thrills at FedEx Field. Come winter and early spring, park hiking and biking trails become cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and outdoor ice-skating venues can be found throughout the city.

Arts and Culture

Few cities offer so much by way of the arts: The Smithsonian museums alone warrant many hours of perusal amid African textiles (National Museum of African Art), Southwestern pottery and basketry (National Museum of the American Indian), dinosaur skeletons (National Museum of Natural History), moon and Mars roving vehicles (National Air and Space Museum), Christo and Muñoz installations (Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), and much more. All Smithsonian museums are free and most offer highlights tours. (Note that some museums may be closed for renovations; check the Smithsonian website for updates.)

Outside the Smithsonian's aegis lie many other collections sure to intrigue, with the International Spy Museum a top priority for kids and fans of James Bond movies. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, exhibitions provoke meaningful conversations (reserved group visits receive a personal orientation). Architecture buffs won't want to miss the National Building Museum's vast collection of plans, drawings, and photographs; an array of artworks spanning six centuries awaits art lovers at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Many museums offer regular events, such as the lecture and film series at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which hosts readings, plays, and early-music concerts.

Visual art gives way to that of the performing variety at some of the nation's most venerated venues. One is even a national park: the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, where performances ranging from National Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts to Irish music festivals, sketch comedy to kids' theater take place in the airy Filene Center in summer, then move into the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap come fall. The same eclectic variety can be had at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, whose September Prelude Festival kicks off nearly a year of performing arts (check on discounts and special events for groups of 20 or more). The Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park and the Frank Gehry-designed Merriweather Post Pavilion are both outdoor concert venues primed for good times in natural settings.

Attractions Great for Groups

Day Trips

Washington, D.C. Events Guide and Calendar

Photos courtesy of the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation

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San Diego: City for All Seasons

Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude — even in December.

San Diego Coastline

The agreeable climate engenders a laid-back, welcoming aura that pervades from mountain town to beachside community. And this is truly a year-round destination: Visit in fall and winter to get a healthy dose of vitamin D on beaches offering plenty of elbow room. Come in spring for the spectacular wildflower show in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Early summer sees the city caressed by a cool marine breeze before heating up for events such as the San Diego County Fair, the World Championship Over-The-Line beach softball tournament, and the US Open Sandcastle Competition.

America's Finest City is not just one long strip of beach, however. Mountains border the county's eastern reaches before dropping into a vast desert valley; in between lie scores of diverse neighborhoods that blanket the region's tawny hills. San Diego is a military municipality, a college town, a center of Mexican-American culture; wholesome and yet tolerant of its more counter-cultural facets. And it is a city on the cutting edge of urban renewal, having taken a shambling downtown and reincarnated it as a vibrant destination for entertainment, dining, shopping, and strolling. No visiting groups should miss the Victorian charm of the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza's colorful complex of shops and cinemas, and the revitalized areas surrounding the city's architecturally distinct convention center and PETCO Park, new home of the San Diego Padres.

Top Attractions Thanks to San Diego's temperate climate, animal lovers can get their share of critter-viewing and then some: at the San Diego Zoo, where a pair of panda cubs delight amid Tasmanian devils, sun bears, two-headed snakes, and a kingdom of creatures; the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 1,800 acres of African-style savannah with free-ranging lions, zebras, elephants, and other beasts; and SeaWorld, home of Shamu and his orca descendants, dolphins, penguins, and the seasonal Cirque de la Mer.

For a constructive take on theme parks, head to LEGOLAND, the original plastic-brick playland, with 15,000 LEGO models built from more than 30 million pieces. Or combine old-fashioned amusements with hot new rides at Belmont Park, right on Mission Beach. Ride the restored wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, built in 1925, then hone surfing or skateboarding chops on the new FlowRider, a continual sheetwave that provides a steady supply of excitement for all ages.

Get immersed in the city's history, starting at Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and first of the California missions. At Old Town State Historic Park, original adobe buildings showcase furnishings, artifacts, and skills from San Diego's beginnings. The 1863 Star of India anchors the flotilla of historic ships that comprise the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Tour the decks and exhibits and try to catch a sailing aboard the tall ship Californian. Wrap up at Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the 1542 landing of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and, incidentally, provides commanding views of San Diego Bay. Betrothed couples take note: All of these locations, including two of the historic ships, make for popular and unique wedding settings.

Outdoor Adventure

Naturally, with 300 days of sunshine a year comes a wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. The Mission Beach Boardwalk provides an ideal way to people-watch while zipping along on inline blades or bike. Pick up wheels from one of several rental shops, or rent a bodyboard and surf the friendly waves. Mission Bay's mellow inlets and coves make a family sailing on a rented sloop a breeze; groups can charter a boat for private cruising, diving, and sportfishing in the harbor and beyond.

Golfers wanting seaside vistas can tee up at the 18-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course, a junior-golf-friendly set of championship greens and fairways. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians of all ages can tackle trails in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains, where meadows and woods are rapidly recovering from the wildfires of 2003 (find stables and more in the nearby gold-rush town of Julian). Closer in, 40 miles of trails traverse the oak woodlands and open chaparral of Mission Trails Regional Park, including three paths that ascend 1,400-foot Cowles Mountain.

For a break from attraction overload, pack a picnic basket and head to the park. Balboa Park, San Diego's queen of green space, surrounds cultural attractions with 1,200 acres of woods, gardens, and sports fields. Mission Bay Park is an ideal setting for family reunions, with its 27 miles of meandering shoreline, sandy beaches, and grassy swards with picnic tables and firepits. Perched high above Pacific Beach, Kate O. Sessions Park offers views, ocean breezes, and sloping runs of grass perfect for kite flying.

Arts and Culture

Playtime isn't just for the playground. San Diego's renowned theaters offer up year-round theatrical diversions of award-winning caliber. The Old Globe Theatre brings Shakespeare out under the stars during the summer-long Shakespeare Festival, while other seasons see new works and revivals on the boards. Celebrated playwrights often premiere their latest at the La Jolla Playhouse, a 1993 Tony Award winner for America's Outstanding Regional Theatre residing on the UCSD campus.

Performing within the historic confines of the 1929 Copley Symphony Hall, the San Diego Symphony pleases classically minded parents as much as it does fun-loving kids, with its occasional Family Festival (with free pre-concert activities) and annual Summer Pops series, where families can spread a blanket on the lawns of Embarcadero Marina Park South and enjoy programs like classic cartoon tunes and Tchaikovsky's thunderous 1812 Overture.

Nurturing an appreciation of the arts and sciences is easy at Balboa Park, the urban cultural oasis that mingles museums with lush greenery and a nonstop sense of fun. Kids willingly accompany mom and dad to view the collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, knowing they'll also see the cool displays at the Aerospace Museum and Model Railroad Museum, plus virtual-reality exhibits and IMAX movies at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Teens dig the WorldBeat Cultural Center's music-oriented exhibitions and drumming classes. The park also features a miniature railroad ride and a 1910 carousel, not to mention restaurants and dozens of other absorbing sights to see.

Activities Galore For Families

More San Diego Fun

Day Trips

Events Guide and Calendar

Photos courtesy of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau

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Travel Carnival: Inaugural Edition

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

Slice a lemon five different ways, and you'd see something new with each slice. With the inaugural carnival of travel, we're hosting a list of travel articles from the great big blogsphere to spotlight a slice of travel blog life.

While Group Trip Advisor is devoted to group travel, we know the passion for travel starts from individual journeys, adventures, families seeking to reunite, making new friends along the road of life, and bonding with existing friends. Future carnival of travel "editions" may spotlight more specific subjects such as family travel, adventure travel, or road tripping.

Without further ado, enjoy the first collection of travel carnival musings:

  1. In Blue Streak, Mom and Me, Kelly Curtis, mother and founder of Empowering Youth, blogs about a 1973 Midas motor home that transported the family to 47 states in a 10-year timespan and her journeys today with her own daughter. A short, sweet, poignant piece.

  2. A beautifully written piece, titled To Venice for Lunch, on the trials of traveling, until you arrive in a place like Venice and fall in love with traveling all over again. Pam at Nerd's Eye View makes you want to visit the golden hues, canals, and bridge-connected sidewalks.

  3. Mary Jo, a flight attendant (and Fly Away Cafe blogger), shares etiquette tips for cell phone use on flights so you can avoid being a travel companion from hell. Everyone should read this.

  4. Family travel in the Caribbean from Trinidad, chocolate, and family.... mmmmm.... what could be sweeter? Karen writes about: "a day-trip my family took to my uncle's farm in Moruga, a small village on the southern coast of the island of Trinidad, in the caribbean."

  5. Janna, of S/V Dragonfly blog, chronicles a sailing trip that she and her husband took to "circumnavigate the Pacific." Get a glimpse of life on a sailboat trip to the Philippines. Grab a cup of coffee for this article; a longer piece, but worth the read.

  6. Should you learn Spanish before visiting Argentina (or any other Spanish-speaking country)? An expat living in Argentina, Laura gives great insight into how much you should know before you go.

  7. Singer-songwriter Christine Kane blogs about getting out of your comfort zone in her article Have an Adventure Day. My favorite snippet from the post: "The best way to open up your mind is to apply a jolt of unfamiliar."

  8. New Year's Eve in Prague? In "Explosions Aplenty: New Year's Eve on Charles Bridge," Jennifer paints a vivid picture of how the Czechs spend New Year's Eve. Speaking of holidays, Jennifer also journals and blogs about Belfast, Dublin, Olympia, and Salida (Colorado) as wanderlustgirl on You go, girl!

  9. Cullen at the Travel Guide for Your Finances blog submitted a highly relevant post for any traveler who uses credit cards or ATM cards for purchases. "Buyer Beware: Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)" offers keen insights into hidden transaction fees on foreign purchases.

  10. Small Blessings is part of Jamaica Jones' journey from Paris to Istanbul. This article is Turkey-specific and reminds me so much of my trip there with friends a decade ago. Ah, the Mediterranean countries! A well-written piece, to boot.

  11. Jennifer's "family trip to the Atlantis in the Bahamas" offers good insight for other families. Her husband loved the Mayan temple water slide as much as the kids apparently.

  12. Jacquelin writes about turning a travel fantasy of going to Italy into a reality and her observations after living her travel dream. A lovingly written piece on the romantic Italian air: "Italians have perfected the aesthetic side of life."

  13. Kevin snapshots photos of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans after his trip post-Hurricane Katrina. So many people are volunteering to help rebuild communities (including animal habitats like this zoo) in the Gulf. This is one story in a myriad of ongoing, heart-warming efforts.

  14. Bargain-hunting (yardbird) blogger Katherine Dynes shows off photos of her road trip to Mount Shasta, California and offers a little insight into solo sojourns on a Seattle Post-Intelligencer readers blog.

July 21, 2006

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Wedding Planning Guide

Oh, the joy. A bride. A groom. A ceremony filled with romance, happiness, heart-warming vows, and wedding guests blinking back tears or counting the minutes 'til they can drink heartily and dance the night away.

Whether you're planning a destination wedding or a hometown ceremony, here are helpful tips for engaged couples, the wedding party, families, and wedding guests.

Wedding Celebrations

Group reservations
Get the inside scoop on how to book group reservations for hotels and flights, including what to look for and what to beware of and common group discount myths.

How to delegate with panache
Delegating is an art. You want as wide a canvas as possible for a wedding. Share responsibilities and only take on what you need to do yourself. These tips for delegating apply to family reunions also, but you'll see the parallels to wedding planning (aren't weddings another form of reunions?).

Why plan a destination wedding?
Benefits of destination weddings can often far outweigh the costs (or misperceived costs). Find out why the popularity of saying "I do" abroad or outside of your hometown is on the rise.

Top destination wedding hotspots
What are the best locations to get married? If your neighborhood church is booked on your chosen date, consider any destination wedding hotspots such as Las Vegas or Hawaii. They cater to weddings and offer idyllic settings for honeymoons.

Licenses and rules for destination weddings
Will your marriage abroad be valid? Learn about licenses and rules for destination weddings so you are as prepared as possible for the big day.

Bachelor and bachelorette party inspirations
He proposed. Finally! Now the planning can begin – for the best man and maid of honor that is. Here are tried-and-true tips for successful (and classy) bachelor parties and bachelorette parties.

More Wedding Planning Tips

p.s., a big thank you to everyone who shared their feedback on this post. A couple of our favs: Kim wrote, "I especially enjoyed reading about how to delegate. This is essential to getting through all of the preparations." And Winnie shared, "I was looking for something like this. Thank you for the tips, so informative."

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Group Getaways with Friends

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Traveling is no exception. Vacations are more enjoyable with buddies from college, girlfriends from home, friends from life (soccer or baseball teams), and any other groups.

Reconnect with old friends, reminisce about the good old days, and make new memories that make you laugh 'til you cry with these getaway tips.

Girls getaways
Ladies, start your engines. The games, the energy, the synergy, and the drinks are about to begin. Take a wild or relaxing vacation with your gal pals on a spa getaway, wine-tasting soiree, birthday celebration, or anything goes. Can't go far? Try a mini girls getaway?

Beach getaways
Hit the beach year-round (and more heavily in the summer) at your favorite beach. Try a nude beach, join your friends at your most memorable beach, or find a new beach while on a weekend away. Here are TripAdvisor's top 10 U.S. beaches.

Road trip planning guide
Zoom, zoom. Friends, families, and other vacationers are hitting the highways and dusty roads for campgrounds, national parks, family reunions, and zero obligations. Along with sunblock, prepare for a stress-free road trip with these tips. 10 gas and money-saving tips should help as well.

Golf trips
Swing and putt your way down the fairways, slugging beer and making bets against your comrades the whole time. Golf is a great way to relax and visit with friends while working on your game. Also, here are quick tips for planning a group golf getaway.

Bachelor and bachelorette parties
Are you the best man with no clue how to honor your pal with a party? If the only thing that comes to mind is a stripper, see these bachelor party tips first. Ladies, looking to make the bride smile and proud to call you her friends? Here are helpful hints for bachelorette party planning.

Spa Getaways
Just say ahhhh. Spa vactions are on the rise and spas are increasingly catering to groups (girls getaways in particular). Before you go, brush up on some basic group etiquette (so the spa invites you back!). Try vinotherapy at a wine spa, chocolate massages, or any other spa treatments for you and the gang.

More Tips for Group Getaways with Friends

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Top 10 U.S. Beach Destinations

Choosing the best beach destinations is totally subjective. Preferences for beaches can vary widely. However, after considering factors like natural beauty, water quality and amenities, here's our list of the Top 10 Beach Destinations in the U.S. Note, most of the places on this list are destinations with multiple beaches v. beach-specific.

Reading the list makes me daydream of booking a ticket (or road tripping) to the coast, and sinking my toes into the sand after a refreshing dip in the water.

    1. Maui, Hawaii: Known for its stunning beaches, Maui offers a mix of popular spots like Kaanapali Beach and more secluded shores. The island's diverse landscape provides opportunities for snorkeling, surfing, and simply relaxing in a tropical paradise.

    2. Miami Beach, Florida: Famous for its vibrant culture, art deco architecture, and lively nightlife, Miami Beach is a hotspot for groups seeking both a city atmosphere and a beach experience.

    3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Popular for family vacations, Myrtle Beach offers miles of sandy beaches along with amusement parks, water parks, and numerous golf courses.

    4. Malibu, California: Known for its celebrity homes and beautiful coastline, Malibu beaches like Zuma Beach and El Matador Beach are perfect for sunbathing, surfing, and spotting dolphins.

    5. Outer Banks, North Carolina: This string of barrier islands is known for its natural beauty, historic sites like the Wright Brothers Memorial, and unique activities like wild horse watching.

    6. Cape Cod, Massachusetts: Famous for its quaint villages, lighthouses, and beautiful beaches, Cape Cod offers a charming New England beach experience with excellent seafood dining options.

    7. Clearwater Beach, Florida: Known for its powdery white sands and clear, shallow waters, Clearwater Beach is ideal for families and offers a range of water sports.

    8. Laguna Beach, California: This scenic beach town is known for its artistic community, picturesque coves, and tide pools, making it a great spot for both relaxation and exploration.

    9. Key West, Florida: The southernmost point of the U.S., Key West is known for its laid-back atmosphere, historic sites, and beautiful sunsets, along with great opportunities for snorkeling and diving.

    10. Waikiki, Hawaii: Located on the island of Oahu, Waikiki is famous for its iconic crescent beach backed by high-rises and retail establishments, offering a lively urban beach experience with excellent surfing conditions.

Each of these beach destinations offers a unique experience, whether you're looking for relaxation, adventure, or nightlife. Daydream away...

Article updated November 2023.

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Group Reservation Guide

Getting the family together for a reunion? Going on a weekend getaway with friends? Planning a wedding? Group reservations can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are new to the process or on a tight timeline.

Here are tips to help you navigate group bookings with a little more finesse.

What defines a group?
Despite what might seem logical, a group is not commonly defined among the travel industry. Hoteliers, airlines, and cruise lines all have different definitions (10 passengers on the exact same flight vs. 10 rooms double occupancy for hotels).

Air and hotel reservation benefits
Become a bit more of an expert before you plan a group trip with friends, family, or another group. Know when to use hotel or air group reservations.

Group discount myths
Know before you go: group myths are a reality and you may not always get the best deal by booking bulk. Here are some group discount insights.

Speedy group reservation secrets
Want to get a jump on moving the group reservation process along, or making it easier on yourself and your group? Here are a few helpful tips to expedite group reservations.

Update: To help you get started, we collected links to group booking resources for the largest U.S. airlines and largest hotel chains.

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Wedding Guest Myths

We all know proper wedding etiquette, right? Possibly not. MSN published 5 wedding guest myths. I've attended (and been involved in) numerous weddings and agree that these are commonly held beliefs. Here they are:

Myth 1: You can't wear black. This is like saying you can only wear all black at a funeral.

Myth 2: The bride is your point person for all wedding-related questions. Bridezilla got her name from this myth. Give her a break.

Myth 3: Shopping from the registry is impersonal.
True that giving the couple something you know they won't return has merit, but if you know the couple well enough, you can also find something lovely and fitting for their needs and tastes outside of the box.

Myth 4: An invitation means you can bring a date.
This is fairly serious as brides and grooms have budgeted for a certain quantity of food and drinks, and space. It's polite to respect their wishes to only invite you (even though you may want to bop them over the head for leaving you dateless).

Myth 5: The couple is responsible for your accommodations. This can sometimes include the wedding party as well, so be particularly clear in understanding what is and is not being paid for.

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The Passion of World Cup 2006

By guest blogger John George

Oh, the tension.  It's a four year cycle, and I've been riding it since it was at the low point in 2002, just after the US lost to Germany in the quarters.

It's hard for most Americans to understand the tension that builds as the World Cup approaches.  Soccer is a European thing. It's a South American thing. It's even an African thing. It's far from being baseball, hot dogs, apple pie or Chevrolet. Back in 2005, while 99.9% of the country was watching the AL beat the NL for the tenth time running in the All-Star game, I was with a dozen soccer buddies and chewing my nails.  Would the US get a result in Costa Rica (even a tie would be good) and actually qualify for the tournament?

But it's not just tension. It's passion. Being a soccer fan is something that permeates your entire being. Supporting the national team goes without thinking. And after the great run by the US in 2002, I just couldn’t suppress the idea of going to Germany for the 2006 tournament. So I scored some tickets, made plans with my roomie to visit a friend in Geneva and booked an expensive flight.

I arrived a week into the tournament and a day before the US/Italy game in Kaiserlautern. Changing trains and cramming into to progressively more crowded cars – fun times. The last leg was standing room only, but it was nothing like the bedlam of the stadium.

Kaiserlautern was teeming. It took us 40 minutes to fight the crowds, get around the stadium, through the gates and to our seats. Then we had 90 minutes of standing and yelling with 50,000 fans. I've been to a lot of US games, probably 15, but I've never been surrounded by so many US fans. It was intoxicating (and it wasn't just the effects of the rosé!) The cheers were all new to me, but, you know, it's all pretty easy.  Clap ten times in a simple pattern then yell "U.S."  Repeat repeatedly. Whistle when Italian players fall down (which was often). Do the wave when the game gets slow. Our section was nearly silent when Italy scored, and I felt the stands move when the US got a tally.  Huge cheers when an Italian got thrown out. Then booing at the ref when each of two US players got a red card. The last 20 minutes were pandemonium and the tension peaked. If they US could hold on for a tie–a valuable tie–they could still become world champions.  And they did hold on.  That 1-1 tie gave the US the slimmest hope that they could advance to the knock-out round where anything can happen.

That hope dissipated before I got my voice back.  The US lost to Ghana five days later in Nurnberg – another raucous event– and was eliminated from the World Cup. The tension was gone. I could just enjoy soccer for the next two weeks and tour Switzerland and environs without all that pesky worry about how the US will do in the next game. I could just enjoy the tournament in bars and pick a new team to support as the last one was eliminated–which was often as I generally root for the underdog.

With the Cup now over, the four year ebb and flow of tension is rising again. Qualifiers start next year. And so does the nail biting. I'm already starting to wonder how South Africa will compare in 2010.

John's lifelong passion for soccer is equalled only by is passion for outdoor recreation that doesn't require a lot of expensive gear, catching bands while they still play in small venues, and consuming cold pilsner (or rose'). He still plays recreationally when his knees allow.

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Mini Getaways for Girls

After my recent girls getaway post, I discovered some helpful tips for women who need to get together, but can't travel (whether for budgetary reasons, weather, work, or other mishaps). That shouldn't prevent women from planning outings closer to home, perhaps as a way to discuss longer-term vacations together. has 10 mini girls getaway tips when you're squeezed on time, but still need a time out. Here are my 3 favorites:

What a delicious way to spend a day! Mental health days should be more normal for a country built on hard work and two-week long vacations per year (what's up with that?).

I love this idea. I can't tell you how often I've gone to the movie with my "movie friend" or walking with my "walking friend" or dished on guys with my "gossip boy-crazy friend" or philosophized about the state of the world and the inter-relatedness of chaos and order with my "deep friend" and I've drunk like a fish with my "party friend." Nice to gather them every so often to find the surprising similarities.

Everything's better with coffee. I couldn't agree more.

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A Carnival of Travel Is Born

Update: The Carnival of Travel is no longer active but Group Trip Advisor welcomes guest posts. Please contact us to learn more.

What's a carnival? Cotton candy aside, it is a collection of blog articles on a related topic. In this case: travel. It's a way to show off your travel writing. There are a plethora of travel blogs; too many wonderful articles to create a "best of breed." The carnival of travel is a way of creating a list of the best of the best, submitted by you, the travel bloggers.

Simply submit your best travel blog article. Any post that gives you a genuine sense of accomplishment. Humorous. Inspiring. Adventurous. Scary. Stories travelers can relate to. Insights or musings that entertain or make us ponder. Tips we need to know before we travel again. Anything goes.

Have kids, but still determined to take that summer vacation? We want to hear stories, tips, rants, raves. What's beautiful about traveling as a family? What makes you pull your hair out?

Wax poetic. Give us the nitty gritty of traveling across borders and boundaries. Share the wonders of traveling and open our eyes to the experience of seeing natural, cultural, and artistic beauty around the world. Whether you've traveled with friends, relatives, immediate family, or even trekked with yourself as your guide, all perspectives have merit.


The goal is to continue to publish carnivals (collections of travel blog articles) regularly. In the future, upcoming editions will include such topics as adventure travel, family travel and other travel. For the inaugural carnival of travel edition, any subject in travel goes! It's a new endeavor to collaborate on travel musings and writings and share travel experiences. Thanks for participating.

Postscript: The Carnival of Travel ran from July 2006 through April 2007. Thank you to all of the travel bloggers who submitted beautifully-written pieces about subjects as varied as sailing to the Philippines, first impressions of Venice, and tips on how to inject adventure into your life.

Here's a list of Carnival of Travel posts:

July 13, 2006

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Great Girls Getaways

Men are hunters. Women are gatherers. This is who we are by nature (just ask Rob Becker in his Defending the Caveman comedy act). Women have long been highly social beings, capable of multi-tasking (something that mystifies men to this day) and nurturing. Doesn't it then seem natural that we'd also want to travel together? We can talk freely, giggle openly, be our silly girly (or rugged, not-so-girly) selves together. We accept each other for who we are, emotionally supportive and all.

Part of the fun for me in going on a girls getaway is the gossip. I don't mean the bad gossip. I mean the good gossip. The dish. The latest. How my friends are doing and how they feel about their jobs, relationships, life, hobbies, etc. And while I also enjoy vacationing with guys, girls (only) getaways have their merit. Girls can be 100% unabashed girls.

Here are some special types:

1. Dude Ranch - The men are gone, but the dudes aren't. What better way to reconnect with the girl friends than by riding horses just like you know you all did in your dreams. Make it even more fun with cowboy hats to match - they'll shade the sun, you'll look about as country chic as can be, and you can knock your man over with a nod of your cowboy hat head and a wink when you return.

2. Spa Haven - As cliché as "girls getaway to the spa" is becoming, I say turn that word into an acronym for each girl who fully deserves the pampering. CLICHE is Caress Lovingly: I Can Have Everything. Make this your motto. There are countless services and an increasing number of spas recognizing the girls getaway trend as a way to offer discounts, special accommodation, etc. Work it. Call or book well in advance and shop around until you find the atmosphere, cost, and spa services just right for your group.

3. Theater - There are three premier places to see sophisticated, highly elaborate shows. Take Manhattan by storm on a theater extravaganza and walk down Broadway cherry-picking your shows (better yet, plan well in advance to ensure you get a good seat to Spamelot or other shows). London is another world-famous theatre-going city. The theatre district is a bustling, gentrified area with restaurants, bars, and a bevy of classic plays as well as long-running popular shows such as Phantom of the Opera. Las Vegas seems to be Cirque du Soleil central with Mystere, O, Zumanity, as well as other shows and concerts.

4. Shopping Spree - Take the ladies to outlets that make wallets squeal with delight (or at least the girls clutching them). There are plenty of outlets in major metropolitan areas, usually just a quick road trip out of town. Or go glitzy on New York City's Fifth Avenue, Los Angeles' Rodeo Drive, at Chicago's Marshall Field's department store, along London's streets, inside Las Vegas resort casinos shoppies, and nearly anywhere else. Do a theme and take your friends antique shopping, or to flea markets in the Big Apple, Washington, DC, or Sunday markets in other cities such as Seattle or San Francisco.

5. Outdoor Adventure - Take a vote and decide on which outdoor sport suits your crew best. Whether toting firewood from car to campsite is recreation enough or white water rafting is desired, find the activities you love but have little time for, and plan a weekend escape from everything - work, men, bills, cars, cities. Live in the elements by biking, kayaking, canoeing, or parasailing. Rent a cottage or house by a lake or water body and spend all your free time swimming. Whatever the group energy level, a girl trip like this inevitably brings friends closer together, leaving great stories to tell for those who couldn't make it (ahem, or weren't invited). When the boys aren't around, there's less tension about looking good or not screwing up. Especially if bathing suits are involved.

I've adored traveling with my friends for get-togethers over the years. I raise my glass to any girl planning a getaway with friends. May traveling with girl friends bring you great joy, a wee bit of luck, no hangovers, and many reasons to continue staying in touch. What other types of girls getaways are out there?

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Strike a Balance When Traveling

Update: TripHub's group travel planning tools are no longer available.

He's a last-minute person. She's a type A organizer. However do you go on trips together and still stay married (happily)? Terry A., reveals how TripHub helped her and her husband strike a balance in travel planning.

"When it comes to planning friends and family get-togethers, I am a compulsive organizer and my husband is a 'whatever' kind of guy. I want to know who, what, where, when, and how many are coming. He just wants to invite anyone who happens to show a slight interest. We've managed to enjoy life together for more than 25 years, but we've had our moments.

I started using TripHub's collaboration tools for vacation planning. What a difference the site has made. We've survived two road trips already and have a very large camping trip with friends and family planned for just a few weeks away.

I've been able to coordinate travel plans, book hotels, correctly calculate numbers of guests and stay in touch with everyone! No more passing the word via (sometimes unreliable, though well-meaning) spouses or friends. No more wondering if we would end up with an extra person sleeping on our floor or squeezed in the middle seat of a vehicle. No more 'I didn't know you were bringing your kids' on an adult activity weekend.

I can finally look forward to our trips together without all the stress. I'm quite relaxed about being the vacation planner in the family now.

July 7, 2006

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Funerals: Poignant Family Gatherings

Family life is full of major and minor crises -- the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce -- and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It's difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.--Thomas Moore

Even sad events such as illness or funerals can bring families closer together. I was recently reminded of this while attending a relative's funeral and visiting with extended family this past weekend. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Truly.

Once we all got the news, one family passed around itinerary info in one big email string so they all knew flight arrival info for coordination. My family used about 5 phone calls to coordinate. ("Are you going? Which flight? How much did it cost?") Who knows how many other families and friends did the same thing. I got to thinking that group travel coordination tools would save time for families gathering under these circumstances. Maybe next time. Wait. I hope there isn't a next time... sigh.

Losing a loved one or going through any rough patch together makes us acutely aware of what's important in life and strengthens relationships.

Over the last several days, I carefully observed how extended family and friends kicked into high gear to help those most in need, ordering food, grocery shopping, playing waiter(ess), coordinating transportation, organizing church services, catering, telling story after story and listening intently as others shared theirs. Laughter and tears blended to reveal kindred spirits and compassion.

New bonds were created among old family connections. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, moms, dads, grandparents. Despite the circumstances, we were able to catch up, play a few games, distract people who needed distracting, hug those who needed more hugs than usual, and in general express what we forget to so often. I came away feeling uplifted.

I think the late French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin summed it up best when he said (or wrote): We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits, having a human experience.

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4 Wedding Guest Strategies

Weddings rock. The sentimental journey of watching your friend or family member walk down the aisle is wonderful. The decorations, the picturesque setting (and sometimes dreamy destination), the flowers, the cake, the food coma, the dancing. It's all enough to send you into a dream state, forgetting a few key things you meant to accomplish.

1. Pick out the top 3 people you want to catch up with and find time to visit with them. It can be easy for the night to fly by without your having gotten a chance to visit with people you'd meant to be sure to visit with. Even if you visit with each person for 10 minutes, it makes a big difference. Catching up with old friends or relatives is half the reason for going to weddings in the first place.

2. Cake. I'm a sucker for a good wedding cake. Even though they are calorie rich, wedding cakes are usually culinary masterpieces, so it's easy to have a bigger piece than necessary (or multiple pieces). The wedding I just attended this past weekend had doughnuts instead of cake (a great budget alternative). If you're watching your weight and really want to be good, plan to have a small piece of cake and no more. By thinking about this ahead of time, you'll save yourself the guilt and bloated feeling (trust me, I can attest).

3. Say something meaningful to the bride and groom. How many weddings have we all been to where the same robotic comment comes tumbling out: The wedding was beautiful, You look gorgeous, You look handsome, I almost cried during your vows, Nice reception location. Oh, come on! These newlyweds have been preparing for this single day for at least a year (sometimes longer). Every detail was purchased and pre-conceived. Find something original about the food, cake, ceremony, dress or vows and comment on that.

4. Don't miss the dancing. There are too many societal rules that constrain us in our everyday lives. Be free on the dance floor and shake your groove thing. If you're self-conscious, just smile and no one will fault you for having a good time. If you look like a vertical fish out of water, who cares! Join one of the dance circles that inevitably forms and clap as others make spectacles of themselves so you realize you're not alone. If you're married or dating someone, you have no excuse. What better way to get in the mood than spinning each other around on the dance floor.

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How to Plan a Stellar High School Reunion

By guest blogger Andrea Turk

It's official, you're old. You just received an email from a former classmate that it is time to start planning your next high school reunion. Once the shock wears off, the next question settles in. Where do we begin? Fortunately, I have assembled a to-do list that will help you organize a successful reunion (sorry, I can't do anything about your age).

Don't panic. Planning a high school reunion is a lot of work, but if you follow these simple steps, the process can be a lot of fun and virtually painless.

  1. Plan early for your reunion. Begin at least 9 months or more in advance. (Trust me, you will wish you had started a year ago!) Planning a reunion is a big production; make sure that you have ample time to complete all the important tasks.
  2. Enlist classmates to help. The more help you have, the less stressed you will be. Make sure that the committee is a diverse group from your class. You don't want the reunion to be focused on one group of people with one set of interests. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
  3. Budget wisely. When setting your ticket price include all the costs of the reunion, not just the meal. This includes the cost of entertainment, venue rental, tax, gratuity, postage, printing, decorations, Web site hosting, long-distance phone calls, etc. Be conservative when estimating attendance. You don't want to be stuck footing the bill because an item was omitted from your budget or fewer classmates attended than expected. Set up a bank account to deposit payments and pay bills.
  4. Pick a location and date early. Weekends fill up quickly with weddings and social events, so availability can be hard to find if you wait to book the event. Make sure to ask about deposits, caterers' food and beverage minimums and extra costs. Pick a menu with variety.
  5. Assemble and manage the guest list. Put a complete list of your classmates together using your commencement program, senior annual and information from previous reunions. This list should be in a database or spreadsheet that is easy to update and manage throughout the process. Include a method to track RSVPs, orders, payments, meal choice, etc.
  6. Start locating your classmates now. I cannot stress this enough. This is a huge, time-consuming process. You may have to call parents, siblings, old roommates, etc. to track them down. Use the Internet. Online phone books, alumni Web sites, and community Web sites are all beneficial.
  7. Create a fun, simple, and easy-to-read invitation. Make sure to list all the essential information (date/time, location, ticket price and attire). Also, include contact information of the committee member in charge of answering questions and responding to complaints. Don't forget to let your classmates know where to return the reservations and make their checks payable to. Include payment deadlines to encourage early registration.
  8. Get the word out early. People are busy during the summer months, so make sure your event is number one on their calendar and get the invitation out at least 4-6 months in advance.
  9. Make time for the "extras." The memorabilia displays, event program, name tags, memory books and table decorations are the things that people will remember years down the road. This will help make your reunion special, giving it character or charm (depending on theme, setting, decorations).
  10. Collect personal information on your classmates. You can compile it into a memory book for each alum to take home as a memento of the reunion.
  11. Remember, this is your reunion. Don't get so caught up in the details that you lose sight of what is really important. Reunions are about reconnecting with old friends, reminiscing about the good ol' days and looking forward to the future.

If all this prep work isn't up your alley, consider the alternative of hiring a professional reunion planner. Many companies provide reunion management services, handling all the behind-the-scenes details such as coordinating with vendors, locating your classmates and managing the database, paying bills, covering liability insurance for the event, staffing the event, and more. You can find a professional reunion planner at the National Association of Reunion Managers. Happy reunion planning!

Andrea Turk works with Reunions with Class, Inc., has been in reunion planning since 2001, and has helped more than 400 reunion committees organize successful reunions.

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4th of July Brings Families and Friends Together


This weekend I volunteered at Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival on Lake Union. While there are countless festivities taking place across the country to celebrate America's birthday, the goal is the same: take time to play with family and/or friends. One big party from sea to shining sea.

Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival is unique to this city, but the energy, sentiment, food booths, kids activities, and arts and crafts show nature could be found in any other city or small town.

Celebrating 30 years, the Center for Wooden Boats has been involved in preserving maritime history and a maritime lifestyle with sailing lessons, rentals, an outdoor museum where you can walk the docks to view the boats, and an annual festival that culminates on the 4th of July. Classic wooden boats from around the Pacific Northwest anchor into about 10 to 12 different docks with shiny varnish, impeccable interiors (well, most of the boats, at least), and designs as varied as the owners.


After cruising on the 1922 Virginia V steamboat (one of two remaining steamboats of its kind in the U.S.) and going from upper tier deck to middle deck to lower deck (about 5 times each) I finally stood still, leaned against the railing, and took it all in. 30-ish feet above the water I peered down at houseboats and across the lake at the skyline, Space Needle and all. Complete peace.

Gliding into the dock, the hubub of a festival full of families, friends, boat-lovers, water-lovers all greeted us as we stepped off the boat back onto shore.

Holidays are great. We need more in this country. Until then, I'll be back at the festival tomorrow enjoying recess as long as I can.

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Speedy Group Reservation Secrets

Want to speed things along when blocking off rooms or booking group flight reservations for a wedding, family reunion, or special occasion with friends? Believe it or not, so do the group reservation agents. Plan ahead with these basic steps, so the group reps can speed things along.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the benefits of group booking such as same rates for every member of your party, potential room upgrades, and more, so you know what to expect.
  2. Know the myths of getting a discount so you can better plan the timing of your trip, etc.
  3. Educate yourself about some basic hotel group policies so the questions you ask are more specific and tailored down to your group's needs.
  4. Educate yourself about standard airline deposit terms and lingo so you're as prepared as possible when it comes time to make a group reservation.
  5. Use the "who's coming" (RSVP/invite) feature of TripHub to correctly estimate the number of group passengers who will travel will help avoid penalties for falling below the minimum number needed for a group rate. Give the group representative a number as close to accurate as you can.
  6. Flexibility on dates and times is key. If your group can travel at different times or on different dates, this will assist the group desk in finding the best rates.
  7. Discuss alternative airports or destinations with your group and give that information (in comment fields on online forms) to the group reservation desk. This could result in additional savings for the trip.

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Air and Hotel Group Reservation Benefits

When traveling with friends and family, you may qualify for group reservations. Hotels often require a 10-room minimum (of double occupancy which equals 20 people) and airlines typically require a 10-passenger minimum. If your group fits into those criteria, the booking process differs from booking reservations as individuals. And while there are a few cons to booking this way (including some discount myths), there are also numerous benefits.

  1. You get a real human helping you out through the process.
  2. You get the fairness of everyone paying the same rate.
  3. You get the benefit of being able to get rooms at the same place and seats on the same flight.
  4. If your group is only a little bigger than the number of units (seats/rooms) available at a low price, the supplier (or a good group representative) may open up a few more in order to ensure they get the group booking.
  5. Full price isn't due until (usually) 30 days prior to departure. By booking air reservations in bulk (and often hotels as well), you'll be able to make a deposit and pay the remainder as you get closer to traveling. This helps with planning so you can send reminders to people, do fundraising activities, and folks don't have to pay for big expenses too far in advance.
  6. Some hotels will offer additional amenities such when booking a big block of rooms.
  7. Special requests: These can often (but not always) be accommodated, including making sure the entire group has rooms/seats near each other or on the same floor of a hotel.
  8. Locking in availability: Hotels and airlines have their room/seat inventory management down to a science and their goal is to maximize profitability. By booking in bulk, you can lock in a certain rate and ensure you have enough space for your group. Group room/seat availability varies by hotel/flight; just plan early (several months in advance).

Remember, hoteliers want to put heads in beds just as much as airlines want butts in seats. The same goes for cruise lines and activity operators. A half-full ship sailing to the Caribbean is a sad ship sailing to the Caribbean in the supplier's mind. Groups are the industry's way of helping manage their inventory and ensuring they meet their sales numbers.

Group reservations may not work for every group trip, but if it's good to know the rules of engagement and some of the pros and cons to expect.

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Group Discount Myths

Everyone wants to save a few dollars, even a few hundred dollars when traveling. Travel deals, airfare sales, hotel specials (3rd night free, kids stay free) all entice us to vacation with saving money. But is it really cheaper to book in bulk? Sometimes. But not always.

There are numerous group reservation benefits. But here are common myths:

Myth #1: Groups discounts are commonly defined across the travel industry
Airlines generally define a group as 10 or more passengers. Hotels tend to define a group as 10 or more rooms of double occupancy (20 people). Cruises and activity operators have their own criteria for groups. Restaurants vary on whether or not they can accept group reservations, and if they do, less likely to offer discounts unless you have a coupons already. Many activity operators (snorkeling tours, river rafting, etc.) can accept groups, but the number of people varies widely depending on vehicle occupancy, type of tour, etc. You get the idea. Your group may qualify for a discount at a theater (7 girls on a getaway weekend), but not for a block of rooms at the hotel closest to a friend's wedding.

Myth #2: If a group has fewer than 10 people, it is not a group
Not true. What about the group of 7 guys who goes golfing for a weekend? Or 9 girls on a spa getaway? Or an extended family traveling together: parents, kids, grandparents, aunt/uncle? They are absolutely groups. Groups don't have to be industry-defined to travel together. Friends and family travel in groups all the time and aren't necessarily considered traditional groups by the travel industry. See more on what defines a group.

Myth #3: Seasonality doesn't affect group reservations
Travel industry prices are highly tuned into the seasons, regardless of how many people in the party. Caribbean is cheaper than ever in the Spring and Fall (during hurricane-prone seasons), while Hawaii is most expensive during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It doesn't matter how big your group is, you'll pay more for a European summer trip than you would in a lower season month (such as October). And the same applies to other destinations and their peak seasons. Planning well in advance can help, you aren't immune from the seasonal pricing fluctuations. Seasonal rates apply to airlines, hotels, activity, cruises, and tour operators.

Myth #4: Black-out dates don't apply to groups
Groups can travel any time, but all travel is subject to peak times and black-out dates (which vary by destination). Fares are higher, deadlines for things like deposits are more restrictive, and space is more limited not just for peak travel, but also for black-out dates, such as major holidays. While destinations and suppliers vary for black-out dates, U.S.holidays are when availability is most limited for the majority of suppliers including airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and many activity companies.

Myth #5: Booking group reservations guarantees a discount
First, the number of units (seats/rooms) your group needs may exceed the number available at the cheapest rate, so even with a discount off the lowest rate available for your group, at least some members of your group could find a lower price by booking individually.

Second, prices do not necessarily go up as you get closer to the travel date, so contracting early enough to ensure that there's enough space available for you puts you at risk of missing out a potential lower price later. Just as with individual purchases, deciding when to buy is a trade-off between price and availability, and a bit of a bet.

Myth #6: Deposits for group flights and hotel rooms are fully refundable
Restrictions occur (and vary) for any group reservation. Normally, if people cancel and the total number of passengers falls below 90% of your original estimated number of passengers, you'll lose the deposit for those passengers. If the final number of people who go on the trip is below the pre-set minimum, all existing tickets/rooms must be reissued and penalties may apply (such as flight change fees).

Armed with this reality check of group discounts, go forth and travel the world together. Discounts do exist. They just aren't as easy to secure as we'd all like to believe, and it does take a little vigilance to manage a group contract. Just be sure to ask the group reservation representative, as they're usually willing to be helpful to make sure your group is accommodated.

p.s., thank you to Camille E. for sharing her experience as a travel agent: "I very much agree with your advice on group travel. More people need to be aware of these factors when booking a group. I am a travel agent and many times group rates just ensure that everyone is paying the same price, especiallywith airfare. Just because you are a group does not mean cheaper. Quite often there are only so many seats in a particular class of service for airlines which means that not everyone in your group will get in the same class, therefore higher prices for those having to book in higher classes. This is where group bookings for airfare helps. Also, the earlier the better for booking! Or at least start looking early this way you can keep an eye on the availability. Most problems that I have with groups is that they leave things too late and then have no options and higher prices. It is also advisable to have one person in charge as the contact person."

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Groups Flock to Las Vegas

With Las Vegas dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, it's no wonder that our research at TripHub shows more groups planning trips to Las Vegas than any other destination.


Surprised? Don't be. Las Vegas has long been popular for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, weekend gambling getaways (and gawking) for guys, easy-bake wedding ceremonies or full-blown weddings, and a launch pad for visiting the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and other area attractions. And when conventioneers converge there, attendees often extend their stay and invite family or friends to join them.

Vegas continues to evolve, offering world-class shows (think Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, O, Zumanity, plus a bevy of Broadway, magic, and variety shows that thrill 'til dawn), concerts by renowned music artists, and more high-rolling resort casinos than anywhere else on Earth.

Even the anti-glitz travelers (ahem, like myself) who prefer tamer, more au naturale vacations, often admit that Las Vegas is good for entertaining and best enjoyed with a group of friends when you can double dare them to keep betting on the roulette table or give them a dollar bill to tip the dancer (that would be for the guys). The sweeping view from the top of Mandalay Bay is worth seeing, the Bellagio waterworks display dazzling, a massage at any of the luxury hotel spas relaxing, and other activities can fill your every waking moment. Sleep when you return home.

Planning a trip to Las Vegas with family or friends? Here are ideas to get you started:

Plan a weekend getaway with friends, bachelor(ette) party, family vacation, or wedding using TripHub by setting up a home page for your group, inviting guests, discussing hotels, sharing itinerary information, and more

Photos provided by Las Vegas News Bureau

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Boating, the Great Urban Escape

Ah, cities with water. Whether its lakefront, oceanfront, bayfront, or riverfront, living in or visiting a city with water access can be bliss in the sultry summer months.

Dangling my toes from the bow, I went on a boat ride this past weekend with a few others. A potpourri group of friends and family. This activity is highly group-oriented, especially in a city known for having the highest number of boats per capita. Seattle waterways were jam-packed on Sunday with kayakers, power boaters, wooden boaters, canoers, rowers, floaters, pedalers, sailors, wake-boarders, water skiers, and the list goes on.

Watching other boats pass our boat, I noticed that regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status (believe me, you can tell a lot by someone's boat), everyone had a perma-grin. Water can be the great equalizer. People on boats of all shapes and sizes (passengers to match) waved and smiled as they floated by each other.

With so many people crowding the waterways, I felt privileged to help the skipper navigate by yelling, "Canoers on the port side!" and other super official-sounding lingo. I was luckiest girl in the world, for the day. Warm breeze, water splashing, scrumptious food and drinks, all in good company.

I highly recommend some form of a boating this summer, kicking your feet up, and letting the wake be your guide. Even within city limits, you can be miles away.

Explore cities by water.

Here are some fun and accessible ways to enjoy time on the water without requiring any prior boating skills:

    Chicago, Illinois: Chicago offers diverse water trails, from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River, making it a haven for paddlers. Kayak Chicago is a notable outfitter providing tours on both the lake and river, including a unique fireworks paddle to view the light show at Navy Pier.

    Miami, Florida: Surrounded largely by water, Miami is a hotspot for various water sports, including kayaking. Paddlers can explore places like Biscayne Bay, the Oleta River within a state park, or the Coral Gables Waterway. Outfitters like South Beach Kayak are known for their excellent services, especially for beginners.

    Portland, Oregon: Yacht Tubs rents 6-person hot tub boats. These boats are also powered by a quiet electric motor and controlled with an easy joystick, requiring no previous boating experience or license. The service, starting from around $360 to $399 for two hours, launches from Riverplace Marina, providing a splendid opportunity to explore the Willamette River and enjoy the city skyline.

    Seattle, Washington: Hot Tub Boats offers a unique and leisurely boating experience. Their boats are also equipped with easy-to-use joystick navigation and can accommodate up to 6 people. Rental prices range from approximately $350 to $450 for a two-hour slot, and the service is available year round. Enjoy Seattle's scenic views from the comfort of a hot tub!

Updated November 2023.

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Romance Via Traveling

I'm not sure if it's the thrill of traveling, alcohol shared among friends, a romantic new setting, or the free feeling of being away from home and responsibilities. My guess is it's a combination of all that can convert travelers to accidental romantics, leading to travel trysts and even some long-lasting relationships.

But be careful. Traveling can also raise toxic levels of flirtation. Enough to make any travel companion gag.

How can group trips increase your chances of meeting that Mr. or Ms. Right Now (or, better yet, that special someone for longer)?

  1. Meeting up for drinks or activities with other like-minded travelers is a great benefit of traveling when you're still single. When traveling solo (especially as a woman), it's not necessarily as easy to meet someone (or safe). However, when with a group of family or friends, you can meet other travelers, knowing you're in the safe comfort of traveling with those you trust.
  2. Destination weddings are naturally themed with romance. Attending a destination wedding as a singleton is a sure fire way to meet at least one eligible bachelor or bachelorette. Be proactive or non-chalant. Ask your friends to introduce you to anyone "special" they know who's attending. Or casually scan the ceremony for singles, and then find yourself next to them in the buffet line at the reception.

True story: A bride groom and groomsman at a destination wedding of a friend of mine met at the wedding and struck up a long-distance relationship for over a year. They also toured around the destination immediately after the wedding day with other wedding guests. Last I'd heard, after taking a 6-month break, they are back together and may try to live in the same city. 3. Vacationing with friends opens doors to meeting someone. Whether camping, skiing, road tripping, gambling in Las Vegas, or just doing a weekend getaway, friends of friends usually come well-recommended or at least well-researched.

True story: A good friend met a woman who was equally as crazy about skiing as he was. Shortly after they met through friends, a big group of them planned a European ski trip in January, where they got closer and have been dating seriously ever since. 4. Friends serve as "wing men." If you're single and traveling with a group of friends and you meet someone intriguing, chances are your friends will be encouraging. And they'll have your back in case things go awry. This makes it all the more fun to flirt and get to know someone at a bar in a different destination than when at home, you may be more likely to play it safe and stay in your comfort zone of just visiting with friends. If nothing else, you can come home and brag about the best kiss you've ever had while on the London Eye with a saucy Brit you and your friends met while on vacation.

True story: Being as vague as I possibly can be to protect a friend of mine, let's just say I've heard the Italian Riviera is a great aphrodisiac. Limoncello helps. 5. Travel where singles travel. Club Med caters to groups such as golf pals, sewing cirlce (many singles, too). Hedonism resorts in the Caribbean have singles activities and welcome groups. And we all know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Beaches around the world are also laden with possibilities. Plus, ski resorts and towns during the winter months are group gathering meccas and ideal for warming up with a cozy kiss.

In general, when traveling with friends or families, have fun, be yourself, and get into the groove of the trip. Play it safe. And be cool. In no time, the natural relaxation of the destination and comfortable group could lead to a romance of a lifetime.

Any other ways group trips can add a little romantic spice to a trip?

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Don't Lodge 12 People in a Single-Room Apartment and Four Other Group Travel Tips

by Pamela Slim, guest blogger

In the follies of my twenties, I co-led a trip to Brazil for 12 martial art students.

I was hot and heavy in the study of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. I had spent three months living in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years earlier, familiarizing myself with the language and country.

A friend and I "organized" (and I use this term lightly) a trip for fellow students who wanted to train Capoeira in its motherland. I was used to traveling light and without lots of plans, so I didn't imagine that it would be a very big deal. I was wrong. Participants for the most part were college students with no money, so we wanted to keep things as cheap as possible.

Here's what we did wrong that I encourage you to avoid:

1. To save money, we lodged 12 people in a single-room apartment for a few nights. It didn't seem like a very big deal when we arranged it, but it quickly became evident that 12 people had important bathroom needs that could not be met by one commode. Uncomfortable, to say the least.

2. We left plans too open and flexible. It is one thing to have no plans when you are travelling alone or in a twosome, it is quite another when you have a gaggle of students. Imagine the adult equivalent of 12 kids constantly asking "Are we there yet?" and "I'm bored, what are we doing today?" for three weeks straight. We should have made more concrete plans so our group knew what to expect.

3. I didn't factor in a charge for my services. I paid the same amount as everyone else, and spent most of the three weeks frantically organizing the next leg of the trip, acting as tour guide and translator and trying to quell student frustrations. I was exhausted by the end and frustrated that people didn't enjoy it more.

4. We made the trip too long for such a large group of people. We stayed for over two weeks. Tempers started to flare and nerves got raw. If we had provided comfortable rooms where everyone could relax and get away from each other, it would have been different. But our operating on a shoestring with everyone together all the time type of trip dragged on for too long.

5. We didn't get to the airport early enough for the flight home. The Brazilian airline attendants informed me that there was no way everyone could make it on the flight, even though we had reserved seats. My friend was a native Brazilian with a terrible temper, and he played an excellent "bad cop" to my "good cop." Finally they pleaded with me "If you can make that man shut up and go away, we will put you all in first class."

On the upside, we did get interviewed by a national Brazilian television station who did a story on our visit to their country to learn a native art form. They filmed an interview with me in Portuguese, and capped the segment off with footage of us doing the national "booty shaking dance" of Samba. Apparently, I had good hips for a gringa. At the airport, I got called up to the counter by a pair of serious-looking airline managers. Fearing visa troubles or more cancelled flights, I solemnly asked what was wrong. One leaned over and whispered to me, "Was that you on television today? Man, you can sure Samba!"

Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach who helps frustrated creatives in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. You can find her at her own blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation. Don't worry, she doesn't lead trips anymore.

June 23, 2006

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Ecotourism, A Convenient Truth

With Al Gore's new documentary on global warming, an inconvenient truth indeed, people are privvy to evidence of this phenomenon known by scientists for years. Even some non-tree huggers admit that we all contribute in some ways to the effect.

Luckily, as travelers, we can help. Think globally, act wherever we plant our feet. That extends to travel destinations. Ecotourism is a growing niche of the travel industry. Costa Rica was a pioneer in building a tourism industry that was founded on sustainability of its flora, fauna, and community.

The International Ecotourism Society offers the following basic principles that help define ecotourism so you can identify companies that practice the principle. This can serve as a checklist to find an ecotourism company or tour/activity when you plan your next trip:

Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation is a snorkeling, whale-watching, and ecotourism organization that serves as a shining example, living up to these criteria.

Of course, it can be hard to travel entirely with ecological matters guiding your vacation decisions. But rather than driving all over Napa Valley, why not consider doing a half-day bike tour? That day of not driving would cut down on CO2 emissions, which will likely save the planet. I'm sure of it. Plus, your vacation will be that much more adventurous.

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A Cheeky Guide to America's Nude Beaches

Going along with my previous post on the rising nude travel trend, the next logical question is "where are the nude beaches?" since it seems like a natural combination - beach and bare buns. (Unless, of course, the subject makes you uncomfortable as hell and you'd rather go to your happy place and pretend you aren't intrigued. Understandable.)

So, how does one find these elusive edens of au naturel relaxation? A quick internet search can be enlightening (just maybe not at work). There are websites and online communities dedicated to the naturist lifestyle, with maps and guides to help you find your little slice of bare beach heaven.

We've compiled a list of the best U.S. beaches for naturists. Have a look. Then walk, don't run, to plan a trip if you dare to go bare.

Each of these beaches offers a unique experience, from the bustling crowds of Haulover to the tranquil shores of Red Rock. They are united by a common thread: the joy of enjoying nature as nature intended.

Remember to check local rules and regulations, as each beach has its own guidelines for nude sunbathing. And, as always, respect for others and the environment is paramount.

From the sunny coasts of Florida to the rugged shores of Oregon, the U.S. is dotted with havens for those who prefer their beach days au naturel. So grab your sunscreen (lots of it), and embark on a liberating journey. Happy sunbathing! 🌞🌴

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The Rise of Capsule and Pod Hotels

E-gad! The world is really shrinking.

In the ever-evolving landscape of travel accommodations a new trend - the capsule and pod hotel - has been gaining traction. Originating from the space-efficient designs of Japan, these miniature marvels of the hospitality industry are redefining the concept of overnight stays for travelers. As urban space becomes increasingly scarce and the ethos of minimalism continues to appeal, these hotels offer a unique solution. They cater to those seeking convenience, affordability, and a touch of novelty in their lodging choices.

Capsule Hotels: A Japanese Innovation Goes Global: Capsule hotels, pioneered in Japan in the late 1970s, are characterized by their rows of small, bed-sized capsules. Initially targeting businessmen who missed the last train home, these hotels have grown to appeal to budget travelers and those curious about this unique style of accommodation. Brands like 9 Hours and First Cabin lead the way in Japan, offering basic amenities in a compact space. While the concept remains predominantly Japanese, it has begun to spread globally, with capsule hotels emerging in cities like Singapore and London.

Pod Hotels: The Western Adaptation: In the West, the capsule hotel concept has been adapted into what are commonly known as pod hotels. These include brands like Yotel and Pod Hotels, which offer slightly larger accommodations - akin to small hotel rooms or pods. These establishments provide a more upscale experience compared to traditional capsule hotels, with amenities like private bathrooms, convertible beds, and tech-friendly environments. Located predominantly in urban centers and airports, they target a broader audience, including tech-savvy travelers and those looking for a stylish, yet affordable, urban retreat.

Benefits and Appeal: The primary appeal of capsule and pod hotels lies in their affordability and efficient use of space, making them ideal for densely populated urban areas. They offer a solution for solo travelers seeking privacy and convenience at a lower cost than traditional hotels. The minimalist design and modern amenities cater to a younger demographic and those with a penchant for unique experiences. Additionally, their presence in locations like airports makes them a convenient option for transit travelers.

Challenges and Limitations: However, these accommodations are not without their challenges. The confined space of capsule hotels may not suit everyone, especially those prone to claustrophobia or requiring more personal space. Privacy can also be a concern, as some capsule hotels have less soundproofing between units. For pod hotels, while they offer more space and amenities, they still lack the full range of services of a standard hotel, which might deter those looking for a more traditional hospitality experience.

As travelers continue to seek new and affordable ways to explore, capsule and pod hotels are carving out their niche in the hotel industry. They symbolize a shift towards minimalist, efficient travel - a trend that resonates with the modern ethos of simplicity and practicality. Whether it's the bare-bones capsule in Tokyo or the tech-savvy pod in New York, these hotels are more than just a place to sleep; they represent a new chapter in the story of global travel accommodations.

I'm curious what others think of this. I can see it being useful for the business traveler, but I wouldn't want to stay in a shoebox while vacationing. I do have to admit, when having a long layover on international flights, it'd be nice to have a comfortable place to chill and take a nap.

Updated December 2023.

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Nude Travelers Everywhere

OK, not literally. Gawkers, stay calm. But nude travel has tripled in the last decade with nude cruises, nude resorts, and an increasing number of clothing-optional travelers flocking to areas where they can bare all. Here's what the American Association for Nude Recreation has to say:

As any kid who breaks loose from you at bath time to go romping through the house can tell you, it's just fun to enjoy your birthday suit once in a while.

When you're nude you're the way you were meant to be: completely natural. Many who enjoy clothes-free recreation and living refer to themselves as naturists and with good reason. Being naked, especially in the great outdoors within appropriate settings, draws one inherently closer to nature.

Yahoo reports on the growing trend, and how Florida's Pasco County (south of Tampa) is turning into a "nudist Mecca" in the United States.

Three of Pasco County's six nudist resorts are taking off the gloves and everything else as they attempt to attract more of the worldwide clothing-optional market, which has tripled in size since 1992.

The American Association of Nude Recreation estimates nudists pump about $400 million into the global tourism economy, up from $120 million in 1992. The association says its ranks have grown 75 percent to 50,000 members in that time.

Nudists can choose from 270 clubs, resorts and campgrounds in the United States.

Why the growing trend in nude travel? Your guess is as good as mine. I've heard about European topless or nude beaches and wonder if the increase in American nude travel is a result of relaxed moral standards from our puritan past or just groovy attitudes toward being more au naturale. I'm curious if the baby boomer hippies from the 60s, now retiring after being in the work force, are fueling this trend. You know, the generation that invented "free love" and peaked at Woodstock? But with rising trends in natural recreational activities such as spa travel and ecotourism as well, I tend to think that for many, it is not a fascination with being surrounded by naked bods, but a draw of being natural and real. Spa industry has boomed over the last decade as well, and spa appeal has long been self-pampering, often in the nude (while scantily clothed in sheets) for ultimate relaxation. Any other ideas on why the trend is growing? (Keep your comments clean or they'll get deleted.)

I highly doubt you'd find me at the flashy new Florida nudist resort and spa called Caliente. I'm more likely to hit a rustic hot springs in a galaxy far, far away from civilization and other people. Hat's off (er, clothes off) to an industry for innovation, though.

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Practical Tips for Group Cruises

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

Before You Go

Before you book a cruise, plan to spend some time talking with your travel agent about the likes and dislikes of the group. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Some things to consider:

For more information, contact: Cruise Lines International Association.

Smart Facts

  1. How long is a cruise? You can go on a voyage for three months or three days. Most people take a cruise for a week or 10 to 14-days.
  2. Where to go? Some of the most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
  3. Themes to consider: The cruise industry has cruise lines, individual cruises and more with specialty cruises to suit nearly every interest: photography, gay/lesbian cruises, nude cruises, family cruises (think Disney Cruise Line), and more.
  4. What to wear? Pack as you would for any resort. Cruise vacations are casual by day, whether you're on the ship or ashore. In the evening, attire is a bit dressier. But, it's really up to you. At the "Captain's Gala," you'll probably want to wear something formal; for other occasions "suit" yourself. As you cruise from port to port, you won't have to worry about packing and unpacking. The hassles of an ordinary vacation are practically eliminated.
  5. Staying in touch: Updated: Today, most modern cruise ships are equipped with Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to stay connected while at sea. However, the strength, speed, and cost of the Wi-Fi service can vary significantly. Some may offer high-speed internet similar to what you'd find on land, while others might have slower or more limited service. In many cases, accessing Wi-Fi on a cruise ship comes with an additional cost. It's advisable to check with the specific cruise line for details before embarking on a cruise.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

June 15, 2006

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10 Reasons to Plan a Family Reunion Cruise

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

Cruises offer a unique opportunity to spend quality time with family. You can get pampered, take part in your favorite activities and try new feats, all while visiting some of the most beautiful or exotic destinations in the world.

Here's what you have to look forward to:

1. Quality Time: A wonderful aspect of being on a cruise is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family. Cruises slow down the rush of day to day life. While floating at sea, there's plenty of time to lounge on the deck, visiting like there's no tomorrow.

Cruise ships provide a unique environment for families. The varied activities allow you to spend time together (and apart!) making this kind of trip ideal for a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or family reunion). You'll get to be together in a way you never had time for before.

2. Total Relaxation: Bliss. Utter bliss. Nothing gives you the sense of being away from it all as a cruise. You can walk onto the ship a frazzled heap of nerves; and, after a week of sun, relaxation, a little exercise, and a few spa treatments, emerge a new person.

A cruise ship is a floating resort with all the things a fine resort has to offer and more. While you can just relax and do nothing, today's ships are well-equipped to keep sports oriented travelers busy from sunrise to sunset.
3. Built-In Value: The ticket price includes all of your meals and in between snacks onboard; your stateroom, activities, parties and entertainment; plus, an exciting voyage to interesting places.

Since you pay for almost everything up front, you'll know pretty much what the trip will end up costing before you go. (Your only extra expenses will be drinks, optional shore excursions, and personal services such as a massage or a new hairdo.)
4. Divine Destinations: One of the many benefits of the cruising experience is the ability to visit more than one place during a trip. Some of the most popular cruise destinations are: the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.

On a cruise, you don't really notice the traveling because you spend the day exploring an interesting port and, while you sleep, the ship takes you to the next day's destination.

5. Enriching Experiences: As well as the discoveries you'll make in the various ports-of-call, many cruise lines feature seminars hosted by distinguished, guest speakers. Along with lectures on the sights you’ll be visiting, you can attend presentations on topics ranging from Renaissance art to financial planning to the secrets of French cooking.

6. Theme Cruises: Do you and your family have a particular interest or hobby such as golf, photography or architecture? You can go on a cruise filled with other enthusiasts and experts offering seminars and demonstrations on your favorite topic. Whether your passion is for gardening, wine tasting or 50's music, there's a theme cruise that suits your interest(s).

7. Activities for Kids: If you bring your children along, you can truly relax while the kiddies have a blast because all the activities for children are specially supervised. These fun and educational activities are designed with specific age groups in mind.

8. Food, Glorious Food: Cruises are known for their elaborate meals from bountiful buffets to midnight menus. You'll have the opportunity to "taste test" new specialties or enjoy some favorites such as roast beef and lobster. Each meal is a savory, multi-course affair.

For those with special dietary requirements, there are spa-cuisine offerings, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, kosher and vegetarian meals. There are even special children's menus to suit the tastes of the pickiest eater in the family.

9. Entertainment: On a cruise, the entertainment is practically non-stop. There's dancing, cabaret shows, feature films and parties. After dinner, there's often dancing to Big Band sounds and, for the night owls onboard, there’s entertainment in the nightclubs and lounges. Many ships also have casinos.

10. The Art of Sitting Still: Besides the food, the entertainment, and various on-board activities, one of the best things about being on a boat is just sitting still and looking out at the horizon. With the sun glistening on the water and the work-a-day world far away, there is something deeply soothing about it.
With the busy lives we all lead, it's difficult to make the time to connect with family (and friends). However, cruises make connecting with people natural. And that's what makes it perfect for a family reunion or any kind of group trip.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.

June 15, 2006

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Family Reunion Planning Guide

Gathering the generations together at one time is challenging. So many siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.

But family bonds grow stronger, stories accumulate, shared activities unite all age groups, and celebratory occasions (Uncle Bob's 50th birthday, etc.) entertain, making family reunions worth every ounce of effort.

Simplify the planning process with these family reunion tips and free the planning guru within.

Family Reunion Checklist 101: Budget, Guest List, Dates
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens of relatives are counting on you. Don't stress out. Early essential steps will lead you to success (and peace of mind).

Checklist 102: Location, Accommodations, Activities
Location. Location. Location. And all other critical considerations you simply can't forget. Where will guests stay? What will the main events or activities be? These big ticket items set the pace, timeline, structure (and budget) for any family reunion.

The Art of Delegation
Delegate projects, tasks, "to do" lists with pizzaz and be an expert family reunion project manager by sharing the responsibility. No one is an island.

Make Every Communiqué Count
He said. She said. Who's on first? Communication is vital for a family reunion to succeed and that starts the very first day of planning. Here are tips to avoid over or under-communicating.

More Family Travel Tips:

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Inspiring Beach Photo of the Day

The infinite blue horizon calls us all.

Whether we road trip with family in tote, flee the city with friends, or travel solo to meet up for a destination wedding, oceans continuously lap the shores to welcome summer visitors, swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, scuba divers, fishers, boaters, kayakers, and the lazy rest of us who gaze wistfully at the scenery.

You? What beach activities lift your spirits? Thanks to Vagablond for pointing out Caribbean group scuba dives and other activities through Red Sail Sports Aruba, Grand Cayman operations.

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Sunscreen Tips for Travelers

As travelers, we often find ourselves under the relentless sun, whether lounging on a Caribbean beach or hiking through the Mediterranean countryside. Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is crucial, not just to prevent sunburn, but also to ward off long-term damage and skin cancers. To do this effectively, understanding and using sunscreen is key. Broad-spectrum sunscreens, which block both UVA and UVB rays, should be your go-to choice. Apply sunscreen generously and frequently, especially after swimming or sweating.

Understanding SPF ratings: SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UVB rays, the kind responsible for causing sunburn and contributing to skin cancer. An SPF 30 sunscreen, for instance, theoretically allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without burning than you would without protection. However, this is not a linear scale, and high SPF numbers don't mean total blockage. SPF 30 filters out about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 filters about 98%. No sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays, so reapplication is necessary.

What to look for when choosing a sunscreen: When selecting a sunscreen, look for ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These mineral-based ingredients are effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays. For those with sensitive skin, mineral sunscreens are less irritating compared to chemical ones. Also, look for sunscreens free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, as these ingredients can harm marine life and are banned in some regions due to their effects on coral reefs.

For water activities like swimming, water-resistant sunscreens are a must. Look for products labeled as 'water-resistant' for up to 40 or 80 minutes. For high-altitude or snow environments, where UV exposure can be more intense, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher. For everyday urban environments, a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen should suffice, and it can be integrated into your daily skincare routine.

Remember, sunscreen is just one part of sun protection. Wear protective clothing, seek shade, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. By choosing the right sunscreen and using it correctly, you can enjoy your travel adventures while keeping your skin healthy and safe. Whether you’re scaling mountains or exploring cityscapes, the right sunscreen can be your best travel companion.

Here's to youthful skin, and vacations filled with youthful activities!

Updated December 2023.

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Wine and Spa Lovers Unite

A European trend is quickly spreading. Two heavenly pleasures - spas and wine - are now joined in a marriage of grape bliss.

Vinotherapy, an alluring wellness concept, intertwines the luxurious world of spas with the age-old indulgence of wine. Originating in the lush vineyards of France, this unique therapy was pioneered by the French skincare brand Caudalie, co-founded by Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas. The couple discovered the potential of grape seeds in enhancing skin health during a chance meeting with Professor Joseph Vercauteren, a polyphenols specialist, at their family vineyard in Bordeaux. Fascinated by the antioxidant properties of grape seeds, which are potent in combating aging, they developed a skincare line and spa treatments revolving around this concept, thus birthing vinotherapy.

Vinotherapy has since garnered global acclaim, becoming a coveted experience for wellness enthusiasts and wine lovers alike. The treatments typically involve the use of grape-based products such as grape seed oil, crushed Cabernet scrubs, and wine baths, believed to harness the rejuvenating and revitalizing properties of grapes. This luxurious therapy transcends beyond mere relaxation, promising anti-aging benefits and improved skin vitality, making it popular among those seeking a unique pampering experience. Its popularity has grown not only because of its supposed health benefits but also due to the sheer indulgence and novelty it offers.

In the heart of Bordeaux, Les Sources de Caudalie, stands as the epitome of vinotherapy luxury. This exquisite spa, nestled amidst vineyards, offers an array of treatments that showcase the essence of vinotherapy. From barrel baths filled with warm water and vine extracts to Merlot wraps and grape-seed oil massages, the spa promises a holistic experience that celebrates the vine's life cycle. Another notable mention is the Spa Vinothérapie Caudalie at The Plaza Hotel in New York City, where urban dwellers can escape into a world of wine-inspired relaxation.

Italy, too, has embraced vinotherapy with open arms. At the Adler Thermae Spa in Tuscany, guests can immerse themselves in baths of local Brunello di Montalcino, renowned for its rejuvenating properties. The spa combines traditional Italian thermal waters with the antioxidant benefits of grapes, offering a unique blend of health and heritage. In the picturesque region of Piedmont, the L’Andana Spa offers treatments using grapes from their own vineyards, epitomizing the farm-to-face ethos.

As vinotherapy continues to captivate the wellness world, more spas across the globe are incorporating wine-based treatments into their offerings. From the rolling vineyards of South Africa to the sun-kissed valleys of California, these treatments celebrate the natural bounty and timeless allure of the vine. Whether it’s a wine bath in Bordeaux or a grape seed scrub in Tuscany, vinotherapy offers an intoxicating journey into the heart of wellness and luxury, making it a must-try experience for those seeking a unique blend of indulgence and health.

Why drink the elixir of centuries when you can swim in it?  I say dive in. The water (bubbly, blush, red, or white) should be divine.

Updated December 2023.

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Top U.S. Attractions for Family & Group Travel

You're thinking it. I'm thinking it. The kids are definitely thinking it. Summer's virtually here and a flurry of warm-weather activities are on the mind as peak travel season to and within the United States has arrived.

  1. We begin with the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a vast natural wonder known for its overwhelming size and vibrant landscape. The best time to visit is during the spring and fall to avoid the summer crowds. Guided tours offer historical insights, and the sunrise or sunset views are a must-see.

  2. Next is the Statue of Liberty in New York, an iconic symbol of freedom and democracy. It's best visited in late fall or early spring to beat the crowds. Booking ferry tickets and pedestal access in advance is recommended, and a side trip to Ellis Island can be enriching.

  3. Yellowstone National Park, sprawling across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is America's first national park, famous for its wildlife and geothermal wonders like Old Faithful. Late spring or early fall are ideal for visiting, offering pleasant weather and fewer tourists. Staying in the park allows for a more immersive experience.

  4. Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the ultimate family vacation destination, offering a magical experience with its theme parks and resorts. The period from mid-January to mid-March or late April to early June is ideal. Utilizing FastPass+ for rides and staying at a Disney hotel can enhance your experience.

  5. Disneyland in Anaheaim, California, often dubbed as the "Happiest Place on Earth", offers a blend of classic attractions and newer adventures. The best time to visit is during the off-peak months, typically from mid-September to mid-November, and January through March. Planning your visit on a weekday can also help avoid large crowds. Don't forget to catch the evening fireworks and parades for a magical end to your day.

  6. The Las Vegas Strip is known for its vibrant nightlife, casinos, and entertainment. Visiting on weekdays, especially in spring or fall, means fewer crowds. Exploring beyond the casinos is recommended, with attractions like the Hoover Dam nearby.

  7. Times Square in New York epitomizes the city's hustle and bustle, with its neon lights, Broadway shows, and shopping. It's best experienced early in the morning or late at night to avoid the crowds. Don't miss a Broadway show and take time to visit Central Park.

  8. In The French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, you'll find a vibrant music scene, distinct architecture, and a unique cultural blend. Visiting in late fall or early spring helps avoid the heat and humidity. Experiencing live jazz music and trying local cuisine like beignets and gumbo is a must.

  9. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, is an iconic suspension bridge admired for its Art Deco design and striking color. September to November offers the best weather for a visit. Walking or biking across the bridge provides breathtaking views.

  10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is the most visited national park in the U.S., known for its rolling mountains and diverse wildlife. Fall and spring are the best times to visit for foliage and wildflowers, respectively. The scenic drives and historic buildings in Cades Cove are highlights.

Each of these destinations in the U.S. offers a unique glimpse into the country's culture, history, and natural beauty. They offer insta-fun for people of all ages, easy-to-plan activities, and they hold the "wow" factor (biggest canyon, biggest theme park...) and all of these attractions accommodate groups.

While many will flock to these hot-spots, many others will flee to avoid crowds and escape to quiet retreats and memorable beaches of their own. We won't hear as much about the latter because they'll flee to disparate destinations.

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Road Trip Planning Essentials

Friends, families, and other groups of like-minded vacationers will hit the road this summer for campgrounds, national parks, attractions, family reunions, and other adventures. Memorial Day was just the beginning.

In planning a road trip with a group of friends recently, I was reminded of the need for services like TripHub, where you can coordinate, collaborate and centralize any type of group trip information easily. In the spirit of simplifying planning, here are helpful tips to make any road trip stress-free.

1. Designate a point person
This person may or may not be the same person who initiated the trip. Usually, one person in the group enjoys coordinating plans and doing research on where to stay. When there are multiple type A personalities in the group, making one point person clear to all becomes critical to avoid confusion and duplication. However, delegating is wise when planning any trip. You can funnel all major and minor questions to the point person. (Of course, it helps to have someone willing to be point person… so preferably this person will volunteer.) This person can send out the initial invitation for the trip and create the trip home page.

2. Decide who's driving
Determine how many vehicles and when those vehicles are leaving and returning. If Dick and Jane are each taking their cars, you'll need to know how many people can they fit in their cars comfortably (don't forget room for bags, equipment, etc.), and get a commitment from drivers on day and time of departure so the other passengers can plan their schedules accordingly.

3. Decide who brings what
Create a checklist of "must-haves" such as water, cooler, Oreos, first-aid kit, car maintenance kit, pillows, certain CDs or an iPod full of music, and other accoutrements. Camping trips require bringing your accommodations and food along for the ride, so getting a list of what people have to bring/contribute is helpful. Someone can then consolidate the list to determine what's missing. Food, tents, firewood, tarps, folding chairs, age-appropriate games for the group, binoculars, coolers, and lighters/matches all come to mind. For any other road trip, think about car games (including kid games for families), cooler full of ice + water + snacks, maps, travel books on nearby points of interest, etc. All shared costs can be divided among the group (and the organizer can track money owed using TripHub).

4. Split the cost of gas fairly and tactfully
How? Discuss this well in advance of the trip so expectations (and budgets) are clear for all road trippers. The record gas price spikes are challenging for everyone and splitting the cost of gas is perfectly acceptable. If you're traveling with a group of friends, factor gas costs into overall budgets. For instance, big ticket items such as hotel room(s), activity entrance fees, and food are typically split in groups. Drivers especially should speak up to remind people that sharing the cost of gas should also be considered in the overall cost of the road trip. Agree with your group how the cost will be divided and when. Nothing's worse than getting stuck with a bigger bill than necessary due to lack of communication. TripHub makes it easy for the main trip organizer to include gas as a shared cost factor. Three ways to share gas costs:

5. Make your road trip fuel-efficient
…with 10+ vital gas-saving tips; a little prep will go a long way, especially on longer road trips. Gas prices will affect every road trip, but if you do a little homework and find the cheapest gas station near you (thanks to Gas Buddy), plus share the cost of gas with friends or family on road trips, you're less likely to break your piggybank while winding through stunning scenery on an unforgettable vacation.

6. Decide on the best route (and alternative route)
Plan ahead with research on various routes to your favorite destination(s) in case of emergency road closures or summertime construction. Check U.S. Department of Transportation's traffic and road closure status for any state before you go.

7. Agree on flexibility before leaving
Rain may spoil a camping road trip, so doing a little pre-trip research to find nearby B&B's or hotels may save you headache along the journey. Make sure everyone is in agreement to be flexible. Trip organizers can do a little research before the trip to give recommendations and alternatives to original plans (local festivals, for instance). If your group is set on hiking a certain Rocky Mountain trail along the road trip, the group may discover another trail off-the-beaten path or bag the hiking idea in favor of relaxing with a picnic and majestic Rocky Mountain skyline.

8. Get and give personal spaceCramming yourselves in a car is fun for a weekend getaway or longer trip, but everyone eventually will crave some solo time. I recommend agreeing on one or two stops along the drive where people are free to explore a town or area, iPod in hand.

What are best road trip tips you've experienced? Any lessons learned on simplifying? What types of people make the best road companions?

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Find Solo Time on Group Trips

Need your space when traveling en masse? Extroverts and introverts alike all need a little solo time to recharge. Here are easy ways to politely find your own space while still enjoying the group parties, meals, events, activities, and hoopla.

A family reunion, bachelor party, or weekend getaway group agenda doesn't always have to be your agenda. There can be a lot of hanging out time or slower pace in doing things to accommodate for the slowest group member and herding the troops. After a couple of days, finding ways to get some personal space is just fine. Good friends or family should understand. Many will likely copy your actions (or have already scheduled solo time for themselves). It's quite natural.

So, take that leap. Get the most out of any group vacation by returning relaxed using these tips, ideas, and resources:

1. Listen to Music: Put on your headphones or earbuds, close your eyes and tune out others and into yourself. In today's always connected world, streaming music is the norm, but seasoned travelers know the frustration of spotty or non-existent WiFi and mobile connectivity. To ensure your melodies keep flowing, download your playlists ahead of time. This simple step not only guarantees access to your favorite tunes but can also save battery life.

2. Enjoy Podcasts: Podcasts tours can be an invaluable companion, transforming mundane journeys into enriching experiences. Imagine strolling through the vibrant streets of Barcelona, earbuds in, as a local historian narrates the tales behind Gaudi's architectural marvels, or hiking through the lush trails of the Pacific Northwest while an ecologist explains the unique flora and fauna around you. These podcasts blend storytelling with practical travel tips. These auditory journeys can provide a rich understanding of places (cultural, culinary, historical...) and often feature interviews with locals, expats, and fellow travelers. Learn how to get personalized podcast recommendations for your next trip.

3. Journal: Who wouldn't respect your request for a little alone time to jot down memories, thoughts, rants, raves of the trip? In a world dominated by snapshots and social media updates, the timeless tradition of travel journaling offers a more intimate and reflective way to preserve your thoughts. Travel journals often become cherished keepsakes, brimming with vivid descriptions, doodles, ticket stubs, etc. This practice also encourages mindfulness and observation and long after the journey ends, flipping through these pages can reignite the senses and emotions of your trip.

4. Read: Many people bring books for plane rides, down time between transfers, and down time in general. A basic for down time which can double as nap time if you read with sunglasses (no one will be the wiser if you position your book and head on a pillow just so). How about books with Sudoko, crossword puzzles, and other mind games? Or are you the trashy romance novel type? John Grisham or Michael Crichton fanatic? Likewise offers many great book lists for travelers including this list of "books to inspire you to explore the world."

5. Take Walks: Walk the city, beach, destination and let your thoughts and imagination be your guide. One of the most relaxing elements of travel can be finding quiet place to ponder your current situation (career, lifestyle, health, relationships) or simply letting go of it all and fully immersing yourself in the now to contemplate lapping waves, patterns in the sand, or perhaps the origins of Pina Coladas.

6. Exercise: In the whirlwind of travel, where every moment can be filled with activities, exercise creates space for a precious oasis of 'me time.' Imagine the tranquility of an early morning jog or a sunset yoga session. Solitary exercise time is an opportunity to disconnect from the demands of travel companions, reflect and recharge. Whether it's a hotel gym workout or a leisurely bike ride through a historic city, these moments of physical activity become sanctuaries of self-care. They remind us that taking time to focus on our well-being and individual needs is not just beneficial, but essential.

7. Just say NO. While the main objective of any group trip is to be together, taking time for yourself shouldn't catapult feelings of guilt into your conscience. Learn the delicate art of politely declining for certain activities.

Any other ways to step aside from group gatherings to recharge with solo time?

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Girls Getaways - Celebrating Friendship

That's right, men. Step aside. This doesn't mean women don't adore traveling with you - it just means quality girl friend time is like nothing else; so when women gather in giggly gaggles or small, serious groups, the travel industry takes notice.

There's something uniquely special about traveling with other women. Whether it's sharing laughter over a misread map or bonding over a breathtaking sunset, these moments create memories that last a lifetime. Traveling with other women means embracing the freedom to be yourself, away from daily responsibilities. It's about sharing experiences and supporting each other.

So pack your bags, gather your girlfriends, and set off on an adventure that will deepen your bonds and fill your heart with joy. A world of options to consider:

Of course, not all memorable trips require a flight. Staycations with your girlfriends can be just as enriching. Consider a weekend retreat at a local bed and breakfast, exploring hidden gems in your own city, or even a themed movie night with travel-inspired food and films.

Men: who knows? You just might find your girlfriend becoming more passionate about travel (and life) on her adventure away with the girls, which should spilleth over to your relationship. Concerned about couples traveling separately on vacation? Here are tips on how healthy it can be.

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Most Memorable Beaches

Who doesn't dig beaches? They vary by destination (rock beaches vs. powdery white sand) and season. Depending on who you're traveling with (group of friends, family or college pals) you get (and likely want) different things from each beach trip.

Beaches that stick out in my mind as personal favorites hold their titles from the experience of the visit - some for fond memories they conjure up, others for sheer beauty, and still others for a desire to return to the sights, foods, and local culture surrounding the shores.

A few of my memory-making beaches include:

To further whet your travel planning appetite, these 10 destinations represent some of the finest beach experiences the U.S. has to offer:

Craig M. reached out to us to share one of his favorites: "I love a beach on Maui called Slaughterhouse Beach. There used to be a slaughter house just above the beach - today, the beach is reached by a staircase off the highway passed Kahana - it's small, never busy, always clean and quiet and great body surfing waves too."

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Group Dynamics on Escorted Travel Tours

By guest blogger and professor Hazel Warlaumont, Ph.D.

Thinking of an escorted travel tour? Sharing pleasurable and positive travel experiences with others can bring lasting memories . . . and lasting friendships! Researchers investigating group dynamics agree that group synergy; that is, increased benefits from a group experience, can far surpass the experience of acting alone. Escorted tours not only have economical and practical advantages, but they can satisfy members' interpersonal needs such as inclusion and the need to develop close, caring relationships by sharing interests in common.

But horror stories abound from seasoned travelers and tour guides who relate unpleasant situations that can create tension and even ruin a trip. When you get 35 people from different backgrounds and often with different agendas in close quarters for the first time, there's bound to be some tension. Understanding how groups interact and process a new group situation can help alleviate many of the difficulties and make group travel work for everyone.

Stages of group dynamics on travel tours:

Getting oriented: Upon meeting for the first time, tour members enter the orientation phase of the group interaction process. Members naturally feel some primary tension marked by the expected uncertainty of meeting for the first time. This often happens on the first night when many tour directors gather their flock for a welcoming dinner or reception. Tour members tend to be polite and formal with one another and do their best to avoid controversy. They engage in surface-level chit-chat during this period of "social reconnaissance" while they get a sense of each other's interests and personalities.

Group dynamics form: The second or conflict phase is often marked by some secondary tension when members become aware of individual differences within the group. This may take place during the next few days as members ease into the routine of traveling together. Tension during this period can come from a number of situations, some identified by people's behavior and key personality traits. For instance, tour members might encounter

Showing patience with this initial posturing and knowing it will diminish as the tour progresses, is usually a winning strategy.

Personal space: Tension during the second stage of group integration can also arise from perceived violations of personal space. Territoriality is a basic human need and excessive invasions of our space can create heightened arousal and anxiety that may lead to verbal and physical aggression. A tour guide told me on a recent excursion that she had witnessed pushing and shoving over seat and room assignments, and instances of some members leaving a tour because of space issues. While rare, these situations are often the result of insensitivity to another's need for personal space and the inability of the offenders to make a commitment to the group experience. Expecting and accepting that you may need to share space on the bus or at your table, is a soothing strategy here.

Harmony and group unity: With a helpful tour director, secondary tension can be alleviated and even prevented through effective leadership and establishing a protocol for touring. In most cases, this happens right away, allowing the group to pass into stage three, the emergence phase of the trip where members begin to feel harmony. Potential problematic members have backed down, sensing the disapproval and counter productiveness of their behaviors or attitudes, leading the group into the final or reinforcement stage. At this point, members bolster the group experience through favorable comments and positive reinforcement. The spirit of unity pervades and group members are jovial and focused on the purpose of the trip and the travel experience.

Lasting friendships through traveling together: Although many escorted tours experience some tension, the best way to handle it is to keep a positive attitude and allow each member some room for personal adjustment. Anticipating periods of conflict and knowing that in most instances, these situations will resolve themselves quickly, is probably a healthy strategy. Most tour directors and tour members will recognize the value of a positive climate and set this as the primary goal. In most cases, travel excursions result in very special bonds and lasting friendships among members for having worked through minor periods of tension, and from sharing the fun of traveling together.

Hazel Warlaumont is a professor of communication at Cal State Fullerton and the University of Washington, and draws from her teaching and travel experience to share some observations about escorted group tours.

May 11, 2006

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Stress-Free Family Vacations for All Ages

What was your first vacation memory? Visiting grandparents in a distant city? Building sand castles on the beach with siblings and parents? How did the family vacation memories change as you aged and now as you're an adult - perhaps with kids and/or nieces and nephews of your own?

Infants, toddlers, teens all have different needs and interests. Below are some quick tips for making family getaways less stressful.

In general, less is more. Jam-packing too much into a travel schedule can ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Build in plenty of free time between activities, meals, and group gatherings to walk around, soak in the scenery, relax, nap, read, and so forth.

Traveling with kids up to 5 years old

Traveling with kids ages 6 to 12

Traveling with teens

What do you think? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids? Was there an ideal age of travel for you? My favorite childhood vacations were spent at a lake with white sandy shores and tons of relatives for our family reunions. Lots of cousins to play with and plenty of munchies and scrumptious food to boot.

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Virtual Adventure Travel

A college pal of mine is off on a 3-month African safari and emails a group of us every couple of weeks with stories from the field. While I'm living vicariously through his travels, he's out in the wild with his girlfriend on group tours, then traveling independently as a couple, then meeting up with friends. Basically, he rocks.

Here's what my friend recently did in Namibia, Africa while I scrolled on my phone:

  1. "Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
  2. "...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
  3. "...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
  4. "...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
  5. "...visiting Etosha National Park (some animals seen: 2 elephants; 6 lions; 4 or 5 warthogs; tons of giraffes; tons of zebra; tons of wildebeest; tons of antelope; all kinds of birds including a bunch of ostrich, vultures, a stork, a goshawk, some kory bustards - the largest flying bird in Africa, and lots more)."

He surfs, too. But I admire his ability to plan, save money, and pick up and travel adventurously. Don't we all have at least one friend we live vicariously through? The guy or gal who one-ups us on adventure. We plan a multi-day hike while they zip through tree canopies and scuba dive with sharks. The travel bug is everywhere.

If you don't have a friend like this, here are a few websites that may speak to your adventurous spirit:

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Caretaking and Housesitting Vacations

Will wonders ever cease? I discovered a caretakers organization that prides itself on being the leading property caretaking source. Caretaking in this context doesn't mean changing baby's diapers or live-in help for aging seniors; that's caregiving. Think travel, think vacation, think free. Can this be an actual industry?

If you've ever dreamed of playing host(ess) at a quaint inn, housesitting at a beachfront home, watching the condo and cat for someone who lives in a swanky loft with a cityscape vista, or being innkeeper for a small retreat center, take note.

The Caretaker Gazette has been operating since 1983. It is a unique newsletter that provides information and opportunities for property caretaking and house sitting jobs. The service caters to those interested in caretaking positions as well as property owners looking for caretakers or house sitters. According to their website, The Gazette provides subscribers with thousands of house sitting and property caretaking jobs each year.

Families, couples, and individuals are all caretakers who travel for various lengths of time to plant themselves in a new locale and temporarily try on a new lifestyle. Free accommodations to boot. But if you apply for one of the caretaking "jobs" and time it with a family reunion in the same destination, or in an area where friends can easily visit for a weekend getaway, you just might have found nomadic nirvana.

If I find a European castle in need an innkeeper for a month, I might reconsider my current situation and start packing. Alternative travel. Gotta love it.

Or does this sound like pure hell? Anyone ever done a trip like this? Would you recommend it to others? Are there other sites or resources to find this type of opportunity?

D. Rose sent us a note to share, "I've used the Caretaker Gazette to find housesitting and caretaking positions in places I wanted to visit... I don't like big hotels or resorts so I prefer to live where I can get to know the local people. The people that run the Gazette are very helpful and friendly so I am sure they would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Good luck!"

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Secrets for Sharing Rooms and Personal Space

Nothing is worse than going on a group trip and discovering an incompatibility with your roomie. Traveling can become a bit of a petrie dish for issues, psychology, life... You never really know someone until you've traveled with them (or shared a room on a trip).

How do you survive an escorted group tour or trip with close traveling companions without throttling each other? For starters, it goes both ways. You may be a perfect travel companion in your own mind, but not in someone else's. Your passion for shopping might bore or exhaust others. Their passion for fragrant perfume may give your gag reflexes a work-out. What to do?

A quick way to ruin an otherwise fabulous trip is to find resentment building as you throw pillows, socks, apples at a roomie who snores, or roll your eyes each time your travel "buddy" wants to settle in late... showering and/or loudly fumbling through luggage and bags to find some long lost earring at 2 a.m. while you are jet-lagged as hell trying to nap.

Here are some helpful hints for common problems faced when sharing rooms and space:

Snoring -- Solution: Ask if this is an issue. Caveat: if your friend lives alone he/she might not know or agree on what to do if either of you snores. Consider ear plugs, white noise, or seeing if you can take a new room. Proper etiquette is for the person who wants to change to pay for their new room.

Scents -- Solution: Strong cologne or perfumes can be intrusive to others; best left at home. Go through routine personal products to make sure you are both happy with the steam wafting from the shower or the acetone from the nails.

Smoking -- Sharing with a smoker means a smoking room, a smoking floor and smoking tables at meals. Smokers will also be handicapped even isolated on tours as buses do not allow smoking. Solution: Take separate rooms and talk about the consequences; there is no other way out.

Stamina -- Solution: Compare walking, step climbing, ability to carry luggage, deal with lack of sleep or dietary changes. Compare how long you like to linger over meals, need to get organized each day etc. Toleration works to a point, but if you are a marathon walker and she is taxi-er, this trip will not end in friendship. Spend a long day together to see where you differ and work out compromises. Example: if only one of you is taxi dependent, she should pay that expense. Same with porterage, excess baggage on tour, etc.

Spending -- Solution: Be honest about the budget. Do you use porters? Always tip? Expect to take taxis instead of public transportation? Order expensive drinks? Each choose 2 splurges that add up to the same money and time. And compromise on those. Put all your joint expense money in a zip lock bag and pay from the bag. When the bag is empty, refill it together. Do not keep a ledger and settle up later on complicated overseas trips, either both use frequent flyer tickets or neither use them; if a flight is changed, you will at least be in the same situation.

Seeing vs. shopping -- Solution: Every one hopes for different things from a trip. What you expect should be agreed on before you book. "Walk" through the trip, decide how you will use the free time. You each get to choose two options. If shopping annoys either of you, make a specific time to reconnect and part ways for a bit. Do not ask your room share to help you with your additional cumbersome packages. You bought it, you carry it.

Scared or feared -- Solution: Make a list of your fears and absolutely 'will not do's'. You really don't want to find out your friend will not use elevators when you arrive at a high rise hotel!

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We're Not Completely Dispensible

I read a poem on Guy Kawasaki's blog that caught my attention. The theme was our dispensible nature in life. Sad, but often true, when it comes to the functions/roles we play in a companies, organizations, and the like.

But it got me thinking. Thank God for friends and family. Without them, would we all be dispensible? True, for every job there is likely at least one other person who could do it as well if not better. True, the world will still spin without us. Life does go on.

However, with friends and family, we are an indispensible part of their lives, and vice versa. While the poem was meant to stymie swelled egos and praise humility (a good lesson), there is no better way (in my humble opinion) to foster a healthy ego, build a balanced sense of self, and have fun while at it, than by spending quality time with family or friends.

Today, while walking to lunch, I saw a TV crew interviewing folks and filming their "life lessons" on camera. I didn't stop to give mine; but if I did, I'd likely say something about stopping to smell the proverbial roses and hugging those you love more often.

Whatever does this have to do with group travel? Family. Friends. Spending quality time with each other. You connect the dots.

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Family Tips for Choosing Intergenerational Travel

Update: Generations Touring Company is no longer operating, but there are many travel companies that offer tours tailored for multi-generational family groups. For example, Tauck, Abercrombie & Kent, and Butterfield & Robinson all offer multi-generational group tour options.

By Tom Easthope, guest blogger

Every family has a "golden age" where the elders have the resources, time, and need to connect. Children are old enough to appreciate the experience and able to travel without hassle. Traveling together with grandparents, adults, and children provides the opportunity to separate from daily routine and form a more meaningful bond with extended family members.

When evaluating different options for intergenerational travel, here are several factors to consider:

  1. Choice - Does the travel adventure or tour provide enough choice for you to find the experience that best matches your interests and abilities? For family tours this could mean grouping opportunities by age ranges of children which allow kids to more easily form bonds with each other.

  2. Fun Factor - Many kids work very hard during the school year. A successful family travel experience should include entertaining activities with a high fun factor for the kids.

  3. Experiences that Teach - Learning new things enriches the mind and is a significant value for adult travelers. Is there an educational program integrated into the itinerary?

  4. Responsible Tourism - Does the tour practice a responsible tourism philosophy? Are the natural and cultural environments you visit treated with respect to sustain them for future generations?

  5. Family Orientation - Will your family travel experience allow you time to bond as family? This could range from meal times to free time for sightseeing and exploration, two prime bonding times.

  6. Value - What is included in the package or tour? Are there hidden costs such as escort and driver gratuities or "optional" admissions to attractions? Are discounts available?

  7. Financial Security - Are your prepayments put in a trust or escrow account? Does the company belong to a tour protection insurance plan? This can be important as many intergenerational family trips are planned months in advance and often the major vacation for the year.

Today, numerous companies are jumping into the family travel arena. Unfortunately, this creates additional confusion for those trying to determine the best match for their family. As the travel industry continues to evolve, niche companies like Generations Touring Company will emerge to address and specialize in specific types of family travel. Research and plan ahead to find a tour or travel mode that best suits the generations in your family.

Tom Easthope is a travel industry veteran, successful entrepreneur, and founder of Generations Touring Company, offering small-group travel experiences for families and their generations – kids, adults, grandparents.

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Spa Etiquette for Groups

When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or other getaway, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.

Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.

Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):

Group Appointments: If you're heading to resort, schedule your stays and spa treatments several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.

By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.

Quiet Times: When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.

Tipping: If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15-20% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%. Here are the Spa Industry Association's recommendations for tipping.

Nudity: Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.

Read more helpful hints for group spa travel.

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Helpful Hints for Group Spa Travel

Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.

While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some tips and hints:

Spa Getaways

    1. Mixing activities: On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it's advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.

    2. Pets: Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.

    3. Phones: Leave phones in your locker or room; or turn them off before entering the spa.

    4. Perfume: Because the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.

    5. Massage Therapists & Estheticians: If you prefer either a male or female provider, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular individual on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.

    6. Punctuality: Arrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and provider) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.

    7. Socializing: Meals can often be arranged and, in general, a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.

    8. Advance Booking: As resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate groups if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Popular spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings.

    9. Cancellation: Unexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.

    10. Group Discounts: Many spas offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.

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Adventurous Women Tours

Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?

Adventure travel has grown immensely popular, and a significant segment of this market is now focused on and led by women. Demand for tours that cater to women's interests and provide a supportive environment for female travelers has led to an amazing and growing number of options for adventurous women. Women-owned tour operators travel to destinations around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. These trips offer a unique blend of physical challenges, cultural immersion, and the camaraderie that comes from traveling with like-minded women.

Women focused and led adventure travel options abound.

Select Tour Operators Specializing in Women's Adventure Travel

These companies feature female guides and create itineraries focused on experiences that appeal to women of all ages and backgrounds:

Many of the larger, leading adventure travel companies also now offer trips tailored for groups of women. For example, REI Adventures offers several trips for women, guided by women. Energizing, inspiring and empowering—there’s nothing like an adventure with an all-woman crew.

Popular Destinations for Women's Adventure Travel

Women's adventure travel is not limited to any particular part of the world, but some destinations have become favorites due to their unique offerings, safety, and accessibility.

Looking for more travel ideas and inspiration? Go Girl Guides offers a broad set of articles about dozens of destinations in the U.S. and around the world.

All women's adventure travel tours provide more than just physical challenges and scenic vistas. They offer a space for personal growth, empowerment, and the breaking of stereotypes. The sense of community and support that comes from these all-female groups creates a unique and nurturing environment, encouraging more women to step out of their comfort zones and explore the world on their terms.

Article updated December 2023.

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Endangered National Park Rangers?

The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut twenty percent from their budgets to focus on "core operations." Aren't they already underfinanced? Trimming 20% from existing tight budgets would mean potentially closing visitors' centers, cutting back on trail maintenance, habitat and species protection services, slowing maintenance of natural and historical monuments and sites, reducing staff, or other (non-core?) services. The current administration contends that volunteers and increased efficiency will pick up the slack where park rangers, staffers, or services have been in the past.

Hmm. I understand the basics of the 80/20 rule: focus on that which drive(s) 80% of the revenue (usually 20% of your time or products). However, at a time when many political issues divide Americans, wouldn't it make sense to leave our national treasures alone, especially since summer vacation is just on the horizon?

Summer is prime vacation season for thousands of school kids, families, college students, teachers, and others. Groups travel together to visit U.S. national parks because of their accessibility, natural and historical rare beauty, sunny, warm weather June through August, and outdoor activities from camping and hiking to swimming and boating and more.

Many journalists, environmental organizations, newspapers, and bloggers are writing about the national park budget woes. It's a hot topic because parks are so fundamental to the American landscape, history, and culture.

The National Parks Traveler points out a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial calling for an "end to ritual neglect" of national parks. Here's a quote:

"National Park Superintendents are running out of tricks, and visitors will eventually notice. Beyond basic services, long-term needs are ignored. Some parks cannot catalog or restore precious artifacts. Most cannot preserve habitat. Invasive species are taking over. The Park Service is putting on an inexplicable happy face."

The most endangered species in many of America's national parks today is the park ranger.

Should we place national park rangers on the endangered species list? The largest amount of protective measures possible come to a species' rescue when placed on the endangered species list. Preservation efforts immediately get underway for the species and surrounding habitat. Protective laws are comprehensive and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can return a species back to thriving health. If we want to maintain national parks complete with garbage service, restrooms, drinking water, maintained trails, flora, and fauna, and interpretive tours, perhaps we should get rangers listed.

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Seasonal Festivals Are Ripe for Groups

By Jim Shanklin, guest blogger

Summer through fall, America's festivals offer attractive, low-cost, weekend-long activities for groups. Here are ideas for planning summer vacations or road trips with family, friends, relatives, college classmates, and more.

Choose a festival that fits your group's interests.
America has some 50,000 festivals a year. With a little research, you'll find one in a town you want to visit, along the route you want to travel, or at the core of your personal passion. Most community festivals are free; music festivals range from free to expensive and many offer weekend camping as a part of the ticket.

Find a festival close to home.
Your own state or region can surprise you—festivals you've never heard of that are fun and often seasonal or theme-based, and within a day's drive or less. Check out your state's (or a neighboring state's) tourism bureau Web site to find a wide range of diverse local festivals.

Plan the festival weekend.

Jim Shanklin is founder of, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.

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10 Hot Summer Festivals for Groups

Update: For current festival options, ofers the ability to search for festivals by proximity to your destination as well as by themes including arts, food and music.

By Jim Shanklin, guest blogger

Festivals are perfect for enjoying vacations with friends or family. You can incorporate a festival into a family or class reunion, or organize a group for a road trip around a theme (such as a music or film festival).

Here are several summer festival ideas:

Portland Rose Festival, Portland, Oregon
Two parades, a rose show, two sports car races; Oregon's biggest and oldest festival.

Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, Illinois
The world's largest blues festival; great acts on six stages in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Texas Folklife Festival, San Antonio, Texas
Belgian, Italian, Swedish, German performances; all proud Texans! A great festival.

Huck Finn's Country and Bluegrass Jubilee, Victorville, California
Family fun and games, bluegrass performances in a small town setting.

Seafair, Seattle, Washington
A full month of neighborhood events, parades, unlimited hydro-racing and air shows.

Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee, Mammoth Lakes, California
Hot and cool jazz high in the mountains.

Finger Lakes Wine Festival, Watkins Glen, New York
New York wines, food, fun at historic Watkins Glen race track.

Country Thunder USA, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin
Country music; headline performers; overnight accommodations for motor homes, camping.

Fisherman's Feast of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
One of America's oldest festivals in downtown Boston; started by Sicilians in 1910 and still going strong annually.

Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival, St. Cloud, Minnesota
Bluegrass and other acoustic music in the Minnesota forest; camping, of course.

Jim Shanklin is founder of, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.

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6 Must-See Pre-Wedding Movies

Whether you're engaged to be married or plan to attend (or be in) a wedding soon, one great way to prep for the big day is to watch films that imitate life, summoning the flavor of organizing, planning, and producing weddings and all the mental and emotional hoopla that goes with them.

I've noticed some important wedding themes that many movies do a good job of addressing. Here they are:

1. The Graduate Wedding issue addressed: parental "involvement" gone very bad.

2. Much Ado About Nothing Wedding issues addressed: misunderstandings and fixing up friends.

3. Runaway Bride Wedding issues addressed: cold feet and Julia Robert's character's insecurities.

4. My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding Wedding issues addressed: being Greek, eating lamb, multi-cultural weddings, family melodrama... couldn't this also be Italian, Jewish and a number of other weddings?

5. A Midsummer Night's Dream Wedding issues addressed: outdoor settings and wedding fantasies.

6. My Best Friend's Wedding Wedding issues addressed: being secretly in love with the groom or bride, how hot Dermot Mulroney looks in a tuxedo and Julie Robert's character's insecurities.

Looking for other movie recommendations? Learn how to create a personalized book, movie, tv and podcast recommendations list for your next trip or group event.

Update: Thanks to Josh for suggesting "Monsoon Wedding" be added to the list. Let us know what other classics we missed?

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Why Are National Parks Ideal for Group Travel?

I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but it gave me insights into who visits national parks and why these American treasures remain so popular.

National parks are a magnet for group trips, be it for friends seeking adventure or families longing for a bonding experience. These vast expanses of wilderness offer an escape from the hustle of daily life and a plethora of activities suited for all ages and interests. From leisurely nature walks to exhilarating hikes, wildlife viewing, and historical tours, our national parks offer a blend of adventure, serenity and educational opportunities.

At many parks there is a range of lodging choices, from comfortable in-park hotels and historic lodges to rustic cabins and cozy bed-and-breakfasts nearby. For those seeking a more immersive outdoor experience, camping is a popular choice. Most parks provide well-equipped campgrounds, some of which can (must) be reserved in advance, while others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Whether you prefer the comfort of a lodge or the adventure of sleeping under the stars, national parks cater to a variety of preferences and budgets, ensuring a memorable stay in the heart of nature.

The most popular times to visit national parks are typically during the summer months and holiday weekends, coinciding with school vacations and favorable weather. However, this popularity often leads to crowded trails, congested roads, and fully booked accommodations. To avoid these crowds, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons – late spring and early fall – when the weather is still pleasant, and the parks are less crowded. Another strategy is to start the day early or explore less popular trails and areas of the park.

Visiting national parks is also generally an affordable vacation option. The cost of entry varies from park to park, with many offering family passes and annual passes that provide significant savings. Seniors can avail of the Lifetime Senior Pass, which offers access to all national parks at a nominal fee.

Additionally, the National Park Service offers several free entrance days throughout the year, making it even more accessible for families, students, and others on a budget. Keep in mind, though, that this waiver doesn't cover other fees like camping or special tours.

Whether it’s marveling at the geysers of Yellowstone, exploring the depths of the Grand Canyon, or trekking through the lush forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, national parks are a testament to the splendor of the natural world and a reminder of its importance in our lives. And, by planning around peak seasons, considering various cost-saving measures, and embracing the diverse range of activities available, these parks can offer unforgettable experiences that are both enriching and budget-friendly.

When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.

Article updated December 2023.

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Exploring National Parks

Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.

Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:

Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid in you) busy.

Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).

Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.

Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.

p.s., An alert reader pointed out the search by activity feature of the National Park Service site. This is a great way to quickly find national parks that suit your get-away plans for things like camping, boating and wildlife watching.

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Bachelor Party Planning Tips

A good friend of mine called to ask if I had ideas or advice for a bachelor party he is organizing for a mutual friend of ours from high school. As we talked, several ideas emerged that seemed fit to share.

    1. Sports Theme: Does the groom like a particular sport? If so, you can center the bachelor party around a game/sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) or incorporate it into a day, weekend or evening event. Or maybe plan a tailgate bachelor party. Secure your tickets at least a month ahead of time and, depending on the event and group size, you may be able to get group rates.

    2. Outdoor Enthusiast: Depending on the season and location of the party, outdoor activities (golf, skiing, fishing, white water rafting...) is a fun way to go especially if the groomsmen and other attendees don't know each other well. Consider finishing the day off with massages at a nearby day spa.

    3. Bar-hopping: Nothing screams bachelor party louder than a group of guys parading from bar to bar getting progressively drunker. It's a classic that can be folded into a medley of activities or the focus of the evening. Consider hiring a limo, van or bus to shuttle the group from place to place and back to their homes or hotels at the end of the evening. The benefits far outweigh the costs and everyone should be able to pitch in.

    4. Gambling: Where else but in Las Vegas (a.k.a. Sin City) is adult entertainment so readily available. Shows, concerts, alcohol anytime, gambling 'til your heart's content, and yes, strippers. The city seems built for bachelor parties. Since this trip is likely to be a weekend getaway, you can also spend a day sightseeing, golfing, etc. There are plenty of other gambling areas around the country: Atlantic City, Reno, etc. Or you could spend a day at the horse races betting on thoroughbreds.

    5. The Stripper Quandary: A friend of mine quipped, "the only difference between a classy bachelor party and trashy one is the classy one has a stripper and other activities." I couldn't tell if he was joking. Some men want a stripper involved in their bachelor party, no question. Others may be up for a stripper, but not going to a strip club for hours on end. And still others might find it a bit too crass or cliché. Or they might be engaged to a woman who forbids it. Ask the bachelor how he feels about it before planning an event that could put him in an uncomfortable position. If he says, "My fiancé would kill me," he either means it (translation: don't mess with his marriage) or he's using it as an excuse to avoid a stripper altogether (translation: move on and plan another activity for his party).

    6. Multiple Events: Often the groom's father, father-in-law, and others may want to join for part of the festivities. In this case, it makes sense to incorporate a dinner or other all-ages activity into the party. I've heard of a bachelor party that involved paint ball during the day with the groomsmen and dads, a fancy dinner in the evening, then groomsmen only hitting the town for the pre-nuptial bar-hopping ritual.

    7. Budgets Vary: Because attendees may have a range of budgets, you might consider coming up with 3 good bachelor party options and putting it to a vote. Take into consideration what the groom wants, what the others vote for, then choose the option that best suits the greatest number of people. Likely the groom helped hand-select the invitation list and the more who can attend, the better for him and everyone else.

    8. Location Considerations: Above all, if you're planning a bachelor party, ideas of your own should flow from the season and location of where the groom lives and where the wedding events will be held. Then you'll know if the event is during snow season, in the green hills, along a lake, at a beach, in a city with easy access to nightlife activities, during opening day of baseball season, around basketball play-offs... I'd advise to pick the date and location first, then plan the bachelor party around that.

Discussing bachelor parties can elicit strong and risque responses: Melissa wrote to share, "I would not let my boyfriend have one of this kind of parties..." To which Alex B. replied, "My girflfriend won't allow me to have one..." Mike B. added, "If you think your fiance will mess around then there is no trust in the relationship and it won't last..." An anonymous reader contributed this insight, "I think you missed the first crucial step: getting an idea of who will attend. Often the bachelor party is more for the people attending than it is the bachelor so you want to get an idea of what their expectations are." And, finally, another reader shared that their friend "rented a bouncy house and planned an awesome bachelor party with some interesting twists." We'll leave it at that...

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Activities for Budget-Conscious Groups

Ever planned a group gathering such as a family reunion, weekend get-away with friends, or classmate reunion and needed to cut back on costs? Or helped a friend plan a wedding and needed inexpensive activity ideas for guests? As all trip expenses are taken into consideration, it can be nice to have some budget activity options so everyone can enjoy the trip.

Here are 10 budget-friendly activities that groups can enjoy together (in no particular order):

    1. Picnicking in a Local Park: A picnic in a local park is an ideal way to enjoy the outdoors without spending much. Find a scenic spot, pack a lunch, and relax or play games. It’s a great opportunity for families and friends to bond in a natural setting. Additionally, many parks offer amenities like grills, playgrounds and sports fields.

    2. Hiking or Nature Walks: Explore local trails, discover hidden natural gems, and enjoy the serenity of the outdoors. It's a perfect group activity that caters to all ages and fitness levels and it's free. Don't forget to bring a camera to capture the beautiful landscapes and any wildlife you might encounter.

    3. Visit Museums: Many museums offer special discount days or "pay-what-you-wish" hours. This makes for an affordable way to immerse in art, history, or science. It's a culturally enriching experience where everyone can learn something new. Plus, it's a great indoor option for rainy days.

    4. Beach Day: Spending a day at the beach is a classic group activity, especially for those near the coast. You can swim, sunbathe, play beach volleyball, or just relax on the sand. Here's a great list of old fashioned fun at the beach activities.

    5. Cooking Together: Cooking a meal together is not only a budget-friendly option but also a great team-building activity. Choose a recipe, shop for ingredients, and enjoy the process of creating a meal together. And you end up with a delicious meal to enjoy as a group.

    6. City Walking Tours: Walking tours are a fantastic way to explore a city’s landmarks, hidden corners, and historical sites. You can join free walking tours led by knowledgeable guides or create your own itinerary. It's a great way to enjoy the local architecture, street art, and urban landscapes up close.

    7. Bike and Scooter Rentals: Renting bikes or scooters is an excellent way to explore a city, especially for covering larger areas. Many cities offer bike-sharing programs or scooter rentals. Lime bikes and scooters, for example, are available in over 60 U.S. cities.

    8. Board Game Night: Hosting a board game night is a fun and cost-effective way to spend an evening. It encourages teamwork, strategy, and a little friendly competition. You can rotate who brings games, making each night a new experience. It's a great way to bond and create memories, especially on chilly or rainy evenings.

    8. Explore Local Farmers Markets: Farmers markets are treasure troves of local produce, foods, and unique crafts. Walking through the stalls, you can sample local specialties, purchase fresh ingredients, and interact with local farmers and artists. It's an enjoyable way to support the local economy and experience the local culture and community spirit. Find a farmer's market near you.

    10. Get Out on the Water: Renting kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards offers an adventurous way to explore waterways and coastlines. It’s a chance to see cities from a different angle, enjoy the tranquility of the water, and maybe even spot some wildlife. This activity is perfect for those looking for a bit of adventure and physical activity, and it often provides a refreshing new perspective on a familiar place.

Also, if your group trip takes you to a major metro area (or you invite family and friends to visit your home town), city passes offers discounts to popular attractions in over a dozen cities. City Pass typicaly costs around $50, but offers good value on the combined cost of entrance to area attractions.

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Diet and Exercise While Vacationing?

At one point or another, haven't we all wanted six-pack abs or buns of steel? Way back in the 1980s (GenXer here), it was aerobics that took the masses to the gym. Nowadays, many people look to outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, biking, walking, running and swimming to get and stay fit. Yoga and group fitness classes like Pilates and Zumba are popular as well.

Whether it is for your health, self-esteem, or any combination of reasons, maintaining a good diet and exercise have a place in our lives; but vacations can make sticking to any regime more challenging. Especially when you're with a group of good friends, at a family reunion, on a golf trip with the guys (no way you're ordering a salad for your entree), bachelor or bachelorette party, wedding, you name it.

Special occasions like this seem ripe for indulgence. One of my aunts sticks to a dieting plan while at home, but lets herself cheat a bit on vacation, knowing she'll work extra hard when she returns. A sound philosophy. But she also cuts back more than others at our reunions since her mind frame is focused on health and diet. I admire this.

Biking can be a great way to explore your travel destination.

Five strategies for managing diet and exercise while traveling:

    1. Plan Meals in Advance: Research restaurants and local cuisine for healthy options, and consider staying somewhere (e.g., via Airbnb or VRBO) with a kitchen to prepare some of your meals. Most restaurants post their menus online and there's even a Disney Food Blog that offers tips for healthy eating at Disney theme parks.

    2. Incorporate Physical Activities: Consider walking tours and opt for walking over public transit or Uber rides to stay active. Try local sports or activities that are unique to your destination, like snorkeling or surfing at a beach or exploring an area by bike.

    3. Stick to Your Routines: Use the hotel gym or pool and if there isn't an onsite option, consider packing resistance bands. Bodyweight exercises + resistance bands is a great lightweight travel option. Running is also an easy option and fun way to explore new places when you're on the road.

    4. Stay Hydrated and Practice Mindful Eating: Drink plenty of water and be mindful of portion sizes, balancing indulgent meals with healthier ones. Bringing healthy snacks along with you during the day is also a good way to prevent overeating.

    5. Balance and Flexibility: Accept that it’s okay to deviate from your regular routine; focus on balancing enjoyment with health. And, if you want to indulge a little, here's a fun list of the best fast food in every state. If McDonalds (or other fast food favorite) is a staple of your travel diet, you'll be happy to learn that it may be healthier to enjoy that order of fries outside the U.S. In fact, a team of researchers found that a large fries-and-chicken-nuggets combo had 0.33 grams of trans fat (the bad cholesterol that clogs arteries) in Denmark, about 3 grams in Spain, and over 10 grams in New York City.

Article updated November 2023.

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Volunteer Vacations, a Charitable Way to Travel

I can't think of a better way to give back to communities, society or the environment than by doing a volunteer vacation. I don't mean voluntarily taking unpaid days off (OK, those are often mental health days that we all need, but let's classify those as "personal care") but rather, vacations with a greater purpose where you volunteer for a cause while seeing the world.

Why bother? The benefits are immeasurable. You help a local community in need. You help scientists make progress. You gain insight into cultures and industries that would otherwise be hard to obtain. One of the most impressive volunteer vacations I've ever heard of was a co-worker going to Vietnam with a group to plant trees where landmines had formerly been. There are countless other ways to volunteer.

A friend of mine went on a couple of trips through Earthwatch, a non-profit that offers one-of-a-kind experiences where you do hands on field work to help sustain the environment. Hearing her stories inspired me. She went to Greece with a group of friends to preserve Greek ruins by documenting artifacts on an archaeological dig. Go her.

The idea stuck with me and I still plan to either go count butterflies in the mountains of Spain (I'm not making this up - scientists actually need this data to determine the health of a region's ecosystem) or help little baby turtles safely get to the ocean from their hatched egg on the beach (keeping animals of prey at bay).

Another friend of mine runs a non-profit that takes students to areas where social injustice has occurred to educate them on racial inequality via historical accounts by those who lived through them. Volunteers join her as escorts to help organize the group while on the road. Go them.

I volunteer for causes I believe in and donate money when I can. But I'm not surprised organizations have started soliciting volunteers to help fight noble causes on the ground or help with scientific research. And I'm not surprised that people are converting their hard-earned vacation time (and money) to improving society.

Globalization makes the world seem smaller (theoretically). And when the world shrinks, its needs become more real to us all.

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What Defines a Group?

Having recently spent a weekend away with friends, I'm reminded why taking time out of my routine to see these friends is so important. We spent three days together at a friend's house in Portland for her baby shower. It was like a big slumber party. We ate, laughed, drank, and caught up on each other's lives. Such a great experience that a core group of us vowed to plan a vacation together each year to ensure we stay in touch (kids and husbands invited).

Groups are as diverse as the individuals in the group. My friend's baby shower included family members (her mom, sister, niece, grandmother), new friends (neighbors, co-workers, pals), high school friends, and the group I fell into: college friends. It was a slice of life; a family-friend combo reunion. Some of us traveled from other cities (by air, train, and car) while many lived nearby.

It didn't really matter (that much) what brought us together. It was the act of getting together that was significant. The baby shower was the icing on the cake (since there was a decadent cake served, we got our cake and ate it, too!). It was our excuse to celebrate friendships and family ties by congratulating our friend on her upcoming baby.

The weekend left me more grounded and self-assured. The whole trip put life in perspective, as only spending time with loved ones can.

The type A geek in me is excited to start planning now for our beach reunion (and I just might!). I figure, if I plan it, shouldn't I get the best room? You know, the one with the king bed and sweeping ocean view.

There's even a catchy term for groups of friends or extended family traveling together, "togethering." Yet there's no universal travel industry definition for groups. Airlines typically define a group as 10 or more people traveling on the same itinerary; hotels often define a group as 10 or more rooms (which can hold 20 or more people). Cruise ships vary, too.

At Group Trip Advisor, we believe a group is anything outside the immediate nuclear family. This may be a group of five women taking a spa vacation to Phoenix, eight guys going skiing in Colorado, or a multi-generational family reunion with 50 participants. Essentially, if there's more than one payment mechanism (i.e. two different credit cards), it is a group.

Groups redefined: The travel industry generally looks at groups as having the same airplane itinerary or block of hotel rooms. Yet if friends or family depart from different cities or at different times, even stay at different places (Jim might stay with his friend, while the rest rent rooms at various places) the travel industry doesn't count them as a group.

Thanks to Jenny M., who wrote to share her friends group experience: "I also recently had a getaway with my girlfriends and continue to be reminded how much they mean to me. Sure there are small issues such as early risers vs. late risers, but these issues seem easily solveable. Getaways with long-time friends are better than any therapy. I am definitely planning more slumber parties with my friends!"

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Girls Getaway Spa Specials

Spas are my life. OK, not exactly. But if I could afford a massage daily, I'd schedule them. My favorite massage thus far was at Indian Springs Spa. The raw talent of the masseuse, the relaxed, unpretentious setting, outdoor pool, and fact that I was on a Napa Valley vacation all helped bliss me out like never before. Closer to home (in Seattle), the Zen-like spa at Salish Lodge & Spa offers tranquility amid a mountain setting. And overseas, I sampled a famous eastern European-style spa in the Czech Republic (a little more clinical than I'd expected).

Nothing's better than experiencing a spa get-away with friends. Pedicures, facials, decadent settings, cucumber eyes, laughing and relaxing all at once. Ah, that's the life!

Girls getaway spa specials

Ready to plan a girls getaway at the spa of your choice? For inspiration, here's a very short and incomplete list of spas that offer packages for friends groups and events.

Want more options? Spafinder has partnered with a number of luxury spas to offer options just for girls getaway weekends.

Article updated November 2023.

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Will Your Marriage Abroad Be Valid?

Follow these simple guidelines and you're sure to dodge trouble and get a (figurative) U.S. governmental stamp of approval on your wedding certificate from another country.

The U.S. State Department recognizes that a marriage abroad is valid if you follow the country's laws in which you are married. No American diplomat or consular office representative need be present at the ceremony. If you have any questions, you should direct them to the attorney general of the state in which you and your spouse will reside. Big caveat: If you are applying for a foreign nationality of another country (naturalization) you may lose American citizenship status. See the U.S. State Department's rules on loss of U.S. nationality in the link below.

For more information on U.S. citizens getting married abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's site.

And, if you're planning a destination wedding within the U.S., this post is a good place to start researching the rules, regulations, and any necessary paperwork.

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Top Destination Wedding Spots

Check out our updated list of Top States for Destination Weddings!

Destination weddings are on the rise. Whether all the guests travel abroad, or a select few are invited, an increasing number of couples are heading to the altar (or beach) away from home.

I had the great pleasure of being a guest at a handful of destination weddings. The most obscure was in Bogotá, Colombia, the most picturesque was in Tuscany, Italy. Due to their exotic locations and the experience of going with a group, they were some of the most memorable occasions.

Here are some of the top places to exchange vows (other than home):

1. Las Vegas – Vegas is entertainment central with seemingly more wedding chapels than anywhere on earth. You can plan a complete wedding with chapel, flowers, officiant, photographer, and coordinator all for a few hundred bucks. Many chapels offer packages to suit your budget and taste. Get a video, have Elvis preside over the ceremony, arrive in a limo – you name it, Vegas has it.

2. Caribbean – Jamaica tops the list of Caribbean islands for weddings, but there are numerous island countries to choose from, rich with cultures and traditions and unique ways to experience a beach wedding. Set your budget, figure out which island best suits your love and plan an idyllic wedding that will leave your guests thanking you for getting married.

3. Hawaii – The Hawaiian islands seem perfectly poised to host wedding ceremonies with that famous aloha spirit of family, community, and tranquility. You can find intimate comfort at a number of beaches in Hawaii… dreamy, rugged rocky, long expanses of sandy, and other styles of shore all embrace couples with a warm charm. Hawaii is well known as a destination wedding mecca with plentiful wedding services.

4. Florida – Two things stand out about Florida for newly engaged couples: white, sandy beaches and fantasy-come-to-life Walt Disney World Resort. Couples who prefer sand in their toes, lapping waves, and sun are all set: beaches line the Florida coast. Choose your favorite Florida beach. Couples attached to the kid inside them can plan a fairy tale wedding at Walt Disney World.

5. Mexico – The spicy south of North America not only has blissful beaches for the vows, but resorts as destinations unto themselves for the whole festivity. While legal requirements may seem a little more cumbersome than other destinations, Mexico offers an experience all its own for you, the wedding party, your guests, and your honeymoon. Olé!

6. Europe – An increasingly popular destination for weddings. Europe is in a bit of a renaissance with a strong euro, European Union formed, and tourism booming. Brides and/or grooms with familial roots in Europe may want to reconnect with their heritage via the wedding ceremony.

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Licenses & Rules for Destination Weddings

Legalese. Legal low-down. Rules and regs. Whatever you call them, they’re essential if you want the destination wedding of your dreams. Get the skinny on rules, regulations, and any necessary paperwork needed before getting married away-from-home.

From Alabama to Wyoming, WeddingWire has aggregated and summarized the marriage laws of every state. Identification, age, residency, wait time, blood test, witness, etc. requirements vary. Be sure to know the rules to make sure everything runs smoothly on your big day! Note, WeddingWire is a good starting point for your research but this article is dated 2019. Once you've settled on your wedding destiantion, we recommend checking individual state government websites to confirm their rules and regulations. Each state's Department of Health typically handles licenses for marriages and civil unions and maintains a website such as this one for Hawaii.

Planning to get married outside the U.S.? This post will point you in the right direction to learn whether your marriage abroad will be valid.

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How to Shop Smart for a Charter Bus

November 2023 Update: Charter Bus America is no longer operating but here are 3 other services that aim to make finding and booking charter buses more efficient, transparent and cost-effective by providing access to a wide range of options:

By Dylan Peterson, guest blogger

When renting a charter bus, you are making the decision for many people. You want a competitive price, but also a safe and dependable company. How do you shop smart and make good decisions when renting a bus for a school group, college event, church group, wedding event, cruise terminal transportation, company event, senior tour, or any other group trip?

Keep in mind not all bus companies are created equally. Don't be tempted to shop on price alone. Some companies don't spend enough money or effort on maintenance, driver training, or driver screening. Often, it's these same companies that have the "really good prices."

Here's a quick checklist of questions to ask the bus company:

1. How many years has the company been in business? I, personally, will not work with a company that has been in business less than five years. I want to know that they can make good choices over several years. I don't want a bus company learning lessons on my trip. The more experience, the better.

2. How many buses are in the company’s fleet? I like to see at least five charter buses in the fleet. It shows an investment in their business provides back-up transportation.

3. Can they provide proof of insurance? Any reputable company will happily have proof of insurance faxed to you within 48 hours.

4. Are they U.S. Department of Defense certified? Not all companies go through the effort of passing this test. There are good companies that are not DoD-certified. But if you book with one that is, it should give you added confidence that they are credible.

The U.S. Department of Defense certification test is conducted at the bus company facility. Since it’s optional and the majority of companies do not have this certification, the certification gives added credibility by indicating a government entity’s stamp of approval on quality.

5. Are they a member of Trailways or International Motor Coach Group (IMG)? Only one or two companies in each city are members of these two franchises.  Typically, members of these organizations have a proven track record and are leaders in their region.  However, there are many good companies not affiliated with these two organizations.

Shopping for charter bus transportation is a little different than shopping for airlines or hotels.  You should do your homework.  Don't be afraid to ask these questions because every reputable company is used to it and happy to help you make a confident and responsible choice.

Dylan Peterson is CEO and Founder of Charter Bus America. provides price quotes for charter bus rentals for customers in seconds, along with pictures and bus company information.

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10 Tips: How to Blend In Abroad

Ah, the delight of traveling abroad. Whether it’s a wedding in Mexico, exploring Europe with friends, or a family gathering in the Caribbean, your coolness factor may be at stake. Being "cool" (elusive and subjective as that may be, even in your home town) can shift dramatically when you’re lugging a backpack, staring at your phone for directions, Googling translations, and in unfamiliar surroundings.

A little advance planning and cultural sensitivity can go a long way. Here are tips for blending in abroad and getting the most out of your next international trip:

1. Step out of your glaring, white shoes and into stylish, yet comfy shoes (unless your podiatrist requires special shoes for your knees or back). For foreign city trips walking around in a nice pair of leather sandals or closed toed shoes makes all the difference. Nothing says "tourist" like bright, white sneakers.

2. Be culturally sensitive. You're on foreign turf. Respecting local customs and culture is a must. For example, find out if wearing shorts is acceptable or forbidden. And, when in doubt, cover your skin. I found this out the hard way in Israel when I was nearly tackled for wearing shorts in a church.

3. Learn 10 basic phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, passport, please…) in a language before traveling there. What better way to make the trip more exciting than practicing speaking a new language. Consider going beyond the basics and take a class in a foreign language for a few months prior to traveling. I've done this and it makes the trip all the more enjoyable (not to mention my travel pals appreciated my knowing how to quickly and politely ask where to find the nearest restroom).

4. Respect their language.

5. Keep the volume down. Nothing makes me cringe more when I'm traveling abroad than hearing an obnoxious group of foreign travelers. Because I'm American, I'm especially sensitive to other Americans being insensitively loud. I distinguish from Canadian and British English speakers because they don't seem to be as loud, or perceived as crass as Americans. Keep it cool and use your "inside voices." Unless, of course, you're at a sporting event and the local team wins.

6. Absorb the culture using all five senses. Breathe in the air. Taste spices and culinary combinations. Step outside of your safe hotel and eat where the locals do. Don't ask the hotel staff where to go – they likely have a deal with a restaurant. Ask someone in a shop or just stroll the streets until you find an eatery filled with local patrons. Discover a tradition new to you but common to locals. Flamenco in Spain? Wine-tasting in Italy? Siesta in Mexico?

7. Study up on the city/region/country. Read books, look online and talk to anyone who's traveled there – get insights on best and worst experiences so you know what to do and what to avoid before you go. Even a little prep can help you avoid pitfalls, save you money or time, and make the trip more enjoyable.

8. Be sensitive with camera in hand. While the country may look like a fairytale to you, this is other people's home. If you take photos of people not in your group, be as inconspicuous as possible. If you sense someone is uncomfortable with your attention on them, take heed and respect their privacy.

9. Handle money matters smoothly. Don't fumble around with money or forget where you placed it and do the pocket pat. Organize your money and documents in private before you walk out in public. Buy a money pouch that can go around your waist and under clothing for your valuables like your passport and extra cash. Diversify with an debit card, credit card, foreign currency, and even old school travelers' checks. You can keep each of these in different locations (suitcase, socks, money pouch) for security.

10. Group travel abroad has its special consideration. By nature, you are likely a group of like-minded individuals excited for the journey and happy to be traveling together at last. It can be extra easy to be a little careless in group mentality. In addition to all of the above tips, if you're the trip planner, here are basics to prepare and share with the group:

Blending in doesn't mean being unauthentic or unoriginal. It simply means respecting other cultures, religions, beliefs, and living conditions. Through careful observation, you just might find an understanding not only of how people in other countries move, work, eat, talk, but how you cope and operate in unfamiliar territory. That alone is an invaluable life experience. And putting yourself at the mercy of foreign driving rules, customs, food specialties will inevitably also expand your horizons, giving you a greater appreciation for those who travel on your turf.

I also recommend reviewing these 10 tips for a safe trip abroad.

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7 Reasons to Plan a Destination Wedding

If you're considering having a destination wedding, you're likely imagining a romantic or exotic location: a place that provides an experience by its mere existence. What makes a destination attractive? Why do so many brides and grooms tie the knot in certain hotspots?

Here are some answers to those questions that can also serve as a checklist to help you determine if a destination is right for your wedding.

1. Honeymoon moonlighting – By day it's a wedding, by night it's a honeymoon. Exotic locations away from home can also double as your honeymoon spot, possibly saving you money.

2. Vacation-ready – It's in a popular area that many guests would consider traveling to as a vacation, thus giving guests double the reason to attend the wedding. And, if you're looking for a little inspiration, here's our list of the top 10 states for destination weddings.

3. Activities galore – There are enough activities, entertainment options, restaurants, etc. to entertain large crowds (in groups or on day excursions in smaller numbers).

4. Hotels abound – In popular destinations, guests will have a wide range of prices to choose from for accommodations, which makes it doable for many families and friends (not to mention the wedding party itself).

5. Group discounts – Common destinations for weddings are not only some of the most popular vacation spots, they are also accustomed to hosting weddings, so hotels in these areas may offer group discounts.

6. Cost considerations – It can sometimes be cheaper than "producing" a local wedding. Fewer guests are likely to attend, so the guest list may shrink (which translates to fewer dinners to pay for, less space to rent, etc.). Plus, if you get married on a beach or in a chapel, affordable ceremony packages may be available.

7. Priceless experience – There's an intangible quality to a wedding in a dream destination. It's like being in a fairytale or movie and makes a lasting impression not just on the bride and groom, but everyone invited. I went to a wedding in Tuscany a couple of years ago. Sipping wine at the Italian villa reception, love was definitely in the air. Guests were giddy over the occasion and over being in Italy. And while the newlyweds batted eyes at each other, I was falling for the scenery.

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Discussing Hotel Options With Your Group

When planning any group trip — a family reunion, wedding, friends get-away, or other trip involving multiple itineraries and opinions — one of the most frustrating things can be deciding on the best hotel for everyone.

I’ve gone to weddings, family reunions, and traveled with friends in and out of the country and in each instance, finding the right hotel was a key part of our trip planning. Allowing each person to weigh in is important.

Understanding your group's requirements and priorities is a good place to start. Considerations that typically come into play include:

Fortunately there are several free tools that can help trip planners to collect initial input and to streamline the decision making process. Here are three user-friendly polling apps that are widely used for gathering opinions and making group decisions:

Finally, once you've narrowed down your hotel options, Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheets can be useful for organizing, comparing and sharing various choices and travel plans (budgets, interarires, task lists, etc.) in detail.

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Best Movies to Rent Before Your High School Reunion

Everyone has a favorite high school movie. To fully prep for your next reunion, or just for kicks, rent a flick that conjures up the sentiments of high school – whatever they may be. From gag reflexes about your former hairdo, to fond memories of your first love, take a couple hours to watch a film or two that gets you in the reunion mood before you slap that "Hello, my name is" sticker on your shirt.

Were you the class geek? Class clown? Most likely to succeed? Least likely to get married? My guess is we can all relate to at least one character in one of these movies.

  1. American Graffiti
  2. Breakfast Club
  3. Election
  4. Ferris Beuller's Day Off
  5. Grease
  6. Karate Kid
  7. The Outsiders
  8. Rock 'n' Roll High School
  9. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
  10. Say Anything

Update: Thanks to Eric for suggesting "Can't Hardly Wait" which he added "should be #1 on the list." Let us know what other classics we missed?

p.s., Looking for other movie recommendations? Learn how to create a personalized list of book, movie, tv and podcast recommendations for your next trip or group event.

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10 Bachelorette Party Ideas

She's engaged. Your best friend. Your sister. Your cousin. Hard to believe the day is coming when she may take a new last name, have babies, and will settle into a home with her husband.

Send the bride-to-be off to married life with a bang or celebrate quietly. You be the judge of her taste. Ask her for input so you don't find her yawning through a theater show when she'd rather be doing Jell-O shots and giggling at "pleasure props," or vice versa, rolling her eyes at strippers when she’d rather have gone for pedicures and wine-tasting with her best girlfriends.

Here are some ideas I've seen (or helped organize) to punctuate the bride's last days (or night) being single with an all girls get-together.

1. Go gambling – Take the girls to Vegas with its concerts and shows galore, spa splendor, and outlet shopping. Walk down the Strip and take your pick of pleasures in Sin City. Book a hotel in any of the themed hotels on the Strip such as Wynn Las Vegas (newest Strip hotel with 18-hole golf course, spa, Cirque du Soleil shows and more), MGM Grand Hotel (tropical oasis created with multiple pools, and a river for tubing), Caeser's Palace (a tribute to the Roman Empire's decadence) and others. Other gambling hot spots with casinos, entertainment, restaurants, bars, and more for the bridal gathering include Atlantic City, New Jersey or Reno.

2. Spa daySpending a day at a spa is one of the best ways to bond. Many spas offer packages with a multiple services combined (pedicure, massage, facial, manicure, etc.) for a discount. Still a spendy affair, but worth it for a special occasion like this and a great way to let girls be girls. Ask a spa if they have specials for bachelorette or bridal groups.

3. Swanky slumber party – Plan a weekend "get-away" to a local, luxury hotel for a night. Rent a big suite-sized room (or two, depending on your group size) to split costs while still enjoying luxury. The concept is ripe for variation. When I helped organized an event like this, my friends opted to bring food to the room and our own spa accoutrements to cut costs. We painted our nails and rented chick flicks, then swam in the hotel's pool before drinking and visiting in the room.

4. Wine-tasting – Women are a sophisticated and silly lot. Nearly every woman I know roars with wisdom on every subject under the sun: life, men, work, current affairs, gardening, the latest fashion fads, whathaveyou. All we need is a few good bottles of wine and the company of other women to let the laugher and conversation unfold organically. Give the bride a night (or entire weekend) of this quality time with the girls. Napa Valley is ideal for this flavor of weekend get-away.

5. Pub crawl in style – Create a map of the top five (or so) pubs, designate a limo driver for your group, and hit the town. Don't forget the playful props that will properly embarrass the bride (you know, that candy necklace for guys to take a bite of and pay her a dollar, or a tiara worn proudly to direct attention to the bride, and so forth). This tends to work best for younger brides and bridesmaids, of course.

6. Do lunch – Simply pick a favorite local restaurant of the newly engaged woman and make reservations. This is a classic way to involve co-workers or family friends and multi-generations. Create a festive air by making arrangements with the restaurant to decorate the table an hour ahead of time so when the bride walks in, the seating area is festive with streamers, her favorite colors, etc.

7. Camping and the great outdoors – Ahhh, the great outdoors. I've always found that camping with a group of my girl friends is a great way to relax, get some much-needed time away from city stress and obligations, and focus on each other. Some of the best friendship bonding time has been while camping or doing something else outdoors such as kayaking, hiking, or biking. If your bride is highly active and her closest friends are, organize an outdoor adventure. The options are endless. Ask her for suggestions and then plan the trip or day excursion.

8. Lingerie party – Prep the bride for her new bedroom and give her something pretty in pink or bad-ass black. You know her personality – pick something fitting. Careful not to embarrass the poor girl too much if her mom or grandmother is attending the shower.

9. Dinner theater – Options here are nearly endless, but are best geared for something that suits the bride's tastes and can offer a chance for group interaction. Do dinner before a show (Cirque du Soleil, comedy club, or a touring Broadway show), or find a dinner theater event such as a cabaret (Teatro Zinzanni in SF or Seattle) or restaurant that has live entertainment. If you're anywhere near New York, I highly recommend Mamma Mia! on Broadway. The wedding theme and disco dancing lend themselves perfectly to a bridal party.

10. Traditional bridal shower – Shower the bride with stories (funniest story about her), photos (funniest picture – everyone brings one and tells the story behind it), and focus the day on the bride. Whereas the wedding is all about the couple, this event should be solely focused on her and why she's such a great friend, sister, cousin, roommate, person. Traditional showers usually include a lunch or appetizers by the hostess at someone's house. Silly games are played like creating wedding dresses out of toilet paper and having the bride be the judge or opening gifts and tying the bows together to create a faux bouquet for her to hold while walking through the dress rehearsal. It's always a bonus when small door prizes are given out.

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Vacation with Friends, without Your Mate

Ladies, how about a weekend getaway filled with massages and wine-tasting with your girlfriends? And guys, ever dreamed of playing unlimited golf with your college buddies, guilt-free, on vacation?

Even in a committed relationship, finding some space for yourself, to do your own thing, can be important. But how comfortable are you with the idea of vacationing without your significant other? And what types of vacations are best suited for friends versus with your partner?

Traveling with friends offers a number of benefits, including the chance to strengthen those relationships. Friends often bring different perspectives and can challenge you to try new things that you might not consider with your partner, leading to personal growth and self-discovery. Traveling with friends can also be safer than traveling alone. Additionally, it can provide a level of independence and personal space that is harder to find when traveling with your partner.

“What a lot of people expect from their partner is perfection. But that’s not possible. Your partner can be your best friend and your companion, but it’s unfair to then suggest they have to like everything you like and to do everything you do,” says relationship experts Dr. Patrick Wanis.

Similarly, Hannah Guy, a licensed clinical social worker, shares “there is a misconception that once you are in a relationship, you need to do all the big things with them, but I would actually argue the importance of doing some of the big things on your own or with people outside of your relationship. Our relationships are at their best when we as individuals are at our best.”

Of course, spending time away from a significant other, can be stressful too. It's essential that trust and a sense of security are well-established. Ensuring that both parties are at ease is important, particularly if the journey involves destinations where cell coverage and Wi-Fi are scarce.

Finally, if you do decide to travel with friends without your mate, we hope you return home feeling refreshed and eager to share your experiences with your partner. Afterall, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Here are a couple of the great comments we’ve received:

Erik S. wrote, “Travel with groups is great, but make sure that they are people who don't mind if you decide to do your own thing here and there. Being attached at the hip can get old. Oh, and if you have a feeling that something is not right with the group, work it out beforehand. It's your trip.”

John G. wrote, ”I'm heading off to the World Cup next month, and I'm leaving my gal behind. Frankly, she doesn't know the obsessive, soccer fanatic side of me, and I'm just as happy she's not going to witness 30 days of it! Instead, I'm going with one of my soccer buddies, and meeting another old friend in Geneva where she lives. Yup, she. The trip isn't so much gender-specific as it is activity specific. But so often in this culture the method we choose to relax varies by gender.”

Article updated November 2023.

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Airfare Tips - How to Find the Best Deals Online

Finding the best deals on airline tickets requires some research and flexibility. Here are some tips that may help you find the best deals:

1. Compare prices on multiple platforms: Use online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Priceline, as well as meta-search engines like Kayak and Google Flights, to compare prices from multiple airlines in one place, but be sure to also check airline websites to see if they offer the same flight at a lower price.

2. Be flexible with your travel dates and times: Airline ticket prices can vary significantly depending on the time of year, day of the week, and time of day. If possible, be flexible with your travel dates and times to find the cheapest flights.

3. Set fare alerts: Some OTAs and meta-search engines allow you to set fare alerts for specific routes and dates. They will then notify you when prices drop.

4. Book in advance: In general, the best time to book a flight is between three months and 30 days before your departure date. Prices tend to be higher if you book too far in advance or too close to the departure date.

5. Consider alternative airports: In some cases, you may be able to find cheaper flights by flying into or out of alternative airports that are nearby your destination.

There are several potential benefits to booking a flight directly with an airline rather than through an online travel agency:

1. Customer service: If you have a problem with your flight or need to make changes to your reservation, it can be easier to deal directly with the airline rather than going through a third-party travel agency. The airline may also be more willing to accommodate special requests or changes if you booked directly with them.

2. Miles! Many airlines have loyalty programs that reward frequent flyers with points or miles that can be redeemed for future flights or other perks. In some cases, you may only be eligible to earn these rewards if you book directly with the airline.

3. Easier management of reservations: When you book directly with an airline, you can typically manage your reservation through the airline's website or app, which can be more convenient than dealing with an OTA's website or customer service department.

4. Access to more options: Some airlines only offer certain options (such as seat selection or baggage allowances) to customers who book directly with them.

5. Price: Airlines sometimes reserve their best fares for customers who book directly, and they may also offer exclusive discounts or promotions on their websites. That said, Expedia and other OTAs often offer bundled deals that include flights, hotels, and other travel services. These packages can sometimes be a good way to save money on your trip.

Ultimately, the best approach is to compare prices and options on both airline websites and OTAs before making a booking.

And, for groups of 10 or more, it makes sense to start with a group flight request form. Airlines will often give additional discounts along with the benefits listed above.

Happy airfare shopping!

Article updated November 2023.

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Hotel Star Ratings Decoded

Star ratings are the hotel industry's way of indicating standards - for amenities, quality, service, and often for location. But what do they mean? They can vary across the globe (a 4-star hotel in one country may vary widely in another). The measurement depends on who gives the star rating.

Online travel companies rate hotels, AAA rates them, Forbes (formerly Mobil Travel Guide) rates them and, of course, hotel customers write their own reviews and give star ratings on sites like TripAdvisor. While methods and results vary, the qualifications for a rating boils down to the same main elements. Star ratings, if used as guidelines, provide a good baseline for overall quality and cost.

Once you know your budget or your group's budget, then it's a matter of shopping around to find the right hotel for you. Those little gold stars are a good start at an at-a-glance sense of hotel quality, but be sure to also look at room photos, descriptions, and user reviews.

Whether you're organizing or traveling to a wedding, family reunion, or college reunion with old pals, star ratings can help with trip planning.

Here's the skinny on star ratings:

Luxury, top-of-the-line hotels that are often resorts near the sexiest scenery with the highest standards of service and cleanliness. Think personal pampering, fine art as décor, sumptuous meals, and quality linens. Example: Ritz Carlton.

Upscale, high-class hotels with a host of convenient amenities such as pools, valet, and bellhops. These are often near other hotels of the same caliber and have happy hours and signature dishes by well-trained chefs. Example: Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.

Mid-scale full-service hotels are often near major business centers or attractions, have pools, quality breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spacious accommodations. Think standard hotel with simple, yet clean furnishings. Example: Holiday Inn.

Mid-scale limited-service lodging often belonging to big chains known for standardized service. Properties are smaller-scale and room service is typically unavailable. Usually quite clean and comfortable. Example: Comfort Inn.

Economy or budget hotels are generally located near major intersections or affordable attractions. Think bargain basics with furnishings and service, but usually walking distance to cheap eats. Example: Motel 6.

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Old-Fashioned Family Fun at the Beach

In this day and age, good old-fashioned family fun at the beach can be just the ticket to bring everyone closer together. I've had so many family reunions at the beach, I've started naming starfish.

Ah, a field trip to the beach. Soul food and family time. There’s no greater good. In the spirit of creating family memories without all the hoopla of our modern age, here are classic beach activities, (mostly) no purse strings attached.

1. Sand castle contests
Pile it up high and sculpt a castle fit for royalty. Then challenge your family members to do the same and have an objective person be the judge. For a little inspiration, you can check out what the sand-sculpting experts are molding at Sandsational.

2. Body surfing
Fling yourself on a wave and ride it board-free to the shore. It sounds easy, but can be surprisingly challenging. Stay safe by body surfing in areas where you can touch easily. With little kids, you can make the lapping waves fun by sitting in them and letting the water gently toss you ashore. Learn how to paddle in like a pro and catch waves with ease. And here are some safety tips for body surfing.

3. Beach soccer
Shed the shin guards, shoes and kick the soccer ball down the beach in a family-friendly game of soccer with sand as your field. This leisure sport seems to be gaining popularity as there’s an annual tournament for kids ages 9 to 18 from around the world: North American Sand Soccer Tournament.

4. Row, row, row your boat
Boating, kayaking and canoeing are all great ways to experience the beach with your family. Water activities are half the reason we scramble to the beach anyway. Bring inflatable rafts, rent a paddle boat or kayak, or take an excursion that’s often available at popular beach destinations.

5. Picnic on the beach
Eating is its own activity, especially with families. At family reunions, it can often feel like a circus. Yet some of the best family conversations take place while gathered for a meal. The necessity of eating, the pleasure of food itself, along with the social nature of dining together all make beach picnics great as a mellow, yet bonding, family activity.

6. Rock stacking
A time-honored art going as far back as Stonehenge (probably farther), it’s easy to take rocks and make art formations, assuming you’re at a beach with rocks. I’ve recently discovered the Zen-like satisfaction of stacking rocks and found that there are many rock stackers who make it a big part of their lives. Give it a try.

7. Skipping rocks
How many skips can one rock make? That’s for you to find out. Grab a handful of as many skipping rocks (round-ish, flat-ish) as you can, angle yourself toward the water, and toss each stone so it bounces, leaps or skims across the surface just right. The Brits call it stone skimming. The Irish call it stone scuffing. The French call it ricochet. There’s even a stone skipping association. Join the multitudes of people who skip beach rocks and develop your own, unique technique.

8. 50-yard splash dash
Mark start and finish lines in the sand, just above the surf line, have someone stand at the finish line as objective judge (if your family members are competitive) and go for the gold. You can adapt this to a relay race, handing off driftwood as a baton. Reward all "winners" with ice cream!

9. Kite flying
A family staple at the beach, kite flying has been around since the dawn of kites. Want to find any kind of kite, learn its history and see how it operates? Check out this Smithsonian article on how kites fly.

10. Playing Frisbee or catch
Nothing beats a classic. Something as simple as a driftwood bat knocking a ball out of the sandy ballpark or a Frisbee gliding smoothly into your hands turns the beach into your own, personal playground.

Did I miss a great family beach game or activity?

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Family Reunions: Make Every Communiqué Count

Family reunions often require more than a single notice. Reunion planners commonly communicate with their families frequently throughout the planning process. That’s a lotta family! Even before you reunite. Here’s how to make every communiqué count:

1. Include family in early decisions about date and location. By including more family members in the early, pivotal decisions of location and date, other details become secondary. Any decision you make about transportation, food, activities, etc. become part of the bigger decisions they helped select. It also builds interest and momentum. Plus, the bigger the consensus on location and date, the more people you’re likely to get by giving them a chance to plan their travel schedules well in advance. Points for you!

2. Send a "save the date" reminder. Once the key decisions of date, location and budget are made (via the first, exploratory communications), send out a "save the date" email with the reunion dates, location and, if known, lodging info.

At this point, you can also ask people whether they plan to attend to get an estimated head count.

"Save the date" emails are also great opportunities for enlisting volunteers to help with planning. See The Art of Delegation for ways to get the most out of your volunteers.

3. Lost in email translation. Spam, work and personal emails all create mounds of information that can be overwhelming. In group planning, I’ve found sending details out in bulk after key decisions have been made mitigates questions and headache for you, the organizer.

4. Written invitations. While email works well for many communications, a written invitation for a family reunion can do wonders - something colorful, eye-catching and postcard-sized that can easily be put on your fridge or bulletin board. This also helps for great-grandparents or others less likely to use email regularly.

What to include on your invitation:

5. Highlight volunteers. You might want to highlight volunteers who are helping to plan particular activities. This increases visibility to those helping, shows appreciation and stirs interest in the reunion by alerting the family of fun that will be had by all. This also gives you a way to steer communication to the volunteers in charge of them, freeing up your time to focus on other projects.

6. Get RSVPs back on time. Whether using the "save the date" or written invitation to get RSVPs, give your group a specific deadline. Provide both an email and phone number for people to RSVP. I also recommend picking one key contact per nuclear family to get their family’s RSVPs back on time. This simplifies things and leaves the burden of communication to a head of household or ultra-organized family member (anyone come to mind?).

7. Final family reunion reminder. Send a final reminder email several weeks before the reunion. This is your opportunity to communicate any updates or changes and to reconfirm key details. This email can also serve as a "last call" to those who have not yet confirmed their plans. This will get people excited and give them a chance to schedule their own "side events" (i.e., golfing with Uncle Bill). Other helpful items to include are maps, destination information, important numbers (one cell phone number per nuclear family, etc.) and a "what to bring" list.

8. Post-reunion wrap-up. Finally, you can send a wrap-up letter/email to the whole family (everyone who was invited, not only those who attended) with your favorite stories, pictures from the reunion, and a family contact list. A family Web site is great for this as well.

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The Art of Delegation

You shouldn’t have to plan a family reunion or wedding all alone. Here are 10 tips for delegating with panache, keeping your finger on the pulse, and stepping aside for others to share the planning responsibilities.

Since weddings often turn into family reunions, many of these planning principles will also work for brides and grooms.

Tip 1: Make a checklist. Create a checklist of everything that needs to get done including deadlines and who is responsible for given tasks. Check this list often. As you get closer to the event, be sure to confirm the details with your service providers.

Tip 2: Start a chain reaction. When individuals get involved, they’ll become event champions who will promote the reunion to their respective branches of the family tree.

Tip 3: Enlist volunteers early. Right from the start, enlist volunteers to help with everything from creating and distributing "welcome kits" to planning specific events and activities. It lightens your load and allows you to tap into the creativity of your group. If planning a destination wedding, early help is critical.

Tip 4: Choose help wisely. You know your family. You know the flakes and leaders. The dreamers and doers. The bakers and candlestick makers. While everyone has talents and skills, I recommend choosing people with some planning experience for bigger projects. Those less likely to tackle bigger projects well would be perfect for a smaller, specific task (find and bring a cake for grandma’s birthday dinner). Match tasks delegated to those best suited for the task to create the most efficient use of everyone’s time.

Tip 5: Connections count. But use them carefully and don’t impose on anyone. Always ask. Never assume. Does Aunt Betty work in catering? Ask if she can find a good caterer. If a wedding or family reunion is in a major U.S. metropolitan area such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. or Chicago and Uncle Fred’s best friend can score a deal in baseball tickets, ask Fred if block of seats are possible to get.

Tip 6: Tap the creativity of your family. You’d be surprised what talents lay dormant in your family’s gene pool. Get help on projects or tasks where others have expertise such as building an up-to-date family contact list, designing a family Web site (for the graphically-inclined), organizing entertainment for an evening (use a family musician, perhaps), negotiating the best rate at hotels (think sales skills), chefs in the family can provide a "guest meal" one night (mmm… Uncle Bob's barbequed Asian salmon special), and so forth.

Tip 7: Avoid getting spammed. To avoid getting "cc'd" on every email communiqué, encourage the volunteers to make decisions on their own with the group and communicate that you just need to know the final details of their particular task(s). If they have problems/questions along the way, they can contact you. But giving them authority saves you time and gently ensures they’re held accountable, increasing chances they’ll complete the task(s).

Tip 8: Give credit where credit is due. Someone once told me that many who succeed "Delegate and take credit." While this was half-truth and half-joke, you should always give credit to those who help or lead a project. You may be organizing, orchestrating or rallying the troops, but many make it a success. Thank the academy.

Tip 9: Solicit ideas from those helping plan. There is a fine line between directing and delegating. I’ve learned people respond better when their own ideas are heard and carried out. They become invested and feel a personal sense of pride and accomplishment. That said, pay attention to quality and don’t be afraid to guide the process. Your feedback is helpful, as is theirs. Incorporate the best ideas from others and know when to (carefully) suggest alternatives to other ideas.

Brides, you have your ideas and your fiancé has his. So do your families. Use the best ideas, but ultimately the call is yours (and his).

Tip 10: Stay tuned and connected. You're still the leader of the group so once a task is assigned, it's important to follow up regularly to make sure everything's getting done. Schedule a weekly check-in with yourself and/or others to get a status of tasks completed and things that need a follow-up. The more organized you are, the more smoothly things will run.

Have any of your own tips or lessons learned? Care to add to any of the tips listed above? Your thoughts and feedback are welcome.

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Safety Tips for Traveling Abroad

Among the myriad of things to consider when planning and booking a group trip, don't forget about safety. Before traveling abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's Web site for up-to-date information on your chosen country's travel policies, including vaccination requirements and more.

If you are traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department's has 10 tips for a safe trip:

  1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.

  2. Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.

  3. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, the U.S. Constitution does not follow you! While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.

  4. Make 2 copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.

  5. Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.

  6. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.

  7. If you plan to stay abroad for more than two weeks, upon arrival you should notify by phone or register in person with the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting. This will facilitate communication in case someone contacts the embassy looking for you.

  8. To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.

  9. In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.

  10. If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy.

We always really appreciate hearing from readers! Stephanie B. wrote us to share, "Great idea about two copies of your passport (one left at home, extra copy with you)! Also, leaving an itinerary with a friend or family member is also great. Plus, don't forget to print out email confirmations for hotels, even if the charges have posted to your credit card account. (I recently learned this the hard way.)"

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Tips for Group Golf Trips

Golf is one sport that you can play year-around... at least if you're willing to travel.  So, there's always an opportunity to get out the clubs and enjoy the sunny fairways on a challenging course. It's tee time somewhere.

Golf Groups

Tips for planning a memorable golf trip with friends:

Have fun and keep it in the short grass.

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Quick Tips for Group Travel Organizers

Whether you're planning a family reunion, bachelor party, wedding or spa weekend, there are common challenges in organizing group travel. Group communication and decision making are two of the biggest headaches that group travel planners face.

Here are 5 tried-and-true tips to keep in mind:

1. Plan in advance. Whether it's deciding where to go, what to do once you arrive, or simply coordinating everyone's calendars, group travel planning always takes longer than expected.

2. Include the group in decision making. Although you may be rounding up the troops, it's their trip, too. While it may be impossible to satisfy everyone's requests, it's important for everyone to have the opportunity to voice their travel preferences. Taking a group vote often helps facilitate decision making.

3. Keep it simple and make it fun. The anticipation leading up to a trip, as well as the follow-up and story telling post-trip, are a big part of the travel experience. When you need to assign tasks to the group or individuals, keep it simple so positive vibes stay with the trip from beginning to end. For example, provide a clearly defined set of options to consider or items to research. Make it easy for someone to say "Yes, I'm in!"

4. Stay organized. Details, details. In travel, it's the little things like the timing of a layover, the cost of a cab ride from the airport to the hotel, or the quality of a meal that will have a huge impact on a trip. Understand and focus on those details that matter most to you and to your group.

5. Be especially clear about budgets. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the cost of the trip up front and that everyone understands how much they owe and when. Collecting money from friends and family can be awkward. Inevitably, there will be someone who pays late (or not at all). But communicating early and often can help.

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Child Safety Seats on Airplanes

Under current U.S. air rules, kids under the age of two can fly free if they sit on a parent's lap. While the choice still remains with the parent or guardian, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the industry to require the use of child safety seats. Today, most airlines accommodate families who choose to use a car safety seat if they buy a ticket for their child. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends the use of child safety seats to improve child safety during flights; however, they have not made their use mandatory.

FAA Tips for Safe Air Travel with Children:

The FAA also recommends that a child weighing:

Source: Federal Aviation Administration (Flying with Children)

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A Blog Devoted to Group Travel

Welcome to Group Trip Advisor, a blog solely devoted to group travel. Here you’ll find tips, hints, resources, and lively commentary all aimed at simplifying the group trip planning process and inspiring anyone who travels with groups.

Anyone planning a trip needs a little help now and then. We plan to cover topics such as road-tripping with girlfriends, skiing with your pals, jet-setting to a destination wedding, gathering for a family reunion, negotiating group contracts, volunteering for a cause, spring break tips, travel companions from hell, blending in abroad and so much more.

Eventually, we'll feature guest bloggers on subjects of their expertise, photo contests and "lessons learned" from you, our fellow group trip planners. And we'll solicit ideas for subjects of interest to you. Stay tuned…

Whether you've organized one group trip, one thousand, or it's your first one, we can all learn from each other. If you see an article or post on this blog that strikes you, please share your thoughts. We’ll monitor and do our best to answer questions as swiftly as we can.

A little background on our team: We’ve worked in online travel for years (including helping to launch and build Expedia), traveled the globe, helped organize events, planned numerous group trips (family and friend get-togethers mainly), and have felt the pain of using inefficient methods of planning a trip or an event with groups involved – email after email, endless phone calls, trying to keep track of RSVPs, accommodating changes. So many wasted hours keeping all the details straight! Our hope is to help make the group travel planning experience easier by sharing insights, resources and stories.

Happy travels.

Really appreciate these excellent reader comments/recommendations:

"I've found that putting cash into a pot (or an envelope) to cover gas, lodging, and road snacks works well. Each person puts in equal amount and if/when it runs out, just add a more. Then there's no forgetting, no math, no pressure, no guilt at the end. The only inconvenience is having to go into the gas station to pay for gas. But hey, on a road trip, everyone usually gets out anyways. The other courtious thing, I think, is to give the car's owner a discount to account for wear and tear on their rig."

"I spent three years in the Peace Corps, and we often travelled en masse. I think the previous comment is an excellent one, especially if it's uncomfortable to ask whose turn it is to pay for beer or gas. (Sometimes, people just don't pipe up when it's their turn.) Having a "bank" of money eliminates that problem. Of course, you have to trust the person who serves as banker :-)"

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