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Taking responsibility on winter roads

(BPT) - You can find a large number of alarming videos on the Internet showing cars crashing on snowy roads. We can see from these videos that driving too fast on snow or ice covered roads is risky and leaves you vulnerable to crashes. However, it's not just fast driving that causes accidents, but also failure to take proper care in these types of conditions.

If we want safe roads during the winter months, two things are needed. First, it is necessary (but not sufficient) that if we are driving on winter roads, we should slow down and take more care than we would on those same roads on a bright summer day. Second, we need our highway agencies to take actions that improve the road conditions, removing any snow and ice that may be on the roads so they get back to those "summer day" conditions as quickly as possible.

The safety issue is a substantial one. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation show there are about 115,000 people injured every year on snowy, slushy or icy pavements. More than 1,000 people are killed each year on winter roads. Those are troubling statistics.

The good news is that highway agencies have a variety of tools they use very effectively to restore our roads to a safe condition quickly. Studies show a good winter maintenance program that uses road salt reduces accidents on winter roads by about 88 percent.

The science of winter road maintenance

Highway agencies are not resting on their laurels when it comes to their winter maintenance activities. A key goal for many agencies is tracking in great detail what they are doing during their winter maintenance actions, and ensuring their actions are optimized to meet their goal of safe roads for the driving public. In Idaho for example, new salt spreading units allow them to track how much salt they apply to the road, and other sensors allow them to check that the road is responding as expected to the salt application and is not getting slippery. That gives them two benefits - reduced costs (they've seen a 29 percent reduction in their annual winter maintenance costs since introducing the new technology) and improved safety to the tune of a 27 percent reduction in accidents on winter roads.

The flip side of safety is mobility. Obviously if nobody drives on the roads there will be no accidents, but we have come as a society to rely on our highway network for commerce and quality of life. Other studies show the cost of having that network closed down is substantial - between $300 and $700 million a day for a state in direct and indirect earnings. So keeping those roads open (maintaining our mobility if you will) in a safe and sustainable manner is an extremely important benefit of winter maintenance. One study suggested that the costs of maintaining the road system during a winter storm are completely recovered in the first 25 minutes of winter maintenance activities because of the improvements in safety and mobility that the improved road conditions bring about.

The responsibility for safety and mobility on winter roads is not just in the hands of the highway agencies. We, as road users, have a responsibility to drive at an appropriate speed, and be prepared for the worst case scenario. Many agencies present hints on what you should have in your car on a winter trip. For example, Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) suggests having a flashlight, batteries, a blanket, snacks, water, gloves, boots and a first aid kit, as well as a few other steps we can take to add to our safety.

We now have more tools than ever at our disposal to allow us to see what conditions the roads are really in. Some DOTs provide up-to-date photos from their snow plows so you can actually see what the snow plow is seeing as it goes about making the road safe for you. And in the future there will no doubt be even smarter technology out there to help us in winter driving. But as the winter moves on, we might want to think on those crash videos on the web, and resolve that we will not be starring in one any time soon.

New year, new boat: Why winter is one of the...

(BPT) - Post-holiday sales aren’t the only deals to be found this winter. Winter boat shows offer some of the best pricing and incentives of the year — a major draw for the estimated 87 million Americans who take to the water each year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. For those ready to plan summer fun, boat shows can be a good place to start.

Unlike auto shows, boat shows are the place to buy. They create a unique shopping experience since hundreds of boats of all types are under one roof ready to board, browse and buy. Consider it a quick and convenient way to get familiar with manufacturers and your local dealers as you compare their products. Boat shows also offer the chance to shop the latest gadgets for your boat, and attend an array of boating educational seminars for all levels of interest.

Discover Boating, the national awareness program to help get people on the water, offers the following tips for navigating buying a boat at a boat show:

* Do your homework. Before attending a local boat show, a little research can go a long way. Spend time on DiscoverBoating.com to identify the different types of boats that fit your budget and lifestyle — try the boat selector and loan calculator tools. There’s even a boat show finder to locate a boat show in your area.

* Warm up with hot deals. Hundreds of new models are available to buy on the show floor at some of the best prices of the year. Exhibitors generally offer special show pricing or other incentives at shows. Plus, it’s the perfect time to order a new boat to ensure it arrives ready to launch in spring.

* Develop your nautical know-how. Boat shows are a great place for beginners to learn about the boat buying process as well as the boating lifestyle. Many provide boater education seminars and hands-on training, as well as displays of boats that can be financed for $250 a month or less.

* Get your feet wet. Boat shows bring the great outdoors indoors in the middle of winter. Participate in an array of activities (often at no additional cost) including fishing for kids, paddlesports, seminars, antique boats and more. Take the opportunity to meet other boaters, as many make their local boat show a winter rendezvous.

* Look for the seal of approval. Look for boats marked NMMA Certified, as they have met strict industry product quality standards. Also look for Marine Industry Certified Dealers — boat retailers who have made a commitment to top-quality buying and maintenance experiences.

Winter boat shows are an easy way to learn how to get on the water, plus a chance to enjoy a taste of summer during the coldest months of the year. Visit DiscoverBoating.com to find a boat show near you, a list of certified dealers and manufacturers, and unbiased advice for getting started in boating.


Drive safer at any age using the top vehicle...

(BPT) - New technologies are responsible for many of the advances, comforts and conveniences of modern life, from the smartphone to wearable items such as “smart” wristwatches and eyeglasses. That’s no different in the car, where new technology is helping people drive more safely.

While cars today may not look much different from previous model years, the latest technology is helping save lives. One in five injury crashes could be prevented or reduced if all passenger vehicles were equipped with specific types of technology, according to a study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Enhancing vehicle safety

In the past, safety features were geared toward protecting drivers and passengers during a crash. Now, newer vehicle technologies have the potential to prevent a collision altogether. Many are already on the market, including:

* Blind-spot warning systems warn drivers of objects in blind spots, especially while changing lanes and parking.

* Back-up cameras warn of objects behind the vehicle to help drivers judge distances and reverse more safely.

* Smart headlights adjust the range and intensity of light based on the distance of traffic and to reduce glare and improve night vision.

* Collision avoidance systems alert the driver when the vehicle may be in danger of a collision.

* Lane departure warnings monitor the vehicle's position and warn the driver if the vehicle deviates outside the lane.

* Parking assistance indicates distance to objects, making parking easier, or may enable vehicles to park on their own.

* Adaptive cruise control allows the car to adjust its speed depending on traffic conditions.

“As these technologies become more widely available in new cars today, it’s important all drivers learn how they work and how to use them effectively,” says Jodi Olshevski, gerontologist and executive director of The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. “This is especially true for mature drivers, as many technologies can enhance the driving experience as we age.”

Top technologies among mature drivers

Drivers ages 50 to 69, according to a new study from The Hartford and the MIT AgeLab, are most willing to adopt the following vehicle technologies: 1) blind-spot warning systems, 2) back-up cameras, 3) smart headlights, 4) collision avoidance systems, and 5) lane departure warnings.

A majority of participants indicated they are willing to purchase these five technologies, are likely to use them, and think they are worth having.  

These technologies can help keep drivers safe and feeling confident behind the wheel. For example, back-up cameras can help drivers with reduced flexibility to see behind the vehicle, and blind-spot warning systems may help drivers with limited range of motion be more comfortable while driving.

The importance of learning about vehicle technology

Learning more about how vehicle technologies work is a smart step to keeping drivers safer on the road. Many new cars already include some safety technologies, and all new cars will be required to have back-up cameras by May 2018.

Staying current on the latest features available — and using them appropriately — may help all drivers, including mature drivers, stay safe behind the wheel. To learn more, drivers can download a free vehicle technology guidebook and take an interactive video quiz at thehartford.com/cartech.



Vacationing abroad this winter? Don't let...

(BPT) - Did you know that hepatitis A infections are on the rise in the United States? Almost half of new infections are among Americans traveling abroad after eating contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is common in many parts of the world, including in popular tourist destinations in Central and South America. Fortunately, hepatitis A can be easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine.

What is hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The infection can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe disease lasting several months. In severe cases, people can die from hepatitis A. Symptoms can include one or more of the following: nausea, vomiting, fever, yellow eyes or skin, stomach pain, dark urine, joint pain or fatigue. 

How is hepatitis A spread?

Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person. In countries where hepatitis A is common, the virus can be easily spread from two major ways:

* When an infected person does not thoroughly wash his/her hands and then touches objects or food

* When unclean water sources are used for consumption or food preparation. 

Unfortunately, food can become contaminated at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling and even after cooking. Regardless of where travelers eat or stay — even at high-end resorts — it is still possible to get infected with the hepatitis A virus. 

Who’s at risk?

All travelers to countries where hepatitis A is common are at risk for getting infected if they have never been vaccinated. Check this list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveler’s health website (www.cdc.gov/travel) or talk to your health care provider to find out if the vaccine is recommended for your destination.  

What can you do to protect yourself from hepatitis A?

Get vaccinated. The CDC recommends all travelers to regions where hepatitis A is common get vaccinated. The hepatitis A vaccine is safe and effective, and is the best way to prevent infection with the virus. The hepatitis A vaccine is typically given in two doses, 6 months apart, in order to give a person long-term protection against the virus. Even if you are unable to get both shots before you travel, one dose is better — and safer — than traveling unvaccinated. The first dose of vaccine should be administered as soon as travel is considered — 2 weeks or more before departure if possible. However, one dose of vaccine administered at any time before departure can provide adequate protection for mostly healthy persons. 

Where can I get the hepatitis A vaccine?

Vaccinations are available at many doctors’ offices, as well as at travel clinics. Check if your health plan will cover travel related vaccines — not all plans will. Low cost vaccination may be obtained at certain pharmacies or your local health department. So before you travel abroad, consider getting this form of travel insurance! 

Learn more about hepatitis A and other CDC travel-related vaccine recommendations here.



5 winter driving tips to keep you safe, not...

(BPT) - What do you love most about winter? Is it the skiing and the sledding, the trips to the winter carnivals or seasonal get-togethers? There’s plenty to love about winter — and often that means driving out to enjoy those things.

With sleet, snow and ice, winter weather can make your driving experience worrisome this time of year. But you don’t have to sacrifice your favorite winter activities just because of winter road conditions. Follow the five winter driving tips below and you’ll be able to focus on the moments that make this season great.

* Slow down. Sometimes the simplest tips are also the most effective. When you’re out on the road, reducing your speed by 50 percent during snowy weather is advised, just be sure you don’t slow down too much. Your car must maintain its momentum to avoid getting stuck in the snow.

* Have the right vehicle for the job. Nothing is worse than feeing unsafe in your car when bad weather hits. That’s why it is important to choose the right vehicle: one that is ready to take on wet and slick driving when winter weather strikes. The stylish and roomy Subaru Legacy comes standard with all-wheel drive, a feature that helps provide peace of mind when faced with difficult road conditions. The Legacy also comes available with Subaru EyeSight technology, an accident avoidance system that includes pre-collision braking, lane departure and sway warnings and rear cross traffic alert; all designed to provide an extra set of eyes and help keep you safe no matter where your winter travels take you.

* Keep in touch. When traveling on winter roads, particularly over long distances, it’s good to alert others to your trip plans. Call loved ones and let them know where you are going, when you will leave and when you plan to arrive. This keeps those waiting for you in the know in case of an emergency so they can help if needed. And don’t forget to provide periodic updates during your trip so loved ones can rest easy.

* Know how to handle a skid. Despite taking proper precautions, you still may find yourself sliding on an icy road. When you start to feel your vehicle enter a skid, don’t panic and just remember a few key techniques. First, take your foot off the gas – this will help to slow down and makes it easier to control the vehicle. In addition to laying off the gas, fight the urge to slam on the brakes but tap the brake pedal lightly and frequently. This helps to regain some traction and also slow the car down. Last, but certainly not least, lightly turn the wheel in the direction of the swerve to help guide the car toward that direction, this will prevent the car from entering a spin. As a final tip, look in the direction you want to go, rather than fixating on what you are trying to avoid; it really does help.

* Pack a winter weather kit. Sometimes, despite all your preparation, winter weather can still leave you stranded. If this should happen to you, it’s good to be prepared. Pack a winter weather kit and keep it in the back of your car for such emergencies. Your kit should include a backup phone battery and charger, blankets, water, protein bars, a de-icer, a flashlight, a tow rope, radio and cat litter — in case your tires need a little extra traction. Hopefully you’ll never have to use any of these items, but should you get stuck, you’ll be happy you planned ahead.

Braving through tough winter weather doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your favorite seasonal activities with friends and family. Utilizing proper safety habits, packing the right supplies and choosing the right vehicle will help ensure you reach your destination safely to create winter memories that last a lifetime. To learn more about how the Subaru Legacy can keep you safe on the road this winter, visit Subaru.com.


Five hacks to travel smart with your smartphone

(BPT) - Whether you’re traveling solo, as a couple or with your entire extended family, there’s one thing you likely won’t forget to bring on your trip: your smartphone or tablet. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, according to the Pew Research Center, and almost half own a tablet. Right next to socks and a toothbrush, your mobile device is one of the most important and useful items you’ll bring with you.

These devices are meant to be mobile and while on the road, our mobile devices help us navigate new places, entertain us during long flights and keep us connected to back home. However, what might throw your trip into a tailspin is the amount of data these devices can consume. Streaming video, photo sharing, travel apps and Internet browsing can eat up data fast and if you don’t have the right data plan you could end up having your trip cost a lot more in overage fees.

And trends show our need for data is growing exponentially. In fact, individual data usage will increase from almost 2 GB used per month in 2014 in North America to almost 11 GB in 2019, according to Cisco’s Mobile Visual Networking Index. The last thing you want to come home to is a huge bill of data overages because you or your child used too much data. To get the most out of your smartphone and tablet without the headaches of low batteries and data charges, consider these expert travel tech tips:

Connect to Wi-Fi whenever possible

One simple proactive step can dramatically decrease your data usage: connect to Wi-Fi. While not always possible, Wi-Fi is widely available at airports, train stations, restaurants and many other public places. If you’re dealing with a delay, connect to the local Wi-Fi network and you can check email, surf the web or shop online until your heart’s content.

Download playlists and movies

Taking a long plane trip or heading out on an epic road trip? Traveling to another country? Download playlists and movies before you leave so your content is ready to go when you’re not able to be connected to a network. You’ll enjoy immediate access to what you want even in airplane mode or without network coverage.

Stream smart

Streaming video and music can use a ton of data so be careful what you choose to watch. T-Mobile recently launched “Binge On” which lets customers enjoy video streaming from top select partners like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, ESPN and more without using their high-speed data bucket. That means watching the game, catching up on your favorite series or movies for the kids won’t cost you any data on T-Mobile. And the best part is, it’s automatically included in qualifying plans. T-Mobile also offers a similar program for music streaming as well. Learn more at www.T-Mobile.com.

Ready devices for travel abroad
It’s important to know your plan and ready your devices for traveling to other countries. Call your carrier to make sure you’re covered and avoid outrageous international roaming fees. If you are constant international traveler, check out T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan, you get LTE data and texting at no extra charge in more than 140 countries. And, as an added bonus, T-Mobile customers traveling to Canada or Mexico, can use their phone just like the US. The company’s Simple Choice plan is one of the best in wireless for people that travel a lot.

Stay charged
Nothing is worse than running out of battery while traveling. Your directions, your entertainment, and some argue, your sanity, are gone! If you’re road tripping, remember to pack a car charger. If you plan to be away from a charging port, an extra battery or portable charger can be a life saver. Only have a few minutes to charge before takeoff? Charge devices faster by switching to “airplane mode” before plugging in.

Top travel trend for 2016: Dude ranches

(BPT) - Planning a trip for 2016? While the beach is warm and a cruise ship is lovely, you’ve done those trips before. This year you want something unique that will create lasting memories and bring you closer to your family.

“More people are visiting dude ranches due to the desire to do something out of the ordinary,” says Colleen Hodson, from The Dude Ranchers' Association. “These aren’t the ranches from ‘City Slickers.’ High-end ranches across the country average 45 guests. You get to know everyone. By the end, you’ll have friendships and memories to last a lifetime, and you will reconnect with your family in a way you never thought possible.”

Travelers enjoy getting a taste of the dude ranch experience blended with a heaping serving of other popular vacation-type activities. Today’s dude ranches cater to a diverse crowd with attractions, services and things to do that travel far beyond the trail.

“Dude ranches are the original Western adventure vacation,” says Colleen Hodson. “Though guest expectations have changed and ranchers have had to change with them, the core principles of dude ranching remain the same: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart.”

In addition to discovering the beauty of nature and gazing into a crackling fire, here are other top reasons dude ranch vacations are a top trend for 2016:

Indulge the taste buds
Home cooked cuisine that oftentimes features ingredients from the ranch brings new meaning to farm-to-table eating. From family-style meals to gourmet al fresco dining, the food is a central part of the dude ranch experience.

Embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure
You can learn traditional ranching skills like riding a horse, driving cattle and throwing a lasso, but adventures on a dude ranch don’t stop there. Some ranches offer overnight pack trips, rodeos, target shooting, zip lining and white water rafting.

Enjoy exclusive fishing
Casting your line has never been more relaxing than at a dude ranch. The vast acres on these private properties often include secluded rivers and ponds ripe with fish. Forget about battling overcrowded hot spots — the water will be all yours.

Embrace an R&R mindset
While the unique dude ranch activities will keep you busy, there comes a time when cowboys and cowgirls just want a little rest and relaxation. Fortunately, many ranches now offer luxury spa services so you can enjoy a little pampering.

Bond over some friendly competition
Looking for a fun way to connect with your family and other guests? Friendly competition can be found in many forms on dude ranches, from roping contests to talent shows. If lassoing a speeding calf isn’t your forte, you can sing, tap or joke your way to local stardom in a talent show.

There are a lot of dude ranches to choose from and The Dude Ranchers' Association can help you find the perfect one to suit your family’s unique personality. Visit www.duderanch.org or call 866-399-2339 to work with someone directly to find the dude ranch right for you and your family.

A New Year's resolution you can stick to

(BPT) - It’s time again when millions faithfully pledge to better themselves by making numerous New Year’s resolutions. Some estimates report more than 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only about 8 percent achieve their goals. Happy New Year, indeed.

The typical list of New Year’s resolutions include: losing weight, working out more, quitting smoking, getting a better job, spending less and saving more.

Not surprisingly, missing on everyone’s top 10 checklist is an important resolution that’s incredibly easy to achieve: checking your tires monthly and maintaining them. “Even though tires are the only part of a vehicle touching the road and play a valuable role in our everyday lives, they usually go unnoticed,” says Bob Abram, product planning manager for Yokohama Tire Corporation, manufacturer of everything from ultra-high performance tires for passenger cars and SUVs to tires for buses and trucks.

“Year round, tires have an enormous impact on our driving. They influence the braking, steering, comfort, handling, fuel efficiency and driving safety of every vehicle. Making sure the tread is in good shape and your tires are properly inflated helps increase traction on wet and icy roads, which is especially important during the winter season.”

However, to keep your tires in tip-top shape for better stopping distance and control, you routinely have to check them to make sure they are properly inflated. “Tire pressure is critical,” says Abram. “When a tire is underinflated, the car’s weight rests more on the tire’s shoulders than its center. That not only causes poor fuel economy, but also uneven wear.”

Abram says knowing more about your tires — including which ones are best for your vehicle — will ensure a better, longer-lasting ride. “At Yokohamatire.com you can easily find out which tires work best for what you drive, plus details on how to maintain them. For example, if you drive a crossover, SUV or minivan, you can learn about a tire like the GEOLANDAR G055, which is specifically engineered for the most common and demanding uses of those vehicles.”

Abram says start the year right by pledging to take care of your tires to enhance vehicle control and maximize safety. His tire care New Year’s resolution tips include:

* Checking your tire pressure at least once a month. Consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual or placard on the driver’s door to determine proper tire pressure. Tire pressure should be checked when the tires are cold.

* Rotating your tires regularly promotes even wearing of tread. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.

* Checking your alignment at least once a year or sooner, especially if the vehicle is pulling to one side. This will help avoid uneven wear on tire tread. Tire balance should also be monitored.

* Replacing the tire before the tread wears down below 2/32 of an inch. A quick and easy tread test involves placing a penny into the grooves of the tire. If Lincoln’s head is completely visible, the tires should be replaced.

For more tire care and safety tips visit www.yokohamatire.com/tires-101 or www.rma.org.

5 tips to protect yourself from cybercrime...

(BPT) - Travel season is upon us, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is among the busiest of the year, with more than 98 million people traveling throughout the season last year. These busy, unassuming travelers could be a hacker’s ideal target, as more than half of respondents in a 2015 survey say that they rarely take precautions like changing online banking or financial account passwords regularly.

“Cybercrime can be at an all-time high during the holiday season, especially as busy consumers move from place to place and don’t take the same precautions with their portable devices that they might normally have at home,” says Dr. Kenneth L. Williams, Ph.D., cyber expert and professor in the College of Engineering & Information Sciences at DeVry University. “Ill-informed travelers are a hacker’s ideal target, so travelers must be accountable for their own protection.”

With travel booking on mobile devices becoming increasingly popular and travelers’ near-constant smart phone use on the road, the threat continues to rise. Today, more than 16 million mobile devices in circulation are infected with some form of malware, a 25 percent increase over the past two years. This high number of malware infections is often due to a gap in knowledge on how consumers can protect themselves from a cyber criminal’s attack.

Dr. Williams offers these tips for travelers to protect themselves from cybercrime this holiday season:

  • Use Personal Hotspots: Do not use public Wi-Fi networks as these can be a landmine for cyber hackers, and instead opt to use your phone or tablet’s personal hotspot.
  • Be Mindful on Public Networks: Don’t share credit card information over hotel networks, like on-demand menus or hotel services, since these systems are easy for hackers to access.
  • Shutdown Wireless Services You Aren’t Using: Shut down wireless services, like Bluetooth, if you do not need them.
  • Don’t Leave Your Devices Unattended: Protect your devices like cash when you’re in public places like hotels and resorts; thieves and hackers always go where the money is.
  • Charge with Caution: While convenient, avoid charging your mobile devices from a computer or charging station you do not control, like at an airport terminal.

“In today’s economy, no one is safe in any irregular circumstance when it comes to their cyber activity,” says Dr. Williams. “New and seasoned travelers alike need to take a step back and notice the new opportunities cyber criminals now have to steal their data.”

To avoid being a statistic as one of the 4,000 cyber-attacks that happen each day, holiday travelers must take the right precautions to protect their personal data this holiday season.

Is warming your engine a winter must? 5 tips...

(BPT) - Warming up his car for a few minutes before heading to work is a winter morning routine for Steve Bailey. “I hate getting into a cold car, so letting it warm up for five minutes is as important for me as for the vehicle,” says Bailey, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“My car is parked outside and I think it runs better after idling for a while, especially on below-zero mornings,” he says.

Plenty of cold-climate folks share Bailey’s winter car-care philosophy. But advancements in engine technology is reducing the need to idle, even in colder temperatures. According to many auto industry experts, the efficiency of today’s fuel-injected engines makes winter idling nearly unnecessary for most cars. U.S. Department of Energy experts report driving a gas-powered vehicle warms it twice as fast as idling it, and most auto manufacturers recommend starting your car, then driving slowly after only about 30 seconds of idling.

Excessive idling also wastes fuel and adds harmful emissions to the atmosphere. Many states and municipalities have enacted idling restrictions to curb auto emissions and minimize human exposure to carbon monoxide and other noxious exhaust gases.

Instead of warming your car each morning this winter, you’ll be better off taking time now to winterize your vehicle. AAA recommends checking these five key areas:

1. Consider an oil change. “Motor oil is one of the most important fluids in a car, so it’s important to go into winter knowing you’ve got clean, high-quality oil to keep the engine lubricated, even in frigid temperatures,” says Andrew Hamilton, technical services manager for Cenex brand lubricants.

Deciding whether to change your car’s oil type before temperatures plunge depends on the number of miles you drive and the type of motor oil you use. “Traditional mineral-based oils tend to thicken in cold temperatures, which can cause unnecessary engine wear,” says Hamilton. “They also need to be changed more often than newer synthetic-blend or full-synthetic oils. Full synthetic oils, like Cenex Maxtron 5W-30, flow better at low temperatures, for easier cold startups, and they provide longer performance, taking most cars up to 10,000 miles between oil changes.”

Not sure which oil to buy? Hamilton recommends using the online vehicle and equipment lookup tool found at Cenex.com. “Find your vehicle’s make and model, and the tool will give you engine oil recommendations that match its maintenance needs.”

2. Check tire pressure. Properly inflated tires maximize traction on wet or icy roads and help protect against wheel damage from potholes.

3. Test your battery. Batteries usually give little notice before dying. Since cold temperatures can reduce power by up to 50 percent, batteries that have been used for three years or more should be tested. Make sure posts and connections are free of corrosion. Remove any corrosion with a solution of baking soda and water, using a small wire brush.

4. Top off antifreeze. Make sure your car’s radiator contains the proper amount of a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. You can check the composition of radiator fluid using an inexpensive tester, available at auto parts stores. Be sure to check the antifreeze label to see if the product you are buying is premixed.

5. Inspect wipers and fluid level. Shorter days and precipitation ranging from snow and ice to sleet and rain pose visibility challenges in winter. Make sure wiper blades are in good condition and replace them if they’re more than a year old. Be sure the windshield washer fluid reservoir is filled with no-freeze washer fluid.

For additional automotive maintenance tips and an opportunity to nominate someone for free fuel this winter, visit Cenex.com.


4 smart ways to avoid unhealthy eating while...

(BPT) - No one wants to come home from vacation packing extra pounds in addition to great souvenirs and fond memories. Yet even the most dedicated, healthy eater can find it difficult to maintain good dietary habits while traveling. New surroundings, new cuisines, a need for convenience and all that appetite-building activity can tempt you into making poor dining choices. Nevertheless, it is possible to stay on track while on the road.

“Just because you’re on vacation, it doesn’t mean your food conscience — that little voice inside that tells you what’s healthy or unhealthy to eat — needs to go on vacation, too,” says Millie Wilson, a registered dietician with My Fit Foods, a unique retail concept that specializes in handcrafted, fresh, grab-and-go meals as well as meal-planning services. “In fact, when you’re on a trip, eating well is even more important so you can feel energized and healthy, and able to enjoy every moment of your vacation.”

However, healthier dining while on vacation doesn’t have to mean sacrificing flavor. Here are four tips to help ensure you make better food choices while still savoring the fun of your trip:

1. Don’t delay dining

With so many things to see and do on your vacation, it’s easy to forget to eat — until you find yourself so hungry you’ll eat just about anything. Extreme hunger is a recipe for binging and unhealthy choices.

“After about three hours without food, blood sugar begins to fall,” Cleveland dietician Amy Jamieson-Petonic says on WebMD. “Once you’ve crossed the five-hour mark, your blood sugar begins to plummet, and you grab whatever you can to refuel.”

Instead of letting your hunger reach crisis point, try to stick to your regular dining schedule. Pack some healthy snacks in your travel tote or handbag to tide you over in case you get hungry between meals.

2. Map out healthy meals

Just as you planned other aspects of your trip — the sights you’ll see, how you’ll get there, etc. — it’s important to plan meals, too. Make a map of where and when you will eat to avoid unhealthy temptations.

Resources like HealthyDiningFinder.com can help you locate restaurants that serve healthy and delicious fare, like My Fit Foods. The retail concept is the first-ever restaurant to have its entire menu certified to meet Healthy Dining’s nutrition criteria.

With more than 50 locations in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Illinois, My Fit Foods serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and specializes in handcrafted grab-and-go meals made with fresh and flavorful ingredients. The menu emphasizes lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fat, making it easy – and delicious - to stay on track while traveling. Visit www.myfitfoods.com to learn more.

3. Avoid liquid calories

It’s fine to indulge with a little imbibing, but avoid going overboard and look for lighter options. Cocktails can be loaded with calories; a pina colada can pack more than 600 calories and a Long Island Iced Tea can ring in at nearly 800 calories! Since those calories are in liquid form — and taste so good — it’s easy to consume a lot of them at a time and not realize the impact until you step on the scale later.

Choose less calorie-intense alcoholic options such as wine, light beer, a rum and Coke (about 65 calories), gin with diet tonic (115 calories) or a cosmopolitan (150 calories).

4. Walk, hike, bike, swim and jog it off

Maintaining your physical activity level can help keep you in the healthful mindset you need in order to make better food choices. But who wants to take the time to exercise while on vacation? You do — and you don’t have to spend a single minute in the hotel gym to get in plenty of physical activity. Many fun things to do on vacation also involve beneficial exercise.

Walking is one of the best ways to see and experience a new location, and it’s a great way to offset any extra calories you might consume on your trip. Whenever possible, get out of the car and walk through the city or town you’re visiting. Go for a long, brisk walk on the beach, climb that challenging nature trail, frolic in the surf, climb that mountain or bike through town. It’s always possible to find ways to incorporate everyday exercise into your vacation activities.

Making better dining choices while on vacation can be as simple as planning ahead, trying new things and listening to your food conscience.

Photo courtesy of My Fit Foods.

Wonderful water: How hydrotherapy can improve...

(BPT) - If you’ve promised yourself you’ll become a new, healthier you in the New Year, good for you! You’ll probably work to improve your eating habits, exercise more and reduce stress. You might also consider a time-honored, effective tactic that’s resurfaced among health-minded Americans — hydrotherapy.

Ancient people in the Middle East, Asia and North America all practiced hydrotherapy in the form of warm baths, steam rooms and sweat lodges. Many modern hydrotherapy techniques are rooted in the work of a 19th century Bavarian monk, who believed swimming in cold rivers a few times a week helped cure his patients from a variety of ills. Modern hydrotherapy can be much more luxurious and still prove effective.

Hydrotherapy is used to address a variety of health concerns, from simple stress relief and easing sore or strained muscles, to slowing inflammation, boosting hormonal function and improving circulation to internal organs. It can also be combined with massage to deliver even more health benefits.

Hydrotherapy employs both hot and cold water, and sometimes both in sequence. Typical experiences include saunas and steam baths, foot baths, compresses and showers, including Vichy showers. Hydrotherapy pioneers like Kohler Waters Spa – owned by Kohler Co., a company that has been helping people use water to improve their lives for more than 100 years – are continually introducing new, innovative hydrotherapy experiences. These treatments combine the health benefits of traditional hydrotherapy techniques with modern enhancements that enrich the relaxation and wellbeing of the patient.

While you can do basic hydrotherapy elements at home, treatments delivered by a professional can also be a valuable part of your overall wellness plan in the New Year. Here are some to consider:

Vichy shower — The Vichy shower experience allows one to relax while enjoying a cascade of water over the body. At the Kohler Waters Spa, the Lavender Rain service combines a custom Vichy shower with lavender-infused full-body exfoliation, warm cocooning and scalp, facial and foot massages with warm stones. While receiving a Vichy treatment typically involves the therapist adjusting temperature and pressure by hand before directing the shower over your body, Kohler’s Vichy is fully automated. Therapists are able to set temperature and pressure through a control panel. This means the therapist never has to take his or her hands off the guest in order to adjust water pressure or temperature while the treatment is underway.

Warm and cool temperatures — Some hydrotherapy experiences leverage the power of warm and cool temperatures to enhance muscle relaxation and detoxification, reduce inflammation and boost metabolism. Kohler’s Citrus Reviver achieves this combination of effects with a grapefruit-scented scalp massage, detoxifying foot treatment and full-body exfoliation (using cool elements) while the guest lays under a warm Vichy shower. An anti-stress pressure point facial massage and cool stone eye treatment enhance the relaxation, and a refreshing citrus moisturizer concludes the experience.

Steam — Saunas and steam baths are among the oldest forms of hydrotherapy. The heat from a sauna dialates blood vessels and can improve circulation. Steam can also help open airways and improve respiration, increasing blood oxygen levels. Because a steam bath or sauna also induces you to sweat, they’re thought to help release toxins from the body.

Blended treatments — Many modern hydrotherapy experiences also incorporate other wellness techniques such as massage and exfoliation. Kohler’s Bamboo Contour Drizzle incorporates a custom Vichy shower with exfoliating bamboo and massage performed with bamboo cylinders, warm ginger oil and a slimming serum to stimulate circulation.

As you’re making plans to incorporate hydrotherapy into your New Year’s wellness routines, keep in mind resorts like Destination Kohler, which offer a truly immersive relaxation experience. In addition to leading edge hydrotherapy experiences at Kohler Waters Spa, the resort offers world-renowned golf, yoga, nature trails and a variety of relaxing activities in five-star, five-diamond accommodations. Visit www.DestinationKohler.com to learn more.





New technology makes winter driving safer

(BPT) - Wherever you are in the United States, winter is coming, and for some parts of the country it’s already here. That brings festivities, good cheer, and in at least 70 percent of the country, snow and ice on the roads. While you may think those big, old plow trucks look like something vaguely Jurassic and definitely old fashioned, there is an awful lot of high tech stuff in those plows, helping to keep our roads safe and traffic moving during these winter months.

Of course, all vehicles are a lot more high-tech than they were 10 years ago, but the whole winter maintenance field is undergoing a bit of a revolution with respect to technology. That new technology is beginning to have a profound and beneficial effect not only on your local streets department or highway agency, but also on the safety of the roads in winter, and the ease with which we can travel on them. Salting and plowing can reduce crashes by up to 88 percent in winter storm conditions, and that is a level of safety we can all appreciate.

Some of those changes can be quite obvious to us, as in the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) “Track a plow” website. On that website, anyone can see in near real time where any of the Iowa DOT trucks are located. For many of those trucks, you can also view a photograph taken through the windshield of the truck, which is updated every five minutes, so you get a real idea of what the actual road conditions look like. You can also see which trucks are applying materials to the road (and whether it is a solid or a liquid) and in what quantities. As Dr. Anna Arvidsson of VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, said of the website, “Wow, that is so cool. I could not even get access to historical data from snowplows in Sweden. And here I can see temperatures both air and surface and spread amount.”

The value of this sort of system to road users is pretty obvious — we can see what the roads are like for ourselves along the route we are planning on taking, and thus make a well-informed decision as to whether we should allow more time for our trip, or perhaps simply stay home. The City of Chicago has a similar system that allows city residents (and anyone else who is interested) to see where the city plows are in near real time.

The benefits of the system extend to commercial transportation as well. A severe winter storm that closes down roads across a whole state may cost the economy up to $700 million per day, so knowing the conditions of the roads can be very important.

But there is another area in which technology is bringing huge changes in winter maintenance, and that is in the whole arena of managing resources. Increasingly, the salt spreaders on the back of those plow trucks are computer controlled, and the computers track not just how much material they are putting down on the road, but where they are placing it, so environmentally sensitive areas can be protected more effectively.

These devices are also tracking the condition of the road surface itself, measuring the pavement temperature (which, much more so than the air temperature determines how effective salt will be when it is placed on the pavement, and guides how much salt should be applied) and in some cases, even measuring the grip of the pavement (how slippery it is) and using that information directly to adjust the application rate.
This new technology allows agencies to provide the level of service on the roads the public wants and needs, while controlling costs and essentially eliminating any environmental concerns about salt use. Kevin Hensley, the stormwater supervisor for the City of West Des Moines, noted new technology allows their agency to manage their activities much better because they can measure what they are doing so much more effectively. “If we can measure it, then we can manage it so much better,” he says.

Better management has some real bottom line benefits for taxpayers, too. “We have decreased our per-storm maintenance costs by between 30 and 50 percent while providing an improved level of service to our community,” says Bret Hodne, the director of Public Works for the City of West Des Moines. Those sorts of savings will keep you feeling warm and toasty inside, no matter how chilly the winter weather gets!

Survey says Americans don't hesitate to...

(BPT) - If you’re among the millions of Americans who relish seeing loved ones during the holidays, there’s good news and bad news. The good: you’ll get a chance to visit with family and friends, since 66 percent of Americans say they plan to travel this holiday season. The bad: 100 percent of them will be taking their germs with them.

A recent Crowdtap survey of more than 1,000 people, conducted by Robitussin, revealed some interesting tidbits about holiday travel and how Americans handle germs, including:

* While the majority (82 percent) worry about getting sick during holiday travels, only 48 percent said they would reconsider traveling if they were sick or felt they were getting sick, and only 35 percent would actually cancel their plans.

* Sixty-eight percent said their own cold or flu has totally ruined a family holiday gathering and 21 percent said the illness of a family member has spoiled a holiday get-together.

* Americans greet loved ones with physical signs of affection, which only adds to the spread of germs, including hugs (40 percent), kisses on the cheeks (22 percent), handshakes (13 percent) and even kisses on the lips (6 percent). Just 12 percent go with a safe “hi” and wave.

“The holidays aren’t just the season of giving gifts and cheer, they’re also the season of giving germs,” says Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona. “When people block a cough by holding a hand over their nose or mouth, they’re actually concentrating the virus on their hands. Those hands then touch seatbelts, door handles, airplane trays and countless other objects that others will come in contact with when traveling. Anytime you have a lot of people together in a confined space – a family gathering or in route to one – germs are going to spread like wildfire.”

Since sickness is likely to be widespread after such an increased sharing of germs, 17 percent of holiday travelers said they wanted their cold or flu medication to suppress their cough and 14 percent want the relief to last for 12 hours. A cough medicine, such as new Robitussin 12 Hour Cough Relief formula, relieves cough symptoms all day and all night during holiday travels.

Gerba offers some advice to help Americans protect themselves from cold and flu during holiday travels — and the rest of the winter:

Be aware of germ risks while on the road

Plenty of Americans will fly, take a bus or travel by train to visit loved ones during the holidays. While public transportation may be convenient, it’s also a germy way to travel. Taking a bus increases your risk of catching a respiratory infection six times, researchers have found influenza viruses on airplane trays and studies show trains are the most germ-filled mode of public transportation, Gerba notes. Americans seem aware of the risks; 38 percent said public transportation such as a plane or bus is the worst place to be sick with a cold or flu.

“There’s no time to disinfect surfaces in an airplane between flights, so you are always flying with someone else’s germs,” he says. “Most of the risk for getting a cold or flu on a plane is the person you sit next to and the people in the row in front and back of you, because of the way the air flows in airplanes.”

Hygiene is key to a healthy holiday season

Good hygiene is even more vital during the holidays, when families and friends come together and bring their germs from all over the world. It’s possible to pick up germs during your travels and transmit them to loved ones before you actually start to feel ill.

“Hand washing and hand sanitizers are probably the best defense to reduce your odds of getting a cold or flu by half, especially after being in public areas,” Gerba says.

Try to avoid shaking hands and hugging or kissing anyone who has a cold. Push buttons with your knuckles and use a paper towel or sanitizing wipe to cover door knobs and bathroom stall latches before you touch them.

If you do contract a cough, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, and use a trusted cold remedy, such as Robitussin Maximum Strength Severe Multi-Symptom Cough, Cold & Flu, to relieve a variety of symptoms.

“Protecting yourself from a cold or the flu doesn’t mean you have to give up seeing loved ones for the holidays,” Gerba says. “Practice good hygiene and take steps to protect yourself — and you can enjoy the company of your family and friends without worrying about feeling under the weather.”


5 simple tips to travel like an expert

(BPT) - Wouldn’t you love to take an expert traveler with you on every trip? Someone who would know exactly what to do in every situation? Someone who could get you where you needed to be as quickly as possible? Well, you can’t always choose who your travel partners are, but you can make sure you’re aware of the latest travel tips and tricks.

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, there’s a lot of opportunity for stress. Flying, staying in hotels and navigating your destination can all be a hassle. Make jet-setting a little easier with this insider knowledge:

Complete a before-you-go checklist

A few days in advance, make a checklist of all the important to-do items you’ll need to accomplish before you embark on your travels. This list should include locating your passport and necessary documents, confirming reservations, calling your bank and credit card companies to let them know where you’ll be, and tending to your household needs. Your trip will be off to a seamless start when you ensure everything is taken care of from the get-go.

Always carry-on if you can

Take advantage of the ability to carry a smaller suitcase on the plane with you. Invest in a reliable, carry-on sized roller bag that will work no matter what kind of trip you’re taking. This not only drives you to pack efficiently, it also saves you the hassle of ever having to check a bag.

Innovate on your transportation

When you finally arrive at your destination, the last thing you want to do is figure out how to get from A to B, especially at the airport. These days, smartphones make getting a ride more convenient than ever. The ridesharing app Lyft aims to eliminate traffic congestion and give people safe, easy and affordable transit alternatives for getting around. “I’ve used Lyft during all my layovers for the past two years,” says Las Vegas flight attendant, Cheryl Ross. “It’s great for airport travel as well as a safe solution to drinking and driving when you’re out at night. The drivers are people from the community and they often make the best tour guides.” Best of all, payment is done directly through the app, so no need to worry about carrying cash. If you’re a new user, you can redeem $20 off your first ride with the code FLYLYFT20.

Speak up about special occasions

When staying in a hotel, make sure to mention if you’re celebrating a special occasion at the front desk. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon, the hotel might just upgrade your accommodations. Additionally, if you’re staying at a larger chain hotel, it never hurts to join their free loyalty program. If they know you’re a member, you could receive extra perks like early check in and late check out.

Act like a local to stay safe

When you’re in an unfamiliar city, it’s always important to take extra safety precautions. However, one of the best ways to make sure you don’t become a target is to maintain a confident attitude. It’s often the times when people are unsure, lost or stressed out when they run into trouble while traveling. Remain calm, cool and collected and always walk like you know where you are, even if you don’t.

Follow these tips and you’ll be telling stories from your adventurous travels, instead of waiting in line and calling around to find your lost luggage. For more information and travel tips, visit lyft.com/airports.

5 tips for stress-free holiday travel

(BPT) - Americans took more than 11 million flights in November and December 2014, according to the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, and many experts believe that number is on track to grow this year. If you’re worried about long lines and potential flight delays, these five tips should help make your experience as stress-free as possible.

1. Pack wisely. Even the most seasoned travelers have an opportunity to optimize their packing process. For example, shipping gifts ahead of time will save precious bag space and help you avoid fees. If you do pack gifts, keep them unwrapped as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may need to access them during screening. Developing two packing lists — one for your carry-on luggage (be sure electronics and liquids are easily accessible) and one for your checked bag — may minimize the need for last-minute reshuffling at the airport. Finally, a small padlock may help prevent theft, but make sure it’s TSA-approved or it may not make it to your destination in one piece.

2. Skip the line. Many people know printing their boarding pass or downloading a digital copy to their phone may help expedite flight check-in. However, fewer people take advantage of opportunities to reduce time spent at security and customs checkpoints. If you’re traveling domestically, sign up for TSA PreCheck at www.tsa.gov for expedited security screening. If you’re traveling internationally, sign up for Global Entry at www.cbp.gov for expedited U.S. customs and border protections clearance. In either case, sign up as soon as possible, as the application process can take several weeks.

3. Stay connected. As the number of travelers with smartphones continues to rise, mobile applications are becoming more popular as travel tools. Take a few minutes before your trip to research and download the apps most relevant to you. Also, remember that while convenient, mobile charging stations may threaten the security of your phone’s private data. Instead, consider purchasing a power bank to help ensure you have enough juice to wait out potential flight delays.

4. Stay healthy. Nothing ruins a trip like getting sick, so take preventive measures in the weeks before your trip — such as getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and exercising appropriately — to help boost your immune system. Consider a seasonal flu vaccine, as according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity peaks between December and February. Additionally, ask your doctor about safe sitting exercises that may reduce the risk of blood clots or other flight-related conditions.

5. Protect yourself. Finally, if you didn’t purchase travel insurance when you booked your flight, it may not be too late to do so. Insurance may usually be purchased up to 24 hours before your departure date and a variety of options are available. “Travelers are smarter than ever when it comes to finding great travel deals, but some are still forgetting to protect themselves financially with travel insurance,” said Jeff Rutledge, CEO, AIG Travel. “It’s important travelers prepare for unexpected events, especially during the holidays, such as trip cancellation, interruption, lost or stolen luggage, and emergency medical issues.” Many travel insurance products also offer comprehensive support services for travelers. For example, most offerings in the Travel Guard suite of products from AIG Travel feature concierge services, which are available as soon as a policy is purchased and may provide assistance for anything from event ticketing to locating a gift wrapping service. 

For more travel tips and information about travel insurance options that might be right for you this holiday season or in the new year, visit www.travelguard.com.

5 ways to make sure your pet has a safe holiday

(BPT) - Though everyone cherishes the holidays as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family, they don’t always feel like a vacation. AAA estimates that more than 98.6 million people travel over the holidays each year — meaning that neither trains, planes, or automobiles are going to protect you from the crowds.

Hosting guests isn’t a breeze either, and no amount of online shopping seems to eliminate the need for a last-minute trip to the mall. Whether you’re traveling across the country to visit in-laws or staying close to home, it’s important not to forget about your pets. To ensure a safe, enjoyable season for your four-legged friends, keep these five pet safety tips in mind from the experts at DogVacay.

1. Be smart about stocking stuffers. Filling up your pet’s stocking can be fun, but it’s important not to get carried away. When buying special treats for the occasion, remember to check for any recalls. When shopping for toys, avoid items that have stuffing or fuzz that pups can get into and eat. If you live in a city or have neighbors, you should also be careful when buying anything that makes a lot of noise in case your pet gets carried away with the holiday spirit. Finally, remember your pet can overeat, too — keep treats in moderation to avoid an upset tummy.

2. Don’t celebrate with a bang. New Year’s Eve is a popular time for fireworks, and as pretty as they are, many animals are frightened by the loud noises. Shield your pet from these outside distractions by closing the curtains and playing some familiar background noises — like the stereo or television — to dampen the fireworks outside and soothe your pet’s anxiety.

3. Research your boarding options. When it comes time to travel, many pet owners have no choice but to leave their pets at home. Kennels can be expensive and a poor fit for your pet, while family and friends may not be dog-and-cat people. DogVacay is a convenient and inexpensive alternative that helps pet owners find local, qualified and insured caretakers near them so their pet can get the love and attention it deserves. No matter what option you choose, be sure to read online reviews and talk to other pet owners that have used the service.

4. Decorate without the dangerous decor. Decorations in homes with pets must be planned with care. Poinsettias, for example, are a holiday staple, but unfortunately they are highly toxic for cats and dogs alike. Tinsel can also be harmful if swallowed, and causes digestion problems in both dogs and cats. Before hanging any decoration, make sure other pet owners haven’t experienced complications. If you do find poinsettias and other holiday ephemera irresistable, make sure it’s placed high and out-of-reach. Same goes for holiday sweets and things like chocolate. No one wants to spend Christmas dinner at the vet.

5. Keep an eye on doggie-doors. When guests arrive at your home, doors will be opening and closing constantly. If you’re worried about a potential jail break, it may be helpful to download a pet tracking app like Tagg, which attaches to your pet’s collar and lets you track them. That way you can find your pet at any point in the festivities, even if they do manage to get loose outdoors.

The holidays are an exciting time for families everywhere and with just a little extra planning on your part, you can make this season enjoyable for all the people and pets in your family. To learn more about how DogVacay can help make your holiday planning easier, visit DogVacay.com/how-it-works.

4 festivals you can't miss in Suzhou, China

(BPT) - True adventure seekers do not just look to sit on the beach during their next expedition. They aim to fully immerse themselves into a brand new and fascinating culture. If this resonates with your thought process, it’s time to pick your next exciting destination. While you’re likely constantly flooded by information for cities near and far offering impressive tourist attractions, the million dollar question is: How do you choose the best spot?

Each year, Suzhou, China is home to hundreds of festivals and events, showcasing the culture and diversity of its deep history, which dates back more than 2,500 years. Located in southeastern China, at the center of the Yangtze River Delta and only 60 miles from Shanghai, Suzhou is one of the most popular tourist destinations within China.

There are so many reasons to travel to Suzhou, from UNESCO World Heritage gardens to iconic museums, but it is the thrilling festivals that make this city stand out. When choosing your travel dates, consider aligning them with one of these intriguing events:

Hanshan Temple Bell Ringing Festival

The Hanshan Temple Bell Ringing Festival, which takes place each year on December 31, welcomes the New Year in Suzhou. The Hanshan Temple in Suzhou is one of the 10 most famous temples in China, at more than 1,400 years old. According to the Suzhou legend, each layman has 108 annoyances or inconveniences per year, and each bell tolling can help them dispel one annoyance. Therefore, a person who listens to all 108 bell tolls on the night of the festival will have good luck and happiness in the coming year. For this festival, thousands gather inside and outside the temple to listen to the bell tolls and pray for the upcoming year. Additionally, visitors can taste local delights and experience a wide variety of activities and performances happen during and in between the ringing moments.

The Official Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)

The Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is an even more lively celebration than that of the Western New Year. This holiday season typically falls in February or March and lasts over a week. In 2016, the Chinese New Year is February 8, and with the Spring Festival lasting from February 7 to February 13. This is a time for families to come together and start fresh. They clean their houses, have elaborate dinners, wear new clothes and celebrate with gifts. The high point of this festival is a spectacular fireworks display, which signals the end of the celebration.

Dragon Boat Festival

Although celebrated throughout China, Suzhou hosts one of the country’s largest Dragon Boat Festivals on Lake Jinji. In 2016, the event starts on June 9 and runs until June 11. Festivities during the Dragon Boat Festival involve eating Zongzi, a traditional Chinese sticky rice dumpling, and crowds of locals and people from all parts of the world cheer for their favorite brightly-colored, dragon-themed boats while drumming out rhythms to accompany the race. It is said that the winning team ensures a good harvest and prosperity for their village.

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Chinese Moon Festival, is one of the most important annual festivals for the Chinese people. This lively festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th Chinese lunar month every year and in 2016 it corresponds to September 15. Full of joy and happiness, friends and loved ones gather to celebrate a time when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Celebrations include indulging in traditional moon cakes and gathering at the Chongyuan Temple for a special ceremony where monks light every light in the temple to pray for good luck. Many locals also light candles and gather in parks as an offering to the Moon Goddess, asking for a happy and healthy life. The best places to get involved with the celebration are The Stone Lake and Baodai Bridge in Suzhou.

With rich history and unique cultural experiences demonstrated by these festivals, there’s always something to do in Suzhou. Plan the trip of a lifetime to become an integral part in any of these cherished events. For a complete list of festival and events and to learn more visit traveltosuzhou.com.

9 ways to travel smart during the holidays
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(BPT) - The holiday season is quickly approaching, and is notoriously one of the most heavily traveled seasons. From planning to packing and getting to your final destination, these nine smart tips will help you enjoy the journey wherever the holiday season takes you.

Alleviate data fees

An easy way to alleviate data fees on your mobile device while traveling – take screenshots or a photo of your maps and directions. This allows you to use your photo app to look at your maps without incurring data charges.

Pack a soft-side carry-on

Trying to fit your luggage in the overhead compartment on full flights during the busy holiday travel season can be like playing the game Tetris. Use flexible bags like duffels so you can squeeze your bag into that last small open space in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

Do a travel rewards double-take

The lead-up to the holidays is the perfect time to explore how to maximize your credit card rewards program. During November 2015, eligible Marriott Rewards cardholders earn double rewards on purchases with United and eligible United MileagePlus cardholders earn double miles when using their card on stays at Marriott. Visit www.chase.com/DoubleStayGo to learn more.

Travel the day of the holiday

The actual holiday is much less busy than the days prior, so try to catch a super early flight the day-of Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Not only will you have a smoother experience, but you could even find a cheaper seat to save some money in the process.

Keep gift wrap intact

If traveling with gifts remove from original packaging and rewrap to save space. Even though the TSA allows wrapped presents in both carry-ons and checked luggage, consider using a gift bag or holiday tin to make the contents more accessible in the event of a security check.
Liquid enforcement

Don’t toss your empty water bottle at the security checkpoint. Stick it in your carry-on or bring a collapsible water bottle from home.  Many airports now have filtered water filling stations, so you can snag a refill for free.
Don’t be that “guy”

Start to remove shoes, belts, and laptops while you're waiting in the security line. Also, look for the shortest security line, and if it’s not clear which one is shorter, go left. Most travelers go right or head for the center so lines on the left tend to be shorter.
Stay charged and connected

For a faster charge to your mobile device, switch it to “airplane mode”. Also, if you can’t find a wall outlet, keep in mind TVs most likely have a USB on the back that you could use in a pinch to charge your device.

Hotel concierge in the palm of your hand

Some hotels have introduced digital concierge services that put requests one touch away. You can make requests from extra towels and pillows, to airport pick-ups, right from your mobile device. Plus, most even have live chat features for quick answers to your questions.

Mancations in the Lone Star State

(BPT) - Football games, tailgating, barbecue and the onset of cooler temperatures make Texas the perfect destination for any fall guys getaway. Check out the top five reasons to plan your next “mancation” to the Lone Star State.

1. Miles and Miles of Barbecue

The highlight of every vacation is great food, and Texas has you covered for your next guy’s getaway. Check out the Texas BBQ Trail for the best routes to take to ensure you don’t go home hungry. Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, City Market in Luling and Cooper’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Mason continue to top everyone’s barbecue bucket list, along with newer favorites like Franklin BBQ in Austin and The Granary in San Antonio. Savor every delicious moment and get in line early, because at these local favorites the barbecue gets eaten up fast.

2. Quench your Thirst

There’s nothing better than an ice cold beer on a mild Texas fall day, so why not come discover where your favorite Texas brews are made? Established in 1909, the famous Spoetzl Brewery produces the national favorite Shiner beer and offers tours each weekday. The capital city of Austin is home to several breweries including 512 Brewing, an independent brewery whose tours include a free 512 pint glass; Hops & Grain, which gives tours of its East Austin locale six days a week; Independence Brewing Co., maker of the beloved Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout; Austin Beerworks, best known for its IPAs and can-only policy; and Jester King, whose farmhouse brewery opens its doors for tastings and tours on the weekends. For the oldest craft brewery in Texas, head to Saint Arnold brewery in Houston which offers tours Monday through Saturday.

If breweries aren’t your thing, the Lone Star State has a number of distilleries to choose from. Waco’s Balcones Distillery’s Baby Blue Whisky is the first Texas whisky on the market since prohibition, while bourbon fans can’t miss Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, the first legal bourbon distillery in Texas. For those who prefer vodka, head to the Deep Eddy Distillery for award-winning vodkas in a variety of fun and classic combinations. Austin Tour Company offers a roundtrip shuttle to the Dripping Springs distillery from the JW Marriott in downtown Austin, making it easy to responsibly enjoy the tour.

3. Wrangle the Wild West

Grab your boots and fulfill your cowboy dreams at one of Texas’ many dude ranches. Wildcatter Ranch in Graham offers the ‘It’s Never Too Late to Be a Cowboy’ package, allowing guests to rope, ride and even work cattle with seasoned wranglers. Bandera, the cowboy capital of Texas, is home to dozens of ranches that allow guests to have an authentic western experience. With horseback riding, rodeos, overnight campouts and meals around the campfire, you’ll get in touch with your inner cowboy in no time.

4. Texas Tailgating

For a different type of cowboy experience, catch a Dallas Cowboys football game at AT&T Stadium, the largest NFL stadium in terms of seating capacity, seating 85,000. Football is king in Texas, and whether you attend a Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, or a college football game at one the state’s 12 Division I programs, you’re sure to experience plenty of excitement. Aside from the game itself, food is the next most important aspect of football lifestyle. The parking lots surrounding Texas’ football stadiums are home to some of the biggest and best tailgates in the world, with fans staking out their spots and firing up their grills starting in the early morning.

5. Catch of the Day

Head to the Texas coast for a guy’s fishing expedition like no other. From Galveston, take any number of gulf or deep sea fishing charters either for a day’s worth of fun or an overnight trip. Mild fall temperatures present the perfect time for fishing, and charters include tour guides who are ready to help either expert anglers or novice fishermen. If your group sticks to a day trip, enjoy the rest of Galveston’s many attractions, including incredible seafood, miles of beaches, amusements at Galveston’s Pleasure Pier and rooftop bars in the downtown area.

Whether you prefer football, fishing, or anything in between, the ultimate guys weekend awaits you in Texas. For more information about travel experiences in the Lone Star State, visit www.TravelTex.com and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ecuador through artists' eyes

(BPT) - Mention South America, and most travelers envision the mysterious Amazon, the majestic Andes, the unmatched Galapagos Islands and the magnificent Pacific beaches. What many don’t know is you can enjoy these experiences and more, conveniently packaged in a country roughly the size of Colorado — Ecuador.               

This fall, 16 artists from the USA, Canada, UK and Germany discovered just that as part of the Feel Again Project, led by the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. The project invited international teams of artists to find inspiration in the diverse landscapes of Ecuador’s four main climatic regions — the Amazon, the Andes, the Galapagos Islands and the Pacific Coast.

“The amount of different landscapes and microclimates in such as small area really surprised me; the variation is quite staggering,” says Team UK artist, Conor MacNeill. “There’s so much to do across a manageable amount of landmass.”

The Amazon

Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, as reflected in the famed Amazon basin. The lush landscape offers visitors a chance to encounter an exotic range of land, water and arboreal life, including pigmy marmosets, two-toed sloths, scarlett macaws, pink river dolphins, piranha and jaguars.

For Team UK artists Jason and Keiko Hindley, the greatest inspiration came from the people working to preserve that biodiversity — particularly the indigenous Kichwa Añangu community, which runs the Napo Wildlife Centre. The Centre is a great destination for families, they say, with so much to see and do, and guides that adjust treks accordingly for different ages and fitness levels.

The Andes

Ecuador’s Andes region offers awe-inspiring highlands, dramatic valleys, colonial towns and breathtaking views. Team Germany members Steve Hanisch, Rocket & Wink, and Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad of Studio Yukiko recommend visitors immerse themselves in the colors of the region.

Their picks for the region’s most inspirational experiences are riding the luxurious Tren Crucero, a bright red, four-coach train that winds its way through the mountains, and taking a moment to just breathe while overlooking the still blue waters in the Quilotoa volcanic crater, more than 12,800 feet above sea level.

The Galapagos  

The Galapagos Islands are a living museum of evolution. The region includes 13 major islands, each with unique offerings. For Team USA artist Scott Pommier, uninhabited Española Island was the true stand out.

“We saw such incredible animals at such proximity,” he says. “You’re greeted by sea lions, brightly colored crabs and lava lizards all over the shore. You have to step over marine iguanas to make your way down the trail to one of the only places you can see the mating dance of the waved albatross. On the way there, you pass hooded and blue-footed boobies.”

The Pacific Coast

Forest, mangroves and beaches line Ecuador’s picturesque Pacific Coast. Here, travelers can catch a wave at more than 50 beaches, try the region’s African-influenced, seafood-based cuisine or sample chocolate made from locally grown cocoa, considered the world’s best.

Team Canada artists Rick Leong, Jesse Louttit and Jeff Bartlett each came away with unforgettable experiences to inspire their art. Louttit and Bartlett’s must-do lists include boating with dolphins, exploring the coastal town of Montañita, visiting a cocoa plantation and, of course, trying the chocolate.

“I think that the coast can offer different things to different kinds of travelers,” Leong says. “The luxury traveler will find places to relax and try amazing cuisine, and the budget traveler can head to Montañita to surf and hang out. I think it’s ideal for adventurers, who want to explore and discover.”

Learn more about the artists’ inspirational discoveries at FeelAgainProject.com and explore the many unforgettable experiences of Ecuador at ecuador.travel.

Car talk: Americans and their car conversations

(BPT) - Americans like company when they’re driving, as long as the talk isn’t centered on thorny topics. However, family talk — especially talk surrounding black sheep family members — is a favorite conversation topic. These were the recent findings in the latest Hankook Tire Gauge Index.

The Gauge asked drivers what they most like to talk about on the road. Despite the constant onslaught of reality television and politics in the media, only 4 percent were interested in reality TV and politics clocked in at just 10 percent.

With football season off to a rocking start and the holiday season looming, family seems to be on travelers’ minds, or at least some family. For 40 percent of Americans, personal or family gossip are the topics of choice during a commute or a weekend trip.

Regardless of the topic, Americans want their conversations conflict free, which may be why politics aren’t popular in-car banter. Thirty-five percent of Americans say getting into a heated argument is their biggest fear when with their driving buddy. Only slightly more tolerable than a conversation going off the rails in the front seat is the awkward silence 25 percent of Americans believe is worse than an argument.

More than any particular talking point, company makes the trip. The Gauge found 61 percent of Americans prefer to have a driving companion, and 38 percent say having someone to talk with is what they like best about having a companion in their car. If you’re the driver, pay more attention to your passengers than your phone. More than 40 percent of Gauge respondents worry about drivers who pay too much attention to their phones. Drivers can forget one element of good manners, though — don’t make eye contact with your passengers while you’re driving. That spooked a quarter of Americans, who would rather have drivers watch the road than them.

But before you get your buddies together and load up the car for a weekend road trip, make sure your car is ready. The transition to cooler fall temperatures and the effects of heavy summer driving season on your tires make it important to observe a few basic safety points as the winter months approach:

Check your tire pressure. Fall can bring rapid temperature changes from warm to cold, causing the air in your tires to contract, resulting in a loss of pressure. Check your tire pressure at least once a month and refer to your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended PSI range.

Check your tread for excessive wear from summer driving. Be sure you have tires with sufficient tread depth in case of an early season snow. To check, simply insert a penny into your tire's tread groove with Lincoln's head upside down and facing you. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, your tread depth is less than 2/32 inch and it's time to replace your tires.

Choose the right tire. Fall brings beautiful colors to the trees, but falling leaves can lead to slippery roads even before the first freeze or snowfall. All-season tires like Hankook’s Ventus S1 noble2 tire provide excellent all-season traction in wet and wintry conditions. In terms of timing, the first morning you can see your breath as steam means it’s about that time for your car to be equipped with all-season or winter tires.

Florida vacation ideas to make everyone happy

(BPT) - In one of the world’s great ironies, planning a vacation can be one of the most stressful and vacation-demanding activities you can take on — especially if you have kids. With everyone clamoring to do something different, finding the perfect spot can feel impossible. The simple solution? Choose a vacation destination that has something for everyone.

How does one reach this theoretical vacation utopia? Head to Central Florida (and no, we’re not talking about Disney — yet). We’re talking about Polk County, which sits smartly in the middle of the state, connecting you and your family to every “Florida” thing under the sun. Beaches, golf, theme parks, watersports — if you’ve seen it on a postcard, you can do it from Polk County. On top of reaching epic crowd-pleaser status, you’ll be able to do it all for less, without the traffic and tourist traps. Check out a few highlights from our “stay here, play everywhere” plan.

For the person who wants to golf: Streamsong

If you’re traveling with a golf enthusiast, do not leave Streamsong off your list. The resort boasts two courses considered masterpieces within the golf community: breathtaking landscapes designed for beautiful walkability by renowned architects Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Doak. Peppered with dramatic dunes, twisting fairways and verdant greens, Streamsong offers two of the best links-style golf courses in the country, according to Golf Digest.

Pro tip: Make a day of it. Treat yourself to an afternoon of self-renewal at the Acquapietra Spa, or add guided bass fishing and clay shooting to your day’s activities.

For the child in everyone: LEGOLAND Florida Resort

Did you know the largest LEGOLAND in the country is located in Winter Haven, Florida? More than 150 acres of this imagination-expanding theme park are waiting to be explored, featuring live shows, “pink-knuckle” roller coasters, a water park and dozens of other attractions. Although the park is geared towards kids 2-12, there’s definite appeal to anyone who grew up with these iconic plastic bricks.

Pro tip: For the full experience, spend a night at LEGOLAND’s new 152-room lakefront hotel. While parents relax, kids can work alongside Master Model Builders, hit the pool and hunt for treasure in their LEGO-themed rooms loaded with hidden surprises. Among other perks, you’ll beat the crowds with early admission to the park.

For the water lovers: The Lakes (all 550+ of them)

Central Florida has more than 135 square miles of lakes and a boatload of ways to enjoy them. Paddleboard through Winter Haven’s Chain, a family of sun-dappled lakes connected by a series of canals. Slice through swamp land in an airboat on Lake Kissimmee. Soar above the water on a gravity-defying flyboard. Looking for something more low key? Rent a pontoon boat, pack a picnic and enjoy a sunset cruise. We could keep going.

Pro tip: Anglers rejoice! Polk County is the Largemouth Bass Capital of the World.

For those in search of gators: Circle B Bar Reserve

The great thing about nature? It’s usually free to enjoy, which might sound extra appealing after a few days of $5 theme park waters. Walk, hike or bike through nature trails encircling lakeside habitats and cypress groves. Alligators, otters, bald eagles and marsh hares are common sights, and the entire reserve is consistently recognized as one of the best birdwatching locales in the state.

Pro tip: Ranked one of the Great Places to See Wildlife by USA Today, this place is a photographer’s dream. Want to know where the action is? Follow the telephoto lenses.

As promised, everything else

Rent a car and squeeze the most of your Sunshine State vacation. You’ll be able to hit Florida’s coastal beaches and major cities like Tampa and Orlando in about an hour.

* Go ahead, do Disney. Mickey’s famous parks and resorts are only a 30-minute drive away.

* Satisfy thrill seekers with some of the best rollercoasters in the country. Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens are each less than an hour away.

* Surf, sun and white-sand beaches are waiting for you on either coast.

* Flex your cultural muscle with great art museums in Tampa/St. Pete, including the largest collection of Salvador Dali works outside of Europe.

Head to visitcentralflorida.org for even more details and start planning today.

Articles last updated at Feb 06, 2016 01:37:41am.
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