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10 must-read books to inspire travel

(BPT) - A great book is an essential travel companion. But what if you are months from vacation, low on travel budget, or need inspiration for your next trip?

The Amazon Books Editors have you covered. They read hundreds of thousands of pages a year in order to curate lists of the best books for all kinds of readers.

"Whether you are planning your next vacation or just looking for an escape from your daily life, we have created a list of books that will inspire, educate and take you to a whole new world," said Chris Schluep, Amazon Books Editor.

Location specific reads: Have a destination in mind? After the plane tickets are purchased and the Airbnb confirmed, your next step should be to choose your book. The Amazon Books editors recommend the list below, inspired by some of the most popular travel destinations.

New York City

In the memoir Insomniac City, author and photographer Bill Hayes pays tribute to his relationship with Oliver Sacks, giving intimate, yet reverent insight into the man the "New York Times" called "the poet laureate of medicine." It's also a paean to one of the other loves of his life: New York City. Join Hayes as he gives you a completely different view of the city that never sleeps.

Alaska

Alaska offers beauty that lures travelers who long for adventure and untouched wilderness. Read "Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube" by Blair Braverman for fantastic insight on what it took for her to live in this unforgiving, yet breathtaking, landscape.

Rome

Margaret George brings the backstabbing, cutthroat politics of Roman rulers to vivid life through her atmospheric novel, "Confessions of a Young Nero." This book will transport you to the eternal city at a pivotal time in its history through the eyes of the legendary emperor.

England

If you're binge-watching the addictive PBS/Masterpiece drama "Victoria" and thinking about a trip to England as a result, check out the book on which the show is based: "Victoria" by Daisy Goodwin. Get ready to dust off your passport!

Hawaii

Want a tropical vacation in your own living room? Try out "Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of the Tiki." Hawaiian shirts are optional, but you'll be inspired to pull out the tiny umbrellas and swizzle sticks as you learn more about the lore and legend of tiki, a misunderstood movement in American cultural history.

Experiential travel reads: Many of the best books focus on the adventure of traveling itself. The books below will speak to the explorer in you!

Road tripping

"The Wangs vs. the World" by Jade Chang is about a wealthy Chinese-American family that loses it all and then decides to set out on an epic road trip. You'll laugh out loud as you join this family on this surprisingly hilarious ride, perhaps inspiring your own road trip adventure.

Off the beaten path

Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, "Atlas Obscura" celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. Through this book, you'll visit the dazzling glowworm caves in New Zealand, a baobob tree in South Africa that's so large it has a pub inside, and an eccentric bone museum in Italy.

Escape at home

Bill Bryson's collection, "The Best American Travel Writing 2016", begins by asking why people like to travel then sets out answering this question through the collected works of contributors who travel for different reasons. Whether traversing the Arctic by dogsled or strolling the streets of a fast-changing Havana, each story offers insights into the world and the human condition.

Low-budget, nature

It started as a far-fetched idea - to hike the entire length of the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline to draw attention to global warming. But an idea turns to an irresistible adventure in "Trespassing Across America," by Ken Ilgunas. This memoir is filled with colorful characters and tales of harrowing physical trials.

Girlfriends' getaway

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin takes readers on a cosmopolitan jaunt inspired by famous urban settings and the famous, groundbreaking women who explored them before her. Elkin charts a path between literature, art, history, and film and the relationships women have with these urban centers.

For additional travel reads, check out the Amazon Book Editors' favorites on Amazon.com.



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7 tips to conquer your packing challenges while...

(BPT) - Whether it's business travel, family road tripping or a romantic getaway, exploring new places is exciting. You may be counting down the days until you leave, but if there's one thing you dread, it's packing. Deciding what earns a spot in your suitcase is hard enough, let alone figuring out how you can fit it all in.

Do you look with envy at savvy jet-setters who seem to navigate airports with ease while only toting a small carry-on? It's because years of travel experience has taught them some packing tricks that make the process simple. Now you can use these same strategies to pack with ease no matter how near or far you plan to travel.

Select double-duty clothing items.

Check the weather for your destination so you pack only items appropriate for the forecast. You won't need that big sunhat if rain is coming. Want to take it one step further? Choose items that multitask. For example, a large scarf can be a stylish accessory and also be used as a blanket on the plane or at the beach.

Pack toiletries strategically.

If possible, only bring samples and travel sizes of items to save space. Then leave them behind at the end of the trip to open up luggage space to bring home mementos. To avoid luggage spills and explosions, place toiletries in plastic bags or add plastic wrap to the tops before screwing on the cap.

Choose time-saving tools.

Air drying hair takes forever and hotel hair dyers are often slow and unreliable, so pack a lightweight, folding dryer like the Panasonic EH-NA27-K Nanoe Compact Hair Dryer to streamline your beauty routine. The nanoe technology draws moisture from the air to create moisture-rich ions that penetrate each hair shaft and enhance hair's smoothness and shine. Need more incentive? The unique Quick-Dry Nozzle is designed to dry hair faster, so you can spend less time getting ready and more time enjoying your vacation.

Fold to prevent wrinkling.

To prevent wrinkles on delicate items, try wrapping them around soft, bulky items. For example, wrap a silk blouse or cotton trousers around a sweater. Avoid folding clothing any more than necessary. In fact, many people use a rolling method for packing clothes to save space and prevent wrinkles.

Utilize odd-shaped items.

Shoes take up a ton of luggage space, so strive to select no more than three pairs, and wear the heaviest or bulkiest pair while traveling. Place shoes along the sides or bottom to strengthen the bag and then stash items inside to maximize space (like socks, nylons and deodorant).

Eliminate makeup mayhem.

Only bring makeup essentials on a vacation and pack multi-use items such as a lipstick that can also be used as a blush. To prevent shadows and pressed powders from cracking, place a pressed cotton pad between the powder and the lid.

Grab a few plastic bags.

One of the most versatile things you can bring on a trip is also one many people forget: resealable plastic bags. Whether you need a bag for bringing toys down to the pool, a place to put dirty clothes throughout your trip, or something to place that soggy swimsuit in before you check out of the hotel, plastic bags are your secret weapon.



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Outdoor adventures offer out-of-this-world fun...

(BPT) -

When winter cold and snow force you indoors, you might dream of getting away to somewhere warm and sunny that offers plenty of energizing fun and a much-needed change in the weather. Planning for your spring and summer vacations is a great way to score some budget-friendly deals. It also helps you beat the winter blues by giving you something to look forward to.

But where to go, you might ask. One great option is Florida's Space Coast, a destination that, while renowned for its ties to the U.S. space program, also offers an astonishing abundance of adventure-filled, outdoor vacation activities.

If you're starting to explore your spring or summer vacation possibilities, here are some can't-miss things to do that make the Space Coast an out-of-this-world destination:

* Take a nighttime "bioluminescence" kayak tour along the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge or Cocoa Beach. These tours allow you to get up close and personal with some of the glowing creatures who magnificently inhabit the waters along Florida's Space Coast.

* With so many great beaches, the area is an ideal destination for surfers and other water sports enthusiasts. Here, you can visit the flagship Ron Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach - a 52,000-square-foot, multilevel store offering a huge selection of surf boards, swimming attire and other surf-brand apparel. Meanwhile, at the nearby Ron Jon Surf School, you can arrange a surfing lesson or even rent a paddleboard.

* Immerse yourself in nature at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 140,000-acre park that is home to at least 1,500 species of plants and animals, including alligators, manatees and a wide variety of birds. If the time of year is right, you can also take a guided nighttime Turtle Walk to observe sea turtles as they lay their eggs.

* The region is a paradise for birds, making it the perfect place to host the annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival, normally held early in the year. Bird-watching, or "birding," is just part of the fun at the festival, which also offers entertainment, unique dining experiences, special events and more.

* In Titusville, sign up for a Coast-to-Coast Bike Tour and get an up-close view of the region's vibrant wildlife areas and historic sites. Or, for an epic ride, venture out on your own along the Coast-to-Coast Connector Bike Trail.

* Get your adrenaline pumping with a zip line aerial tour. Brevard Zoo's Treetop Trek allows you to zip line, crawl or climb your way through acre after acre of lush Florida landscape.

* The Space Coast is one of the few places you can personally witness a rocket launching into space, and it is breathtaking. Rockets carrying satellites into orbit or transporting cargo to the International Space Station launch periodically throughout the year. You can find the launch schedule at SpaceCoastLaunches.com.

To learn more about Florida's Space Coast and plan your spring or summer getaway, head to visitspacecoast.com.



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Tips to avoid distracted driving

(BPT) - The pace of business never seems to stop, and thanks to the convenience of cell phones, many people work on the go, even while they’re driving. Yet cell phone use is one of the most common type of distracted driving, and it claims thousands of lives and causes thousands more injuries every year.

More than a quarter of all car crashes involve cell phone use, both hand sets and hands-free, the National Safety Council (NSC) reports. In 13 percent of fatal crashes, the drivers were using cellphones, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. The actual number of cell phone-related accidents is likely much higher, since many states don't yet compile and report data on cell phone use following a crash.

Employers take up the issue

Recognizing the ethical and liability issues that arise when employees drive while distracted, employers across the country have begun implementing distracted driving policies. Typically, these policies prohibit employees from using cellphones while driving on company time.

In January 2017, the NSC reported that Cargill was the largest privately held company to prohibit the use of mobile devices, including hands-free technology, while an employee is driving on behalf of the company. The ban also covers work related calls while commuting to and from work, even if employees are driving their own vehicles.

“There is a time and place for doing business, and it’s not while you’re driving,” says Melanie Burke, director of health and safety at Cargill, a Minnesota-based privately held company with 150,000 employees around the world.

Even Cargill’s Chairman and CEO David MacLennan is subject to the ban. In announcing the policy to employees in late 2016, MacLennan noted he was 138 days into cell-phone free motoring. “It’s been liberating,” he told employees.

NSC data shows about 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies have instituted cell phone bans, and of those, just 1 percent believe the ban affected productivity.

Replace risk, keep productivity

Taking care of business doesn’t mean you have to risk a crash. Here are six ways to keep up with the pace of business without using your cell phone in the car:

* Use an automated response app to let callers know you’re driving and can’t take their call at the moment. These free apps allow you to personalize the response and set your phone to automatically reply with a text message to incoming calls or texts.

* If you’re driving a vehicle outfitted with communication technology, use its “do not disturb” feature to unplug from calls and texts while behind the wheel.

* Use shared calendars to block off times when you’ll be on the road and unable to answer a call. The calendar item will help alert coworkers and anyone else connected to your calendar when you’ll be out of touch and when they might be able to reach you again.

* Remove temptation. A study by AT&T found 62 percent of drivers keep their phones within reach in the car. Put yours away where you can’t see or reach it. You can place it in your purse, briefcase or messenger bag, and place the bag in the back seat. Further reduce distraction and temptation by turning your device off before stowing it.

* If you absolutely must take a call while on the road, pull over in a safe location. If a call comes in while you’re driving, allow it to go to voicemail until you’re safely pulled over, then return the call.

* Be aware of other dangerously distracting behaviors, such as putting on makeup, tying a necktie or eating while driving. Do all your dressing and personal grooming before you leave home, and if you must snack while driving, choose food that is easy to manage, like a granola bar (unwrap it when you’re stopped), rather than something messy like a burger with all the fixings.

“Before we had cellphones, if you had to take a business call while on the road, you would pull over and find a pay phone,” says Burke. “Productivity was fine and business got done. When it comes to time behind the wheel, safety is everyone’s most important job.”



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7 steps to secure your home while you're on...

(BPT) - Warmer temperatures, budding trees and blooming flowers are all lovely parts of spring, but what you really look forward to is the start of vacation planning season! Deciding where to go and what to see, making arrangements and planning your wardrobe are all exciting aspects of summer vacation planning. But before you pack up to leave on your getaway, be sure to take care of the most important asset you'll be leaving at home - your home itself.

"Before going away on vacation, homeowners do a lot of things to prepare for the security and safety of their home while away, including stopping the mail, powering down electronics and turning off water and gas," says Emily Lewicki, brand manager with Coleman Heating and Air Conditioning. "Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that a home's temperature needs to be monitored, which can easily be done by using a programmable thermostat."

While you're savoring the fun of your vacation planning, here are seven steps you also should take to prepare your home to remain secure while you're away:

1. Stop the mail. Home safety experts agree: a stuffed mailbox is a sign of an empty home. The United States Postal Service allows you to request a vacation hold on your mail up to 30 days before your departure date. Go to holdmail.usps.com to see if this service is available in your area. You should also put newspaper and package delivery on hold, too, as uncollected newspapers or parcels in front of your house could also alert others that you're not home.

2. Turn off water and gas. If a water or gas leak occurs while you're not there to address it, the emergency could cause significant damage to your home. You can reduce risks by turning off water flow to appliances like the clothes washer. To conserve energy and money, you can also turn off the gas flow to your water heater.

3. Adjust the thermostat. You don't need to spend money to heat or cool your home to a comfortable level when you're not there to enjoy it. Turn down the thermostat, but don't turn your HVAC system completely off. Extreme temperatures can harm your home and its contents. A programmable thermostat can take care of temperature adjustments for you while you're away. If you don't already have a programmable thermostat, consider installing a model like Coleman's Hx(TM) thermostat. The touch-screen interface makes it easy to program the system, plus a free downloadable app allows you to control the thermostat from your smartphone, no matter where you travel. Just be sure to leave your internet connection active at home so your thermostat can communicate with the app while you're away.

4. Put lights on timers or sensors. A well-lit home looks lived in and is less appealing to burglars. Put outside lights on sensors so they'll turn on when the sun goes down. Use timers to turn interior lights on and off at appropriate times.

5. Prep your kitchen. Go through the refrigerator and pantry and throw away any food that could go bad while you're away. No one wants to come home to smelly, spoiled food. Empty the trash and arrange for a neighbor to put the trash at the curb on your scheduled pickup day. Unplug all small appliances like the coffee maker, toaster ovens, food processors, etc.

6. Power down electronic devices. Items like computers, TVs and phone chargers all draw power while plugged in, even if they're not switched on. Turn off and unplug electronic devices to reduce power usage in the house and protect electronics from power surges while you're away.

7. Secure the garage. This is especially important if your home has an attached garage with direct access into your home. Most garage doors have a simple bolt lock that can be engaged from inside to prevent the door from being raised. Remember to also lock the door from the garage into your house.

Everyone looks forward to vacation. With some simple prep, you can ensure your home stays secure while you're away. To learn more about home heating and air-conditioning, visit www.colemanac.com or follow Twitter @ColemanHVAC.



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How to plan a successful spring getaway

(BPT) - No matter where you live, spring travel is synonymous with the search for warm weather. While the sunshine may help keep the blues at bay, it takes more than just golden rays to make a trip unforgettable.

Whether you're taking a family vacation, a couples escape or a getaway with friends, these insider tips will help you plan a successful trip:

Look for deals at well-known destinations

The best trips happen when you find a destination that everyone loves and you stay on budget. Start by researching areas that have something for everyone so no one feels left out. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - with virtually endless attractions, world-class dining and 60 miles of beautiful shoreline - is one of these gems that also happens to be affordable. Countless deals can be found in any season at www.visitmyrtlebeach.com.

Once you determine your destination, dig in to find the deal that's right for you. Some hotels and resorts offer themed packages that also provide deep discounts on museum tickets, concerts and other special events. Or you can make your own trip, allowing each member of your party to pick their favorite must-see attraction.

Try something new

It's important to enjoy some R&R, but also make time to try something new on your trip. This will take you outside your comfort zone, which can stimulate the mind in new and exciting ways. What's more, it's how you create lasting memories.

With growing interest in adventure travel, many destinations are offering exciting and fun experiences for all age groups. In Myrtle Beach, for example, you can try cable boarding at Shark Wake Park, which allows you to wake-board without a boat, or indulge your inner speed demon by racing around a track in the area's NASCAR Racing Experience.

Embrace experiential eating

Eating is one of the best ways to truly experience what makes a destination unique, so be sure to eat like a local, and maybe even fish like one, too. Eating turns into a memorable experience when you've helped catch your main dish. Sign up for a shrimping, crabbing or a deep-sea fishing excursion and enjoy an adventure plus a delectable meal.

If you'd rather avoid the open sea, you're not out of luck. Seek out restaurants that source ingredients locally. That could mean eateries that boast a farm-to-table or sea-to-table experience so you enjoy the freshest fare available.

Become a history buff

Virtually anywhere you go in the United States, you'll discover a fascinating history of how it came to be. When you make time to explore museums, walk stunning gardens and visit memorials, you'll be able tell tales back home that you would otherwise have never known.

For an insider's glimpse into history, check out National Historic Landmarks. For example, Hopsewee Plantation in the Myrtle Beach area was built an estimated 40 years before the Revolutionary War. In addition to beautiful scenery, you'll experience the heritage of the area up close.

These four steps will help you plan a vacation that your travel crew will be raving about long after you return home. Best yet, you'll have memories that will last a lifetime.



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5 reasons ridesharing is on the rise

(BPT) - The rideshare industry has exploded in popularity over the past several years, with companies devoted to making transportation safe, reliable and enjoyable. At the swipe of a finger and tap of a button, you can hail a car through your smartphone. Within minutes, you are picked up at your desired location and whisked off to your final destination, whether it's the grocery store, movie theater or the hottest restaurant in town.

Here are five reasons why millions of Americans are requesting a ride every day:

1. Owning and maintaining a car is expensive. At more than $9,000 per year, per household, a car is the second most expensive purchase Americans make, yet the average car in the U.S. gets only 4 percent utilization per day. The rideshare industry was born from the idea that by pairing drivers and passengers headed in the same general direction, not only is traffic significantly reduced, but car ownership ultimately becomes optional when you know you have a ride you can rely on.

2. It's a safe way to get around. While pairing drivers and passengers who don't know each other might seem unorthodox, thanks to stringent background checks, car safety checks and real-time ride tracking, hopping in an on-demand ride has become commonplace for people across the country. In fact, Lyft, the fastest growing rideshare service, currently covers 55 percent of the U.S. population, meaning 177 million people are able to request a safe, reliable ride every day. By the end of 2017, that number will increase to 231 million, or 72 percent of the country.

3. Ridesharing promotes community and economic growth. Not only is it an efficient way to get from point A to point B, ridesharing connects both people and communities. In 2016 alone, more than 162.5 million Lyft rides were taken. This opens the door for people who wouldn't normally cross paths to share a car together. Drivers get to drop off passengers in neighborhoods they might not regularly venture to, and business owners serve customers that previously didn't have easy access to their location. Ridesharing is a powerful driver of economic growth, encouraging local spending and pumping money back into the enrichment of neighborhoods.

4. As a driver, ridesharing provides an excellent source of income. Be it primary or supplementary, driving provides flexibility and allows people to own their schedules, clocking in and out when they want, where they want. From coast to coast, teachers, retirees, aspiring musicians and everyone in between is using ridesharing as a source of income. Lyft is the only platform that allows passengers to tip, with more than $150 million dollars going directly into the pockets of their drivers.

5. On-demand transportation is proven to reduce drunk driving. According to a recent study, 88 percent of passengers say they are more likely to avoid driving while impaired because of Lyft, and 53 percent of passengers use the platform to safely get friends and family home who are intoxicated. One tap of a button ultimately leads to saving lives by reducing the number of intoxicated drivers on the road.

Whether you're a passenger or driver, ridesharing seeks to get you where you want to go, be it a final destination or a financial goal. Local communities deserve friendly, safe transportation they can rely on, and the rideshare industry is close to making that a reality for all people.



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5 family-friendly cities you should visit in 2017

(BPT) - Family vacations are as unique as the families that enjoy them. If your family vacations in 2016 involved returning to the same destinations again and again, 2017 is a great time to take embrace the weekend, step away from the traditional and explore a new city. So grab your family, pack your bags and plan your next family vacation around the activities available in any of these five family-friendly cities.

1. Dallas

Dallas may be known for its business district and professional sports teams, but the city has plenty of other, lesser-known attractions that make it a great place for a family vacation. Animal lovers must visit the Dallas Zoo. As the largest zoo in Texas, it spans more than 95 acres. For those who enjoy aquatic wildlife, the Dallas World Aquarium is a must see. Finally, if you think your inner ear is up to it, thrill seekers will love Zero Gravity Thrill Park. There, you can bungee jump seven stories, or simply drop 16 stories into a large net at the Nothing but Net ride. All of it makes for an exciting, memorable visit.

2. Chicago

The Windy City has plenty of activities for the kids. Museums such as the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago History Museum provide plenty of conversation starters. Navy Pier is a historic landmark with a wonderful carnival and great restaurants. If you want to get a view of the entire city, nothing beats the Sears Tower.

3. Atlanta

The Alliance Theatre, widely recognized as the flagship theater in the southeast, performs kid-friendly shows all year. Meanwhile, fans of the screen will enjoy movie tours of the sites used in The Blind Side, The Walking Dead and Anchorman 2. And in Atlanta, how you see the city is half the fun. Stir your nostalgic side with an old-fashioned streetcar ride or step into the modern day with Segway and electric car tours. Whatever you decide, there is plenty to see and do.

4. Washington D.C.

Our country's capital is a site worth seeing at least once and is a great opportunity to share a more cultural and historic experience with the kids. The National Mall is home to the Smithsonian museums, the White House and the U.S. Capitol. For the most rewarding experience, it's best to choose a hotel nearby. For example, Embassy Suites by Hilton Washington D.C. Convention Center hotel is centrally located. Plus, it's perfect for families considering it is just a short ride away from the National Zoo and other Washington D.C. attractions. When was the last time your family visited the zoo all together?

5. Philadelphia

Philadelphia's draw starts with the Please Touch Museum. Designed specifically for children ages 1-7, the museum is more than 100 years old and includes two floors of interactive areas designed especially for kids. In addition, the city is also home to Sesame Place, the only theme park in the nation dedicated solely to the beloved characters of Sesame Street. Finally, if you're interested in teaching your children more about the country's history, Philadelphia and its Independence National Historical Park can't be beat.

Plan your vacation today

Once you have chosen your destination, make sure to choose a hotel with lots of added value. Embassy Suites by Hilton's two-room suites will offer parents some private time at the end of a long day and with a free, cooked-to-order breakfast, it should satisfy even the pickiest eaters. Plus, once the kids are in bed, parents can take advantage of the evening reception, which features complimentary snacks and drinks for two hours every night.

A great family vacation starts with a great plan so don't delay. Gather your family together and map out your next trip by choosing the events that look most interesting to your group. Wherever you decide to go, with the entire family together, it's going to be great. Visit embassysuites.com to plan your weekend getaway.



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Discover the magic of winter

(BPT) - Were you lucky enough to grow up making snow angels? Did you spend the better part of a day building a snow fort or rolling up a snowman? If you have fond memories of playing in the snow, but for some reason haven't put on insulated pants or boots in a long time, then it's time to rediscover winter.

And if you've never gone out and tromped through fresh snow or witnessed how amazing snow-capped mountains can look, you've been missing out! So, make this the year to discover the wonder of winter for yourself.

One of the best places to experience winter to its fullest is in the mountains of southwest Idaho. It's here that you can explore new activities, cross items off your bucket list and see for yourself why so many find winter to be their favorite season.

Discover untouched powder

There's a reason thousands of diehards devote so much time to chasing down that perfect line on either skis or a snowboard. While resorts in Colorado get a lot of attention, they're crowded and many people feel like they spend more time in line than on the slopes. Both first-timers and lifelong ski bums have discovered their favorite slopes in southwest Idaho. With three world-class resorts, plenty of snow and less people, there's good reason why this area tops many vacation lists.

Get out of your comfort zone

Some of the most rewarding vacations begin with a decision to try something new. Maybe you haven't gone ice skating since you were a kid, or perhaps you want to know what it's like to surf down a mountain on a snowboard. Whether it's sleeping in a yurt, feeding elk or taking a snowmobile ride into the backcountry, winters in southwest Idaho offer plenty of challenges to discover more about yourself.

Indulge your comfort zone

While there are plenty of opportunities to push your boundaries out west, you should take plenty of time to relax, indulge and give yourself the pampering you deserve. The resort town of McCall, Idaho might be the ideal place to do this. Situated on the beautiful Payette Lake and nestled in unforgettable mountains, the many spas and resorts here have the services that will completely rejuvenate you after a long day of shopping.

Replenish those lost calories

Just a 30-minute drive from skiing and the pristine wilderness are luxuriant spas (and plenty of hot springs that are open all year). Boise, Idaho is one of the premier gateways to the west. With its full-service airport, it's an ideal launch pad for a winter vacation. But be careful: with world-class cuisine, nightlife, numerous wineries and other cultural events, you might find it hard to leave.

To learn more about these and other adventures, go to www.visitsouthwestidaho.org and start planning today!



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5 smart money-saving travel strategies

(BPT) - As the new year unfolds, now is the time to plan weekend escapes to ensure you have a chance to reset and refresh throughout the year. As Seekenders know, every weekend is a new opportunity for adventure and spontaneity. By planning your weekend getaways early, you'll set up key points to rejuvenate throughout the year. That's all it takes to reset - explore, follow passions, discover new places and create lifelong memories with loved ones.

If you've been putting off traveling because you think it's too expensive, it's time for a fresh approach. These five smart tips can help you plan an amazing trip while staying on budget and tapping into your inner Seekender.

Extend the weekend

A week-long vacation is wonderful, but it also can use those vacation days up quickly. Instead, opt to extend three-day holiday weekends by one day so you get four relaxing days to reset and explore a new city. You'll only have to use one vacation day and you'll get plenty of quality time to indulge your passions.

Analyze travel modes

With low gas prices, it can make sense to drive rather than fly, especially with a family. To compare costs, check out the AAA gas calculator that allows you to estimate fuel costs to drive from various destinations across the United States. Then it's easy to compare to airline tickets and car rental costs so you can make the best decision for your travel crew.

Find a hotel with extras

When researching accommodations, select a comfortable, convenient hotel with lots of amenities. For example, Hampton by Hilton hotels offer its signature Clean and fresh Hampton bed(R), along with a free, hot breakfast served daily (or Hampton's On the Run Breakfast Bags for those mornings you're on the move). Other extras include free Wi-Fi, coffee and a fitness center and/or pool at most locations.

Choose a two-in-one location

When researching travel destinations, consider jump-off cities nearby so you can explore two areas in one trip. For example, stay in Washington, D.C. and then head over to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Perhaps a family vacation to Orlando includes a day trip to Daytona Beach. Or if you're trying to please multiple family members, visit flashy Las Vegas and then head over to the Grand Canyon for an outdoor adventure.

Eat on the cheap

Eating can be the most expensive aspect of travelling. You can save by planning meals and snacks strategically. First, always take advantage of a hotel with complimentary breakfast like Hampton by Hilton. Then pack snacks like nuts and dried fruit to curb hunger throughout the day. For meals, opt for local eateries rather than restaurants that cater to tourists. You'll get authentic foods often at a lower price. Finally, picnics are great for saving cash, so head to a local market to grab sandwich and salad essentials to feed the whole group on a dime.

For more travel tips follow the conversation on social media via #Seekender and check out www.HamptonSeekender.com for some inspiration.



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Staying safe on winter roads

(BPT) - For those who live in snow-belt states, winter driving can be especially challenging.

Snow (and related weather events, like frost, sleet and freezing rain) can significantly reduce the friction of the road surface, and slippery roads are significantly more dangerous than dry roads. You are about 50 percent more likely to have a crash on a road under winter driving conditions than on the same road under dry conditions, according to a variety of studies.

States, cities and local agencies use many available tools to take care of our roads and address the negative consequences of winter weather. By plowing snow and using road salt in a safe and sustainable manner, road agencies can reduce accidents on roads under winter driving conditions by as much as 88 percent and can reduce injuries in those crashes by 85 percent, according to a study by Marquette University. Those are significant improvements in safety.

The importance of salt on our roads

The key is in recognizing how road salt works. The purpose of the road salt is not to melt the snow, but rather to stop the snow from freezing to the pavement. If that goal is achieved, then plowing the snow off the road is simple and extremely effective, and it turns out that preventing that bond does not take much salt. The exact amount depends on a variety of factors (example — the colder the road surface, the more salt is needed) and will be different for every storm.

Getting the road salt to the right place means having plow trucks deployed at the correct time, and in order to keep the road salt on the road surface (rather than bouncing off or being swept into a ditch) agencies pre-wet the road salt with salt brine.

In addition to enhancing the safety of our roads in winter conditions, those snow plows are doing a lot to improve mobility. These “snowfighters” reduce weather-caused delays and congestion, allowing for emergency vehicles to respond more quickly when people need help, making for shorter travel times for families, allowing kids and parents to get to school and jobs safely and on time.

In fact, a study by IHS Global Insight for the American Highway Users Alliance found snow- and ice-related delays and shutdowns hurt hourly workers the most. This study also placed a monetary value on fast and effective snow removal and salting. According to the researchers, a state can incur economic losses of between $300 million and $700 million every day that roads are closed and impassable. Those snow plows are not just helping keep families together and safe, they are helping to keep the lifeblood of our commerce pumping during winter storms.



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Onward! 4 ways explorers can enjoy China's...

(BPT) - If you enjoy exploring new and unique cultures when you travel, you’re far from alone. In a 2016 Trip Advisor study, 47 percent of travelers worldwide chose foreign destinations to visit in hopes of being exposed to other cultures and people.

Learning the history of ancient cultures can be the most fascinating part of such trips, especially for visitors who measure the age of their own nation in hundreds, not thousands. That’s partly why the 1,800-year-old city of Nanjing, China is such an attractive destination for curious tourists from across the world.

The city of 8 million offers access to a wide range of awe-inspiring ancient sites along with multiple opportunities to experience the people, places and culture that make up the Jiangsu province present day. Visitors also enjoy the ease of transportation: An international airport and two train stations connect Nanjing to China’s major cities including Shanghai and Beijing, 90 minutes and 3.5 hours by bullet train, respectively.

Those wishing to immerse themselves in Nanjing’s ancient beauty and culture can enjoy the following attractions:

Historic sites: Among the most historically and architecturally significant are two mausoleums enshrining former Chinese leaders: the Ming Dynasty-era Xiaoling Tomb and Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, honoring the founder of modern China. Also compelling is the Presidential Palace, built in Neoclassical style in 1864 and transformed into the China Modern History Museum in 1980. Visitors are often inspired by the 600-year-old City Wall of Nanjing, built by 200,000 laborers over a 21-year period to ward off invaders. The structure encloses 55 square kilometers and is among the largest walls ever constructed in Chinese history.

Cultural landmarks: A must-see for many tourists is the Confucius Temple Scenic Area. Tour the temple, visit former homes of historic figures then board the Qinhuai river sightseeing cruise while you learn about Nanjing's history and take in performances along the river's banks. Visit the opulent subterranean Buddhist palace and two different temples at the 197-acre Niushoushan Cultural Park, an ode to Buddhist beliefs built on a sacred site just outside the city. Don’t miss the Grand Bao’en Temple, a reproduction of a Ming Dynasty pagoda considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval Age.

Natural attractions: A popular choice is Xuanwu Lake Park, which features five islands interconnected by arched bridges and miles of enjoyable walkways. Within the park are temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens, teahouses, restaurants, entertainment venues, a small zoo and other attractions. Elsewhere, choose to walk Qixia Mountain, known for its beautiful foliage in the autumn months, crystal clear springs and multiple scenic spots, or relax at Tangshan Hot Springs, open to both day trippers and local resort guests.

Festivals: Mingle with thousands of locals and tourists alike while celebrating the city’s culturally rich traditions. Nanjing will kick off 2017 with New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing Ceremonies throughout the city. Other festivities include the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival (early January), the International Plum Blossom Festival (mid-February through March); the Rain Flower Stone Festival (September) and the Gaochun County Hairy Crab Festival (September through November). While sampling vendors’ offerings at such events, be sure to partake of Nanjing’s culinary specialty — duck, deliciously served up in myriad soups, appetizers, main courses, pastries, snacks and dim sum. The city’s claim to fame: The tender, fragrant and often crispy salted duck first popularized during the Qing Dynasty.

Ready to start planning your Nanjing adventure? Visit gotonanjing.com for more information.



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Touch down in Houston for the big game

(BPT) - February is fast approaching, and with it the year’s largest football event. Fans will come from across the nation to experience the highly anticipated Sunday football game in Houston, Texas.

With mild weather, amazing city views, a walkable cultural district and delectable food, visitors will have plenty to keep them busy during their visit to the nation’s fourth largest city.

Check out the game (even if you don’t have a seat)

Snagged tickets to the big game? Make sure you check out the “know before you go” transportation details and plan accordingly. Once there, NRG Stadium will be ready, rain or shine. With pro football’s first retractable roof, the stadium is nearly as much of a spectacle as the game itself.

No tickets? No problem. There are some amazing events happening just outside of NRG, such as the Houston Touchdown Tour or LIVE Fan Festival in Discovery Green Park, which will feature concerts from various Texas artists over the course of nine days leading up to the event. Both events offer free admission and feature fun for everyone! Houston is also filled with restaurants, bars and breweries perfect for catching the game! Some local favorites include:

* Saint Arnold Brewing Company: As Texas' oldest craft brewery, Saint Arnold is home to a passionate fan base of beer aficionados, along with people just looking for a fun place to hang out. You can take an official brewery tour or simply enjoy a pint while watching the game in the Beer Hall.

* 8th Wonder Brewery: Named for Houston’s infamous Astrodome, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world in 1965, 8th Wonder has taken over a “dome-like” warehouse in East downtown. The company explores various styles of beer from around the world, which you can try for yourself at the WonderWorld taproom.

* The Hay Merchant: Located in a remodeled building featuring worn brick from its original 1940's structure, Hay Merchant offers a relaxed atmosphere complete with 80 types of beer on tap.

* West Alabama Ice House: Open since 1928, West Alabama Ice House means business. The cut and dry bar doesn’t serve food or liquor, only the usual beer standards plus Saint Arnold seasonal brews and a small wine selection.

* Pub Fiction: With a full selection of liquor, beer and wines and a heavy emphasis on sports with every inch of wall space filled by the latest HD screens, Pub Fiction is a great spot to catch the game. With a recently expanded patio, this spot will be an ideal accommodation for Houstonians and visitors alike come Feb. 5.

Explore the city

Paint the town your team colors! As the largest city in Texas, Houston is filled with so many entertaining things to do. Hit up Buffalo Bayou Park and “burp the bayou.” Built as part of a 1998 art project, you’re able to send a massive bubble to the water’s surface with the push of a small, red button. A great place to relax or take the kids and get a breath of fresh air, the park is also great to hike, canoe, bike and see bats under the bridge.

For the perfect photo opp to document your time in Houston, ride to the top of JP Morgan Chase Tower for an incredible view of the Houston skyline, snap a photo in front of the infamous biscuit paint wall or one of Houston’s many wall murals, and definitely make sure to visit Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park, featuring a 64-foot waterfall.

Visit the renowned Space Center Houston, an educational complex and space museum with more than 400 space artifacts. The center serves as a nonprofit gateway to NASA Johnson Space Center and is Houston’s only Smithsonian Affiliate museum.

Midtown Houston is the heart of Houston night life. Grab drinks and dance the night away with friends at the many bars and clubs the city has to offer in celebration or defeat. Houston is also filled with an underground society of secret bars, such as Last Concert Café and 13 Celsius. Beware, as some of these hotspots are password protected.

Stroll through the cultural district. Houston’s Museum District is comprised of 19 museums located within approximately one and a half miles of downtown, making it the country’s fourth largest museum district. Ten of the 19 museums always feature free general admission, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston Center for Photography and DiverseWorks.

Eat everything

Save the wings for Sunday, and explore the diverse food scene throughout Houston. As part of the Gulf Coast region, Houston is well known for its Cajun food. Get a taste of Louisiana at Zydeco Louisiana Diner, Brennan’s of Houston and Bernadine's.

Like any big city, Houston also hosts a variety of global cuisines, including French, Indian and Pakistani, Japanese and Italian. However, when in Texas you can’t miss the barbecue, tacos and Tex-Mex. Local favorites include Goode Company Barbeque, Gatlin’s BBQ, El Tiempo Cantina, Texas founded-Torchy’s Tacos, Cuchara, Hugo’s and The Original Ninfa’s.

Extend your stay

Spending a few extra days in the Lone Star State? There are a number of incredible destinations that are quick drive or flight from Houston. San Antonio, Austin and Dallas are all within a three and a half hour drive or 50 minute flight from Houston. If you’re looking for a shorter drive but want to feel further away from city life, head 45 minutes south to Galveston Island. This beautiful beach town has everything from luxurious resorts to cottage-style beach rentals. Visitors can take advantage of the deep sea fishing, a family-friendly pleasure pier, and of course, all the fresh Gulf seafood you can handle.

Whatever you do for the big game, be sure to make your game plan early! For more information about travel experiences in the Lone Star State, visit www.TravelTexas.com and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



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11 Reasons Billings, Montana, Was Named...

(BPT) - Whether it's a quick weekend trip or a weeks-long adventure, you want to visit a unique travel destination that's equal parts excitement and relaxation. One location has something for everyone, with countless awards and accolades: Billings, Montana.

Known as Montana's Trailhead, Billings perfectly blends culture and history with outdoor adventure and R&R. After a day of exploration, don't forget the world-class cuisine and vibrant craft beer scene. It's no surprise Billings is the "Best Town of 2016" according to Outside Magazine.

These 11 reasons are why Billings is a top destination among travelers. Learn more at www.visitbillings.com.

Historic sites

Billings and the area that surrounds it have been the location of numerous historic events. Take a step back in time by exploring Pompeys Pillar, some of the only remaining physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Not to be missed, Little Bighorn Battlefield will give you a glimpse into the devastating fight of Custer's Last Stand.

Beartooth Highway

This famous gateway to Yellowstone National Park has left countless visitors speechless at Mother Nature's stunning beauty. Just west of Red Lodge, Montana, this scenic pass is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, weather permitting.

Montana's only walkable brewery district

The microbrew movement is alive and well in Billings. Noted as one of the "Best Cities for Beer Drinkers" by smartasset.com, your travel crew will enjoy sampling the best IPAs, stouts and pilsners in the regions - and arguably - the world.

Bike trails

With nearly 26 miles of paved and gravel trails, plus bike lanes throughout the city, Billings is truly a bicycle-friendly community. Enjoy the views from Swords Park Trail and then head west to explore the wild landscape surrounding Zimmerman Park. Wherever you go, your bike is sure to lead you somewhere exciting.

Heritage museums

There are countless ways to learn more about Billing's incredible heritage. For example, the Western Heritage Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, offers an interactive way to learn the history of the region. Another example: The Yellowstone Art Museum exhibits, interprets and preserves historic art of Montana.

ZooMontana

Looking for something special to do with the kids? ZooMontana is it. Spend the day exploring the zoo's 70 acres that feature regional and exotic animals such as tigers, wolves, deer habitats and a free-flight aviary.

Rimrocks

Sandstone formations known as Rimrocks are an incredible sight to behold. Make sure to schedule a scenic drive along the Rimrock Bluffs: Drive highway 3 from east to west and enjoy the sights of Billings from 500 feet above.

Pictograph Caves

Prehistoric hunters left imprints on local caves that can still be seen today. The Pictograph Caves can easily be explored via a loop trail, offering an up-close view of pictographs, also know as rock paintings, that are thousands of years old.

Yellowstone River

Take the family fishing, enjoy a leisurely walk, explore biking trails - Yellowstone River is a must when in Billings. The longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states is a true natural gem that begs to be explored.

Sporting events

Sports enthusiasts can get their cheer on thanks to a thriving sport community in Billings. Baseball lovers should check out the Billings Mustangs at Dehler Park, awarded the Best of the Ballparks, Rookie Level, by BallparkDigest.com. What's more, Billings has been awarded the NAIA Women's Basketball Tournament for 2017-2018. Hip, hip, hooray!

World Champion Burgers

When traveling, it's good to indulge in favorite foods. (Calories don't count on vacation, right?) That's why a visit to The Burger Dive is essential. As 2016 World Burger Championship winner at the World Food Championship, The Burger Dive serves up some of the best burgers in the country, right in the heart of Billings. Choose from the "I'm Your Huckleberry," "Best of the Bash," or the "Jerk" burgers for an award-winning taste experience.



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Get ready for summer and warm up with hot deals...

(BPT) - Stop dreaming about summer boating and make it a reality by finding the best deals this winter. Starting in January, boat shows take place across the country. They offer some of the best pricing and incentives of the year — a major draw for the millions of Americans who take to the water each year on more than 12 million boats in the U.S. , according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. For those ready to plan their summer fun, boat shows are often the place to start.

Whether it’s fishing, sailing, cruising, riding personal watercraft, wakesurfing or tubing — boat shows have it all and create a unique shopping experience with hundreds of boats are under one roof to board, browse and buy. However, most people don’t know about the special pricing, incentives and perks these events offer.

Discover Boating, the national awareness program to help get people on the water, offers five tips to find the best deal at your local boat show.

* Find your virtual dreamboat. Before visiting a boat show, you’ll want to know which boats to shop. Start your search online with DiscoverBoating.com’s Boat Selector to identify which boat types fit your lifestyle, interests, and budget. Plug in your preferences for on-water activities, number of passengers, boat length, price range and propulsion, to narrow down boat options before heading to your local boat show.

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

*Make the most of show pricing. It helps to know what fits in your budget before shopping a show. Use this boat loan calculator on DiscoverBoating.com to estimate monthly payments, which can be as low as $250 a month or less.

* Try out the boating lifestyle. Boat shows are a great place for beginners to learn about boating and for more experienced captains to hone their skills, plus they offer lots of fun and interactive activities for the whole family. Look for boat shows that offer knot-tying, DIY boat maintenance, a sailing simulator, remote control docking ponds, virtual boating simulators, paddlesports pools, fishing for kids and much more. It’s not only fun to learn new skills, but smart to take advantage of the onsite training boat shows offer usually at little to no cost. Plus, it’s a great place to meet other boaters as many make their local boat show a winter rendezvous.

* Look for the seal of approval. When shopping for a boat at a show, online or at a dealership, always check to make sure it is certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. An “NMMA Certified” seal means a boat has met strict industry standards for safety, construction and federal regulations, ensuring the best quality to the buyer. Look for the NMMA certified sticker near the helm.

Boat shows not only offer the best deals of the year, but they are also a way to learn how to get on the water, while enjoying a taste of summer boating during the off season. 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.



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Resolutions on the road: Cruising into 2017...

(BPT) - Every new year brings a flurry of resolutions, and Hankook Tire checked out the road-related improvements Americans resolve to make happen in 2017. Whether you're looking to save money or are determined to make that cross-country road trip a reality, the Hankook Tire Gauge Index found Americans are looking to take the well-oiled wheel of 2017 with better car care.

Under pressure

According to the Hankook Tire Gauge Index, over half (57 percent) of Americans are determined to keep their car cleaner in 2017. Additionally, 35 percent resolve to check the air in their tires more frequently, and doing so can have a significant effect on overall driver safety. Did you know it is recommended to check the air in your tires once a month? Be sure to check your vehicle's owner's manual for the recommended tire pressure for your car, truck or SUV.

Resolve to rotate

When the snow just won't stop falling and the trees look a little too bare, sometimes it's all too easy to daydream about escaping to a tropical island for a while. Most Americans agree, as 84 percent would rather drive to a sunny beach than to a ski resort in the winter months. For those who can't escape the elements, it is more important than ever to make sure your tires are rotated as you navigate the winter roads. A good tip is to rotate your tires when you check your oil - and since nearly a quarter of drivers (22 percent) resolve to change the oil more frequently in 2017, it looks like America is already on the road to good car maintenance.

Keep on commuting

We might all begrudge our daily commute, but considering 61 percent of Americans drive every day, it doesn't look like many of us are resolving to change it. However, there better be light on the roads during the daily drive. Whether drivers are scared of the dark or not, 48 percent of Americans adjust their commute to avoid driving once the sun sets.

New year, new tires

Nearly one in four Americans (24 percent) will resolve to get new tires in 2017. While shopping for those, 73 percent note they look for tires with good traction or grip. An all-season, high performance tire like the Ventus s1 noble 2 from Hankook offers solid handling throughout the year.

Whether you're already hunting for new tires for the new year, it might be a good idea to do "the penny test" and check your tread. Take a penny and insert it between the tread of the tire, with Lincoln's head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, it's time for new tires. After all, you don't want to end up stuck by side of the road, but if you do, there's a good chance someone will pull over and help you. More than half (56 percent) of those surveyed said they have helped someone who was pulled over with car trouble. That's definitely one way to get some good karma heading into the new year.



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Wintery Wisconsin: 5 vacation destinations that...

(BPT) - The winter season can be a perfect time for a relaxing, soul-soothing getaway.

Studies show people able to completely relax during their vacations remain happy for longer after returning to their regular lives, while other research indicates regular vacations from the routines of daily life can help prevent health issues, including coronary disease.

One area of the U.S. offering a wealth of relaxing vacation options is the Badger State — Wisconsin. Each winter, a multitude of leisure seekers travel to the Midwestern gem to enjoy its rustic beauty and recreational opportunities for all ages. Some examples of local amenities include:

Destination Kohler: The only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond resort hotel in the Midwest, this stunning resort offers the best of both worlds — luxury accommodations and a private, rustic setting. This stately resort in Kohler, Wisconsin, features a variety of invigorating activities centered around its 500-acre nature preserve, including cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Following time breathing fresh air in the snowy woods, guests can visit the resort’s spa, enjoy any of 12 on-site dining establishments catering to different tastes or just retreat to their well-appointed rooms.

Sandhill: This 2,000-square-foot backwoods cabin in Mosel, Wisconsin, is a quiet, beautifully constructed destination set within 350 acres of wilderness. The retreat can sleep four to six and features a gas fireplace, chef-inspired kitchen, deep-soaking tub and stand-alone sauna hut, in addition to a fully stocked fridge and full access to Destination Kohler’s 12 eating establishments

Hunting at River Wildlife: Encompassing 500 acres of the best pheasant- and partridge-hunting land in the Midwest, this beautiful nature preserve along the Sheboygan River invites sportsmen to enjoy the quest for game birds in the authentic English tradition. Guests from all over are drawn by the chance to traverse these snowy woodlands with accompaniment from a trained hunting dog and experienced guide knowledgeable about the area. Afterward, your group can enjoy lunch at a local restaurant lodged in a rustic cabin.

Yoga on the lake: This holistic yoga studio offers some 30 weekly classes in a comfortable space made picturesque by floor-to-ceiling bay windows overlooking adjacent Wood Lake. Nationally certified instructors gently guide guests of all levels through a mind-body connection in this peaceful atmosphere, helping them reduce stress, improve sleep patterns and relaxation and induce health benefits.

Kohler Waters Spa: This oasis of calm specializes in hydrotherapy treatments such as the Balancing Moroccan Ritual, a body scrub followed by a Chakra stone application, a traditional Shirodhara hair wash and treatment, a cool stone facial massage, a warm Kohler Custom Vichy shower and a body soufflé finish. The best-kept secret of the facility awarded five stars by Forbes? Its rooftop hot tub is framed by twinkling skylights and a 16-foot fireplace.

Ready to relax, unwind and enjoy the winter season to its fullest? Look no further than the heartland of Wisconsin for your next winter vacation.



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Before you cruise, embark on a fun-finding...

(BPT) - When booking a sea cruise vacation, it may seem like a good idea to schedule your flight to the port of departure for the same morning your ship sets sail.

A same-day flight might appear to save you time and money, but travel experts warn this could turn into an expensive mistake. Should airline delays keep you from getting to the port on time, you could end up shelling out hundreds more dollars to book another flight, just so you can catch up to your ship at the next port of call.

In addition, the panic and worry that set in from even the smallest hiccup in your tight travel schedule can defeat the idea of a vacation. To start your relaxing ocean getaway in the right frame of mind, give yourself and your family an extra pre-cruise day in your cruise line’s port city. If everything goes as planned and you arrive the day before your ship casts off, your vacation can start early, too. Use the extra time to explore and kick back. You’ll find the home ports for these cruise ships are set up to accommodate and welcome cruise travelers.

For example, if your ship happens to launch from Florida’s Port Canaveral, the world’s second-busiest cruise port, you’ll discover many area hotels have cruise package deals that include free parking, special nightly rates and even free shuttle transportation to and from the port and to and from the airport.

You’ll also find plenty to see and do locally. Cape Canaveral, near the Kennedy Space Center, is part of the east-central section of Florida popularly known as the Space Coast. Here, there are numerous attractions and other entertaining diversions that can help create the perfect countdown to your cruise to paradise.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

For visitors, the eye-opening facility that has propelled countless rockets and scores of shuttles out of our atmosphere also provides a full day’s worth of exhibits and hands-on learning about space exploration. Eyeball a 3-D image produced by one of NASA’s powerful space telescopes, inspect the Space Shuttle Atlantis up close, and “experience” life on Mars through an interactive display. Of course, there are plenty of space memorabilia to examine and fascinating astronaut stories to absorb, all of which will round out your appreciation of what NASA has accomplished so far — and what is yet to come.

Rocket watching

While planning your overnight along the Space Coast, be sure to check Spacecoastlaunches.com for schedules of rocket launches, public viewing sites, and special hotel packages. If you’re lucky, you might have an opportunity to witness the sights, sounds and ground-shaking vibrations of a rocket launch. Cape Canaveral and the greater Space Coast area have numerous parks and observation points that make it easy to sit back and watch these rockets streak into the sky.

Shopping, arts and entertainment

The Space Coast features many historic shopping districts to help you leisurely pass the time morning, afternoon and evening. You can dine al fresco at one of the trendy independent restaurants or pick out a catchy new cruise outfit at a local boutique. The area also has a lively arts scene to help inspire you for your trip. Take in a pre-cruise musical performance or theater production at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, or wander the assorted art galleries that dot the Eau Gallie Arts District.

Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier

A historic landmark along a beautiful stretch of beachfront, the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier was established in 1962. Its festival-like setting is the perfect backdrop for any traveler’s early escape from reality: beachside restaurants and bars with live entertainment, an 800-foot fishing pier, spectacular views of the majestic cruise ships coming and going, rolling waves breaking and beautiful bodies surfing, the sparkling beach and the glorious sunshine. What could be better?

Coastal escapades

You also can elude the crowds and pilot your own escapade along the area’s beautiful waterways. It’s easy to rent a boat and navigate the rivers and canals. You can look for dolphins and manatees or drop anchor at an island for a family barbecue and swim. Cast your line into the Banana River, pull into Sebastian Inlet State Park for snorkeling and scuba diving, or simply enjoy the journey and tie up at a waterside restaurant when hunger sets in.

For planning some Space Coast fun and relaxation before you set off to sea on your cruise ship, you can peruse an extensive collection of local tourism ideas and resources at www.visitspacecoast.com.



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Tips to 'get a grip' this winter

(BPT) - It’s the season for boots and blazers, sweater vests and choker necklaces. Winter is here. But before you step out, make sure your stylish shoes have the best grip while walking up and down that slippery driveway. A slip and fall is a definite fashion faux pas, so here’s a trick to avoid one this season: simply spray “shoe adhesive” on the bottom of your shoes and voila!

A good, solid grip is not only important for the shoes you wear on your feet, it’s also vital for the “shoes” on your car, namely your tires. Driving with under-inflated and/or low tread depth on your tires can cause issues, especially during the wet and slippery winter months. That’s because tires play a part in everything, from braking and steering to fuel efficiency. In addition, like your shoes, they are the only thing touching the ground.

“The key to a good grip is to check and maintain your tires,” says Pat Keating, senior manager of technical engineering for Yokohama Tire Corporation, manufacturer of a variety of tires for passenger cars, SUVs, buses and trucks. “The last thing you want is to be sliding on the road because your tires are worn.”

The first thing Keating says to do is check your tires’ tread depth. He suggests doing it once a month. “Tires must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch, the lowest legal limit. At Yokohama, we suggest it’s best to replace them before they reach 2/32” depending on your drive — geographically and type of streets. While you’re checking the tread depth, you can also inspect the tires to make sure there aren’t any cuts or snags on the sidewalls, or nails or screws you picked up while driving embedded in the treads.”

Checking your tread depth takes less than five minutes, even if you have a larger, truck or SUV type of tire like a GEOLANDAR G015, according to Keating. “Simply place a penny upside down into a tread groove. If you can see all of Lincoln’s head, your tire’s tread has worn down to the legal limit and you need to buy new tires.”

Maintaining your tire pressure should also be on your winter weather tire checklist, says Keating, because with colder temperatures, your tires can lose up to 10 percent of their pressure. “A tire that is under-inflated by only 8 psi can reduce fuel economy up to 2 percent, which will affect your drive and the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, so keeping them properly inflated will give you a better. And contrary to urban legend, underinflating tires won’t improve your winter traction.”

The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) recommends checking the tires when they are cold — at least four hours since the vehicle was last driven. Keating says to always use an accurate tire gauge and make sure the valve is free of debris and water.

The correct tire pressure is specified by the manufacturer of the vehicle, not the tire manufacturer. The proper inflation levels can be found on a placard on the inside of the car door and/or in the owner’s manual.

Checking and maintaining your tires is never out of fashion. Keating offers more tire tips that will help you, especially during the winter season:

* If you live in areas where the temperature consistently stays below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you may want to consider a set of winter tires like the W.drive V905. Winter tires are more pliable in colder temperatures and grip the road better in snow and ice.

* 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.

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



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Top four tips for planning the perfect...

(BPT) - As much as moms adore their kids, they sometimes look back fondly on those carefree days before the demands of parenthood. Those were the times Mom could grab a few friends and go to a concert, a party or plan a spontaneous weekend getaway. But once that motherly instinct kicks in, it's hard to shake. Moms who are so busy taking care of their families too often end up neglecting someone: themselves.

Research shows just how important it is to take time for self-care: Girlfriends are good for the soul. In fact, catching up with girlfriends can lead to living longer by increasing one's overall health and well-being. If you're considering planning that much-needed trip with your closest girlfriends, check out these tips from Embassy Suites by Hilton. With more than 230 properties across the U.S., the popular hotel choice offers a host of amenities like free, made-to-order breakfast and two-room suites, which contain a separate bedroom and living area, perfect for girlfriends to share.

1. Don't stress! It's just a weekend away

We know the idea of leaving your kids for a long period time sounds stressful, but there is no need to book plane tickets, jet off to an exotic place and be away for a week. Take a look at the cities that are relatively nearby, requiring only an hour or two of driving. You can make it a weekend, or even an overnight sleepover - a brief trip can give you the rejuvenation you need. If you're not gone for an extended period of time, this makes it easier to change plans and also easier to arrange for child care.

2. Choose a hotel that fits your needs

If you choose a hotel that offers amenities to make you feel cared for and pampered, your girlfriends' getaway will be a rewarding one. For example, Embassy Suites by Hilton offers a comfortable, spacious suite with separate living and sleeping areas so there's plenty of room for the slumber party to go all night. With Embassy Suites' free, cooked-to-order breakfast, moms can start their day right without the hassle of the morning grind. Plus, if moms are winding down for the day or gearing up for the night, they can check out a complimentary evening reception that serves up wine and savory snacks, creating the perfect setting for catching up with girlfriends.

3. Enlist your family to pick up the slack

The first question every mom has is, "Who is going to take care of everything while I'm gone?" Your family has leaned on you for a long time so now it's time for them to step up to the plate in return. Ask your husband, older children and other relatives, such as parents or in-laws, to fill in. This marks the perfect opportunity for fathers to bond with the kids. Think about having a special night out at the movies or cooking dinner together. The absence of one parent may reinforce bonds between the kids and the parent left at home.

4. Leave time for dreaming

Whether you're in the car together for the drive or relaxing poolside at the hotel, start conversations about dreams and hopes for the future. If you share support, it just might give all of you the motivation to start something you've been putting off. Or, perhaps your friends will offer another perspective that shows you a different path to success you've never considered. In any case, you'll come home feeling both rested and inspired.

A girlfriends' getaway is the perfect gift a woman can give herself to recharge. To plan your very own girlfriends' getaway, visit embassysuites.com.



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5 cornerstones of an unforgettable African...

(BPT) - If you love to travel, chances are you have a bucket list filled with once-in-a-lifetime destinations you simply cannot wait to visit, whether you dream of exploring the homeland of your ancestors, cities renowned for their culinary feats, or a place known for its wildlife.

If your focus is the latter, no bucket list is complete without an authentic African safari that provides the opportunity to step into the native habitats of Africa's big five animals, rare birds, and great apes. If this type of intimate animal experience is on your must-do travel list, here are five reasons Uganda is the perfect destination for your African adventure.

You can get up close and personal with mountain gorillas and chimpanzees

Uganda is home to more than half the world's population of endangered mountain gorillas, and trekking to see these majestic creatures in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a top bucket list item for nature enthusiasts. The country is also a prime location for those hoping to catch sight of chimpanzees, as Budongo Forest Reserve is home to 700 of these playful primates, including three groups that have been habituated and can be visited by humans.

See it all at Murchison Falls National Park

You can see it all at Murchison Falls National Park, which is a four-hour drive northwest of the capital city of Kampala. Bisected by the Nile River, Murchison Falls boasts 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds. The park is home to iconic African game such as elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes and giraffes, as well as river-loving animals like crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The dramatic falls, created by a remnant rift that plunges water 150 feet down the valley wall, provide a picture perfect photo opportunity.

Catch a glimpse of the southern white rhino at Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch

Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is home to 15 southern white rhinoceroses and is the only place in Uganda to see this majestic creature. The ranch, a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rhino Fund Uganda, serves as a sanctuary where the animals can live and breed in a protected environment. In addition to the rhinos, more than 40 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds call Ziwa home. Those who visit leave invigorated by the power of conservation and the work the ranch is doing to protect its residents for generations to come.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is for the birds, and you

Bird is the word at Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda, where 600 different species of birds can be found - more than any other park on the eastern half of the continent. Here, you will have a chance to see some of Africa’s most sensational birds such as the Shoebill, African Broadbill, Martial Eagle, Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer and Pink-backed Pelican.

Seize the opportunity to enjoy authentic, immersive cultural experiences

Uganda is home to more than 50 distinct tribes, and meeting individuals from any of them offers a unique opportunity to experience their way of life and make lasting personal connections. Join the Batwa Experience for a glimpse into the living history of a tribe that once called Uganda's forests home. You can also learn the art of basket weaving or beekeeping from communities across Uganda who use these arts to sustain their villages. A number of lodges connect travelers directly to these local communities, providing the chance to experience unique cultural performances of dance, music and song that will leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul.

Uganda is often referred to as "The Pearl of Africa," and those who visit quickly understand why. Some of the continent’s most diverse wildlife viewing, dramatic landscapes, and mesmerizing cultural interactions await adventurous travelers, and there is no better time to plan a visit than right now. To get started, head to www.visituganda.com and begin preparing for the African adventure of a lifetime.



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Your moments at the gas pump are about to get...

(BPT) - The next time you find yourself pumping gas, don't be surprised if Miles offers to keep you company. He’s not an attendant and he isn’t a friendly good Samaritan.

Miles is the name given to the first ever BP Personality Pump, an interactive smart pump that will first start appearing at BP stations this year. Miles uses proprietary technology allowing him to “speak” with consumers as they are filling their tanks. Miles receives responses in real-time through a touchscreen tablet allowing consumers to interact with him via an array of entertainment options.

“We know that most people don’t enjoy pumping gas. So we asked ourselves, how can we make those moments spent at the pump more fun,” said Donna Sanker, chief marketing officer of BP Fuels North America. “With the BP Personality Pump, we hope to redefine perceptions of the routine fill-up and build a meaningful relationship with our consumers, giving them a fulfilling and entertaining experience during the time they spend with us.”

Miles is programmed to interact with consumers in several different ways. During their visit, consumers will have the opportunity to engage Miles by playing music trivia, selecting songs to play through Pandora or even by recording a video e-card that they can then share on their social media channels. And, upon finishing filling up their tank, consumers will also have the opportunity to send themselves a text message with the content they created during their interaction with Miles. This message will include a link to the Pandora station they chose as well as a special return offer.

The goal, according to BP, is to make the otherwise routine task of filling a gas tank more fun and memorable.

Miles will first appear in November, 2016 in the Chicago and New York Metro areas.

To showcase more of Miles’ capabilities, BP has teamed up with The Onion Inc.’s creative services agency, Onion Labs, to develop a series of videos capturing customers’ interactions with Miles. You can watch this video, titled Laura & Miles, to learn more about the first-ever Personality Pump. You can find more videos at www.theonion.com/special/innovation.



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Articles last updated at Mar 25, 2017 09:33:22am.
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