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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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


Forget post-holiday sales: Find the best deals...

(BPT) - Post-holiday sales aren't the only deals to be found during the winter months. 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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

5 ways guys can plan the perfect vacation

(BPT) - When it comes to vacation planning, Clark Griswold has given guys everywhere a bad name. The first National Lampoon's Vacation movie saw his plans to bring his family to Walley World fall apart at every turn. Then his planned trip to Europe was a disaster. He couldn’t even plan a simple family Christmas without it becoming a complete catastrophe.

Now the holidays are coming up once again for you and you want to plan your own vacation. It doesn’t have to follow the Griswold script. Just follow these five guidelines below and you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation without the comedy or the tragedy.

1. Think events before time. Many vacation planners focus right away on how many days they will be gone and fill their time based on this. Why? The days aren’t the most important element, it’s what you’re doing that defines a great vacation. Start your plans by determining everything you want to do and then set aside the time necessary to make all of it happen.

2. Take the initiative. Don’t let Clark Griswold’s foiled plans stop you. You can plan an amazing vacation and research shows your significant other would appreciate it if you did. Ninety percent of women said they would be happy if their partner did any of the travel planning according to the Travel MANager Weekend Escape Artist survey, conducted by Wakefield Research. Surprise your significant other by planning all of the details for a spontaneous holiday trip using the Travel MANager microsite, an online platform that provides men with advice, resources and tools to plan the perfect trip. Travel MANager offers you professional advice from expert travel bloggers, original research and trip itinerary suggestions all in one digital hub so you can plan efficiently.

3. Budget everything. You may not know what every aspect of your trip will cost, but it’s good to have an idea before you go. Having a rough outline of the expenses you’ll incur will prevent you from having to forgo any activities or getting that surprisingly high bill at trip’s end.

4. Find the right hotel. When you're on vacation, your hotel room is your home away from home so pick a good one to fit your needs. Look for a hotel that allows you to spread out and have a little space. This is especially true if you're traveling with kids who will appreciate the space to play and rest. Homewood Suites by Hilton, for example offers large, spacious suites perfect for you and your family and friends to spread out after an exhilarating day.

5. Save the best for last. The final day of many trips is simply reserved for traveling back home. Instead of subscribing to this tired mantra, save your last day for the thing you wanted to do most. You’ll leave your trip on a high note with plenty of amazing memories, and you’ll be more apt to stick to your schedule if it preserves your most coveted activity.

Great holiday trips don’t just plan themselves, and the more planning you do ahead of time, the less likely you are to have the mishaps that would make your story truly screen worthy. To learn more about how Travel MANager can help you plan your holiday trip, visit mencanplantravel.com.

Baby on board? 8 tips for stress-free infant...

(BPT) - Whether it's a quick weekend away or a weeklong adventure, family travel is a great way to bond and create lifelong memories. However, if you have an infant, you may be hesitant to pack all those bags and venture to the unknown.

"With their love of a set schedule and the familiar, plus loads of gear, babies are natural homebodies," says Sandra Gordon, baby safety expert and blogger at www.babyproductsmom.com. "Still, they can be surprisingly adaptable and getting out and about can be loads of fun for everyone. The trick is to be prepared so you can enjoy the journey and the destination."

Gordon offers eight tips and tricks that make infant travel easy so everyone can have an enjoyable vacation:

Prepare the diaper bag

The diaper bag is your go-to throughout your trip. Pack everything your baby might need including diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks, toys, a pacifier, feeding supplies, infant formula and lots of Ziploc bags for dirty bottles, clothes, etc. An extra shirt for yourself is a smart addition as well, just in case.

Pack pre-measured, dry powder baby formula

Whether on the plane or out for the day, pack two to four bottles with pre-measured, dry baby formula that you can mix with bottled water at feeding time. To save up to 50 percent, buy store brand infant formula. All infant formula sold in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so store brand formula must meet the same FDA standards as the big advertised brands. It's available wherever infant formula is sold, such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Target.

Bring a prepared bottle

Bring a prepared bottle for the airport; it can help keep your baby content during the lengthy check-in process. It's also a must during takeoff to relieve ear pressure. You can take more than 3.4 ounces of infant formula or breast milk through airport security. Tell the transportation security officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the beginning of the checkpoint screening process. Visit the TSA for more info on flying with children.

Split up your stuff

When packing bags you plan to check at the airport, split up the contents so that each suitcase has everyone's clothes in it, including your baby's. That way if a bag gets lost, everyone will have something to wear for the next few days until your bag is found. Essentials such as formula, medicine, etc. should be packed in your carry-on.

Stick to baby's schedule

Babies rely on a schedule so there's no need to disrupt it when on vacation. Try travelling around nap time for domestic flights or at bedtime for international flights. Be sure to bring along her favorite stuffed animal or blanket that she normally sleeps with so there's something familiar to sooth her. Baby can sleep and you can relax.

Avoid popular travel times

Avoid crowds and save money by travelling on slower days. The day prior to holidays will always be hectic, so opt to fly two to three days before or after to enjoy a slower airport plus cheaper ticket prices. For non-holiday travel, avoid early-morning flights on weekdays so you and your baby don't have to compete with harried business travelers.

Rent gear

If you can't bring all your gear when travelling, consider renting. Ask your hotel about rental options in the area so you can have everything you need to make baby feel comfortable without having to lug items across the country. It is an extra cost, but it also saves you the cost of having to check bulky items on the plane.

Eat in or eat out early

Book a hotel with a kitchen so you can make baby-friendly foods in a comfortable space. When you do want to eat out, remember that prime time for eating out with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is Sunday through Wednesday before standard lunch or dinner times (11:30 a.m. or 5:30 p.m.). Restaurants are less crowded and you'll get faster service.

Travelling with a baby gets easier every time you do it. With these tips you'll satisfy your wanderlust without worry, plus your little one will have a great time.

Hit the road with your team for the ultimate...

(BPT) - Team loyalty comes with benefits: There is simply no easier way to plan a little escape than to hit the road for an away game. And while you're at it, you can experience the best of what a new town has to offer. By combining your love of sports with having new experiences in new locales with your family, you join a new segment of travelers Hampton by Hilton has identified as Seekenders.

Samantha Ponder is something of an expert on the Seekender movement. The ESPN reporter is constantly on the road covering collegiate football and basketball games, so she treasures those opportunities when she can grab a quick getaway with her young daughter, Scout, and her husband. For her, it’s not only fun, but “Seekending” is one way to shape and deepen their lives.

“I see life as the ultimate adventure and want to explore as much as I can, not only to challenge and grow myself, but to set that example for my daughter,” Ponder says. “I want her to be exposed to many places and people because I want her to start asking herself the important questions in life as she gets older.”

Ponder offers some sound tips and strategies to help you plan the perfect Seekender adventure that is trouble free and will also create lasting memories.

Escape from your comfort zone.

Go ahead, write down two or three ideas for a getaway that will take you out of your routine. Look for away games in locales offering foods and experiences that are truly unique from your hometown. For example, if your team is playing in Denver, carve a bit of extra time to head up to the Rocky Mountains for a day of snowshoeing, hiking or skiing.

Ask the locals.

Keep a little space in the itinerary to stumble upon something fun. For example, you don’t have to scour the internet to find the very best top-rated destinations to eat, Ponder says. One easy way to do this is ask the locals or when staying at a Hampton by Hilton, ask the staff. They are eager to share some of their favorite local places. This is especially true if you are off on a collegiate game adventure. “There are always hidden gems in college towns,” Ponder says.

Make friends.

When you’re tailgating, be open to meeting others around you. After all, you already have something in common: a love of the game. “Bring extra food with an intention to share,” Ponder says. “You may end up meeting a lifelong friend!”

Take care of yourself.

If you don’t have time to put in a full workout, come up with a quick, “good-enough” routine for the hotel room. Ponder does push-ups and squats in her room. Another great option is to book a hotel that offers a complimentary fitness center like at a Hampton by Hilton. Ponder also dresses casually for comfort when she’s en route. And her two must-haves for the journey are facial wipes and a baseball cap. “They're easy to pack and a good way to feel more pulled together, even when you're not,” she says.

Reach for amenities that matter.

A hotel with all the amenities you want and expect is like a great travel partner: It can maximize the enjoyment of your Seekender trip. Samantha’s top three hotel musts are cleanliness, functionality and a comfortable bed. She finds she doesn’t have to worry about anything when she stays at Hampton by Hilton hotels. She knows the room will be clean, the free, hot breakfast will make it easy to start the day and she can still get her workout in at the complimentary fitness center.

Taking your love for your favorite team on the road is a great way to bond and build lasting memories for your family. For inspiration, follow Ponder’s Seekender adventures on HamptonSeekender.com and join the conversation on social media at #Seekender.


8 stress-free family travel tips for dads

(BPT) - Family travel is a great way for everyone to bond and create lifelong memories. However, before you can hit the road, you need to do a little planning.

Traditionally, moms took the lead in organizing vacations. Today, a new trend is emerging in which men are taking charge and planning family trips. Driven by the desire to share important life experiences with their kids and partner, fathers are handling every aspect of travel, from researching locations to booking hotels.

Beau Coffron is one of these dads. With a passion for travel, the Lunchbox Dad blogger has planned numerous family vacations. These experiences led him to become a Travel MANager for Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton.

Coffron knows family travel is a lot of fun, but it can also get stressful fast. To avoid those out-of-control moments and keep kids (and parents!) happy, he offers eight smart tips for stress-free family travel.

Plan early: Whether a quick weekend adventure or a grand week-long escape, plan as early as possible. Having extra time to research the right location, travel accommodations and activities cuts stress and ensures you plan a memorable vacation.

Use online planning tools: Save time by using the internet to research and book travel. An all-in-one website like Mencanplantravel.com is packed with inspirational insight from dad travelers, tips for planning a great family vacation and fast options for finding great hotel rates around the world.

Pack smart: Traveling with a family can mean bringing a lot of stuff for each person. Pack smarter by focusing on items that multitask. For example, kids' T-shirts take up little space and can be worn during the day or at night as pajamas. Accessories like scarves can also be used as small blankets for picnics.

Keep kids busy in transit: No matter what your mode of travel, kids can get bored while in-route to your destination. Keep kids busy by packing unique activities such as giving out a small metal tin from the kitchen and pack magnets for mess-free fun. Searching "free printable coloring sheets" online and printing out loads of activities kids can color with crayons is another great option.

Guarantee sound sleep: For little ones, always pack a crib sheet so you know you'll have fresh linens for your baby or toddler. For all kids, you can download a soothing sound machine app on your phone to block any sound to help everyone sleep better.

Simplify first-aid: Create a travel-friendly first-aid kit by filling a plastic pencil box with travel-size sunscreen, insect repellent, bandages, tweezers and more. It takes up little space and you won't have to spend time digging around your luggage to find items when needed most.

Bring a disposable camera for kids: Kids love to take pictures, but parents tire of having to share their smartphone constantly. Instead, give kids control by buying a disposable camera. They'll have fun documenting the vacation and you don't have to worry about them breaking your screen.

Document possessions: You're sure to use your phone to take photos and videos of the kids, but have you thought of doing so with your luggage? Lay out what you've brought and take a quick video before putting items away at the hotel. This helps should you have to make an insurance claim.

With these tips, dads can plan stress-free family trips with ease. Now you just count down the days until takeoff.


4 undeniable reasons to travel in 2017

(BPT) - Do you dream of getting away from the stress of your everyday life? Are you looking for a way to reconnect with loved ones? Do the winter blues have you dreaming of warm sunny days?

Sounds like you're in need of a vacation.

Planning a vacation gives you something to look forward to in the new year. What's more, studies show planning a vacation is one the best parts of the travel experience. It can boost your mood for weeks leading up to the big trip.

From researching exciting destinations, booking accommodations and counting down the days until you leave, travel can get your 2017 off to the right start. Here are four tips to make the trip perfect:

Get away to disconnect: When planning a vacation, select a location where you can truly disconnect from your job and home responsibilities. For example, with 60 miles of coastline open for relaxation and fun, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is an easy drive or flight from virtually anywhere in the United States. Once you arrive, make sure your out-of-office email is set and resist the urge to check social media. Now's the time to focus on you and your loved ones.

Get away to reconnect: AAA reports two out of three people say quality time with loved ones is the most important part of a vacation. In addition to selecting a great location, strive to find comfortable and convenient accommodations. Condotels, multi-bedroom hotel units and beach homes, are all wonderful options to bring your family and friends closer together. Plus, the extra amenities (like full kitchens) are sure to make your stay that much more relaxing.

Get away to build memories: A whopping 91 percent of people say their favorite memory is a vacation, according to Expedia.com research. To set the stage for massive memory-making, select a location with something for everyone. There's more than just the gorgeous shoreline at Myrtle Beach. Feel like a mermaid when you visit Ripley's Aquarium. Learn the wonders of science and the imagination at WonderWorks. Travel back in history by exploring Hopsewee Plantation and LW Paul Living History Farm. Finally, indulge the palate by visiting a variety of eateries along Murrells Inlet MarshWalk. Learn more at VisitMyrtleBeach.com.

Get away to try something new: Trying an activity you've never done before is guaranteed to give you and your family memories to last a lifetime. Do some research about the destination you've selected and sign up for activities in advance to ensure you get the most convenient times. Whether it's crabbing off a pier, kayaking pristine back-rivers or taking a hot air balloon ride, doing a unique activity is something you'll always remember (plus you'll get a story that is sure to make everyone jealous back home).

Stop dreaming and start planning - that unused PTO is full of possibilities. Let these ideas guide you to the vacation of a lifetime.


Dickens, ice slides, beaches and roller...

(BPT) - When you think about it, heading south is a pretty great way to spend a holiday vacation.

For example, there’s this historic city near the gulf that is famous for its carnival-like summer fun, but it’s actually one of those hidden gems when it comes to making Christmas magic by the sleighful.

From sporty Santas who run in half marathons to a full-throated celebration of all things Charles Dickens, from ice sculptures to roller coaster rides to moonlit walks on the beach, Galveston Island, Texas is starting to gain a reputation of being a family destination for holiday cheer.

And best of all, you can easily get around without having to bundle up and walk into the headwinds of an Arctic clipper.

Here are six things to discover this season on the “Winter Wonder Island” of Galveston Island.

Ice Land: Ice Sculptures: Beneath a big-top tent is a Caribbean theme featuring tropical fish, eagle rays, turtles and sharks — a paradise created from 2 million pounds of ice by a team of master carvers. As the entire family wanders through the icy wonderland, kids can fly down an ice slide while parents enjoy a cocktail at Shivers Ice Bar. The icy wonderland runs Nov. 12-Jan. 8.

Festival of Lights: Brighten up the wintry season at the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast, featuring a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays. Visitors to the festival can also go ice-skating at the Moody Gardens outdoor ice rink or snow tubing on the Arctic Ice Slide.

Holiday with the cranes: Every fall, these very special holiday guests glide in on wings spanning 6 feet to come home for the winter on Galveston Island. Sandhill cranes stand 4 feet tall and have traveled great distances from their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, Alaska and Siberia. Here’s a chance to witness the power of nature’s mysterious call to migrate and watch these lively, family-oriented birds socialize. Stop in for lectures and guided tours, Dec. 10-11.

Victorian historic district: Before the Civil War, Galveston had one of the largest cotton shipping ports in the U.S. and was Texas' most populated city. This history and bustling commerce laid the foundation of what is today's36-city-block historic district. Here, you can explore the unique shops, restaurants, art galleries and museums — including a railroad museum that will see the Jolly Old Elf pulling into the station on the Holiday Express on Dec. 10. And as the sun goes down and the holiday lights twinkle on, it’s even more festive.

Dickens on the Strand: You might say Charles Dickens’ beloved tale about Mr. Scrooge defined and established many Christmas traditions we enjoy yet today. The locals of Galveston celebrate that in a huge way with this Victorian London themed revelry that takes place Dec. 2-4. With the historic district as a backdrop, downtown comes alive with carolers and musicians, peddlers, food carts, crafts and more. Better yet, show up in Victorian attire and get admission for half price.

The Grand 1894 Opera House: Plenty of family friendly entertainment will light up the stage at this landmark theater during the holiday season. This year’s lineup includes a performance by Loretta Lynn, and holiday-themed theater including “ELF, the Musical,” "Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Musical.” Check the schedule for details at thegrand.com.

More wonders await at Galveston Island that will help you build lasting memories with your family. To help you plan your complete getaway, visit www.galveston.com/holidaymagic/.

Go West! Adventurers, film buffs flock to Rocky...

(BPT) - America’s love affair with winter sports continues.

Participation has been on the upswing since 2011, with 9.4 million downhill skiers, 7.7 million snowboarders and 4.1 million cross country skiers tracked respectively in the 2014-15 season alone.

One of the most popular regions? The Rocky Mountains, whose ski resorts drew 20.7 million visitors in 2014-15 according to snowsports.org – the highest number since 2010/2011, and representative of 39 percent of all such visits across the U.S. And because of this year’s prime snow conditions, many ski buffs are again looking to the West for this season’s vacations. Those wanting adventure with a choice of many other amenities might consider Sundance Mountain Resort near Provo, Utah, the 5,000-acre resort founded by actor Robert Redford in 1969.

Redford, who can sometimes be found on site, founded Sundance in 1969 with the mission of fostering artistic expression, encouraging nature appreciation and building environmental stewardship. He explains in a video how he found the property while driving around.

“It was so idyllic, kind of raw and primitive, which made me fall in love with the whole canyon,” he remembered. “I knew it was just a matter of time, and this whole beautiful area was going to be discovered … so at that point I pledged to do everything in my power to preserve it.”

The destination has since become renowned, as it is an official venue for the iconic Sundance Film Festival. But vacationers may be surprised at the resort’s range of other offerings.

Ski enthusiasts are drawn by the area’s average 300 inches of dry, powdery snow each year. And Sundance, in addition to 45 downhill ski runs (20 percent at expert level) offers 25 kilometers of groomed trails for skating and classic skiing along with a nearly two-mile zip line offering dual-span seating, adjustable speeds of more than 65 mph and the largest vertical drop (2,100 feet) in the U.S.

The family-owned resort is a year-round destination and cultural mecca offering artistic, literary, theatre and musical programming along with four eateries including the award-winning Tree Room. Also featured are 92 guest accommodations; a selection of mountain homes; a full spa spotlighting nature-influenced healing methods; a state-of-the-art screening room; an outdoor amphitheater; a bar and a general store. All buildings are created from local materials – stone quarried in the area along with indigenous cedar, fur and pine – and designed to fit in with the environment.

Sundance’s affiliation with the film festival of the same name means hundreds of dramatic and documentary films, shorts, installations, performances, panel discussions and dynamic music events have been launched or hosted at the resort, continually introducing attendees to original and authentic storytelling. Two fun facts: Redford’s 1972 film “Jeremiah Johnson” was filmed nearby, and the vintage 1890s wooden bar inside the resort’s Owl Bar was once frequented by Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang. The resort has also served as an inspirational mecca for countless skiers, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies and wanderlust adventurers.

Browse photos of the resort’s inspiring mountain vistas, challenging ski runs and other inviting amenities at www.sundanceresort.com.

5 travel tips for a last minute getaway

(BPT) - There's something so exciting about planning a vacation, yet more than half of American workers let their vacation days go to waste. But having time away from the stresses and daily grind of your job is crucial to a work-life balance. You work hard to earn your vacation days, so why not take full advantage of them with a last minute getaway?

To provide some relief and assist in restoring that work-life balance, Hilton Garden Inn recently partnered with several travel experts and bloggers for advice and tips to some of travelers' greatest problems - and in regard to last-minute getaways, they found that the key to a successful spontaneous vacation is quick preparation, and efficiency is key.

So before jetting off, you'll need a few tricks to ensure you're ready on time. Here are some tips you might find helpful when preparing for an impromptu getaway:

Get sleep

While your travel plans might have you feeling nervous and excited, it's important to get as much rest as possible before a vacation. You'll feel the urge to stay up late, trying to check those last minute items off your to-do list, but it's better to set a bedtime and stick to it. You'll want to start your journey refreshed and ready to take on an adventure.

Prepare for an easy exit

The night before you embark on your trip, pack your suitcase and set it by the front door, along with a list of things to do before you walk out of the house. The list could include things like packing your phone charger, feeding the fish, making sure all the lights are off or any other loose ends you need to tie up. When you create a list the night before, you'll have less risk of forgetting any important details when you're short on time.

Make a playlist

Before you leave on your trip, make yourself a "wind down" playlist of all your favorite mellow songs. When you're traveling, there's a lot on your mind. You have places to go, and sights and people to see - it can feel a bit chaotic. A calming playlist helps you to soothe yourself on the plane, lull yourself to dreamland in a hotel room or simply relax if you're stressed about travel plans.

Download the right apps

There are many apps available that make travel easier. Why not try the Hilton Honors app? When booking your last minute getaway, use the Hilton Honors app to find one of more than 700 Hilton Garden Inn properties around the globe. Once you book your stay, use the app to choose your hotel room, check-in online and request an Uber (available in select cities). Additionally, apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor have restaurant reviews and ratings so you can find the best spots for a yummy meal.

Make a plan for exercise

Traveling can be tough on your body, but if you plan ahead, you can fit some exercise into your schedule to get the endorphins flowing. When booking travel, make sure to choose a hotel that has a fitness center, such as a Hilton Garden Inn which features the latest cardio and weight training equipment. Look over your proposed itinerary and block out 20 to 30 minutes. If that's too much time to dedicate, you can also download 7-minute workouts on your phone, which you can easily do in your hotel room to get your heart rate up.

Put those vacation days to good use and plan a last minute-trip with these tips. After all, what's the point of working so hard if you can't enjoy a relaxing getaway?

To book a weekend to reset and refresh, visit www.hgi.com.

Salt storage barns: The key to safe winter roads

(BPT) - For most of us, if we ever think about salt storage, the salt shaker on our table probably comes to mind. However, for your local road and transportation department, salt storage is all about keeping road salt properly covered and safe so it is available for the department to use when it starts to snow.

At first glance, it is easy to wonder why road salt needs any sort of special storage, but digging a little deeper into that road salt stockpile soon shows why good storage practices can be extremely important. Proper use of road salt as part of a winter maintenance program can reduce crashes by between 85 and 88 percent, according to a Marquette University study. Furthermore, the use of road salt ensures roads stay open and deliveries are made, avoiding losses to state economies that can run in the hundreds of millions of dollars every day, according to a IHS Global Insight study.

The need for proper salt storage

So it is no real surprise, as we approach the winter season, that agencies are giving significant thought to proper salt storage. For example, the City of Geneva in Ohio is planning to construct a new salt storage facility that will be able to hold six times as much salt (1,800 tons) compared to the old facility that could only store 300 tons. Not only will this provide a sustainable salt storage solution for the city, it will also give them enough storage that they will no longer have to rely on mid-winter deliveries of salt. Previously, in bad winters, they needed salt to be delivered in the middle of winter when, of course, delivery is likely to be most difficult. That can cause a lot of nervous worry about whether or not the salt will arrive in time, and when the new storage facility comes on line, those worries will no longer be a concern!

Sometimes, state departments of transportation (DOT) will need to build new storage facilities to make their operations more efficient. This has been happening in Tennessee at exit 158 on Interstate 24. A planned new facility there will greatly improve efficiency for the Tennessee DOT- instead of their trucks needing to "deadhead" (run back empty) to another facility nearly 80 minutes away, they will be able to get reloaded and back on the road in less than 40 minutes. That means more time for the trucks on the road, keeping those roads safe and passable, and thus protecting the traveling public during winter storms.

An ideal storage barn solution

It would be easy to think of a salt storage shed as just a building with an impermeable floor, but a look at the facility in Fort Collins, Colorado shows that it can involve a great deal more than that. Larry Schneider, director of the city's streets department and his team put a great deal of planning, about five years' worth, into their salt storage facility. They have doors at both ends of their building so they can access salt to fill city trucks at one end, and get salt to make salt brine at the other end without any interference. They load their salt through a conveyor system, that simultaneously weighs the salt as it is loaded into the dome, coats it with a special liquid so it is more effective, and places it in the right place in the dome to ensure they make use of all the space in the building.

The city's liquids program uses a special dispensing station, a bit like a series of fuel pumps, so that a number of trucks can fill up with the right brine at the same time. They even took care to make sure the doors in the salt building faced away from the prevailing wind direction, to make the handling process easier during winter storms. All that planning means trucks can fill up quickly and efficiently in the middle of the night during storms (and of course, during the day too!) and that the city can keep a close track on the salt and brine they use for their winter maintenance. As Schneider says "we can't manage it if we don't measure it." And a good salt storage barn helps them to keep track of the whole process!

5 reasons you'll love your next vacation

(BPT) - The big skies and open spaces of the American West have captured the imagination for hundreds of years. Whether it's the beauty of a desert sunset or the cold majesty of snow-capped mountains, there's something about the landscape and the clean air that reinvigorates the spirit.

Seeking relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life, people from all over stay at one of many dude ranches across the country. Here, an intimate blend of adventure and comfort allows visitors to experience the majesty of the west in style and unmatched luxury.

Since 1926, members of The Dude Ranchers Association have served as stewards of both the land and the traditions of the American West. Always eager to share their way of life with guests from the big city or just down the road, they have transformed the rancher's way of life into one of the most incredible vacation opportunities around.

For a taste of the variety offered, here are five reasons all kinds of people return to dude ranches across the country.

1. Roughing it has never been so luxurious. Simply put, it's hard to find a more relaxing experience. With many ranches offering morning yoga to limber you up before you get in the saddle along with spa services to induce a state of complete relaxation, you'll think those cowboys had it easy on their cattle drives!

2. An educational adventure for the whole family. Many dude ranches have an array of kid-friendly activities. Children of all ages can ride horses, play, learn about animals and the wonders of the great outdoors. Parents treasure this direct, hands-on learning, and kids, well, they hardly know that what they're doing is educational.

3. A perfect getaway for animal lovers. There is no shortage of people who visit a dude ranch in order to live their childhood dream of having a horse or a pony. Horses are an integral part of the dude ranch experience, and whether you ride them through the mountainside meadows or learn some grooming techniques, working with these animals is a magical experience.

4. Indulge in a meal like none other. After a day luxuriating in the crisp western air, nothing is better than sitting down with your family for a gourmet meal paired with the perfect wine. Yes, the food is a world-class combination of classic favorites and new flavors, but it's also a chance to share stories with your loved ones, hear about the things your kids discovered and create lasting memories.

5. Discover something about yourself. Each year, there is no shortage of people who come to relax and let the stress of daily life melt away. While doing this, they also manage to participate in things they never imagined. Whether it is zooming down a zip line, going whitewater rafting or mountain biking, many people discover new experiences that give them a new perspective on life.

Founded in 1926, The Dude Ranchers' Association was founded to preserve, protect and promote this unique vacation experience. Since then, the core principles of dude ranching remain the same: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart.

With more than 100 accredited members, all of which are required to uphold the highest quality and standards within the dude ranching industry, The Dude Ranchers' Association can help you find your next dream vacation.

5 bold steps to reshape your life

(BPT) - Time to reflect back on 2016 and set your sights on 2017. How did the year progress, and what did you accomplish? Maybe your goals included: A new promotion, a new car, a bigger house, better health or more meaningful relationships. Did they happen?

Has that time come to raise the bar and make a fundamental change?

At first glance it may seem impossible, but nothing changes unless you take control. Maybe 2017 is the year you start living life more on your own terms - and start today by employing these five tips:

* Live a life that is true to you. Wrestle with this one. Dig deep. Is it work? Then make passion for that work front and center. Is it skill building? Then tackle an online class in a skill you need, or just want to explore. Is it where you live, or who you are sharing life with or want to share it with? Stare it down and chart one bold step toward change. The biggest regret at the end of life's journey is abandoning your dreams. And for most people it's just pure fear that they weren't good enough, so they "turtle shell" up. Stop. No retakes. One mantra: Live Life Now. Repeat: This is Your Life. Find what is true to you and take one tangible step.

* Measure your time and where it is spent. Time is like the sand in the hourglass of life. Once it's gone, it's gone. Manage it like money. Every person walking this planet has the same exact number of hours in a day. Think of it as currency. How are you spending it? Seriously, take out the pen, paper and write down for one week how that most precious commodity was spent. Then change the allocation and budget time toward accomplishing that change you want, and maybe even desperately need. Own your hour glass of life and take control.

* Focus on your people. Ask yourself a tough question: Who are the people you care about most? Who do you impact, and who impacts you? These are the people that matter most in your life. Don't be afraid to shift the balance of your time in their favor. You'll be a better friend, and you'll inherently feel stronger and more impactful. Your support network grows stronger, as do you.

* Feel good with what you wear. This may seem contrite, but what you toss on that skin of yours not only speaks volumes about you, but also puts you into a certain mindset. If clothes make the man, what do yours say about you? Change some items in your wardrobe and feel good about what you wear. For example, the Madda Fella menswear clothing line projects the chill vibe of Key West, yet works well in the boardroom or out on the boat.

* Find your inspiration point. What place inspires you? Where is that one spot in the world that motivates you above all others? For Madda Fella CEO and founder Michael Louden, it is Key West. "When I am there, in the sun, in this gorgeous slice of the world, I change perspectives... see a bigger world." he says. "You owe it to yourself to do something meaningful with your life, to make a difference." Find your place. You'll find it is just what you need to recharge your batteries, revive your spirit and strengthen you.

The holidays are a wonderful time to bring into focus the year ahead. Don't be afraid to think big and to start now. Set the ground work for change today and you'll make 2017 your most legendary year yet.

Celebrate 100 years of majesty with a visit to...

(BPT) - It has been 100 years since an important American institution was born. On August 25, 1916, the National Park Service was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson and was established as a new federal bureau to oversee the country's national parks and monuments.

Since then, the national park system has grown to encompass more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state. With that act, grand sweeps of mountains, canyons, forests, islands and seashores were preserved and made accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Whether you are looking for back-country skiing down a mountain or just a scenic afternoon drive, our national park system has plenty of resources and infrastructure to make a visit enjoyable and memorable to just about anyone.

It was John Muir, a naturalist and early parks advocate who said it best: "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

No matter where you live, there's a good chance one of these mesmerizing landscapes or historical monuments is just a quick road trip away. However, while millions will visit these majestic spots each year, few realize a major challenge faces national parks across the country - waste. The National Park Service manages more than 100 million pounds of waste nationally, much of which is generated by serving more than 300 million park visitors per year - that's enough to fill the Statue of Liberty more than 1,800 times.

While waste is a major issue in the parks, visitors can make a difference. Subaru of America, experts in zero-landfill sustainability, is sharing its knowledge of these practices with the National Parks to help keep the parks beautiful for the next century. As part of that effort, the automaker, alongside National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), has developed a set of tips that visitors can adopt to help reduce some of the biggest contributors to landfills from national parks, including paper, plastics and glass:

Opt for online: While paper maps can be a park staple, there are smartphone apps that provide the same information and more. Even without cell service, some national park apps will give helpful information about where you can spot wildlife, catch a beautiful sunset, or even find a refillable water station.

Mug for the parks: Bring a reusable coffee mug from home or buy one from the souvenir shop to help reduce the 58 billion paper cups that are sent to America's landfills every year.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle): Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Keep a refillable water bottle on hand or buy one at gift shop, while taking advantage of convenient refilling stations around the park.

Ditch the Plastic Bag: Help reduce waste by not using a plastic bag for your souvenirs or groceries that you bring into the parks. Instead, bring your own reusable bag or tote for your items to help eliminate plastic bag waste.

Take Out What You Bring in: Think about what you bring in. Check to see if it can be recycled or composted in the park you are visiting. If it cannot, try to take it home. It is often far easier to recycle near your home than in rural park areas.

If you are interested in learning more about Subaru's efforts or what you can do to help make a positive impact for generations to come, visit subaru.com/environment.

What every new driver needs to know about tires

(BPT) - When you get behind the wheel, some actions come automatically, without thinking, such as checking your fuel gauge, using your turn signal and snapping on your seat belt.

But even the most experienced drivers fail to follow this key habit that every driver should practice: They don't check their tires.

If you miss the warning signs that your tires need air, repairs or replacement, you could end up with a tire blowout as your car zooms down the highway. This can lead to loss of control of the vehicle and, ultimately, an accident. According to a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of crashes involving inexperienced drivers are caused by tire-related issues.

So as a new driver, you have an opportunity to start a new habit right away. Check your tires once a month, and schedule a reminder on your phone. It's worthwhile to take a few moments to pay attention to your tires. Otherwise, if you don't, your tires will one day force the issue.

If any of these tasks on this checklist are unfamiliar to you, have a trusted family member or friend show you how. Before long, these steps will be almost as effortless as checking the fuel gauge!

Inflation: Learn how to check tire pressure with the help of a simple, inexpensive tool that fits right in your glove box: a tire pressure gauge. First, look in your jamb of the driver's side door for the PSI number, which means pounds per square inch. This tells you how much air your tires need. Remove the cap from the valve stem of your tire and apply the pressure gauge to find out how much air is in your tires. If you need to top them off, find a nearby service station, hopefully one that offers free air!

Wear: Get down and examine each tire, front, back and sides, and use the penny test to check for excessive wear. You accomplish this by placing the coin in the tread with Lincoln's head pointing downward. If you can see the top of his head, your treads are too worn down to adequately grip the road and it is time for replacement.

Debris: Check your treads for any debris, such as rocks or nails. If you think one of your tires is punctured, yet you don't hear any hissing, place some liquid soap on the suspected area. If a bubble arises, that's a sign of a puncture and it should brought in.

Bulges: If you see a "bubble" or a bulge in the sidewalls, that is a sign of distress and your tire in danger of failing. Bring it in as soon a possible. This is usually caused by striking a curb or a pothole or some other debris on the road. If you should accidentally hit something, it's a good idea to pull over to a safe place and examine the tires for signs of damage. If you don't see anything, be sure you check again the next time before you get behind the wheel.

Rotation: Front tires will wear more quickly than the rear, thanks to the heavy weight of the engine. That's why it's recommended that you rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles. Luckily, this can be done very easily during an oil change. All you have to do is ask.

Equipment: Is your spare tire in the trunk of your car, along with all the other necessary tools? Don't forget to check the tire pressure of your spare, as well. If you are in a situation where you can't change your own tire, know who you would call, and whether you have the resources to cover the costs. Now that winter is coming, it's a good idea to be prepared with other supplies to keep you safe in case you are stopped, such as a winter kit and a snow shovel.

Your tires are the only things between your car and the road. But investing a few minutes into this monthly safety check is an important step in reducing your risk in getting into a crash. To learn more about being safe on the road, check out Michelin's Beyond the Driving Test at www.beyondthedrivingtest.com.


5 steps to a truly life-changing visit to Cuba

(BPT) - With the recent easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, Americans are now busily writing their Cuba vacation checklists. They likely look something like this: Drink a mojito in a Havana bar, smoke a really good cigar, try to dance the salsa, wear a new Che Guevara T-shirt and take a selfie doing all of the above at once.

While those are worthwhile activities, don't let that be where your checklist ends, as you won't come home with a true understanding of what Cuba is really like. To experience the heart and soul of Cuba — and to have one’s own heart and soul touched by the experience — you have to put down the guidebook, forget your pre-conceived notions of what you should be doing and follow these five steps.

Step 1: Spend time with real Cuban people. Americans traveling to Cuba still have to qualify under one of the approved categories, one of which is “People to People.” Think of it as an authentic cultural exchange. You meet Cuban people, such as artists, athletes, musicians and dancers, and they give you insight into their everyday lives. Prepare to be amazed by the talent, passion and dedication these people have to their craft and the commitment private citizens have to the arts in the face of extraordinary budget pressures.

Step 2: Experience life in a small town. To visit a place like Gibara (on the northern coast of eastern Cuba) and Remedios (near the coast in the north) is to understand how the majority of Cubans really live. These are places where the main square is a communal living room, where on Friday nights young girls dress up to meet young boys, where music is played in the streets and is accompanied by the clack of dominos on a café table. You’ll see preserved architecture from the 1600s and quickly notice that the preferred mode of transport is a bicycle or a ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air. All you need to do is hang out and watch life go by.

Step 3: Stay at a casa particular. When you add a huge tourist boom to a just-developing tourist infrastructure, the first thing you’ll notice is it’s hard to get a hotel room. Enter the casa particular. These are family-owned bed and breakfasts that are clean and affordable. Most have air-conditioning and private bathrooms, though the best part is the personal touches the proprietors love to add.

Step 4: Eat in a paladar. A paladar is a privately owned restaurant, often in a converted house. It’s where you’ll find authentic Cuban food, locally sourced and prepared from old family recipes. In Havana, get the grilled octopus in pesto sauce. In the center of the island it’s cattle country, where the specialty is vaca frita — a crispy and soft beef that melts in your mouth. Wherever you go, order the flan — it’s the real deal and a world apart from the poor substitute you always pass on.

Step 5: Learn a few steps of the salsa. If there’s any kind of beat in the air, you’ll find the sultry moves of a salsa dancer not far behind. And in Cuba everyone dances the salsa — in town squares, restaurants, even on buses. There’s something about the grace and passion of the dance that symbolizes the joy of life of the people of Cuba. Learn a little salsa and it’ll be the best thing you take home with you.

One of the most respected and experienced organizations offering “People to People” experiences is the not-for-profit educational travel company Road Scholar. Learn more at www.roadscholar.org/cuba or call (877) 426-8056.


4 ways to make your hotel feel more like home

(BPT) - After a few weeks of staying in hotels, you let out a sigh of relief as you walk through the front door of your home. As someone who travels for work, whether it be for relocation, training or sales, you know the feeling of coming home after a long trip — but you should also feel comfortable when you're away.

While you'll always enjoy returning to your family and home, you don't have to feel uncomfortable for weeks at a time during your extended trip. These four tips help you make your hotel experience feel more like home, and your overall trip more enjoyable.

First off, choose a suite to get more space.

Unlike typical hotel rooms, suites offer multiple rooms including a living room, kitchen and separate bathroom so it's more like an apartment. When you stay in a suite, you're less likely to feel cramped and you have the space to make it a bit more personal with your own touches.

Avoid eating out for every meal.

During business trips, many travelers are forced to eat out or order room service for every meal, but this can make you feel sluggish after just a few days. When you stay in a suite with a full kitchen, you can prepare your own meals as you would at home. Candlewood Suites hotels offer accommodations with a full kitchen including a refrigerator, stovetop, microwave and most importantly, a dishwasher. You can easily stay on your routine with healthy meals and make your favorite dishes. Additionally, Candlewood Suites properties offer the Lending Locker, where you can borrow items like a blender or crockpot to make your favorite items.

Unpack belongings after you check in.

It's hard to feel at home when you're living out of a suitcase. To make your suite feel like your own personal space, unpack clothes in drawers and closets, put away toiletries in the bathroom and store belongings like books in the nightstand. After you're all unpacked, you'll be able to relax more easily in your temporary home.

If you’re traveling for long time, you’ll eventually need to tackle your laundry as well. Candlewood Suites hotels provide free washing machines and dryers for guests to use which means you can conveniently take care of your laundry without ever leaving the hotel.

Personalize your space.

On short weekend trips, it makes sense to pack light. But, when you're in a new city for weeks or even months at a time, it's better to bring along more than just clothes and shower essentials. Personal touches, like family pictures, sports memorabilia and fresh plants can dramatically improve your space and feel more like your own. Some guests even like to bring their own bedspreads or wall art to make their suite feel like home.

Nothing can replace home, but a comfortable suite can at least come close. To learn more about apartment-style suites and how you can book one for your next extended trip, visit www.candlewoodsuites.com/business today.


4 Smart Reasons to Upgrade Your Home Security...

(BPT) - Think of what has changed forever in the span of a decade. How do you watch movies at home? You’ve replaced the DVDs with digital streaming. How do you send a picture of your kids to your parents? You skip the printing and post it on social media or send a quick text.

Another thing you can add to the list of next generation living is home security. If you install a new system in your home today, you’ll find it easier to secure and control your home, while burglars will find it harder to pull off a home heist.

Today’s best security systems come with smart home technology and a mobile app, which allows you to remotely control your system as well as other devices like locks, lights, video cameras and even your thermostat. Modern systems also offer enhanced protection from crime, with professional monitoring for emergencies and wireless communication that can’t be defeated by a semi-savvy burglar with wire cutters.

“A next-generation security system combines state-of-the-art protection with the convenience of smart home technology,” says Matt Zartman of Alarm.com, a l smart home security technology provider. “It’s easy to use, whether you’re at home or away, and it does much more for you than a traditional system can.”

Here are few changes Zartman has seen:

Smart features: One of the biggest challenges with traditional security systems is forgetting to arm the system. Once you leave home, you have no way to control it. Thanks to smartphone apps, that’s all changed. You can arm a modern security system with a tap on the screen of your smartphone, whether you are upstairs in bed tucked in for the night or hundreds of miles away on vacation.

Real-time news: An older system would only alert you when an alarm was set off. Today’s systems can alert you to a range of events via your smartphone. For example, you can get an alert when your kids arrive home, when a trusted contractor opens your smart lock, or when a video camera detects motion. You can also get notifications when something inside your home is accessed, such as a safe or a locked cabinet.

Upgraded protection: Older phone and cable-based security systems are easy to defeat because a burglar can cut the wires outside the home. The best modern systems use a wireless cellular connection to communicate. Even if your power is disabled or WiFi signal goes out, your home security system keeps you safe and connected.

Other emergencies: Tied into modern security systems is the ability to detect other emergencies in your home, such as detecting smoke or a carbon monoxide leak. They are even capable of alerting you when a water pipe bursts, so you can take action to prevent costly water damage.

If you are interested in learning more about modern security systems and how they keep your family safer and more connected when you are away, check out Alarm.com’s Smarter Home Security systems at www.alarm.com/blog.


3 tire tips to cruise through winter, safely

(BPT) - The leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping and winter will soon be here. While snow can be pleasant to look at, it can also wreak havoc on roadways and create hazardous driving conditions during the winter months.

Everyone dreads the nerve-wracking winter commutes, but there's plenty you can do to prepare your vehicle for inclement conditions. By taking a few precautionary steps in advance of the drop in temperatures, you can make sure your vehicle is better equipped for safe, smooth travel during the colder months.

Tires are one of the most important factors of safe winter driving; they can be the difference between a safe commute and a ride in a tow truck.

"It's crucial for drivers to be conscious of what type of tires are ideal for their region's climate and driving conditions," says Matti Morri, technical customer service manager, Nokian Tyres - the inventor of the winter tire. "Too often, drivers think all-season tires are satisfactory for all conditions, which puts them in an unsafe position during the winter months. Even the most mechanically sound vehicle is no match for winter without proper tires."

Take the time to make sure your tires are in optimal condition before the first snowfall to make the picturesque beauty of winter more enjoyable.

1. Make sure your tires are suited for the conditions.

Whether a driver needs all-season, all-weather or winter tires depends on the climate the driver is based in.

* All-season tires perform best in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and above. For most of the country, this means they are ideally suited for spring, summer and fall driving. If you don't experience snowy, slippery conditions in the winter, all-season tires are sufficient.

* All-weather tires can be used year-round and still provide excellent handling in the snow. All-weather tires are ideal for drivers that experience four seasons but are not designed to withstand the harsher winters in the northern regions.

* Winter tires are designed to grip in colder, winter conditions, not just in snow. These tires provide extreme grip in weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter tread patterns are also designed to provide excellent grip in icy and snowy conditions. Winter tires are engineered specifically to perform most effectively in harsh environments where colder temperatures are the norm. They don't just combat snow and ice, they're specifically designed and tested to function better in areas where temperatures can drop down well below freezing.

2. Monitor tire pressure.

Once you've found the proper tire for your climate, it's important to closely monitor the tire pressure. As the temperature drops, tire pressure falls with it. In fact, for every 10-degree drop in temperature, tire pressure decreases by 1 pound per square inch.

Low inflation can cause a number of problems with your vehicle. It increases fuel consumption, shortens the life of your tires and creates an unsafe driving experience, as if you don't already have enough to worry about while driving in the snow.

Tire pressure should be inspected at least once a month and always before a long trip. So grab a tire pressure gauge and your vehicle's owner manual before hitting the road this winter.

3. Monitor and rotate your tires.

Once your tires are properly inflated, take a look at the tread. Tires are considered legally worn out when they reach 2/32nds of an inch. To err on the side of caution, replace your tires when they reach 5/32nds of the remaining tread depth for winter driving. One way to check is to insert a U.S. penny into the main groove so that the edge of the coin touches the tread and Lincoln's head is upside down. If the top of Lincoln's head remains visible from the groove, the tires are fully worn.

Tires need more tread depth during the winter to compress snow in their grooves and release it as they roll. Insufficient tread depth sacrifices the vehicle's traction and mobility in the snow. You should monitor the tread depth closely throughout the winter and rotate the tires at least every 7,500 miles.

Having proper tires is just the beginning of safe winter driving. Visit a mechanic prior to the first snow to get the rest of your vehicle checked out, and in case all else fails, make sure you have an emergency kit in you car. Drive at a speed that's appropriate for the weather conditions and stay calm. Drivers should always approach winter driving with extreme caution and use their best judgment before hitting the road. Sometimes even the most prepared driver is no match for Mother Nature.


Unpack these simple luxuries to decompress at...

(BPT) - Traveling on business sounds glamorous, but it's actually as hard as a day's work — more than one would expect. After the day whirls by, whether it was spent wooing clients, leading training seminars, networking or closing sales, there’s a big appetite at the end of the day for a relaxing evening.

The growth of business travel in the U.S. is slower than the preceding decade, according to the Global Business Travel Association. So chances are when you are sent out, you are expected to accomplish more with less help during your off-site time. This can make you exceptionally ready for some down time at the end of the day. 

But for many busy women, this is a challenge. For starters, 79 percent of women said they can get twice as much done in a day as a man could, according to a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Hilton Garden Inn. Quite possibly, that is what is making women feel like they’re running on empty: 67 percent said they have wished their significant other would travel on business so they could be alone.

"Women are ambitious when it comes to wanting to maximize their career opportunities while building a meaningful life at home with their families," says Ash Sears, founder the blog, Quirky Inspired . "I have discovered when I'm traveling on business, it's actually a great opportunity to steal some time to pamper myself. And you don't have to spend a lot of time and money doing it."  

When traveling, as with home, it’s important to grab some restorative personal time to keep life in balance, and get your energy back up. Next time you’re traveling on business, leverage that block of time alone and your hotel surroundings so you can truly decompress.  

Pack a few spa items

Pack luxury bath products, the scented candles, the herbal teas you never get around to using at home, and use them to help you melt away the tensions of life and of the day. It will help you restore your mind and your muscles. Don’t forget the masks and foot creams so you can treat yourself to a facial or simple pedicure.

Disconnect the devices

In order to truly de-stress, untether yourself from the electronics. Delegate work emails and social media duties to someone else for a few hours, call your family to say goodnight, and power down the devices. Well, maybe you’ll want to keep one device going so you can stream some light bossa nova music to set the mood. Grab a good book or magazine and lounge by the pool. Or if you really need to decompress, try a simple meditation, focusing only on taking deep, slow, full breaths. After a few minutes, it will lower your blood pressure and make you feel better. 

Ask Jeeves

Yes, there are plenty of excellent mobile apps that are good at finding a great dinner spot. But there’s just something unappealing about clicking around and searching online after a busy day, especially when you are trying to weigh your choices against a limited knowledge of a new city. Take advantage of your hotel staff’s knowledge of the surrounding area. Hit them up for some solid local insight and you’ll be on your way.

Go to cocktail hour

No evening of luxurious downtime would be complete without some gourmet nibbles and adult beverages. If it gets a little later than expected, not to worry, Hilton Garden Inn’s Pavilion Pantry is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering a wide array of snacks and beverages. Consider having a glass of wine or a yummy dessert to relax from your hectic day.

Indulge and Relax in the Shower

Traveling is a perfect time to sample luxury spa items you may not have time to use at home. Enhance your shower time by using shower gels, loofah sponges or body scrubs. Look for shower items that include jasmine oil. The scent promotes a sense of calm and well-being and serves as a sleep aid.

To book a weekend to reset and refresh, visit www.hgi.com.




Travel tips to help introverts enjoy every journey

(BPT) - If you’re an introvert, traveling can be a challenge. Being introverted can increase the anxiety you feel when engaging in already-stressful business travel, and undermine your enjoyment of a leisure trip. Being forced to sit next to and even socialize with numerous other people, many of them strangers, can be torture for introverts.

“Introverts aren’t necessarily loners or even shy,” says Jim Menge, president of Rovia, an award-winning travel services provider. “They’re just more bothered by travel hassles like crowds, intense together time, and interacting with strangers. It’s important for introverted travelers and their traveling companions to plan an itinerary that will make the trip as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for everyone.”

Reserved, not shy

About 50 percent of the population are introverts, according to Psychology Today. And while stereotypes may portray introverts as shy, socially phobic loners, that’s not at all who they are. “Introverts are drained by social encounters and energized by solitary, often creative pursuits,” the online journal explains. “Many introverts socialize easily; they just strongly prefer not to.”

Your introversion may make you think a group travel experience would never be for you; you’ll stick to taking trips with your core family members and friends. Yet with the right itinerary, introverted travelers can find the perfect balance of alone-time and group activities, whether they’re traveling for business or pleasure.

Travel tips

Menge offers these tips for introverted travelers and the traveling companions who love them:

* Talk about your plans with your travel companions, especially if you’ll be touring with extroverts. It’s important everyone discusses what they can do to make the trip as enjoyable as possible for everyone.

* Consider how comfortable you are with stretching your limits. “Each person is unique and has their own level of comfort with pushing themselves to try new experiences,” Menge says. “Think about what you’re comfortable with.” For example, learning and using a few foreign phrases, or talking with one person outside the tour group can be a low-stress triumph.

* Many introverts are energized by creative and meaningful pursuits. If that describes you, voluntourism may be a great group travel option. Voluntourism is vacation travel with a volunteering component, and it allows you to have meaningful interaction with both locals and fellow travelers that goes beyond the small talk you may dread. Voluntour itineraries like those offered by WorldVentures balance work and relaxation, and volunteer projects can last from a single day to several weeks. One day of your trip, you may work with others to build a school, and the next day have free time to explore the sights and sounds of the destination.

* Allow yourself adequate free time to get away from the group by yourself (if safe to do so) or with a handful of close loved ones. That away time will allow you to recharge so you’re more relaxed when you rejoin the larger group.

* Look for accommodations that won’t force you into social situations. For example, a B&B, where dining is communal, might be an uncomfortable environment for an introverted traveler, while a larger hotel may allow for more anonymity and independence.

* Choose activities that allow you to enjoy “me-time,” even if you’re with others. For example, a hike on a scenic and moderate to strenuous trail will allow for more quiet time — even in a larger group. Everyone will be concentrating on walking carefully and breathing, rather than on socializing.

* Use technology to give yourself alone time when you can’t physically get away from others. Wearing headphones or using an e-reader can silently alert your travel companions that you need some time to yourself. “You’re not being rude, you’re just doing what you need to do to recharge,” Menge says. “It’s perfectly OK to do what you need to do in order to maximize your enjoyment of your trip.”

You can learn more about voluntourism and group travel opportunities that will please both introverts and extroverts at www.dreamtrips.com.


Articles last updated at Jan 22, 2017 00:03:24am.
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