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Fun summer activities for the whole family

(BPT) - Summer and fun – while these words aren't technically synonyms, they probably should be. School is out for the children, you have summer vacation time from work stocked up, and the nice weather across the country is beckoning.

Are you in search of some fun ideas for your summer activities? Check out these family-friendly ideas everyone will love!

* Camp – Sleeping under the stars is just the first great benefit of going on a camping adventure. You can plan plenty of fun and kid-friendly activities to keep you busy all summer long. Hiking, cooking over the campfire, fishing, swimming, catching fireflies, telling ghost stories and toasting marshmallows all add to the fun. Just remember to pack plenty of bug spray and sunblock so your fun doesn't get interrupted by painful or itchy skin.

* Ride the trails – Taking the family for an ATV ride is an adventure all in itself. You get to see the country in a new way, plus you’ll have fun trekking across the countryside. If you've never tried off-roading before, the new Polaris ACE gives you the opportunity. The rider sits squarely between all four wheels, providing smooth handling and riding suspension. It also increases confidence, which, when combined with the perfect amount of horsepower, allows novice riders to quickly gain experience. For more experienced riders, there’s also a model available with more horsepower so there’s options for everyone.

* Develop a family project – It's always fun to spend time together as a family working on a project. Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. If you want to explore your creative talents, consider producing a short play or movie. Everyone can get involved in writing the script, the acting, set creation and finding the perfect costumes. Or consider participating in a community service project. Maybe you have an organization close to your heart you could raise money to help support. Ask the organization if there is something your family can help with this summer.

* Road trip – A themed road trip can create a lot of excitement for your family members. For example, maybe you want to create a theme of seeing all the odd tourist attractions like the world's largest ball of twine or the country's biggest collection of autographed baseballs. Perhaps you want to visit as many national parks as you can. Have your children help with the planning and you'll have a very interesting road trip adventure.

* Museums – Make it an educational summer by planning visits to all the museums in the nearest city. Include the local zoos and planted gardens on the list, and you'll be sure to pique the interest of every member of your family. Plan for one family museum visit a month or every other week, and combine it with a family dinner out or a picnic in the park.

You can combine several of these ideas together for even more fun this summer. So whether you go ATV riding and camping, or road tripping and touring museums, you know every member of the family will enjoy the summer activities.

Money-saving ideas for fun spring and summer...

(BPT) - Spring break, the end-of-the-school-year celebration or summer vacation: If your family loves to travel, these are prime times to go out and see the world.

With online travel companies and discount programs available, it's much easier to plan trips so you can visit places you've never been. You can quickly research hotels for price, availability and reviews, and you can even discover if you'll need to rent a car or can rely on public transportation. It's easy to find a listing of the best places to visit during your stay and keep all your reservations digital, too, so you won't have to lug around a huge folder of information once your travels begin.

When you use online cash back sites like Ebates.com to access both travel aggregator sites like Orbitz or Hotels.com, or specific airlines and hotel chains, you'll end up saving money that you can then apply toward shopping or other miscellaneous expenses. First, you need to access Orbitz or Hotels.com via Ebates.com, and then you can search for the deals you want and make your purchase right there. Not only will you find the best price for flights, car rentals and hotels, but you'll also get cash-back from Ebates.

As you sit down to start planning your spring break or summer trip, keep these factors in mind:

* Bundling - Some travel companies partner together to offer better prices. For example, one airline might partner with a car rental company and offer a discount if you bundle. If you need both services, why not purchase them together?

* Prepay - Many tourist destinations will offer pre-paid tickets at a discount. If you know you want to tour a museum on a certain day of your trip, call ahead to see if you can get a discount on pre-paid tickets. This also applies to several airlines that charge a baggage fee. Check the airline's guidelines online to see if you can save a couple of dollars per bag!

* Traveler rewards - Hotels, airlines, airport parking lots and car rental companies all offer frequent user benefits. If you plan a trip only once per year, you might not benefit from signing up for a rewards program. But if you always fly the same airline and purchase tickets for four family members each time, the miles can add up quickly.

* Plan your trip for the off-times - If you don't have to worry about school schedules and you have flexible vacation days, consider traveling on a Tuesday or waiting until after Labor Day when school is back in session. Travel providers will often offer deals on the off-days to stay busy. You might also be able to find more direct flights on a week day, especially if it's a business route.

You might want to take the time to explore a new city, wander through America's amazing national parks, visit relatives or spend the week fishing and boating on a lake. All vacations take a bit of planning, so sit down in front of your computer, bring up money-saving sites like Ebates.com, and get your travel planning started. Then set your watch, because your vacation will be here before you know it!

Unexpected ways to make your destination...

(BPT) - Wedding planning season is in full swing and trend forecasts show more brides selecting destination weddings than ever before. Not only are destination weddings an affordable alternative to massive traditional weddings of past generations, they also make it easy for couples to create a customizable wedding that perfectly suits their personalities.

If you think a destination wedding might be right for you, these ideas for creating an incredibly distinctive event are sure to inspire:

Unique ceremony locations
A beach is typically the top choice for destination weddings because it gives guests a vacation setting to enjoy before, during and after your big day. Keep in mind, just because you select a beach locale doesn’t mean you must have a seaside ceremony. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a top location for destination weddings, but there are countless gardens, pergolas and fountains couples can choose as the backdrop for their vows.

Standout accommodations
Big weddings are becoming a thing of the past; consider intimate spaces that bring guests together in an incredible setting instead. For example, the Bridge at North Beach Plantation in Myrtle Beach is a luxury penthouse suspended within the bridge that connects the two towers at the 4-diamond resort. With seven bedrooms, seven and a half baths, a media room and sweeping views of the ocean, everyone is sure to enjoy their time together to the fullest.

Localized gift bags
Although the ceremony may be intimate, guests will likely be traveling from all over the country. Start the experience right by creating localized gift bags that can be placed in rooms to greet your guests upon their arrival. Instead of typical gift-bag goodies like mints and water, delight guests with locally sourced items like chocolates or lotion from the resident boutique.

Live artists
Want to make your reception one of a kind? Hire a local artist to capture the moment in a memorable keepsake. For example, some artists specialize in painting live events; you could hire one to capture the magic of the gathering. Guests will love watching the painting evolve throughout the night, and you’ll get a special piece of art you can display at home.

Hand-painted cakes
One of the hottest new wedding trends is hand-painted cakes where a master baker uses artistry to create beautiful patterns and floral designs on fondant and other types of frosting. Cake artist Heidi Vukov of Croissants, Myrtle Beach, works closely with brides planning destination weddings to ensure their hand-painted cake is perfect for their big day. It’s a refreshing approach to classic wedding cake styles, and it is sure to impress guests.

Reception surprises
Unexpected surprises tied to the couple’s personality can make a magical day that much more memorable. For example, if you met your beloved at a concert or your spouse has a special love for Adele, Bruce Springsteen or Elvis, hire a celebrity look-alike from a local theater to make a surprise appearance.

Memorable thank-you gift
Forget the box of candy almonds! Your guests came from across the country, so thank them with a special gift. Look no further than the local culture for inspiration. For example, the Gullah people local to the Myrtle Beach area weave gorgeous sweet grass baskets in traditional designs, a perfect gift for wedding guests. Another fun option would be to gift locally made hammocks, such as those from Pawley’s Island Hammocks.

Remember, it’s your wedding and you should make it your own. A destination event is sure to leave a lasting impression on you and your guests for years to come.

Flavors across America

(BPT) - America is home to a diversity of flavors - each region of the country is known for unique dishes and flavors that people from all over the world flock to, to get a taste. America’s passion for flavor is not only shown through the variety of flavors found across the country, but also through the continuous evolution of regional dishes and tastes. Here are some favorite regional dishes and examples of how the tastes of each region are evolving:

The Midwest

The home of comfort food, the Midwest is not just the birthplace of some of the country’s favorite dishes – it’s a hotbed of creativity, often reintroducing classic favorites with contemporary twists.

* Sauerkraut. Dating back to ancient China, sauerkraut is poised to make a bold comeback in 2015. This tasty fermented cabbage will be finding a place in soups, stews, dumplings, coleslaw and even smoothies.

* Hot dish. The hot dish – a casserole-like dish – has been a Midwestern favorite for generations and has evolved with the times. Traditional hot dishes fuse starches with meat and vegetables, but new hot dish flavors have been created to reflect popular tastes such as cheeseburgers and fries, pizza and cheesy bratwurst.

The West

From the Tex-Mex of the American southwest to the latest catch in California, the west is known to break boundaries when it comes to new flavor profiles.

* The California roll. While sushi draws its origins from Japan, the California roll took sushi to a whole new level. Created by Japanese sushi chefs who first arrived in Los Angeles in the 1960s, the California roll substituted avocado for tuna to create a healthier taste. The California roll continues to evolve as chefs use other fresh ingredients such as banana or mango to update this classic roll.

* The chimichanga. The Latino population throughout the west coast and southwest have introduced amazing dishes that have become mainstream, such as the chimichanga. Though the actual inventor of the chimichanga is still widely debated, Arizona is commonly credited as the birthplace of this deep-fried burrito.

The East

Fare in the Atlantic region is very different from the Pacific’s cuisine, but it’s every bit as delicious.

* Bone broth. Bone broth, a more substantial cousin to stock, has taken off as one of the hottest new beverages to take east coast foodies by storm. Made like a stock – simmering poultry, meat, or seafood bones with seasonings in water – this nutrient-rich broth is meant to be served like tea or coffee.

* Manhattan clam chowder. Clam chowder is a defining flavor of the east coast but Manhattan clam chowder has a look and flavor all its own. A clear broth with the addition of tomatoes links the Manhattan clam chowder back to the Portuguese stews that inspired it.

The South

Southern hospitality and southern cooking go hand-in-hand. Here are a couple of staples that have become synonymous with southern states.

* American BBQ. Established in the American South in the 19th century, pork was the primary meat used in barbecues, as pigs were extremely prevalent in the region. Now American BBQ is growing in sophistication and the sweet, spicy, smoked and tomato flavors for which, American BBQ is known are being fused into dishes using various game in restaurants across the world.

* Jambalaya. One of the most historic dishes in the South, Jambalaya was created out of the French Quarter of New Orleans. The dish originates from an attempt to make paella; tomatoes became a substitute for saffron, which was not readily available. Overtime, the dish grew to incorporate three types of proteins: chicken, sausage and seafood.

What flavors inspire you?

Across the nation, regions have been defined by the flavors that have made them famous and literally put them “on the map.” While the flavors listed above have stood the test of time, continuously evolving flavor inspirations keep changing the culinary landscape of today. As a brand that knows delicious flavors can come from just about anywhere, Lay’s is inviting its fans to celebrate regionally inspired flavors as part of its “Do Us A Flavor” contest. From now through March 30, 2015, consumers can submit their ideas for the next great potato chip flavor for a chance to win a $1 million grand prize. Visit www.DoUsAFlavor.com and enter a flavor name, up to three ingredients, a chip style, the city and state that inspired the submission and a brief description or inspiration story for the flavor. Later this summer, four delicious finalist flavors – representing flavorful cities and towns across the U.S. – will be fully developed, brought to store shelves and voted on by America. To learn more and see official contest rules, visit www.DoUsAFlavor.com.

From footballs to tires, inflation's important

(BPT) - If 2015 has shown us anything so far, it’s that deflation can cause a frenzy, especially when it comes to footballs. Who would have thought that slightly flat footballs would become a national debate? One thing’s for sure, it’s now clear how important proper inflation is and how deflation can affect things, including your tires.

“The whole ‘deflate-gate’ situation helped raise the awareness of the impact of air pressure on performance,” says Bob Abram, product planning manager for Yokohama Tire Corporation, maker of a variety of truck and car tires. “It’s very important that people properly inflate their tires, because they are the only part of a vehicle that actually touches the road. When kept at the right pressure, tires will grip the road better and save you money.”

Correct tire pressure is actually specified by the manufacturer of the vehicle, not the tire maker. You can find the proper inflation levels on a placard on the inside of the car door or in the owner’s manual.

Tires that are underinflated by 8 pounds per-square-inch (psi) can reduce vehicle fuel economy by as much as 2 percent, and tires can lose about 1-2 psi each month under normal driving conditions, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That’s why Abram strongly recommends taking five minutes each month to check your tire pressure. “It’s quick and easy, and if you do it regularly, you’ll extend the life of your tire and get better fuel economy.”

Tires must be cold when inspected for tire pressure (at least four hours after the vehicle has been driven). Check tire pressure with a reliable tire gauge and make sure the valve stems have a plastic or metal cap to keep out dirt, water and foreign objects.

Abram says that while today’s tires are true technical marvels, he suggests you manually check them because you can’t tell a tire’s pressure is off by just looking at it. “Even if you were looking at one of our bigger tires, like the GEOLANDAR G055, you wouldn’t be able to tell the air pressure is wrong unless it was almost flat. Same with driving on slightly underinflated tires. You probably wouldn’t feel a big difference, but they wouldn’t be nearly as effective.”

Checking your tires regularly will pay off, but Abram says there are many other ways you can maintain your tires for improved driving and fuel-cost savings. Here are a couple:

* Rotating your tires will prevent uneven wear and promote a smoother ride. Because the weight distribution on your car or truck can vary, it’s best to rotate your tires. Yokohama advises drivers to rotate their tires in accordance with vehicle owner’s manual recommendations to ensure even treadwear and optimum tread life. Yokohama recommends that its tires be rotated at 6,000 – 8,000 mile intervals.

* Tires that are balanced correctly will provide a smoother ride and help prevent improper wear.

* Check your tire alignment once a year. Misaligned tires create unnecessary tire wear and higher fuel consumption.

* Tires must be replaced when the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch (the lowest legal limit). It's best to replace them before they reach 2/32 depending on your drive (geographically and type of streets). For example, rural streets that aren’t regularly plowed are different than city streets that are regularly plowed. Winter traction and wet traction can decline as tread depth decreases.

* Check your tread depth by placing 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.

For more tire care and safety tips visit yokohamatire.com or www.rma.org.

6 ways to ease your long commute

(BPT) - Research shows Americans spend $33 billion annually on aftermarket products to enhance the styling and performance of their vehicles. Whether it’s for functionality or appearance, you can find just about any product to modify your car, truck or SUV to fit your needs. An updated navigation system, hands-free Bluetooth, or new speakers might be the thing you need to re-focus your energy and make your drive a bit more enjoyable.

“The auto industry as a whole is constantly finding ways to give drivers access to more products that will make their ride smooth and enjoyable,” says Chris Kersting, president and CEO for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), an automotive trade organization. “Thousands of aftermarket manufacturers offer innovative products to personalize and enhance your driving experience.”

Here are some product ideas to help drivers ease their commute to and from work:


A simple and easy way for a more convenient drive is a universal Bluetooth kit. Made to give drivers a hands-free experience by integrating wireless functionality from a mobile device, Bluetooth offers much more than talking on the phone. A Bluetooth system allows a connected phone to play music stored on the device, stream from an Internet radio system like Spotify or Pandora, or listen to podcasts. They’re easy to install and come with a variety of different features allowing you to select a product and brand that stays within your budget.

Portable navigation device (PND)

While GPS-enabled smartphone devices are continuing to be popular among drivers today, it’s not the same as a portable navigation device (PND). As technology has advanced, navigation systems have evolved to include features such as voice commands, real-time traffic updates and large, easy-to-read screens. A portable navigation device can be installed in just about any vehicle and will include a windshield or dash mount for optimal viewing.

Air filter

If you have a long commute, you can improve performance, save money on fuel and lessen your chance of engine problems with an aftermarket air filter. A replacement filter is an easy and affordable way to help your vehicle run more efficiently. Made to be reused, an aftermarket air filter will be the last one your vehicle will ever need.

Car audio system

As you’re sitting bumper to bumper thinking about all of the things you could be doing instead of driving, consider playing an audio book, podcast or music from a new artist. Upgrade your factory system with an aftermarket stereo, also known as a receiver or head unit, for a fuller sound. Most systems will offer better AM/FM reception, lower volume levels and include options such as a USB or auxiliary input to charge a phone or play music. Aftermarket stereos can be purchased at a local car audio retailer where they’ll be professionally installed.

Car and trunk organizer

Nothing’s worse than feeling cluttered. Keep your car in order and your work materials organized with a collapsible trunk organizer or mobile cargo bin. There are tons of different styles and sizes of organizers available, giving you the option to select one that best fits your needs.

Window film

It’s a hot summer afternoon and the sun is beating down on you through the windshield after a long day at work. Protect your skin from the UV rays and cool down the inside of your vehicle with window film, also known as window tint. Not only does it reduce the heat inside your car, the film is designed to prevent a window from shattering, holding the broken glass in place.

Wherever you’re headed, there are thousands of aftermarket products and accessories available to modify your vehicle in preparation for the commute ahead. You can find them at auto parts stores, national retail stores or online.

Culture and experience the big travel...

(BPT) - Feeling tired of the hustle and bustle of metropolitan meccas when on vacation? You’re not alone. Next year, travelers will choose smaller destinations and opportunities to immerse themselves in the local culture. As daily life is increasingly hectic, people will want to unplug and relax without the stressors of a big city.

In 2015, travelers will explore hidden gems across the country. Bing predicts that Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, both in Tennessee, and Savannah, Georgia, will be a few of the top travel destinations in 2015. The slower lifestyle people associate with the south may be a draw, as well as the unique cuisine and beautiful architecture. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is best known as the home to Dollywood, yet offers so much more. Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, the mountain resort has a local population of just over 5,000, yet offers live music, comedy and dinner shows. Among larger cities, Bing predicts that Nashville and New Orleans will increase in popularity, as well.

Another top trend in 2015 will be a growth in services and experiences that help people live like locals. Many travelers feel that more intimate lodging accommodations, restaurants and music venues provide a more authentic taste of the destination. Booking homes, or even just a room, through companies such as Airbnb or VRBO has replaced hotels for many travelers. Millions of guests book on Airbnb for their travels. Not only is it often more affordable, but it also lets them cook meals for themselves and get to know neighbors like a local resident.

Companies such as EatWith connect people with other travelers and locals who share a love for food. For a true taste of the city, visitors dine in a local’s personal home, meeting new people and dining on truly local cuisine. EatWith is already in 150 locations worldwide and is continuing to grow with pop-up dinners in places ranging from Arizona to Kansas to California.

Consider traveling like a local as you make your travel plans for the coming year. Visit www.BingTrends.com for more 2015 predictions.

The perfect car tips for any trip

(BPT) - Across the country people are planning to take longer road trips this year. If you plan to be one of them, here are five maintenance tips to consider for today’s cars.

* New tires? “For four-wheel drive cars and trucks, buy new tires as a complete set,” says RockAuto.com Engineer and Vice President Tom Taylor. “Mixing old and new tires or just mixing tire brands can create small differences in tire diameter that may be enough to overheat and damage four-wheel drive parts.”

* What spare tire? Adding air to the spare used to be all that was needed, but many newer cars do not have a spare tire. They may have “run-flat” tires or come equipped with an air compressor and sealant. Become familiar with your vehicle’s spare tire system before you leave town and decide if it is adequate. Maybe you will want to upgrade to a full size spare.

* Why new struts? Pushing down on a fender and counting the bounces is not a good test for the shocks and struts on modern cars. “Some people are happy that their struts seem to be lasting forever but they don’t realize that the struts actually wore out thousands of miles ago,” says Taylor. “Bad struts lead to unnecessary wear on a whole slew of additional parts including the brakes, rubber boots, suspension bushings and engine mounts.” For the safest handling and braking, replace your struts and shocks at 50,000 miles or at the mileage recommended by the manufacturer.

* Just the belt? Modern engine belts last a long time. Most car owners do not resist when their mechanic tells them it is time to replace the belts after many miles or years. “Owners should listen to their mechanics when they are told the belt tensioners need to be replaced along with the belt,” says Taylor. “Those are the spring-loaded pulleys that keep the belt at the correct tension. Putting a new belt on old tensioners can mean premature wear on the new belt or damage to the alternator or other components spun by the belt.”

* Hose looks new? New engine hoses also now last much longer than they used to. Hoses do eventually fail and the damage often starts in the hose’s inner layers where it is out of sight. A burst radiator hose still means a disrupted trip and today’s aluminum alloy engines are often even more susceptible to heat damage. Follow the guidance of your repair manual or mechanic on when to replace hoses.

Some owners may get away with leaving a radiator hose untouched for decades, but for the rest, common sense assessment of risks and rewards shows why these tips are worth following.

Spring vacation on a budget? Here's how you...

(BPT) - Spring break is coming and after all the frost, wind and chill of the winter, you’ve earned some time to relax. So why not treat yourself to a little vacation? If you don’t have a lot of extra money to spend and you’re worried about your finances holding you back, there are ways to take an enjoyable spring vacation without blowing your budget. The five tips below can help you make the most of your spring vacation without breaking the bank.

* Make sure your car is ready to go. Road trips make for a more affordable spring break than air travel, and the cities you visit along the way are half the fun. Make sure your car is ready for the trip by changing the oil, checking the tire pressure and making sure the windshield washer and power steering fluids are filled appropriately. You can handle these tasks yourself or take your vehicle to your local mechanic for a tune-up.

* Travel with a plan. Unfortunately, your vacation will last only so long, so make the most of the time you have. Travel sites like Dream Plan Go and Trip Advisor offer great resources to help you pick a spring-break destination and learn about the unique features of a given place that go unnoticed by most visitors. You can also control expenses by avoiding locations that will be too costly when you arrive.

* Make communication easy. Looking for an affordable way to stay in touch during your trip? TracFone provides you with affordable cellphones and no contract plans with nationwide coverage on the largest and most dependable networks so that you can stay connected wherever you go. And TracFone is the only no-contract service provider with Unlimited Carryover that never expires. That means you’ll keep all of your unused minutes, texts and data as long as your plan is active and in use.

* Go outdoors. If you’re looking for an affordable spring vacation idea, getting back to nature can make for a memorable vacation. Camping at a national park is more cost efficient than staying in a hotel, plus you can fill your days with hiking, sightseeing and other inexpensive activities. Some people may not be too excited about vacationing in the wild, but after months cooped up indoors, nothing beats fresh air and the chance to gaze up at the stars without seeing your own breath.

* Expand your hotel horizons. Want to hit a popular destination but can’t afford the lodgings? Expand your radius a little. Inexpensive hotel rooms can be found more easily in the cities that border major tourist destinations. If you have your car with you, the room savings will make up for the extra gas you’ll need.

Spring-vacation season is here and you’ve earned a break, so why not take one? By applying the tips above, you’ll be able to enjoy the relaxing vacation you deserve and ensure your budget survives until you return to work once again.

South Texas, the hidden gem of the Lone Star State

(BPT) - For unexpected adventures, vibrant culture and a sub-tropical climate year-round, look no further than the Rio Grande Valley region of the Lone Star State. South Texas’ warm temperature give travelers the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year and makes it the ideal destination for vacations or longer stays during the winter months. A trip to the region, which includes McAllen, Harlingen, Brownsville and the beaches of South Padre Island, will show visitors there’s much more to South Texas than amazing weather. From its unique music heritage to its flavorful culinary scene, read on to learn why a trip to South Texas should be on every travelers list.

In the Rio Grande Valley region, rich culture and history lend a hand in developing a one-of-a-kind arts scene. For starters, the Rio Grande Valley is the cradle of Conjunto music, boasting several festivals throughout the year. Conjunto music began on the farms and ranches of South Texas in the late 19th century and is similar to blues or country, but infused with German and Mexican sounds. As time progressed, the music evolved and became known as Tejano, and is influenced by rock, R&B and other genres. The Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum in San Benito will leave visitors immersed in the history of Conjunto music. Aside from the music scene, the Rio Grande Valley region is home to a variety of fine arts, including the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, which houses the largest collection of Mexican crafts in the country. These local, handcrafted art and gifts are available for purchase at the annual McAllen Mexican Artisan Expo, where more than 80 artisans feature colorful pottery, textiles, trinkets, paintings, candies, salsas, hats, toys, candles and more. Visitors to the region will also enjoy performances from the Rio Grande Valley Ballet and the Valley Symphony Orchestra.

South Texas visitors will find that the Rio Grande Valley is home to flavorful cuisine and a rich agricultural area that is unlike any other region in the state. The area thrives through agribusiness and is the largest region in the state for citrus production, including the region’s famous Ruby Red grapefruit. Authentic Tex-Mex food is found in over 200 restaurants in the region, and some would argue the Rio Grande Valley is home to the most authentic traditional Tex-Mex in the state. In South Texas, the molcajete reigns supreme to the blender for preparing traditional Mexican spices including cumin, chile peppers and garlic. Culinary tourism is emerging as a popular travel trend for those interested in food and culture, and all visitors are encouraged to taste a number of the regions favorite dishes such as barbacoa, enchiladas, tamales, fajitas and chiles rellenos to experience the region’s traditional bold flavors.

The warm climate of the Rio Grande Valley region makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts year round. Anglers will enjoy casting their rod at Falcon Lake, the number one bass lake in the country. From legendary largemouth bass to catfish, it is rare to leave Falcon Lake empty-handed. Birding is another popular activity in the region, as South Texas is the most distinctive avi-fauna area in the contiguous United States. With nine unique locations of the World Birding Center spanning from Mission to Edinburg to South Padre Island, birders will enjoy the challenge and the thrill of spotting the more than 500 bird species in the area while taking part in wilderness walks, float trips and hands-on, state-of-the-art educational exhibits. The Rio Grande Valley is also home to the National Butterfly Center, the only butterfly park in the country boasting over 300 different butterfly species.

South Texas loves its winter visitors. In fact, long-term visitors escaping the frigid winter temperatures of the north receive the honorary title of ‘Winter Texans’ and are celebrated at the annual Winter Texan Appreciation Fiesta in Harlingen. The fiesta is a truly unique experience celebrating the culture of the region and includes live music, Mexican artisan crafts, salsa dancing lessons, mariachi performances and a classic car show. Throughout the winter months, Winter Texans will find a variety of events and activities to enjoy across the region, including golfing on over 15 scenic courses within a 50-mile radius, with two along the banks of the Rio Grande River. Whether Winter Texans drive down in their own RVs or take advantage of the special condominium rates extended to long-term visitors throughout the winter, they are sure to enjoy spending the coldest months of the year in a warm climate surrounded by warm and welcoming locals.

When people think of Texas they don’t always think of relaxing beachside with their toes in the sand, but the Rio Grande Valley region’s beach getaway, South Padre Island, is home to 34 miles of uninterrupted beaches. The perfect destination for a family vacation, extended Winter Texan trip or getaway with friends, South Padre Island offers fun beach activities such as kayaking, parasailing, wind boarding, surfing and deep sea fishing excursions. The Island’s unique eco-system features a wide variety of wildlife including bottlenose dolphins. Visitors that want to get up close and personal with the majestic creatures can do so through a variety of local businesses that provide excursions to see them in their natural habitat. For the kiddos, South Padre Island, known to many as the Sand Castle Capital of the World, hosts Sandcastle Days each October in which sand sculpting masters from all over the world compete to create the most unique sand masterpiece. This free public event truly is bigger than life! Like any other South Texas location, South Padre Island welcomes Winter Texans. In late January, Winter Texans are invited to trade frigid temperatures, winter coats and toboggans for sunshine, an ocean breeze and flip-flops at South Padre Island’s Winter Texan Music Fest, where eight bands play throughout the day accompanied by an endless supply of fresh, Texas Gulf seafood. No matter the season, South Padre has an endless amount of activities to entertain visitors of all ages.

Whether visitors are seeking outdoor activities, flavorful cuisine, arts and culture or a relaxing beach vacation, they are sure to find it in South Texas where warm weather and exciting adventures await. To explore the many great travel experiences in Texas, visit www.traveltex.com and find us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

5 exotic summer vacations that are a steal due...

(BPT) - Exotic locations like Bali, Rome and Sydney might be at the top of your bucket list, but this year experts say they should also be at the top of your summer vacation list. Today’s unusually strong dollar is allowing you to get a lot more for your money when you travel abroad. Travel experts say this year is one of the best times in modern history for Americans to explore the world and visit distant dream destinations.

“The U.S. has emerged from the financial crisis of 2008 with the dollar at near record highs relative to a number of international currencies,” says Travis Katz, CEO and co-founder of Gogobot, a travel site that helps you find places to stay, eat and play that are perfect for you. “For American travelers, this means international travel is cheaper this year than it has been in decades. On Gogobot, we are seeing hotel prices in the world’s most expensive destinations, like Sydney and Paris, running well below their domestic counterparts here in the States.”

Here are five amazing vacation destinations that are attractively priced right now given the strong dollar:

* Bali. Bali is home to beautiful beaches and unique spots like the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Seeing these amazing locations has never been more affordable. Island lovers can now save 50 to 60 percent over last year’s hotel prices in Bali. As an example, last year the Bali Wood Property at Aston Kuta Residence was going for $206 per night and now it’s practically a steal at just $82 per night in May.

* Paris. One of the most expensive cities in the world isn’t as steep as it used to be. For example, the four star Hotel Astra Opera - Astotel, which went for $249 last year, is currently listed at $149. You can even book luxury hotels in Paris for up to 65 percent less per night than last year. The famous L'Hotel Paris, which travelers last summer booked for $832 per night, can now be booked for just $298. With places like the Louvre Museum and the Jardin des Tuileries in its back pocket, it should come as no surprise that Paris ranks highly among art and design lovers. The current low hotel room rates in Paris mean you can afford to wine and dine yourself at luxury restaurant hot spots like L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon during your stay.

* Rome. A popular destination for foodies and home to the Vatican, Rome’s appeal to tourists is universal. Staying in the city is now more affordable than ever. Rome’s current hotel room rates are up to 66 percent lower than last year’s prices. These savings mean you can extend your vacation and get even more scoops of gelato in Rome’s stunning Centro Storico neighborhood.

* Spain. The dollar’s strength translates into great deals across Spain, the perfect destination for people who love to experience local culture. Take in all the sites, like La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, while saving on hotels in Barcelona. You can also travel south to the municipality of Marbella, home to some of the most serene beaches in the world. You can find amazing deals with some properties in Marbella going for as much as 41 percent less than they cost just one year ago.

* Sydney. Australia is a dream destination for adventurers. You can take three different climbs up to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for breathtaking views of the city and the Blue Mountains make for an amazing day trip. Normally Sydney’s sky-high costs make it a tough sell for most Americans, but today’s exchange rates mean this summer is a great time to head down under. Dozens of four star hotels, including The Menzies Sydney, Castlereagh Boutique Hotel and Mercure Sydney are now going for less than $120 per night. Even five star hotels, like the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, that were going for $300 per night last summer are now going for $185 per night which represents a 38 percent savings.

While travel deals are red hot, it still pays to shop around for the best deals. Gogobot has price comparison tools that show you the best deals across a number of different sites including Expedia, Priceline and Booking.com. Now is the perfect time to visit international destinations you’ve always dreamed of. Get inspired and find more perfect places to stay, eat and play around the world, and in your own backyard, on Gogobot's app.

America's secret 2015 foodie destinations

(BPT) - With their incredible restaurants seemingly appearing overnight, cities such as Brooklyn and Portland have long since been discovered as foodie destinations. If you want coal-fired pizza ovens, craft beer or artisan doughnuts, you only have to stroll down the street a few blocks. But while these destinations have been basking in the limelight, other cities across America have been transforming their food scenes to much less fanfare. If you’re searching for the mod craft cocktail bar, the boat-to-table seafood or the next big thing in fusion cuisine, DreamPlanGo suggests picking up a fork in these cities:

* Providence, Rhode Island. No one is sure who coined the phrase “boat-to-table,” but Providence does it right. Many up-and-coming restaurants have fish delivered daily from the docks to their tables. If you are looking for an exquisite creation with Italian, Portuguese or simply New England roots, Providence will serve you up in style. Save a special corner of your stomach for Providence’s fabulous hole-in-the-wall cafes and tucked away bars. In discrete, sometimes rough-around-the-edges locations, you’ll find the burgers, pizza and beer that sustains locals whether they are out sunning on the patio or hunkered down for a gale. And, while it makes some people shudder, you can’t leave town until you sample the residents take on pizza – its grilled, not baked.  

Minneapolis, Minnesota. Better known for hot dish and General Mills products, the Mill City actually has a lot of new food going for it. Sure you’ll find things like artisan SPAM bites tucked onto menus, but you’ll also be able to sample fresh grilled walleye pulled from a lake near you, delicious Minnesota-grown produce, wood-fired pizza, local craft beer and mouth-watering French pastries. Food trucks have also taken the city by storm with everything from burritos to lobster rolls. If you are looking for Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine in particular, neighboring St. Paul has an enormous collection of authentic, inexpensive and just plain delicious family-run restaurants.

Santa Fe, New Mexico. Santa Fe doesn’t have the big-name restaurants, but that suits the locals just fine. Santa Fe has always been known for its homey and rich southwestern cuisine, which you can still enjoy in abundance. When you are being served, waiters will ask whether you want red, green or Christmas referring to the color of the chili sauce you want placed on your order. However, many new restaurants are subverting these old favorites to make them lighter and airier. Instead of heavy sauces, you’ll find cuisine being served with delicate infusions of southwestern flavor. Many chefs are blending the flavors they’ve grown up on with influences from Mexico, France and the Mediterranean. The result is a delicious collection of Southwest fare prepared in new and innovative ways.

Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is legendary for its barbecue, which you can enjoy everywhere from honky-tonks to famous restaurants. With an exquisite plate of ribs before you, you may be tempted to look no further, but Memphis also has an amazing collection of up-and-coming restaurants that showcase some of the South’s other best food traditions. Be sure to try New Orleans-style redfish, succulent Lowcountry shrimp and grits and delicious servings of hominy, succotash and other Southern favorites.

Las Vegas, Nevada. While everyone was busy gambling away the 1990s and early 2000s, Las Vegas was slowly developing a chef-driven food scene. If you don’t mind paying top dollar, you can have an incredible meal in Vegas. Fresh seafood, premier sushi, heritage meats, caviar – it can all be found here. But be warned, Las Vegas does have a dearth of neighborhood restaurants, farm-to-table operations and farmers markets.  

Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is rightly famed for its coastal fine dining, so be sure to sample scallops, crabs, shrimp and redfish while you are in town. In Savannah, bounty from local producers is transformed to dishes served everywhere from your local neighborhood cafe to the up-and-coming downtown bistro.

San Diego, California. So. Cal’s foodie up-and-comer has the market cornered on amazing fish tacos. Set right against the Mexican border and the Pacific Ocean, inspiration flows both from the South and the sea. San Diego’s warm climate helps small farms thrive and you can be sure that restaurants are taking advantage of the locally sourced meat and produce that have become the mainstay of trendy new dining. 

Portland, Maine. Not to be confused with its western counterpart, Portland, Maine has a formidable food scene bolstered by its close proximity to fresh seafood and its long history of farm-to-table dining. Sample the town’s microbrews while exploring the cobblestone Old Port. Dig in to slow-foods movement creations and sample the Maine lobsters that encourage diners to return again and again to the seacoast.

Durham, North Carolina. Southern Living called Durham the “South’s Tastiest Town,” so you’ve got to bring your appetite and check out the city’s new foodie appeal. Served to you in the city’s old tobacco warehouses or on roaming food carts you’ll find exquisite pies, fresh doughnuts, artisan coffee and elevated casual fare that will make you never want to go back to your old greasy hamburger joint again.

Traverse City, Michigan. Downtown Traverse City’s restaurant boom is in part due to the growth of local wineries. When you visit, you’ll have to divide your time between good food, wine and the beach. What could be better? Like so many foodie areas, Traverse City takes it local. You’ll be dining on locally grown cherries and apples, foraged morel mushrooms and fish pulled right from Lake Michigan.

Traveling abroad to satisfy your food cravings? Visit DreamPlanGo.com to find Europe’s 2015 Foodie Destinations.


Articles last updated at Apr 27, 2015 01:43:48am.
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