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A different kind of godmother: River cruise...

(BPT) - Throughout the history of cruising, cruise lines have traditionally called upon celebrities, royalty, heads of state, or others with little or no ties to the cruise industry to serve as godmothers to their ships.  For most cruise ship godmothers, the role is thus largely ceremonial – their involvement with the ship and cruise line ends when the bubbly is cleaned off the bow.

One river cruise leader, however, is rewriting maritime tradition by choosing godmothers whose roles with the ships and cruise company endure long after the christening ceremony ends.  Tauck River Cruises – three-time winners of Travel + Leisure magazine’s “World’s Best River Cruise Line” award – launched two new state-of-the-art vessels earlier this year.  For the christening of Tauck’s new ms Inspire on April 3 in Basel, Switzerland, the company’s four female Tauck Cruise Directors collectively served as godmother.  And when the Inspire’s sister-ship, the ms Savor, was christened on June 21 in Bingen, Germany, a company Board Director (and Tauck family member) fulfilled the role.

Each of the four co-godmothers for the April launch of the ms Inspire serves aboard a different ship in Tauck’s fleet of riverboats, overseeing the guest experience, and working closely with the vessel’s maritime, hotel and restaurant staff.  Each also manages a team of three guides (or Tauck Directors) assigned to each riverboat. Typically, the Tauck Directors average more than a decade of service with the company.

Tauck CEO Dan Mahar explained the decision to chart new waters in the realm of cruise ship godmothering.  “Our Tauck Cruise Directors and Tauck Directors have collectively been the face of our company for 90 years,” he said. “They are the direct, critical link between our company and our guests, and they do an absolutely incredible job delivering the Tauck experience.”

In June, Liz Tauck Walters, a Tauck Board Director and daughter of company Chairman Arthur Tauck, Jr., served as godmother to the ms Savor.  Noted CEO Mahar: “Christening our newest riverboat is just the latest of Liz’s many contributions to Tauck’s success over the years.  As an undergrad at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Liz led tours of the campus for Tauck groups traveling on our New England itineraries.  More recently, she’s helped lead the company by serving on our Board of Directors, while also helping guide Tauck’s award-winning philanthropy initiatives.”

If Tauck has navigated its own course in choosing godmothers, the riverboats themselves are equally unique.  The ms Savor and ms Inspire together comprise Tauck’s new Inspiration Class ships, and they join Tauck’s four existing Jewel Class ships.  Like the Jewel Class ships, the Inspiration Class vessels carry far fewer passengers – yet they have far more service staff – than ships of the same size operated by other river cruise lines.  Where the 443-foot-long Inspiration Class ships carry just 130 guests, other lines’ ships of the same length carry 190 passengers, or 46 percent more guests.  And where other lines have just one cruise director to tend to the needs of those 190 guests, Tauck staffs each ship with a Tauck Cruise Director and three professional Tauck Directors to care for 130 guests.

With fewer passengers aboard their ships, Tauck is able to provide a more intimate, club-like atmosphere, a higher percentage of suites, and other thoughtful amenities to enhance their guests’ experience.  One such amenity aboard the Inspiration Class ships is a second onboard dining venue, Arthur’s, with its own dedicated kitchen.  Named for company Chairman Arthur Tauck Jr., Arthur’s serves American steakhouse-style selections and provides a more casual option to the fine dining offered in the ship’s main dining room, the Compass Rose. 

In addition to launching its two new ships, Tauck has also launched four new river cruise itineraries this year, including its first ever on the River Seine in France. For more information, visit www.tauck.com, or call 800-468-2825.

Just south of the usual: Tips for enjoying a...

(BPT) - Colorful is the best word to describe Latin American, thanks to its varied history, cultures, historic sights, natural attractions and wildlife opportunities. From vibrant Rio de Janeiro to the intriguing Amazon Jungle; from the enigmatic Machu Picchu to the fascinating Galapagos Islands and scenic beauty of Costa Rica, adventure awaits any traveler planning a trip to Central or South America.

The key is to find the right kind of adventure when traveling through South America, while avoiding the wrong kind.

When we envision the perfect South American getaway, full of explorations and excitement, we picture beautiful hotels, amazing food, incredible sight-seeing and above all, we imagine creating memories galore. What we don’t always consider is language barriers, cultural differences or what it takes to organize a jaw-dropping escape. From transportation to hotels and from researching must-see attractions to organizing daily schedules, planning an international getaway is no easy task.

That’s where a tour can make a world of difference. On a touring vacation, a professional handles all the details, logistics and scheduling for you. Offering travelers dozens of South American touring vacations that are just south of the usual, the team at Globus, the world’s leading tour operator, has put together five perks to look for when booking a tour through South America.

1) See the hidden gems without any hidden charges. Everyone loves extras – until they're charged extra. Globus throws in more visits, more experiences and more sight-seeing, all in the price of the vacation. For example, some of the included local favorites on South American tours are a private, Argentine Tango dance lesson, a visit to a local family’s farm in Costa Rica and a Mother Earth Ceremony performed by a local shaman.

2) Rest where the action is. A hotel can have the crispest sheets, the fluffiest towels and the tastiest pillow mints, but if it's not near the sights, what good is it? When you book a tour to South America with a reputable company, you can expect your hotel to be in a safe neighborhood, in the heart of the destination.

3) There’s the scenery and then there’s the scene. One of the best perks of taking a tour is getting local, cultural insight from tour directors and local guides. They speak the language. They know the history. And they know where to point out the best food, best shopping, best architecture and more.

4) Roam if you want to. Some travel operators overschedule, instilling the need for a vacation after your vacation. When you book a tour, choose a company that weaves in the right amount of free time for individual exploration, quiet reflection or a book and a latte at a sidewalk cafe.

5) Skip the lines. Tour companies like Globus know the ropes of travel and they know how to get in front of them. On Globus’ South America tours, expect to be treated like a VIP, including no waiting in lines at must-see sights.

A tour provides travelers a colorful, insightful and hassle-free way to see and explore South America. For more information, visit www.globusjourneys.com or call 866.313.2855.

Teenagers not driving safe cars, study shows

(BPT) - Taking the driving test and earning a license is a cherished rite of passage for teenagers across the country. With their license in hand, they view the road as their gateway to independence and they eagerly look forward to what’s around the next curve. In order to do this, however, a teen must have access to a car.

Many families with teens look for a used car for the family’s newest driver. Used cars can help a family stay on budget with a new driver in the family, but new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that many teenagers are not driving vehicles that have good crash-protection features. The research found that teenagers tend to drive older vehicles, which are less likely to have safety features such as electronic stability control and side airbags. Teenagers who drove a vehicle that the family already owned were even more likely to drive an older model. In a survey, two thirds of parents with teens driving a car that was already in the family said the vehicle was a 2006 or older model. Another study found that among 15 to 17-year-old drivers in fatal crashes between 2008 and 2012, 29 percent were in mini cars or small cars, and 82 percent were in vehicles at least 6 years old.

In light of these reports, here are some guidelines for providing teenage drivers with the safest vehicles:

* Avoid high horsepower – Teens may want speed and power, but this temptation can overwhelm immature and inexperienced drivers. Vehicles with higher horsepower can tempt teens to exceed the speed limit or cause them to lose control on curvy and hilly roads.

* Weight and size – Vehicles that are larger and heavier provide better protection for drivers and passengers in a crash. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety did not include any mini cars or small cars on its list of best vehicles for this reason. There are some small SUVs included because they are heavier vehicles.

* Electronic Stability Control – Computer technology is helping to make cars safer for all drivers. Be sure the car you purchase for your teen has Electronic Stability Control, which helps drivers maintain control of the vehicle on curves and slippery roads. This technology started appearing in luxury cars in the 1990s, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has implemented rules requiring this technology in all new passenger vehicles sold in the United States since 2012.

* Best crash test ratings – The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides safety ratings for the most popular cars, SUVs and minivans. Vehicles for teens should perform well in these tests and those conducted by NHTSA.

Based on these guidelines the IIHS has created a list showcasing the best choices for used vehicles in several price ranges. The list of the best vehicles for teenage drivers includes vehicles that meet these safety recommendations, including standard electronic stability control, which is especially important for teens. They are also sorted by price to help parents research the best vehicles and match their own budget. The research found parents pay on average about $9,800 for vehicles for their teens, but many spend far less.

“Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get a safe vehicle for a teenager at the prices most people are paying,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS senior vice president for research. “Our advice for parents would be to remember the risks teens take and consider paying a little more.”

Visit the IIHS to learn more about safe cars for teens.

Fall in love with a trip to the Lone Star State

(BPT) - With the summer season winding down, the onset of fall foliage with the cooler temperatures, and a variety of events and festivals, fall presents one of the best times of year to visit the Lone Star State. Fall in Texas means plenty of fairs, outdoor music events, cheering crowds, wine harvests and more.

1. Fall in Texas is synonymous with football season. From legendary NFL teams like the Dallas Cowboys (whose AT&T Stadium boasts the world’s largest High-Definition Video Display) and the Houston Texans, to Division I NCAA football with the Texas Longhorns and Texas Tech Red Raiders, you’re sure to find a suitable tailgate to root for your favorite team. A tailgate in the Lone Star State wouldn’t be complete without iconic Texas eats such as barbecue, chili and queso.

2. Mark your calendars for Sept. 26, the start of the iconic State Fair of Texas at Dallas’ Fair Park, a 24-day showcase of entertainment, exhibits and competition, as well as some of the best (and most bizarre) fried foods you can find. Other notable fall fairs and festivals include Wurstfest, a 10 day celebration of German food and culture in New Braunfels and the Texas Pecan Festival in Grove, which is the official state festival of Texas’ state nut.

3. Texas’ Parks and Wildlife Department runs a fall foliage report from October through November detailing the change in colors throughout the season. The best-known state park for fall foliage is Lost Maples State Natural Area in the Hill Country near Vanderpool. State parks in the Pineywoods and Post Oak Belt including Daingerfield, Martin Creek, Lake Bob Sandlin and Martin Dies Jr. often have vibrant displays of reds, oranges and golds in maples, various oaks, sweetgums and elms. In the Panhandle, the cottonwoods change to a radiant yellow to golden color in the Palo Duro Canyon as well as in Caprock Canyon State Park. Caddo Lake State Park is also worth mentioning, as in late fall trees turn a rust color, contrasting nicely with the Spanish moss and swamp setting.

4. While Texas may not immediately come to mind when planning a fall wine country getaway, the Lone Star State is home to more than 220 wineries and is the fifth largest wine producing state in the U.S. A key wine destination is the Hill Country, which is home to some of the state’s best wineries and an ideal location for viewing the changing colors of autumn. Fredericksburg is home to some of the oldest wineries in the U.S and grows more than half of the world’s grape species. Located just a short drive west of Austin, the quaint town includes key wineries such as Fall Creek Vineyards and Becker Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in Texas.

5. In the fall, visitors flock to Galveston Island to enjoy the beaches and various attractions such as the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, Moody Gardens, The Historic Strand District and Pier 21. At Padre Island National Seashore, which is famed as one of the United States' last natural seashores and is known as the world's longest barrier island at 130 miles in length, visitors enjoy Bird Island Basin for windsurfing. It also offers terrific opportunities for kayaking, birding and fishing, with equipment rentals and windsurfing and kayaking lessons available for the more adventurous. This year (October 10-12,) Rockport will celebrate 40 years of SeaFair, a celebration of seafood featuring a gumbo cook-off, cooking demonstrations, contests, a parade, water activities, live music and more.

6. On any given Texas night you can find something for every type of music lover. In Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World, thousands of visitors flock to Austin City Limits Music Festival to watch more than 130 acts from all over the world to play rock, indie, country, folk, electronic and more on eight stages. Looking to perfect your two-step? Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall is a destination to see up-and-coming artists as well as some of the biggest country stars. Fort Worth is home to the world’s largest honky tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas, which offers nightly entertainment, bull riding and dance lessons for a true Western experience.

Whatever your idea of a perfect fall vacation may be, you are sure to find it in Texas. Visit www.traveltex.com to begin planning your fall getaway.

Size wise: Intimate experiences, exclusive...

(BPT) - Small-group travel is growing in a big way. Intimate experiences, exclusive attractions, and the opportunity to create lasting bonds with other travelers are drawing more vacationers to small groups (24 or fewer people) – and tour companies are adding itineraries to meet the demand.

Tauck, an 89-year-old leader in group travel, began adding small-group departures to some of its most popular tours several years ago, and the company has seen the success of those departures skyrocket.  After increasing its small-group departures by 30 percent last year, Tauck will boost that number another 20 percent this year to offer more than 360 small-group departures in 2014. About 55 land tours average 24 guests each, and encompass popular destinations in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

What draws travelers to small-group tours? Journeying with a smaller group affords travelers all the advantages of group touring – including having professionals handle the challenges of scheduling, arranging on-tour transportation and gaining admittance to a region’s top attractions. What’s more, small groups offer:

* An intimate experience – Tauck’s tours average 24 guests, and its Culturious trips (designed for active, boomer-age travelers) host just 17 to 21 guests on average.

* One-on-one time –Each traveler has the opportunity to interact with expert guides who share a vast knowledge of a region’s history, culture and cuisine.

* Lasting relationships – A smaller group allows travelers more time to interact with each other, increasing the likelihood that friendships formed during the tour will become lasting, life-long relationships.

* A great transition – If you’ve always traveled independently, you might prefer a smaller group to a larger group experience. Smaller groups can help you feel – and stay – more independent while still providing the convenience, variety and companionship of group travel.

* Access to unique experiences – Full-size motor coaches can’t navigate the narrow lanes of many historic town centers throughout Europe. Small, quaint villages with narrow streets, however, can accommodate smaller groups and mini-coaches. A smaller group can also gain access to cultural and historic attractions – such as a smaller museum – that would be overwhelmed by larger groups.

* Hassle-free travel – Just as with any group tour, traveling on a small-group tour ensures you don’t have to worry about the details, such as arranging your own hotel, admission to attractions, dining opportunities and on-tour transportation. Seasoned professionals manage all the minute details so travelers can simply savor the experience.

Finally, one of the most significant advantages to small-group travel is the level of satisfaction guests report. Tauck, which carefully measures satisfaction metrics, reports guests consistently give its small-group tours high marks in the three most significant areas of satisfaction – value, likelihood to travel with Tauck again and overall experience. Tauck’s small group tours partake of many of the same great itineraries offered to larger groups.

To learn more about small-group travel and available itineraries, visit www.Tauck.com.

Rock out in style this summer with a few simple...

(BPT) - Is there any better way to spend a beautiful warm night than at an outdoor concert or festival? The sounds of music filling the air, the smell of great food around you and fun times with friends and family…it just doesn’t get any sweeter.

If you’re a little unsure what to wear and how you’re going to stay crisp and clean after you dance in the mud and the rain (concerts carry on, rain or shine), style blogger Sydne Summer of SydneStyle.com offers these tips to help you enjoy the summer events you love while looking your best.

Festival prep time:

* Choose colors that stand out. It’s time to spice up your wardrobe and break out the bright colors for summer. Be sure to pack festive prints to stand out from the crowd. Use Tide Plus Bleach Alternative to brighten up your colors and combat dinginess so that you don’t fade into the crowd.

* Select lightweight fabrics. It’s going to get hot standing in the sun all day. You’re best with a selection of lightweight fabrics to throw on when it’s unbearably hot outside. A white cotton dress or linen pants will keep you happily enjoying the music without worrying about the temperature.

* Travel comfy. When traveling, be sure to dress as comfy as possible. Washing your clothes with Tide Plus Downy ensures your clothes stay soft and cozy for the trip.

After the last notes are played:

* Let the music, not odors, linger:  Another trend that will be rocking the festival scene this summer is crop tops and short jean shorts. But even minimal fabrics can trap sweat and odor, so be sure to wash post-concert clothes in Tide Plus Febreze Freshness – it has outstanding cleaning and Febreze freshness to eliminate “eau de outdoor festival.”

* Get rid of tough stains. From grass stains to delicious greasy food, that little white dress and flowing tank are bound to encounter some spills and messes. Tide Ultra Stain Release is supercharged with specially formulated ingredients to help remove 99 percent of everyday stains, including greasy food stains, so concert goers can enjoy on-the-go treats without worrying about lingering stains becoming unwanted mementos.

Spring and summer were made for enjoying outdoor concerts and festivals. Make sure your summer festival fashions are prepared to keep you celebrating in style throughout the concert and long after the music ends.

Safety essentials so you can enjoy the great...

(BPT) - The great outdoors begs to be explored this summer. From week-long camping trips to spending an afternoon at the park with the kids, there’s so much to see and do during the warm weather months that it may be hard to choose where to start.

If you’re packing up for a long hiking trip through the mountains or taking the boat out for some afternoon fishing, be sure to include some essentials to ensure everyone is safe and has fun.

* First-aid kit – Keep one of these in your vehicle or with your camping supplies. You can purchase pre-assembled kits from stores, or you can make your own. Include essentials like bandages, antiseptic towelettes, antibiotic cream, insect relief creams, gauze and an instant cold pack. Pack your first-aid kit to reflect how many people will be in your party and the duration of your time spent outdoors so you have enough.

* Sun and bug sprays – Everyone will be exposed to sun and bugs while outside, so be sure to pack bug spray and sunblock with an SPF 15 or higher. If your outdoor adventures take you deep into the woods, consider getting insect repellent with DEET. If you’re spending time in the backyard or on a picnic, non-DEET products work well for families and kids. Sunblock creams and insect repellents will work to keep your skin protected – just be sure to apply more as needed.

* Pocket knife – You never know when a small knife, screwdriver or saw might come in handy when enjoying the outdoors. That’s why it’s always a smart idea to carry a pocketknife. The iconic Swiss Army Knife from Victorinox is a great option because it contains a wide variety of useful tools, including a corkscrew, tweezers, screwdriver, can opener, wood saw and blades. The company’s Delemont Collection includes several new tools, including a heavy-duty nail clipper and a retractable needle nose pliers. Take a reliable pocket knife with you while camping, hiking, boating or on a picnic so you can open that can of baked beans or cut kindling for the campfire. To find the perfect knife, check out SwissArmy.com.

* Water purification – In most areas of the country, safe drinking water is available from water fountains or by purchasing bottled water in a store. However, if you’re in an area where you are unable to transport enough water, having water purification tablets available is a good idea. Just gather some water from a stream or lake in a container, immerse the purification tablets and let it sit for the recommended time. Make certain you pack plenty of tablets to purify enough water for the entire group over the duration of your trip.

With these tips, you’ll be able to ensure that everyone on your outing will be happy and comfortable while enjoying the great outdoors.

Multi-family travel bridges cultures and...

(BPT) - What could be better than experiencing a new, exciting place with your children, grandchildren and other family members? Sharing those experiences with other families! Traveling in a group that includes multiple families can vastly enrich the travel experience, build cultural bridges and give everyone in your family a chance to make new connections and gain fresh perspective.

While traveling with family can be life-changing, it can also be challenging. Many families turn to tour groups like Tauck to take care of the legwork related to booking hotels, sightseeing, on-tour transportation and special entertainment. Group tours cater to a broad range of demographics, from couples to singles and multi-generational family travelers. If you want the experience of traveling with other families, it’s important to book a tour that’s designed to bring families together from all over the country.

Tauck’s Bridges itineraries are specifically designed for families, and bring travelers together with other families of like-minded grandparents, parents and children. Not only does multi-family travel enhance the fun of the trip, many families who meet on tour continue their friendships after the trip ends.

If you’re considering family travel this summer – and especially if you crave multi-family travel – here are some tips to help you evaluate tours and tour companies:

* Tours should be all-inclusive. When every detail of the tour is taken care of for you, travel is more likely to be stress-free. What’s more, all-inclusive means one up-front price without hidden costs or pricey surprises.

* Itineraries should be designed with families in mind so all ages have a great time. Hotels on the tour should cater to families, and dining should offer both authentic, regional options as well as familiar choices for the less adventurous members of the family.

* Tours should provide a dedicated tour director who handles all the details and encourages families to engage with each other.

* Each stop along the tour should feature hands-on activities that connect everyone with the soul of the destination. Tauck’s tours encompass all the best attractions of every location, with the added bonus of exclusive access to enriching family experiences.

Ready to book your family tour? Tauck offers a wealth of itineraries all around the world, including:

* Africa – Tours and safaris bring families the best of Tanzania and South Africa.

* Canada – Want to stay on the North American continent but still experience something new? Canadian tours highlight the country’s natural and cultural delights, including a great family adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

* Europe – From cosmopolitan cities in Italy, France, Ireland, Great Britain and Switzerland, to river cruises and alpine adventures, families can find something for everyone on a tour of Europe.

* Latin American – Glaciers, rainforests, canyons and volcanoes – all can be found on Latin American tours. Visit the Galapagos Islands, a rainforest in Costa Rica or the mystical ruins of ancient cultures in Peru.

* USA – One doesn’t have to leave the country to savor one-of-a-kind experiences. Tours offer insider access to some of America’s most popular destinations, sought-after hotels, lodges and resorts in top locations. From the last great frontier in Alaska to the Grand Canyon, California’s Redwood forest to the birthplace of American independence in Philadelphia, every destination offers families something to see and do.

To learn more about family travel, view full Bridges itineraries or book a Tauck tour, visit www.tauck.com.

Seeing the USA? Summer travel that includes...

(BPT) - Finalizing your summer travel plans? Thinking outside the box to find destinations that combine history, architecture and nature can make travel that much more memorable.

Whether it’s a leisurely road trip through the Keystone State or an action-packed fly-in to catch a baseball game in Kansas City, San Francisco or Seattle, the American Hardwood Information Center recommends your itinerary include breathtaking hardwood “hotspots” that showcase the beauty, long-lasting elegance and environmental preference of products made from American Hardwoods.

Wharton Esherick Museum

About 25 miles west of Philadelphia, in Paoli, Chester County, rests the residence and studio of renowned sculptor, Wharton Esherick. The house museum, now a National Historic Landmark for Architecture, displays over 200 Esherick creations - walnut furniture, cherry walls, walnut and apple wood flooring, even a hand carved red oak spiral staircase - showcasing Esherick’s creativity and love of all things hardwood. Experience these astonishing creations. Tours are by reservation only. (www.whartonesherickmuseum.org

Frank Lloyd Wright via the Pennsylvania Turnpike

The rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania are home to three magnificent creations of Frank Lloyd Wright, known for designing structures in harmony with humanity and the environment and recognized by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time.”  Each must-see structure is a masterpiece of creativity and Wright’s forward-thinking brilliance, and all are assessable via the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

* Fallingwater - Mill Run, Penn. - spans a 30 foot waterfall within the Bear Run Nature Reserve of the Laurel Highlands. Created for the Kaufmann family who shared Wright’s love of nature, the landmark structure “is the only major Wright-designed house open to the public with its furnishings, artwork and setting intact.” Tours are available by contacting visitor services. (www.fallingwater.org)

* Kentuck Knob – Chalk Hill, Penn. – also in the Laurel Highlands is just seven miles south of Fallingwater. Built in the typical Wright “organic architecture” style - natural woods and native sandstone – individual or group tours of the Usonian house can be arranged through the Fallingwater website.  (www.kentuckknob.com)

* Duncan House – Acme, Penn. – designed by Wright and originally located in Illinois, is one of three Wright-inspired Usonian style homes located in Polymath Park Resort. A stunning example of Wright’s ability to bring the outdoors in, the structure is open for tours and lodging. (www.polymathpark.com)

The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve

If you’d like to experience a treehouse reaching 125 feet skyward and providing 3,360 square feet of interior space as well as terraces and landings, then head south from the Laurel Highlands and motor toward Beckley, W.V. and the award-winning Sustainability Treehouse. Designed by Seattle-based firm, Mithun, the site is the new home of the National Scout Jamboree and an impressive showcase of site-harvested oak and black locust ceilings and flooring, and black locust cladding and interior walls. The educational venue is open to visitors June through August. (www.summitbechtelreserve.org)

Across the country

In Kansas City, Missouri, don’t miss the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. There you’ll find the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall where a variety of quartersawn American hardwoods provide a breathtaking floor to ceiling aesthetic.  (www.kauffmancenter.org)

When in San Francisco, make a point to visit the San Francisco City Hall. Furniture, interior walls, millwork and other architectural details showcase American Hardwoods at their best. Monday through Friday tours are free of charge to school groups and private groups of seven or less. (www.sfgsa.org)

In Seattle, step into the acoustically superb, Benaroya Hall, the new home of the Seattle Symphony. You’ll want to experience hardwood’s timeless beauty and incomparable strength in this magnificent venue. Free public tours are conducted only on Friday. Try your best to be on the list. (www.seattlesymphony.org/benaroya)

For those lucky golf enthusiasts who have been awarded 2015 Masters Tournament tickets, the Augusta National Golf Club awaits. American hardwoods abound there – from the 60 magnolia trees that line the main driveway, to the magnificent oak nestled on the course side of the clubhouse. Each hole is named after a tree or shrub and “insiders” report that the locker room is a virtual display of Georgia grown ash. (www.masters.com)

Pack your bags

To make the most of your journey, visit www.HardwoodInfo.com, the American Hardwood Information Center, and learn more about American Hardwood products. Then by all means, head for the door. Magnificent hardwood “hotspots” are just around the bend.

Top reasons why your next cruise should be a...

(BPT) - The travel industry’s hottest trend, river cruising, provides a wonderful alternative to mainstream cruises and megaships. With hundreds of options to sail the amazing waterways of Europe (the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Seine, Saone and Moselle rivers) and exotic destinations via the Yangtze, Mekong, Irrawaddy and Amazon, small-ship cruising is becoming one of the most popular ways for Americans to both experience and explore the world.

Part of the appeal of the modern river cruise is that it delivers a cruise vacation completely unlike other cruise experiences.

River cruises – and river cruise vessels – are built differently. Instead of thousands of passengers, there might be 150 on a river cruise vessel. Instead of miles and miles of ocean views (if you have an outward-facing room), 100 percent of modern river cruise ship staterooms face outside, many with floor-to-ceiling windows, affording panoramic views at every moment of villages, castles and vineyards. And, while deals drive megaship bookings, river cruising provides travelers a different value: An inclusive, destination-focused vacation where in-port excursions and activities, as well as drinks and dining are included in the price of the cruise.

“Each time cruisers disembark from our contemporary river cruise ships, they are in a new location, often within walking distance of the village square or city center,” says Patrick Clark, managing director of Avalon Waterways. “Our cruisers can not only experience metropolitan areas like Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Budapest or Ho Chi Minh City, they’ll cruise to off-the-beaten-path gems such as Bruges, Bernkastel, Lyon and Durnstein, where passengers can take part in included excursions or even rent a bike to explore on their own.”

For travelers interested in embarking on a river cruise for the first time or choosing a river cruise company that best fits their needs, Avalon Waterways has created the following tips to choose the perfect, intimate escape:

New, newer or newest ship?

Clark says there’s a whole new group of river cruise ships released since 2004. Older ships offer travelers limited space and views (with small windows that don’t open). The new class of river cruise ships – including the industry’s only “Suite Ships” – features large, contemporary spaces, as well as floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows that open wide to enjoy the fresh air and magnificent landscapes.

Room to relax and unwind.

With a new class of ships from which to choose the perfect cruise experience, travelers should pay attention to the square footage of their stateroom. While some ships feature 200- and 300-square-foot suites, others offer less than 130-square-foot spaces. Know what you’re getting when you book (172- to 200-square-foot staterooms come standard with Avalon’s fleet).

To balcony or not to balcony?

Unlike ocean cruise ships, river cruise vessels have very specific height and width requirements: They must fit under medieval bridges and through locks. As a result, space on river cruise ships is a top commodity. And, while some river cruise companies have chosen to limit stateroom space by offering travelers a small balcony, others have created innovative ways to provide both space and fresh air.

Avalon Waterways, for instance, unveiled the first Open-Air Balconies in 2011. The Open-Air Balcony features an entire wall of windows that open wide, seven-feet. When the doors are open, travelers enjoy the feeling of sitting comfortably outside as amazing views of castles and rolling green hills pass by.

Culture and cuisine.

While most river cruise ships do not offer a variety of restaurants like megaships, it doesn’t mean they don’t offer a menu of options (something you should look for when you book). If you like light fare with grilled lunches or a la carte, local chef offerings, you should have that option. If you want to experience drinks off the ship at a local pub or grilled, outdoor lunches on board, go for it. Choose a cruise and/or cruise line that marries cuisine and culture while catering to your dietary interests and needs.

Discovery by your design.

On a river cruise, land programs should not be an afterthought. And these experiences should be offered as part of the inclusive price of your cruise. From guided tours to a customized sightseeing adventure, choose a company with a great reputation that offers a plethora of experiences. Also, consider booking a themed itinerary if you’re interested in exploring a passion like food, wine, music, art, photography or history on your vacation.

For more information, visit www.avalonwaterways.com or call (877) 380-1535.

Sea to shining sea: Must-see North America...

(BPT) - From California’s Gold Coast to New England’s charming seaside towns, and from the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country to the thrilling frontier lands of Alaska, North America is filled from “sea to shining sea” with sights and experiences to thrill travelers of all age groups and tastes.

Each region of the continent offers something special for travelers. If you’re considering booking a tour of North America this year, don’t overlook these must-see destinations in key areas:

New England and the North

A New England vacation offers travelers the chance to experience some of America’s most engaging history. Whether you choose to explore the seafaring culture of Nantucket, the luxuries of Martha’s Vineyard or the extravagance of Newport’s Gilded Age mansions, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in New England.

An eight-day Tauck tour of Cape Cod, the Islands and Newport takes in the most memorable locations of this coastal section of New England. The tour takes travelers from Boston, a key city in the American Revolution, to the salt marshes, beaches and picturesque, yacht-filled harbors of Martha’s Vineyard. Indulge in whale-watching off Provincetown and immerse yourself in maritime lore in New Bedford and Newport.

Slightly west of New England, New York provides another great option: an exploration of the scenic, historic towns that hug the banks of the legendary Hudson River. Beginning in Montreal, Canada, and traveling south to New York City, a tour of the Hudson River Valley offers an unparalleled variety of scenery and attractions. Stroll Montreal’s 17th-century cobblestone streets. Savor the unique experience of the region’s amazing lakes, including Lake George, Lake Placid and Blue Mountain Lake. Walk in the footsteps of American magnates and iconic politicians at John D. Rockefeller’s sprawling stone mansion, Kykuit, in Tarrytown or FDR’s lifelong home in Hyde Park, N.Y.

The American West

The American frontier is alive and well in Alaska, at the northern end of North America’s western coast. Further south, America’s rich history remains evident in California’s storied Gold Coast, and in the breathtaking landscape of Yellowstone National Park as well as the Black Hills that surround Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.  If you’re planning an exploration of the American West, your biggest challenge may lie in deciding where to begin and what to see.

The South

From the laidback atmosphere of old Charleston to the shade-filled squares of Savannah to the pounding excitement of the Kentucky Derby and Bluegrass Country, the American south is a diverse and engaging region.

Cruise Charleston Harbor and visit venerable plantations. Savor Savannah’s one-of-a-kind park squares and historic waterfront district. Watch thoroughbreds run for the roses at the Kentucky Derby. Discover the history and tragedy of the American Civil War at the Gettysburg battlefield, Appomattox Court House and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. Indulge in beignets and the laidback lifestyle of the Big Easy in New Orleans. Relive Revolutionary days in colonial Williamsburg and stroll the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

There is much to see and do in every region of the continent, and a travel company such as Tauck that specializes in all-inclusive tours can provide you with “insider” access to unique experiences, deliver the best that each region has to offer, and ensure you travel hassle-free while enjoying a more interesting and enriching trip. With nearly 90 years of experience in the travel industry, Tauck takes care of all the planning, arranges all your sightseeing, accommodations and on-tour transportation, and leaves you more time to enjoy and appreciate your favorite North American destinations. Visit www.tauck.com to learn more.

Conquer road trips with a kid-friendly,...

(BPT) - Road trips can be tough. From the Cleavers to the Kardashians, being stuck in a crowded car for hours can be hard for any family – and while vacations are fun, surviving the trip is easier said than done. This year, as you haul the family on your annual road trip, remember the key to success lies in the ultimate entertainment toolkit.

Comcast knows the right entertainment can make or break a family road trip and has compiled a list of essential tips that will keep everyone smiling mile after mile.

Plan and prepare: A cross-country road trip is no time to improvise – especially when small children are involved. A week before you round-up the troops and hit the road, make a list and start gathering everything you’ll need for the trip. Sit down with your family to research your route and determine where you will want to stop. When traveling, being well prepared is the key to a smooth, stress-free trip.

Gear up: Technology is essential for the modern day road trip. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices come in handy when keeping kids entertained. However, batteries drain fast, so come prepared with a reliable car charger and an extra-long cord for backseat drivers. Also, to avoid hearing your child’s playlist on repeat, don’t forget noise-cancelling headphones to filter outside noise for your little passengers while you focus on the road.

Ready, set, stream: With the right data plan, you can download a streaming TV app like XFINITY TV Go to keep your backseat passengers entertained with plenty of kid-friendly content and exclusive access to popular movies. These mobile apps are free through Comcast and only require login credentials. If you don’t want to use cellular data or rely on WiFi, avoid the headache and download your favorite movies and TV shows onto devices before hitting the road. Remember, a road trip is no time to get strict with your kids’ tablet time, but you can monitor what your children are doing by setting up parental controls on certain TV shows and movies before handing over the electronics.

The places you’ll go: Road trips offer a valuable time to bond with family, so take advantage. Try venturing down some scenic byways and country roads to find unique attractions, local cuisine and other memorable destinations on your route. Use Internet hotspots to download resources, apps and guidebooks that can help you find things that spark your interest. An Internet service like XFINITY WiFi enables customers to stay connected with access to more than 1 million hotspots around the country – so you can check-in even when you’re off the map.

For more information or to learn about available Comcast services for your road trip, check out www.comcast.com.

Korea offers undiscovered beauty, romantic spa...

(BPT) - Daydreaming of a lush spa getaway? How about an exotic change of scenery? South Korea offers all of this and more. Boasting world-class spas, stunning views, and topnotch shopping, South Korea is the ideal destination for those searching for a unique vacation destination.

Jejudo Island, just off the southern coast of South Korea, is perhaps one of the region’s best kept secrets. An exotic and romantic beach destination, Jejudo Island is replete with breathtaking natural beauty and remarkable native cuisine. Extend the serenity by venturing into South Korea’s largest city, Seoul, which houses the country’s finest spas with local treatment specialties.

The AmorePacific Spa of Seoul is a go-to for luxury pampering. Run by Amore Pacific, the top cosmetic company in Korea, its famous Halla Green Tea Pampering program uses natural green tea leaves picked from the company’s fields on Mount Hallasan, Jeju Islands. Oils extracted from green tea seeds are used in green tea baths and green tea scrubs.

Of course, Seoul has a much livelier counterpart where travelers can tap into the city’s unique Gangnam style. Cheongdam-dong, the most lavish Seoul district, is the epicenter of domestic and international fashion, and is studded with chic bars and cafes. Walk the streets with celebrities, and right past the headquarters of top music and entertainment management companies.

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) invited celebrities from across the globe to visit Korea and experience the country’s latest styles, drama and beauty treatments. Among them was YouTube make-up and beauty artist Michelle Phan, famous for her DIY style. Phan delivers online make-up tutorials to her more than 7 million YouTube subscribers and is the force behind her own cosmetic line.

Phan made the obvious choice to bring her boyfriend along as a plus-one on her romantic South Korean excursion. The couple explored both Jejudo Island and Seoul, experiencing Korea’s finest spas and style along the way. Phan visited Lee Kyung Min Foret, a luxury spa located in Chungdam-dong, where she enjoyed signature spa services and a beautifying makeover. She immersed in the country’s unique flair, testing Korea’s top beauty lines in premium stores, while enjoying all South Korea had to offer with her boyfriend. The couple captured their beautifying and romantic trip on video to share Korea’s beauty with her worldwide followers.

“The natural beauty of Jejudo Island is breathtaking,” Phan says. “The spas were exquisite and relaxing, and the food was delectable. Our romantic vacation to Korea this spring was beyond our imagination.”

Now, the KTO is inviting visitors to experience the most renowned sites of South Korea, just like Phan and other international stars. To participate in the event, visit www.tourimagination.com and describe what you want to do when you visit Korea. KTO will select eight winners who can take a guest of their choice on a four-day trip to experience the beauty of Korea this October or November. In addition to the grand prize, other prizes such as an iPad mini, signed CDs and more will be given away.

Home on the road: Insight and advice about...

(BPT) - Our homes may be our castles, but as we do more and spend more time in our vehicles, our four-wheeled chariots are not too far behind.

We eat, talk, work, and sometimes even dress in our vehicles. We do things we’re not supposed to – specifically, texting. And we’re increasingly imposing the same behavior on our cars that we do on our houses.

Eating: These days, the comfort of a dining room or a kitchen table with dishes is no longer a meal requirement; Americans are taking it to the streets! The Hankook Tire Gauge Index revealed that 30 percent of Americans eat at least one meal a week in their car.

Cleaning: Surprisingly, despite the potential mess from the occasional road meal, most American drivers are still managing to keep their little home on wheels in good condition. The Gauge also found that 71 percent of drivers are keeping their car well-managed and 12 percent say they keep their car pristine.

Smoking: Much like in a house, Americans are enforcing the “no smoking” policy in their cars, as 71 percent of Americans say smoking tobacco is their biggest pet peeve in a car. Next to the smoker, 38 percent believe the backseat driver as the biggest car irritant.

Texting: Bad habits in our homes can sometimes be transferred to the car and can be equally hard to break. Nobody likes texting at the dinner table and it should certainly be frowned upon behind the wheel. However, Hankook Tire’s quarterly Summer Gauge index found that despite the strict laws against it, as well as the obvious dangers, 16 percent of Americans text while driving.

Time alone in the car is important for some so it is no wonder so much is being done during that time. But certain habits like multitasking, namely texting while driving which can divert attention from the most important tasks in the car such as driving and safety, should be left at home.

Pay attention to these factors to reach your destination smoothly:

Play it safe: Mute the sound or turn off your phone every time you climb into your car. According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving increases the risk of accident 23.2 times over unimpaired driving.

Keep a spare tire handy: According to the Hankook Summer Gauge Index, in the past month, only 41 percent of Americans have checked that their spare tire is ready to use. Before embarking on any road trips, make sure your spare tire is neatly packed in your trunk, inflated to its proper setting, and in working condition if needed in an emergency.

Maintain steering and suspension in proper alignment: Whether it’s the front or rear of your car, misalignment of the steering and suspension can seriously affect the safe operation as well as the stability of a vehicle. Additionally, it can cause rapid and uneven tire wear. When alignment is not corrected, the lifespan of a tire is vastly diminished.

Select the right tires: It can be easy to forget just what kind of tires you have on your vehicle. Be sure to check to see if you’re using the appropriate tires. The new Hankook Ultra-High Performance Ventus V12 evo2 and High Performance All-Season Ventus V2 concept2 tires are perfect for handling varied road conditions.

Current events: River cruising continues as...

(BPT) - Ask any travel agent, pick up a travel magazine or put the question to a travel expert, and you’ll learn that river cruising continues to be the hottest trend in travel. When something enjoys this kind of tremendous growth and popularity, you can be sure that it’s changing rapidly as customer tastes evolve, and companies strive to differentiate themselves from the competition with new innovations. 

That’s certainly true with river cruising. Tauck (ranked No. 1 in Travel + Leisure magazine’s list of the “World’s Best River Cruise Lines”) highlights some of the exciting new developments that continue to fuel river cruising’s incredible popularity:

New ships. Companies are continuing to build new riverboats at a breakneck pace, with Tauck launching two new vessels in 2014, the ms Inspire and the ms Savor. Together the two riverboats comprise Tauck’s new Inspiration Class of ships. Each features a high percentage of luxurious suites, a maximum of just 130 passengers for an intimate, relaxing ambiance (other ships of the same size hold 190 travelers, or 46 percent more), and a Tauck Cruise Director and three Tauck Directors to attend to guests’ every need.

New itineraries. With all these new ships comes the opportunity to add more itineraries and the chance to expand to additional rivers. For 2014, Tauck is adding four new itineraries, including its first-ever cruises on the Seine in France (where the company has seen tremendous growth in recent years) and an additional cruise on the Danube – Tauck’s most popular river. Special “themed” cruises are also popular, and Tauck offers cruises designed just for families, for food and wine aficionados, and for devotees of classical music.

New inclusions. Anyone who’s taken an ocean cruise will appreciate the fact that, with a river cruise, far more is typically included in the cruise price. Tauck, for example, actually sells zero options on their cruises! What’s more, Tauck is now offering unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits throughout the day aboard its riverboats. Also included with Tauck are all shore excursions, all gratuities, airport transfers, luggage handling, the majority of meals, and much more.

New and innovative features. With all the new riverboats being built, the river cruise lines have taken advantage of the opportunity to add exciting new features and innovative touches to the designs of their ships. Tauck’s two new Inspiration Class ships, for example, each feature eight lower deck cabins that offer an innovative “loft” design. “One of the most innovative concepts we have ever seen on any ship” (in the words of one travel writer), the loft design features an oversized window that allows fresh air and natural light to fill the cabin. With conventional lower-deck cabins, small, eye-level windows let in minimal light and are sealed shut to the outside air. Along with the loft cabins, Tauck’s new Inspiration Class ships also feature a second, steak house-style restaurant in addition to their more formal main dining rooms.

For more information on Tauck’s river cruises, visit your local travel professional, call (800) 468-2825, or go to www.tauck.com.

Little known facts about vacation time

(BPT) - While many Americans are enjoying or planning their last big hurrah for the summer – the beach, music festivals, campfires and time with family and friends – some may not be quite so lucky. Here are some facts you should know about your prized vacation time.

Paid vacation time is not a right

If you’re lucky enough to have paid vacation from your employer, it is a benefit that can theoretically be taken away at any time. The United States is out of step with the rest of the world. It is the only advanced economy without mandated paid vacation time for workers. So there’s no guarantee.

1 in 4 Americans don’t get any vacation time

Approximately 28 million working Americans, in the private sector, do not have the benefit of paid vacation time. This includes workers across all types of jobs and pay levels.

Vacation is good for you

Paid vacation leads to quality time spent with family and friends as well as volunteerism in communities. The vast majority (83 percent) of Americans believe that paid vacation time brings families closer together and improves quality of life (85 percent).

Taking a break is also good for your health. Men who do not take regular vacation have a 32 percent higher chance of heart disease than those who do. For women, it’s even more imperative to take a break as they have a 50 percent higher chance of heart disease.

Vacation is good for the economy

Encouraging American workers to use just one more day of earned leave per year could bring $73 billion into the economy annually.

You can do something

If you’re among the working Americans who do receive paid vacation time, use it. Just think of all the benefits to your health and well-being, not to mention the fun you can have. Next, help those who do not receive vacation time and protect the time off you get. Sign the Vacation Equality Project petition now at WhiteHouse.gov to encourage The White House to weigh-in on the issue.

If you’re a working American who does not have the benefit of paid vacation, the Vacation Equality Project, a movement led by Hotels.com, can help you put this issue in front your elected officials. By signing the petition, your local member of the House of Representatives can receive a postcard from you showing your support of guaranteed paid vacation time for all working Americans.

It's time for the U.S. to catch up with Canada, Germany, Japan and every other advanced nation in the world that guarantees its workforce a minimum amount of paid vacation time. Visit www.VacationEqualityProject.com to learn more.

Prevent theft from being the story of your...

(BPT) - Your school days are finished and that summer vacation is within your sights. This year you’ve planned the trip down to the last detail and made all of the final arrangements, but even if you’ve given your destination extensive thought, you may not have considered what you’re leaving behind. And that could be dangerous.

Empty homes temporarily vacated by summer travelers are ideal targets for thieves. Almost half of Americans count only on simple door and window locks to keep their home safe while they’re away, according to the 2014 Safety and Security Survey conducted by Master Lock. In addition, the items you bring with you can also be a target for theft.

To make sure you and your valuables remain safe, the professionals at Master Lock offer the following safety and security tips:

* Protect the home front – A home that looks deserted is an easy target for thieves. To keep your home looking occupied, set your lights on a timer and stop your newspaper and mail delivery. You should also ask a trusted neighbor to check your home periodically and alert the police of any suspicious activity. You can grant easy access to authorized visitors by storing your spare key in a portable key safe like the Master Lock 5422D.

* Limit distractions on the road – A focused driver is essential for any safe road trip, so plan to limit distractions by muting cell phones and packing provisions to keep young passengers fully entertained. Also, making frequent stops to refuel your body and clear your mind can boost energy and make for a safer journey.

* Prevent your luggage from going home with someone else – When you travel, you often place important items like money or a camera inside your luggage. Despite this common practice, only 16 percent of Americans said they actually secure their luggage when flying, according to the safety and security survey. Instead, keep your valuables in a carry-on and use a TSA-accepted luggage lock to ensure the contents of your carry-on and checked bags remain secure.

* Protect your home away from home - Once you are on vacation, make sure to lock up any valuables whenever you are away from your room. If your hotel doesn’t offer an in-room safe, bring your own portable 5900D SafeSpace to keep passports, jewelry and small electronics safe while you and your family are out and about.

* Take advantage of technology – Advancements in technology continue to make travel easier and safer. One way to keep kids safe is to take a cell phone picture of them every morning while you’re on vacation. This way, if something happens and you become separated, you’ll have a recent picture that shows exactly what they are wearing that day. You can also use the Master Lock Vault app and website to store digital copies of important data including travel documents, insurance cards, passports and medical information. This ensures you’ll have easy access to this information in case your paper documents are lost or not readily available.

While planning for a summer vacation can be an exciting time, a little preplanning can ensure the items you take with you and those you leave behind remain safe and sound.

Touring Europe? Must-see countries, cities,...

(BPT) - Whether you’re a seasoned world traveler or going abroad for the first time, few global destinations deliver the blend of variety and accessibility that Europe does. Visiting Europe – especially on a guided tour – allows first-timers to immerse themselves into inter-cultural experiences and also offers veteran travelers lots of new things to see and do.

For many Americans who have European heritage, visiting Europe is an exciting way to reconnect with their cultural history. For others, savoring the region’s diverse food and wine, exploring historic sites and natural wonders, and partaking in each country’s unique personality is a way to embrace another segment of the global community. Regardless of why you’re traveling to Europe, certain countries, cities and destinations are simply not to be missed.


From the shores of the Mediterranean where a feast of seafood goes directly from net to plate, to the amazing architecture and canals of Venice, to the unparalleled cultural and artistic history of Rome and the centuries-old hillside towns of Tuscany, one could travel Italy for a lifetime and still never see it all.

Travelers who only have a week or so would do well to book an all-inclusive tour, such as the tours of Italy offered by Tauck. When you travel with an established tour group (Tauck has been in business for 89 years), you can relish an enhanced experience while allowing the experts to do the work of arranging “insider” tours of iconic landmarks, booking hotels, and coordinating on-tour transportation and special entertainment.

Tauck offers 19 different tours of Italy, and each one is sure to please with the food, sights and attractions that have long made the country a top travel destination.


Whether you crave the unparalleled views of Paris from atop the iconic Eiffel Tower, yearn to stroll the cobblestone streets of a quaint French village, or wish to revisit the Normandy beach where an ancestor fought in World War II, France is a must-visit destination for any European adventure. Cruise down the scenic Rhone or Seine rivers, discover the epicurean and viticultural delights of France’s countryside and great cities, or stroll the Champs Elysees and celebrity-watch.

The British Isles

Although some may argue that Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland aren’t technically part of continental Europe, why quibble? Pass up the British Isles and you’ll miss out on some of the region’s most breathtaking scenery, vibrant cities and rich history.

Few cities have impacted the world stage as profoundly as London. From the legendary Tower of London where criminals and royalty were imprisoned throughout history, to the stately beauty of Buckingham Palace and the bustle of Piccadilly, London has something for everyone. The perfect foil for the urban lifestyle of London, the Irish countryside offers up numerous quaint villages, verdant pastures and hills seemingly greener than any others in the world. And while you may not catch a glimpse of Loch Ness’ famed, fabled inhabitant, you’ll surely enjoy Scotland’s surrounding scenery and culture while trying.

Europe is always a hot summer vacation destination, and there is still time to book a 2014 guided tour with Tauck. Visit www.tauck.com for full itineraries and booking details.

Craving an unplugged vacation? Secrets to...

(BPT) - Whoever said the journey is part of the fun probably never took a summer road trip with hungry, bored children in the backseat of the family car. Keeping kids occupied and their tummies full goes a long way toward making a driving vacation fun for everyone. But if you don’t want kids to fill up on junk food and spend all their car time plugged into the electronic device of their choice, what are your options?

Seventy-nine percent of all leisure trips in 2012 were made by car, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Summer is a peak time for family travel, as Americans visit friends and family, and take vacations while school is out. This summer, it’s possible to entertain kids, engage the whole family and keep everyone happy in the car. All you need is a little creativity, some time-tested activities and wholesome foods. The family road trip experts at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store offer some advice:

Unplugged entertainment

Smartphones, game consoles, laptops, tablets, television and mp3 players keep kids plugged in almost constantly. When traveling, many families try to minimize electronic time in order to provide the maximum opportunity for members to connect with each other and enjoy the new sights and experiences they’ll share.

An unplugged vacation is a great idea, but it’s important to use that free time wisely in ways that entertain and educate kids while also engaging adults. Games that all ages can enjoy will also help families connect while in the car.

Look for games that travel easily, require minimal moving parts and offer a bit of nostalgia. For example, the Original Wooly-Willy game is one parents will recall from their own childhoods and will enjoy introducing kids to. The game allows players to use a magnetic wand to move iron powder around, drawing whiskers, hair and eyebrows on a plastic-covered face. A mini version of the popular Simon game uses flashing lights and sounds to test players’ memories.

Games can also be both educational and fun. A Wooden Magnetic Hangman Game delivers all the brain-building challenge of the classic word game in an easy-to-carry format that uses a magnetic dry-erase board, 26 letter magnets, 10 hangman body magnets and a dry-erase marker – great for backseat entertainment. Or you could use a map game to help kids learn more about the United States as they drive through new locations on their way to Grandma’s house, the theme park, national park or other family destination. Cracker Barrel carries these games and many more appropriate for on-the-go fun.

Listening in

A car trip is also a great time for everyone to catch up on their “reading.” Audio books are an ideal way for everyone – including the driver – to enjoy a good story together. From New York Times bestsellers to non-fiction, self-help and children’s titles, a variety of best-selling books are available in audio format.

An exchange program is a cost-effective way to enjoy an audio book for your road trip. Cracker Barrel offers a service that allows travelers to purchase an audio book at one location and return it to another Cracker Barrel anywhere in the U.S. Customers will receive a full refund less an exchange fee of $3.49 for every week they kept the book.

Car time is also the perfect time to expand everyone’s appreciation of different types of music. Introduce kids to oldies that parents (or even grandparents) loved when they were kids, or ask the kids to share some of their favorite music with you.

Refreshments on the go

Hungry travelers are unhappy travelers, and parents know the value of having plenty of snacks on hand in the car. Avoid having too many sweets, high-calorie or high-fat foods in the car, as heavier or sugary foods can leave kids over-excited or feeling sluggish. Instead, snack on wholesome treats like fresh fruit (pack a cooler), protein-rich Virginia Peanuts or crunchy  Okra Chips from Cracker Barrel, and bottled water.

When it’s time to stop for a meal, Cracker Barrel has the family-friendly atmosphere and food that travelers have come to love. With familiar favorites and new lower-calorie options, Cracker Barrel ensures families will be able to enjoy a great meal while on the road. When you’re done with your lunch or dinner, stop by the Old Country Store and stock up on games and a few sweet treats such as McCraws Flat Taffy or popular candy bars. Visit www.crackerbarrel.com to learn more and find locations along your route.

High-tech monitoring of digital information...

(BPT) - The digital age has made online information widely available both for good and bad purposes. When it comes to the nation’s security, monitoring, tracking, securing and analyzing digital data is a key factor in defending intelligence networks.

Creating a line of cyber warfare defense is the U.S. Navy's responsibility, which has a community charged with mastering the capabilities, tools and techniques required to effectively collect, process, analyze and apply information.

This is a growing field, and individuals interested in careers in computer science and computer engineering will find excellent opportunities with the Navy. Enlisted sailors and naval officers specialize in information-intensive fields that include information management, information technology, information warfare, cyber warfare, cryptology, intelligence, meteorology and oceanography. Collaboratively, they develop and defend vital intelligence, networks and systems. They also manage the critical information that supports the U.S. Navy, joint and national warfighting requirements, maintaining the Navy’s essential technological edge.

Cyberspace is the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems and embedded processors and controllers. America’s Navy has highly technical computer scientists and computer engineers who develop tools and techniques in the information environment that ensure situational awareness, provide defense against attacks and deliver tactical advantages.

Some of the day-to-day jobs include gathering data through sources ranging from advanced cyberspace operations to unmanned surveillance systems, converting data into actionable intelligence, and maintaining cutting-edge communications networks that effectively share and safeguard information. It’s all part of the mission for those who serve in the professional areas of information and technology in America’s Navy – for those warriors who do battle within the cyberspace domain and the electromagnetic spectrum.

As a member of the Information Dominance Community, Navy sailors apply principles and techniques of computer science and computer engineering to research, design, develop, test and evaluate software and firmware for computer network attack, exploitation and defense in cyberspace operations. 

For more information about opportunities to serve, visit www.navy.com/careers/information-and-technology.html.

Smart ideas to get your car running, and...

(BPT) - Are you a self-proclaimed road warrior who loves when other drivers do a double take to admire your well-cared-for car? Do you like to make others envious of your engine’s soft purr, your car’s immaculate finish, manicured curves and polished accents? Even if you’re not a car connoisseur, summer travel is upon us and now’s the time to get your vehicle road trip ready – inside and out.

Tune in to tune up

Before you hit the gas, it’s important to make sure your car is running properly so you don’t end up stranded on the side of the road. First, check the fluids – oil, coolant, brake and windshield washer. If it’s almost time to get the oil changed, get ahead of the game and do it before you leave. A long road trip can put additional stress on your motor, but clean oil can keep things working properly.

Another way to keep everything running smoothly is to maintain the health of your tires. This not only creates a much safer driver experience, allowing you to handle the car better, but also saves money on fuel. Review your vehicle owner’s manual for the correct air pressure for your specific tires.

The condition of the exterior tire surface should be cared for as well. Driving on bald tires can be extremely dangerous and can cause you to lose control in slick conditions. Tires also tend to heat up on long trips and thin tire walls can result in unnecessary blow-outs. To make sure you have proper tire tread, insert a penny in between several different tread grooves across the tire with the bottom of Lincoln’s head facing down. If the tire tread doesn’t touch honest Abe’s head, it’s time to invest in a new set of tires.

Lastly, check to be certain all lights and signals are functioning properly. Sit in the car and turn each light or signal on and off while a friend observes. This will ensure you can properly communicate with other drivers on the road, especially during night time travel.

Primped and polished

Now that the inner workings of your ride have been tended to, it’s time to give the outside a makeover.

First, give your car a quick wash and then some personality. A fast and affordable way to enhance the look of your ride is with Custom Wrap Removable Coating from Dupli-Color. Change the color completely or simply add a racing stripe or modify your wheels in a few steps.

Whether you’re cruising in a car, truck or motorcycle, the spray on, peel-off formula provides a smooth finish that lasts months, perfect for an extended getaway. Plus, it can be removed in a matter of minutes without the need for tools or solvents.

Custom Wrap comes in six matte finishes – Carbon Black, Graphite Metallic, Performance Red, Arctic White, Patriot Blue and Jet Grey – and even shields against surface scratches from dust and dirt, while protecting from rain, snow and UV exposure. If you happen to notice any pre-travel nicks and chips on the finish, use an exact-match touch-up paint tool, like Scratch Fix All-in-1, to quickly and affordably conceal, cover, seal and protect.

Get your gear in gear

Now that your car is prepared for the road trip ahead, it’s important for you to make sure you’re equipped with everything you need to make your getaway a success. These days, many cars come equipped with GPS but you never know when that might malfunction or a signal is lost. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have a paper map handy in case you need to take a detour or would like to break your planned route and go exploring.

To avoid frequent stops, take tasty, filling snacks like pretzels, granola bars, trail mix or beef jerky. Bottles of water will keep you hydrated, but don’t overdo it otherwise you’ll be making several pit stops along the way. And don’t forget to make sure your glove compartment and trunk are both stocked with emergency essentials like a flashlight, jumper cables, roadside flares, blankets and a first aid kit. And, of course, no road trip is complete without a fun playlist to act as the soundtrack for your journey.

Once you’ve followed these necessary steps to make sure your car is functioning properly and looking great, consider that your green light to go. The open road awaits you.

Don't be stuck in the heat walking on your...

(BPT) - It is summer and you can’t wait to get out on the road to head to the cabin, on vacation or just a nice carefree ride with the windows down. But while you may be ready to go, is your car? These quick vehicle inspection tips will help you make sure your vehicle is ready for the open road.

Is it cool in here?

Make sure your vehicle is ready to beat the heat by inspecting the air-conditioning (AC) and engine cooling systems. This means removing dirt and debris from the fins of the AC condenser and radiator.

While you’re near the radiator, check the coolant level. Look in the owner’s manual for the right anti-freeze. A newer car might require a completely different anti-freeze then what was used by that car’s brand a few years ago. “Mixing incompatible anti-freezes can instantly gum up the cooling system,” says Tom Taylor, engineer and vice president of auto parts retailer RockAuto.com.

Also check the cabin air filter that freshens the air flowing into the interior. This filter typically needs to be replaced annually, but it can clog up much faster if the car is driven on dirt roads or parked under trees. “Owners are so relieved when they discover their AC problems are solved by simply popping a new cabin air filter in place behind the glove box,” says Taylor.

Kick the tires

Wherever you plan to go this summer, your tires will take you there; make sure they’re in great shape.

Start by checking the tire pressure. Most tires have a maximum tire pressure printed on the side of the tire, but you want to inflate the tires only to the cold tire pressure printed on the decal inside the driver’s door jam. “With today’s low-profile tires, the difference between the maximum and cold pressures might be 20 PSI or more. Inflate a cold tire to the maximum pressure printed on the tire and it will be seriously over inflated once it hits the hot pavement,” says RockAuto.com’s Taylor.

Keep up that strict oil change schedule

If you want your engine to stay cool and last, it’s essential that you change the oil at the appropriate times and with the proper oil. With older cars, owners might have used lighter weight oil in the winter and heavier oil in the summer. Today’s engines often require the same weight oil year round. “Modern engines use oil as a hydraulic fluid for operating valves and doing other new things. Pour 10W-30 into a new engine that requires 0W-20 and there will likely be problems,” says Taylor. Use the weight of oil recommended in the owner’s manual and don’t forget to change the oil filter too.

Take care of your vehicle and follow these tips and you can be sure it will be there with you for every new mile marker and memory this summer and beyond.

Best way to handle aggressive drivers? Model...

(BPT) - Aggressive drivers speed, drive too fast or carelessly, change lanes without warning, cut off other vehicles, tailgate and pass in ways that endanger others. Aggressive driving likely causes “a substantial number” of the 6.8 million crashes that occur every year on American highways, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. Everyone is aware of aggressive drivers, but you may be surprised to learn how many people think that other drivers are the only offenders; the truth is that most drivers should take a closer look in the mirror – aggressive drivers may be closer than they appear.

Eighty-five percent of motorists describe other drivers’ behind-the-wheel behavior as aggressive, yet only 36 percent admit their own driving is aggressive, according to a survey by Safeco Insurance. Despite that discrepancy, the survey also revealed wide-spread agreement on two important points: 82 percent said they experience negative feelings because of how other people drive, and 72 percent said they would welcome the chance to improve the driving experience for everyone and make at least one change to their own behavior.

Recognizing the need to reduce aggressive driving, Safeco launched a “Drive it Forward Fridays” movement. Drivers can visit www.safeco.com/diff, or use the hashtag #DIFF, to pledge to be more courteous drivers, and to share how they’re making positive changes to their driving habits.

The survey also identified behaviors that, if stopped, would make driving more pleasant for everyone. This includes cutting off other drivers (59 percent), using high beams toward oncoming traffic (57 percent) and tailgating (56 percent).

“People’s emotions and anxieties often will play out on our roads and highways, putting us all in tense, high-stress driving conditions that can be dangerous,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and author of the book “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.” Alpert has also written about road rage. “Changing aggressive driving habits is not only good for society, but it's good for your mental health. Simple positive acts can have a huge impact on how you feel by activating the reward center in the brain - meaning it really can make you feel good.”  

Alpert offers some tips to help drivers begin curbing aggressive road behaviors:

* Aggressive drivers cut off other motorists, tailgate, have unnecessary and excessive use the horn, speed and change lanes rapidly. If these behaviors describe your driving habits, resolve to make a change for the better.

* Model good driving behavior by being friendly and courteous on the road. Your good behavior can inspire others to be courteous as well. Give up a parking spot, and when it’s safe to do so, allow other drivers to move into your lane.

* Accept that some undesirable road conditions, such as heavy traffic, slow drivers or excessively fast ones are a normal and unavoidable reality of driving. If you normalize these irritations, you’re less likely to be frustrated by them.

* Don’t take it personally. A driver who cut you off was likely just being thoughtless, and didn’t intend to anger or endanger you. Consider other explanations; perhaps the driver is traveling to an emergency or simply didn’t see you.

In addition to improving your own behaviors and encouraging others to do so, too, avoid antagonizing aggressive drivers. NHTSA recommends you do your best to get out of the way of aggressive drivers and don’t encourage them by speeding up or attempting to block them. Avoid eye contact and ignore rude gestures – in short, don’t encourage bad driving behavior by behaving badly yourself.

The road to a stress-free vacation is as easy...

(BPT) - Following what was known as the “Polar Vortex” for millions of Americans, the summer travel season is finally here. This year will be the second highest traveled year since 2000, with the vast majority of people – more than 80 percent – traveling by car, according to research by AAA. 

In a perfect world, packing up the car and heading out of town for your summer vacation is full of fun and adventure. However, as many of us have experienced, that’s not always reality. The stress of planning your trip, making sure your car is prepped, and even being cooped up in the car for hours on end, can lead to more drama than most of us would care to experience.

In fact, the biggest vacation stressors are managing transportation, being unfamiliar with the destination and wasting time figuring things out, according to a new Monograms Road to Happiness Study. To help minimize the amount of stress that can quickly detour your summer dream vacation, travelers can take three simple steps:

Plan in advance. Nothing can derail your vacation (or finances) more than poor planning. Planning your vacation at least four to six weeks in advance will ensure you have adequate time to map out all the best routes and get the best possible travel deals. Often pre-paying for your hotel room and car rental can provide savings of at least 20 percent. It will also give you plenty of time to hunt for any deals you may be able to find for restaurants and/or entertainment venues. Searching on Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com will often turn up deals that can save an average 50 percent or more. 

Consider renting a car. Not only are rental cars often the latest models with up-to-date safety features, they can save a significant amount of wear and tear on your own car. With the diversity of rental car fleets – such as Hertz’s Green Traveler Collection that get at least 33 miles per gallon – you can also save money on gas. Between an abundance of online rental car specials and gas savings, you’ll have a bigger budget to spend once you arrive at your destination. Worried you’re too young to rent? Most car rental companies, such as Hertz, offer a Young Renter’s program for travelers as young as age 20. 

Add adventure to your drive. Half the fun of summer vacation can be the journey to your final destination. Consider making frequent stops and adding in shorter side trips to well-reviewed restaurants, museums, amusement parks or even to a scenic park where you can enjoy an afternoon picnic or walk. Often there are lists of adventures and local sites to see in community newspapers and magazines to help pick top spots to explore. Not only will this nicely break up your time spent in the car, it will give you more things to look forward to. 

For more information on Hertz’s Green Traveler Collection, as well as their diverse fleet and Young Renter’s program, visit www.Hertz.com.

3 tips to keep technology safe and accessible...

(BPT) - Are you dreaming of a vacation? Whether you’re planning a family trip, a romantic getaway for two, or a solo adventure, technology will likely be by your side. But using technology while away often requires some advance prep to reduce potential disruptions to your personal services, including Web-based email, apps and cloud storage, and to reduce the risk of criminal activity.

When you try to sign in to your online services from a new location, companies may throw up roadblocks intended to keep out malicious attackers. To make sure you’re able to access documents or connect with friends while traveling, consider these tips:

1. Keep security information up-to-date
If you access services while traveling to a new place, such as Outlook.com for email, or OneDrive for documents and photos, this may raise a security flag that’s normally intended to keep the bad guys from accessing your information. If this happens, you’ll need to verify account ownership, which is easy to do if you have a set of security information added to your account, i.e. mobile phone number and/or alternative email address. If prompted, simply use the unique code sent to your mobile phone or email account. If you’ve already added security information to your account, just make sure it’s up-to-date before you travel.

2. Install an authenticator app
If you’re out of cell phone range, or you put your phone in airplane mode while traveling, but need to send an email or check a document stored in the cloud from a PC, then you’ll want an authenticator app. This allows you to retrieve a unique code on your mobile phone regardless of connection so you can verify account ownership. While authenticator apps may vary across platforms, typically the apps will use industry-standard security code generation to help keep your devices secure while traveling. If you have a Microsoft account, you can get the app by going to your Microsoft account security settings page at account.live.com/proofs/manage, and click ‘Set up’ under “Identity Verification Apps.” Otherwise check the app store on your device for your specific authenticator app.

3. Travel with devices you trust
Internet cafes and hotel business centers are really convenient. However, when possible, it’s always best to access personal information and documents from your own devices given you likely know who has access to them before and after you use it. This makes the device more trustworthy, as well as helps reduce the need to verify account ownership given it’s a familiar device where you normally access information.

Providing national defense from the air and the...

(BPT) - When it comes to protecting America, a group of highly trained Navy Pilots and Naval Flight Officers are ready to serve from the air and the sea. This world-class team maneuvers the most sophisticated airplanes and helicopters to electronically detect and track ships, submarines, aircraft and missiles.

Naval aviators fly tantalizingly close to the ocean surface and execute strategic aerial maneuvers using the most innovative and high-tech aircraft in the world.

Joining the Navy and becoming part of this elite group requires a bachelor’s degree, and candidates must successfully complete an intense, comprehensive aviation training program before earning their “wings of gold.”

Candidates should have a background in math and science and must have completed or be pursuing a four-year degree. A recruiter will be able to discuss the specific physical and mental requirements needed to join the military, and offer other opportunities in the Navy.

Naval aviation is open to both men and women. In fact, there are more than 600 women Naval Aviators today continuing a proud heritage that began in 1973 when the Navy started a test program to train female Naval Aviators. In the 1980s, females started landing helicopters on aircraft carriers, which is one of the most challenging maneuvers for a pilot. By 1993, female aviators were serving with combat squadrons.

When not flying, Naval Aviators collect intelligence, control and maintain internal and external aircraft systems, and study aerodynamics, aircraft engine systems, meteorology, navigation, flight planning and flight safety. In addition, they provide vital attack, defense and logistical support to others in the Navy around the world.

Once they’re finished with Navy service, aviators are well-positioned for careers with airlines, government agencies or private corporations to work as pilots, aircraft construction and maintenance, or other fields requiring this unique leadership experience. For more information, visit www.navy.com.

How to say goodbye to work worries while on...

(BPT) - Summer has just begun and that long-awaited vacation is on the horizon. Unfortunately, it can quickly pass you by and before you know it, that precious vacation time has been wasted due to inadequate trip planning or a basic inability to relax.

Twenty-three percent of Americans take no vacation time at all, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. With employees skipping out on vacation days every year, the bigger question remains as to why this continues to happen, and what happens when employees actually take that time off? More importantly, how can an individual enjoy a vacation without being completely disconnected from work?             

First off, it’s important to understand the value of taking time off work. “A well-placed vacation can help break the cycle of everyday workplace-related stress,” says Dr. Joffrey Suprina, dean of the College of Behavioral Sciences at Argosy University. “Chronic stress takes a toll on our body's health, disrupting its ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions and even avoid injury. When you're stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill. Your sleep will suffer and not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you'll make poor decisions. So vacations are important to our overall physical and mental health.”

A new survey from Glassdoor found that 61 percent of employees admitted to doing some work while on vacation. In a connected world of smartphones, iPads and Wi-Fi, that might not seem like a big deal. It's easy to work remotely. However, many people aren’t getting the most of their vacation. Checking an email can easily lead to jumping on a project, which has potential to take up hours of your valuable vacation time.

“Taking time off has a positive effect on employee happiness and productivity, however many people are simply afraid to walk away from their work even for a few days,” says Dr. Carlos Tasso E. De Aquino, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Business and Management at Argosy University. “With globalization and increasing competition, the workforce feels threatened to lose their jobs to people anywhere in the world, so they develop this ‘addiction’ and never stop working,” adds Aquino.

So before you leave the office for vacation, assign a person to help others regarding your normal responsibilities and let everybody clearly know who this person is - including them in an automatic email reply and voice mail.

“Consider a time blocking strategy, where you choose a small block of time to catch up on work. Let your coworkers know that this is the only time you'll be responding to emails, calls and other work needs. By doing this you’ll be in control of your responsibilities, setting employee expectations, and alleviating some of the stress that comes from having to constantly check in,” says Suprina.

Another good idea is to train your stand-in coworker well in advance. Consider having your employees partner up with somebody who understands their job. When their counterpart goes on vacation, only they can contact each other if something comes up. This means that all the attempts to access the vacationing employee have to go through their “gatekeeper” who can judge just how important it actually is to contact that employee.

Vacations give you a chance to unwind, enjoy life, and to keep your work-life balance from swinging too far toward work. They allow you to take a step back from your normal, stressful routine and enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation. So go ahead this summer and take a few days off. Just don’t forget to bring a camera.

Negligence is the rust of the soul ... and the car

(BPT) - Whether it’s the anxiety of looking at a bank statement after a big purchase or waiting for news from a doctor, facing harsh realities can be nerve-racking. The same mentality applies when dealing with your car discrepancies, be it routine maintenance or even skirmishes with other drivers on - and sometimes off - the road.

These drivers are not abiding by one of the fundamental, unwritten road rules, according to a recent survey conducted by Hankook Tire. In the latest Hankook Tire Quarterly Gauge Index, results showed that 86 percent of American drivers have had their car damaged by others when parked and never received a note from the person responsible. However, despite these findings, the gauge also revealed that only 14 percent of Americans say they have dinged a car and didn’t leave a note, which begs the question: Who’s telling the truth?

Aside from avoiding issues with others on the road, drivers also tend to neglect their own routine car obligations. The recent gauge index also revealed that 57 percent of Americans leave regular car maintenance obligations such as registration, oil changes, and car inspections until the last minute or past the recommended timeframe.

But what the large majority of the driving population lacks in fulfilling some standard car care needs, they make up for in other ways. Seventy-seven percent of drivers make sure to fill their gas tank before or immediately after their gas light goes on. And although many Americans lack manners by failing to leave notes in parking lots, they take pride in their parking skills. Sixty-seven percent of drivers consider themselves “excellent” or “good” parallel parkers, maneuvering into a tight spot in two tries or less.

Now that the fall and winter months are here provide drivers with less than stellar road conditions are here, take into account these helpful car safety tips that will help you be more mindful of your cars basic needs:

Check your tank – Running low on fuel on a regular basis can be hazardous to a car because it causes the fuel pump to pick up debris from the bottom of the fuel tank that can clog the pump or fuel injectors. Be mindful of your gauge, and try to get to the nearest fueling station as soon as you can.

Check your engine – Thirty-one percent of Americans wait to change the oil until past the recommended service date. Not changing your oil often enough allows harmful dirt, particulates and acids to degrade or damage key engine parts.

Rotate your tires – According to the Hankook Tire Quarterly Gauge Index, 33 percent of Americans say tire rotation is the No. 1 routine car maintenance obligation that they put off until the last minute. However, rotating the tires allows them to wear more evenly, increasing the tires’ lifespan.

Choose the right tire – Do you know what brand of tires you have on your car right now? If you said no, you’re not alone. Thirty-six percent of Americans say they don’t know their tire brand. Knowing this information is important to be sure if the tires are appropriate for the upcoming fall and winter driving conditions. The Hankook Winter i-cept evo is a winter tire that provides excellent performance during winter weather conditions.

What happens when camping and glamour collide?

(BPT) - You love the great outdoors, you really do but you were somehow gifted with that sweet blood mosquitoes crave. Not only that but your body simply doesn’t do well sleeping on the ground and, let’s be honest, it takes no small amount of lighter fluid and matches for you to warm your hands over an open fire.

Travel inspiration website DreamPlanGo suggests you go “glamping” instead. Short for glamorous camping, glamping gives travelers the best of both indoor and outdoor worlds. As in, explore the majesty of Yellowstone, but return to a down bed and gourmet meal at the end of the day. Sound alright? Keep reading.

Choosing your glampsite - Unlike traditional camping where pitching a tent and maybe inflating an air mattress are your only accommodation options, glamping offers you much more to choose from. Does a treetop abode with running water and goose-down comforters speak to you? What about a yurt or villa? Regardless of your budget, country preference or sleeping needs, you’re bound to find a glampsite that speaks to you.

No need to pack - You’ll still need to bring clothes, of course, and hiking gear, but no need to do the heavy lifting. Leave the cookware, lanterns, sleeping bags and clumsy tent at home.

What you’ll be doing - The beauty of glamping is that you can still enjoy the rush of fly fishing and reinvigorating hikes, you just won’t have to worry about meals or getting a poor night’s sleep. Depending on where you glamp, you may even have access to more activities and excursions than you would camping. Many hosts are extremely knowledgeable and will go to great lengths to ensure you have memorable experiences to write home about.

Keep your car cool on the road this summer

(BPT) - Summer temperatures can be notoriously hard on your car. Whether it’s a summer road trip or your daily commute to work, you could potentially find yourself stranded on the side of the road with an overheated engine or driving with no air conditioning. While you can’t prevent normal wear and tear on your vehicle, it is possible to take preventive measures to protect your car from unfortunate and inconvenient break downs. Here are some simple maintenance tips for you to keep your car cool before the temperatures get any higher.

Check the air conditioning (AC) – Ideally you should have the air conditioning in your vehicle checked before the warmer months begin but chances are you didn’t notice your AC wasn’t blowing cold air until you turned it on for the first time. The key to keeping your AC working correctly is to ensure all the components are working and there are no leaks. These components include the compressor, condenser, evaporator, pressurized refrigerant, valves and hoses. Have your system inspected and make sure your technician or mechanic is trained and certified in diagnosing and repairing air conditioning systems. He or she should be looking for worn seals and o-rings, loose fittings, cracked or damaged belts and connections.

Refresh the fluids – Whether it’s a summer refresh or you’re getting the car out of storage for the first time this season, be sure to change the oil and the filter before you head out on the road. You should also and check other fluids such as transmission, steering, coolant and brake fluid that may either need replacement or topped off.

Keeping it cool – If you haven’t checked your coolant levels recently, the general rule is to flush the radiator and add new coolant at least every two years. Consider using a radiator coolant additive, like Royal Purple’s Purple Ice, during hotter months. The high-performance radiator conditioner can be used with anti-freeze or straight water. Using Purple Ice will prevent overheating, keep the system clean and extend the life of the water pump.

Taking these simple steps to make sure your vehicle is in good working order during the hot summer months will allow you to enjoy your ride instead of sweating it out on the side of the road.

Packing for your summer trip: wardrobe essentials

(BPT) - Summer vacation is here and with it, the frustration of packing a suitcase to cover a trip’s worth of activities. But with careful planning and reuse of key items, it’s easy to look fashionable no matter where your travels take you.

“First of all, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that black has to be your neutral,” says Meagan Glasco, academic director of fashion at The Art Institute of Charlotte, a campus of South University. “During the summer, pretty much any solid color can be the foundation for your vacation outfits, so plan to include your most flattering colors.”

Glasco advises:

* Make sure that every item you pack can be worn at least two different ways.

* Pack mostly solid color items with just one or two patterned or specialty items like a sequin top to ensure that all of your outfits will coordinate.

* Add a cardigan or blazer over a dress to create a look that works in almost any situation. Dresses take up the least amount of space in your luggage.

Kate Campbell, academic director of fashion at The Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, recommends basing your packing list on the trip’s activities. She says, “Before your leave home, plan each day’s outfits to match the day’s activities.”

Campbell’s additional tips:

* Plan one or two central pieces, such as a simple jacket, a fabulous sundress or the perfect jeans. Add a blouse to dress jeans up or a tee to dress them down.

* Bring three pairs of shoes: comfortable walking shoes, sandals, and dress shoes; and two handbags: a roomy classic bag for travel and a small bag to use at your destination. Don’t fall for too many pockets in your bags – it may look organized, but it’s impossible to find things.

* Use accessories like belts, jewelry or scarves to give the same outfit a completely different look.

Now that you’ve figured out what to take, what’s the best way to pack it? Campbell and Glasco agree:

* Place shoes at the bottom, then heavier items such as jeans or a blazer next, and finally delicate items on top. You can either carefully fold and pack flat or you can roll items to avoid wrinkles. Unpack as soon as you reach your destination.

* Tuck smaller items of clothing, toiletry bags, flat-irons, belts, accessory bags, etc. around the edges or in the corners of your bag. Use Ziploc bags and make sure everything is sealed tight.

* Take only the essentials: ID, insurance, one or two credit cards, minimal cash, one great lipstick, a day’s worth of mini-versions of grooming must-haves and medications in your carry-on bag. A small repair kit for sewing or fixing glasses, sunscreen and a small umbrella in your checked bag.

Good planning before you leave home means you can relax and enjoy yourself at your destination. And isn’t that what a vacation is for?

See aiprograms.info for program duration, tuition, fees, and other costs, median debt, federal salary data, alumni success, and other important information.

How to avoid crowds in Rome

(BPT) - Rome has been a starring city on the world stage throughout history. Art is all around you in this cultural center where pieces by Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio and Michelangelo are daily decor. The city surrounds you with masterpieces from throughout the ages, making it a highly coveted destination with plenty of crowds. DreamPlanGo has provided some tips to help you avoid long lines and enjoy the city in peace:

Time your trip. Certain times of the year bring in more crowds than others. If you truly can’t stand masses of gawkers, it’s best to avoid Rome during June, July, August, Easter, Christmas and New Year’s. Cooler weather but also quiet sites and lower prices will greet you in November, early December, January and February.

Evade long lines at the Colosseum. The Colosseum in Rome is one of the biggest attractions in the country and a bucket list stop for many. Don’t let the winding long lines deter you from seeing this world wonder. Start by purchasing your ticket, but not at the Colosseum. Buy a combo ticket for two sights at Palatine Hill. The line at Palatine Hill is short or even non-existent. You’ll get your ticket purchased, tour the ancient parts of the city at the hill and still get into the Colosseum with time to spare.

Mind the time of day you visit the Vatican. It pays to be organized. Book your tickets to the Vatican in advance online. Try to make it for first thing in the morning and as the doors open, make your way directly to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or the Raphael rooms. These masterpieces by the Renaissance artists get very crowded. If you’re not a morning person, visit at 1 p.m., while people are elsewhere eating lunch. Alternatively, save the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael rooms for last, right before the Vatican closes at 4 p.m.

Enjoy Via Appia Antica (The Appian Way). Get a breath of fresh air and stretch your limbs in this Roman road that feels like an exclusive escape. Spreading out on the south side of the city, it reaches nearly 340 miles outward to Brindisi. Take a bus tour through the Italian countryside, or bike the path on Sunday when all vehicles are barred.

If you want to escape the Roman crowds altogether, visit Dreamplango.com to learn more about the 5 Day Trips You Must Take From Rome.

Religious guidance, moral support and more...

(BPT) - When serving domestically and overseas, Sailors are away from home, family, familiar settings and traditions. Many use their beliefs and faith to help them understand and manage the unfamiliar surroundings they’re experiencing. Guidance, moral support and worship opportunities are critical services provided by the Navy to help Sailors through the challenges of the job while maintaining relationships with family and fellow military members.

Navy Chaplains and Religious Program Specialists from the Religious Ministry Team are available to meet the religious needs of Sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen. The Navy Chaplain Corps consists of more than 800 Navy Chaplains and represents over 100 different faith groups. All Chaplains are Navy Officers, meaning each holds an important leadership role practicing ministry and providing faith leadership, as well as personal advice in a ministry that is run 24/7. Chaplains live, work, eat and pray with their fellow shipmates and understand their needs and challenges like no one else.  

Religious support has been provided to military members since before the 13 colonies declared independence from Britain. In 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance of religion for Sailors and required services to be held on Continental Congress ships. Later, during World War II, large numbers of civilian clergy stepped forward and enlisted to meet the religious needs of millions serving in the United States Navy. Today, the Navy’s Chaplain Corps consists of active duty and Reserve Chaplains who tend to the spiritual and emotional needs of all military members and their families.

Navy Chaplains are in high demand, and a religious counsel career can be especially rewarding in the military. Whether conducting worship ceremonies on a ship at sea or assisting clergy with religious activities on a base, these men and women are in a unique position to serve their country and fellow service members.

Navy Chaplains have more time to:

* Conduct worship services in a variety of settings
* Perform religious rites and ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and baptisms
* Counsel those who seek guidance
* Oversee religious education programs
* Provide spiritual guidance and care to hospitalized personnel and their families
* Train lay leaders
* Advise leaders at all levels regarding morale, ethics and spiritual well-being

In addition to providing religious ministry for overall faith and facilitating all religious requirements for those of different faiths, Chaplains also advise the command to ensure the free exercise of religion.

To train for the Navy Chaplain Corps, five weeks of training at Officer Development School are held in Newport, R.I., followed by seven weeks of Naval Chaplaincy School in Ft. Jackson, S.C. Continued educational opportunities are available through the funded Chaplain Corps Advanced Education Program, and clinical pastoral educational programs are also held. Any student in the process of earning a graduate theological degree could potentially enter the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program as a student.

Visit navy.com to learn more about Chaplain career opportunities and the background required to answer this exciting and important call to serve.

Travel secrets revealed: How to experience a...

(BPT) - Travelers today want more from their vacations, including authentic experiences that are off the beaten path. Knowing where the locals go and what they like to do is key to discovering the hidden gems of any destination. Fortunately, finding this seemingly secret information is easier than you think if you just follow a few tricks of seasoned travelers.

Research weather patterns: The ideal weather at a particular location doesn’t necessarily align with popular vacation times or holidays. By looking into average temperatures, you might be able to book an affordable vacation during the off-season and still enjoy beautiful weather. For example, fall months bring warm and comfortable temperatures to the Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina dubbing September and October as the “perfect time of year” by locals. Learn more about off-season travel at www.visitmyrtlebeach.com

Look beyond the hotel: Prime tourist areas are ripe with hotels and resort options, which can be wonderful. But for a more authentic experience, consider renting a house or condo instead. Your home-away-from-home might be in a neighborhood where locals live, allowing you to experience day-to-day life from a fresh perspective. You might even mingle and make some new friends.

Try the local food: Food provides an inside glimpse into a region’s history, culture and favorite flavors. Before you head home, be sure to research cuisine unique to the area and try a few new dishes while away. Southern coastal cooking has created a phenomenon called low-country cooking. This type of cuisine includes dishes like chicken bog, a pilau dish typically made of rice, chicken, onion, celery, sausage and spices. A trip to South Carolina is not complete without a visit to Shorty’s Grill in Loris, located just outside Myrtle Beach, where locals head every Thursday for Chicken Bog Day.

Embrace digital research: Spending time online will help you discover some of the best information about any vacation destination. Videos, social media and online chat boards are all great resources for exploring what’s hot within the local community.  For example, “local’s look” YouTube video series highlights favorite hotspots and things to do in the Myrtle Beach area. To learn about other local favorites, go to VisitMyrtleBeach.com/60Days.

Drink like a local: Raising a glass filled with a tasty libation has been a bonding ritual bringing people together for hundreds of years. Be sure to research bars that have built a strong local following, and strike up a conversation with the employees and regulars. Breweries and distilleries offer another opportunity to experience the local flavors. For example, New South Brewing is Myrtle Beach’s only local microbrewery that offers tours and tastings every Tuesday and Thursday. Also, Palmetto Moonshine is a facility that sells locally grown and made moonshine.

Play like a local: What do locals do in their free time? In beach towns this often means heading inland while the shoreline is packed with tourists during weekends. Consider exploring the city center when the work week is done and gridlock has ceased. It might mean visiting a park that comes alive at night with music and food booths, giving locals a break from the nine-to-five. Do a little digging and you’ll discover where the locals go – and the places they avoid – during their free time.

Converse with locals: If you’ve done some research and know a few places rumored to be favorites of local residents, the final step to ensuring an authentic experience is to be friendly and talk with people you meet. Residents typically have a lot of pride in where they live, and many are more than happy to share their thoughts on favorite restaurants, stores, beaches and more. An approachable smile, a friendly attitude and willingness to listen might help you learn about an amazing coffee shop or rarely frequented seashore that your family will adore.

5 packing tips to make the back-to-college move...

(BPT) - Back-to-school season has thousands of college students packing their childhood rooms into cars, vans and moving trailers to transport into dorms and off-campus apartments. While college students usually don’t have a lot of belongings that need to be moved, the process can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Whether you're moving to college for the first time or the third, you'll find there are ways to make your move smarter and, believe it or not, more enjoyable. There are many resources available to make the move to college much easier. One of the most practical things you can do is to rent a moving truck. Since college moves often mean traveling long distances, it can be hard to get a lot of people to help with the move. Rather than stuffing gear into multiple vehicles, a truck is a good, simple solution.

Rather than relying on guesswork, take some tips from the experts at Penske Truck Rental:

1. Condense. College apartments are small and dorm rooms even smaller. Especially if you have a roommate. Everything you own will not fit, so make the effort before you start packing to take only the essentials. Pare things down by considering what you need most. For instance, if you have some clothes you like for special occasions but wear rarely, it is best not to bring them. Instead, take the clothes, shoes and personal items you wear time and time again. As for what you'll need, see if your college has a checklist of essential items; this can be used as a guide.

2. Tackle packing bit by bit. Last-minute packing leads to stress and the potential to either over pack, or forget something. Start early and create a running list of items you need to bring but are unable to pack until it’s time to leave. Also keep a box open and waiting for additional items as you think of them. When moving day finally comes, make sure you have sturdy boxes in a variety of sizes, along with foam "peanuts" and bubble wrap to protect your fragile items, as well as a good supply of packing tape and bold markers for labeling boxes. Moving blankets and hand trucks will make the experience easier, so be sure you've got them on hand.

3. Mark and group. Label the outside of your boxes as you pack. Try making a generalized list of what's in the box. It's also a good idea to label the box with your first name or a symbol that'll help you recognize what's yours, particularly if you have roommates or are moving into a dorm. In the hectic whirlwind of thousands of students moving in at once, it's important to cut down on confusion.

4. Plan ahead. If you're renting a moving truck, it's essential to reserve it at least two weeks in advance. Because it's a busy moving season, delaying could leave you stuck without transportation. Most movers find the 12- or 16-foot truck perfect for moving a few large items or the contents of a small apartment. For guidance with truck selection, visit www.PenskeTruckRental.com.

5. Safety and security. Trucks are taller, wider, heavier, and they require more stopping distance than the vehicle you are used to driving. Take extra precautions, especially when the truck is loaded. Watch out for low-hanging tree branches and building overhangs, and use extra caution when cornering. To protect your belongings, park in well-lit areas and padlock the rear door, especially if stopping for the night. If possible, back the truck up tight against a building wall to prevent access to the storage area. This can be particularly important when moving to college, as thieves have a ripe opportunity to take advantage of the hectic moving days leading up to the start of the academic year.

One final packing tip is to keep the important documents like registration information and dorm confirmations, as well as credit cards, driver’s license, drinks and energy snacks in a bag that doesn’t get packed for easy access. For a complete list of moving tips, visit www.PenskeTruckRental.com.

4 ways military service members can better...

(BPT) - The military gives individuals and families the opportunity to explore the world, but that exploration often requires frequent moving. Rarely is this a smooth process. Service members can receive assistance through Permanent Change of Station (PCS) and Personally Procured Moves (PPM) programs to help handle the process.

No matter how quickly the move happens or what kind of moving assistance your family requests, additional assistance is available for military members in order to make the move go more smoothly. Penske Truck Rental has a specialized call center staffed with employees who are trained to aid service members and their families in negotiating the complications of a move.

Here are some moving tips from the Penske call center to help make your family’s relocation within a base or to a new base more efficient:

* Planning - PCS notifications can come without much warning, or families may know about a potential move far in advance. For both instances, getting a plan in place is a good start. Gather important information into one folder, such as phone numbers, contact names, dates, receipts and checklists so you can easily track everything about your move. For some planning tools that focus specifically on military moves, visit the U.S. Department of Defense website.

* Weights - Military rules require soldiers to certify the weight of the rental vehicle when empty and after it's fully loaded. Weight-limit reimbursements are set depending on a soldier's rank and dependents, but the traditional weights are estimated at 1,000 pounds per room, excluding bathrooms and storage areas. Then add the estimated weight of large appliances, garage items and items in storage. Compare this number to what is allowed and determine if you can reduce the load in any way so you can avoid paying overweight costs. To help with weight certifications, Penske offers a Certified Public Scale locator tool online to help movers in finding weigh stations.

* Contact info - File a change of address form at your local post office so mail can be forwarded, and make certain your new information is updated with your specific branch of the military.

* Explore - Get to know your new neighborhood, both on and off base. If you have children, explore the schools and the after-school activities available. Learn a bit about the city's history and gather information on the services the city offers so that on moving day, your water and electricity will be available right away.

When in the military, a move is practically inevitable. The process, however, can be much less emotionally and financially stressful with a little organization and planning from the get-go.

River cruising news: Room innovations and hot...

(BPT) - For decades – and thanks in no small part to the success of the TV show “The Love Boat” – it seemed that in the minds of most travelers, a cruise vacation automatically implied a languid ocean voyage aboard an oversized ship shared with hundreds, if not thousands, of other passengers.

Cruising, however, has branched out. Today, savvy travelers are discovering the charms of river cruising aboard smaller, more intimate vessels along scenic, historic, inland waterways, particularly in Europe. River cruises offer the same relaxing pace as ocean cruises, but they travel through the heart of the destination rather than miles offshore, allowing travelers to enjoy far more shore excursions for a more varied, culturally-enriching experience.  In fact, river cruising has become so popular that leading travel magazine Travel + Leisure now includes a category devoted strictly to river cruising in its annual “World’s Best” awards celebrating the global travel industry’s finest hotels, cruise lines, tour operators and more. 

The 2014 winner of Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best River Cruise Line” award was once again Tauck, which also earned the No. 1 spot in 2011 and 2013. Based on the results of the magazine’s annual readers survey, Tauck’s award reflects excellence in six key criteria including cabins/facilities, restaurants/food, service, itineraries/destinations, excursions/activities and value. 

“We provide a complete destination experience with all of the various elements seamlessly integrated and meticulously choreographed,” says Tauck CEO Dan Mahar. “Our riverboats are thoughtfully and beautifully designed, and we also have 90 years’ experience immersing our guests in the history and culture of different destinations. The insider access and unique cultural experiences we build into our river cruises were instrumental in achieving this honor.”

In early 2014, Tauck launched two new Inspiration Class riverboats and four new river cruise itineraries. It also introduced a pioneering new innovation in lower-deck cabin design with the “loft cabins” on the new Inspiration Class ships. The cabins on riverboats’ lower decks straddle the ships’ waterlines, limiting lower-deck cabins to small eye-level windows that let in minimal natural light and are sealed shut to the outside air.  However, each of Tauck’s 225-square-foot loft cabins features a raised seating area with a higher ceiling and a corresponding window that is taller than those normally found in lower-deck cabins. Tauck’s taller window allows far more natural light into the cabin, and it features a central panel that can be opened for ventilation.

Tauck’s fleet of six ships transport travelers on 19 different all-inclusive Tauck river cruises throughout Europe. Unlike ocean voyages, Tauck’s river cruises each include all shore excursions, gratuities, onboard beer, wine and spirits, airport transfers and more covered under one price. In addition, fewer guests and a higher number of onboard service personnel ensure Tauck travelers enjoy an intimate, club-like atmosphere and superior service.

To learn more about river cruising and to view available itineraries, visit www.tauck.com.

Articles last updated at Oct 25, 2014 13:50:35pm.
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