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The hidden benefits of winter road maintenance

(BPT) - More than 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas affected by snow and ice. Each winter the average driver in these areas will see more than 5 inches of snow on the roads. And when the snow is falling, there are few things more comforting than the sight of snowplows and salt trucks making highways safe for commuters, shoppers and travelers.

The Federal Highway Administration says snowy, slushy or icy pavement accounts for more than 116,000 Americans injured and over 1,300 killed each year. In fact, 24 percent of all weather-related vehicle crashes occur under such wintry conditions. A Marquette University study found that effective use of road salt reduced vehicle crashes by 88 percent, injuries by 85 percent and the cost of accidents by 85 percent.

In the Snow Belt, citizens expect roads to always be cleared of snow and ice, no matter how bad the storm, says Bret Hodne, public works director for West Des Moines, Iowa. To help meet those sky-high expectations, Hodne orders salt months before the first snowflake falls. His motto is "don't trust your climate" because if you plan for an average season, it's bound to be a record-setting winter of snow and ice.

Salt was first used in the 1930s for snow and ice control, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that salt became widely adopted by snowfighters as one of the major weapons to keep winter roads safe. In an average Iowa winter, Hodne's department uses 4,000 tons of salt and keeps twice that amount in storage. Salt works by lowering the freezing point of water and when applied on already frozen roadways (deicing) it helps to melt the ice. When salt is applied before a freeze sets in (anti-icing) it helps prevent liquid water from becoming ice. This is why drivers will often see salt trucks out and about before the roads start to freeze.

Both methods give tires more traction with the pavement, keeping roads open and safe while protecting lives and commerce. How quickly salt melts frozen water is dependent upon variables, including temperature, time and rate of application. Fortunately, it is usually not necessary to melt all the snow and ice on a road. Merely destroying or preventing the bond between pavement and frozen water is a more efficient, economical and environmentally sensitive approach. In fact, salt is the most effective and economical method for treating roadways.

Those snowplows are also doing a lot to improve mobility. Snowfighters reduce weather-caused delays and congestion, allowing for emergency vehicles to respond more quickly when people need help, making for shorter travel times for families, allowing kids and parents to get to school and jobs safely and on time.

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

Drivers' re-education on flat-tire fixing

(BPT) - The hardships of navigating winter roads aren’t made any easier when facing a flat tire. In fact, for many Americans, fixing a flat remains a mystery. According to a survey from AAA, nearly 20 percent of U.S. drivers don’t know how to change a flat tire. This is compounded by research saying there are 220 million flat tires annually — and each driver will experience up to five flat tires in their lifetime.

Before hitting the road, study up on these flat-tire-fixing hacks and build up the confidence to complete this all-American road test:

Be spared: Knowing how to change a flat is all for naught if a spare tire is not along for the ride. Spares are usually hidden under the carpet in the trunk area, but they aren’t always included in newer vehicles (allowing manufacturers to make lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles). When purchasing a new vehicle, ask the dealer about the inclusion of a spare.

Flatlining signs: It’s fairly easy to spot a flat tire — it’s usually accompanied by a loud noise or rubber flapping. The vehicle will feel like it is being pulled toward the side of the flat tire, and it will feel as if the vehicle can no longer accelerate. When in doubt, activate hazard lights and move the vehicle safely out of traffic, ideally on a flat area with enough space on the side of the road. Once in a safe spot, remember to practice high visibility: Wear a reflective vest and position reflective emergency warning triangles to alert motorists — both of these items should be added to your roadside toolkit.

Hit the road, Jack: Having the right tools on board is critical, of course, and that’s where a jack comes in. A Strongway Jack from Northern Tool + Equipment is a compact, strong and reliable partner in replacing the bum tire and raising up the vehicle. Remember, the jack is only used to get the vehicle off the ground, not to hold the vehicle in place — that’s where the jack stands come in to ensure a safe and sustained lift. Refer to the owner’s manual for the proper placement of the jack and the stands, which is typically the sturdiest part of the vehicle.

Rider’s block: A common, and dangerous, error when changing a tire is not using blocks to prevent the wheels from rolling once the vehicle is raised. A tire-changing tool pack should include bricks or wooden wedges to be placed behind the wheels at the end of the vehicle that isn’t being raised.

Get loose: Once the jack has been cranked up, and the wheel is slightly off the ground, it’s time to remove the hubcap and then call for another key tool, a tire iron, to loosen the lug nuts and then pull off the flat tire. Be careful not to strip the lug nuts.

On the road again: With the flat tire off, line up the spare tire’s holes with the wheel bolts and push on, hand-screwing the lug nuts back on. Then, lower the jack a touch so the wheel is in slight contact with the ground. Use the tire iron to further secure the lug nuts in a “star-like” pattern: After tightening the first lug nut, tighten the one that is diagonally across from it and continue in that pattern. This will prevent the wheel from wobbling.

In an age of mobile phones and easy connection to roadside assistance, the knowledge of addressing a flat tire has gone out the window — or the sunroof. But, motorists should know — and practice — the basics of changing a flat to ensure they are prepared for the dreaded pop.

The time is right to seek new income opportunities

(BPT) - Whether you plan to watch the ball drop in Times Square this New Year’s Eve or be in bed by 10 p.m., one thing is certain: a new year is coming, and with it comes a chance for change. It’s a time to reflect on what works best for you and reset your course for the coming year. Research shows that 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and after spending the holidays indulging in food and festivities, it’s not surprising that the most popular resolutions include weight loss, improved fitness and healthier eating.

As the holiday bills start coming in, it’s also common for people to focus on getting their finances into better order. The Federal Reserve Board discovered in a survey of working Americans that nearly half of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for a $400 emergency. If that’s a concern for you, consider joining the 44 million Americans who have found ways to make money in addition to their main source of income. Common options include waiting tables, working retail, becoming a rideshare driver and direct selling.

Direct selling, also called direct-to-consumer sales, has been around for over 160 years, and companies like WorldVentures, Avon, Tupperware and Amway have been offering new business opportunities to independent sales representatives since they opened. The direct-sales business is still booming, with a record 20.5 million people involved in the U.S. alone in 2016. The estimated direct retail sales of $35.54 billion in 2016 was the second-highest in direct-selling history.

Is working in direct sales right for you? Benefits of working in the industry can include:

* Flexibility — You determine your schedule, and you choose to work as many — or as few — hours as you want. If you have a knack for direct selling, you could ultimately make it your main source of income.

* Personal growth and development — Take advantage of the tools and training offered by your direct selling company to help you build your business.

* Companionship — Connect with fellow sales representatives and prospective customers, any of which can lead to lasting relationships.

Passion for travel and financial freedom prompted Wayne Nugent, founder and "chief visionary officer" of WorldVentures, to launch his direct sales business in 2005. “We’ve been changing the way people take vacations for more than a decade, all while helping our independent representatives discover their potential and experience more in life,” says Nugent. “We have a world-class product and we embrace a culture of success.”

WorldVentures, a direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships, is just one of many opportunities waiting for you. Whether you decide to go into direct sales, housesitting or part-time bartending, the possibilities for supplemental income are limited only by your imagination.

Bring the family back together in the RV...

(BPT) - These days, appreciating the wintertime can seem like a lost art. With so many modern conveniences, we sometimes forget to get out and enjoy the crisp mornings and clear nights.

But there's no better time than now to disconnect from the day-to-day grind and reconnect with our family. And there's no better way to reconnect than in an RV.

So forget that staycation and take the vacation you deserve. With options for everybody, GoRVing.com has all the information you need to take the trip of a lifetime.

5 strategies for protecting your valuables

(BPT) - Home is your sanctuary, your castle, the place where you feel the most secure and protected. It is natural to feel this way. So, it is not surprising that you store your prized possessions and valuables at home as well. But is that the best choice for all your valuables?

The recent wildfires in California are the latest in a string of devastating disasters to impact homeowners in the U.S. Together with the hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest, residential property losses are expected to approach $100 billion according to CoreLogic. Making matters worse, as much as 80 percent of these losses are not insured. Together with the surge in residential burglaries over the last few years, it appears homes are under siege.

Because of these events, the cost of homeowners insurance is expected to increase dramatically in 2018 and beyond.

Now more than ever, you need a thoughtful examination of how best to protect your valuable possessions and to identify strategies to reduce your insurance costs.

These tips will help get you started:

* Create an inventory. Start with a written and video inventory of your prized possessions and valuables, including jewelry, cash or hard assets like gold, electronics, family heirlooms, and collectibles, such as coins, watches, or anything else that has monetary or sentimental value. Prioritize it starting with the highest value items first. With this as your starting point you can now begin putting a plan in place.

* Maintain secure off-site storage. On average, $2 billion of gold, silver and jewelry are stolen from homes each year and 93 percent of that property is never recovered, while fires and natural disasters destroy billions of dollars of valuable personal property every year. Using a safe deposit box to store these smaller valuables, cash, and collectibles substantially reduces the risk of loss from such events.

* Follow basic security rules.

- Don’t broadcast on social media when you are out of town for work or vacation.
- Leave lights on variable timers.
- Accompany repair or utility staff while in your home.
- Keep valuables out of sight and make sure to stop mail delivery while out of town.
- If you have a safe, make sure it is bolted down, preferably to a concrete floor.

* Evaluate your insurance. Standard homeowners or renters insurance places relatively low limits on jewelry, cash, and many other items. It also does not cover losses from flooding, earthquake, and hurricane unless you insure your valuables by a special endorsement or policy. Check your policy to see if you're fully protected. If you rent a box, inexpensive safe deposit box insurance covers any property stored in your box against virtually all events. Additionally, using an insured safe deposit box can significantly reduce your insurance costs and give you the ability to insure items that are not covered under your homeowners policy.

* Have a disaster plan. You typically have advanced warning of flooding, most wildfires, and hurricanes. Know what you would take if you needed to flee your home, what you would place in your safe deposit box and where you would store items left behind. Place your important documents in your safe deposit box and store them digitally in the cloud where they can be accessed at any time.

Today, when the 100-year event seems to occur multiple times every year, these basic steps can help you begin to manage the real threat to some of your most valuable property.

For more details on protecting your valuables, go to www.sdbic.com/savemoney.


Need a vacation where it's warm? How about...

(BPT) - Step outside. Is it cold, windy and gray? Snowy even? Yep, those are sure signs winter is upon us. The bright leaves of autumn have faded, the pumpkin-flavored beverages are starting to wane, and the kids already are developing a serious case of cabin fever. But there’s a remedy for all this gloom. Winter’s bitter cold is the perfect excuse to head south with the family for a quick vacation getaway.

Florida’s Space Coast, where it’s decidedly warmer, has something for everyone. From rockets launching into outer space to unforgettable seafood and more, the Space Coast is an affordable and worthwhile escape, even for just a weekend. So, if the onset of winter isn’t sitting well with you, take next Friday off, book your tickets or gas up the car, and get ready to experience these Space Coast attractions and activities. They’ll turn up the heat!

1. Explore the final frontier. As you might have guessed, the Space Coast got its name because it is home to both the Cape Canaveral launch complex and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Here, rockets operated by SpaceX and others still regularly blast into the heavens. A day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will bring you up close to one of the legendary Apollo command modules that orbited the moon, as well as the last Space Shuttle orbiter to fly. You’ll learn about the history of the NASA program and maybe even see a rocket launch! It’s an interactive journey that will inspire the entire family.

2. Hang loose at Ron Jon Surf Shop. You’ve seen the iconic shirts and the ubiquitous roadside billboards, but nothing can really prepare you for a visit inside Ron Jon’s flagship store in Cocoa Beach. With more than 52,000 square feet of merchandise space, it’s like nothing you’ve experienced at the shore before. You’ll find everything to outfit your beach-bum vacation lifestyle, and maybe a few items that will fit in back home, too.

3. Get into vacation mode with a “pre-cruise” outing. In the heart of the Space Coast is Port Canaveral, the busiest passenger cruise port in the world. Because this is the spot where millions of people begin their cruise vacations each year, numerous entertainment venues, spas, restaurants and more are located in the area, to help all the “pre-cruisers” get ready for life at sea. You don’t need to actually have a cruise booked to enjoy all that’s offered in this bustling port — just an appetite, a sense of adventure and maybe some extra energy.

4. Embark on a zoo adventure like no other. At the Brevard Zoo, you can kayak past exotic animals, feed a giraffe, zip line over the treetops and get an eyeful of hulking rhinoceros. With a wide array of animal species on hand and a variety of fun activities and educational opportunities available, this unique facility is set up to be more of an adventure than a walk-through.

5. Enjoy the fresh air. Its sunshine and mild temperatures make the Space Coast perfect to visit at this time of year. For those who like to be outside, there is a healthy range of options. You can spend an afternoon bird watching in nearby wetlands, walking along the beach (and enjoying the ocean breeze), or even fishing along the shore or on one of the many inland bodies of water.

Visiting the Space Coast is an affordable, easy way for you and the family to escape the cold for a weekend and, with so much to do, you’ll probably decide you need to book a longer stay the next time around.

Staying safe on the road this season

(BPT) - As the seasons transition, motorists undoubtedly have many things on their minds from work to the impending holiday season. All the while, the temperature continues to cool — and one thing often left unconsidered is the impact of changing weather conditions on daily driving routines. The later into the year we get, the more visibility-reducing weather we are likely to see. Heavy rain, frost, ice and snow can all impair visibility while driving, including reducing the performance of windshield wipers.

Reduced visibility can quickly turn your drive into a stressful situation, especially when you have your precious cargo in the backseat. The notoriously unpredictable weather during the colder months also adds to driver anxiety, with rain and winter weather posing a challenge while behind the wheel. Ultimately, almost 90 percent of driving decisions are based upon vision, according to the official New Jersey Driving Manual, making it a top priority to have properly functioning windshield wipers.

Whether you’re shuttling the kids to practice or running errands, safety is of the utmost importance. A quick maintenance check in your own driveway could help you and your family avoid issues down the road. To make sure windshield wipers are in good condition, check for tears, excessive noise or streaking on the windshield. These are all signs that windshield wipers have reached the end of their lifespan and must be replaced as soon as possible to ensure proper vision.

When looking to replace windshield wipers, consider blades that are specially developed to resist cracks from ozone exposure so you’ll have the clearest visibility when driving around town. These windshield wipers will work better in extreme weather while being more durable, providing an even and uniform wipe across the windshield. Bosch ICON(TM) beam windshield wipers are an excellent option to consider, and are designed to last up to 40 percent longer than other windshield wiper blades, helping to sharpen visibility while providing extreme weather safety, regardless of the season. The beam design also resists snow and ice buildup, ensuring visibility throughout the fall and winter seasons.

Though the upcoming months include fun events and outings for the whole family, it is important to ensure you are taking the necessary precautions for the best visibility behind the wheel. A simple maintenance check of your windshield wipers will help to keep you and your loved ones safe on the road.

The hidden dangers of oversharing on social media

(BPT) - Locking doors and windows and leaving a light on used to deter criminals from breaking into homes when you were away on vacation, but our obsession with sharing photos and experiences in real time on social media has created a whole new security risk for travelers. According to Mercury Insurance, burglaries involving social media have become all too common these days.

“Instead of looking for physical signs that a home is unoccupied, burglars can simply scan Instagram posts, monitor Twitter feeds and check Facebook for signs that someone isn’t home. Posted photos can also show them exactly what to look for when they break in,” says Mercury Insurance Vice President of Claims Kevin Quinn. “Oversharing on social media is commonplace and built-in smartphone features like geotagging, which share the user’s exact location when they post, are only making things easier for thieves.”

One example is a Mercury claimant who took his family on vacation to Cancun, Mexico. The family was very active on social media, publicizing their upcoming vacation and continuing to post updates throughout the trip. Thieves used this information to break into the claimant’s home and steal nearly $200,000 worth of personal property, along with a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway. Many of the items stolen were pictured on the family’s social media accounts, so the thieves knew exactly what to target.

“It’s important to make sure no one in your family is posting your travel plans. Facebook posts checking into restaurants or Instagram photos of your family’s vacation blatantly advertise that you’re away from home and put your property at risk,” adds Quinn.

Quinn offers the following social media tips to consider before taking off on your vacation:

* Never share photos of your belongings. Be careful about displaying any expensive belongings on social media that might entice thieves. Steer clear of posting pictures of expensive jewelry, cash, designer clothing and accessories, and electronics.

* Don’t tag your location. Disable the geotagging feature on your smartphone and resist the urge to check in at locations while you’re away.

* Avoid uploading photos during your vacation. Wait until you’re home to share your family’s trip.

* Be selective about what and with whom you share. Limit your following or friend base on your personal accounts and adjust your privacy settings so that others have a limited view of your profiles. You never know if a friend of a friend is looking at your photos or other posts.

* Never announce your vacation plans on your social media channels. If you plan to go out of town, consider having a neighbor check on your home, or hiring a trusted friend or family member to housesit.

* Verify friend requests. It’s easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not online, so don’t get “catfished.” Be wary of connecting with people you don’t know.

* Power down your PC. Disable the internet connection to cut off access to any personal information stored on your computer, because unattended machines are easy marks for hackers.

“Live in the moment and enjoy your time with your family. The purpose of vacation is to relax, recharge and experience things in person, not just on a screen. Save the photo sharing and status updates for when you return home — it could make the difference between whether you need to file an insurance claim after your well-deserved time away or not,” adds Quinn.


3 essential tips for traveling with a pet...

(BPT) - The holidays mean different things to different people. Every family seems to have its own set of traditions, but one thing seems to be common among Americans during this time of year, and that’s traveling.

Like Santa Claus making that long journey from the North Pole, it’s estimated that more than 90 million Americans (36 percent) will travel this holiday season, according to a recent survey conducted by Extended Stay America hotels and Kelton Global. Santa and his reindeer will hit the road during the 2017 holiday season — and he’s not alone, as nearly three-quarters of Americans (69 percent) will do the same with their pets.

“Pet parents are increasingly including their furry family members in their travel plans, especially during the holidays,” says pet expert Andrea Arden, who has over 20 years of experience in the industry. “In fact, our companion animals can be such a great source of comfort while we’re away from home, that some people can’t even conceive of a vacation without their dog or cat by their side.”

To ensure you and your animal companion bring cheer wherever you go, Arden has provided three essential tips for traveling with a pet this holiday season.

1. Prepare your pet

Like finding the perfect gift for your loved ones, the earlier you start to plan and prepare, the easier it will be. A great holiday vacation begins with a trip to the veterinarian to make sure your animal is in good health, has all the medications they might need (and perhaps some extras) and is up-to-date on vaccines. Along with their physical health, you want to make sure your dog or cat is mentally prepared for a journey that may involve new places, new smells and new people.

To get your four-legged friends ready for the adventure, bring your pet to unfamiliar places like a local park and have them interact with new faces. When you do this, be sure to bring plenty of treats to praise your pet and reinforce that these new experiences are positive and fun.

2. Avoid guilty faux paws

Forty percent of traveling pet parents feel guilty about leaving their pets home during the holidays. That’s because pets are considered part of the family, and nearly one-third of Americans (27 percent) say pets should be included in all holiday festivities. Places like Extended Stay America can help alleviate some of the stress (and guilt) pet parents might feel during this time of year; the hotel’s more than 600 properties nationwide welcome pets year-round, so families don’t need to make the difficult decision of leaving their animal companion behind. To make things even easier this season, if you book before Dec. 31 at esa.com/holiday, your pets stay free. Consider it a retreat from the holiday madness for you and your four-legged friend.

In addition to helping pet owners stay connected with their animals, Extended Stay America offers all the comforts of home for guests. That’s important, since nearly half (47 percent) of travelers this holiday season plan to be away from home for five days or more. With fully equipped kitchens in each room so guests can still contribute a dish to their family gathering; on-site laundry facilities to keep guests looking their holiday best; and free, in-room Wi-Fi, it’s easy to feel at home at Extended Stay America.

3. Practice good petiquette

We know, sometimes it’s hard to believe that your lovable, furry friend could misbehave. When traveling to unfamiliar places, a calm, happy animal makes everyone else calm and happy, too. Here are some pointers to ensure your pets stay on the nice list this holiday:

* Teach your cat or dog to rest calmly in a crate before you leave, so they have a familiar spot when traveling.

* If driving, take frequent breaks to walk your dog or check in on your cat.

* Bring along a chew toy that is filled with a little bit of food, as this serves as a great distraction for an anxious or bored animal.

* Outside, keep your pet on a leash and walk them away from public areas like flowerbeds. And always remember to clean up after them!

* Never leave your pet in a room alone, unless you are sure they will not disturb neighbors. If you must, leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, so housekeeping won’t startle them.

The first rule of the road: Focus on driving

(BPT) - Have you noticed that traffic seems to be worse lately? There’s a good reason for that — there are more vehicles on the road than at any time in recent history. Unemployment is low and gas is affordable, which means more people are driving more miles. And more drivers means an increased risk of getting into a collision, which impacts the number of auto insurance claims and, potentially, the cost of insurance premiums.

There is some good news, however, because vehicle technology has advanced significantly in the past decade, with features like backup cameras, active braking and pedestrian detection, which employ radar, camera, lidar and other sensors to detect and track vehicles, pedestrians or objects around the vehicle. Many of these enhancements are designed to help prevent collisions and make driving safer, but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. When you’re driving, the road should get your full and complete attention, because as great as all of this new technology is, it’s not perfect and collisions can still occur.

“Rear-end collisions are the most common claims we see nationwide. We had nearly 60,000 customers report they were involved in rear-end collisions last year,” said Vice President of Claims at Mercury Insurance Kevin Quinn. “People are surprised to find out they’re at fault if they hit the vehicle ahead of them, even if the other driver brakes suddenly. This is why active braking technology, which can slow down your vehicle while using cruise control or even stop it completely if someone walks in front of your car or you aren’t able to react quickly enough to hit your brakes, is a great development. But, even if you have this technology, you still need to focus on the road to avoid getting into collisions.”

The most common auto collisions to be aware of, according to Mercury Insurance, include:

1. Your vehicle is rear-ended by another vehicle;

2. Your vehicle rear-ends another vehicle;

3. Another vehicle hits your parked car;

4. Another vehicle fails to yield in an intersection and hits your vehicle;

5. Collision with a fixed object;

6. Glass damage;

7. Another vehicle hits yours while changing lanes;

8. Your vehicle hits a parked car;

9. You fail to yield in an intersection and hit another car; and

10. You back into another vehicle.

“Most of these collisions are avoidable if people pay attention to their surroundings. Cars are safer, but drivers are more distracted than ever, especially by phone apps, texting and taking calls. And it’s not just drivers who are distracted, we’re also seeing more pedestrian accidents, because they have their heads buried in their phones and aren’t paying attention while they’re walking,” said Quinn. “No message, photo or phone call is more important than your safety and the safety of others, so please drive — and walk — responsibly.”

Drivers should annually review their auto insurance policy with a local independent insurance agent. Knowing what is and isn’t covered will help in the event you’re involved in one of the common auto insurance collisions.

6 tips to help keep your drive distraction-free

(BPT) - As you drive down the street, the threat of potential distractions is everywhere. Federal research shows that distracted driving is a factor in one out of every six crashes, and accounts for 5,000 automobile crash-related fatalities each year.

While teens are commonly associated with distracted-driving issues — particularly texting — the issue affects drivers of all ages. To help reduce distracted driving crash-related injuries, and loss of life, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Auto Alliance) offer these tips to help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.

* Gear up before you go out. Whether it’s your sunglasses, your Bluetooth(R) earpiece or your favorite hat, putting accessories on before starting your car allows you to keep your hands on the wheel, and not your wardrobe while driving.

* Stop for a bite. A quick bite for lunch should be enjoyed in a restaurant, or your non-moving vehicle, instead of on the go while you're driving. This allows you to take a break, enjoy your food and not worry about spilling beverages on yourself.

* Don’t be afraid to pull over. If another matter begs your attention — such as settling a disagreement between your children — pull the car over to handle the situation properly rather than trying to attend to it while you are driving.

* Have a plan in place. Sometimes this is easier said than done. However, if you are traveling somewhere for the first time, you should understand your route before starting the drive. Program your GPS, or share printed directions with your navigator before you depart.

* Call them back. Cell phone usage is one of the leading causes of distracted driving-related crashes and not all of them are related solely to texting. If your phone rings while you’re in the car and you do not have a hands-free headset already on, let the caller go to voicemail. You can always call them back when you arrive at your destination or your next stop.

* If you don’t need it, store it. Sporting equipment, kids' toys or groceries, your car is the transport home for many things and sometimes those items can jostle back and forth while you're driving — particularly on those sharp turns. And when things start moving, your natural reaction is to take your eyes off the road and reach for them. Instead, secure items in the trunk or in another storage compartment before the drive.

Keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel is one of the most important things you do every single day you choose to drive so be sure to apply the tips above and make driving your No. 1 priority. Your loved ones and those you share the road with will thank you for it. For even more helpful tips and strategies to minimize driving distractions, visit www.decidetodrive.org.


5 reasons to plan a snowcation this year

(BPT) - As the mercury in the thermometer drops, and people start to bundle up in scarves and warm layers, you might be ready to take a vacation. No, we’re not talking about running away to the desert or a crowded beach. There’s a better way to enjoy winter — a way that lets you really get at the heart of the season.

From skiing to sledding, snowmobiling to sleigh rides, there’s just too much that winter has to offer. This year, you and your family should take what’s known as a snowcation.

One of the best places to do this — and indeed, one of winter’s hidden treasures — is Billings, Montana. A bustling western city, Billings serves as the trailhead for countless western excursions, and is the ideal place to launch your snowcation.

1. Hit the slopes and experience some mountain magic

In Montana, mountains are in our name and skiing is in our blood. Red Lodge Mountain, which is just an hour’s drive away from Billings, offers the complete mountain experience. Breathtaking runs, fresh powder and a cool ski town at the base are all part of this alpine paradise. And, with no long lift lines and affordable prices, it’s the perfect place to bring the whole family to ski!

2. Take a walking brewery tour

Most cities and towns across the country have one or more local breweries, but Billings is unique in that it boasts Montana's only walkable “brewery” district. Composed of six breweries, two distilleries and a cider house, this district includes a 1.5-mile loop where you can take in the town, enjoy world-class beverages and get some exercise.

3. Stay out late and live large

Billings is full of things to do from sun up until sundown, so forget sleeping in (though the beds are so comfy, you’ll be tempted to.) During the day, you’ll discover plenty of family activities, from art walks to plays, indoor climbing walls to ZooMontana, and by night you’ll find the live music scene to be one of the best in the west. Hey, you can always sleep at home!

4. See what life was like on the frontier

We don’t need to tell you how stunning and beautiful southeast Montana is; that’s self-evident. Rich with natural and national heritage, popular Montana day trips include Pictograph Cave State Park, Pompey’s Pillar or Little Bighorn Battlefield. These are great places to visit year-round, but a layer of snow gives them a surreal beauty.

5. Replenish those calories

With so much running around, you’re bound to work up an appetite. Lucky for you, Billings has a tradition of great culinary delights. What would you expect from a city that once played a key role in the famed western cattle drives? Today, you can get your fill of ribs, chops, brisket and plenty of other fine dining options as well.

A few inches of snow can open up a whole new world of possibilities. To make the most of this season, and to create some unforgettable memories, visit http://winter-in-montana.com.

Top safety tips for teen drivers

(BPT) - Once a newly licensed teen gets behind the wheel for the first time without a parent or guardian, the taste of freedom is exhilarating.

But a teenager’s lack of behind-the-wheel experience puts them at greater risk of getting into an accident. Add factors like passengers, loud music and stress, and the situation can quickly turn dire. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, with one in three teen deaths caused by vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To help teens navigate into this new responsibility safely, there are lots of resources out there to help them. For example, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and The UPS Foundation have come together to create the UPS Road Code program, which is available in 57 Boys & Girls Clubs across 46 U.S. cities. This is a free program that educates teens on safe driving principles and best practices for road safety.

Taught by UPS employees who volunteer their time, the program offers classroom instruction along with practice time behind the wheel of a virtual driving simulator. The UPS instructors share insights they have learned through the company’s in-depth defensive driving training.

“The thing that has really hit home for me is the fact that driving a car is a huge responsibility,” said CeCe McNeal, the national teen ambassador, east region, for the UPS Road Code program.

The program’s national teen ambassador, west region, Jaylen Vinson added, “Whenever I get into the car, before I turn the key, I remind myself that I’m in control of the car and I’m in charge of the choices I make on the road.”

Whether you have a teen in your life who needs some guidance, or you would like some reminders of how to be more mindful while on the road, here are some tips and insights that McNeal and Vinson learned during the course that can help drivers of all ages avoid risky behavior on the road.

Delete Distractions: If your attention is on something other than driving — texting, eating, turning the radio dial, talking to a passenger or on the phone — you’re putting yourself at greater risk of getting into a crash. And with every crash, you also risk the lives of your fellow passengers and everyone else out on the road.

Mind the Speed: Sometimes we don’t pay attention to the speed limit, which can lead to harmful consequences very fast. Increased speed can result in an expensive traffic ticket, along with raised insurance rates. But, most importantly, speeding reduces your time to react to hazards and increases your likelihood of getting into a dangerous collision.

Plan for the Weather: Get into the habit of checking the weather before you plan your trip. Driving in heavy rain, snow and ice can be stressful and slippery for any driver. So, when the conditions are bad and you have to head out, give yourself extra time. And if you’re still running behind schedule, just remember, it’s always better to be late than end up in a serious crash because you are rushing.

Never Drive While Impaired: Alcohol and other substances can impair your vision and reaction time, which can lead to a greater likelihood of being in a fatal crash. In fact, in 2016 there were 10,497 people in the United States killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes and an average of one alcohol-impaired driving fatality happens every 50 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Driving under the influence is never worth the risk.

Look and Think Ahead: One key to being a good driver is staying focused on the road and what’s around you, so you can spot the hazards and respond to them immediately. Be aware of others sharing the road with you, including bicyclists and pedestrians, and leave enough space between you and the other cars to allow for reaction time. Scan the road ahead, especially intersections, while also remembering to check those rear and side-view mirrors regularly.

“If you don’t handle your car in a safe manner at all times, it can turn into a deadly weapon against others on the road, your passengers and yourself,” McNeal said. “Keeping these tips top of mind before getting behind the wheel can reduce the risks faced on the road and help to make the roads safer for us all.”


Go from vacation deprivation to vacation...

(BPT) - Pop quiz: When was the last time you took a vacation? A real vacation, not one of those staycations where you stuck around town to finish a project at your home? Do you even remember your last vacation? If you don’t, then you are officially vacation deprived.

And you’re not alone.

Research from Expedia’s 2017 Vacation Deprivation report shows that 50 percent of Americans are vacation deprived and that approximately 462 million vacation days will go unused this year. The study also found that millennials are the most vacation-deprived age group and that people who live in urban areas reported being more vacation deprived than those who lived in suburban or rural areas.

What’s causing the vacation deprivation?

Not surprisingly, time and money — or lack thereof — were two of the most common reasons people reported not using their vacation. Another large group of respondents said that even when they find time to go on vacation, they struggle to unplug. A quarter said they still check email and/or voicemails every day while on vacation, with millennials being the most common offenders.

Finding the perfect vacation for you

If you’ve felt vacation deprived for the past year — or longer — then there’s no better time than the present to take the vacation you always wanted and leave your vacation deprivation behind for good. To get you started on the vacation of your dreams, the experts at Expedia offer these tips.

* Back to the beach. Many places throughout the Caribbean and Florida were minimally affected by the recent hurricanes and are welcoming tourists. Destinations like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas are still the exotic getaways you always dreamed they’d be, and when you visit them, you’ll actually be supporting hurricane recovery efforts for the whole region through your tourist dollars.

* Book right. The holidays are a wonderful time to travel because schools and offices are closed. However, many other would-be travelers are thinking the same thing; that’s why knowing when to book and when to fly is key for saving time and money. For Christmas travel, for example, Expedia has found that booking between Dec. 5 and 11 will yield you about 5 percent in savings. Furthermore, avoid the peak holiday travel days by leaving a day early and staying a day later.

* Bundle and save. Another often-overlooked way to save a ton of money on travel is to book your flight and hotel or flight and rental car at the same time as part of a travel package. Booking as a package can save an average of up to $600, and that extra money will come in handy while you’re enjoying your vacation or shopping for holiday gifts.

* Member-only deals. A really simple way to save on hotels and activities is by logging in when you visit Expedia.com. When signing in with your account information, you’ll immediately see hotels and activities available at a 10 percent discount. Members also get points for every booking, which can be used to shave dollars off your next trip.

* Precheck, precheck, precheck. Save yourself a lot of time and security line headaches by applying for TSA precheck. You’ll get to skip the longest lines at security and keep your shoes on. It’s absolutely worth the $85 fee, and your application lasts five years.

Start your travel plans today

If you’ve been vacation deprived, don’t continue to settle for being just another statistic. You work hard for your vacation time and you deserve to get away. Pick a destination you want to visit, apply the tips above and start planning. It’s the best way to turn yourself from another case of vacation deprivation into a vacation inspiration.


5 things to know about connected cars

(BPT) - If you could go back in time and tell people that in the near future there would be a handheld device that would allow them to listen to virtually any song, watch virtually any movie or television show and have access to pretty much any book, they would probably think you were crazy.

As it is, we now take all those features of a smartphone for granted. In fact, what once would have been the stuff of science fiction is now commonplace. With technology advancing in leaps and bounds around us, perhaps the one thing that has generated the most buzz involves the marriage of the automobile with the computer: a connected car.

To shed some light — and whet your appetite — for current and future car technology, here are five important things to know about connected cars.

1. Connectivity already exists and is becoming mainstream. Vehicle connectivity is already present on approximately 40 million vehicles around the globe, which come equipped with such features such as in-car WiFi, Bluetooth connectivity, and satellite radio systems. By 2022 over 80 percent of all new vehicles sold are expected to be connected, through 5G and Wi-Fi cloud platforms. Industry estimates suggest this number could quadruple by 2020, and reach 90 to 100 percent of new car sales by 2025.

2. Telematic magic. Telematics allow a vehicle to communicate and share information with other networks helping to enhance everything from in-vehicle operation and efficiency to communicating with other connected vehicles and external infrastructure. In some ways, this type of communication is like having a team of people on the lookout for any maintenance or security issues you have with your car. All you have to do is enjoy your drive. The potential benefits of this data could result in everything from reduced accidents to reduced traffic congestion. The emergence of telematics is expected to become a multi-billion dollar industry.

3. Better maintenance. Year after year, more lights and alerts have shown up on dashboards. These help alert drivers to maintenance issues, but connectivity allows for a truly exacting system of diagnosis and prevention. One of the most advanced solutions, known as the integrated vehicle health management (IVHM) from Honeywell Transportation Systems, uses algorithms and computer models derived from data generated by vehicles already in service as well as highly sensitive sensors to monitor an automobile’s system, such as tire pressure, fluids, timing, efficiency and overall operations. IVHM anticipates problems before they occur to better inform car owners when maintenance is needed, which can reduce the cost of unnecessary repairs by up to 50 percent.

4. Securing the vehicle. Today, Bluetooth connectivity represents one of more than a dozen vehicle attack surfaces that can be hacked. Research shows that people's fear of malicious vehicle hacking and breaches of data privacy is a leading concern with future autonomous vehicles. In response, Honeywell Transportation Systems has developed cybersecurity technologies including intrusion detection and protection software to monitor and protect connected vehicles. Based upon the very tools and systems that have been implemented in the aerospace industry and used to protect critical infrastructure such as nuclear power plants and oil refineries, the software uses advanced analytics specifically designed for the automotive industry to detect abnormal behavior in a car's connected network. Operation center will then provide rapid feedback to auto makers to help mitigate potential threats.

5. The electrified powertrain. One of the needs that comes with increased connectivity is more electrical power in the vehicle. Auto makers are developing new 48-volt architectures to replace existing 12-volt systems. The upgraded system supports electric motors, a sophisticated network of sensors and internet-enabled devices. This has the potential to transform the automobile into a mobile office. In addition, the electrification of the powertrain makes for more efficient operations, helping auto makers meet more stringent emission regulations. In time, it is plausible municipalities could use the connectivity of the vehicle to determine access to certain routes in downtown areas or other locations where vehicle emissions are controlled.

Of course, these topics are just the tip of the connected-car iceberg. If you're in the market for a new car, it's likely that in the next few years, you'll experience these features firsthand.

Coffee tourism in El Salvador jolts interest of...

(BPT) - Americans' love for coffee is inspiring them to embark on java journeys around the world, leading them to stunning locations like El Salvador where coffee is an important part of daily life. In fact, coffee farming has fueled the economy in El Salvador and defined its rich culture for more than 200 years.

Today, it is estimated there are nearly 20,000 Salvadoran coffee growers producing the elite Bourbon and Pacarma varietals throughout the growing regions of Apaneca-Ilamatepec, Chichontepec, the Cacahuatique Mountain Range and Tecapa-Chichontepec. The end product is shipped around the world and enjoyed by millions of people every day so much that the country's coffee production is becoming a main attraction for tourists. In addition to visiting El Salvador to surf and hike the volcanoes, travelers are now coming near and far to experience firsthand the country's world-renowned coffee from the source.

The Coffee Route of El Salvador

Coffee cultivation is considered an art form in El Salvador, and its producers are highly skilled, acquiring deep knowledge from past generations. Visitors who want to experience El Salvador’s coffee culture can learn about the process from plant to cup — the proper methods of growing coffee beans, harvesting, sorting, drying, roasting and the delicate process the fruit goes through before it can be brewed.

The coffee harvest period in El Salvador begins in October in the low-altitude and extends until March in the higher altitude areas. If traveling during this period, consider checking out the El Carmen Estate, a stunning coffee plantation founded in 1930 in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range next to the quaint town of Concepción de Ataco.

Consider taking the integral tour, which is a 3-hour immersive adventure into all things coffee. First, visitors are welcomed at La Casona, the original farm house, where they are invited to taste a cup of Ataco Gourmet coffee prepared in a chorreador dripper.

Next, guests enjoy a guided tour around the coffee mill to learn the full coffee process. If you visit in December or January, you can see the red Bourbon cherries being hand-picked. The beans are then pulped at the wet mill to remove the outer skin, fermented and washed with spring water before being sun-dried on clay patios.

Visitors to El Carmen participate in a cup-tasting table and learn the basics of coffee sampling. On the tour, everyone enjoys a country lunch and leaves with a pound of Ataco Gourmet coffee. The high quality of El Carmen’s coffee is due to the estate’s prime growing conditions and a meticulous approach to harvesting and processing.

Coffee Tours in El Salvador

You may opt to explore plantations like El Carmen independently, or, decide to take a tour where experts lead you along the dedicated tourist route. Some of the fascinating cities you may visit on the Coffee Route include Tacuba, Las Chinama, Chalchuapa, Santa Ana and El Congo.

Along the Coffee Route, you'll have the opportunity to explore charming colonial villages, national parks, coffee plantations, rain forests and artisan towns. A variety of accommodations are available here, allowing visitors the opportunity to enjoy a full immersion in the scenic surroundings during a relaxing, overnight stay. It is certain to be an experience you never forget, and you'll be surprised just how much you learn about coffee production.

Just imagine a vacation full of spectacular surf, breathtaking volcanoes and what very well could be the best coffee you've ever tasted. Coffee tourism is heating up, so when planning your next vacation, consider El Salvador for once-in-a-lifetime experiences and java journeys that your friends will envy. To learn more, visit www.elsalvador.travel.


Don't let asthma ruin the holidays

(BPT) - With colder months arriving, there are a few things on everybody’s minds: festive treats, gift shopping and of course, time spent with family and friends. As many people look forward to the holiday season, asthma sufferers need to be aware and prepared for all the triggers this time of the year can bring. The change in weather, traveling or being in a relative’s home with new allergens can all trigger an asthma attack.

Charmayne Anderson has been living with asthma for as long as she can remember. Now, as Director of Advocacy at the Allergy and Asthma Network, she educates others on how to prepare for an asthma attack and enjoy life — and the holidays — unencumbered by their condition. After living with asthma through childhood, adolescence and now adulthood, she has witnessed an evolution of asthma medications and respiratory treatments firsthand.

“When I was diagnosed with asthma as a child, there were no inhalers or similar treatments for us to take home,” Anderson said. “My parents would have to take me for after-hours emergency care visits for an injection to help get my breathing under control.”

Anderson, along with the approximately 25 million asthma patients in the U.S., has more advanced and effective treatment options today to help manage symptoms and asthma attacks. For most people with asthma, having a rescue inhaler on-hand at all times is crucial, whether at home or on the go. Since asthma triggers may change frequently, it’s difficult to predict when an attack could strike. Particularly at this time of year, walking in the chilly winter air could be enough to cause wheezing and shortness of breath.

“For someone who has asthma, it can be a life-or-death situation. When you’re experiencing an attack, even if it’s minor, if you can’t get relief immediately it just escalates and becomes even greater,” said Anderson. “Having my rescue inhaler with me at all times and being able to check the dose counter is critical.”

One modern feature of asthma inhalers that has been especially helpful for Anderson and others areis dose counters integrated into rescue inhalers. For Anderson, dose counters serve as a forewarning that her inhaler is running low. Such a seemingly small reminder has certainly made a big difference; Anderson believes dose counters have helped her be more proactive in filling her prescription and being aware how much medication is left.

Every year, asthma accounts for 10.5 million doctor visits and 1.6 million emergency room visits in the United States. By utilizing dose counters and maintaining an asthma treatment plan, asthma sufferers like Anderson can help avoid emergency situations like these and travel with some confidence knowing they’re prepared.

Anderson said, “Prior to using a rescue inhaler with a dose counter built in, there were many times when I was away, out or not necessarily paying attention to how much medicine was in my inhaler. I'd get to a point when I would need it and I realized there was nothing in it, and I'd scramble to refill it.”

Now, when it comes time to travel for the holidays, the number one thing on Anderson’s to-do list is to make sure her and her children’s inhalers are filled.

“Before heading out of town I check everyone’s dose counter to make sure there is enough medication,” said Anderson. “Reaching out to a pharmacy while you’re traveling for the holidays is hard, especially when you’re experiencing an asthma attack and in an emergency situation.”

For additional information on the importance of dose counters, visit KnowYourCount.com.

Ms. Anderson has been compensated for her time in contributing to this program.


September 2017

What's the deal with teen driving crashes?

(BPT) - It’s no surprise that teen drivers get into more traffic collisions than their older counterparts, but why? Some reasons include less driving experience, a higher willingness to take risks and passenger distraction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than 350 teen drivers got into collisions due to some type of distraction, according to data from 2015. Forty-one of those fatalities were because of other occupants in the vehicle.

Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., limit teens from driving with passengers other than immediate family members until they receive full license privileges. Most often, they’re restricted to only driving with one passenger for the first six months. However, NHTSA teen fatal accident data reveals that 16-year-olds drive with the most passengers, averaging 2.7 occupants who were involved in fatal accidents compared to 2.5 for 17-year-olds; 2.2 for 18-year-olds; and 2.1 for 19- and 20-year-olds.

“Passengers can be a huge distraction in the car, especially for young drivers who may not have the same reaction time as more experienced drivers,” said Randy Petro, Mercury Insurance’s chief claims officer. “Graduated driver’s licenses exist for a reason and parents need to be diligent with their teens to ensure they’re adhering to these rules and not driving around with their friends before the law says they can. Even then, it’s important to keep their focus on the road.”

Passenger distractions aren’t the only causes of teen driving accidents. Here are a few more of which you should be aware.

* Time of day: 342 accidents and 394 fatalities happen at 6 p.m., respectively.

* Day of the week: Weekends are the worst time to drive, but more accidents happen on Saturdays (1,007 accidents and 1,191 fatalities).

* Speeding: 1,505 accidents were directly related to speeding.

Mercury Insurance created the Drive Safe Challenge to provide a platform for parents and teens to have serious discussions about driving. Its goal is to reduce the number of teen crashes and fatalities, and it includes tips to help parents communicate with their kids about appropriate driving behavior, as well as useful information and videos to assist teens with being safe behind the wheel. It has recently been updated to include common causes for teen driving accidents by state. Texas teens, for example, experience the most teen driving crashes with 709, while Washington, D.C., has the fewest at 2.

Be sure to talk to your kids and set ground rules before they get in the car, because being a good driver may even qualify them for an auto insurance discount.

5 tips for planning memorable holiday travel

(BPT) - The holiday season can be the perfect time to travel. With school and work days off, it's a special way to reconnect with family and friends as you get to bask in that cheerful holiday spirit.

Planning a holiday-themed trip is easier than you think, if you keep a few tips in mind. Follow these five steps and you'll be on your way to making vacation memories that will last a lifetime.


You're guaranteed to feel like a Scrooge if you're stuck on a long flight or gridlocked roads. When planning a holiday trip, look for a location that’s an easy drive or quick flight for everyone. Big cities might be easy to get to, but they are hectic during the holidays. Alternative destinations like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, are just as convenient to get to and may not have as much travel congestion.


It will be your home away from home for the holidays, so be smart when selecting your rental to set your trip up for success. Research accommodations that keep everyone close but comfortable, such as a condotel or beach home. Both these options offer plentiful space, including kitchens, so you can whip up favorite family foods before relaxing to watch a classic holiday movie together before bed.

Unique events

One of the best parts of the holidays is access to unique events that don't happen any other time of year. Once you determine a destination, research special events in the area. For example, grab a cup of cider and walk amid the soft glow of more than 5,500 hand-lit candles at the Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach. The breathtaking beauty is enjoyed by couples and families alike.

Fun experiences

To create a memorable trip, it's important to add a little holiday magic. Bring your favorite holiday book with you to read before bed. Decorate holiday cookies at the local bakery or pick up a gingerbread house kit at a local supermarket. Sign up to meet Santa on the beach and get the perfect holiday photo to send back to family and friends. Ask around and you're sure to find more than a few festive adventures for your travel crew.

Traditional cheer

Just because you're away from home doesn't mean you can't enjoy traditional holiday fun. Research local celebrations that feature caroling, sleigh rides and tree-lighting ceremonies. If you're in Myrtle Beach, visit Ripley’s Aquarium for the Festival of Trees, which includes trees decorated to perfectly represent each of the 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Find your state's tree to see how well it captures the heart of your home!

With these five tips you're sure to have your best holiday yet. Years from now you'll look back and everyone will still be able to talk in detail about their favorite travel experience.


The Caribbean is open for cruise vacations

(BPT) - Contrary to what some may think, the hurricanes in September had little to no impact on the vast majority of the Caribbean — a far-reaching region covering more than 1 million square miles.

In fact, of the nearly 100 ports in the Caribbean, almost 90 percent are open and fully operational — and welcoming thousands of cruise ship passengers every day.

To help make sure consumers are aware that the Caribbean is open for business, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) has launched a campaign and website — CaribbeanIsOpen.com — to provide the latest updates.

The Caribbean is one of the world’s most popular regions for cruise travelers. The islands are not only conveniently accessible, but offer spectacular beaches, legendary crystal-clear waters, vibrant towns and popular shore excursions.

The locals welcome vacationers to their islands as tourism, and the cruise industry in particular is critical for the economy.

According to the FCCA, cruising generated $2.4 billion in direct economic impact for the Caribbean and created nearly 55,000 jobs and $842 million in wages throughout the region during the 2014-15 cruise season. This is in addition to the indirect jobs created in supporting industries, such as providing supplies for shore excursions, ports and restaurants.

“Seasoned cruisers to the Caribbean understand that most of the islands have been unaffected,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content strategist for the website Cruise Critic. “They also understand tourism is a top driver for the islands’ economic well-being and that cruises are a large part of that equation. Because of that, it’s important for both cruise lines and travelers to continue to support so many of the Caribbean islands that are ready for business and eager to provide travelers with the incredible vacations they’ve come to expect from the region."

Now is an ideal time to plan a Caribbean cruise vacation. Contact a local travel agent or check out cruise line websites to find plenty of options for cruise vacations.

5 savvy strategies to calm your travel worries

(BPT) - Traveling can make for some of the best moments of your life, but it is not without its challenges. After all, there are rooms to book, activities to plan and, of course, luggage to worry about. Without the right strategies, these challenges can seem pretty daunting.

How daunting? A survey from Honeywell shows that thinking about luggage and whether it’s been successfully loaded onto the plane is one of the top worries travelers have when embarking on a new trip. Fortunately, there’s a solution to that and many other challenges employed by savvy travelers. How savvy are you? Read on to see how many of these strategies you already use and find some new tactics to round out your portfolio.

* Downsize your wallet. Your billfold is a wealth of personal and financial information, but you shouldn't keep all your eggs in the same basket. Clear your wallet of everything except a credit card, a backup and your insurance information and leave the rest at home. Pack some cash in your carry-on and you'll ensure a missing wallet won't be a total loss.

* Travel during the off-season. Travel can be expensive, especially if you’re flying during peak season. This makes winter travel to many locations significantly cheaper. However, many people refuse to fly during this time because they believe the weather will hinder their flight. Fortunately, many delays can be avoided thanks to modern technology. Honeywell’s GoDirect Weather allows pilots to safely navigate through snowstorms, hurricanes and other adverse weather conditions to provide you a safe, smooth and affordable flight to your destination.

* Pack a one-day survival kit. Lost luggage can happen to anyone, and that's why it's important to have a backup plan. Enter your carry-on. Instead of using it only for the items you want with you on the plane, pack it full of everything you’ll need to survive for 24 hours in your destination. That way, if your luggage should be misplaced at arrival, you won’t be stuck scrambling for everything once you land.

* Breathe easy while flying. Forty-four percent of survey respondents said they felt the air quality inside the aircraft cabin was so poor it could make people sick. This is a myth, and modern environmental control systems, designed by Honeywell, not only keep the cabin pressure comfortable, they scrub the air regularly of toxins, microbes, molds, viruses and even smells. This means you can breathe deep and focus on your destination without sacrificing your comfort.

* Do your research. Getting the lay of the land is one of the most exciting parts of traveling to a new location, and a little preparation allows you to enjoy the journey without getting lost. Make the most of your time while you're traveling by planning some activities in advance and mapping them out. You’ll save time when you land if you know how far the airport is from your hotel and that hot restaurant you want to try.

Never stop traveling

Travelers today are savvier than ever, but old myths die hard. In planning your next adventure, focus on the tips above and ignore the myths. It's a surefire strategy to enjoy every moment of your travels and create memories that last a lifetime.

Read more about Honeywell Aerospace on the Follow the Aero blog.

Holiday havoc? Consider it handled

(BPT) - The holiday season is full of magic and wonder - until your flight gets cancelled, your budget is blown and you fall ill at the worst possible time. Fortunately, staying merry despite common holiday conundrums is easier than you think with the right attitude and a few simple steps.

Here are some of the most notorious holiday hurdles, with practical advice for overcoming them and enjoying the best of the season.

Holiday hang-up: Blown budget
The holidays can get expensive fast. Buying something for everyone on your list shouldn't put you in debt. Instead, think outside the box.

Solution: Organize a gift exchange where each person draws one name and buys one gift. Additionally, consider homemade gifts to cut costs, as well as experiences, like taking kids sledding or ice skating.

Holiday hang-up: Sickness
From holiday travelers being confined in planes and trains to loved ones gathering under one room for festivities, it's no surprise that germs are rampant during the holidays. Germs are not a gift anyone wants to receive and they can quickly strip a joyous occasion of all its fun. In fact, a recent survey by Robitussin found that 68 percent of people have been sick and miserable during holiday gatherings and 24 percent have had a holiday gathering ruined because a family member was sick.

Solution: Tis the season of giving, but sharing your germs will get you on Santa's naughty list. One sick person at Christmas dinner can turn into the whole family ringing in the New Year while sick in bed. If you feel ill, be prepared with a medicine like Robitussin Severe Multi-Symptom Cough Cold + Flu, which provides relief for your worst symptoms. If you're still not feeling yourself when festivities are occurring, it's best to stay home. Try putting on comfy pajamas and binge watching your favorite holiday movies while you rest up. Sure, it stinks to miss the fun, but in the long run you're protecting others from getting sick and giving yourself the rest you need to get well again.

Holiday hang-up: Kids get the "gimmes"
Commercialism runs high during the holiday season. Kids' wish lists seem to grow with each passing day. You want them to focus on the "season of giving" and they want to focus on "the season of getting."

Solution: Show kids how good it feels to give back. There are many ways to help those in need, especially around the holidays. Try volunteering at a local nonprofit, donating gifts to a local shelter or assisting an elderly neighbor by shoveling their driveway. Be sure to encourage your kids to participate, too!

Holiday hang-up: Travel problems
Whether it's a missed connection, delayed flight or the weather is too bad to drive, travel is difficult during the holiday season.

Solution: If you're stuck at home, make the best of it with a staycation. Sleep in, make yourself a big breakfast and do all the things you never get to do. Explore the fun that's available in your hometown, whether that's a trip to the museum or splurging on tickets to the local theater. Spontaneous adventures can be some of the most memorable!

Holiday hang-up: You burned the food
Did you mess up Grandma's famous apple pie? Do your gingerbread men look a little deranged? Are your kids concerned that Santa will refuse your holiday cookies? Kitchen fails happen to even the most skilled chefs.

Solution: Always have a backup. An extra store-bought pie or cookies in the cupboard provide peace of mind. Plus, during the holiday crunch, avoid trying new recipes. Best to stick to tried-and-true for the best shot at success.

Holiday hang-up: Unexpected party guests
When your cousin RSVP'd for one but ended up bringing his new girlfriend, there's no need to panic. Unexpected holiday guests can put you in a tailspin, but being flexible is all part of a memorable holiday adventure.

Solution: Don't stress! Now is a good time to remember the old saying, "the more the merrier!" Put out an extra table setting, grab that bottle of wine from the cupboard and slap a bow on the top for a quick gift. Savvy hosts and hostesses will plan ahead by keeping a few extra gifts on hand, so whether there's an extra child looking for a present under the tree or an adult who needs a bit of holiday magic, you're always set with the perfect present.


5 ways your hotel can help you live a healthy...

(BPT) - Whether traveling for business or pleasure, a trip away from home means a shift away from your regular routine. In some ways, this can be fun and exciting, but if you're not careful, such a trip can also hinder the healthy lifestyle you've worked so hard to create.

Fortunately, even the most enjoyable trip doesn't have to mean needing a few days to return to your normal routine. There are ways to maintain your healthy lifestyle, no matter where you are by utilizing the facilities within your hotel. Keep these five tips in mind during your upcoming travel so you don't have to sacrifice your healthy lifestyle while away from home.

* Start the day right. Ever heard the saying breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Of course you have, and guess what? It's still the most important meal of the day even when you're traveling. Look for a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast and take advantage of this benefit. A healthy meal to start your day will give you more energy and help you feel less hungry later.

* Save time to exercise. The right hotel can make you feel as though you've moved into your gym. Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton are loaded with fitness amenities including state-of-the-art fitness areas and swimming pools for a quick lap. Build some time into your day to utilize these facilities and your workout regimen won't miss a beat just because you are traveling.

* Plan it all out. If your visit is for business, plan as many activities around your professional obligations as possible, and if you're here for pleasure, fill your calendar with fun, healthy activities. You can make better use of your limited time by being active, which supports a good calorie burn and protects you from snacking while you watch television.

* Cook in when you can. A fun meal out can be a delicious way to explore a new area, but the healthier, more cost-effective avenue is to eat in whenever possible. Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton feature fully equipped kitchens and in-suite cooking utensils and supplies to make cooking in-house a breeze. And if you're worried about finding the supplies you need, take advantage of the grocery shopping delivery service at Homewood Suites. Compile your shopping list and you can enjoy delicious meals like this quick, creamy shrimp pasta all in the comfort of your suite.

* Take the scenic route. At home you know the best bike routes, running paths and trails. On the road you lack that expertise, but you can still use this time to explore your surroundings. Research nearby parks and bike rentals before your trip and schedule time to get active.

Traveling to a new city doesn't mean you should abandon your old routine. If you choose the right hotel and plan ahead of time, there's no reason your latest adventure can't be rewarding to both you and your healthy lifestyle. To learn more about Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton, visit www.hiltonbringit.com.

Road salt means safe roads

(BPT) - State and municipal departments of transportation are gearing up their winter maintenance plans to prepare for snow and ice. In addition to plows, road salt is an important tool to keep roads clear. Every year these agencies stockpile sufficient salt to last the winter season and store it in strategically placed barns.

"Snowfighters" (those responsible to clear snow from roadways) are out in force in salt trucks before snow and ice is expected. They pretreat the roads with salt brine, a mix of road salt and water. This brine sticks to the road surface and helps prevent ice from forming in the first place, making winter travel safer. And the safety issue is a substantial one. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation show that there are about 115,000 people injured every year on snowy, slushy or icy pavements and more than 1,600 people killed each year on winter roads.

The good news is that a Marquette University study showed that a good winter maintenance program that uses road salt reduces accidents on winter roads by about 88 percent and can reduce injuries by up to 85 percent.

A key goal for many agencies is tracking their winter maintenance actions in great detail and ensuring that their actions are optimized to meet their goal of safe roads for the driving public. In Idaho, for example, new salt-spreading units allow them to track how much salt they apply to the road, and other sensors allow them to check that the road is responding as expected to the salt application, and is not getting slippery. This also helps reduce costs. They have seen a 29 percent reduction in annual winter maintenance costs since introducing the new technology.

Maintaining mobility is also a big concern, as people need to get to work or the grocery store and kids need to get to school. Clear roads allow ambulances and other emergency vehicles to perform their life-saving services. A study for the American Highway Users Alliance found that the cost of having roads closed down is substantial - between $300 million and $700 million a day for a state in direct and indirect earnings. One study suggested that the costs of maintaining the road system during a winter storm are completely recovered in the first 25 minutes of winter-maintenance activities, because of the improvements in safety and mobility that the improved road conditions bring about.

Care for the environment is also a key issue in safe and sustainable snowfighting. Several studies have shown that when road salt is properly applied at the right time and place to keep roadways safe and passable, environmental impacts can be effectively managed and minimized. Modern roadways are not a natural feature of the environment and are specifically engineered to satisfy our demand for personal and commercial mobility - factors that are basic to the quality of life.

A comprehensive study by environmental researchers at the University of Waterloo and Environment Canada found that when best practices, as outlined in Canada's Road Salt Code of Practice, were used, chloride levels were reduced by half. Another study by the Guelph University Research Review found that recycling stormwater runoff could reduce chloride peaks in streams without adversely affecting road safety. In cooperation with the city of Toronto, researchers used the EPA Storm Water Management Model to design computer-controlled stormwater containment systems to serve as a guide for future mitigation applications.

Salt is our most important winter resource, because it saves lives and protects the economy. It is economical and extremely effective.

5 preparation tips to make any cruise smooth...

(BPT) - When it comes to a dream cruise, everyone has their own idea of the ideal vacation. The beautiful ocean waves breaking against the bow beneath you, the warm breeze blowing against your hair and the lure of new, unexplored destinations off in the distance. If you’re lucky, maybe your dream vacation is already in the works and you’re eagerly counting down the days until it’s time to board. And if you’re still in the dreaming phases of your perfect cruise, you realize that dreaming of your vacation is almost as much fun as living it… almost.

No matter where you are in the process, the perfect cruise is more than just picking your dream destination; there are plenty of other things to consider as well. Whether a minor or monumental task, these tips are your starting point. Satisfy each of these considerations and you’ll be on your way to making your cruise everything you dreamed it could be.

* Always be on the lookout for the best deal. If you could enjoy the same amazing cruise at a fraction of the price, why wouldn’t you? Deals are not hard to come by in the cruise industry and the key is to book early. Do your research, look for package offers and book your trip as soon as you can. The wait may be difficult but an early booking could save you hundreds of dollars.

* Pick the right cruise line. Your dream cruise rests on the right ship, so don't leave this choice to chance. MSC Seaside is a sun-lover’s paradise with plenty of outdoor space to take in the Caribbean sunshine and stunning views, thanks to its unique outdoor, ocean level promenade. When you step inside for a bite to eat, you'll discover MSC Seaside is home to celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi’s first restaurant at sea. Dine on gourmet Asian cuisine while enjoying the spectacular view and your cruise will be everything you dreamed it could be.

* Pack smart and know what’s included. Your cruise line is your home away from home for the duration of your trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to bring home with you. Many of your daily needs will be provided by the cruise line itself. Take the time to learn what is included with your package and you can save money and headaches by not duplicating your inventory.

* Plan activities for the whole family. While the cruise itself is enjoyable, it’s the activities you take part in while on the ship that truly make your vacation unforgettable. Look for a cruise that offers activities for your entire family. MSC Seaside, for example, features the most interactive water park at sea with slide boarding technology, two of the longest zip lines at sea, a 4D cinema and two Formula 1 racing simulators. And if you plan to bring small children, they will love the ship’s LEGO-themed playrooms along with an entire experience day with themed games and competitions.

* Arrive early. Weeks and months of planning using the tips above could be all for naught if you don’t heed this last piece of advice. After all, flights can be delayed or cars can break down and if such a thing should happen to you, planning a little extra time into your schedule ensures that when the ship does leave, you’re on it, no matter what happened on the road to get there.

Your dream vacation is waiting for you. If you’re in the planning stage for your cruise, applying the tips above can help you finalize your strategy and finally get on the ship. And if you’re still in the dreaming stage, now’s the perfect time to bring that dream to life. Planning a cruise is easier than you may think and just a few little steps can put you on board for a vacation you’ll never forget.

To get started on planning your cruise, visit www.msccruises.com.


Must-see Pittsburgh: In city experiencing...

(BPT) - As more Americans choose to invest in experiences, fall and winter getaways take priority spots on desk planners. Many will visit Pittsburgh, to explore its evolution as a rust belt city that has polished its grit.

This once smoky steel-making capital of America turned incubator for new technologies is fittingly welcoming Ian Cheng’s Emissary Sunsets The Self, a work of art that contemplates evolution and existence. The artist’s signature animated worlds, populated with artificially-intelligent characters, will play on a massive LED screen in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Forum Gallery.

The edgy exhibition is among this fall’s visual arts attractions that underscore Pittsburgh’s cachet as a cultural and artistic hub.

The Carnegie, founded in 1895 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, is known for its extensive and impressive art collection. A collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem also will allow patrons to watch American stories unfold through the visions of 40 artists.

The Frick Pittsburgh, where pioneering industrialist Henry Clay Frick lived at the turn of the 20th century, is the exclusive North American venue for a blockbuster exhibition, Undressed: A History of Fashion in Underwear (Oct. 21, 2017 – Jan. 7, 2018), organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Unusual, yes. Quite simply, it’s a serious look at an alluring subject: the fascinating history of underwear design from the 18th century to the present.

Before steel overshadowed Pittsburgh’s other industries — think Steel City, the Pittsburgh Steelers and U.S. Steel Tower — the region was the center of American glass making. Now, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is mesmerizing guests with larger-than-life glass sculptures inspired by nature in SUPER. NATURAL., the new exhibition from renowned artist Jason Gamrath.

This striking visual artwork adds to the buzz about Phipps’ seasonal flower shows. The Victorian greenhouse, a centerpiece of the city’s Oakland neighborhood since 1893, has evolved into one of the region’s most vibrant cultural attractions with its fresh perspectives and coveted green building standards.

At The Andy Warhol Museum, named for another of the city’s famous native sons, the current project of activist and artist Bekezela Mguni, Ancestral Lines and Pittsburgh Loves Dogs, remains through Oct. 29. Exploring the experiences of African Americans, these works are typical of evocative installations at The Warhol, a museum unlike any other in the world.

With seven floors of challenging exhibits, including a room filled with floating silver pillows, The Warhol offers daily workshops, demonstrations and gallery talks, ranking it among the best places to find the learning environment and sense of community that only a museum can provide.

Just a short drive outside of Pittsburgh, The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg showcases southwestern Pennsylvania’s rich agricultural and industrial past. With a collection spanning four centuries and newly expanded, The Westmoreland has evolved as a one-of-a-kind space.

Its exhibition, A Timeless Perfection: American Figurative Sculpture in the Classical Spirit — Gifts from Dr. Michael L. Nieland (Oct. 7, 2017 - Dec. 31, 2017), will present extraordinary academically trained sculptors who emerged at the height of the Gilded Age.

When leisure time beckons, many other visual arts await exploration in contemporary galleries and cultural gems within Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. If you seek engaging and inspiring experiences, visits to museums and galleries can provide memorable moments — and the opportunity to reflect on what makes Pittsburgh charmingly distinctive.

Riding is the new driving: How to make the most...

(BPT) - New to ridesharing? So are most people, both drivers and passengers alike. Ridesharing matches you with a nearby driver who will pick you up and take you where you need to go. Calling a ride is as easy as opening up a ridesharing app and tapping a button; a driver will then arrive within minutes. By using a ridesharing service, you can help your community by reducing traffic, connecting with your neighbors, and keeping your local economy strong.

One major player is Lyft, the fastest-growing on-demand transportation service in the U.S., covering 94 percent of the U.S. population. Once you have the app downloaded, all you need to do is enter a prepayment method, designate your pickup and dropoff location, and you’re set! In just a few minutes your driver will be at your location ready to go. The app allows you to track the location of your driver so you will always know exactly when to be ready, and if you can’t find your driver you can easily send them a text or give them a call.

1. Riding shotgun — Front seat or backseat? That is entirely up to you! Looking to be social and connect with your driver a little more? The front seat is the place for you. If you prefer a little more solitude, then the backseat might be best. There isn’t a wrong answer — just go with whatever feels right. Here is an easy conversation starter: Drivers often make excellent recommendations if you’re visiting a new city. As a local, they know the hot spots best.

2. Feeling TIPsy? — After a night of socializing, you should rely on ridesharing to get you home safely. And if your driver provided stellar service, got you to your destination in record time or had a sick ride, you might want to tip them for their hard work. Tipping is always optional but always appreciated.

3. Safety first — Is ridesharing safe? Yes! Ridesharing is a safe and reliable way to get from point A to B with a little help from someone in your community. In fact, 87 percent of Lyft drivers have given a ride to a neighbor. Good thing that companies across the industry are dedicated to safety. For instance, Lyft ensures that every driver is screened before they’re permitted to drive on their platform, starting with professional third-party background and DMV checks. In addition to the background check, Lyft has a dedicated Trust and Safety team on call 24/7.

4. Ride your way — You have another wedding next weekend and you want to arrive in style, but you also want to save a little money on the ride home. Are there options in ridesharing that cover both types of service? Yes! Across the ridesharing industry there are a wide range of options to suit a wide range of needs. If you're looking to save some money, try sharing your ride with someone else. If you have a special date or an important meeting, you can splurge for a luxury black car.

5. Best of both worlds — If you happen to have a qualifying four-door car, you are totally able to use your free time and spare seats to make some extra cash. Driving on a platform like Lyft is great because you can seamlessly switch between rider and driver. Going to that hip area of town that never has parking? Call a ridesharing service! Have a few hours to spare because your mom’s flight is delayed? Open the driver app and make the most of that time.

6 simple steps to avoid distracted driving

(BPT) - Mobile phones have become an essential part of life for most people, helping them stay connected and increase productivity. However, this technology can also be a distraction when driving, which puts everyone on the road at risk.

More than one-quarter of all car crashes involve phone use, both with handsets and hands-free, the National Safety Council reports. Considering many states and countries don't yet compile and report data on cellphone use following a crash, this number is likely much higher.

Distracted driving isn't just an issue for young adults. High technology use means this is a problem across generations. For professionals in particular, the expectation to stay productive and reachable means a constant temptation to use cellphones when driving.

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

In January 2017, the NSC reported that Cargill was the largest privately held company to prohibit the use of mobile devices, including hands-free technology, while an employee is driving on behalf of the company. Cargill's Chairman and CEO David MacLennan just marked the one-year anniversary of following the policy.

"I had to try the policy myself first," says MacLennan. "Once I knew what it would take to go completely cellphone free in my car, I could then make it work for our entire company."

Based on his experience, MacLennan offers these six simple steps for anyone looking to eliminate distracted driving yet stay productive and responsive to your job.

1. Auto response
Use a free automated response app to let callers know that you’re driving and can’t take the call. You can personalize the response so incoming calls or texts receive a text message saying you're on the road.

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

3. Block drive times
Just as you schedule meetings, use shared calendars to block times you’ll be driving. This alerts anyone else connected to your calendar when you’ll be out of touch.

4. Out of sight, out of mind
A study by AT&T found that 62 percent of drivers keep their phones within reach in the car. Put yours where you can’t see or reach it, such as in the back seat.

5. Pull over
If you must take a call while on the road, let it go to voicemail and pull over in a safe location to return the call. Plan pull-over "cellphone stops" along your route if needed.

6. Avoid all distractions
Cellphones aren't the only cause of distracted driving. Eating, grooming and reading are activities people try to tackle while driving. Be smart and simply stay focused on the road.

Driving safely should be everyone's top concern when behind the wheel. These simple steps can make it easier to resist the temptation to pick up the phone or do another activity that can wait until you've arrived, safely, at your destination.

Back-to-school lessons for drivers

(BPT) - With Americans around the country adjusting their daily commutes and driving habits to accommodate back-to-school schedules, it is a great time to brush up on Driving 101. Take the stress out of back-to-school travel by practicing these safe driving tips.

Steer away from old habits

Even something as simple as gripping a steering wheel can impact safety. According to Hankook Tire’s most recent Gauge Index, 66 percent of drivers position their hands at “10 and 2 o’clock.” While this was once a widely instructed technique, driving safety experts now recommend keeping your hands at “9 and 3 o’clock.” In the case of an accident, this slight shift can prevent a deploying airbag from forcing the driver’s hands into his or her own head. Younger drivers are moving away from the traditional steering grip, as only 26 percent of respondents aged 18-34 drive with their hands at “10 and 2,” yet close to three out of four drivers over the age of 34 still follow the old form.

However, drivers can — and do — develop safer driving awareness with experience, despite not always being taught key fundamentals when first learning to drive. The Hankook Gauge Index found that while only 38 percent of drivers were taught to provide one car length of space for every 10 mph when driving at high speeds, 69 percent now follow that rule. Similarly, only 32 percent of drivers were taught to use low-beam lights in heavy rain, snow, sleet or fog, and now over half (51 percent) do so. While some driving behaviors have become routine, key fundamentals can have an impact on safety.

School-zone safety

Student pickups and drop-offs are chaotic and busy times, and reduced speed limits create safer driving environments for parents, students and teachers. While 71 percent of Americans drive over the speed limit in normal traffic zones, nearly the same number (73 percent) report that they slow down in school zones.

Although a high percentage of American drivers heed school-zone laws, close to 25 percent still report driving over the speed limit in school zones. Driving even a mile or two over the speed limit in school zones can result in a speeding ticket. Drivers should keep an eye out for traffic signs promoting modified speed limits to not just create a safer environment, but also to avoid traffic violations.

Back to college

Sixty-six percent of current and former college students say they had (or have) a car during their time on campus. Commuting to and from home or work and exploring the college town can add to the wear and tear of your vehicle. Checking the condition of the vehicle and its tires is especially important for college students who often neglect car care for their studies.

While over 70 percent of drivers are aware that healthy tire tread helps support improved traction and better mileage, there is a lack of consistency when it comes to monitoring. In fact, 69 percent of drivers check their tread less than once a month, including 33 percent of drivers who rely solely on their mechanic to check when the car is being serviced. There are many reliable ways for consumers to check tire tread on their vehicles and their children’s vehicles, including the use of a tread depth gauge, tread wear indicators or the “penny test.”

More awareness and maintenance of tire tread can lead to greater road safety this fall. Should tires need to be replaced, drivers can take advantage of rebate programs such as Hankook’s 2017 Great Hit promotion, which can save drivers up to $100 on qualifying tires through September 30.

Find inspiration along El Salvador's...

(BPT) - While many would welcome an escape to paradise to delay the onset of winter, there are those of us who crave a getaway that takes things a step beyond the usual basking, rest and relaxation.

In fact, 35 percent of respondents to a 2016 survey by market research company Gfk said they prefer vacations that are active and offer opportunities to try new things.

While an "active" vacation may conjure ideas like zip lining through tree tops or riding waves on a surfboard, an active vacation in a tropical land can also mean discovering unique ways to interact with and learn about a new culture.

For example, in El Salvador, there is ample opportunity to watch and speak to artisans at work in mediums from indigo powder to red clay, according to El Salvador’s Ministry of Tourism. If you're feeling inspired, you can even make your own version of these crafts at one of many workshops open to visitors.

Plan a road trip along El Salvador's artisan trail, and you can return home with a suitcase of souvenirs like hand-dyed scarves, colorful woven mats and clay figurines — that you made yourself. Here are four picturesque El Salvador towns where you can enjoy a hands-on immersion in an artisan paradise.

The murals of La Palma

A walk through the streets of La Palma is a journey in living color because just about every wall and entryway is covered in vibrant murals depicting people, animals, flowers and things. These works are painted in a simple folk-style called Arte Naif that features plenty of Mayan influences, making it easy for even a beginning artist to create a pocket-sized La Palma-style mural. Taller Paty (artesaniaspaty.com) offers workshops to visitors that take them through the steps of rendering a colorful design on a wooden box or inside the “frame” of a copinol seed.

The indigo art of Suchitoto

As you wander along cobblestone streets in the village of Suchitoto, you’ll be charmed and inspired by the colonial Spanish architecture as well as the art for sale in its many galleries. Along the way, make plans to stop at the Arte Añil Gallery, which features a workshop where you can learn to dye fabric with indigo.

Indigo is a blue powder extracted from a blue flowering plant. The Mayans were just one ancient civilization that cultivated and prized its deep color, incorporating this striking hue into their murals and pottery. After this workshop, you’ll have your own indigo accessory, either a hand-dyed scarf or a bag, as a memento of your trip.

The red clay of Ilobasco

Ceramics runs deep in the identity of this town, a history that is owed to the skill of the artists and the abundance of red mud the artists harvest and prepare into clay. Watch as they shape this lump of earth into intricate miniatures, ranging from tiny human forms to little egg-shaped figures called sorpresas that open and reveal a daily activity of the town.

You may be treated to fascinating tales of the artists’ lineage — of those who had passed down the knowledge and skill through generations, sometimes dating back to the 1700s. Then, you can take part in one of the many workshops and shape your own Ilobasco miniature in red mud.

The woven textiles of San Sebastian

San Sebastian is famous for its colorfully banded textiles made with a traditional loom called the Telares. Here, you can observe a master weaver at work at Casa de la Cultural de San Sebastian. As they work the looms, it’s mesmerizing to watch the motions of man and machine create beautiful blankets, hammocks and mats. Here, you can try your hand (and your feet) at a Telares in a unique and intimate setting — the home workshop of a master weaver.

Wherever you begin your artisan journey, El Salvador has much to offer for anyone who loves to create. For more information on hands-on excursions, visit elsalvador.travel/en/tipos/artisan-route.

Traveling soon? Tips to stay sharp and avoid fraud

(BPT) - If your suitcase is full, don’t worry — protecting yourself from fraud doesn’t mean more packing.

But it does mean you should prepare for the challenge of keeping your personal info safe. According to an Experian(R) survey, 20 percent of respondents had sensitive information like credit or debit cards, personal identification or smartphones stolen while on vacation. “As you travel, your exposure to risk can expand,” says Chip Kohlweiler, vice president of security at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Before you head out, ensure your financial institution is up to date with your contact information. This will minimize disruptions in service, and you can leverage travel notifications and card freeze/unfreeze features,” he adds.

Fraudsters are waiting for you to slip into cruise control, so being alert can save you stress — and money. But when do you need to be on your toes and when can you kick back and relax? Let’s walk through a few travel checkpoints so you know where threats are lurking.

Travel planning

Window shopping for your perfect trip can ignite wanderlust. But keep your wits as you browse through destinations and travel offers online. You’ll want to be extra careful, especially if you plan to make a payment or provide personal information for bookings.

You’re probably using a phone, computer, tablet or combination of these to do your planning. Regardless of what device you’re on, you can use your travel savvy to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

Watch out for:

* Offers for “free” trips, or travel prices that are too good to be true

* Fake travel websites

* Hidden costs in package deals — read the fine print!

* Requests for personal information

As with any online purchase, check the URL of the site you’re on. If you’re looking at a web page but the URL doesn’t match the site you had in mind, you could be looking at a fake site being run by a fraudster.

If your site checks out, read the fine print and know exactly what you’re signing up for before you enter any payment or personal info. Don’t hesitate to call and confirm any of the information you see. If the company or individual doesn’t offer a phone number, it’s probably not legit.

When it comes to calling, you should be doing the dialing. It’s illegal for companies to call you with an automated message if you haven’t given them written permission to do so. The voice recording that offers you a prize in exchange for your credit card could be trying to scam you.

While you’re traveling

You dodged the traps and booked your travel with ease. But the fraudsters haven’t called it quits, and neither should you. There are a few hot spots where you should stay alert, including:

* Airports

* Hotel lobbies

* Public hangouts (like coffee shops or popular tourist hubs)

Pickpocketing — one of the oldest scams in the book — is popular in these busy atmospheres. Avoid distractions that take your focus away from your belongings. Remember, your personal space is exactly that — personal!

Protecting your digital information is just as important as your physical space. High-traffic areas may offer public Wi-Fi. These networks are an easy access point for cybercriminals. Some fraudsters even create their own hot spots and name them based on the location.

“The last thing you should do is access your bank account or any sensitive account on a public network,” says Kohlweiler. Data on your phone becomes available to a criminal when you connect to these public networks. Your best course of action is to keep your phone or tablet stowed away until you can jump on a password-protected network, like in your hotel room.

Partner with a sidekick

The good news is you’re not in this alone. There are services and resources out there to make fraud protection easier. For instance, as a Navy Federal member, you can call or go online to set up a travel notification. You can also request account info via text. Tools like these can put you one step ahead of the criminals. If you are a victim of fraud, we have a team dedicated to resolving these issues, too.

When you return home, be sure to get in touch with a representative to check in. It never hurts to have two sets of eyes reviewing your account after a big trip.

If you’re planning to travel, do your research and remember to pack your fraud protections. And make security tools, like the ones available through Navy Federal, your travel buddy.

Suite rescue: 6 kid-friendly craft ideas to...

(BPT) - You’ve picked the perfect location, booked your hotel suite, lined up attraction tickets and done everything you could to make sure your last vacation before the official end-of-summer will be a success for kids and parents alike. However, what will you do if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

One of the top travel mistakes is relying on the weather forecast to dictate your plans, which is why it is essential to have a back-up plan. Unfortunately, rain is a distinct possibility in many destinations during late summer. A little creativity and planning can help parents keep kids entertained on rainy vacation days.

Simply pack a few simple craft supplies, and try these six ideas inspired by DIY mommy experts and the All Suites brands by Hilton (Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home 2 Suites) for fun, kid-friendly crafts you can easily do in your hotel suite:

1. Fun with felt finger puppets

Add several small squares of felt in multiple bright colors, glue, scissors and a variety of trimmings like sequins to your vacation packing. When it rains, break out your craft supplies and make felt finger puppets, just like Joy Cho from Oh Joy! All-suite hotels like Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home 2 Suites, all by Hilton, provide plenty of work space for simple crafts. Once the project is complete, kids and parents can stage their own puppet show. The All Suites brands by Hilton not only provide plenty of room for these projects, but plenty of different "sets" to perform the show.

2. Suite, suite spa day

When rain postpones outdoor activities, get creative like Oh Happy Day! and try some indoor enjoyment instead. Packing bathrobes, nail polish, bath bombs, scented lotions and plush flip-flops sets the stage for an in-suite spa day. Fill up the tub, add a bath bomb, soak kids’ feet, and pamper them with kid-friendly manicures and pedicures.

3. Funneling some fun

If your hotel suite comes with a fully equipped kitchen, like at Homewood Suites, take advantage to recreate a vacation food favorite as shown in another example by Oh Joy! Use the complimentary grocery shopping service available at select properties to order simple ingredients like flour, sugar and cooking oil that you'll need to whip up a batch of easy, yummy funnel cakes.

4. Sweet and sticky

Need a spur-of-the-moment idea with supplies that are easy to find? Drop by any grocery or convenience store, grab a bag of marshmallows and a box of toothpicks. Let kids use these simple ingredients to build whatever sparks their imagination by poking the ends of the toothpicks into the marshmallows. It’s a yummy, convenient alternative to carrying traditional building toys in your luggage!

5. Unbottling their energy

Turn an empty water bottle into a treasured souvenir. Simply use a kitchen funnel to pour dry rice or sand into a plastic water bottle, and add tiny memorabilia, such as shells collected from the beach, and other vacation-related bits. Kids will have fun turning the bottle to discover what’s inside - just make sure that lid is on tight!

6. Roadmap to fun

Hotels often have colorful and helpful vacation maps of the destination. Another example by Oh Happy Day can spark inspiration to make your own map. Unfold a destination map, gather accumulated ticket stubs, brochures, admission stickers and wristbands — and tape them to their corresponding points on the map. Glue sequins or attach stickers to the remaining spots to visit when the rain stops.

Rain doesn’t have to ruin your last vacation of the summer. When you stay at any All Suites brands by Hilton, you’ll have all the room you need to fill rainy days with fun crafts. Visit www.hiltonbringit.com to learn more and book your suite.


5 ways to explore the 'final frontier'...

(BPT) - When it comes to outer space, there is much to wonder over and dream about. Where else are there such colossal challenges paired with the infinite possibilities of discovery? For stargazers, dreamers and those who believe anything is possible, Florida has the perfect vacation spot for experiencing that sense of cosmic adventure, and letting your imagination run wild. Just zoom in on a certain strip of Atlantic seaboard known as the Space Coast — your portal to “the final frontier.”

Here, there is ample opportunity to get an up-close look at space exploration. Of course, The Space Coast is home to the Kennedy Space Center, located in the middle of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge along the Atlantic shore, where NASA has captivated the hearts and minds of Americans with its launches of manned spacecraft and other vessels sent off to explore our solar system.

There’s so much on the Space Coast for space enthusiasts to take in, including close encounters with space vehicles, the opportunity to watch a rocket launch, and the chance to hear dramatic stories told by America’s astronauts. Use this guide to start planning your adventure to the Space Coast.

Witness a roaring rocket launch

A few weeks before heading for the Space Coast, it’s essential to check the latest rocket launch schedule at spacecoastlaunches.com, so you can seize the opportunity to witness an actual, thundering liftoff. The website also offers plenty of suggestions for catching an excellent view of the launch action coming out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (You even might be able to get a preview by tuning in for live launch coverage at spacecoastlaunches.com/watch-live.) Just know this: A roaring rocket launch is an experience that can’t be fully appreciated until it is seen — and felt — in person.

Get an astronaut’s perspective

Without a doubt, those who are named to NASA’s Astronaut Corps belong to an elite group. Still, not all who are accepted end up on a space flight. Asking real astronauts about their experiences in the program or talking with those who have flown on a space mission is a can’t-miss opportunity for any space fiend. During your visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, be sure to block out some time for one of the daily question-and-answer sessions with a real astronaut.

Get an up-close look at the Mars Rover

There’s been renewed optimism lately about a manned mission to Mars — and with it, much speculation that the person who will first set foot on the Red Planet may already have been born. The crew that makes the voyage to Mars will need a vehicle rugged enough to safely traverse the planet’s challenging, rocky landscape. At the same time, the machine must be designed to function as a mobile laboratory. At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, you’ll have the chance to view an astonishing, otherworldly concept vehicle called the Mars Rover. And while you’re on-site, the expansive “Summer of Mars” exhibit will show you what it will take to accomplish the next big space mission.

Experience Exploration Tower

From the observation deck atop Exploration Tower at nearby Port Canaveral, you can take in a panoramic view of the bustling cruise-ship harbor below and the awe-inspiring launch facilities of both the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Here, you’ll find it easy to appreciate our past space achievements, as well as the possibilities that lie ahead. The seven-story Exploration Tower also happens to be a great spot to view rocket launches; after liftoff, stick around and check out the many exhibits that take you through a sweeping history of Port Canaveral and how it influenced exploration of the Americas and beyond. For more details, visit explorationtower.com.

Soak in the history

Before and during your Space Coast trip, take time to absorb the rich history of the Kennedy Space Center. After all, this is where America began its journey to the moon and launched the era of the space shuttle. The space center facilities house hundreds of scientific spacecraft designed to help us learn about the galaxies and our universe. Search for Cape Canaveral history on nasa.gov, where you can listen, watch and learn all about the fascinating missions and the extraordinary men and women who made them possible.

Time to stop dreaming about your space-themed vacation adventure, and start planning. You'll discover plenty of helpful information on visitspacecoast.com.


Articles last updated at Dec 17, 2017 23:18:49pm.
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