A Cool New App for Theater Lovers
You know that moment when you walk into a Broadway theater and an usher hands you a Playbill and takes you to your seats? As a native New Yorker and avid theater-goer, that's been one of my favorite experiences since I was a little boy. Well, that feeling of discovery and anticipation just got a whole lot cooler.
The new Playbill Passport app is basically like having a theater-loving BFF, ticketing expert, in-the-know foodie, and all-around NYC guru in your pocket to help with each stage of the theater-going experience: Ticketing info, local travel and restaurant reservations, in-depth coverage of the show you’re about to see (you can scan the cover of your Playbill to access actors, playwrights, creative team, photos, and videos), and all the essentials such as run time, intermission, concessions, and even the history of the theater. It's all a bit mind-bending in a good way, isn't it?
One of the coolest things about the app is that it was created in partnership between Broadway Voice (a technology media company that creates mobile platforms for the live theater industry), Playbill (which has been providing theater programs for Broadway and beyond for 130 years), Gimbal (which provides proximity location services around 41 Broadway theater), and Urban Airship (which delivers messages like welcomes, show info, and local recommendations). Wow. It takes a village, right? What that partnership means for you is that Playbill Passport knows when you arrive at your theater and can become your pre-show know-it-all, your intermission read, and your what-should-we-do-after-the-play resource. It’ll even turn itself off when the show starts and come back on at intermission.
Playbill Passport is available at the iTunes store and will be available for Android later in the year.
Let's Talk About Rewards Programs
Airline rewards programs get a lot of hype and are often greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. We'd love to hear your honest input about your rewards program habits. Take our quick poll, and look for the results here in an upcoming story at BudgetTravel.com and in our March/April tablet issue. Survey Creator
What Travelers Need to Know About the Zika Virus
With health alerts about the Zika virus popping up in travel destinations all over the world, it's normal to feel skittish about visiting the affected countries. Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and travel: What countries have seen Zika virus outbreaks? So far, 22 areas are experiencing a Zika virus outbreak—some of them tropical vacation destinations: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Venezuela, and Africa's Cape Verde. It is expected to spread. How severe is the Zika virus? What happens when you're infected? Traditionally, the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, has been a relatively mild disease, with symptoms including muscle aches and fever: "kind of like a bad cold, a bad flu," says Ronald St. John, M.D., MPH, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization and current co-founder of Sitata, a free health- and safety-focused trip-planning app and website. The horror stories about Zika-associated instances of microcephaly (small head size) in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome are alarming but technically rare. The current outbreak's sample size is likely a factor in the numerous reports, Dr. St. John says. "With the introduction of the virus into a new place—the Western Hemisphere—and a rapidly accumulating number of cases, once you get a large number of cases of infectious disease, some of the rare complications start to appear." If I'm traveling to one of those countries, is it cause to cancel my trip? Unless you're pregnant, no. However, do take precautions to avoid mosquito bites while you're there, says Dr. St. John. (For the sake of comparison in severity, like Zika, mosquito-transmitted dengue fever is still a risk in tropical and sub-tropical regions, as is the chikungunya virus.) If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that you "consider" postponing your trip until after delivery. There is growing scientific evidence that the first trimester is a particularly risky time to become infected with Zika, Dr. St. John says. "Pregnant women, as a minimum, should take heightened measures to avoid mosquito bites in countries where transmission is growing, and if they want to be super-cautious, OK, maybe you shouldn't travel, especially if you're in your first trimester. So that's a precautionary thing—it's not an all-out panic button at this point in time." OB/GYN Jason James, M.D., medical director at FemCare Ob-Gyn in Miami, takes a harder stance: "Pregnant women should, whenever possible, remain away from any of the countries affected," he says, and recommends that pregnant travelers take their "babymoon" in areas that are not affected. "Travel insurance might be advisable for travel to these areas in the next year or so. Compare the various policies and make sure there are no pregnancy exclusions." What precautions should I take if I decide to travel to one of the affected areas? Because the virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites, Dr. St. John recommends using a DEET-based mosquito repellent like OFF! Deep Woods ($7, drugstore.com)—safe for pregnant women—with your sunscreen, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible. Wear a hat and keep your ankles covered. To prevent mosquito bites while sleeping, choose a hotel with air-conditioning, so that rooms' windows are shut, or if you're in a non-air-conditioned property, ensure that your room has screens, Dr. St. John says. If your accommodations are basic and have neither A/C nor screens, bring a permethrin-permeated mosquito net with you (from $35, ems.com), or stay in a place that has mosquito nets over the bed. How can I stay informed about the Zika virus as it relates to travel? At Budget Travel, we recommend keeping an eye on the travel section of the U.S. State Department's website at Travel.state.gov and relying on reputable updates on the virus from sources such as the CDC, specifically its Travelers' Health advice, and the National Institutes of Health. Another tip from Dr. St. John: “Pay attention to the World Health Organization when they issue travel advice. Because there is something called the International Health Regulations, and countries are obligated to report events that might be of public-health importance at an international level. And then WHO makes an assessment. For example, with the huge Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there was never a reason not to travel to those countries, and WHO stated that. If you were going to go there and be a health-care provider—doctor, nurse, whatnot—on an Ebola treatment center, well, yes, that’s a high risk...but if you were just going to Sierra Leone to do business or even tour, that was not a risk.”
Three-Day Weekend: Barcelona
Sunlight pours through stained-glass windows, illuminating the interior of La Sagrada Família’s columns and pillars, evoking a forest. Wow, I think. That’s just the inside of the cathedral. The building’s magnificent, still-under-construction facade, which depicts famous Bible scenes and is expected to be completed by 2026 (more than 90 years after architect Antoni Gaudí’s death), is what most people come to Barcelona to see. The first time I visited the city, I made a tragic rookie mistake: I didn’t plan my visit to La Sagrada Família ahead of time. If I had, I would’ve learned that a special event was taking place on the one day I was able to visit, and only those who had previously purchased tickets could go in. I was out of luck. In May 2015, I returned to this beautiful basilica, ticket in hand, and got the experience I’d been waiting for. The price was well worth the view ($16, sagradafamilia.org). That day, at the basilica, Barcelona became my new favorite place on earth. The same might happen to you, too. Whether you’re an art lover or a foodie, or you simply love strolling along European boulevards admiring beautiful buildings, here’s how to make the most of a quick visit. Get your Gaudí fix Another Gaudí masterpiece, Parc Güell (pronounced “gway”), offers the best panoramic views of the city, but the number of daily visitors is limited. Be sure to get a timed-entry ticket early—up to three months ahead of time online—in order to avoid missing out ($8, parkguell.cat). For a solid primer on the artist’s life, visit Gaudí’s former residence, Casa Milà, with the striking rooftop piece La Pedrera ($22, lapedrera.com). Casa Batlló is another colorful modernist masterpiece based on nature, and the last that Gaudí designed, between 1906 and 1910 ($23, casabatllo.es). Feast on tons of tasty tapas The best way to enjoy Barcelona’s creative food scene is by ordering plenty of tapas (small plates) and washing them down with a cool, refreshing glass of cava, Spain’s delicious answer to champagne. Sample staples like fried hot green padrón peppers and grilled artichokes topped with Iberian ham at Bar Lobo, located in the trendy El Raval neighborhood (padrón peppers tapas from $6, artichokes tapas from $9, grupotragaluz.com). Or toast the start of a great trip with a glass of the bubbly stuff in the fairy-tale atmosphere at El Bosc de les Fades Café, hidden away in Passatge de la Banca, just a few steps from La Rambla, a beautiful pedestrian-only boulevard that stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell. Its montaditos—mini-sandwiches with ham, sausage, and cheese—and olive tapas pair nicely with your cava (from about $4 per glass, montaditos and olive tapas from about $2 each, museocerabcn.com). Visit La Boqueria market Don’t miss this brightly colored market, located just off La Rambla, where vendors sell locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Stock up on candies and nuts and sip delicious fresh-squeezed juice drinks for a refreshing afternoon treat (prices vary, Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria, boqueria.info). Stroll beautiful boulevards and experience local Catalan culture Strolling La Rambla will be one of your favorite parts of your weekend, but pay close attention to your belongings at all times, as this area is, unfortunately, as popular with pickpockets as any other European hotspot. As you walk along ancient streets, look up and admire the buildings of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. On Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. or Sundays at noon, stop by the Catedral de Barcelona to see locals perform the solemn Sardana dance, a proud Catalan custom that was banned under the Franco regime. If you visit in summer, don’t miss the tradition of castellers building tall human towers by standing on one another’s shoulders on Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Stay in the center of town—for less Experience Barcelona like a local (and save cash) by renting your own private apartment in the city center (from $54, airbnb.com). Generator Barcelona, a new “poshtel” designed to resemble a boutique hotel more than a hostel, offers private rooms and a ton of fun activities like tapas nights, game nights, movie nights, and Barcelona bar crawls designed to help you connect with your fellow travelers (private rooms for two start at $60 per night per couple depending on room style, single bunks from $12 per person per night, generatorhostels.com). WANNA TAKE A DAY TRIP? TRY SITGES, MONTSERRAT, OR THE DALÍ TRIANGLE Hop on a 30-minute commuter train on the RD Sud Southbound line from Barcelona-Sants to soak up rays on the beach in Sitges, known for its epic nightlife scene and LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere (round-trip train ticket from about $8, free beach access). Visit Montserrat Monastery for gorgeous mountaintop views and a chance to see where Benedictine monks defied Franco by continuing to hold Catholic mass in the traditional Catalan language. Viator offers half-day trips from Barcelona ($57, viator.com). Mix some surrealism into the natural beauty and venture to the Dalí Triangle: the Salvador Dalí House in Portlligat, the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol, and the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres (house from about $12 per person, castle from about $9, museum from about $13; tickets must be reserved online ahead of time, salvador-dali.org). Bus and train service from Barcelona is available but time-consuming, so consider driving (from $97 for a one-day car rental, hotwire.com).
Step Into Our National Parks
We’re counting the days till the February 12 release of National Parks Adventure, an IMAX 3-D film shot in some of America’s most beautiful and inspiring places to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, in August. Nearly a century ago, the National Park Service was founded on the firm belief that America’s wildest places should be preserved. Forever. Not subject to political or commercial whims or trends but protected in perpetuity for future generations. As we approach the NPS centennial, Budget Travel feels proud to have played a role in celebrating places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Acadia, and Everglades and unlocking their secrets, making them accessible to every traveler. National Parks Adventure, presented by Expedia and narrated by actor/environmental activist Robert Redford, was shot in 30 national parks over nine months by director Greg MacGillivray, who hopes the massive effort (involving four separate film crews) will bring what documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has called “America’s best idea” to a new audience and encourage travelers to discover the 400-plus parks across the U.S. The film is told from the point of view of mountaineer Conrad Anker, a national parks ambassador with a deep, off-the-beaten-path knowledge of iconic sights and lesser-known backcountry. FIND YOUR PARK While we’re awaiting the film’s release, we’ve been having fun researching (and getting inspired by) America’s national parks at FindYourPark.com, an interactive initiative launched in anticipation of the NPS centennial that includes every park in the system.