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Jump on These Spring Travel Tips and Deals

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
April 10, 2017
Norwegian Breakaway leaving from NYC
Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line
As the days heat up, so do the travel deals. Book these trips now to save big.

The days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer, and it’s time to hit the road. But spring travel can be complicated by too many choices - beaches, big cities, resorts, cruises? - and high prices. The good news is, we’re here to deliver some advice and deals for spring that won’t break the bank.

MONEY-SAVING SPRING TRAVEL TIPS

HOTELS: Book direct. Sure, you should do your homework on Expedia, Kayak, etc., but then call the front desk of the hotel you want to stay at and ask them to beat the online rate. Hotels are actually very eager to win back your loyalty from online booking sites and most major chains now offer loyalty/reward programs that can be very attractive, depending on how often you travel and how loyal you're willing to be.

CRUISES: Book early or book late. Yes, booking a cruise a year in advance can nab you a great rate, but what about booking a spring cruise now? Too late? Nope. In fact, cruise lines are sometimes desperate to fill rooms (aka move inventory) before the ships sail and are willing to offer rock-bottom rates to get you onboard.

AIRFARE: We’re seeing budget carriers like Wow and Norwegian offering incredible deals to Europe - under $100 to destinations like Iceland and Ireland. For spring travel, we've been using Skyscanner.com - the site mines data from discount airfare sites to aggregate the cheapest of the cheap. In addition, always follow all the major airlines on social media and sign up for their newsletters for the inside track on last-minute deals.

EXCHANGE RATES: Look north or south for great exchange rates: The strong dollar makes Canada and Mexico very attractive this spring.

AFFORDABLE SPRING TRAVEL DEALS

SPRING PARTY AT SEA: You can book a last-minute 7-day cruise to the Bahamas & Florida on Norwegian for under $100/day per person, a pretty extraordinary bargain - but the cruise is filling up and you've got to jump on it now. You’ll love Norwegian’s “Breakaway” series cruise ships with their Broadway-quality entertainment, gourmet food themes, and onboard activities, plus stops in Florida and Bahamas cruise ports. 

ROMANTIC ESCAPE: Quebec City offers old-world charm, great food, and the feeling of having run away to Europe without really going too far from home. Stroll the 18th-century streets, take in views of the beautiful Saint Lawrence River, sip exceptional wine - you’ll feel as if you’re in Paris without the price tag. The strong dollar makes Canadian hotel rates even more attractive. We love Quebec City’s Hotel Chateau Laurier, with deals for well under $200/night. 

FAMILY FUN IN THE SOUTHWEST: Santa Fe, New Mexico, is calling all families for spring break fun! The beautiful, historic Southwestern city is rolling out bargains at hotels - the Inn at Santa Fe for under $160/night is just one example - and free kids’ meals and activities all over town through mid-April: Hands-on arts, treasure hunts, even kid-friendly spa treatments are free! Some hotels even offer a free third night when you book a three-night stay. 

NATIONAL PARKS ARE FREE (WELL, FOR TWO WEEKENDS IN APRIL): National parks are free the weekends of April 15/16 and 22/23 (in celebration of National Park Week) - admission is typically good for 7 days, so free entrance on a Saturday or Sunday can last all week long. Great Smoky Mountains, Death Valley, Everglades, and the Grand Canyon’s South Rim are great spring choices. (The Grand Canyon’s North Rim is closed until May, and some northern parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier,are still covered in snow.)

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Travel Tips

How the Electronics Ban Will Affect You

Headline news about travel bans is starting to feel like business as usual. You’re not alone if you find yourself thinking: “Pretty much we’ll only be able to bring Saltines and an actual print newspaper and maybe a wallet when we board a plane.” Fact is, though, there are loads of nuances and contingencies beyond that big bold “travel ban” headline, especially when it comes to the latest electronics ban, which was announced on March 21. The ban, which is applicable to specific airlines leaving specific airports in the Middle East, prohibits travelers from carrying laptops, iPads, and anything larger than a cellphone on flights to specific US airports. The items must be checked. The ban applies to flights from 10 airports in eight countries. Nine airlines are affected - Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Air, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways. When all is said and done, the measure, which will continue indefinitely, affects about 50 flights per day.  Many news reports and commentary note how this will strongly impact business travelers who have company-owned laptops, perhaps containing sensitive information. We, however, would argue that it would be equally exasperating for parents who might depend on laptops to keep young children from throwing temper tantrums at cruising altitude. The questions that arise are why now and why the specificity? According to a New York Times report, "officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack." But the UK followed suit with a similar ban the following day and, according to anonymous security sources cited in news reports, the government based its decision on specific intelligence reports about the Islamic State developing a bomb that can be concealed in portable electronics.   But according to Jason Clampet, editor-in-chief of Skift, a travel news website, questions have been raised about the intent of the ban, what with its specific targets. Some experts speculate the measure is designed to hurt Gulf carriers because they’ve emerged as rivals in transatlantic flight packages. This ban is a hassle for more than just the passengers. Airlines have been complaining about the lack of communication with Homeland Security, one of the government agencies that ordered the measure. Clampet explains that it was rolled out without warning, which stands in contrast with the liquid ban instituted in 2006, Clampet noted, which rolled out in a much more systematized fashion that involved training TSA agents before it went into effect. "The ban came in the middle of the day, there was no way for airlines to communicate about it ahead of time." Clampet explains. "The same thing happened in January with the travel ban. It just happened--no communication. The CEO of American Airlines came out and said government messed up. You never hear airlines talking about the government like that." 

Travel Tips

The 7 New Rules of Packing You Must Know

Can't find packing gear that suits your needs? Why not create it yourself, Shark Tank–style? OK, most of us don't have the time or expertise for that, but Hudson + Bleecker founder Eram Siddiqui took on the challenge so the rest of us don't have to. Siddiqui always had trouble finding the perfect travel accessories to safely pack all of her things, so she launched her own line that blends fashion with function: attractive garment bags, jewelry cases, toiletry bags, and more. Each bag has a waterproof lining so nothing inside or out gets ruined (translation: no more spills that destroy everything in your suitcase), and the exclusive patterned textiles are printed in-house. Hudson + Bleecker's accessories are a splurge (check out the sale section for deals!), but they make for awesome gifts—even if they're presents for yourself. The tips below, though? 100 percent free. And who better than a packing expert to tell us how to pack a suitcase? Below are Siddiqui's packing tips that'll streamline your next getaway like the sleek jet-setter you are. 1. FOR SHOES, FOLLOW THE RULE OF THREE.  Real talk if you're overzealous about your footwear, whether it's too many sneakers for your favorite sports or an over-the-door shoe caddy's worth of heels: “Three pairs of shoes is all you need. It's efficient, takes the guesswork out of what to pack and saves a lot of room in your luggage. Pack one pair for a night on the town, one comfortable pair (sandals or ballet flats for women) to give your feet a break, and a pair of sneakers or runners for a run or hike. You can conveniently fit three pairs in our travel shoe bags.” 2. PRE-PACK A BAG OF TSA-FRIENDLY TOILETRIES.  Collect a stash of 3.4-oz-or-less toiletries, and ensure it's permanently ready to roll through security. “I always have a toiletry bag pre-packed so that if I need to take off at a moment’s notice, all I need to do is grab a carry-on and pack my clothes and shoes, and I'm ready to go. If you're a frequent traveler, pre-packing your toiletries is a significant time-saver.” 3. BRING A PAPER COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT.  “As a rule, we all know it’s best to keep a copy of your passport at home or with a relative. However, with new laws and travel restrictions domestically, I carry my passport and a copy of my passport at all times, whether it’s a quick domestic flight or a long haul.”  4. SHIP THE HEAVY STUFF.  “We all love to shop and collect keepsakes when we travel. To avoid overpacking and paying exorbitant baggage fees, I ship my new treasures home whenever possible. Now that I am a new mom, I also purchase all of my little one's essentials on Amazon.com and ship them to our final destination. If you're staying in a hotel, it is very easy to coordinate with the hotel concierge to collect your packages upon check-in.” 5. TWO WORDS: PACKING CUBES.  “Trust me, the more organized and compartmentalized your luggage is, the more enjoyable your trip will be. Packing cubes have changed the way I pack and unpack. If you're traveling solo, use a packing cube to separate your apparel from your intimates. If you are traveling with children or family, pack one cube per traveler. I use our shoe bags to pack for my little one, as everything fits perfectly in one. This avoids having to dig through a never-ending pile of clothing, and I can literally unpack my bags in less than five minutes.” Need a cube? Siddiqui designed this stylish packing cube ($50), look for rugged sets from outdoor brands like REI ($30), or check out see-through mesh cubes like these from Target ($25). 6. DESIGNATE AN "ESSENTIALS" POCKET.  “Whenever and wherever, I try to travel with a carry-on only. So the front pocket of my luggage has everything I need to access quickly. A great hack is to pack a small pouch with chapstick, a small hand lotion, eyedrops, ibuprofen, and a small pair of socks, so if you need to refresh, you can grab what you need easily.” If you're envisioning your perfect "essentials" pouch now, try Siddiqui's multi-use pochettes ($19), or click through an extensive collection of travel-themed Everything Bags (from $12.50)—artists receive a percentage of the proceeds. 7. THROW IN A SWEATER OR WRAP-NO MATTER WHAT. Even if you're headed to a tropical paradise in the middle of the summer, play it safe and swaddle yourself. “Airplanes are always cold and so are hotel rooms, so I always pack at least one sweater or pashmina. You will inevitably use it during your travels or even when you arrive at your final destination. I like to pack either black, gray, or neutral colors, as those shades go with almost anything.”

Travel Tips

Travel ban sparks confusion, fear, and protest

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spoke for most American travelers when they issued a statement over the weekend critical of the new administration’s travel ban. “Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” Senators McCain and Graham wrote in response to the order, which bans entry to the United States for refugees and residents of seven predominantly Muslim countries (Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran). WORLDWIDE CHAOS & CONFUSION The executive order, issued on the evening of Friday January 27 with the stated intention of protecting the U.S. from terrorists, caught airlines, airports, and world travelers completely by surprise, perhaps none more than the legal visa-holders who boarded planes from the seven newly banned nations without knowing that detention and potential deportation awaited them upon arrival in the United States. Among those detained were Iraqis who have worked side-by-side with American troops to fight terrorists such as ISIS. While the U.S. has from time to time throughout its history established targeted immigration and travel bans, the present travel ban is unprecedented in its scope and in the sudden way in which it was implemented. Senators McCain and Graham noted, “We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.” This past weekend saw detentions, attempted deportations, growing protests across the U.S., and lawsuits in several states that led to a temporary stay on deportations. The first successful lawsuit against the executive order was brought in Brooklyn on Saturday evening by a group of that included the American Civil Liberties Union; Judge Ann Donnelly halted deportations due to “substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals” and the potential for violating the right to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution. A VIEW FROM THE FRONT LINES In just one example of the confusion and delays sparked by the travel ban, a member of our Budget Travel community, Ann Lien, witnessed the scene at New York City’s JFK AirTrain on Saturday night first-hand. Ticketed air travelers and protesters were barred from boarding the AirTrain to JFK airport by order of the Port Authority because growing crowds of protesters were gathering at the airport. Soon, the area around the turnstiles at the AirTrain itself resembled a sit-in protest (see Lien’s photograph, above). When word of the sit-in reached New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, he intervened, ordering that travelers and protesters alike be allowed entry to the AirTrain. Governor Cuomo noted, “The people of New York will have their voices heard,” and that phrase became the basis of the protesters’ chant as they enthusiastically informed the police of the governor’s decision. BUDGET TRAVEL READERS WEIGH IN As we began to understand how many members of the Budget Travel community were potentially affected by the travel ban, we asked our Facebook and Twitter audience: “Has the new travel ban affected your travel plans or your travel schedule?” Replies came pouring in from around the world, reflecting the diversity that makes our audience such a rich source of information and opinions. Here, a few representative examples: “Yes, it has. My husband is an immigrant and we now know it's not possible (probably ever) for us to bring my in-laws here to visit us on a tourism visa. And we won't be able to go visit them again, perhaps for several years.” “Hasn’t affected my plans, but it has affected my heart. Sad. Sad. Sad.” “I just came back from my second trip to the U.S. in six months and it will be my last for a very long time. Two full hours in line at immigration - as a paying tourist and after 16 hours traveling!” “Not at all! I’m just glad [the president] is trying to make our country safer.... It’s crazy enough already. If it’s a problem, stay where you are. It’s a privilege to enter our country, not a demand. When I enter other countries, I abide by their rules. If I don't like their rules... I stay home.” “I am concerned about going to any area targeted by these actions because it isn't a big leap to guess that those areas won't be as welcoming to Americans. Unfortunately, I am considering not going to certain areas because of it.” “Won't affect my desire to travel but in a recent conversation, while in Cartagena, Colombia, a Colombian questioned whether she'd be welcomed in the USA or detained. Broke my heart.” “The people affected most were by the protesters blocking people from getting to their flights. Maybe you should write about that.” “[It does not] affect my plans but I'm sad that not everyone has that liberty anymore.” “There have been bans like this in the past by previous presidents. This too shall pass.” “I'm a U.S. citizen traveling to Jordan in March. I shouldn't be affected, but (sigh) who knows!” KNOW YOUR RIGHTS If you have any concerns about your rights as a traveler to, from, and/or within the U.S., we recommend that you start with the American Civil Liberties Union’s publication What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police, Immigration Agents, or the FBI, and consider seeking legal advice from an immigration attorney before you book a flight.

Travel Tips

Interview: Badlands National Park’s rogue tweeter speaks

Fans of America’s national parks, including BudgetTravel.com editors and readers, have had a turbulent ride over the past few days, at least as far as their Twitter feeds are concerned. NPS’s account deactivated. On Saturday January 21, the day after the presidential inauguration, the National Park Service’s official Twitter account was deactivated after the account had tweeted images comparing this year’s inauguration crowds with the larger inauguration crowds from 2009. The NPS account is now back in action, but the NPS has encouraged social media managers to post only about public safety and park information and to avoid commenting on policy issues. As all this was going on, our Budget Travel social media audience voiced its support and affection for NPS Twitter feeds as sources for weather, road conditions, special events, and especially for the gorgeous photography. Badlands National Park goes rogue? On Tuesday January 24, the official Badlands National Park Twitter account seemed to be actively resisting the new NPS social media mandate. The park, a South Dakota favorite of Budget Travelers for its dramatic peaks, canyons, bison, and affordable local lodgings, appeared to post a series of tweets about climate science, including “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.” Although the tweets shared basic earth science that high schoolers across America understand, the posts were seen by many as a purposeful challenge to the new president, who has criticized climate science and played down the need for the reduction of carbon emissions. Some Twitter users celebrated the posts as acts of political resistance, while others noted sardonically that the employee responsible would likely soon be out of a job. As if following a boilerplate thriller screenplay, the climate-science tweets then disappeared from the Badlands National Park account, sparking head-scratching and censorship concerns. Badlands officials told the press that the tweets were the work of a former park employee who should not have had access to the account, and that the tweets were taken down voluntarily, not as the result of a government order. Meet the rogue tweeter. Things got even more interesting today with the debut of a Twitter account, @Badlands_NPS, which states that it is “unofficial” and has posted the climate-science tweets that were deleted from the official Badlands account. Curious, I reached out to the owner of the new Twitter handle,  who participated in an email interview with me on condition that the “rogue tweeter” remain anonymous. I honestly don’t know whether the person I interviewed is, in fact, the former employee blamed for the Badlands climate-science tweets. But I do know that the BudgetTravel.com audience is a well-educated, open-minded, and voraciously curious bunch who will be interested in learning more about this new Twitter star. Q: How has the work environment at Badlands changed since the new administration took office last Friday?A: "I can neither confirm nor deny that the person or persons behind this Twitter handle are currently employed by the government. I think that everyone all around the country is in limbo concerning the new administration. No one knows what Trump is going to do, or why he is going to do it. We know he wants to privatize a lot of Federal land, and we are hopeful that he doesn't plan on privatizing the National Park Service." Q: What was your motivation for starting this new Twitter handle?A: "One of our greatest national treasures is our environment, park system, and federally owned land that is available for use by the public. It would be a travesty to allow private companies to take possession of our birthright as Americans." Q: What do you think each and every national parks lover can or should do to protect public lands from privatization?A: "I think that everyone who values our public land and park system needs to get out and vote. Protesting is awesome, marching creates community and engenders hope, but in order to change the new status quo, we need to vote. Vote for candidates in local and state level elections that support the environment. Make sure that they believe in climate change and understand that global warming is real and dangerous. We need to work from the bottom up, and effectuate change on a local level before we can turn to the federal level in 2018." The opinions expressed by interview subjects on BudgetTravel.com are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of Budget Travel, its parent company, or affiliates.

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