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Travel News: Airlines Try New Boarding Rules, a Thanksgiving Feast Made Entirely of Ice Cream (Really!), and Eurail's Family-Friendly Holiday Experiences

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 12, 2022
Plane on tarmac ready to board
Hupeng/Dreamstime
There's a great big world out there, and our latest "news you can use" may inspire a trip you never knew you needed.

From the new rules of boarding at some major airlines to an incredible Thanksgiving feast (spoiler alert: it involves ice cream) to fabulous holiday experiences across Europe, this week's travel news is all about trying something new.

TWO AIRLINES TRY NEW BOARDING RULES

Airlines’ baggage fees aren’t the only thing getting a makeover. In an effort to improve the often-stressful boarding process, Alaska Airlines announced changes to its procedure in June and implemented new rules in mid-July; two months later, United followed suit, becoming the latest major carrier to revamp its approach. (Delta and American tweaked their boarding processes in early 2017.)

So what’s really different now? For starters, both Alaska and United have streamlined their boarding groups. After preboarding for those who require more time or special services, active members of the military, and first-class passengers, Alaska’s customers are called in four groups: million-milers and gold-status MVPs, regular MVPs and premium class, guests seated in the back half of the plane, and guests seated in the front half. United has downsized to two color-coded lanes: Group 1 (premiere platinum and gold members, Star Alliance gold, and those seated in premium cabins) queues up in the blue lane; group 2 (premier and Star Alliance silver, anyone who’s purchased Premier Access or Priority Boarding, and United cardholders) in the green lane; and after that, groups 3 through 5 (the rest of the plane, basically) line up in the green lane. In addition to the group changes, Alaska has redesigned its boarding passes to highlight each passenger’s boarding group and gate, and made its boarding timeline clear in hopes of eliminating confusion and gate-side congestion. For economy and basic-economy travelers, though, overhead bin space isat a premium, and there’s always a sense of urgency to be the first in line to claim it, so whether or not these modifications are effective remains to be seen.

A 5-COURSE ICE CREAM DINNER FOR THANKSGIVING

One of our favorite ice cream shops, Salt & Straw (saltandstraw.com), in Portland, OR, is offering a uniquely sweet idea for Thanksgiving: A five-course "dinner" that consists entirely of ice cream. The family-run shop renowned for its delightfully experimental flavors (as well as traditional favorites) will ship you ice creams in flavors that include salted caramel turkey, sweet potato casserole with maple pecans, and roasted peach and sage cornbread stuffing. (Their Thanksgiving-themed ice cream is also available up and down the West Coast in shops in Portland, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, San Diego, and Disneyland's Downtown Disney.) And Salt & Straw is spreading the love - for each pint purchased in November, they will donate a pint to a local organization working to feed the hungry.

EURAIL'S FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOLIDAY EXPERIENCES

Europe knows how to celebrate the holiday season, and Eurail (eurail.com) is offering deals and experiences that Budget Travelers will love - prices start around $50. The Santa Claus Express is a double-decker train that travels by night from Helsinki to Lapland, with a stop in Rovamiemi, the official residence of Santa Claus. The Chocolate Train takes travelers from Montreux to Luzern with a visit to a chocolate-making destination in Broc and a cheese factory in Gruyere. The Scandinavia Pass allows visitors to explore Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland for an array of holiday- and winter-themed activities including skiing, sledding, and skating.

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Travel News: Nebraska’s Controversial New Slogan, and a Cool Bag Exchange Deal

From the plains of Nebraska to a great new idea at the nexus of travel and style, this week’s news is decidedly quirky  NEBRASKA’S CONTROVERSIAL NEW SLOGAN Nobody has ever accused the people of Nebraska of lacking in sense of humor. They proved their quick wit in early October when the Nebraska Tourism Commission unveiled its new slogan: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” Knee-slaps, mild shock, and wonder ensued. It even caught the attention of comedian Stephen Colbert, who quipped on The Late Show: “Nebraska, are you OK? Seriously, it seems like you could use a vacation to ‘Not Nebraska.’” The new slogan features images like hikers leaping across a majestic rock terrain and the words “Famous for our flat, boring landscape.” Another one shows a group of happy, relaxed friends floating down a river in a metal barrel-looking vessel above the words “Lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here.” The campaign is the result of studies by MMGY Global, a travel marketing research firm that found that for the past four years, the Cornhusker state has come in last on Americans’ list of must-see states. For four years. So Nebraskans got to work. Daring and wit are nothing new in the world of global tourism marketing. Last year, a family research group created a map of the many amusing international tourism slogans. In a press release issued last week, the Tourism Commission confessed that the state “may not be on everyone’s bucket list of places to visit,” but noted that it should be but if you like experiences that are unpretentious and uncomplicated or if you enjoy escaping the big city life for moments of solitude in the open plains, creating your own fun or exploring the quirkiness the state has to offer, chances are, you will like it here.” Snarky? Maybe. But hilarious and attention-getting? Definitely. Indeed, over the last few years, cities like Omaha and Lincoln have gotten a jolt of energy, as young creative types who’ve been priced out of big urban centers relocate. Omaha’s rejuvenation dates back to the 1990s when the record label Saddle Creek was established to showcase the “Omaha sound.” It soon drew national recording artists from Brooklyn, then other hipsters and the restaurants, bars, and shops they founded followed in short order. Lincoln, largely as a result of the University of Nebraska’s big student population, is another vibrant city where graduates are happy to stay and start their careers instead of moving to a bigger city to live on a shoestring. And, of course, there are the enduring natural wonders, extensive hiking trails, and historic sites to round out any visit. Not that you care about any of that stuff.     A COOL BAG EXCHANGE DEAL If you’re like…well, anyone, you probably have a perfectly good bagsitting around your home that never sees the light of day. Timbuk2 is aware that it could probably be put to better use than a doorknob dressing. With that in mind, the zero-waste-focused San Francisco-based company known for its stylish, durable bags with all sorts of smart design features is launching its Break Up With Your Bag program nationwide today. The initiative was launched as a way to ensure the brand’s bags are refurbished for charity, not dumped into a landfill. In recent years, the company has renewed an astonishing 6000 bags annually. The idea couldn’t be simpler: customers turn in their used Timbuk2 bags for renewal in exchange for a discount on a new one. But this year the program is expanded so that you can donate any brand of a gently used, functional item and its partner, the Renewal Workshop, will refurbish it to be donated. In appreciation, you get a 20% discount on the purchase of a new bag. To find your nearest shop, go to timbuk2.com/BUWYB. If you don’t live near one of the stores, the company has local partners that are accepting drop-offs. Then shop for a new bag. It’ll carry a whole new meaning.

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Travel News: Climate Change Is Drowning Venice, Columbus Celebrates Somali Culture, and the Adirondacks Throw a Holiday Party

From disaster in one of our favorite European cities to a unique cultural celebration in the Midwest and holiday festivities in the mountains of upstate New York, this week’s travel news reminds us to cherish our communities around the globe. CLIMATE CHANGE IS DROWNING VENICE More than 70 percent of Venice is currently flooded due to heavy rains, winds, and rising tides. Weather researchers from UNESCO, U.S. Climate Action Network, and other organizations note that global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions is contributing to the melting of polar ice caps and the rising sea levels that threaten the unique Italian City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and other low-lying coastal regions around the world. The current flooding in Venice is one of the top five worst instances of high water since the 1930s. A recent study by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions to 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 to avoid climate disasters such as catastrophic storms, flooding, and droughts due to warming and rising sea levels. COLUMBUS CELEBRATES SOMALI CULTURE With foreign-born residents comprising 9.3 percent of its population, Columbus, Ohio, is a surprisingly diverse heartland city, and its heterogeneity is evident in its embrace of refugees and immigrants of all stripes. Perhaps most notably, the state capital is home to some 60,000 Somali expats, the second-largest concentration of its kind in the country, and the ethnic group will be in the spotlight when the Columbus Somali Culture Festival ($15) kicks off on Nov. 17. Hosted by Our Helpers (ourhelpers.org), a local nonprofit that helps immigrants adjust to life in a new country, the second-annual event will feature a range of activities, from a fashion show and traditional dances to performances by renowned Somali singers, plus an array of vendors showcasing the regional cuisine’s diverse traditions and influences. THE ADIRONDACKS THROW A HOLIDAY PARTY Lake Placid, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains, is an utterly charming alpine village with a better-than-average shot at seeing snowfall in early December, Just in time for the 10th annual Holiday Village Stroll, Friday, Dec. 7 through Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. Learn more at lakeplacid.com/holidays, and consider some of these fun activities in the Empire State’s north country: Free skating party at the Lake Placid Olympic CenterSanta’s arrival by fire truck on Main StreetBreakfast with SantaFree holiday movies in an old-fashioned movie theatreTraditional Yule Log HuntMid’s Park Holiday Celebration with tree lighting and special performance with the Lake Placid school chorusSleigh rides around Mirror LakeCookie decorating, holiday card making, and gingerbread house making workshops“Golden Ladle” soup, chili, and chowder competition with complimentary tastings for allLocal beer tastingsLive bands all weekend at select restaurants

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Travel News: World’s 100 Best Bars, Kayak’s Holiday Travel Hacker Guide, and the New Longest Flight on Earth

From raising a glass in the very finest establishments in London, New York, and beyond to nabbing holiday travel bargains (yes, now!) thanks to Kayak, this week’s travel news is all about inspiring and empowering you to plan your next great getaway. WORLD’S 100 BEST BARS Chefs and restaurateurs have the James Beard Awards and Michelin Stars to acknowledge their superiority, and bartenders and bar operators have World’s 50 Best Bars, which, curiously, is really 100 best bars. Sort of. The 51 to 100 list is looked at as something of a runners-up category—honorable mentions. They were announced in mid-September and the 50 best were announced in London on October 3. The top prize went to Dandelyan, a London bar with inventive, whimsical drinks, but in a sad twist, just days before the awards, the bar announced it will be closing in the coming months. In the 51-100 list, 28 cities in 19 countries were represented, with the U.S. leading the pack with 12 bars, seven of which are located in New York City, and 13 in Asia. The New York spots include the compact amaro-focused Amor y Amargo, Brooklyn’s French-accented Maison Premiere, where absinthe drinks abound, and the Latin-tinged Leyenda, also in Brooklyn. The Aviary outpost in Chicago and NYC, both part of uber-chef Grant Achatz’s empire, each got a nod, as did the vibrant Anvil in Houston and the laidback, hip, classics-focused ABV in San Francisco.For the World’s 50 Best Bars, the U.S. and U.K. had the biggest showing, with 10 bars each. The handsome, sophisticated yet funky NoMad, in the NoMad Hotel in New York’s SoHo, was the highest ranking American bar. It’s the third year it received a spot on the top ten. It’s followed by Dante, a relatively new bar situated in a landmark restaurant space and focused on creative aperitif drinks, clocked in at number 9, and Attaboy, a speakeasy-style bar, followed at number 15. The list is determined by votes from 510 drinks experts, including bartenders, writers, and other aficionados.  KAYAK’S HOLIDAY TRAVEL HACKER GUIDE If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’ll be hitting the road, rails, or skies during the winter holidays, it’s time to start planning. In need of a little inspiration? Booking platform Kayak recently released its 2018 Holiday Travel Hacker Guide, naming the lowest airfares to popular North American destinations from mid-November to early January, and travelers have plenty of affordable options, from familiar heavy hitters like New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas to surprisingly budget-friendly cities like Orlando. (Yes, Disney World is a madhouse between Christmas and New Year’s, but there’s more to this Florida theme-park mecca than mouse ears and Magic Kingdoms.) For something more low-key, head south to Atlanta, Charleston, or Nashville for a slower-paced, warm-weather holiday, or look to our neighbors to the north—Toronto and Vancouver, specifically—for a more traditional, snow-filled experience. Looking to ring in the New Year with sand and sun? You’re in luck: The Caribbean is calling, with cheap flights to the Bahamas, Jamaica, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Aruba.Overall, you’ll find the best deals if you’re willing to fly on the holiday itself, but if you prefer to wake up in your destination on Christmas morning or New Year’s Eve, traveling the day before may be your best option. For domestic New Year’s travel, booking six weeks out should get you the best fares, and for December travel, booking about four weeks out seems to be the sweet spot. You’ll want to keep an eye on those prices, though: We recommend setting up alerts with fare-watch services like Skyscanner, Google Flights, Hopper, and, of course, Kayak, to cover your bases. THE NEW LONGEST FLIGHT ON EARTH For those of us who consider a five- or six-hour transatlantic or transcontinental flight a little tedious, consider this: 19 hours from Singapore to Newark, NJ. That will be the new world record for the longest flight when Singapore Airlines launches the new flights on October 11. (The previous record holder was from Perth, Australia, to London, at around 17.5 hours.) If Singapore is on your bucket list, the flights will depart three times per week and you’ll fly in the new Airbus A350-900 ULR.

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Travel News: Safest Neighborhoods for LGBTQ Travelers, TSA PreCheck May Get Faster, Yellowstone-Area Grizzlies Are Protected From Hunters

From some of the coolest urban neighborhoods in the world to the wildest regions of the American west - not to mention the ever-exciting world of airport security - this week’s travel news is all about ensuring a rewarding experience for everyone. SAFEST NEIGHBORHOODS FOR LGBTQ TRAVELERS Although we’re not hand-wringing worrywarts when it comes to safety, we are strong advocates for travelers who may be at increased risk for discrimination or harm on the road. We welcome GeoSure’s new LGBTQ Safety ratings category on its award-winning travel-safety smartphone app (geosureglobal.com). The app now rates the “likelihood of harm or discrimination against LGBTQ persons or groups and level of caution required at location.” Among the safest neighborhoods for LGBTQ travelers: Amsterdam’s Centrum neighborhoodThe Castro District in San FranciscoBerlin’s SchönebergneighborhoodBarcelona’s Eixample neighborhoodTel Aviv’s City Center / Florentin neighborhoodMichael Becker, CEO of GeoSure, says “Whether traveling for business, leisure or study abroad, our singular focus is providing the most rapid safety awareness, granular to the neighborhood level, to help people have the smoothest trip experience possible.” TSA PRECHECK MAY GET FASTER If you’re the type of traveler who simply can’t get through airport security fast enough, Congress recently put aside its trademark partisan bickering to approve a bill that may help. The “PreCheck Is PreCheck Act of 2018” (yes, that’s the bill’s actual name, because apparently someone believes our attention spans can no longer accommodate further nuance or detail) aims to ensure that only TSA PreCheck members and their traveling companions younger than 12 and older than 75 are allowed to use the PreCheck line. If the Senate passes the bill and it is signed into law, will it make airport security more efficient? We’re guessing it may, but only for PreCheck members, who, after all, have ponied up the $85 fee and undergone a background check for the privilege of breezing through security). But by curtailing the common practice of allowing TSA agents to direct non-PreCheck members to PreCheck lines during periods of high congestion (and we know how some of you don’t care for that practice), the law could very well create more overall problems than it solves. YELLOWSTONE-AREA GRIZZLIES ARE PROTECTED FROM HUNTERS For those of us who love Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the hunting of grizzly bears in Idaho and Wyoming was concerning. We applaud the ruling by a U.S. District Judge to restore protection under the Endangered Soecies Act, noting that opening up the region to grizzly hunting (known as de-listing) fails to take into account the impact on the species throughout the lower 48 states.