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Travel News: Don’t Drink In-Flight Coffee, New High-Speed Trains May Be Coming to the U.S., and REI Expands Its Rental Program

By The Budget Travel Editors
December 27, 2018
A view of a flight attending pouring coffee from a cart.
Robert Paul Van Beets/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 breaking health news about the quality of airline coffee (and drinking water in general) to a potential breakthrough in American train travel, plus great news for outdoors enthusiasts (and we count ourselves among them) about REI’s gear rentals, this week’s travel news is all about being the smartest traveler in 2019 and beyond.

DON’T DRINK IN-FLIGHT COFFEE!

The next time a flight attendant comes through the cabin offering coffee or tea, you might want to opt for tomato juice or beer instead. A study released in November by Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center warns “it’s probably best to avoid drinking water from the tap on a plane, which also means staying away from coffee and tea.” Right now, airlines operate under the 2009 Airline Drinking Water Rule, which is regulated by the EPA, FDA, and FAA and requires disinfection and flushing one to four times a year. But even with maintenance of the aircraft system, other factors can contribute to contamination, like trucks, carts, hoses and other equipment used to transfer water at airports.

“You would think they’d be emptied and cleaned at least once a day,” Dr. Charles Platkin, executive director of the Food Policy Center, wrote in the study, referring to that transport equipment. “But this is not so. So water is just sitting for long periods of time in what appear to be not-so-clean tanks.”

It’s logical to think that because coffee and tea are made with hot water, the heat would kill any contaminants. Not so fast. According to the New York State Department of Health, boiling typically causes pasteurization, not sterilization, which would kill all present organisms. Moreover, tea and coffee on flights isn’t typically made with water that reaches boiling point and even if it was, it wouldn’t boil for long enough to have the desired effect. Happily, there haven’t been any reports of illness, but in the meantime, prevention is the best cure, so grab a bottle of iced coffee once you’re close to your gate. Just make sure to you wash your hands before you board. Those security bins are a veritable petri dish of germs.

NEW HIGH-SPEED TRAINS MAY BE COMING TO THE U.S.

The East Coast has Amtrak’s Acela express service, and next year, if Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has his way, Florida and southern California will have something similar. In November, the brand announced a strategic partnership with a private railroad called Brightline, which has been operating high-speed trains between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach since May. In early 2019, Brightline will rebrand as Virgin Trains USA and look to ring in the new year with expanded service: Routes to Orlando and Tampa are in the works, and construction will begin on a new line connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas, approvals permitting. If all goes according to plan, a trip from Miami to Orlando could take just a few stress-free hours, and the travelers who make some 50 million trips between Vegas and Southern California each year will have an alternative to a pricey flight or a traffic-filled drive. The takeaway? An escape from L.A. may soon be easier than ever, and leaving Las Vegas looks like it’s going to be a piece of cake, too.

REI EXPANDS ITS RENTAL PROGRAM

One of the most common new year’s resolutions is getting in shape and being more active. It appears that REI, the Seattle-based purveyor of activewear and outdoor gear, wants to make it easier for America to fulfill that commitment. Just in time for the new year, the company, recognized as the country’s largest consumer co-op, announced that they’re expanding their popular rental program, adding snowshoes to their inventory of rental gear at 70 of their 154 stores (rei.com/stores/rentals). Yes, you read that right. The popular store operates a large and growing rental program. (You don’t have to be a co-op member to rent equipment, but you do receive a discount if you are.) And the company, aware that price and storage space can get in the way of taking up outdoor activities, works to make it easier to get outside. So whether you’re looking to dabble in a new sport without committing to buying equipment or you’re a seasoned outdoorsperson nearly ready to make a purchase but want to take advantage of the try-before-you-buy opportunity, they’ve got you covered.cBut it gets even better: at the end of each season, gently used rental equipment is sold through REI's used gear program (rei.com/used).

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Travel News: Hotel Deals for Early 2019, Most Popular U.S. Destinations, and Philly’s Upcoming Museum Shows

From great hotel savings for Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day weekends to the top U.S. destinations for 2019 and great new art exhibits headed to Philadelphia, this week’s travel news is all about looking forward to the year ahead. HOTEL DEALS FOR EARLY 2019 If you’re considering a post-holiday getaway in early 2019, the data-crunching wizards at Google have some tips on the best hotel savings. (Fair warning; You may be about to book a bargain room.) For Martin Luther King Jr. weekend (January 19, 20, and 21), the biggest hotel savings are in Tulum, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, with savings up to 31 percent. Closer to home, Asheville, C, offers savings up to 30 percent, Jackson, WY, up to 29 percent, and New York City up to 24 percent. For Presidents Day weekend (February 16, 17, and 18), the biggest hotel savings are in Honolulu, HI, with saving up to 22 percent. MOST POPULAR U.S. DESTINATIONS Travel Leaders Group has released its latest consumer travel trends survey and we are always fascinated too see how U.S. destinations rank among people who say they plan to travel in the coming year (which 9) percent of participants reported). Here, the top 10 U.S. destinations: HawaiiAlaska California FloridaLouisianaColoradoNew YorkArizonaMontanaWashington D.C. PHILLY’S UPCOMING MUSEUM SHOWS Philadelphia has a long history of artistic innovation. In 2019, the city will celebrate its artistic legacy perhaps like never before, with a wide array of impressive art exhibits. Major museum shows include the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s The Impressionist’s Eye. The Barnes Foundation show devoted to contemporary video artist Bill Viola, and the Brandywine River Museum’s New Perspectives, presenting the varied work of N.C. Wyeth.

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Travel News: 10 Most Googled Destinations of 2018

Although we’re way more interested in looking ahead to 2019 than in looking back at the year that’s ending, Google’s annual Year in Search report always helps inspire some vacation planning, whether it’s vicarious or OMG-I-gotta-start-today. This year, Google’s Year in Search 2018 is delivering an especially useful list of the top search terms among Americans who googled (nerd alert: the verb “to google” is lowercase) “trip to…” in 2018. Here, a mix of tried-and-true destinations and some surprises you may want to add to your 2019 travel plans. 1. ITALY More than 400 million annual visitors would agree that it’s no surprise that Italy tops the list of 2018 “trips to…” search terms. What can we say about Italy that you don’t already know? The superb, seemingly effortlessly fresh food? Works of art that cause some visitors literally to swoon? Well, maybe you haven’t yet visited one of the charming and affordable small towns of Tuscany. (And if you haven’t, maybe 2019 is the year to do so.) 2. PARIS If visitors from another planet landed in Western Europe today, even they would know to make a pitstop in Paris for the world’s biggest art museum (the Louvre), charming boulevards and public parks, and the iconic Eiffel Tower. But over the years, we’ve also covered some Paris secrets every traveler should learn. 3. ICELAND It may surprise some travelers that this little island in the north Atlantic ranks so highly, but reasonable airfares (including a free stopover on your way to Europe on Iceland Air), friendly locals, and incredible natural beauty have made it one of the most popular spots on the planet in recent years. 4. BAHAMAS Easy, affordable flights from the U.S., a popular cruise port in Nassau, and, of course, lovely beaches, great local menu items such as fresh pulled-from-the-sea conch, and reasonably priced hotels make Bahamas another annual favorite. 5. IRELAND Ireland is another relatively small country with a huge following among American travelers, due in part to the fact that so many Americans (including former president Obama and vice president Biden) can trace some roots to the Emerald Isle. Vibrant, engaging streetlife in Dublin keeps us coming back too. 6. LAS VEGAS Vegas. Everybody know what happens in Vegas. 7. BORA BORA Of course this gorgeous, warm, romantic South Pacific getaway, complete with overwater bungalows, is alluring. But considering how far away it is, we were pleasantly surprised to see it turn up in the top 10. If you're dreaming of a South Pacific island getaway from the U.S., you'll find convenience and savings by booking with an experienced package tour company such as Goway that includes airfare and lodging. 8. NEW YORK Budget Travel’s editorial offices are in New York City. Of course we’re opinionated and biased. This is, after all, New York, home to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 27-time world champion New York Yankees, the New York Botanical Garden, Central Park, Times Square, Broadway plays and musicals, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts... you get the picture. If you haven’t visited NYC yet, what are you waiting for? 9. NEW ORLEANS 2018 was NOLA’s 300th anniversary, and that may have inspired more searches than ever. But, honestly, with authentic jazz, history, imaginative cocktails, and world-class cuisine that melds African American, Caribbean, French, and European traditions, New Orleans is always a good idea. 10. SPAIN From bustling cities like Madrid and Barcelona to lesser known national parks, beaches, and the incredibly imaginative food scene that may inspire you to pass small plates among friends into the wee hours, Spain continues to inspire wanderlust among American travelers.

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Travel News: Renting a Car Just Got a Lot Easier, Nab a Deal at Orlando’s New Margaritaville Resort, and Voyager 2 May Be the Ultimate Traveler

From a streamlined new rental car program from Hertz to a brand-new Orlando resort tailor-made for Jimmy Buffett fans to the outer reaches of our solar system, this week’s travel news is about boldly going where no one has gone before. RENTING A CAR JUST GOT A LOT EASIER We don’t need to enumerate the various hassles associated with renting a car, right? But a new program from Hertz may help to sweep away some of the impediments to getting behind the wheel and leaving the lot as efficiently as possible. Hertz Fast Lane powered by CLEAR aims to speed up the rental process. In fact, the new service aims to move travelers through that exit gate in 30 seconds or less. How? Enrolling in CLEAR allows users to link their accounts to Hertz so that, thanks to biometrics, they can verify their identity and reservation information with (we’re not kidding) a look or a tap of the finger. It’s all very Blade Runner to some of us, but apparently the future is here. NAB A DEAL AT ORLANDO’S NEW MARGARITAVILLE RESORT If you’re still puzzling over our use of the word biometrics in the last item, that may be a sign that it’s time to chill. And the new Margaritaville Resort in Orlando is a good place to do just that. Mind you, we’re not opposed to resorts that aren’t inspired by Jimmy Buffett songs, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Guests booking a 2019 stay at the Orlando resort can nab one free night when they book three or more consecutive nights between January 15 and March 31 (and, yeah, that’s pretty much the time of year you need a warm island-inspired trip). Guests can expect island-themed decor, a lagoon pool, four restaurants, gorgeous sunset views, and, of course, plenty of those eponymous frozen concoctions. VOYAGER 2 MAY BE THE ULTIMATE TRAVELER The spacecraft Voyager 2 was launched in 1977, when Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was a brand-new album and Jimmy Carter was a brand-new president, with the mission of exploring our solar system and sending back all sorts of new data about the nature of the asteroid belt, planets, and beyond. Now, with much of its gear still functioning -- including tools measuring cosmic rays, charged particles, and magnetism -- Voyager 2 has reached that “beyond” and left the solar system, entering what James Joyce called “the cold of interstellar space.” We want to salute this ultimate traveler, which has ventured 11 billion miles and followed its fellow spacecraft, Voyager 1, into truly uncharted territory.

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Travel News: 500 Million Hotel Guests Hacked, Sleepbox Comes to Dulles, and Europe's Most Instagrammed Christmas Markets

From one of the biggest hacks of customer data in U.S. history at Marriott to a convenient (if somewhat bare-bones) way of catching some sleep at the airport to the delights of Europe’s holiday markets, this week’s travel news is all about surprises (the bad and the good, that is). 500 MILLION HOTEL GUESTS HACKED “Were you hacked?” may become one of the most commonly asked questions amont travel enthusiasts over the next few weeks. Marriott announced last week that around 500 million guests of Starwood hotels (owned by Marriott) had their personal data - including credit card, passport, dates of birth, and other information that could put them at risk of identity theft - potentially exposed due to a massive breach dating back to 2014. That’s right: If you stayed at one of Starwood’s properties, which include Sheraton, St. Regis and Westin, over the past four years, your data may very well have been compromised. Your first step? Visit the special website Marriott has set up for customers at answers.kroll.com, or call 877-273-9481. In addition, we always recommend common-sense steps such as changing passwords on your accounts, limiting the online availability of account numbers and personal information, being vigilant when logging into WiFi anywhere other than home or work, and using a dedicated credit card for online transactions. SLEEPBOX COMES TO WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT If your travel plans will bring you to Washington, D.C., you may want to catch some shuteye at the Sleepbox Lounge on Concourse A, which USA Today reports is scheduled to open in time for Christmas and New Year’s fliers. If the word Sleepbox sounds a little too tight for comfort, you’ll be relieved to learn that the micro hotel rooms are eight feet tall, 30 square feet total, soundproof, and boasting memory foam beds. Rooms can be rented by the hour or overnight, with the timing of the stay up to the guest. Sleepbox may take the sting out of long layovers for sleepy travelers. EUROPE’S MOST INSTAGRAMMED CHRISTMAS MARKETS Our friends at On the Go Tours (onthegotours.com) have done it again, crunching the numbers on the most popular Christmas markets in Europe via Instagram. Sure, you know that some of the most charming, scenic, and historic holiday shopping takes place at Europe’s legendary markets. But were guessing you didn’t know that Manchester Christmas Market, in the U.K., clocks in at number one, with 31,059 #manchesterchristmasmarkets hashtags. Manchester has a solid lead, with its nearest competitor, Edinburgh Christmas Market coming in with 18,888 hashtags, Bath in third place with 16,985, and Striezelmarket, in Dresden, in fourth place with 13,868.

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