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5 New Rules to Guarantee a Great Trip

By Robin Honig
April 18, 2018
Palm Tree chairs beach
Maciej Czekajewski/Dreamstime
We're offering easy, foolproof strategies that will make your trip happier, healthier, and more rewarding.

What does the vacation of your dreams look like?

Are the skies are impossibly blue, beaches powdery and pristine, the kids perfectly behaved, and there never are any crowds? Me too.

But as much as you hope for that Instagram-worthy trip, sometimes it rains. Or the airline loses the bag you’d packed with the only swimsuit that fits just right. Or tickets to the Eiffel Tower means a two hour wait, baking in the Paris summer heat. Now and again, the stars do align, granting you a bliss-filled, picture-postcard week away. But the truth is, a great vacation takes a little work. With a little planning, some flexibility and a dash of creativity, you can have a fantastic vacation anytime, anywhere. Here’s how.

1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS

Hopping on an open-top, double-decker tour bus is a great (and fast!) way to see the sites, but you’ll likely miss out on those cool nooks and crannies only a native will know about. Make new friends instantly with a good travel social app. Vayable will hook you up with locals who lead insider excursions from restaurant and pub crawls to neighborhood exploring, photo-walks, and even running tours. Some extra friendly folks will even join you for a meal. The Like a Local app offers in-the-know travel tips, tours and listings of things to do curated by locals in close to 4,000 cities around the world. Bonus: skip the long lines and book tickets directly from the app.

2.  DOWNLOAD A PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Love to travel but hate all of the planning? Let your phone help lead the way. Apps such as Field Trip and Time To Enjoy use the GPS on your smartphone to automatically suggest cool activities and places to visit right as you are walking around. Tell it your faves (Gothic architecture! Ethopian food! Fusion jazz!) and it will customize its recommendations. Activities can also be synched up to your phone’s calendar so that you don’t accidentally double-book a Broadway matinee and lunch reservations at that cute little French place. Detour delivers expert narration for great self-guided walking tours.

3. THEN PUT YOUR SMARTPHONE AWAY

Sure, it’s tempting to take a selfie at the edge of the Grand Canyon (pro tip: don’t) or to Instagram your latte art at that impossibly adorable Venetian café. Who doesn’t want a Facebook page filled with bucket-list pix? But while you’re busy capturing yourself at just the right angle, you’re also missing out on the experience of, you know, actually being at the Grand Canyon. Yes, some of the apps recommended above will help you get the most out of your trip, but at the same time, multiple studies suggest that we are spending way too much time on our phones, whether it’s texting or posting to social media, and we’re ignoring the world around us. So you really want to enjoy your vacation, and all of the sites, sounds and smells? Stash away your phone for at least a few hours a day.

4. TAKE A CLASS

One summer a few years ago, it poured every day during my weeklong Cape Cod vacation. After a few days of drowning my disappointment in the hotel’s indoor pool, I wandered into town and found a little art shop that was holding daily scrapbooking classes. A closet crafter, I was thrilled to find something creative to pass away the stormy days. Plus I met a bunch of regulars who gave me lots of good local tips (the pub down the street waters down the drinks, the pancake place serves to-die-for crepes). Explore a new interest or keep up with one you’ve already mastered (Crossfit to burn off those crepes, anyone?). Dabble can help you find local classes in everything including food and art, business and technology, fitness and even education. Plus there are volunteer opportunities to make your soul feel good.

5. BE SPONTANEOUS

My husband and I like to leave at least two vacation days completely unbooked. That means no hotel reservations, no plans and no apps to help us out. The first time was admittedly nerve-wracking. What if we couldn’t find a decent place to stay? With some faith and a full tank of gas, we went off-script and explored the tiny towns we’d otherwise drive right by. The results? A cozy night outside of Taos, New Mexico, in a palapa with a hand-carved four poster bed, a wood-burning adobe stove and a complimentary bottle of tequila left on the nightstand. Sometimes the best plans are the ones you don’t make at all.

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Travel Tips

Nab These Great 2018 Deals Now!

As our name suggests, Budget Travel is all about empowering our audience to get out there and see more for less. We spend a good deal of our time (and have a lot of fun) researching bargain trips, great hotel rates, and airfare-booking secrets. So we’re psyched to report that the U.S. Travel Association is launching Daily Getaways 2018 (dailygetaways.ustravel.org) on Monday, April 9, offering some of the year’s best deals for up to 60 percent off, just in time for the summer high season. LOYALTY POINTS FOR SALE Are you one of the 72 percent of Americans who crave an easier, more affordable way to redeem loyalty points to book travel? The U.S. Travel Association found that nearly three in four travelers face that challenge, and this year’s Daily Getaways is making it easier than ever to capitalize on rewards programs, with top travel companies offering deeply discounted loyalty points for sale. A few examples of loyalty points for sale include Choice Privileges, IHG Rewards Club, Hilton Honors, and more. DAILY DEALS From April 9 through May 9, new, limited-quantity deals will go live at 1pm Eastern each day. Deals include the loyalty points sale mentioned above as well as coupons for car rentals, tickets to popular attractions, deals on hotel stays, and more. Spoiler alert: The very first deal, on April 9, is a discounted Universal Express Ticket including admission, for $139, and there will be only 250 on sale. BROWSE THE DEALS IN ADVANCE Our favorite part of Daily Getaways is that you can start browsing the month of deals now to see what’s on the horizon and mark your calendars (paper or virtual) and sign up for daily notifications to make sure you don’t miss out. In addition to the Universal deal mentioned above, others we may mark our calendars for include: A one-day car rental from Avis for $30 (April 13), a four-night stay at Excalibur Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for $475 (April 18), and a two-night escape at Omni Hotels & Resorts for $245 (April 20).

Travel Tips

Skip the Lines at Popular Attractions

There are some travel destinations that are so wonderful, you come home with only one complaint: The lines were too long. After visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland last summer, and then reveling in my hometown NYC’s holiday window displays and museum mega-shows, I have become super-eager to learn how I can skip the lines at popular attractions without breaking the bank. As luck would have it, TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travel Trends Report (tripadvisor.com) includes a list of the most booked tours under $150, and many of the top tours on the list are, you guessed it, skip-the-line deals. Here, some of the most popular affordable travel experiences as ranked by TripAdvisor. SKIP THE LINES IN ROME “Holy wait time!” is surely an often-heard quip for people stuck in line to see the stunning art collections and sacred spaces at Vatican City, in Rome. TripAdvisor found that the no. 1 most-booked travel experience under $150 was City Wonders’ Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica (citywonders.com, under $80). City Wonders brings small groups (20 and under) led by expert guides to the Vatican 30 minutes before other tours and 90 minutes before the general public enters. The attractions you can expect to see without crowds include the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the “Last Judgment,” both by Michelangelo, the stunning interior of St. Peter’s, designed by Michelangelo, and that over-achiever’s sculpture “Pieta.” Not only did City Wonders’ Vatican tour top TripAdvisor’s list, but the company’s Skip the Line: Colosseum & Ancient Rome Small Group Tour with Forum & Palatine Hill was ranked third. SKIP THE LINES IN BARCELONA Priority Access: Barcelona Sagrada Familia Tour is another skip-the-line experience that ranked well on TripAdvisor’s survey, coming in at no. 5. The famously gorgeous and crowded cathedral, with its unique fairytale spires and surreal look, is even more enjoyable when you visit using the early-access option for under $50. SKIP THE LINES IN PARIS Eiffel Tower Summit: Priority Access With Host offers a skip-the-line one-hour guided tour for under $80, bringing what is perhaps the most iconic of travel icons up close for a relatively reasonable price. OTHER TOP TRAVEL EXPERIENCES UNDER $150 TripAdvisor’s top 10 travel experiences under $150 also included some experiences that don’t involve skipping any lines but are nonetheless must-dos for anyone keeping a bucket list. The top domestic U.S. experiences were a Chicago Architecture River Cruise and tickets to the observation decks at New York’s Empire State Building. And other top experiences were decidedly Euro-centric, including a Rome Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour; Warner Bros Studio: The Making of Harry Potter With Luxury Round-Trip Transport From London; Murano, Burano, and Torcello Half-day Sightseeing Tour (Venice): and a Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour.

Travel Tips

How to Get a Good Sleep on a Plane

Remember how well you slept on your last flight? How the hours in the air just melted away in a haze of happy dreams, and how you woke up refreshed and ready for your vacation? Neither do we. But we do have great advice on how to make your next flight the most restful ever. Our authority is Roy Raymann, PhD, the resident sleep expert at SleepScore Labs (sleepscore.com) and former “sleep czar” for Apple, where he helped developed NightShift and Bedtime. Here, Raymann’s easy steps to grabbing maximum shuteye at 30,000 feet. 1. BOOK A WINDOW SEAT While the window is prized by travelers who want to watch takeoff and landing and spot landmarks like mountain ranges and lakes down below, Raymann says the window seat also has an advantage for those who want to sleep: Lean against the window, and enjoy the relative peace and quiet of not being disturbed by seatmates who have to visit the plane’s restroom. 2. GET COMFORTABLE Raymann recommends that you wear comfortable clothing (including sleep socks), pack a neck pillow, use the airplane blanket (or pack your own). The more your airplane seat feels like a comfy home away from home, the greater the chance you’ll stay asleep and wake up refreshed. 3. SHUT OUT NOISE Most of us need quiet to sleep properly. Raymann recommends that you use earplugs to dampen the noises of the plane’s engines, flight crew, and fellow passengers. Or employe noise-cancellation headphones and listen to something relaxing, such as nature sounds or gentle music. 4. EMBRACE DARKNESS People sleep better in the dark. Pack a sleep mask to help you create your own personal darkness and to discourage you from opening your eyes. 5. EAT & DRINK IN MODERATION While it’s not a good idea to try to sleep on an empty stomach, it’s also a mistake to eat large portions or fatty or spicy meals. Opt for light, healthy snacks, such as nuts. And while drinking wine, beer, or spirits may help you fall asleep, remember that it will likely make it more difficult for you to actually stay asleep. 6. RECLINE & STRETCH Use what legroom you have to stretch your legs and recline your seat (remember to do so politely). Raymann recommends straightening your legs, bent slightly at the knees in order to fall asleep more easily, and leaning back tells your brain that you want to rest or sleep. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE WAYS TO GET A GOOD SLEEP ON A PLANE? We want to know what sleep tips work for you. Post a comment, email us at info@BudgetTravel.com, or follow us on social media to join the conversation.

Travel Tips

Spring Travel Tips From Our Twitter Chat

When Budget Travel hosts a Twitter Chat (@BudgetTravel, #BT_Chat), it’s basically like a cool party packed with expert travelers, travel professionals, and those friends you can always count on for a great under-the-radar getaway suggestion. Our Spring Travel chat earlier this week yielded far too many excellent suggestions for us to republish here, but we’ve picked some of our favorites, organized according to the questions we posted on Twitter. If you like what you see, check out Budget Travel on Twitter (@BudgetTravel) and join our next #BT_Chat, in early April. 1. Tell us about your favorite Spring Travel destination “We love beach towns that start warming up in spring, including Myrtle Beach, SC, for great food (including Gordo’s Tacos), watersports, and more.” @BudgetTravel “National parks across the south are open, warm, and less crowded in spring: Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, and some portions of Grand Canyon are ready for visitors.” @BudgetTravel “Recharge this spring with an outing to Connecticut’s awe-inspiring waterfalls” @CTvisit “We've got some great recommendations when it comes to #springbreak destinations for families.” @ChoiceHotels “Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination in the spring! Explore dreamy forests, surf without huge crowds, & taste wine amidst blooming flowers.” @visitsantacruz “Hitting the slopes in Park City, Utah is the Perfect Spring Getaway!” @HamptonByHilton “Take a road trip! It means you don't have to spend money on a plane ticket, and you get to experience way more of the life and culture of the countryside. There are beautiful places within a days drive of pretty much everywhere!” @LBonPlanetEarth “Spring is a great time to visit Cannery Row [in Monterey, CA] before the summer travel season. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an outdoor adventure on the waterfront, you’ll find plenty of options to make for an unforgettable vacation.” @VisitCanneryRow 2. What are your favorite spring activities? Gardens? Parks? Beaches? Historical sites? All of the above? “Spring is the only time of year when you can take a maple syrup road trip to see tapped trees and visit a ‘sugarhouse’ where maple sap gets turned into syrup and sugar. @BudgetTravel “We can’t get enough of the gorgeous gardens in bloom across America and beyond.” @BudgetTravel “Spring activities are in abundance in North Dakota! Hike bike or ride through the beautiful badlands, kayak the waterways or explore many museums and historic sites. You're certain to find something #NDLegendary!” @NorthDakota “There's simply no better way to take in the fresh air than a budget-friendly outing to Connecticut’s hiking trails.” @CTvisit “I <3 hiking the forests of @MyHockingHills in spring for gorgeous wildflowers and foraging for ramps, morels & fiddleheads. #SpringTravel means waterfalls are rushing too, thanks to rains.” @AmyMWeirick “Spring in the 49th state doesn’t mean the winter fun stops! Our favorite spring activities include dog mushing, skiing + fat tire biking.” @alaskatravlnews “Going to shows at @thestonepony [in Asbury Park, NJ], sunset cocktails at @theasburyhotel rooftop, taking a stroll through #DannyClinch’s Transparent gallery to check out new prints, annnnnnd the beach. We surf, bro.” @AsburyParkNow “We love sharing the Basque culture in Boise. Our Basque Block has a museums, a cultural center, Basque restaurants and bars.” @BoiseCVB 3. What tips do you have for families who are planning a spring trip? “Popular theme parks have a ‘shoulder season’ in May and early June, when school breaks are over and summer vacation hasn’t arrived yet. @BudgetTravel “Think beyond the obvious ‘kid’ destinations. Europe’s cities welcome families with affordable museums, parks, and hands-on experiences too.” @BudgetTravel “Kid-friendly travel should be fun for the whole family! Ride the Giant Dipper at the @beachboardwalk and then hop on a @roaringcamp train through the redwoods. Ditch the phone and discover nature together with these 5 kid-friendly hikes. @visitsantacruz “Get everybody outside! Hunt out hiking trails, waterfalls, zip-lines, unique rock formations, wildlife experiences, and timeless aquatic activities.” @enjoyillinois “Check out the deals with the Museum Row on Main Ticket! Can be used for admission to 8 different museums & attractions in Downtown Lou! [Louisville, KY]” @gotolouisville “Boise is a blend of urban & outdoors - big enough to have the comforts of a big city, small enough to enjoy it all.” @BoiseCVB “Pack snacks, have a killer road trip playlist and make sure everyone in the family can choose a spot to visit in #Pennsylvania!” @visitPA 4. Any money-saving secrets for a spring trip? “Stay flexible in terms of choice of destination, flight dates, and airports. Window-shopping a site like Kayak or Skyscanner can yield surprise deals to places you didn’t know you needed to visit.” @BudgetTravel “Have a work obligation this Spring? Stay a few extra days and bring the family. Make it an ‘Obli-cation!’” @HamptonByHilton “If you head to Louisville, start at our Visitor Center downtown! Discounted attraction tix & friendly faces! Also check out our free museums.” @gotolouisville “Hiking & biking are great ways to enjoy #Boise's views. Plus they won't cost your family a dime.” @BoiseCVB “Do your research and seek out authentic local experiences and events. Spring signals the launch of so many free festivals, markets, music, theater performances, and sport.” @enjoyillinois “We share tons of budget-friendly attractions in #Pennsylvania where families can have amazing experiences without breaking the bank!” @visitPA “Booking a trip in the spring months of April + May means visiting during Alaska’s ‘shoulder season.’ Many tour operators + hotels offer discounts for shoulder season travelers – just ask!” @alaskatravlnews 5. What's your favorite "secret" for a successful couples getaway? “Delete the word ‘romantic’ from your travel vocabulary and get real: What activities do you and your partner love to share? What new experiences are you open to? @BudgetTravel “There is nothing that builds relationship with another person quite like climbing a mountain together! I love doing strenuous hikes in National Parks.” @LBonPlanetEarth “Fire pits with an ocean view are a great way to relax at the end of a fun-filled day. We've got a helpful list of where you'll find them on Cannery Row.” @VisitCanneryRow “We love to do something adventurous - a hard hike, snorkeling, skiing but also fun stuff, like #wine tasting in @InsideSonoma.” @ctopkin “I think the best romantic weekends are when you experience or learn something new together. That's why I love hotels that offer things like mixology classes, etc. for romantic getaways.” @DestinySibert1 “Definitely opt for something unique and memorable. Step out of the comfort zone and try something new together whether it be a cooking class or challenging your special someone in a NASCAR style race!” @visitPA “Explore the @niagwinetrail with over 22 wineries, breweries and cideries. Fresh air + delectable wines + tranquility of the countryside make for a peaceful, romantic escape!” @NiagaraFallsUSA “Connecticut's comfy, cozy inns make for the perfect romantic getaway this spring.” @CTvisit “Try something new - together. Hubby and I did a hot air balloon outing in @AspenSnowmass - I flew, he helped the crew assemble the balloon! Good times.” @theopensuitcase

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