Bragging Rights for 'America's Best Restroom'
When was the last time you returned from a vacation raving about a public bathroom?
If the answer is, um, "never," perhaps you haven't had the pleasure of using the facilities at the Field Museum, in Chicago. The museum has been named America's Best Restroom in an annual contest sponsored Cintas, a restroom supply company.
Previous winners, all of which are inducted into the best restroom Hall of Fame and become ineligible to keep competing for the title down the line, include hotels, restaurants, airports, and other mainstays on the travel circuit. Travelers, after all, are often in need of public restrooms, and arguably no group in society appreciates a clean, inviting, and memorable (in a good way) bathroom more than strangers off in a strange land.
The Field Museum snagged top honors for its two huge family-friendly restrooms, which include sleek, futuristic stalls and sinks, a special nursing room complete with a sofa for new moms, and even pint-sized toilets for tots. A nearby station offers parents diapers, band-aids, and wipes.
Believe it or not, this isn't the only annual contest highlighting the best public restrooms out there. The UK hosts the Loo of the Year Awards, which are announced each December. A story in the Wall Street Journal last year described how the judges rank the top toilets:
"It's the wow factor we want," says Richard Chisnell, founder and chairman of the Loo of the Year Awards, who inspected about 150 loos with his wife Maureen in Wales this summer. The couple storms out of restaurants without clean bathrooms.
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The Amazing Wild Horses of North Carolina
On a tiny island on North Carolina's Crystal Coast, a herd of beautiful wild horses is surviving—and thriving—in the wake of Hurricane Irene. When I was researching an update on the status of North Carolina's Outer Banks, which were hit earlier this year by Hurricane Irene (and are doing much better, thanks), I came across the uplifting story of Aftermath. And I have to share. Allow me to introduce the Shackleford Horses, a wild herd that inhabits the nine-mile-long island of Shackleford Banks, part of North Carolina's Crystal Coast, at the southern end of the Outer Banks. People often can't resist calling the diminutive animals ponies, but as romantic as "wild ponies" may sound, they are actually just small horses. The Shackleford herd's important fans include the National Park Service and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses. Both institutions regularly perform a horsey census, complete with photo IDs, to monitor herd numbers. During the storm, the horses had no access to shelter. Post-Irene, the Foundation undertook the task of recounting to make sure everyone was okay. To her astonishment, Carolyn Mason, the Foundation's hands-on president who led the count, actually discovered a small population increase. A mare, Anastasia, had foaled a colt. In keeping with herd tradition, the tyke was named with the same first letter as his mother. The name? Aftermath. When I asked about the moment of discovery, Mason said, "I feel like I've been given a gift each time I first see a new foal. Anastasia, the mare came forward slowly, and Aftermath stayed right beside her. I was totally surprised and fascinated—and just tried to be quiet, take my photos, and not intrude." (Take a look at photos from that day in the Foundation's Facebook photo gallery.) Mason says tourists are welcome to ferry over to Shackleford Banks to see the horses. "While it is not in the best interest of either horse or person to get too close, people should look, photograph, and enjoy the wild horses for the unique part of North Carolina that they are," said Mason. On that note, I suggest a fun, weekend jaunt to the Outer Banks. Fly into Coastal Carolina Airport in New Bern and snag a rental car. Bed down in the quaint city of Beaufort, at the lovely Pecan Tree Inn. Make room for at least one meal each at local-institutions Blue Moon Bistro and Beaufort Grocery. Be sure to see the newly renovated Cape Lookout Lighthouse on nearby Core Banks island. And, of course, top off your trip with a visit to see the wild horses of Shackleford Banks and, if you're lucky enough to spy him, Aftermath. — William Bailey MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Louisiana's Hurricane Museum Leave Every Child Behind: Biking the Outer Banks Ahoy Matey! Check Out These Pirate Museums
The New Truth About Women Travelers?
A recent survey by Travel Guard North America, a travel insurance provider, aimed to shine a light on how women are traveling today. The company polled travel agents across the continent to find out what kinds of trips women were booking, with whom they were traveling, and their motivations for choosing the types of trips they did. The results, in my opinion, were surprising: Poll respondents said that 91% of women traveling with other women chose friends as their companions (as opposed to 8% who traveled with relatives), and that women over 45 make up the majority of small-group women-only travelers—with the proportions dropping dramatically with each decade of age. (Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if it was simply the use of travel agents that was dropping with each decade of age, but it could be a little bit of both.) In terms of what these travelers aimed to do on their trips, the agents pegged shopping and sightseeing as the most popular activities at 27%, then history, culture, and education as the focus of 17% of the itineraries, beach retreats as the goal for 16%, adventure travel for 15%, and cruising as the trip of choice for 13% of women travelers. Of course, this travel insurance company had their own motive for producing the survey—to find out how many women travelers were also purchasing trip insurance. Their conclusion: A whopping 94% of women travelers bought insurance for their trips, according to the travel agents polled. So let's hear it from the ladies who read Budget Travel: Does this survey reflect how you plan and book trips with your friends (or, in the case of the odd 8%, with your female relatives)? We want to know! I'll start: I've been doing girls-only trips since my 20s, mostly with my mother, my sister, or both—although I have mixed in a few more traditional girlfriend getaways, like the RV adventure I dragged two college friends along for this summer. And I didn't use a travel agent—or buy trip insurance—for any of them. Does that make me the odd woman out? Tell us your trip habits in the comments! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Travel for Women Only 10 of Our Favorite Girlfriend Getaways Do Men Have Better Travel Experiences Than Women?
What Do You Love/Hate Most About Your Local Airport?
Whether your local airport is a modest domestic terminal or one of the nation's largest international hubs, we all have things we love and hate about our regional transportation facility — developments and setbacks, eateries new and old, efficiencies and inefficiencies. As I travel around the country, I am constantly struck by a fierce contrast of disappointment and pleasant surprise. I guess I, probably like many travelers, have long since given up on U.S. airports, which seem to have fallen so far behind some of their international counterparts that it appeared we had reached the point of no return. And yet, little by little, there looks to be signs of improvement both on a smaller scale — a revamped terminal here, an impressive new dining venue there — as well as on a larger scale with some airports undergoing major overhauls or being completely rebuilt, as is the case with the O’Hare Modernization Program. Anyone who has done the Delta shuffle, involving two terminals, a shuttle bus and several lines at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the terminal submits to a massive renovation project knows a thing or two about the two steps forward, one step back we are all experiencing on the airport improvement front. As a woman constantly on the run, I am often relieved to see an XpressSpa in my departure terminal for a quick massage or that mani-pedi I never got around to in between trips. The first XpressSpa opened in Terminal One at JFK in January 2004. There are now 33 locations in 13 airports across the U.S., and three locations at the Amsterdam Airport Schipol in the Netherlands. I have also been impressed with the upgrades to the JetBlue terminal at JFK (Deep Blue Sushi comes to mind) and the Delta terminal at LaGuardia (um, there's also a Five Guys in LaGuardia's Central Terminal), which both now have some notable dining establishments and convenient and cute wireless seating areas. And who knew that there is a great wine bar with great nibbles, Surdyk's Flights, hiding at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport? What about you? What do you love/hate most about your local airport? Any great hidden gems? Shops or dining venues you care to share? Let us in on your airport secrets. More from Budget Travel: Airport Hotels With Unexpected Perks We want to know your airport secrets! 5 airport innovations worth praising
Get Behind-the-Scenes Access to New York City’s Off-Limits Architectural Gems
The weekend of October 15-16 marks the ninth annual Open House New York Weekend, when regular Joes and Janes can get guided tours of some of New York City’s most famous buildings and monuments, as well as special reservations-only access to city spots normally off-limits to visitors. There’s a $5 fee for these top-secret spots, but all other tours are free. So what’s on the list? Anything you can imagine. Spread across all five boroughs, locations include the catacombs of Brooklyn’s famed Green-Wood Cemetery, the closed-to-the-public third phase of Manhattan’s High Line Park, Louis Armstrong’s home in Queens, the azalea gardens at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and even a Tibetan art museum in Staten Island. How can you get involved? Check out the full list here. For those sites requiring reservations, act fast, as spots tend to sell out quickly. As of press time, there are still dozens of destinations with openings. And many museums and historical sites will be offering first-come, first-served tours—no reservations required. If you could get behind-the-scenes access to any space in New York City, where would you go? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: New York's Best-Kept Secrets 50 Reasons You Love New York City Great Classic Buildings