Why Canada tops our 2017 travel list
For an untold number of years, Americans have held a rather narrow view, to say the least, of Canada. All too often, say "Canada" to an American and people think Montreal, a Francophile’s accessible fantasy; Niagara Falls, ice hockey, poutine, and the Toronto Blue Jays (because, well--baseball.) Chalk it up to Justin Bieber’s endless stream of chart-toppers, Ryan Reynolds’ show-stopping performance in “La La Land” and, of course, just about everything that Justin Trudeau, dreamboat-in-chief and humanitarian extraordinaire, says and does, but these days Canada is on everyone’s minds. And travel bucket lists.
It’s Canada’s moment, and not least because 2017 marks the nation’s 150th birthday. As a tribute to our 3,855,103-square-mile northern neighbor and its greatness, we did some exploring, in case you’re thinking of paying a visit this year. Not only did we find some astonishing and unique sights and destinations, we found that many of them are the best—the biggest, the tallest, the oldest, the most uncommon—in their class. In other words, Canada is not just great in a lot of ways. It’s unrivaled. Here are just a few of the reasons why.
1. NATURAL WONDERS
As we did our research, we ended up asking ourselves over and over again: will wonders never cease? Of course, Niagara Falls is the belle of Canada’s natural ball, but over the vast landscape, plenty of other spectacles are worth seeing. Geographically speaking, Newfoundland and Labrador is home to Cape Spear, the most easterly point in North America and home to an iconic lighthouse, where the dawn breaks first.
The Charlevoix region, an hour east of Quebec City, draws adrenaline junkies because of Le Massif de Charlevoix, a mountain looming above the St. Lawrence River with the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies. Within its boundaries you’ll also find the 11th biggest crater on earth, the still-breathtaking effect of a 15-billion-ton meteorite that crashed down between land and a river 400 million years ago, resulting in the province’s hilliest region and one of North America’s most panoramic road. In the Quebec Maritime region, the Manicouagan impact crater, which fell to earth 215.5 million years ago, is 62 miles in diameter, making it the fifth largest in the world. It's visible from space.
The largest tree, a Sitka spruce casually referred to “Heaven Tree” grows in British Columbia's Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. It's 11.5 feet in diameter and is estimated to be 800 years old. The “Hanging Garden Tree,” a vision to behold on Meares Island, near Tofino, is one of the oldest known western red cedars, estimated to be anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 years old.
Provincial Park is home to one pretty mighty tree, but Kitlope Heritage Conservancy Protected Area on BC’s central coast is the location of many, many trees that make up the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest. Home to bald eagles, grizzlies and plenty more wild animals, it's over 793,208 acres and located within the traditional territory of the Haisla First Nation. If you want to check it out, it’s best reached by boat and July and August are prime time to visit.
And as for water, when we talk about rivers, lakes, and oceans, we talk about depth, distance, and what lives beneath. We don’t, however, talk about speed. Unless we’re in Skookumchuck Narrows on BC’s Sunshine Coast. The water rushes along at more than 16 knots, one of the fastest flowing tidal currents on the planet. But what’s a mere breakneck tidal current in the face of a whirlpool? New Brunswick lays claim to the brutally powerful Fundy’s Old Sow Whirlpool, which, with a width of 75 meters, is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and second largest in the world. (The largest is the the Maelstrom Whirlpool of Norway.) Its sheer force is evident at the Bay of Fundy, known for having the highest tides on Earth.
2. ON THE MOVE
Kelowna, a small city in the south of British Columbia, is arguably the most attractive to active, sporty types. The highest skating rink in North America sits 5,570 feet above sea level at Big White Ski Resort. It’s Olympic-size, free to use, and offers awe-inspiring mountain views. Pretty though it may be, Kelowna’s rink is practically quaint compared to the Rideau Canal Skateway, the planet’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink, as declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. Every winter, the Rideau Canal, Ontario’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, freezes into this playscape, which stretches for 4.8 miles through downtown Ottawa and has a surface area equal to 90 Olympic-size rinks.
Attention adrenaline junkies: Peachland’s ZipZone is Canada’s highest freestyle zipline, a 381-foot thrill ride. Winsport, a sprawling athletic center in Calgary, has Canada’s fastest zipline, along which you can cruise at 87 mph.
This one comes from the department things you never realized were measured but are: publicly owned waterparks. Kelowna’s H2O Adventure and Fitness Centre is Canada’s largest, with waterslides and plenty of other water runs. Add in Canada’s most extensive cycle network, a 211-mile expanse, and it’s little surprise to learn, then, that Kelowna is Canada’s fittest city.
The annual HOPE Volleyball SummerFest, which takes place at Mooney’s Bay on the Rideau River near downtown Ottawa, is the largest one-day beach volleyball tournament in the world. (And it raises thousands of dollars for deserving local charities.)
There’s an old joke that goes: What’s the difference between Canada and yogurt? Yogurt has an active culture. (*rimshot*) Well, turns out Canada gets the last laugh in the culture department, what with an assortment of longstanding theaters and museums and brand new institutions. In Winnepeg, for instance, Winnipeg Art Gallery is the oldest civic museum in Canada and home to the world’s largest collections of contemporary Inuit art. The city, Manitoba’s capital, is also home to Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the country’s oldest ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America. Speaking of enduring, Winnipeg's Le Cercle Moliere is Canada’s oldest continuously running theatre company while Rainbow Stage in Kildonan Park is Canada’s largest and longest-running outdoor theatre.
But there are plenty of new establishments of note, too, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which opened in September 2014 and is Canada’s first national museum to be built outside the capital region. It's also the only museum exclusively focused on the history and future of human rights. Saskatoon is on track to open the Remai Modern this year 2017. The museum, which comes with a $80.2 million price tag, houses the world’s largest collection of Picasso linocuts.
And for all the trivia nuts out there, here’s a fun fact: St. Boniface Museum in Manitoba, which houses artifacts related to Western Canada’s French-Canadian and Métis heritage, is located in a former Grey Nuns’ convent house, which was built around 1850 and happens to be the city’s oldest remaining structure and the largest oak log building in North America. The title for the nation’s oldest, continuously operating museum, however, goes to New Brunswick Museum, established 1842. This family-friendly institution spotlight’s the region’s art, cultural heritage, and scientific history.
Look at the municipal schedule of any Canadian city and you’ll easily be convinced that Canada holds more festivals than any other nation. We don’t have the international data to confirm that, but while we compile a comprehensive listing of festivals throughout the year, we can offer a few teasers: The Ottawa International Animation Festival is North America’s largest animation festival. The annual Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (AKA: Chamberfest) is the world’s largest chamber music festival. Not to be outdone, Winnepeg: Folklorama is the world’s largest and longest-running multicultural festival, allowing visitors to travel the globe in one city at 40-plus pavilions featuring traditional food, drink, cultural displays and live entertainment from countries around the world. Meantime, Western Canada's largest winter festival is Festival du Voyageur, where Voyageur, Métis, and First Nations histories are brought back to life with music and performances, food, and lots more.
Some of Canada’s restaurants have rather eccentric claims to fame. BC Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, near Golden in the Kootenay Rockies, is home to the country’s highest restaurant, the Eagle’s Eye. It’s 7,710 feet high on the summit of the Golden Eagle Express gondola.
Over in Winnepeg, RAW: almond is the world’s only pop-up restaurant located on a frozen river, and Mon Amis Louis is North America’s only restaurant on a bridge. The eatery, which specializes in French-inspired cuisine, is closed for the winter, but the inspiring views of the Red River are the stuff spring dreams are made of.
A bit less esoteric and a whole lot more wholesome, Florenceville-Bristol in New Brunswick is the planet's French Fry Capital, supplying one third of all fries around the world. Native sons built the first McCain Foods Limited French fry plant in town in 1957. The town is now home to the Potato World Museum.
Canada’s whiskies have been making waves and winning awards in the past few years, but one tipple that’s uniquely Canadian is Omerto, an aperitif tomato wine made by a boutique operation called Domaine de la Vallée du Bras in Charlevoix. The nation also does its part to keep up with the global craft beer scene. There’s been such a proliferation of interesting breweries operating in BC that the BC Craft Brewers Guild recently established the BC Ale Trail, an online guide that organized notable breweries into seven suggested road trips. Self-guided tours cover areas as diverse as the rugged Kootenay Rockies, the pastoral Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, and suburban Port Moody. The Trail guide links to accommodations and local attractions, as well as tips on signature pours at each brewery. You'll find options for walking, biking, or driving.
5. AND EVERYTHING ELSE
Alberta deserves a section of its own, not least because the tourism bureau has plotted out a road trip of some of the most distinctive and whimsical attractions that are the largest—if not only—in their respective class. To wit: it’s home to the largest mallard duck, which has a wingspan of 23 feet, and the world’s most massive working oil lamp, which is 42 feet high and looks like something out of a Mother Goose tale. It’s on display at what is arguably the region’s oddest museum: the Donalda & District Museum, which houses more than 900 kerosene lamps dating from the 1600s and the 1960s.
But Alberta doesn’t have a monopoly on Canada’s quirky attractions. The Calgary Stampede is known as the richest rodeo event in North America. Also in Calgary is Heritage Park, an interactive and nostalgic museum with displays that stretch back to Canadian life in the 1860s. It's Canada’s largest living historical village. The Town of Shediac in New Brunswick, the lobster capital of the world, lays claim to the world’s largest lobster, a sculpture that’s 35 feet long and 16 feet high. Question is, though, where’s the world’s biggest bowl of melted butter?
A Neat Freak's Guide to a Clean Suitcase
We all know that the door handle to the airplane lavatory is a breeding ground for bacteria, but have you ever considered that similar germs might find their way into your suitcase? Before your inner germaphobe lunges for an airsick bag, a dose of reality is in order. "There's really very little disease you can get from germs on an inanimate object," says Dr. Ronald A. Primas, M.D., of TravelMD.com. "Any time you have a lot of people crammed into a small place, like an airplane, bus, or subway, your risk of acquiring disease is somewhat higher but most of the diseases people get when they travel come from contact with other people directly—not indirectly." Still, as any germaphobe knows, the fact that dirty luggage isn't likely to make you sick provides little solace. Plus, what about the very real possibility of picking up bedbugs or grease stains? Five experts share insider tips on treating the most common suitcase disasters—including when to tackle the mess yourself, when to call in the professionals, and the easiest ways to protect yourself in the future. What's living on my suitcase? Should I be cleaning it after trips? Bacteria and germs are everywhere. Since you never know who's been hoisting your luggage handles behind the scenes (not to mention what's taken up residence on the bottom of that carry-on—E. coli, for example), it's a good idea to have a post-trip plan of attack. "Every time you use your luggage, I would take a damp rag with Lysol and just give the bottom of the bag and the handles a quick once-over," advises Chuck Horst, president of Margaret's Cleaner's San Diego, a dry cleaning service specializing in the care of couture clothing, leather cleaning and handbag and shoe repair. In addition, Horst advises keeping luggage out of your bedroom and—above all—off your bed when you're unpacking after a trip. CLEAN IT 1. Buy some Lysol Disinfecting Wipes. 2. Spot test your suitcase in a discreet area to make sure it won't damage the fabric. 3. Wipe down the bottom of the bag (including wheels) and the handles with Lysol wipes. Squeezing Purell into a rag is similarly effective for removing germs. 4. If you want to completely degerm your suitcase, you can also spend $45 for a professional ozone treatment:a process in which an ozone generator is used to oxidize bacteria. Leather, vinyl, and plastic bags will have to be dry-cleaned by hand (costs will vary depending on the size and scope of the damage). AVOID IT Nesting suitcases that can be stored inside of each other might seem handy, but since the outside of a suitcase is the dirtiest place, it's a bad idea to store them this way, says Horst. If you do, be sure to cover a piece of luggage with a plastic garbage bag before placing it inside another suitcase. A bottle of red wine broke inside my bag! How do I clean this mess? "When red wine spills in your luggage, it is not a good day," says Horst, explaining that it's one of the toughest stains to get out. And while spilled alcohol of the clear variety doesn't necessarily cause discoloration, breakage in your luggage can mean glass shards in the crevices and residual odors that conjure "eau de frat house" everywhere you roll. CLEAN IT 1. Empty your suitcase of its contents and use a vacuum with a crevice tool to suck up all pieces of broken glass from the interior (be sure to check suitcase pockets before vacuuming). 2. Newspapers are hygroscopic (meaning they can readily soak up moisture), says Horst, and can be used to absorb some of the wetness from spilled liquids. Roll up a few pieces of newspaper and place them inside your closed bag for two to three days. 3. Canvas and nylon bags can be scrubbed with reasonable force using a toothbrush and a product such as liquid laundry detergent, according to author Barbara DesChamps, whose book It's in the Bag: Your Custom Business and Travel Wardrobe includes a chapter on fabric cleaning and care. 4. To address major odors, Horst suggests purchasing carbon that's used in aquariums from a pet store and placing it inside a sock in your empty luggage. Spraying Febreze Auto in the suitcase interior is another way to freshen odiferous bags. 5. Wine Away, Horst says, is a product that can help with dissolving red wine stains (evergreenlabs.com, $21 for two 12-ounce bottles). 6. If the exterior of your bag is still stained, you'll need to turn to a professional, like Horst. Leather can be refinished at a cost of $120 to $250, depending on the size, extent of detail, and color of the bag. Canvas and nylon bags can be re-dyed for $60 to $120. AVOID IT Wrap bottles in multiple Ziploc bags before placing them into your luggage to prevent leaks in case of breakage. Commercial airline pilot Omar Amin swears by the VinniBag, a reusable bag with inflatable air chambers that protects bottles from breakage (vinnibag.com, $28,). How do I prevent bed bugs from hitching a ride in my carry-on? With even five-star hotels making the news for bedbugs these days, you should be thinking about how to protect your luggage. "The outside of luggage is typically how bedbugs are getting a ride back to somebody's home," says Jeffrey White, a research entomologist with BedBug Central, an exhaustive online resource that shares information (everything from bedbug identification literature to research and development news) and sells products (from traps that go under furniture to luggage sprays) designed to keep the critters at bay. When it comes to their favorite luggage hangouts, says White, bedbugs like to lurk on zippers, on seams, and alongside the rubber ribbing on a suitcase's exterior. CLEAN IT 1. If you suspect bedbugs at your hotel, begin by notifying hotel management and demanding a different room immediately. 2. Even if you switch rooms, you'll want to bag all your clothes for transport back home. It never hurts to have some dissolvable laundry bags handy when you travel—you can place them directly in the wash, which means that anything living on (as well as in) the bags will be killed. 3. Once home, immediately dump everything washable into the laundry for a hot wash-and-dry cycle. 4. If a visual inspection of the outside of your suitcase shows the critters are there, wipe or spray the bag with 91 percent isopropyl alcohol, which will kill them on contact, says White. 5. Before putting the luggage away, use a crevice cleaner to vacuum out the entire suitcase; then wrap it in plastic bags for storage. 6. If all else fails, using a product like Nuvan Prostrips is a brawny step to take in the battle against bedbugs. Simply place your empty suitcase in a garbage bag with one of the strips—the strip releases an odorless gas that kills the unwanted bloodsuckers ($50 for a 12-pack). AVOID IT While chances remain slim that your hotel room will have bedbugs, you can take preventative action by using a spray like Pronto Plus (prontoplus.com, $6.75 for a 10-ounce can) before you travel, coating the inside and outside of your luggage to keep bedbugs away, says Michael Colongione, president of GotchA! Bed Bug Inspectors. Yuck, my bag is covered in black grease. What now? Airport baggage systems are made up of all sorts of moving parts lubed with grease to keep them running smoothly. So it's no surprise that many a frequent flier has seen his or her suitcase emerge looking like it's done a lap around a racetrack rather than the baggage carousel. If you have a hardcase or a nylon bag, there's a chance you'll be able to get the stains out yourself; leather and canvas bags require professional treatment. CLEAN IT Hardcase bags 1. On hardcase bags, says Horst, "start with a product like Simple Green and a rag to try to get the grease out," and then move up to products like Formula 409 Glass and Surface Cleaner and Windex Original, which contain ammonia and are more aggressive cleaners (but carry a risk of color and luster damage). 2. Do a color test first on a discreet part of the bag to make sure the product won't damage the suitcase. 3. Then apply Simple Green to a damp, soft rag and wipe it over your suitcase, followed by a swipe with a clean rag to rinse and one with a dry rag to finish. (The ammonia cleaners can be sprayed directly onto the bag and wiped with a sponge or soft rag.) 4. Finally, if your hardcase bag lost its luster in the cleaning process, use Armor All Original Protectant or automotive wax to shine it up again. Nylon bags 1. For nylon or other soft bags affected by grease, DesChamps recommends using dry cornstarch. "Rub the cornstarch into the fabric, let it sit for as long as it takes to absorb the grease, and then brush it off, repeating as necessary," she says. She recommends getting as "much of the grease off as possible this way before you try to clean the suitcase with detergent." 2. After you've done all you can with cornstarch, it's time to break out the soap. Horst recommends mixing Ivory Snow with water—a good option because it won't bleach out the color or degrade the fabric of your suitcase. Fill a pan halfway with warm water and add just enough powder or liquid to make suds with gentle splashing, he says. 3. Next step: Apply the suds to the bag (again, using a soft rag or sponge). Heavy soiling may require a minute or two of scrubbing and repeated applications. Leather bags 1. For leather bags, you definitely want to employ the help of a dry cleaner who specializes in accessories, says Horst, since using wet products to try to lift grease will only cause it to become further engrained in leather and "much harder, if not impossible to get out." The cost starts at $40 and goes up depending on the bag. AVOID IT Using Scotchgard Fabric & Upholstery Protector on your luggage as a preventative measure goes a long way in making it easier to remove grease stains after the fact, says Horst. Keep a distance of about 18 inches from the suitcase when you apply the aerosol spray, he says, and be sure not to apply in heavy coats, as Scotchgard can darken colored fabrics. Help! My shampoo exploded like a bomb inside my luggage! Who hasn't arrived at their destination and found a soupy, soapy mess where once there were shampoo and conditioner bottles? Exploding toiletries are a fact of life for most frequent fliers. And while the mess is inherently clean, cleaning it up often leads to a foamy disaster. CLEAN IT 1. The first thing to know when cleaning up spilled soaps and shampoos is that,in most cases, no additional cleanser is necessary. 2. Horst recommends using a spray bottle with water to slowly lubricate the saturated area. Then alternate between spraying and vacuuming with a wet/dry vac to suck the moisture out. 3. Unless your luggage is a hardcase, avoid getting it really wet as part of your cleaning process, says Horst, as that will only drive the spilled soaps deeper into fabrics. (Hardcases with soiled interior linings can require professional cleaning, which can range from $95 to $165.) 4. If the cardboard bottom of your bag has been saturated with shampoos or other exploding liquids, there's a chance that it's permanently damaged and will need to be replaced—an easy, but not inexpensive, fix at most luggage repair centers, where experts will insert a new base into your bag for $120 or more. 5. Leather bags saturated with shampoos and soaps should be brought in for professional cleaning, which costs between $120 and $250 (you'll pay up to $250 more if the lining needs to be replaced). AVOID IT Those TSA rules that mandate Ziploc bags for liquids in carry-ons make a lot more sense when applied to transporting toiletries in your checked bags. Putting individual toiletries or your entire toiletry bag in a Ziploc bag or two when you travel is a simple measure that can save you a lot of hassle.
10 Most Useful Travel Websites
The Web should make things easier for travelers, but the sheer volume of services out there is often more overwhelming than useful. Unfortunately, you don't always know which outfits pay off until you've already invested your time. The Budget Travel team puts websites—new and established—to the test every day. So when it came time to line up our favorites, the task was easy—we just turned to the sites we keep revisiting because they're so darn helpful. Our top picks can help you avoid overpaying for airfare (Bing Travel), bag the primo room at a hotel (Hipmunk), and never miss a deal on a rental-car reservation again (AutoSlash). Some of our favorites are as useful as a mind-reading tour guide (Plnnr); others are as handy as having a personal secretary track your frequent-flier balances (Award Wallet). Put them all together, and they become Budget Travel's picks for the best the Web has to offer. FOR PLANNING 1. BING TRAVEL Buy plane tickets at the best possible time.Like other booking sites, Bing lets you comparison-shop for tickets across more than a hundred sources. Yet unlike most other sites, it also analyzes historical data to predict whether the price you see on the screen today is likely to rise (or drop) in the coming week, clearly marking the bargains with a big, green Buy Now icon. What's more, Bing is the only airfare search site to have its predictions independently audited. With an accuracy rate of 75 percent, it's not perfect—but those are better odds than blind guessing gets you. bing.com/travel. 2. AUTOSLASH Lock in the lowest rate on rental cars.Here's how it works: Reserve a vehicle from a favorite agency through the AutoSlash site, and the site will instantly begin tracking rate changes for your reservation. If a sale pops up later—snap!—it automatically locks in the lower price on your behalf. You can even use AutoSlash if you've booked independently. Just enter your confirmation number, and the site will notify you when it's found a lower rate (which you'll have to rebook on your own). Neither AutoSlash nor the company you first booked with charges a fee for the service. autoslash.com. 3. FLY OR DRIVE CALCULATOR Determine the cheapest way to reach your destination.Coupon site befrugal.com crunches data from sources such as AAA and Google Maps to power its Fly or Drive estimator (found in the site's Tools & Calculators tab). The more details you supply—the make and model of your car, the number of travelers in your group, whether you'd be springing for a taxi to the airport—the more accurate the estimates. For the eco-minded, it even includes a carbon-footprint estimate for each mode of travel. (Note: The calculator only works for trips within the continental U.S.) befrugal.com/tools/fly-or-drive-calculator/. 4. PLNNR Get instant itineraries tailored to your tastes.Whether you have a full week or a few hours, Plnnr can craft a (free!) customized point-to-point trip guide for 20 popular urban destinations across North America and Europe. You supply the length of your stay, desired activity level, and interests (such as outdoors, kids' activities, and culture), and the site spits out a fully formed itinerary, factoring in each attraction's opening and closing hours and travel times between spots by taxi or on foot. You can further fine-tune the results by adjusting the priority level for even more specific subcategories—architecture, breweries, and even cemeteries—or reject individual suggestions outright. (Plnnr won't get its feelings hurt.) plnnr.com. 5. HIPMUNK Find a hotel you'll fall in love with.The folks behind Hipmunk's airfare and hotel searches know that good trips are about more than mere numbers. That's why they've incorporated an "agony" scale for flights with multiple legs and long layovers, and an "ecstasy" rating for hotels based on a combination of a property's amenities, rates, and user reviews on TripAdvisor. Even better, Hipmunk's hotel search tool has built-in color-coded heat maps to display a given destination's best spots for dining, shopping, nightlife, landmarks, and—ahem—"vice." So you'll always end up in a neighborhood that fits your specific needs (or noise tolerance). The site displays real-time prices available on Orbitz, Getaroom, Hotels.com, HotelsCombined, or Airbnb and links out to the appropriate site to close the deal. hipmunk.com. ON THE ROAD 6. TRIPIT Keep every last confirmation number, arrival time, and prepaid reservation fee straight.Don't have an über-organized type among your travel crew? Don't worry. TripIt consolidates every important detail of your vacation into a single handy document, which you can access on the go via laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Just forward each email receipt from booking a flight, hotel, rental car, or cruise to your TripIt account, and the site will cull and compile the flight numbers, gate information, and other relevant items so you never show up in the wrong place at the wrong time—or with the wrong confirmation code in hand. Not satisfied? The site also supplies seat-selection advice for flights, links to check in online, flight status updates, weather forecasts, and driving directions. tripit.com. 7. TRIPPING Connect with the locals—through a trustworthy community.While any old travel site can add some social-networking features and call itself "the Facebook of travel," Tripping paves the way for true face-to-face interactions in about 130 countries across the globe. Primarily a homestay network—but just as effective for setting up a casual coffee meeting or a video chat with a looped-in local—Tripping manages the risk factor with its stringent membership policies and strong user-reference system. (To join, users must display a passport via Skype and prove a home address.) When you're not traveling yourself, you can earn some good travel karma by playing tour guide for visitors to your own hometown. tripping.com. 8. GOOGLE MAPS Expertly navigate unfamiliar territory.Thanks to constant refining by its mapmakers and graphic designers, Google's gold-standard mapping tool just keeps getting better. Live traffic information was recently added for 13 European countries; the site's maps for New York City, London, and other major cities now have public transit options; markings for tunnels and highway signs become easier to read every year; and you can plot your route by car, bicycle, or foot—although the latter two options are still in beta. There's simply no more comprehensive and user-friendly way to explore. maps.google.com. ONCE YOU'RE BACK 9. AWARD WALLET Never let another frequent-flier mile expire.Consider it the loyalty-program counterpart to TripIt's travel-info collector. Award Wallet streamlines your family's assortment of frequent-flier and loyalty programs, compiling them in a single, simple, point-tracking package. The setup takes minutes. For each account, just enter your log-in information; Award Wallet automatically pulls your points balances and expiration dates—so you know to take action if you're on the verge of losing them. And because the site saves your log-in information, you only need one password to access all your accounts. awardwallet.com. 10. BLURB Preserve your photographs in a format that people can't keep their hands off of.Custom book publisher Blurb lets you design and print a soft-cover or hardcover travel photo album using impressive design tools and high-quality inks, paper, and binding. Most important, it also leaves you broad creative control. (No floral borders or faux photo-corners necessary.) Price is based on size, paper stock, cover material, and shipping fees, but single copies start at $11 for a 20-page book. Think your book has potential beyond your own coffee table? Blurb can also share your images as a free online slide show or sell copies of the book through its online shop. blurb.com. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage 10 Coolest Small Towns in America A Neat Freak's Guide to a Clean Suitcase 10 Gorgeous Pools You Won't Believe Are Public 12 Restaurants With Spectacular Views
11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines
When it comes to choosing what airline to fly, the bottom line is often, well, the bottom line: how much it costs to get where you need to go. But with all that laser-sharp focus on saving money, it's easy to lose sight of the little things that can make a trip feel like a journey, rather than an endurance test. To remind you of the ways some companies strive to make life at 30,000 feet a treat—or introduce you to new ones you've never heard about—we present to you our unranked, incomplete, utterly biased list of airlines that haven't forgotten how to delight passengers—with memorable perks like cuddle-class couches, hilarious in-flight announcements, and even in-flight showers. How many have you flown? 1. CUDDLIEST AIRLINE: AIR NEW ZEALAND While Richard Branson gets a lot of attention for his Virgin Galactic enterprise, Air New Zealand's been making great strides in a different kind of space exploration—one that even those of us without a spare $200,000 can enjoy. In late 2010, the Auckland-based airline unveiled the Economy Skycouch, a padded, fold-out seat extension that allows a pair (or trio) of passengers to stretch out side by side for those longest of long-haul flights—say, between Los Angeles and Auckland. The feature, unsurprisingly, was an instant hit. To get the "cuddle class" experience, travelers need to buy a third seat at half off, typically an extra $500 to $800 for an overnight flight—almost certainly less than the cost of upgrading two coach seats to first class. And while about half the buyers so far have been couples, families traveling with small children have happily been opting for the upgrade, too. Did we say great strides? More like a giant leap—for nap time. 2. FUNNIEST AIRLINE: KULULA AIRLINES In addition to being South Africa's pioneering low-cost airline—it was the first of its kind to launch there, in 2001—Kulula Airlines, based in Johannesburg, aspires to be the world's funniest airline. Before you even board, there's a sight gag: The bright-green planes are painted with "This Way Up" signs or instructional diagrams pointing out the location of the landing gear, the loo, and the co-captain (labeled, "the other pilot on the PA system"). Then there's the in-flight banter, with gems like, "If you don't like our service, we have six emergency exits," and "Cabin crew is coming down the aisle to make sure that your seat belts are on and your shoes match your outfit." The animated airline's most recent prank? Issuing a press release on April 1 touting their new fleet of Boeing 737-800 seaplanes, which would make water landings near Cape Town, Durban, and Gauteng to reduce congestion on South Africa's runways. In their words, "Kulula has never been scared of navigating unchartered waters, and once launched, we're sure it will go swimmingly." Fortunately, there's no two-drink minimum for this airborne comedy show—and even if there were, it wouldn't cost much. "Drinks with zing," as alcoholic beverages are labeled on the in-flight menu, start under $2 each. 3. MOST IRRESISTIBLE BUDGET-CONSCIOUS AIRLINE: RYANAIR No one pinches every possible penny as assiduously as Ryanair, the ultra-low-cost Irish carrier. Some of its shameless antics are mythical, though: The airline has never charged for the use of toilets, introduced standing-room-only sections, or sold passengers porn via handheld devices—despite rumors to the contrary. But Ryanair does commit enough acts of random irritation to upset even a Zen Buddhist. The skinflint airline charges a fee of about $10 to charge tickets to an American credit card, a fee to check in either online or at the airport, and a fee of about $16 to sit in an exit row seat. Once onboard, the hassles continue. The seatbacks don't have pockets; the airline instead prints the emergency instructions on the backs of the seats themselves. During a flight, Ryanair crew members constantly hawk snacks, lottery tickets, and smokeless cigarettes. (For a full list of the airline's sins, see ihateryanair.org.) Yet despite it all, Ryanair remains one of Europe's most-flown carriers. Sure, people may love to hate it, but few budget-conscious travelers seem able to resist its siren song of low fares. 4. BEST MAJOR U.S. AIRLINE FOR BAGGAGE HANDLING: DELTA If you've ever thought you were singularly cursed with bad luggage luck, think again: A whopping 42 million bags (on average) are misplaced by airlines worldwide each year. Then, book your next flight on Delta, which had the best baggage-handling record among its peers (that is, the half-dozen largest US airlines) for 2011. Delta had 2.66 reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 passengers flown last year—an impressive feat, given the airline's complex itineraries. (Budget airline AirTran had a slightly better record, but its simpler route map and lighter schedule give it an unfair advantage; American Eagle, by contrast, doubled Delta's lost-bag reports with 7.32 per 1,000 passengers.) Delta also raised the bar by adding a baggage-tracking tool to its free app for iPhone and Android (as well as to its website, delta.com, for those without smartphones). The app is the first from any airline to allow passengers to enter the number on a bag tag receipt—iPhone users can scan the barcode by snapping a photo of the tag—and watch a bag's journey from departure to arrival, all the way down to its exact claim carousel. If a bag is delayed, the owner can even check the bag's status using a reference number. It's no replacement for a waylaid vacation wardrobe, but it's certainly better than just wondering. 5. BEST (SPLURGE) AIRLINE FOR A MID-FLIGHT SCRUB: EMIRATES The advent of the superjumbo jet changed the game for aircraft-interior designers, and no one pushed the new boundaries—both in literal and figurative terms—quite like Emirates airlines. Not content to add cushier beds and more elaborate entertainment systems, the Dubai-based carrier was the first in the world to use that additional room on its A380s to install full-height shower stalls for its first-class passengers to freshen up mid-flight. On its Dubai-London route, for instance, Emirates has two snazzy walnut-and-marble "shower spas" to serve its 14 first-class passengers (one person at a time, please). Flight attendants explain the ins and outs in detail before sending folks inside for a scrub—including where to find the oxygen mask, should a change in cabin pressure occur. You'll be happy for the tutorial: When the stall's door is closed, the water turns on automatically—and so does a five-minute timer, complete with a yellow warning light to signal when it's time to rinse off any suds. Even if your financial forecast doesn't call for a "chance of showers," flying coach on Emirates has its own perks: Each seat reclines up to 120 degrees, comes with a power outlet, and has a 10-inch seatback TV screen with 1,200 channels of entertainment. 6. BEST AIRLINE FOR SAFETY DEMONSTRATION VIDEOS [CURRENTLY IN USE]: VIRGIN AMERICA A nun, a matador, and a bull walk onto on airplane—no, this is not the setup for a joke; it's a list of the characters starring in Virgin America's lighthearted, animated safety-demonstration video. Don't get us wrong—we know that air-travel safety is no laughing matter—but there's a lot to be said for a video that's engaging enough to actually get people to pay attention. (Other airlines have experimented with comic versions of safety videos over the years, but only Virgin America has made it a standard feature.) The video's narrator deadpans all the essential information, inserting an offhand joke here and there ("For the point-zero-zero-zero-one percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before..."), while the animated illustrations showing how, for example, to find and open the compartments where the life vests are stored (in two different spots, depending on your seat) actually do a better job than most. It's the kind of stuff that could save precious seconds in the event of an emergency landing like 2009's Hudson River "miracle"—particularly if everyone on the flight has actually watched the demo. With their eyes open. 7. MOST PUNCTUAL AIRLINE: ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS Forget the stereotype about German punctuality—Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) has set the standard for getting planes to their destinations on schedule. According to a report from FlightStats, the airline landed nine out of 10 flights on time in 2011—the best performance of any international carrier last year—just edging out Japan Airlines International (JAL), the winner for the two previous years. (The industry average was a full 10 percent below ANA's performance, with only about eight out of ten flights hitting their scheduled marks.) ANA operates about 1,000 flights a day, primarily out of its hubs in Tokyo and Osaka, and while the bulk of its routes run within Japan, the airline also flies non-stop daily to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Honolulu. Seattle and San Jose will be added later this year as the 7th and 8th gateways in the U.S. 8. AIRLINES WITH THE BEST IN-FLIGHT ECONOMY-CLASS MEALS: THAI AIRWAYS AND VIRGIN AMERICA The ultimate proof that an airline's in-flight food soars above the competition? When people choose to eat it outside the confines of the airplane. That's what has happened with Bangkok-based Thai Airways, whose bakery items (curry puffs, fruit tarts, coffee rolls), ready-made sauces, and salad dressings do brisk sales on the ground in its Puff & Pie takeout shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Airline passengers have picked it as a winner, too. Last year, the 18 million people who voted in Skytrax's "World Airline Awards" in the economy-class food faceoff overwhelmingly opted for Thai Airways' cuisine, with its focus on local flavors in dishes like massaman curry, stir-fried chicken, and green curry, all served with white rice. (The airline does offer alternatives for fliers with dietary restrictions or less-adventurous palates.)Stateside, our in-flight food is often lacking—not just in style (or appeal), but also in substance. High-fat, low-nutrient snacks have become the order of the day. That's why Dr. Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutrition expert known as the "Diet Detective," set out last year to determine which major North American airlines serve food that's actually worth its weight in calories. His findings showed that Virgin America offers (for purchase) the most nutritionally balanced meals and snacks—like the 370-calorie egg-and-vegetable salad wrap that's packed with hunger-sating protein—of all the U.S.-based airlines he studied. Given that today's fliers are grateful for any food being available at all on planes, we're pleased to see two airlines willing to better their catering games. 9. ECO-FRIENDLIEST AIRLINE: NATURE AIR You're going to love the windows on Nature Air's planes—and not just because the super-sized panels are roughly four times as large as the ones on the last jet you flew. No, the best part is what you see out of them: the astonishing views of the Costa Rican rainforest, which serve as a constant, vivid-green reminder of just what this regional airline is trying to protect. Of course, flying is never going to be a no-impact form of travel—at least not as we know it now—but Nature Air is wholly committed to reducing its harmful effects. The decade-old airline, the world's first (self-proclaimed) carbon-neutral carrier, invests in carbon offsets for 100% of its emissions via reforestation projects on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, and is constantly working toward greater fuel efficiency through better route planning and weight reduction. Over the last three years, they've increased efficiency by seven percent, and their fleet has some of the most fuel-efficient engines flying today. Sounds like as good of a reason as any to plan a spring fling in Central America. 10. TECH-SAVVIEST AIRLINE: SCANDINAVIAN AIRLINES Imagine checking in for your flight without needing a boarding pass or a barcode, in either print or electronic form. SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) allows just that. Its system at Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm airports, debuting last fall, uses near-field communication (NFC) chips (placed inside stickers affixed to passengers' smartphones) to recognize passengers and their itineraries. Want to check in at an airport kiosk? Simply tap your smartphone, and the kiosk pulls up all relevant information. What about printing luggage tags, passing through security, or boarding the gate ramp to your plane? At each point, just tap your phone, and your info will be zapped to the machines (even if your phone is turned off). As of now, only 50,000 gold-level members of SAS's frequent flier program EuroBonus can use the tap-and-go system when traveling around Scandinavia. This summer, though, manufacturers of Samsung's Android devices—and, possibly, Apple's iPhones—are expected to release new models with NFC chips as a standard perk; here's hoping it's only a matter of time before SAS offers tap-and-go services to all its tech-forward fans. 11. MOST EXPERIENCED AIRLINE: QANTAS In the movie Rain Man, Tom Cruise says, "All airlines have crashed at one time or another. That doesn't mean that they are not safe." Dustin Hoffman responds: "Qantas. Qantas never crashed." We're happy to report that the claim still holds up—almost. The Australian national airline holds an admirable safety record, having avoided any fatal crashes for more than 60 years. Granted, Qantas has had some lesser accidents in the last few decades, including a crash of a jumbo jet in Bangkok in 1999 that caused injuries (but not deaths), and an emergency landing of a plane in Manila in 2008 after an oxygen bottle exploded. Yet with its very long track record—it's one of the world's oldest continuously operating airlines, founded in 1920—and heavy flight schedule (4,900 flights each week), the "Flying Kangaroo" still deserves kudos for consistency.
Confessions—and Travel Tips—from a Psychic
Whether you believe in psychic readings, tarot cards, and astrological signs or not, you won't want to miss what Lisa Barretta has to say about what the future holds...and about the people who want to know what's in the cards. Even if you don't believe yourself, her travel advice will shed insight into why those around you are nervous—or strangely calm—during emergencies. Plus she lets us know why she thinks you should blame the alignment of the planets or the phase of the moon instead of the airline next time your luggage is lost or your flight is cancelled. A READING IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE PEOPLE INVOLVED Sometimes you get people who are quasi-believers. They're not too sure, and they'll sit there and say, okay, tell me about my day. That's not what this is about. When someone comes to me, I actually am going into their energy field picking up irregularities. Like something seems a little amiss here, something emotional here. I feel dips in their energy, and I go in and start to get my information that way. So when somebody starts playing games like "guess my middle name," that's frustrating because it makes us look like nothing more than a human 8-ball. I've personally been doing this for a long time and I take it seriously. If you're not serious with your client and you don't have the right approach, you can do somebody as much harm as a doctor who is prescribing the wrong medicine. You're filling them with a lot of false information or false hope. THE SUBJECT THAT 90 PERCENT OF PEOPLE ASK ABOUT Ninety percent of the questions have to do with relationships, and they already kind of have a sense of what's going to happen. I find a lot of people often are looking for some type of confirmation of yes, you're on the right track. I like to read their energy first, and then I fill in a lot of the blanks with the tarot cards and astrology. I can pull three cards and get all the information I need. I tell them all after the reading, ultimately whatever decision you make is up to you. You always have your free will. I've been telling you what's best for you in your charts and in your cards, how to get from here to there with the least amount of aggravation. EVERYBODY'S CURIOUS ABOUT SOMETHING People love this stuff. I'm not kidding you. Chapter three of my book, The Streetsmart Psychic's Guide to Getting a Good Reading, talks about the type of clients that psychics encounter. The delusional damsel, that's a big one, where they're going to ask the same question until they get the answer that they want. You always get the person who I call the psychic reading virgin: it's their first time and they just keep saying "you're not going to tell me about death or an accident, right?" And God forbid you should ever pull the death card. That freaks them out and you have to spend 20 minutes explaining that card just means change. Transformation. I have done politicians and celebrities, and you know what I've found? They have the same problems as the regular people. I've had everything, I've read everything, I've heard of everything. Nothing shocks me anymore. THE BIGGEST QUESTION... WHEN? One of the biggest questions I get when I'm doing a reading is when? You tell somebody they're going to meet somebody—and they want to know what day, what hour? They want to know when because they're so stuck on time, and time does not exist in the fourth dimension. But when I have the astrological chart, I can more or less pinpoint a better time frame for them because I've looked at the transits of the planets and what's going on in their personal charts. I see a shift or change for relationships somewhere and give them a better range of timing. Because we're all impatient, myself included. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED I've had quite a few strange things happen to me, things that are extremely paranormal that there would not be any scientific explanation for. I recall one time I was giving a woman a reading and all of a sudden I'm getting this urge to tell her that the woman with the sewing machine and all the material on the floor wants her to know that everything's going to be okay. And I'm thinking, that seems like such a strange thing to tell someone. I told her, I am compelled to tell you this, and I don't know where I'm getting it from. It's not in your chart, it's not in the cards, I just have this urge to get it out. And she just started to cry and said, "My grandmother was a seamstress and she died a long time ago. I know exactly what that means." AVOID MAKING TRAVEL PLANS WHILE MERCURY IS IN RETROGRADE Three times a year, the planet Mercury, which rules travel, goes retrograde and there are all types of snafus. I read people who work for the airlines and travel for business, and they all want to know, when's the next Mercury retrograde? Rule of thumb, if you make any plans that are during the Mercury retrograde, chances are something's going to come along and change them. You want to make sure your luggage is well tagged and confirm your tickets before you go. There will be more delays with trains, planes, and weather then. You have to make sure you book the right dates, and always give yourself enough time during the retrograde. AND AVOID TRAVEL AROUND A FULL OR VOID MOON I have a lot of people who don't like to fly right before or during a full moon, because they just feel that more things could possibly go wrong then. Not that there's going to be an accident, but there's a good possibility you'll be seated next to somebody who's just really unnerving. People are stranger at that time, and usually when you're traveling, you're put into groups that you have no control over. I always tell people to make sure the moon is not void when they make their travel plans. A void moon means the moon is not in any one sign. The moon changes signs every 2.5 days but in between changing signs, the moon is considered void, and that means nothing will ever come of this matter. If you book a trip on a void moon, chances are you will have to rebook it, or something will make you change the dates. BUT FEEL FREE TO FLY ON FRIDAY THE 13TH I haven't personally run across anybody who wouldn't stay on the 13th floor or travel on Friday the 13th. I think that's probably more of a superstition than anything. WOULD YOU TELL IF YOU THOUGHT THE PLANE WAS GOING TO CRASH? I guess because I'm so energy sensitive, if I walk into a place, I can just feel the energy of it. I won't go up to anyone and say, hey, I think you need a reading. You never want to infringe upon anyone's privacy. If I was sitting next to someone and I was strongly picking up on something that I felt was information they really needed, I would find a way to kind of work it into a conversation. Say, if I'm picking up something like, watch your handbag as you walk through the airport because somebody's going to snatch it, I might put it such a way like, "You have to be careful, I know somebody who had their handbag snatched, so I always make sure I tuck it under my arm." Kind of hint around to them to take extra caution, but I wouldn't just come out and frighten anyone. If I thought that there was going to be a mechanical problem with the plane, or something, I wouldn't scare everybody else. There's always that chance that you're not exactly picking up 100 percent of what's right. So rather than have everybody abort the plane ride and get off, maybe I would just say, hey, I'm not getting on. I'm very aware, and I think the more you live in awareness, the more you develop your sixth sense. That's what my second book, The Book of Transformation, is about. The first book is how to get a good reading, and then the second one is basically how we're all really psychic. SOMETIMES IT'S BETTER TO BE OBLIVIOUS Years ago my kids were really into Anime and Japan, and asked if they'd ever get a chance to go to Japan. I looked at their charts; I was just curious. I wasn't going to tell them this, but from something I noticed in their charts I could see there could possibly be some kind of accident or catastrophe if they ever were in Japan at the same time. I put that out of my head for years. In March 2011, my youngest son was studying in Japan for his last year of college. My daughter decided to visit him, so of course that thought shot right through my head. I kept saying, be careful over there, don't do anything crazy. Don't rent mopeds or do anything nuts. Just stick to the normal touristy types of things, and she's like, we know, we know. So about two days before the big earthquake, I tell them, be careful, they have earthquakes, and they're like, "Mom, you've got to stop! They have earthquakes here all the time." The very next day, they called me at three o'clock in the morning, and said, "Mom, we just want to let you know we're all right; there really was a little earthquake here a little while ago, and you might see it on TV because they're making a big deal out of it." I'm like, hold on. I reached over and got the remote and I see these big black waves coming at me. Luckily, they had decided to go south and look at temples, so they were really far from where the real devastation was. WHEN IN DOUBT, LOOK TO YOUR PALMS One time I was on a plane coming back from Puerto Rico, and it had mechanical difficulties and we went back to the airport a few times. Finally they said it was safe and everything had been fixed. We were up there maybe about 15 minutes and suddenly the engine is on fire! People were freaking out. But ever since I was a little girl, any palm reader I went to said "You're going to live a long life. You're going to live to be 84, 85." So I looked at my palm and I figured, you know what, this plane is going to make it back. I'm going to live to be 84 or 85, so I think we're going to be okay. I was the only one on the plane that was calm. THE ENERGY OF A PLACE MATTERS With Halloween coming up, people look for little trips to Salem and Lillydale in New York, which is a big psychic center. In Philadelphia people go for a ghost walk at the Eastern State Penitentiary—I was told people actually come from as far away as Sweden to go there around Halloween. And for December 21st, 2012, so many people have told me they're going to go to Sedona, they want to go to Peru, they want to go someplace where they consider where the energy will be really strong for the opening of the galactic center, the end date of the Mayan calendar. Personally, I really love the energy of the Caribbean, especially St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. I must have had a past life down in Atlantis.