Cool Towns for Holiday Shopping
Budget Travel loves celebrating America’s coolest towns as much as we love celebrating the holidays. So when Expedia mined data across social media platforms to see which local shops and holiday markets were getting the most buzz, we were psyched to learn the results. Here, five of the cool communities where you’ll find unique holiday gifts, a vibrant downtown, natural beauty, and an overall great travel experience.
FLAGSTAFF, AZ: A SHOPPING PASSPORT WITH PRIZES
The Flagstaff Holiday Shopping Passport is an appealing idea for nudging holiday shoppers to discover the bounty that local shops have to offer, rewarding shoppers who hit at least five stores (or spend at least $250) with the chance to win prizes. Flagstaff’s varied local businesses offer enough variety to check everybody off your shopping list, with outdoor and camping gear, books, home decor, candles, honey, personal care products, fine art, flowers, upscale clothing and much more.
MYRTLE BEACH, SC: CHRISTMAS CRAFTS BY THE SEA
Sure, you think of Myrtle Beach as one of your favorite summer destinations. So do we. But when the holidays roll around, the coastal community's ocean views and famous hospitality make for a beautiful backdrop for shopping and revelry. The Holiday Bazaar on Saturdays at Market Common, an annual Myrtle Beach tradition, offers seasonal craft vendors and fresh food. Plus, holiday events will be happening all over the Myrtle Beach area throughout the holiday season, including Crazy Country Christmas music and comedy shows, Motown Christmas Tribute concerts, and the Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens, a gorgeous arboretum and sculpture garden.
MISSOULA, MT: EUROPEAN-STYLE FOOD & FUN
You might not expect to shop at a traditional European-style Christmas market in the heart of the Montana Rockies, but Missoula’s Little Red Truck Vintage Market European Christmas, at the fairgrounds (with heated barns), is a pleasant cultural juxtapositions. Hand-crafted gifts, antiques, exquisite European-style baked goods (and bratwurst), live music, and a visit from Santa Claus in his sleigh make this one of the West’s unique holiday events. And don’t miss Missoula’s Hip Holiday Market, sponsored by the Lowell School PTA and featuring the work of 50 local artists.
BOWLING GREEN, KY: A FRESH MARKETPLACE
We love Bowling Green’s SoKY Marketplace, a year-round outdoor farmers market that offers not only fresh, locally grown produce but also handmade holiday crafts, baked goods, meats, cheeses, and an array of other locally sourced products. Downtown Bowling Green also boasts a holiday ice-skating rink and an annual Christmas parade.
MUSKOGEE, OK: CHRISTMAS IN A CASTLE
Castleton Village, in downtown Muskogee, will enchant visitors with thousands of lights (you can drive or take a hayride or train, or take a pony ride). Inside the Castle Christmas, families will savor the holiday shopping, ornament-decorating, cocoa and snacks, and a visit with Father Christmas.
5 Things Budget Travelers Are Thankful For
When my family sits down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, we have a tradition that I actually look forward to even more than the food: We first take a moment to go around the table and share something each of us is particularly thankful for. From the youngest at the table to the eldest, it's a mindful way to take stock of the past year and share our hopes for the future. At Budget Travel, we have a lot to be thankful for, and we hear from our audience regularly about the travel trends and experiences that you most appreciate. We want to share our thoughts with you, our extended family: TRAVEL MAKE US MORE TOLERANT Despite the latest wave of bad news around the world, more people are traveling than ever before and we are, of course, firm believers in the power of travel to break down the barriers between cultures. Once you’ve walked the streets of a foreign city, tasted the flavors of its food, and listened to the language, songs, and laughter of its people, you return home with something more valuable than any souvenir, something that can’t be taken away: Empathy. TRAVEL MAKES US HAPPIER Don’t take our word for it. Numerous studies have suggested over the years that spending money on experiences rather than on possessions makes people happier. The anticipation of planning a trip, the experience itself, and your memories (even the memories of travel fails!) all combine to boost your sense of well-being. We take this research very much to heart when recommending not only big annual vacations but also three-day weekends, road trips, and girlfriend getaways that pack the anticipation/experience/memories into a smaller package. SOCIAL MEDIA BRINGS THE WORLD TO YOU Yes, we know, we know. Your feed is sometimes cluttered with political rants, questionable "news" items, your friends' pets, and unappetizing dinner pics. But at their best, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest deliver the world to us when we’re looking for trip inspiration or up-to-the minute news, and, in turn, allow travel media brands like Budget Travel to deliver the world to you. PHOTOGRAPHY IS MORE ACCESSIBLE THAN EVER While we understand there’s no substitute for a great camera and a pro photographer (and our photo essays and slideshows certainly prove that), we are extremely thankful that smartphones and tablets have put the means of taking great pics in the hands of so many people. Like the social media platforms where photos get shared, the abundance of fabulous images is making the world a smaller place. FOOD IS WAY BETTER THAN IT USED TO BE It wasn’t too long ago that traveling meant a strange balancing act between sublime new tastes and bland or flat-out awful food. But restaurants, airports, airlines, food trucks, and a nearly worldwide focus on nutrition and taste (thanks to the pioneering work of food activists such as Alice Waters) have raised the culinary game across the U.S. and Europe and beyond. And while we're on the subject of giving thanks, please remember that it is easier than ever to help those who don’t have enough to eat by donating to Oxfamamerica.org.
"Road Soda" Delivers Tasty Cocktail Recipes for Travelers
It’s happened to the best of us: you end up in a hotel room or on a plane or at a campsite and you’ve spent what seems like an entire day getting there. A cocktail would be really nice at that point, but you don’t want to take out a mortgage on your home to buy the micro-bottles from your minibar and a gin and tonic from a harried flight attendant just won’t do the trick. In this situation, the trick is resourcefulness. In “Road Soda,” Kara Newman, spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, talks to bartenders around the country to create a compendium of clever techniques, practical hacks, and surprisingly simple recipes that can ensure a well-made cocktail is never as far away as your destination. We sat down with her to talk about "Road Soda" (one of Budget Travel's "Holiday Gifts for Cocktail Enthusiasts"), fancy ice, Ziploc bags, and how to make a cocktail at 39,000 feet. YOUR HOTEL MINI FRIDGE HAS MORE COCKTAIL INGREDIENTS THAN YOU THINK BUDGET TRAVEL: You note in your book that an epic delay in Mexico while you were en route home to New York helped kicked this book into gear. What happened there? KARA NEWMAN: It was a ten hour flight delay and I was with some colleagues who suggested we grab a hotel room so we could rest, work, refresh. All I had was my carryon, which included a bottle of tequila, so I grabbed armfuls of Squirt, the grapefruit soda that’s mixed with tequila in Mexico to make palomas, and the weirdest corn chip flavors I could find. I called everyone and said, ‘Paloma party in my room!’ I was in a foul mood, and it made me feel more civilized. The delay was less like a chore and little more like an adventure. It’s this kind of attitude adjustment that I hope people are able to take away. BT: In all your conversations with bartenders, was there anything you learned that particularly surprised you? KARA: I was really surprised by Julie Reiner’s [owner of NYC’s legendary Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge] machinations to bring an entire daiquiri on board a plane—fancy ice and all. It came my way through social media, someone posted a photo on Facebook of Julie shaking daiquiris onboard a flight to Hawaii. She told me she brings all the ingredients and, of course, purchases the rum on board. She had a cooler of dense Kold Draft ice—the kind serious bartenders like to use because it doesn’t dilute quickly—and her own shaker. It surprised me that she’d be so willing to go to these lengths to have that kind of experience on board. She was even considerate by wrapping cocktail shaker in a blanket. She was in first class, so she had some elbow room and wasn’t knocking into neighbors if she’s shaking. You have to know your constraints. BT: Knowing your constraints seems like good advice for anything in life. KARA: I was also amazed by Atlanta bartender Tiffanie Barriere’s suggestion to use a scooped-out half lemon or lime as a jigger. It’s a watertight vessel, nature’s nifty jigger. It never even occurred to me as a possibility, but it works. It’s so crazy. It won’t always be precise ounce or half-ounce, but if you use it every time you’ll get the right proportions. I also liked that another acclaimed New York bartender Pam Wiznitzer gave me her mom’s tip to pack arm-floaties—those things kids use to learn how to swim—to keep bottles safe while you travel. Pack them deflated and blow them up and stick a bottle in it. Insta-packaging! PLANES, TRAINS, BEACHES, AND CAMPSITES: THERE'S A DRINK FOR THAT BT: Your book is organized in chapters. I really enjoyed the one about how to make the most of your hotel mini-bar, but I was struck by the three chapters that each focus on a specific vessel--flasks, bottles and cans, bags. Some of that would never occur to me—like plastic bags??! KARA: I was amazed by how many drinks could be made in bags. That was a shocker. I can’t believe I did an entire chapter on drinks in Ziploc baggies and Capri-Sun pouches. But it’s just really nice to have an alternative to a glass if you’re going to a beach. And as for bottles, that’s great when you don’t have a shaker. Then a lot of bartenders seemed to be into hiking and outdoor sports. Among bartenders who like to climb mountains, I had a lot of conversations about flasks and packing metal or plastic instead of glassware. There are practical reasons for taking drinks in flasks or Bota bag. BT: “Road soda,” you note, is actually a traditional term for an alcoholic drink consumed in a vehicle. (Presumably not by the driver!!) How’d you uncover that history? KARA: I was at a cocktail conference in San Antonio and touring through the Anthony Hotel, a historic, luxurious hotel built in 1909. Outside there was a place where cars pulled up and handed their “roadie,” a drink to take on the road. BT: Wow, times sure have changed. KARA: I was astonished. Who’d do that now?? It sounds so luxurious, in a way. Of course, I am NOT encouraging drivers to drink. Far from it!! BT: I realize it’s hard to pick favorites, but….what's your favorite cocktail from the book? KARA: I’ve been digging the ones in flasks. When I want to take something with me, I’ll take the Pendergast (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura bitters) or the Rebanack (rye, orange curacao, Strega liqueur, Peychaud's bitters). They’re nice easy sippers that are especially good when you want to just show what the whole idea is about. Plus they’re in easy-to-pour in containers, so they're easy to share. We asked Kara to pick a few drinks from her book and recommend a trip to match. Here are her suggestions. FOR HIKING, CAMPING and MOTEL-HOPPING: Under My Skin (makes 10 drinks) 10 ounces Calvados 10 ounces Bigallet China-China Amer10 ounces Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth Funnel all ingredients into a 1-liter bota bag or bottle and shake gently to combine. To serve, pour into rocks glasses, each with one large ice cube, using 3 ounces of cocktail per serving. FOR CONCERT-GOING, OR ANY CROWD-HEAVY OUTING: Rebennack (makes 1 drink) 1.5 ounces rye whiskey .75 ounce orange curacao .25 ounce Strega liqueur 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters Funnel all the ingredients into a flask and cap tightly. FOR LAST-MINUTE CARIBBEAN ESCAPE: Jungle Bird on the Wing (makes 1 drink) 2 sugar packets (2 teaspoons)2 teaspoons water 1 mini bottle (50 ml) rum, preferably an aged rum.75 ounce Campari 1.5 ounces pineapple juice3 lime wedges In a small cup, stir the sugar and water together until sugar dissolves to form a simple syrup. Fill a large plastic cup halfway with ice, then add the rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and simple syrup. Squeeze in the juice from 2 of the lime wedges and stir until chilled. Pull the peel off the remaining lime wedge and use as garnish.
Spend the Holidays in a Castle
Who says there's no place like home for the holidays? Why not give yourself the royal treatment? Rent a room or apartment in one of these surprisingly economical real-life castles, and toast the season as though the whole Christmas feast is in your honor. A 16TH-CENTURY SCOTTISH CASTLE ALL TO YOURSELF Thirlestane Castle: Lauder, Scotland History: Thirlestane was originally a 13th-century fort, but then one of Scotland's richest families, Clan Maitland, set to work rebuilding it as their home in the 1500s. The Duke of Lauderdale died in 1682, but apparently he wasn't very eager to abdicate the castle—his ghost is thought to still roam the corridors. Price: From about $160 per night, celticcastles.com What you get: Privacy in a bucolic setting. You'll be the only overnight guests in the castle, leaving you free to re-enact your favorite Game of Thrones episodes in peace after a few chalices of wine. The Lauderdale Suite is in the castle's south wing and comes equipped with a full kitchen, an original clawfoot bathtub, and parkland views. The "self-catering" option is the cheapest, meaning cooking your own meals, but you can book a personal cook or meal delivery for an extra fee. Take your daily constitutional into the woodlands through the formal rose garden, dine on the secluded picnic tables on the grounds, and enjoy exclusive use of the castle's courtyard. GOURMET FOOD & GOLF IN TUSCANY Castello at Castelfalfi: Tuscany, Italy History: Once owned by the Medici family, this 800-year-old medieval village was abandoned in the 1960s but is now a swank resort. Price: From about $300 per night, toscanaresortcastelfalfi.com What you get: An unforgettable Christmas with beaucoup perks. This Italian vacation is a splurge for sure, but you might find the special extras worth the cash: You'll stay in the (festively decorated) building that was once the village's tobacco factory,and hear live holiday music as you dine on special Christmas and New Year's menus in the castle proper, at the property's gourmet Tuscan bistro helmed by a Michelin-starred chef. Or opt for a four-course holiday menu at the more affordable Il Rosmarino trattoria—one of the courses is roast pork tenderloin with Chianti and radicchio (from about $50, beverage included). Your stay also includes access to the 27-hole golf course. Greens fees are reduced during the low season, or you can practice your swing at the hotel's driving range for less than $15. A FAIRY TALE RESIDENCE IN FRANCE Château Hermitage de Combas: Servian, France History: A medieval fortress turned castle residence, the château sits amid 123-plus acres of vineyards in Southern France. Famous figures like the playwright/actor Molière have called the Languedoc-Roussillon region home. Locals say Molière himself probably performed in this very castle. Price: From about $125 per night, homeaway.com, charming-holidays.fr What you get: A fairy tale come true. You can stay in the round tower just like Rapunzel—but with many more activity options. Enveloped by lavender and rosebushes, the castle has 25 apartments with full kitchens, plus a heated pool, a tennis court, and an on-site restaurant that offers a special Christmas menu and fireside dining. It's also within driving distance of the coast—the weather in December is good enough to rent a classic convertible from the castle to tour the grapevine-lined road. Come Christmastime, each apartment, the main entrance hall, and the stairway are decked out in holiday regalia. A CHRISTMAS FEAST IN THE HEART OF IRELAND Clontarf Castle Hotel: Dublin, Ireland History: Clontarf Castle was built in 1172 and changed hands several times in the 17th century, including from military and political leader Oliver Cromwell to Captain John Blackwell. Nearly 200 years later, due to sinking foundations, the building was demolished and then rebuilt in 1837. Price: From around $250 per night, clontarfcastle.ie What you get: Modern luxuries like 24-hour room service and a flatscreen TV, plus convenient proximity to Dublin sightseeing. The castle is only a 10-minute drive from the city center. Pony up for the slightly pricier Christmas Package, and you can enjoy a Christmas Eve arrival reception with mulled wine, mince pies, and Christmas carols, plus other perks like a champagne Christmas Day breakfast and Christmas Day mass. OPULENCE & MOUNTAIN VIEWS IN UPSTATE NEW YORK The Inn at Erlowest: Lake George, New York History: The castle dream home of American lawyer and politician Edward Morse Shepard, Erlowest was built out of solid granite in 1898 on Millionaire's Row along the Lake George shore. Price: From $195 per night, theinnaterlowest.com What you get: A rich, immersive getaway experience—especially if Titanic-era history fascinates you. The Howe Suite is the most wallet-friendly of the 10 rooms and offers a king-size sleigh bed, gas fireplace, and lake and Adirondack mountain views. A cheese platter, bottle of champagne, and a full breakfast each morning is complimentary. BOOK A GREAT DEAL ON HOLIDAY LODGING RIGHT HERE AT BUDGET TRAVEL To find more holiday lodging, from opulent castle rentals to efficient hotel rooms, book your stay right here at Budget Travel's Book a Hotel page.
Your Vacation Lodging Is About to Get Way More Beautiful
If you've ever dreamed of sleeping over in a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece or exchanging your prewar fourth-floor walk-up for an off-grid glass house in the California desert, we've got good news. The website PlansMatter, a hub for design-savvy vacation rentals and hotels around the world, has curated a roster of properties to make even the most avid Architectural Digest subscriber drool. Launched in 2013 by two friends from architecture school, the platform places a premium on good looks, great bones, and beautiful locations, from the most photographed house on Australia's Great Ocean Road to an underground villa in Switzerland with a facade that blends into the hills, reachable only via a tunnel that starts in an adjacent shed and burrows through the mountain. Of course, such cutting-edge properties come at a price, and while we can’t in good conscience recommend dropping $1,000 a night on a house in Topanga (stunning as it may be), the site does offer a few bargains for the budget-oriented architecture buff. These options may be a bit more rustic than their highbrow brethren, but they still provide the designer touches and modernist details of contemporary classics. AN AWARD-WINNING LANDSCAPE IN MINNESOTA Whitetail Woods Camper CabinsFarmington, MN$75 per night You don’t normally associate a public park with AIA-award-winning design, but in Dakota County, Minnesota, that’s just what you’ll find. In the heart of Whitetail Woods Regional Park stand three ramp-accessible camper cabins, open year-round and surrounded by pine trees, hiking trails, and wildlife. The elevated structures give off a fancy treehouse vibe, with sleek cedar-clad interiors, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, heat, electricity, and wifi. Online reservations can be made 365 days out, and you’ll definitely want to book well in advance, especially for a weekend stay—Friday and Saturday nights get snapped up right away. DESIGN-FORWARD HUTS WITH MOUNTAIN VIEWS Rolling HutsWinthrop, WA$145 per night Nestled in an alpine meadow, the site of a former RV campground is now home to a “herd” of minimalist rolling wood-and-steel huts. Boasting unobstructed mountain vistas, these glass-fronted, shoebox-shaped structures have wood-burning fireplaces, heating and air conditioning, modest cork and plywood interiors, and covered decks for indoor-outdoor living. There’s wifi, but no indoor plumbing—each hut has a water faucet and a portable toilet outside, with communal showers and proper toilets located in a nearby barn, an inconvenience offset by the sheer beauty of the view. A HISTORIC COTTAGE IN THE OZARKS StoneflowerHeber Springs, AR$199 per night A juxtaposition of stone and sky in the Arkansas Ozarks, this E. Fay Jones-designed cottage earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and it hasn’t lost its luster in the intervening years. With a cave-like lower level constructed from salvaged boulders, featuring stone walls, sofa bases, and a shower reminiscent of a grotto; a soaring, steel-and-glass main level with a 30-foot deck, a vintage kitchenette, air conditioning, and infrared heating; and an upper level with a sleeping loft overlooking the treetops, Stoneflower appears to spring fully formed from the rocky terrain below. It’s not at all child-proofed, though, so save this one for an adults-only getaway.