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Do YOU Live in America's Coolest Small Town 2015?

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
October 15, 2014
2014_CST_Berlin_Maryland_Fiddlers_1
Courtesy Worcester County Tourism

What does it feel like to live in America's Coolest Small Town? Ask the folks in Berlin, Maryland. In February, they topped our list, edging out Cazenovia, New York, and 13 other finalists to win the 2014 title. And they threw one heck of a victory party. (We know because we were there!)

How can YOUR town get to be America's Coolest Small Town 2015? Well, it's really up to you. If you think your town has got what it takes, we want to hear about it. Nominate Your Town Now and share what you love about living in—or visiting—your fave town. And don't forget to talk it up and share photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (tag them #ACST2015) to help your town's chances of being named a finalist. (When you share photos of your town on Instagram and tag them #ACST2015, you may even see them featured on our "Trending Cool Towns" page—how cool is that?)

Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns 2015 contest is looking for American towns with a population under 10,000 and a certain something that no place else has: great shops, food, a unique history, a breathtaking location, peerless music scene, art galleries, or maybe something cool we haven't even thought of yet! We invite you to tell us a little about your town today (click on Nominate Your Town Now). And don't forget to share your town's coolest restaurants, attractions, and lodgings on social media—tag your posts with #ACST2015 to help generate buzz!

We'll gather nominations until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2, then we'll review them to narrow the list to 15 finalists. We'll use your votes (from BudgetTravel.com and from social media posts tagged #ACST2015) as a guide, and also look for diversity in geography, attractions, architecture, and other factors we consider cool. In January, we'll post the 15 finalists and ask our audience to cast their votes. In February, we'll announce the 10 winners.

Wanna know what it really feels like to live in America's Coolest Small Town? It all starts today. Nominate Your Town Now!

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Surprise! These Are the World's Top Honeymoon Destinations

Wedding "party," indeed! Vegas, baby, Vegas is the most popular spot in the world to honeymoon, according to new data from Facebook—but it's not U.S. residents who are making it No. 1. International newlyweds most want to live it up in Sin City. That factoid and others were uncovered after the latest round of stat-crunching from the Facebook Data Team. The social network examined information from users who posted a "marriage event" this year and then checked in somewhere 20 miles or farther from their hometown within two weeks. Voilà: crazy amounts of intel about who's honeymooning where in 2014. A sample like this isn't comprehensive, of course, but it does provide a voyeuristic snapshot into the romantic-travel plans of a certain social-media-savvy demographic. Here are some of the more fascinating findings: After Vegas at No. 1, Hawaii and Mexico are the next most popular honeymoon locales for couples around the globe. Top destinations for all (international + U.S.) couples: 1. Las Vegas, USA 2. Lahaina, USA 3. Honolulu, USA 4. Playa del Carmen, Mexico 5. Cancún, Mexico 6. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic 7. Montego Bay, Jamaica 8. Antalya, Turkey 9. Castries, St. Lucia 10. Gramado, Brazil Among U.S. couples, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, is the No. 1 spot for a honeymoon. Top destinations for U.S. couples: 1. Lahaina, USA 2. Castries, St. Lucia 3. Honolulu, USA 4. Montego Bay, Jamaica 5. Las Vegas, USA 6. Gros Islet, St. Lucia 7. Playa del Carmen, Mexico 8. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic 9. Ocho Rios, Jamaica 10. Cancún, Mexico Ever-classic Hawaii is right up there again—in fact, Facebook says, if you zero in on U.S.-only honeymoon hot spots, destinations in Hawaii make up half of them. U.S. couples traveled a median of slightly more than 500 miles away from home. Compared with the 70 other countries included in the roundup, the U.S. is almost smack dab the middle, as far as in distance traveled for a honeymoon. Couples from South Korea, Italy, and Qatar traveled the farthest—up to about 4,000 miles for South Koreans. One hundred-plus couples flew more than 12,000 miles away for their getaway—literally halfway around the world. (Sayonara, in-laws!) Facebook says Spanish couples who traveled to New Zealand and Peruvians who traveled to Thailand were a large portion of them. Only 19 percent of U.S. newlyweds took an international trip. Why do U.S. couples tend to stick close to home? Romantic-travel expert Susan Breslow Sardone, of About.com and author of Destination Weddings for Dummies, said the reasons could be economic, but the U.S. is no slouch when it comes to bringing the romance. "We've got a very diverse and interesting country," she says. "So whether a couple wants to honeymoon in a tropical location like Miami and the Keys, ski the great mountains of the Rockies, go camping in the open West, or experience cities with fantastic cuisine like NYC and San Francisco, they don't need to cross an ocean to do it."  Let's keep this conversation going. Like Budget Travel on Facebook and share your honeymoon advice!

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5 "Boomtowns" You MUST Visit ASAP

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This article was written by Sia Ling Xin, who travels and writes about it for Asiarooms.com, a blog and online community focused on travelling in Asia. You can also find her on Twitter. The Land of the Rising Sun is known for crazy manga, super-punctual trains and a penchant for raw fish. Many a time, I've heard friends grouse about not going to Japan because they do not enjoy sushi. Even if you're not a fan of sliced fish on rice and seaweed, Japan has whole host of delicious offerings. Here are some of my favorites. RamenThe ramen in Japan tastes nothing like its air-dried and pre-packed cousin college students are known to consume excessively. Instead, imagine chewy noodles and a thick, rich broth that fills your tummy like no other on a cold night. There are many different soup bases—miso, shio, shoya being the most popular—and purveyors of a certain type may vehemently decry the others. If the first bowl you tried was not to your liking, simply note down the type of soup base it is, and try another kind out when you stumble upon another ramen restaurant. A bowl of ramen typically comes with chicken or pork chasu (a type of marinated and sliced meat), an egg (a well-executed ramen egg should always have a gooey yolk and savoury white) and all sorts of garnishing such as spring onions, leek and sesame seeds. TonkatsuThis is the Japanese version of the fried pork chop, cut into thin strips and served alongside rice, a salad of shredded lettuce, and miso soup. If you're into guilty pleasures, this crispy, tasty piece of goodness will be your go-to meal when it comes to Japanese cuisine. Many people fear that the cutlet may be tough and greasy, but the Japanese have perfected the art of deep-frying, so put aside that worry and tuck in. TempuraSpeaking of Japanese deep-frying techniques, tempura is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Prawns, sliced pumpkin or eggplant, and or even whole soft-shell crabs, are dipped in a starchy batter and deep fried. Instead of tasting heavy and filling, though, a well-executed tempura is always light, grease-free, and a delicious snack or finger food. Tempuras go great with Japanese cold noodles, or soba, as the hot and cold contrast nicely. Tempuras are often dipped in a savoury broth not unlike a thin, watery version of soya sauce, and topped with grated daikon and ginger. OkonomiyakiThe name of this pancake-like dish translates to 'grill-as-you-like'—and that is exactly how the dish works. Anything from cabbage to sliced octopus, or bacon and shrimp, may be wrapped inside a floury batter and grilled until it becomes a thick, fluffy pancake. It is then topped with a variety of sauces, such as Japanese mayonnaise and ketchup. Dried bonito flakes (parmesan thin slices of dried, fermented tuna) and seaweed may also be added into the mix. The result is a wholesome, sure-fire crowd pleaser that even fussy kids will love—even the most squeamish person will not notice the octopus in there. Some okonomiyaki restaurants have tabled with hotplates installed, which allow diners to grill their own pancakes. After feeling the heat of grilling your own pancake, down a couple of cold Japanese beers to round off your perfect dinner.  Gyu-donIf you're a fan of beef, you have to try Japan's gyu-don, or beef bowl, at least once. A bowl of fluffy rice would be topped with thinly sliced beef and onion simmered in a flavourful broth. The beef and onion may taste mildly sweet, almost as though caramelised, and chili flakes may sometimes be added to give this dish a spicy kick. Some also like to crack a raw egg atop the rice bowl, which makes the rice rich and slick, giving the dish another dimension. Those who are sick of rice or prefer something soupy may want to try out the beef udon—just as warming and delicious as the beef bowl, you can enjoy your egg half-cooked in this steaming hot dish.

Budget Travel Lists

15 Incredible Things to Do in Iceland

This article was written by Katie Hammel on behalf of Viator.com. The average person probably knows one of three things about Iceland: it’s the home of Bjork, the country went bankrupt in 2008, and in 2010 its unpronounceable volcano disrupted air travel in Europe and North America for several days. For decades, Iceland remained off the radar of most travelers, but in recent years the country has amped up its tourism campaign, showcasing its beauty and culture to prospective visitors who are discovering that this seemingly-remote speck of land in the North Atlantic Ocean is much closer—and much more exciting—than they might have guessed. Iceland is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with a small land area that contrasts with just how “big” that diversity makes it feel. 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It’s at once provincial and modern, traditional and progressive. It’s one of the most technologically connected countries in the world yet the phone book is still organized by first name. It was one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage but families still have to choose baby names from a list of “approved” Icelandic names. The “land of fire and ice” is a land of contrasts—both physical and cultural—that make it a delightful, quirky, enchanting surprise just waiting to be discovered. How to discover it? Here are a few ideas for incredible things to do in Iceland: Stop by the airport Duty FreeOkay, this first one may not be an incredible thing to do, but it is necessary if you plan to drink in Iceland. Once you deplane, make a beeline for the airport Duty Free shop to pick up provisions. Drinks in Icelandic bars and restaurants are on the expensive side at around $8 for a beer and $12 to $20 for a mixed drink, so when planning a night out, most people have a few at home to start. Aside from the Duty Free, alcohol is only available at licensed Vínbúðin stores (which in small towns might have extremely limited hours, such as Thursdays only from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.) and it’s taxed based on alcohol content. A bottle of Icelandic Reyka vodka, for example, bought at the airport Duty Free will cost about 1/3 of the price at the Vínbúðin. Beer and wine prices are about equal, but if you’re heading to a smaller town it still pays to stock up. Get wet, and then get wet againYes, it’s touristy, and from May to September it will be packed, but the strange, milky blue waters of the Blue Lagoon truly are curative after a few hours cramped in coach. Located closer to the airport than to Reykjavik, it’s a great stop either on your way from (my vote) or back to the airport. In the north of the country, the Myvatn Nature Baths provide a similar, though much less crowded, experience. Once you’ve experienced the touristy hot springs, you’re not done getting wet in Iceland. Icelanders love to soak and swim, and do so at public pools in every city as well as secluded natural hot springs that dot the countryside. No matter where you are in Iceland you’ll have the chance to do the same. Just. Drive. On and off the Ring Road.No really, just get a rental car and leave the city. I love the tiny metropolis of Reykjavik but no visit to Iceland would be complete without some time spent out exploring what really makes Iceland unique: the rugged land that has shaped its people, its history, its food, and its culture. Even if you’re visiting in winter and plan to base yourself in Reykjavik, there are several easy day tours you can do without the need for four-wheel drive. If plan to drive a bit farther to other regions of Iceland, you’ll be driving on the Ring Road, the 832-mile road that encircles the island. In many places, it’s the only road, but when the road does diverge into smaller branches, be sure to diverge with it. It’s down some of these smaller roads that you’ll find some of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders. Explore the Golden CircleThe country’s most famous drive is The Golden Circle, which loops approximately 150 miles from Reykjavik to three of Iceland’s top natural attractions. The first stop is Thingvellir National Park, site of Iceland’s (and the world’s) first Parliament and the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. The rift is clearly visible and you can even walk (and snorkel and dive) in between the plates. Yes, you can snorkel in Iceland, even in the winter. You’ll be outfitted in a dry suit to keep you warm and dry in the cold water which comes from nearby glaciers and is some of the clearest on earth thanks to years of filtering through lava rocks. Its clarity has been known to give snorkelers vertigo as they float above the rift, peering hundreds of feet down into the center of the earth. The next stop on the Golden Circle is Geysir, the site of the geyser for which all are named. Geysir no longer erupts but nearby Strokkur does, shooting water in the air at regular intervals. The last stop is the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. Take a turn on the Reykjavik runtourIn town, there’s no better way to get to know the citizens of Reykjavik than on the runtour, the weekend pub crawl. Runtour means “round tour,” a throwback to the days when bored kids would spend their evenings driving around town in circles. Now they make those circles on foot, bouncing from bar to bar in the compact downtown. To join them, start late (around 10pm) with some pre-drinking at home, hit the clubs around midnight and stay out until the bars close at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. For a tamer intro to drinking in Iceland, the Olgerdin Brewery tour is a great option. The tour takes you behind the scenes of the brewery and of course includes several samples. Eat some Icelandic hot dogs—and other delicaciesWhich brings me to my next must-do: eating an Icelandic hot dog. Come 5 a.m. on Saturday, the most popular spot for the post-bar crowd is Bæjarins beztu pylsur, a hot dog stand down near the harbor. Hot dogs may well be the official national food of Iceland, available in every city (and at every gas station) around the island. And these are no ordinary hot dogs. Topped with raw and fried onions, a brown mustard and some remoulade, they’re made of lamb and pork and incredibly addictive—whether you’re sober or not. Other, slightly more traditional, Icelandic fare includes local delicacies like puffin (often served smoked with a berry sauce), skyr (a very low fat, high protein yogurt eaten alone or often used in dips and desserts), whale (controversial, but actually pretty tasty, with a texture like beef), hákarl (fermented shark), and—my favorite—plokkfiskur, a dish made from boiled and mashed cod and potatoes. To sample a variety of foods in smaller portions, head to Tapas Barrinn. For a quick and casual meal, try Icelandic Fish and Chips, which serves a variety of baked fish with an assortment of flavored skyr dips. Go riding on the cutest horses in the worldYou may have seen photos of the Icelandic horse and assumed it was actually a pony. It’s not. Though they are short, squat, and impossibly adorable, these horses are super strong and very smart. They develop long shaggy fur during the cold winters and are known for being very curious and docile. They also have a unique fifth gait called the tolt that is superfast and smooth, like riding in an easy chair. Even if you don’t book a horseback riding excursion (there are farms just a minutes outside the city), be sure to pull over when you see a few grazing in a nearby field. Chances are they’ll wander over in search of new friends. Learn about early Icelanders at the Settlement MuseumOne of the best museums in Reykjavik, the Settlement Museum, is built around an old (circa 871) Viking long house that was uncovered in 2001. Inside the museum you’ll find interactive exhibits that detail the settlement and early years of life of Iceland. Wander the Reykjavik HarborFor a study in juxtaposition, head to the Reykjavik harbor where you’ll see whaling ships (with their big red H’s painted on top) side-by-side with tourist whale watching ships. If you’re looking to take a whale watching trip out of the city, this is where you’ll meet the boat. The harbor also has some top notch seafood restaurants nearby, like Seabaron, where you choose a kabob (lobster, fish, whale) that’s cooked to order and can be served alongside a hearty bread-bowl full of lobster soup. See the view from HallgrímskirkjaBuilt in 1938, the “big white church” is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Iceland (find your hotel relative to it and you’ll never be lost). Most tourists visit for the view from the top, which is takes in the brightly colored houses of Reykjavik, the grey bay, and snowcapped Mount Esja in the distance. The viewing platform is accessed via an elevator for a small fee (about $6). Shop for a lopapeysa at the KolaportiðReykjavik’s weekend Kolaportið flea market is like any other—amidst a lot of trash, you’ll find some true treasures. Among them are the lopapeysas, traditional hand knit sweaters sold here for a fraction of the cost as those in the souvenir shops. See the Northern Lights or the Midnight SunIceland’s skies fascinate year round, as the midnight sun dominates the horizon well past 12 a.m. in June and July and the Northern Lights twinkle overhead from September to March. The latter is less predictable; I’ve visited during March and left without a sighting and have visited during the first week of September and been treated to an unusually bright and spectacular display. If you’re hoping to catch the show, pay attention to the Aurora forecast and be ready to head to a rural area if conditions are right. Go whale watching—and then stay a while—in HusavikYou can go whale watching from the harbor in Reykjavik, but in summer the best place to spot whales is farther north, in Husavik. Once a whaling town, it’s now considered the whale watching capital of the world thanks to the thousands of whales that visit each summer. Most visitors blow through Husavik—they come for the whales and then continue on their way—but the town makes a great base for more exploration in the north. Kaldbaks-kot offers small, no-frills cottages with gorgeous views of the fjord, within easy driving distance of several of the north’s best attractions, including Lake Myvatn, the Myvatn Nature Baths, and Godafoss waterfall. Pick a region and goMany of the visitors who venture out of Reykjavik choose to drive the whole Ring Road. With minimal stops, you could it in 24 hours. But trust me, you’re going to want to stop. A lot. If circling the island seems too ambitious, just focus on one or two regions. The Snaefellsness Peninsula is easily covered in a day or two and provides a great intro to the diversity of Iceland’s landscapes; it’s often called “Iceland in miniature” for this reason. To really get off the beaten path, head to the Westfjords. The region is one of the least densely populated in Iceland but is known for its beautiful mountains and fjords. Another lesser-visited spot, the East Fjords offer a look at the early Norwegian settlements of Iceland. Iceland is closer—and warmer—than you think. On average, its winters are warmer than New York, and the flight from NYC is just about five hours. Flights from Seattle and Denver, the other U.S. gateways, aren’t much longer and if you go in the off-season, you can often score flights for less than $600 round-trip. Click here for more things to do in Iceland.

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