See the winners of our travel photo challenge
We teamed up with GuruShots, the world's favorite photo game, to run a travel photo contest. Almost 100k photos were submitted to the challenge, and we are pleased to feature the top 500 travel photos from around the world!
Without further ado, here are the contest winners:
Romantic Montana vacations for couples
Imagine being snuggled up in a cozy cabin somewhere far away from reality. The fire is glowing as snow-capped mountains sit in the background. Hiking trails and ski slopes abound. This mental picture is why we’re convinced there might be no better place for a romantic getaway this Valentine’s Day than Montana, dubbed “The Last Best Place” for a reason. The western part of the state particularly makes it obvious why it earned the right to that nickname. The global health crisis has meant weddings across the country (and the world) have been downsized, postponed, or canceled altogether. But celebrating love seems more important than ever as we collectively hit the year anniversary of socially distancing from friends, family, and lovers. While the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, Montana offers couples the perfect place to turn up the romance and disconnect from the noise this February in a safe and snowy setting. The first step in setting up the sexiest, socially-distant Valentine’s escape in Montana is finding the right place to stay. Calowahcan Cabin Ronan, Montana Set against the Mission Mountain range is an idyllic couples retreat in the form of a 500 square foot cabin. The cabin and its signature slanted roof sits on 10 acres of prairie only minutes from untamed Montana wilderness. The scenery is the selling point, but Calowahcan’s giant ceramic bathtub is a surefire way to set the mood. Unwind with your lover by lighting a bonfire on the patio, wildflowers and mountain peaks standing in the distance. Calowahcan is the right accommodation for couples seeking rest and respite; those who want to hit the hiking trails but, ultimately, are happy to settle in for an evening surrounded by snowy peaks on the horizon. Classic Whitefish A-Frame Whitefish, Montana This A-frame cabin in picturesque Whitefish is what Montana getaway dreams are made of. A cosy bed sits in the loft space overlooking Whitefish Lake, with twinkly lights illuminating the patio. The bonfire pit out back is well suited for warming up over s’mores making. Exploring the town is made simple thanks to the cabin being ideally located only a 10-minute drive from breweries and restaurants. Having a Valentine’s weekend spent in Whitefish is especially well-suited for skiers and snowboarders, as the town is home to one of the state’s most esteemed ski resorts. Meadowlark Treehouse Columbia Falls, Montana What is more romantic than cuddling up to your loved one under twinkly lights hanging from a three-story treehouse? Not much, honestly. A simple scroll of Meadowlark’s Instagram account will have you drooling over the interior of the cabin in equal measure to the beauty right out the front door. The treehouse comes full of blankets, board games, and books to keep you occupied, as well as a fire pit if you fancy lighting a fire. Reclusive Moose Cabins West Glacier National Park, Montana On the edge of West Glacier, near crystal clear lakes and purple mountains, are a set of small log cabins with the necessary amenities for a lovers’ retreat. Fireplace? Check. Kitchen fully equipped for you to cook up a Valentine’s Day dinner? Check. Comfortable bed for post-hike cuddles? Check. As a cutesy touch, each cabin is named after Montana wildlife, which you very well might encounter if you venture back in the warmer months of the year. Being based in West Glacier for Valentine’s Day means you’re surrounded by staggering scenery, including nearby Lake McDonald, and astonishing quiet-- the makings of a truly intimate vacation. Kalispell Grand Kalispell, Montana If cabins and treehouses aren’t really your thing, the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel’s lodging might be perfectly suited for you. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the Kalispell Grand used to host luxury travelers for a whopping $2 per night. Nowadays, the price point has changed and the amenities have no doubt been upgraded, but the Kalispell Grand still holds onto its old-time, Montana charm thanks to details like the lobby’s solid oak staircase and moose head taxidermy. It’s in a premier location, within walking distance of local establishments like Norm’s Soda Fountain, Colter Coffee, and Kalispell Brewery. Kalispell as a town is an ideal base for a romantic Montana getaway because it’s near marvelous Flathead Lake, a short drive from Whitefish ski slopes, and not far from Glacier National Park. Bitterroot River Bed & Breakfast Stevensville, Montana Right along the Bitterroot River is a large red house with a wrap-around porch. The house’s four bedrooms were turned into a bed and breakfast over a decade ago and has become the “home away from home” for fly-fishing enthusiasts, business travelers, and lovers alike. Fresh coffee is brought to the door of your room every morning at 7:30, giving you time to slowly rise before a home-cooked farm to table breakfast is served in the sunroom. Each room is uniquely decorated with Montana touches-- think bear paw prints on the comforters and antlers on the wall. You and your valentine are steps away from outdoor recreation of all sorts, but can rest easy knowing you’ll be in great hands once you retire for the evening. Kimpton Armory Hotel Bozeman, Montana Another less rustic choice is the Kimpton Armory Hotel located in one of Montana’s most aesthetic towns. It is a hotel made for modern lovers. Everything about the Kimpton is sleek: its on-site dining, its interior design, its common areas. The Kimpton’s rooftop is a great place for a nightcap before you slip back into the warmth of your contemporary bedroom. Once you’ve booked your stay, you’ll need to find COVID-appropriate activities to enjoy with your Valentine. A February visit comes with the bonus of fewer crowds, and it also means you have a bevy of winter time activities to choose from. Catch fresh air and stunning views by taking part in any (or all) of these pandemic-approved, outdoor activities. *Please note: at time of publishing, face masks are required across Montana in all public indoor spaces. Dogsled Dog sledding isn’t just an Alaskan bucket list item-- Montana has incredible dog sledding rails and operators, particularly in the Western part of the state. An energetic team of dogs will lead you through the stillness of the beauty that surrounds you as they run down snowy trails. Most operators offer half-day adventures, but some have a multi-night option that allows you to extend your sledding experience. Fun fact: the reality-TV famed Kardashian family were keen to book a dog sledding excursion, but refused to pay and, ultimately, missed out on this incredible winter activity. Skiing and snowboarding Montana has some of the best slopes for skiing and snowboarding and, thanks to its geographical location, it also receives a dependable amount of fresh snow. Although equipment rental and lift tickets make for an expensive day out, the rush of gliding downhill is worth every penny. Whitefish Mountain, Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, and Showdown are some of the state’s finest ski and snowboarding resorts. For a more affordable option, Maverick Mountain has virtually no lift ticket fees and extends over 450 family-owned acres. Horseback trail rides It might seem counterintuitive to go horseback riding in the cold, but it’s magic. Big, fat flakes falling around you as you sit back and take in the views. In order to book a horseback trail ride, you’ll need to find an outfitter or guide near you to lend you a horse and lead you along the trail. Your accommodation might be able to recommend a local ranch with guides for you to hire, like the renowned Artemis Acres. You can also find operating and COVID-compliant trail rides online via the Visit Montana directory. Hiking A super traditional (and budget-friendly) way to spend any day in Montana (rain, shine, or snow) is hitting the hiking trails that undoubtedly surround you. Hiking doesn’t require prior booking, loads of gear, or heaps of money. Due to the nature of Montana’s winter weather conditions, you’re also likely to have paths all to yourselves-- a total bonus during a pandemic. Snowshoeing If you’re up to burn more calories and try something a little different, snowshoeing is a great alternative to hiking. You’ll need to rent some snowshoes, but that’s easily done in most Montana towns with outdoor recreation retailers. Your body will work harder, but there are fewer things as luxurious as a post-snowshoe bubble bath back at your cabin or hotel. Make sure you know what trails are conducive to snowshoeing before you head out! You can do this by asking your equipment rental company what paths they recommend. Soaking in a natural hot spring West Montana has a wealth of natural hot springs for you and your Valentine to warm up in. Some of the most famed are Quinn’s Hot Springs in Plains, Chico Hot Springs in Pray, and Elkhorn Hot Springs in Polaris. Many of the hot springs locations offer premium lodging and fine dining options including private cabins to stay in and locally-sourced, wild game. Currently, many hot springs require advanced booking; make sure you plan accordingly. Snowmobiling Snowmobiling is a surefire way to ramp up the excitement in your Valentine celebrations. It’s a great adrenaline rush for those looking to tear up fresh powder. Lucky for you and your date, Western Montana in the winter time was made for adventure junkies to slide over frozen lakes and zoom along groomed trails.
19 Romantic Staycation Ideas for Valentine's Day Weekend
As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, hotels and destinations around the U.S. have been doing their best to reopen safely, initiating strict health and safety protocols and updates like contactless check-in to help restore confidence in travel among visitors and keep employees safe. Valentine’s Day is happening during a long weekend this year, making it a great time to escape with your beloved to a remote cabin in the woods or try a romantic staycation closer to home. According to a recent study by vacation rental search engine HomeToGo, U.S. travelers are booking Valentine’s Day weekend vacations 48% more than they did last year, prioritizing trips to remote cabins and rural destinations over busy cities. Searches have increased the most for rentals in the Adirondack Mountains and Windham in New York, Joshua Tree National Park in California, Banner Elk in North Carolina, Captiva Island and Anna Maria Island in Florida, Aspen and Colorado Springs in Colorado, Big Sky in Montana and the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, with travelers requesting whirlpools, Wi-Fi and pet-friendly perks as top amenities. For those willing to wear a mask, practice social distancing and follow the rules in the places they visit, there are plenty of affordable romantic packages to be had. Here’s a look at 19 of our favorites, all available for under $220 a night. Maine In South Berwick, The Stage House Inn’s romance package includes a $100 credit at its onsite restaurant Dufour, a bottle of prosecco and homemade truffles to enjoy during your stay. Rates from $199 a night when you book by calling (207) 704-0516 and stay between February 11 and March 13, 2021. Rhode Island Hotel Viking in Newport wants you to celebrate the good times with a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine and breakfast for two at One Bellevue Restaurant. Rates start at $199 a night when you book through this link. Virginia Just 20 minutes from Washington, D.C, Hotel Indigo Old Town Alexandria’s Valentine’s Day package comes with locally made treats like a cocoa mask kit for two and two Bailey’s chocolate mousse cheesecakes from the Alexandria Makers Market. Rates start at $179 a night and include late 2 p.m. check-out. Northern Virginia is also a great place for day trips to local wineries, with most sporting socially distanced seating with heaters and fire pits for you and your beloved to cozy up next to as you sip locally made wine. Stop by Cana Vineyards & Winery in Middleburg, Cave Ridge Vineyard & Winery in Mount Jackson, Barren Ridge Vineyards in Fishersville, Potomac Point Winery & Vineyard in Stafford, Montifalco Vineyard in Ruckersville, Valley Road Vineyards in Afton or King Family Vineyard in Crozet — all within a 2.5-hour drive of Washington D.C. North Carolina Calling all Nicholas Sparks fans: Get ready to geek out in Beaufort — where two of his novels, A Walk to Remember and The Choice were set — with Beaufort Hotel’s A Ride to Remember package. In addition to a one-night stay, you’ll get a special keepsake and two tickets to the Ride to Remember guided bike tour of Beaufort. Use promo code PRIDE to unlock rates from $169 a night. Florida Celebrate Valentine’s Day all month long at Plunge Beach Resort, located in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea about 45 minutes north of Miami. As part of the romance package, you’ll get a free bottle of Champagne and a $30 breakfast credit to use at one of the resort’s onsite restaurants, with rates from $179 a night in February. Tennessee Bode’s Valentine’s Day promotion includes a 14% discount and a complimentary bottle of prosecco when you book a night at either of its two Tennessee properties now thru February 15, 2021. Rates start at $171 a night at Bode Nashville and $111 a night at Bode Chattanooga with promo code BEMINE. Texas In Austin, Lone Star Court’s retro-style Valentine package comes with complimentary Wi-Fi and parking, a bottle of bubbly and a special kit so you can create your own s’mores by one of the onsite fire pits. Rates from $144 per night. With rates from $149 a night, Hyatt Regency Houston’s romance package treats guests to a bottle of Champagne and chocolates upon arrival, complimentary parking and late 2 p.m. check-out. Call (713) 654-1234 or choose the romance package offer when booking this deal online. Le Meridien Houston Downtown’s Better Together package is bookable for Friday and Saturday stays only, making it the perfect excuse to plan a romantic night in. You’ll get a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, late check-out, VIP access to the rooftop bar, Z on 23, and two house cocktails, with rates from $204 per night. The Westin Stonebriar in Frisco, about a 30-minute drive from Dallas, treats guests to sparkling wine and gourmet chocolates, late check-out and a romantic four-course dinner for two at its restaurant, Herd & Hearth, as part of its Retreat to Romance package. Rates from $209 per night for stays February 12-14, 2021. About 90 minutes from Dallas, head to East Texas for a romantic and socially distanced stroll at the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden, home to 14 acres and 35,000 rose bushes sporting over 500 varieties of roses. Afterward, drive 40 minutes south to Jacksonville for a romantic retreat at Hotel Ritual and Wellness Center, with rates from $150 a night and all-inclusive amenities like complimentary cocktails, daily gourmet breakfast, spa pools (treatments are extra), sauna access and free snacks, coffee and tea all day long. New Mexico Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a complimentary bottle of bubbly at El Rey Court in Santa Fe when you stay between February 11-15, 2021. Use promo code HEART to unlock rates from $150 per night. Missouri St. Louis is the place to be Valentine’s Day weekend, with a socially distanced jazz extravaganza at BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups on February 13 (tickets from $20) and a special Valentine’s dinner at Lemp Mansion Restaurant & Inn February 11–13. Spend a romantic — and potentially haunted — night at the Inn, with rates from $150 a night Sunday thru Thursday and from $205 a night Friday and Saturday. Wisconsin If a romantic cabin in the woods is more your style, the following are all located within a 90-minute drive of Madison, with a two-night minimum stay required. In Platteville, Walnut Ridge is home to two luxury log cabins, each with a perfectly placed whirlpool spa by the fire and rates from $150 to $170 per night. Rustic Ridge Log Cabins in Merrimac offers five upscale and spacious log cabins with Wi-Fi, fireplaces and in some, Jacuzzis so the two of you can spend some much-needed alone time in Wisconsin wilderness. Seasonal rates from $219 a night thru March 2, then from $199 a night thru May 4. In Oxford, escape to A Secret Cottage for a romantic stay in the country with a private lake, whirlpool tub, fireplace, spacious front porch, fully stocked kitchen and a skylight upstairs so you can snuggle under the stars. Rates on Friday, Saturday and holidays start at $155 a night, while they’re from $150 a night for Sunday through Thursday stays. Nebraska You really can’t get more romantic than celebrating Valentine’s Day in an actual town called Valentine. If you’re up for a drive, Heartland Elk Ranch — located about five hours from Omaha in the north-central part of the state — is home to four beautifully furnished cabins close to hiking trails and stocked fishing ponds, as well as a herd of 50-75 elk that roams the area freely. Enjoy views of the Niobrara National Scenic River, with rates from $155 a night Monday thru Thursday and from $165 a night Friday thru Sunday and on holidays. In Omaha, celebrate your love at the same hotel John and Jackie Kennedy once visited for their 5th year anniversary, the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, formerly known as the Blackstone Hotel. Its Love is All Around Us package gives guests a special amenity, valet parking, two tickets to redeem for free wine or tea at the Fontenelle Room and a complimentary yoga class in the Gold Coast Ballroom if you’re there on a Saturday or Sunday morning.
Celebrate Mardi Gras By Mail Ordering A King Cake
There are bakeries across the American South that ship their creations of this oval-shaped and tri-hued dessert across most of the U.S. Often many of them maintain the traditional king cake recipe of a brioche base adorned with white icing and gold, green and purple colored sugaring. Others have experimented with more contemporary versions and fill them with cream cheese or fruit flavors and go all out with toppings. And most bakeries can process mail orders to send a king cake right to your doorstep. Louisiana Of course, Louisiana is synonymous with Mardi Gras and has many bakeries that ship king cakes. New Orleans In New Orleans, Gracious Bakery + Café’s King Cake Mix is available for purchase online. The artisan bakery has boxed up what’s needed for making a king cake in your kitchen; you just need to add in the wet ingredients. Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery in Slidell sells out quickly on its king cake shipping orders. Upon seeing their webpage, you’ll know the reason why. Theirs range from traditional to ones filled with cream cheese or topped with pecans. Brennan's in New Orleans is famous for its bananas foster but for 2022 Mardi Gras the fine dining restaurant is shipping three special king cake varieties. They are traditional, a Chocolate “Black & Gold”, “Pink Parade” Strawberry Cream Cheese and Banana Foster. courtesy of Brennan’s Gambino’s Bakery, a NOLA longtimer, has king cake specialty packs with Mardi Gras attire to don while dining on this dessert, among other choices. Cannata’s Market in Houma has a RougaGooey King Cake adorned with Louisiana roasted pecans and cane sugar, white chocolate, and gooey butter along with Mardi Gras beads. Another reason to buy this cake: a donation from its sale goes to the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center. Among its king cakes, Cajun Pecan House in Cutoff has a popular cinnamon-pecan flavored king cake. Or splurge on king cake carnival packs, having the King Cake story, Mardi Gras beads, doubloons and a porcelain mask. NOLA’s Haydel’s Bakery broke the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest king cake in 2010, by creating two giant rings that wrapped around the Superdome. Haydel’s king cakes include traditional or filled with cream cheese, German chocolate and other choices. Also in NOLA, Adrian’s Bakery sends out king cake choices including Bavarian cream, lemon, pineapple and praline. Lake Charles Delicious Donuts & Bakery in Lake Charles takes mail orders by phone. Their king cakes choices involve their pecan and praline along with fruit or cream fillings with choices including cream cheese, apple, blueberry, cherry, and strawberry. Baton Rouge In Baton Rouge, The Ambrosia Bakery sells mini, small, and large versions of its traditional king cake along with a Zulu King Cake with a coconut, cream cheese and chocolate morsel filling. Lafayette Crystal Weddings in Lafayette has an alphabet of king cake flavor options, from almond amaretto to strawberry cream cheese. Also in Lafayette, Poupart Bakery ships both a traditional French king cake--a round puff pastry with almond filling--and the Mardi Gras king cake. Alabama courtesy of Lighthouse Bakery Mobile, Alabama also celebrates this pre-Lenten festival. The Lighthouse Bakery in Dauphin Island, Ala. ships their baby king cakes by mail but requires orders to be placed over the phone during business hours. Texas Galveston has both the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas and the third largest one in the nation behind New Orleans and Mobile. Both the Maceo Spice and Import Company and Gypsy Joynt take orders over the phone for shipping king cakes. In Houston, which also honors Mardi Gras, Rao’s Bakery ships king cakes with traditional cinnamon or strawberry, blueberry and raspberry fillings; mini king cakes are also available.
Get Inspired by National Plan for Vacation Day
Raise your hand if you lost or rolled over PTO days in 2020. Even in non-pandemic years, Americans are notorious for wasting millions of vacation days annually. In 2020, workers left an average of 33% of their paid time off on the table according to data from the U.S. Travel Association. Over the last year, many Americans and travelers worldwide had to cancel trips and put their vacation plans on pause. Losing much-needed travel inspiration not only takes a toll on mental health, but keeps people tethered to their desks for longer periods of time with no vacation in sight. This year, hope for trip planning is on the horizon with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Tuesday, January 26 is National Plan for Vacation Day, a day celebrated annually to encourage Americans to plan their time off. It helps highlight the importance of taking time off to travel both for personal health and wellbeing and for our nation’s economic health. Visit Colorado Springs is joining the initiative to encourage hopeful travelers across the nation to plan out their PTO days. “Visit Colorado Springs is proud to be celebrating National Plan for Vacation Day,” said Doug Price, President & CEO of Visit COS. “Each year, we hold a staff event to encourage our team to plan their vacation days. This year it’s even more special – we could all use travel inspiration after staying put much of the last year.” Travel is predicted to return at steadier rates in the second half of 2021, so it’s a great time for people to get inspired by travel once again and start planning for much-needed time off. Even for those taking staycations or smaller road trips, planning days into the calendar at the beginning of the year makes it much more likely the trip will actually happen. Now’s the time to browse Instagram and Pinterest, start reading your favorite travel blogs again and let trip planning begin! We've partnered with Colorado Springs to describe why Here are some ideas for those looking to explore the Pikes Peak Region in 2021. Fly in and out of the Colorado Springs Airport. COS is known for its convenience and neighborhood feel with fewer crowds, short walks and easy parking. Starting March 11, 2021, Southwest Airlines joins the lineup of airlines servicing COS. Conquer Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain with all-new experiences in 2021. Hike, bike, drive or take The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway up to the 14,115 ft. summit. The Cog Railway is reopening for visitors in May 2021. Grab a donut at the new Summit Visitor Center atop the peak, opening in early summer.Visit the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, ranked #1 Best New Attraction in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards. The USOPM is one of the most accessible and interactive museums in the world. Take the family to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and enjoy the hippos and penguins at the new Water’s Edge: Africa exhibit. Don’t forget to head to the giraffe habitat to feed them a tasty snack. Find adventure in our wide-open spaces on one of the region’s many trails and parks. There are so many miles of trails to explore in the area that it’s easy to spread out and avoid crowds while enjoying time outdoors. Book a stay at new downtown hotel, Kinship Landing. Kinship Landing is a friendly, boutique hotel in downtown Colorado Springs that brings travelers and locals together around city and outdoor exploration. No matter what destination is on the horizon for your next trip, planning is key. Instead of letting your 2021 vacation days go to waste, challenge yourself to plan out a staycation, road trip or vacation that will give you the R&R you deserve after a tough year. This piece was written in partnership with Visit Colorado Springs