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Travel News: Happiest Countries on Earth, Cheap Flights for April, and Booking National Parks Campsites Just Got Easier

By The Budget Travel Editors
updated September 29, 2021
A view of Helsinki, Finland's Old Town with water and boats.
Scanrail/Dreamstime
There’s a great big world out there, and our latest “news you can use” may inspire a trip you never knew you needed.

From vacation options in the countries that boast the highest levels of personal happiness to jaw-droppingly affordable domestic airfares to brag-worthy destinations, plus a brand-new options for researching and booking federal campsites, this week’s travel news is all about making your spring travel dreams a reality.

Happiest Countries on Earth

Although we can’t guarantee that visiting one of the world’s happiest countries will deliver a perfect vacation, we’re thinking it can’t hurt, right? In that spirit, we’re always interested to see the latest rankings of 156 countries by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which analyzes survey data from Gallup including such factors as GDP, supportive social networks, life expectancy, freedom, and basic emotions such as happy and sad. For the second year in a row, Finland has taken the top spot. It’s also worth noting that four of its neighbors in Scandinavia and Northern Europe are the runners-up on the happiness scale this year, so this may be the year to plan that spectacular Norway road trip, a tour of Iceland, or pop over to Amsterdam to ogle the eye-popping spring tulips. Here, the top five happiest countries on earth (the United States, btw, ranked 19th):

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands

Cheap Flights for April

When it comes to round-trip domestic flights under $300, our friends at Skyscanner always come through with some great suggestions. They’ve crunched the numbers on the most affordable April flights, and their top 5 list could serve as your menu of spring break options. Here, the current ranking of the cheapest 5 flights, plus average prices (which are, of course, always subject to change):

  1. Long Beach, CA ($217.61)
  2. Myrtle Beach, SC ($223.16)
  3. Oakland, CA ($230.20)
  4. Denver, CO ($235.72)
  5. Chicago, IL ($244.09)

Booking National Parks Campsites Just Got Easier

We’re cheering “hip-hip-hooray” for Hipcamp. As we’ve already reported, Hipcamp makes it easier than ever to book exceptional camping experiences (some industry folks like to call it an “Airbnb for campers”). Now, Hipcamp has announced that, in addition to the thousands of public and private campgrounds it already lists, it will now list all federal campgrounds as well. That means researching and booking your next National Park camping adventure just got a lot more convenient, with not only Hipcamp but also other booking services gaining access to—wait for it—100,000 federal campsites.

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Travel News: California’s Epic Highway 1 Whale Trail, An Easy Way to Book Rail Europe Tickets, and NYC’s Off-Broadway Week

From a new way to enjoy California’s legendary Highway 1 to a convenient tool for booking city-to-city train travel in Europe to NYC’s lesser-known theatrical offerings at a deep discount, this week’s travel news is all about surprising new ways to get out there and see more for less. California’s Epic Highway 1 Whale Trail A drive up or down Highway 1 along California’s Central Coast is a great vacation idea any time of year. With its epic views of the Pacific Ocean, charming communities you haven't visited yet, and gorgeous inland mountains and forests, the stretch of road from Big Sur down to Santa Barbara is pinch-me beautiful. But this time of year, especially now through the end of February, there’s an additional reason to love Highway 1: The self-guided Whale Trail. As you drive by one of America’s most important protected marine environments, keep an eye out for 34 species of marine mammals, including migrating gray whales, orcas, humpacks, and blue whales, not to mention the seals and sea otters often spotted year-round frolicking among the rocks offshore. The official Whale Trail is a series of sites ideal for pulling your car over and looking for marine life from shore—be sure to pack your binoculars, camera or smartphone, and a sense of wonder. Learn more at highway1discoveryroute.com. An Easy Way to Book Rail Europe Tickets Have you tried the tech-forward mobile booking platform Klook yet? The quirky moniker comes from the phrase “keep looking,” and the company has generated some positive buzz among travelers who like to book their trips via mobile devices and who value last-minute options, skip-the-line privileges at popular points of interest, and overall one-stop shopping. Now, Klook is partnering with Rail Europe, the leading distributor of European railroad products encompassing more than 50 train lines across the continent. Planning a European trip in 2019? You can give Klook’s new point-to-point booking site a try to obtain e-tickets or printed tickets delivered free by mail, seat reservations, and rail passes (klook.com). NYC’s Off-Broadway Week Budget Travel’s editors are based in New York City, and we know first-hand that there’s a wide world of exceptional theater happening beyond Broadway. A good way to explore cutting-edge theater at a price that’s right, NYC Off-Broadway Week offers two-for-one tickets for performances from February 11 through 24 (yes, that’s more than one week, speaking of extra value). Visit nycgo.com/offbroadwayweek to nab discounted tickets to one (or more) of more than 30 plays and musicals, including family-friendly plays, revivals of classic musicals, magic shows, and comedy. Productions include Avenue Q, Colin Quinn’s Red State Blue State, Drunk Shakespeare, The Play That Goes Wrong, and many more.

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Travel News: New Budget Flights to Paris, TripAdvisor Announces Readers' Choice Awards for Hotels, and Lounge Around in an Igloo in Maine

From the announcement of winners of TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards for hotels to new flights from more U.S. airports to and from Paris, today's travel news is designed to get you in the mood to book your next getaway. Paris on Your Mind? A French Budget Airline Debuts Flights From Several U.S. Airports We hate to break it to you, but we’re closing in on the moment when it’ll be too late to start thinking about Valentine’s Day gifts, and it’s never too early to start thinking about your summer vacation, either. If you’re looking to knock out that vacation planning and a present for your sweetheart in one fell swoop, XL Airways (xlairways.com) has a pretty enticing proposal. A French airline that’s offered seasonal nonstop flights to Paris from NYC at value prices for a decade, XL is expanding its American footprint to a total of four U.S. gateways. In addition to JFK, passengers can now fly to and from Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What’s more, the carrier is updating its jets' economy-class cabins, adding ergonomic seats with adjustable head rests, individual entertainment screens, and USB chargers. The flights are seasonal and currently available for booking. The New York to Paris route resumes on April 6 and runs through January 2020; L.A. flights will run from June 8 to September 9; San Francisco from June 23 to September 8; and Miami from June 24 to September 10. TripAdvisor Announces Its Travelers' Choice Awards for Hotels TripAdvisor, billed as the world’s largest travel site, revealed the winners of its 17th Travelers' Choice Awards for hotels last week. Millions of reviews, collected over the course of a year on more than 1.2 million properties on the site, were analyzed using a proprietary algorithm to recognize 7,812 hotels, B&Bs, inns, and resorts in 94 countries. That might sound like an astronomical number of winners, but it actually only accounts for less than one percent of the properties reviewed on the site. Charleston’s French Quarter Inn took top place as the #1 hotel in the U.S., but as far as concentration of top-rated hotels goes, California and Florida won 22 awards apiece, South Carolina clocked in with 14, and Massachusetts won 12. Globally, the United States proved its hospitality supremacy with 165 awards, the greatest number of winners, just ahead of Italy and Spain with 164 and 163 award winners, respectively. Now, about those top prizes. Desert Rivera Hotel in Palm Springs scored highest for Best Small Hotel. Jail Hill Inn in Galena, Illinois, won the prize for Best B&B or Inn, and Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort (Convention Center) ranked best for family accommodations. Best Bargain honors went to the Trails Inn in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. For a list of winners, visit tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Hotels. A Maine Hotel Puts Frosty Beverages on the Menu We love a warm-weather winter escape as much as the next sun-starved Northeasterner, but leaning into the cold is often just as fun. Case in point: the igloo-style ice lounges at Maine’s Kennebunkport Inn, where visitors can cozy up for cocktails—think toasty toddies and bourbon-spiked cocoa—beginning January 25th. The lounges are stocked with thick blankets and fur-lined seats to keep the chills at bay, but if the cold gets to be too much, there are also communal firepits just outside the door (plus a cornhole board for those who prefer to embrace the frigid temps). Pop in for a drink or book an igloo-themed package and spend the weekend. (From $395 for two nights; kennebunkportinn.com/igloo-ice-lounge)

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Travel News: The First Women's Rock Guide Course, Share Winter Foundation Gets 32,000 Kids Out on the Slopes, and a New Adventure Travel Marketplace Launches

From grants to help women get into the guiding industry to an organization that's introducing the younger generation to the joys of snowy sports to a new way to book adventure travel, today's travel news is designed to get you up and moving. Fixing the Climbing Industry's Gender Imbalance Women participate in outdoor activities nearly as frequently as men, but they often lack representation at the top levels—and a new program from The North Face and the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) wants to do something about it. According to a 2018 study by the Outdoor Industry Association, 49 percent of the U.S. population ages six and up took part in outdoor activities at least once in 2017, and 46 percent of those participants were women. But when it comes to the ever-popular sport of rock climbing (see: the profusion of rock-climbing gyms in urban settings and suburban enclaves alike), AMGA reports that only eight percent of its certified guides are women. That’s no small discrepancy. In an effort to recalibrate and put more women into leadership roles, the organization has teamed up with the North Face to launch the first Women’s Rock Guide Course, a grant-driven professional training program that will provide 12 women with partial scholarships for AMGA's intro-level course. “Trained female guides are in short supply and high demand, and we see this opportunity as a catalyst to get more women involved in our programs,” says AMGA president Angela Hawse. “Everyone benefits with more women onboard: Men benefit from subtle opportunities to learn how to better serve women guests, and studies show that teams make better decisions and are more successful when women represent at least a third of the team.” Applications are due March 17 and the course, which will be designed and taught by women, begins in September. (amga.com) Getting Kids to Play Outside The children are the future, as they say, and the Share Winter Foundation is doing its best to ensure that that future is bright by sending the next class of winter sports stars out onto the slopes. With programs tailored to underserved and underrepresented communities, the grant-making organization aims to overcome barriers to participation in 21 states and 60 ski areas nationwide—and create a lifelong love of skiing and snowboarding in the process. This season, Share Winter will fund winter activities for more than 32,000 youth, a 6.7 percent bump from last year, with a goal of sponsoring 100,000 kids annually by 2028. To find programs in your area and to donate to the cause, visit sharewinterfoundation.org. A New Way to Book Adventure Travel With half a million registered users, 800,000 social-media followers, and an overall reach of more than 12 million people, the Outbound Collective has built a significant community since its launch in 2013, and now the digital adventure-travel platform is expanding into hospitality. Already a resource for finding and planning outdoor experiences through expert trip reports and user-shared content, the Outbound recently introduced a new adventure-travel marketplace to provide its readers with lodging options and tours. Among others, users can now book yoga retreats with Yogascapes, photo trips with Moment, or heli-skiing with CMH, go glamping with Under Canvas, or reserve accommodations at any of Aramark’s national- and state-park properties. (theoutbound.com)

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Travel News: Santa Fe Is All About Kids This Spring, a New App Aims to Ease Winter Driving Worries, and Marriott's Newly Revamped Rewards Program

From the low-down on Marriott's new loyalty program to a new app that makes winter driving a little less daunting to a wonderland of activities for kids in Santa Fe this spring, this week’s travel news has you covered. Santa Fe Offers Big Deals for Kids This Spring It’s easy to think you have to plan your family’s spring break destination based on whether you’re seeking culture, adventure, or just plain relaxation. Choose a flavor, pick the place accordingly, right? Think again. Each year, Santa Fe's hotels and cultural institutions open their arms to families with kids 12 and under with a roster of appealing enticements, fun perks in many hotels not least among them. During the fourth annual Kids Free Spring Break 2019, which runs from March through April 21, numerous attractions and businesses—everything from museums to sports events and adventure attractions to art classes to dining—offer deals to families. There’s free admission for kids under 16 to the Museum of International Folks Art. At the Wildlife West Nature Park and the Santa Fe Climbing Center, each adult ticket purchased includes one free child admission. Kids eat free at Terra Terra, the restaurant in the Four Seasons, and throughout March, kids ski free on Wednesdays at the Santa Fe Ski Co. Even hotels have deals. The Drury Plaza's Junior Artist package includes a 10 percent discount on rates and art kit. That's just a small sampling of the experiences that are sure to entertain the kiddos and have them talking about their next vacation the minute they get home. (santafe.org/Spring_Break) A New App Helps You Safely Plan Your Winter Driving There are plenty of apps that can help drivers get from Point A to Point B and no shortage of weather apps, but for the first time, someone combined the two. Drive Weather (driveweatherapp.com), which launches today on iOS and Android, was created to alert motorists of weather conditions along their route to help them plan accordingly. The app uses government-recognized weather reports and clear-cut icons to indicate conditions like cloud cover, precipitation, fog, hail, smoke, haze, snow, thunderstorms, temperature, and wind. There’s also a seven-day “time machine” that shows the forecast. With approximately 1.2 million weather-related traffic accidents in the U.S. each year, planning for extreme conditions is in everyone’s best interest. A subscription for the app is $10 per year, and a seven-day trial is free. Marriott's New Rewards Program Is Official Say goodbye to Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG). Beginning February 13, the three longstanding loyalty programs are officially becoming the single Marriott Bonvoy. (They actually merged last summer, a result of Marriott International’s merge with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, but now is the official christening, so expect the name to show up on websites and individual properties going forward.) Bonvoy rewards apply to Marriott’s 30 hotel brands—a total of 67,000 properties in 129 countries. Popular SPG perks, like free upgrades when available, will remain a cornerstone of the program, and new advantages, like members earning about 20 percent more points per dollar spent, will be implemented. Plus there will be added ways to redeem points. A new platform, Moments, will let members use points to make purchases from a selection of more than 120,000 experiences, including uniquely local attractions, activities, and meals.