Confessions of an Obsessive Traveler
At age 27, Sal Lavallo believes he’s one of the youngest Americans to visit all 193 countries in the world. “My friends make fun of me because my WhatsApp number is always changing,” he laughs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks to a serious stash of airline miles and points from SPG and Marriott Rewards and the goodwill of friends who provided couches for crashing and insights for exploring, he capped off his 10-year journey in November, celebrating the milestone achievement with a big bash in Malta. Here, the inveterate traveler gives us the scoop on his on-the-road style—where he goes, how he packs, and what he never misses.
Q: Do you like to check your bags, or fit everything into a carry-on?
A: A lot of people bring a lot of gear that they need to check, and if you’re a fashionista and you want to have a lot of clothes, that’s fine—I would never be like, “It’s gospel to only have one carry-on,” but I do travel light. It’s faster and it’s easier, though I do always wind up needing to borrow jackets from people. I never have good winter clothes because they’re so bulky.
Q: Any packing tips for making the transition to the carry-on life?
A: One thing that will always get you in trouble with the carry-on is the toiletries, because a lot of them are liquid and they might be too big, or one country might say gels and lotions are ok and one might not. So unless you’re really dedicated to one brand and can buy travel sizes, stock up at hotels.
The other thing I always say is that you should pack like a puzzle. it should always be the exact same way so that you can instantly look down and see if a piece is missing. If my bag was with you right now, I could tell you exactly where everything is because it’s always exactly there—it takes me one second to open it and see if there’s a hole and something missing. It's kinda like Tetris.
Q: Is there anything that always goes in your bag, regardless of your destination?
A: I’m notoriously low-tech, but I always have my camera and my zoom lens, and I always need my Kindle—I love reading, and obviously bringing 10 books around all over the world would be difficult. I also have a small tablet that’s occasionally used when I need to have a computer. I bring a lot of adapters, because I never know where I’m going to be and which one’s going to be useful, so I have universal adapters and other specific ones. Oh, and hand sanitizer.
Q: How do you stay connected when you’re overseas?
A: I don’t have a global data plan at all. If I’m in a country long enough, or if I think that I’ll need a phone, then I’ll buy a SIM card if it’s easy—some countries it’s really difficult to do. For a couple of months, I had a Nauru number. Nauru’s the smallest country in the world, only 11,000 people, and I was there for a week so I had a SIM card. Even if you’re out of the country, if you’re roaming, the cell-phone company’s push SMSs can be sent to you, so for like six months, I was getting all the news from this small island country in the Pacific.
Q: Do you have a travel playlist?
A: I don’t have any music on my phone. I do a lot of traveling by land, so really long buses and taxis and cars, and I really like to focus on the present and look out the window rather than, like, jamming out to Jay-Z while I’m in Guinea.
Q: Do you prefer to use public transportation?
A: Between cities for sure. I love being on buses because you get to see the rural areas, the trade happening, what the trucks going by are carrying—you get a better sense of the country when you’re on the road. And then within a city, I really love to walk. I’ll often land in the place and do a big two- or three-hour walk around. On foot is best because you can stop whenever you want, go into little nooks and crannies and figure everything out. Just ask how much it would cost for a taxi back, so in case you get lost you can stop a cab and you’re easily back.
Q: What do you like to look for in a new city?
A: I’m really interested in development and identity and culture, so I love to go to markets to see what’s being sold, whether they’re imports or exports, how local are they, because that tells you a lot about a place. I also like to go any kind of art exhibit, especially contemporary art, because I feel like you get a really good sense of the pulse of a society by looking at the contemporary art, what issues are being discussed, and where it’s being exhibited. I’m usually being hosted or shown around by friends, so I try to ask for their recommendations and do the off-the-beaten path things that might not be the best tourism sites.
Q: How do you find good things to do when you don’t know anyone in a particular destination?
A: It’s amazing when you travel how much people want to help you. If I’m staying at a hotel, I’ll talk to the concierge—they’re nice to everybody, but if you stick to a loyalty program and have status, they’re extra-nice then. One time, a concierge got off work early and guided me around town because he didn’t like the plan I’d set for myself. I’ve made friends just, like, in a restaurant because people will hear you speaking English, and they want to practice and come talk to you. Then you just have to be open. Too many people get nervous when they’re approached and assume everyone’s trying to con them, but that’s almost certainly rarely the case.
A GLOBETROTTER'S ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
I have a large Osprey hiking backpack and a small Jansport school backpack. Depending on the length of trip, I'll decide which to bring.
The Personal Item
I use a small Nikon camera bag I got with the D3300. It has two clasps, but one has been broken for a year 😂
The Day Bag
I have a canvas bag that I use when I’m walking around the city, with two rope straps that tighten the opening. One of the worst things about getting mugged is that you can dislocate your shoulder if someone pulls something off of you, so it’s always better if the strap is rope or stronger than the bag—if someone tries to tear it off you, they rip open the bag instead of ripping it off of you, and it just falls on the ground. I’ve used this one so much it's full of holes.
One 250mm Nikon zoom that came with the camera.
It’s an Egyptian-made one. I bought it because it said Microsoft really big on the box, and I thought that meant it was a Microsoft one, but it really just runs Microsoft.
I buy the cheap ones at little markets.
I always have one or two of the small bottles, no favorite brand.
8 Surprising Airline Fees You’d Better Know
Airline fees are flying high. In 2016, U.S. travelers paid a whopping $7.1 billion in checked bag fees and flight changes alone, up from $6.3 billion in 2010, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office revealed. But the harsh reality is a number of airlines today sneak in “hidden fees”—extra charges for services that were traditionally free in the past. Unfortunately for travelers, many of these fees are non-negotiable, says Anne McDermott, editor at Farecompare.com, a website that curates deals on flights from around the world. “Fees are a fact of life for flyers these days, and they are here to stay,” McDermott says. “They make the airlines billions of dollars every year.” The upshot? Knowing what these fees are can help you budget better for your next flight. Here are eight hidden airline fees to watch out for. 1. CARRY-ON BAG Most airlines still let you bring one carry-on bag for free, but some don’t. Granted, whether you have to pay for a carry-on bag typically depends on what type of ticket you purchased and the size of the bag. American Airlines and United, for example, recently rolled out basic economy seats that charge passengers an extra $25 per “full-sized carry-on bag,” or any luggage that requires overhead bin space. (Basic economy ticket holders are still allowed one free personal item that fits under the seat in front of you.) 2. RESERVATION CANCELLATION AND CHANGE A number of airlines charge customers a fee to cancel or change a reservation, and these fees can range significantly. American Airlines imposes a $200 change fee on paid fares for domestic flights and up to $750 for international flights, and Delta Air Lines charges a $200 change fee for paid domestic flights and up to $500 for international flights; meanwhile, Allegiant only charges a change fee of up to $75 per person. Southwest Airlines has the friendliest change and cancellation policies, with no fees in either case (though you’ll have to make up any difference in the fare). There is an exception: when booking a domestic flight, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require that, as long as you've booked a non-refundable ticket seven days ahead of your flight, you're entitled to change or cancel your reservation within 24 hours of booking without paying a fee. 3. OVER-THE-PHONE AND IN-PERSON BOOKING It’s typically free to book a flight online, but many airlines charge a fee for booking a flight over the phone or in person. Phone-booking fees range from $0 to $25 and in-person booking fees range from $0 to $35, according to a 2016 report by Consumerist.com. 4. IN-FLIGHT WI-FI While JetBlue offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to all passengers, most airlines charge customers for in-flight Internet access. Some airlines charge a flat fee for the full flight, while others charge an hourly rate. (Prices can also vary depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight.) There are ways to cut costs for in-flight Wi-Fi. A number of airlines offer monthly subscription plans aimed at business travelers, McDermott says. For instance, American Airlines has a $50 monthly Internet plan for domestic flights through Gogo, a service also used by Virgin America, Delta, and Alaska Airlines. 5. PICKING A SEAT Once a free perk, many airlines now charge passengers a fee for selecting their seat in advance. On Spirit, for instance, seat assignments start at $5, but be prepared to pay a premium for a window, aisle, or seat with extra legroom. Meanwhile, some airlines like Lufthansa let you choose a seat free of charge beginning 24 hours before departure. (Of course, the best seats may already be snagged by passengers who paid extra for an advanced reservation.) 6. NON-ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE Traditionally, airlines have offered passengers a complimentary juice or soft drink and charged extra for an alcoholic drink, but some carriers now also charge for non-alcoholic beverages. Case in point: discount airlines such as Frontier and Spirit charge for these beverages; they also charge for snacks. (So long, free peanuts!) 7. PILLOW OR BLANKET Want to sleep tight on your next flight and enjoy the comforts of a complimentary pillow or blanket? Well, you may have to pay for these goodies. JetBlue charges $5 to $6 for a pillow and blanket, while American Airlines charges $8. 8. REDEEMING FREQUENT-FLYER POINTS You should be rewarded for being a loyal customer, right? Not always. In fact, some airlines charge customers fees when they redeem frequent flyer miles. But whether you get hit with this type of fee depends on how and when you book. Oftentimes, you have to pay a premium if you book a flight with the help of an agent. Some airlines also charge extra for “close-in bookings,” or reservations that are made a set number of days before the flight. American and United both charge $75 if you book a flight with airline miles less than 21 days out, while Spirit charges a $15 fee for tickets purchased more than 180 days prior to departure; if you use miles to book
Ultimate Guide to Visiting Harry Potter
Two kids who’ve read each Harry Potter book at least twice. And seen every movie. Two parents who want to squeeze every bit of magic out of one day at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We arrive early one July morning, park the car, and embark on what will turn out to be one of the most perfect days of our California summer vacation. Our secrets? Read on. EASY TIPS TO STREAMLINE YOUR HARRY POTTER VISIT A little bit of planning goes a long way when tackling a park like Universal Studios Hollywood. Sure, we were there for Harry Potter’s immersive land, but some common-sense tips for visiting Universal (some of which apply to other theme parks as well, of course) worked like one of Hermione’s spells. Buy your tickets online in advance. What could be more fun than approaching the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, its stately towers looming and the unforgettable John Williams film score blaring? How about entering the Wizarding World an hour before normal park hours? You can do that when you buy your tickets online at UniversalStudiosHollywood.com. Early entrance gives you a chance to beat the long lines for the land’s two super-popular rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Flight of the Hippogriff. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app. You’ll get up-to-date intel on wait times for attractions, set an alert to let you know when wait times are low, suggested itineraries, and even a reminder of where you parked your car. Get a locker. There are locker rentals just inside the park entrance and in additional locations. We used our locker to store snacks, water, sunscreen, and change of clothes. Enjoy Universal City Walk. Between the parking lot and the park entrance, Universal City Walk offers restaurants, shops, and even some fun photo ops. It’s a low-key place to relax before, during, or after your park visit. Give your kids a souvenir budget. The Wizarding World is packed with incredible shops. Grownups will be struck by the high quality of the merchandise, the eye-popping designs, and the sheer volume of products available. But the inevitable “can we pleeeeeease get just one more souvenir?” will almost certainly become a recurring theme unless you give your kids a firm budget. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you tell them they can spend $10 or $100 - they just have to know what the limit is, and you have to be prepared to enforce it. Not only will you end up spending only what you feel you can afford, but you’ll also teach your kids a valuable lesson in shopping.Don't forget about the rest of Universal Studios Hollywood. Although we, like some other Harry Potter-obsessed families, no doubt, spent most of our day at the Wizarding World, it goes without saying that Universal is packed with other incredible attractions. A Jurassic Park ride, a Simpsons immersive land, and the classic Universal studio tour are just some of the must-sees. If you opt for a studio tour, do it early in the day while wait times are relatively short. TAKE THESE RIDES FIRST The wait times for the Wizarding World’s two rides can be longer than an hour on a busy day. Regardless of whether you arrive early (thanks to an online ticket purchase) or later in the day, you should head to the rides first, in this order: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Even if wait times are long, this ride is so worth it. As you enter through the castle gates and walk down corridors that will be familiar to fans of the Harry Potter books and films, through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you’ll stop in Dumbledore’s office, the iconic classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts, the Gryffindor common room, and more. As cool as those stops are (you don’t really feel like you’re “waiting” but rather already immersed in the Hogwarts experience), nothing really prepares you for the ride itself, in which you soar above the castle grounds, flying with Harry and friends, facing an array of magical creatures (full disclosure: I was a little scared when the dragon appeared to be exhaling real flames in my general direction). Flight of the Hippogriff. This family-friendly roller coaster is only slightly less packed than the Forbidden Journey, and the ride itself is brief but thrilling. As you wait in line, you pass through the Care of Magical Creatures grounds, Hagrid’s hut, and you even receive instructions about how to approach the Hippogriff (a hybrid eagle-horse). SPEND SOME TIME ENJOYING LIVE ENTERTAINMENT You’ll appreciate the talent and sheer energy that goes into the Wizarding World’s live shows, including: Frog Choir. An exceptionally well trained choir of Hogwarts students sing in the open space near the entrances to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff, accompanied by their giant frogs, of course. Triwizard Spirit Rally. Kids will love cheering for the procession of wizarding schools on their way to a tournament. YOU’VE GOT TO TRY A BUTTERBEER I was skeptical. Sure, I’d heard from friends and family that the Butterbeer on sale at the Wizarding World was worth every dollar (and it’s a few dollars, believe me). But I wasn’t sure I wanted to load up on cold soda pop first thing in the morning. But the short line at the Butterbeer cart, the beautiful John Williams film score playing from the loudspeakers, and, yes, the eager smiles on my kids’ faces, convinced me to give it a try. And it’s totally worth it, an icy, creamy blend that was especially perfect on a warm July day. EAT AT THREE BROOMSTICKS (OR TRY AN EASY NEARBY ALTERNATIVE) Three Broomsticks restaurant is renowned for its great breakfasts and pub grub such as The Great Feast, Fish & Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, and more. It’s also a charming environment, a nice replica of Merry Olde England in the heart of Southern California. The friendly staff deals with wait times politely and efficiently even on busy days. That said, right outside the entrance to the Wizarding World, there are a variety of restaurants serving Universal guests, and the wait times are often much shorter than at the themed restaurants. On our visit, we opted for Mel’s, a classic California “drive-in” style restaurant whose San Francisco location's interior appeared in George Lucas’s classic coming-of-age film American Graffiti. Mel’s serves up traditional burgers, fries, and shakes for a reasonable price. Basically, we stepped into the America of the 1950s for lunch, then stepped back into Hogwarts for the afternoon. VISIT THESE SHOPS As mentioned above, it’s essential to give kids a souvenir budget, as generous or as chintzy as you please, to avoid constant nagging and potential meltdowns. That said, the shops at the Wizarding World are exceptional and, in their own way, as engaging as the other park attractions. Ollivanders, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 B.C. This shop literally puts on a show, as you watch a wand choose a wizard in an interactive experience. (On our visit, our older daughter was selected out of the crowd to demonstrate this choosing process.) The shop is packed with character wands, wand sets, and Interactive Wands that allow you to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade, the town-square setting in which the shops and restaurants are arranged. (Park staff are on hand to show kids where and how to use their Interactive Wands throughout Hogsmeade.) Honeydukes. Oh boy. You know that aroma of fresh chocolate when you step into a really good candy shop? Multiply that by 100 and you get the aroma of Honeydukes. Our kids may have spent more time mulling over their souvenir budgets at Honeydukes than anywhere else in the immersive land, with Acid Pops, Exploding Bonbons, Peppermint Toads, Fudge Flies, Fizzing Whizzbees, and Chocolate Frogs, among other sweet treats, lining the shelves. Owl Post. Kids can send letters and postcards through the U.S. mail with a Hogsmeade postmark from Owl Post, which also sells an array of branded stationery, pens, and Wizarding World stamps. And don’t forget to look up at the robotic owls in the rafters of the shop, which is built in the style of a medieval market hall. Then look down at the (replica) owl poop on the stone floors (you can see some in my photograph, above, taken just outside Owl Post).
Genius Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel
What’s your worst holiday travel nightmare? Sitting, delayed, in the airport for hours with only your smartphone and a pretzel to keep you company? Hearing your kids blast the Frozen soundtrack in the backseat for the fifth time while you’re stalled in gridlocked traffic? Or having a complete stress-induced meltdown that freaks out the hotel's front desk clerk, the bellhop, and the elderly couple in line behind you? Don’t panic: BT has your back. We asked 11 of the world’s best-known travel experts—including an award-winning travel journalist, an airline miles and points obsessive, and a certain hotel heiress—for their single best tip for staying sane during the holiday travel crush. Read their advice, and you’ll be ready to glide through the crowds before you can say, “Serenity now!” 1. Fool your airline's touch-tone system into helping you first. "Holiday travel means full flights, and that means that if a storm cancels your flight, you're in a mad race with everyone else to grab what very few seats are available on alternate flights, and you can get stranded for days. Rather than phoning the airline's jammed U.S. customer service line and getting stuck on hold for hours while the few available seats to your destination vaporize, call one of the airline's English-speaking overseas reservations numbers—say, in England, Germany, Australia, or Singapore. (You'll find these numbers on the airline's website. Here are American Airlines', for example, and here are United's.) Use Skype so the call is cheap." —Wendy Perrin, travel expert behind WendyPerrin.com and travel advocate at TripAdvisor 2. Crank up lighthearted music to stay zen. "When I'm at the airport, which is mostly how I travel during this time of year, I carry my iPod filled with Christmas music. Unless I'm face-to-face with someone, I'll be wearing headphones listening to peaceful, relaxing songs of the season to keep me in the spirit and out of the craziness that can be holiday traveling. My smile—and when I choose to sing along—gets me funny looks, but it's well worth the trade-off." —Jack Maxwell, host of the Travel Channel's Booze Traveler 3. Forget Grandma. Do your own thing. "Don't go home for the holidays! Your ability to stretch your dollar during the holidays will be better served going to places that need the tourism. For example, although very cold, upscale hotels for Chicago for New Year's Eve are currently seeing rock-bottom rates. During the holiday season, New York City, which is a mecca for shopping, offers some of the lowest hotel rates of the year. If you avoid the holidays altogether, Las Vegas currently has 4-star hotel rates at under $50 per night. Also, look at international city destinations. Travelzoo has seen deals for 4-star hotels for up to 50 percent off in Paris and Rome over the Christmas season, when many Europeans are headed to warmer destinations or staying home." -—Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo 4. When packing, choose your holiday outfits wisely. (Think wool or stretchy knits, not delicate silk or rayon.) "Try and pack pieces that don't wrinkle. It will save you the headache of sending items to get pressed. Some hotels don't even offer that and have to send it off-site. Plus, it can get expensive." —Nicky Hilton, fashion designer, Hilton Hotels heiress, and author of 365 Style 5. Make like a vampire and attack your road trip at night. "If you're planning a long drive on a big travel day, leave in the middle of the night and hit no traffic. I know it sounds crazy, but my brother's family does it every year on the day before Thanksgiving. This year they left the D.C. area at 1:52 a.m. and made it to my parents' house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at 9:23 a.m. That's about seven and a half hours, without speeding (much). They do it every year, and it always works—just drag the kids out of bed, put them to sleep in the car, and be sure there are lots of snacks and movies for when they wake up. I left New York City around 9 a.m., and it took me five and a half hours, almost two hours more than it should have. The only negative consequence is my brother needs a nap." —Seth Kugel, author of the New York Times Frugal Traveler column. He is currently on hiatus from his column and working on a YouTube series for Brazilian tourists who visit New York, Amigo Gringo. 6. Shut out the holiday cacophony—literally—for less than a dollar. "Cheap foam earplugs. Whether it's at the airport with the 27 gate announcements that I don't need to hear or a mall where each store is in a battle of the bands competition with their piped music, earplugs don't block out all the noise, but they take the edge off and create a more calm place in my head." —Samantha Brown, Travel Channel host and AARP travel ambassador 7. Turn a delay into a mini vacation day. "When you're traveling during the holidays and winter months, there's always a chance of weather delays or flight cancellations. If it happens to you, try to look at it as a good thing and embrace your newfound free time! Bring along that book you've been wanting to read, or pack your Kindle, iPad, or Nook so you can catch up on your favorite shows...or read the latest digital edition of Budget Travel magazine. I've been snowed in at airports a few times—eight hours in Newark, anyone?—and I even spent the night in the Dallas area during a nasty flight-cancelling blizzard. I used it as an opportunity to cash in my hotel rewards points, explore the area, and have an amazing Texas barbecue dinner in Grapevine! Try to think of it as a travel adventure." —Kaeli Conforti, digital editor at Budget Travel 8. Ship what you can before you leave. (That means you, giant wrapped gifts.) "Travel light. Checking in luggage can add hours to your trip. When I'm traveling for the holidays, I ship my presents and bulky winter clothes a week ahead of time, and do the same thing when I return home. I miss lines at the airport check-in and don't have to wait for my luggage." —Zane Lamprey, host of the National Geographic Channel's Chug and creator of the Drinking Jacket 9. Stick it to the man! Ignore school schedules and travel during a "dead" week. "Everyone will tell you the same advice: Get to the airport early. Allow plenty of time for flight connections. Try to take the first flight of the day to avoid delays. Here's how I survive holiday travel: I get to the airport late...very late. In fact, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two times of the year I don't travel. Instead, I take advantage of two 'dead' weeks each year—the week immediately following Thanksgiving and the week immediately following New Year's. There's a reason they are called dead weeks—no one is traveling! Result: No lines, no delays, better service, and greater discounts on all forms of travel. I know what you're thinking: 'You can't travel those weeks because the kids are in school.' Really? Do what my parents did with me. Talk with your kids' teachers, get them extra-credit assignments that directly relate to your dead-week trip, and then never let school interfere with their education. It's a win-win for all concerned." —Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News and host of public television's The Travel Detective 10. Raise a glass! It's 5 o'clock somewhere. "Stuck in the airport? Airport bars can be surprisingly fun. Grab a drink and commiserate with fellow delayed travelers. Just don't get too comfortable. Travelers have been known to be so entertained they miss their flights. Happy travels!" —Darley Newman, host and producer of PBS's Equitrekking and AOL's Travels with Darley; contributing editor at Budget Travel 11. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. "My best tip to survive holiday travel is to be kind to everyone, leave plenty of time to get to your destination, and pack your patience." —John DiScala, editor in chief of Johnny Jet
5 New Rules to Guarantee a Great Trip
What does the vacation of your dreams look like? Are the skies are impossibly blue, beaches powdery and pristine, the kids perfectly behaved, and there never are any crowds? Me too. But as much as you hope for that Instagram-worthy trip, sometimes it rains. Or the airline loses the bag you’d packed with the only swimsuit that fits just right. Or tickets to the Eiffel Tower means a two hour wait, baking in the Paris summer heat. Now and again, the stars do align, granting you a bliss-filled, picture-postcard week away. But the truth is, a great vacation takes a little work. With a little planning, some flexibility and a dash of creativity, you can have a fantastic vacation anytime, anywhere. Here’s how. 1. GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS Hopping on an open-top, double-decker tour bus is a great (and fast!) way to see the sites, but you’ll likely miss out on those cool nooks and crannies only a native will know about. Make new friends instantly with a good travel social app. Vayable will hook you up with locals who lead insider excursions from restaurant and pub crawls to neighborhood exploring, photo-walks, and even running tours. Some extra friendly folks will even join you for a meal. The Like a Local app offers in-the-know travel tips, tours and listings of things to do curated by locals in close to 4,000 cities around the world. Bonus: skip the long lines and book tickets directly from the app. 2. DOWNLOAD A PERSONAL ASSISTANT Love to travel but hate all of the planning? Let your phone help lead the way. Apps such as Field Trip and Time To Enjoy use the GPS on your smartphone to automatically suggest cool activities and places to visit right as you are walking around. Tell it your faves (Gothic architecture! Ethopian food! Fusion jazz!) and it will customize its recommendations. Activities can also be synched up to your phone’s calendar so that you don’t accidentally double-book a Broadway matinee and lunch reservations at that cute little French place. Detour delivers expert narration for great self-guided walking tours. 3. THEN PUT YOUR SMARTPHONE AWAY Sure, it’s tempting to take a selfie at the edge of the Grand Canyon (pro tip: don’t) or to Instagram your latte art at that impossibly adorable Venetian café. Who doesn’t want a Facebook page filled with bucket-list pix? But while you’re busy capturing yourself at just the right angle, you’re also missing out on the experience of, you know, actually being at the Grand Canyon. Yes, some of the apps recommended above will help you get the most out of your trip, but at the same time, multiple studies suggest that we are spending way too much time on our phones, whether it’s texting or posting to social media, and we’re ignoring the world around us. So you really want to enjoy your vacation, and all of the sites, sounds and smells? Stash away your phone for at least a few hours a day. 4. TAKE A CLASS One summer a few years ago, it poured every day during my weeklong Cape Cod vacation. After a few days of drowning my disappointment in the hotel’s indoor pool, I wandered into town and found a little art shop that was holding daily scrapbooking classes. A closet crafter, I was thrilled to find something creative to pass away the stormy days. Plus I met a bunch of regulars who gave me lots of good local tips (the pub down the street waters down the drinks, the pancake place serves to-die-for crepes). Explore a new interest or keep up with one you’ve already mastered (Crossfit to burn off those crepes, anyone?). Dabble can help you find local classes in everything including food and art, business and technology, fitness and even education. Plus there are volunteer opportunities to make your soul feel good. 5. BE SPONTANEOUS My husband and I like to leave at least two vacation days completely unbooked. That means no hotel reservations, no plans and no apps to help us out. The first time was admittedly nerve-wracking. What if we couldn’t find a decent place to stay? With some faith and a full tank of gas, we went off-script and explored the tiny towns we’d otherwise drive right by. The results? A cozy night outside of Taos, New Mexico, in a palapa with a hand-carved four poster bed, a wood-burning adobe stove and a complimentary bottle of tequila left on the nightstand. Sometimes the best plans are the ones you don’t make at all.