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Travel News: Yosemite Fires, Tours through Tennessee Whiskey Territory, and New Regulations for Airbnb

By The Budget Travel Editors
July 25, 2018
Red Chicago Trolley car on street
There’s a great big world out there, and our latest “news you can use” may inspire a trip you never knew you needed.

About to leave for your summer vacation? We’ve got some urgent news about wildfires spreading through Yosemite. Like whiskey? If you're like the millions who visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you certainly do. Now there's a new way to check out whiskey landmarks in Tennessee. Enjoy this week’s empowering travel news.

WILDFIRES SHUT DOWN PARTS OF YOSEMITE VALLEY

Wildfires raging near Yosemite National Park in California have forced the park to close Yosemite Valley to visitors for the first time in 28 years. Officials encourage current visitors to “get yourself out of here.” All hotels, campgrounds, and visitor services in Yosemite Valley and Wawona are closed at least through July 29. Same goes the Mariposa Grove of Giant Seqouias. Vendors servicing these areas are issuing cancellations and refunds for reservations.

While the park itself is not within the burn area, smoke in the Valley has created low visibility and health concerns for visitors and staff. Additionally, portions of the park, including Glacier Pass, are being used as staging areas for firefighting operations.   

The good news is that there are several nearby options for modifying Yosemite travel plans. Tuolumne Meadows and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, on the North side of Yosemite, are still open, as is the Eastern Sierra, Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and Devil’s Postpile. Additionally, King’s Canyon and neighboring Seqouia National Parks, a few hours south, are unaffected by the fires. Travelers coming to Yosemite from San Francisco might consider rerouting north through Muir Woods and to Redwood National Park.

The park will continue to monitor the situation. For 24-hour updates on Yosemite National Park road and weather conditions call the hotline (209-372-0200) or visit the park's website (nps.gov/yose).

LONGSTANDING WHISKEY-CENTRIC KENTUCKY TOUR COMPANY EXPANDS ITS OFFERINGS TO TENNESSEE

Even with GPS and self-guided walking tours that many city organizations offer for download, nothing quite beats being shown around by a local expert. Now more and more tour companies are going off the well-trod path to show the best the city has to offer, with thematic excursions that provide a rich taste of local culture. Mint Julep Tours (mintjuleptours.com), known for its expeditions to various distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, is expanding its repertoire to Tennessee. (Thank you, designated driver.) Smaller distilleries are making names for themselves, even as they operate in the shadows of Jack Daniel's, and whiskey lovers are drawn there to discover the spirits and all the cultural Southern hallmarks that influence distillers. Half-day tours include stops at a barbecue restaurant, a boot designer, and a mixology class at a historic mansion. Full-day tours include visits to a leather company in Jack Daniel’s hometown of Lynchburg, lunch at an old-world soda fountain, and a VIP tour of the distillery. There’s also a border crossing into Kentucky to visit Maker’s Mark and a few other nearby bourbon makers.

Meantime, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. launched new stops to its 14-stop flagship route, which covers all the historic downtown sites.

SHORT-TERM RENTAL COMPANIES FACE NEW RESTRICTIONS

It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks on the home-share front. As cities like Boston, New York, and San Diego pass legislation aiming to curb short-term rentals, they join a groundswell of international and domestic push-back to Airbnb, HomeAway, and other online services. In June, Boston’s city council voted to ban rentals that aren’t owner-occupied, and mandated that short-term rental hosts register with the city, pay fees, and notify their neighbors. The San Diego City Council voted to collect fees from hosts as well, and also acted to limit short-term rentals to primary residences, outlawing second homes from the vacation-rental pool—a bombshell decision for the tourism-friendly destination. And if New York’s new bill becomes law, hosts will be required to register with the city there too, making it easier for government officials to crack down on illegal rentals. But the companies profiting from these short-term rentals aren’t going quietly into the night. A lawyer for Airbnb and HomeAway reportedly promised legal action in San Diego, and both companies released statements condemning the Boston decision. Airbnb also opposed the bill in New York, with the company’s head of global policy telling Bloomberg that the city council “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the hotel industry, and they aren't interested in working together.” How it will all shake out remains to be seen, but you might want to arrange for those home shares while you still can, or do it the old fashioned way and book a hotel room instead. 

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Travel News: Updates to Delta's Seat Design, a Star-Studded Music Festival in Arkansas, and the Biggest Vacation Regrets

It's never too early to start thinking about your next trip, especially if you plan your travel around festivals or other events. We have news about a star-studded music event in Arkansas that might make loyal Bonnaroo-goers add a trip to Natural State later this year, plus a surprise for anyone who's ever felt squished into their seat on a plane (read: everyone) and the results of a telling study about travelers' regrets.  DELTA UPGRADES ITS AIRCRAFTS Are you sitting down? Good. We have three words for you: comfortable economy class. Sounds like an oxymoron, but Delta has invested in a fleet-wide interior redesign of the wide-body 777s used on international routes. All three seating sections—Delta One suites, Delta Premium Select, and the Main Cabin—are getting upgrades. Economy passengers can expect more room in-flight, as rows will now accommodate nine seats across instead of 10, making each one 18.5 inches wide. The revamp doesn't increase legroom, but each passenger gets a personal power port and an 11-inch-wide seat-back screen offering thousands of hours of free content. Also, planes will be equipped with high-tech Gogo Ku Wi-Fi, giving flyers free access to on-board mobile messaging through iMessage, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger. The first redesigned aircraft hit the sky on July 2, flying from Detroit to Beijing. The airline plans to have renovations on all 18 planes completed by the end of next year. A STAR-STUDDED EVENT IN ARKANSAS JOINS THE FALL FESTIVAL CIRCUIT For many, many years, El Dorado, a city on the Ouachita River in South Arkansas about 16 miles north of the Louisiana border, was known for one thing: oil. In recent years, however, it’s become a hub of culture, thanks largely to the development of the Murphy Arts District, a downtown entertainment complex that came with a $100 million price tag. It includes an outdoor 7000-seat amphitheater retrofitted into a 1928 building that was once a gas station and Motel T Ford showroom. National acts that typically appear in more marquee-name cities have played here, throwing this small town into the national spotlight. Now MAD is celebrating its one-year anniversary with MusicFest (October 18-20), and the stars are coming out to celebrate—Cardi B, Sammy Hagar, George Clinton, Toby Keith, and Gucci Mane among them. Tickets go on sale Friday, June 20, with prices starting at $40. (musicfesteldorado.com) TRAVEL STRESS AND VACATION REGRETS Travel can be a whole lot of fun, but it can also bring with it a host of anxieties, whether it’s worry over the welfare of pets left behind, that nagging fear that you might've left the back door unlocked, or even a blow-out meal that blows out the budget. A recent survey by home network Porch (porch.com) asked 1,000-plus people about their biggest vacation stressors, travel regrets, and most satisfying trips, and it turns out that the majority of complaints are the result of poor planning, be it a mismatched travel companion, an essential item forgotten, or a shortage of funds. Accordingly, respondents said trips that require little planning, like cruises and all-inclusive resorts, were the most relaxing, while road trips were found to be the least satisfying and least rejuvenating. And though 12.5 percent of people said they regretted the bills they racked up dining out, and nearly 10 percent wish they’d passed on an ill-advised souvenir, the good news is that most people didn’t have any vacation-induced remorse at all.

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Travel News: Prevent Identity Theft, Progress for Travelers With Disabilities, and NYC’s New MTA App

About to leave for your summer vacation? We’ve got some urgent advice about how to protect yourself from identity theft. Traveling with a disability? We’re happy to report that the online booking industry is catching up to your needs. Have you ever cursed NYC’s public transportation system? (We live here, and we sure have.) There’s an app for that. Enjoy this week’s empowering travel news. PREVENT IDENTITY THEFT We received some important - and easy - tips for preventing identity theft while you’re on vacation, from the experts at Experian. As we rely more and more on technology to inspire, book, and navigate our travels, the risk of having our bank accounts and other valuable data hacked rises. Here, eight ways to make sure it doesn’t happen to you: Tell your bank and/or credit card companies when and where you’ll be traveling, so they know you’ll be using your card elsewhere and they’ll flag any suspicious account activity.Hold your mail so important documentation doesn’t sit around in your mailbox while you’re away.Clean out your wallet to ensure you’ve got the crucial cards and ID, and leave extra cards at home. And never carry your Social Security card or bank PIN in your wallet.Avoid public computers as much as possible. When you do need to use one (to, say, print out a boarding pass or discounted entry ticket to a museum or theme park), use a privacy browser mode that does not save any important information (such as passwords and cookies).Keep an eye on your valuables. Sure, this seems obvious, but it means don’t leave your passport in your back pocket, don’t get so enthralled by, say, the view of the Grand Canyon that you forget that your purse is unzipped and inviting impromptu thievery.Use indoor ATMs. It’s tempting to nab the nearest public ATM in a seeming “emergency” such as needing cash to buy gelato, but opt for those inside hotels and bank lobbies instead, where the risk of a stolen PIN is much lower.Check your bank statements to make sure there are no fraudulent purchases.Consider adding a virtual private network (VPN) on your smartphone and laptop, which automatically encrypts website you visit or app you use, making it much more difficult for hackers to steal your information.PROGRESS FOR TRAVELERS WITH DISABILITIES Whether you’re planning a multigenerational family reunion or simply facing your own physical challenges on the road, all travelers have reason to be thankful about improved online booking tools for those traveling with disabilities. As Sean O’Neill reports on Skift, the past year has seen a significant effort to assist travelers with disabilities when they book a trip online. Airbnb has acquired and is currently integrating Accomable, a British startup specializing in accessible lodging. Expedia actively assesses the accessibility of its booking site to those with visual, hearing, and mobility issues. Booking.com has offered an “accelerator” program for startups whose goal is to make travel more accessible. Some of the best progress has been made by smaller booking sites, such as Handiscover (handdiscover.com), which catalogs accessible properties around the world and has certified more than 28,000 hotel listings, many of which can be booked on the site. AbiliTrek (abilitrek.com) is currently building a hotel database using crowdsourced reviews of properties’ service to people with physical challenges. We expect more progress in this important area. NYC’S NEW TRANSIT APP For all the complaining that New Yorkers and visitors to New York City do about public transportation, the city’s MTA system of subways, buses, and light rail remains one of the most convenient and affordable ways to get around the five boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, and suburban destinations as well. A brand-new MTA app, MyMTA, available for iOS and Android, allows riders to gain up-to-the-minute information on schedules, delays, and other breaking news that can make navigating the city easier, and certainly take some of the where-the-heck-is-my-train-I’m-already-late mystery out of the experience.

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Travel News: 10 Most Instagrammed Beaches, Tour Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Savor Minnesota’s Dark Sky

From the beaches of Hawaii, the Caribbean, and beyond, to a tour devoted entirely to the life and work of children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers (for real), to the incredible night skies on display in Minnesota this summer, this week’s travel news is all about feel-good moments accessible to all travelers. 10 MOST INSTAGRAMMED BEACHES If you’re like us, you’re slightly hooked on Instagram, especially when it comes to trip-inspiring images. So we were delighted when the data crunchers and discount seekers at Travel Supermarket analyzed hundreds of thousands of Instagram posts to deliver a truly cool list of the most-Instagrammed beaches in the world - a good number of which, not surprisingly, are in North America. Don’t forget to tag your own beautiful beach photos #MyBudgetTravel for a chance to appear in the @BudgetTravel Instagram feed. And brush up your bucket list with these top 10 beaches: Whitehaven Beach, Australia (129,585 tags, #whitehavenbeach)Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii (117,525 tags, #lanikaibeach)Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda (90,404 tags, #horseshoebayCayo Coco Beach, Cuba (84,494 tags, #cayococo)Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic (83,183 tags, #bavarobeach)Boulders Beach, South Africa (77,748 tags, #bouldersbeach)Bournemouth Beach, United Kingdom (72,503 tags, #bournemouthbeach)Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas (71,087 tags, #harbourisland)Ao Nang Beach, Thailand (60,812 tags, #aonangbeach)Playa Paraiso Beach, Mexico (60,381 tags, #playaparaiso)TOUR MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD The pioneering children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018, and Fred Rogers’ home state of Pennsylvania is rolling out a tour unlike any other: the Fred Rogers Trail. If you grew up watching Rogers’ show on public television, or if your kids or grandkids have enjoyed the next-gen animated "reboot," Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a trip to the heart of the Keystone State may be just what you need to restore your faith in the values of kindness, curiosity, and compassion that Rogers devoted himself and his program to. The three-day road trip kicks off in Rogers’ hometown, Latrobe, and includes an exhibit at Saint Vincent College, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, the Senator John Heinz History Center in downtown Pittsburgh (home to the largest collection of original set items from the show), and, of course, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. SAVOR MINNESOTA’S DARK SKY What’s your best-ever summer memory? For many of us, it’s a warm night and a sky filled with stars. As truly dark skies become more scarce, and therefore more precious, plenty of Budget Travelers will be heading north this summer to savor Minnesota’s incredible night skies, where the stars, the Milky Way, Northern Lights, meteor showers, and other natural light wonders await. To escape the glow of city lights and traffic, head to some of the state’s northern destinations for hiking and paddling and stargazing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Lake of the Woods and the Northwest Angle, the northernmost point in the lower 48 states.

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Travel News: Last-Minute 4th of July Deals, Best States for Summer Road Trips, and Another Reason to Love L.L. Bean

From explosive holiday celebrations across America for Independence Day to awesome and affordable road trips, plus a cool new development at one of our favorite travel-gear brands, this week’s travel news is a feast for savvy travelers. LAST-MINUTE 4TH OF JULY DEALS Dreaming of fireworks? Marching bands? Red, white, and blue? We are too. And we’re psyched to report that it’s not too late to nab last-minute flights to some of America’s biggest 4th of July celebrations. Our friends at Skyscanner, who are always scouring bargain flights 24/7, have delivered an array of 4th of July round-trips for under $300. A few examples include: From New York City, you can save big flying to Chicago, Savannah, or Fort Lauderdale; from Washington, DC, you’ll find deals to Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Miami; from Chicago, jet off to Charleston, Seattle, or Philly; and from Los Angeles, we’re seeing great fares to Dallas, Phoenix, and Provo, UT. And after you grab your bargain flight, find great 4th of July lodging with our easy booking tool. BEST STATES FOR SUMMER ROAD TRIPS If you’re hoping to hit the road this summer, a new survey by WalletHub may come in handy: Best & Worst States for Summer Road Trips focuses on car-based vacations and digs into gas prices, auto repairs, safety, and activities. Here are the top 5 ranked states for road trippers, with a brief explanation of what the state offers: Wyoming (scored well for affordability)North Carolina (scored well for activities, including tying with California for most scenic byways)Minnesota (ranked as the safest state for road trippers)Texas (scored well for activities)Florida (scored well for activities, including a high percentage of national parkland)In addition, WalletHub’s survey determined the following details that may interest avid summer drivers: Lowest gas prices: MississippiLow cost of car repairs: MichiganFewest car thefts per capita: VermontMost affordable camping: WyomingANOTHER REASON TO LOVE L.L. BEAN When Budget Travelers open up their suitcases, chances are you’re going to spot some L.L. Bean. The Maine-based apparel company has been producing some of the most reliable duds, kicks, and gear for more than a century, and we just learned another reason why we should love them: To encourage people to spend more time outdoors, even when they are “at work,” L.L. Bean has launched an outdoor co-working space initiative, which began in New York City’s Madison Square Park on June 21 with Wi-Fi, electricity, individual workspaces, collaborative conference areas, cycling desks, team-building activities, and staff onsite to help get you started. After NYC, the outdoor co-working space initiative will come to Boston (July 10 - 12), Philadelphia (July 17 - 19), and Madison, WI (July 24 - 26). Want to give the outdoor-co-working space a try? Reserve a spot at beanoutsideratwork.com.

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