New Year’s Celebrations Around the World

Around the globe, different cultures celebrate New Year’s Eve in unique ways. This holiday is a great excuse to travel, both at home and abroad.   Some celebrations deliver strange twiststhat can leave other cultures scratching their heads. But regardless ofcultural differences, I believe we should all be happy and bring the noise inour own time and own way.  Nevertheless, it’s fun to celebrate all theinteresting ways people will be ringing in the New Year around the world. Setthe stage for a memorable New Year’s by partaking in traditional celebrationsaround the globe — in December and throughout the year.  And who knows? Maybe we can find something fun to adopt into our own personal traditions. Read this article for even more New Year’s traditions.

New York City   

One of the most classic New Year’s celebrations in the U.S. takes place in New York City. The Big Apple toasts the New Year in a variety of ways, from the ball drop in Times Square to special multi-course dinners from the city’s best celebrity chefs. Traditional celebrations include a big countdown at midnight. Add a special touch to your trip by browsing BedandBreakfast.com for a great local B&B with a hearty New Year’s Day brunch.

Chinese Lunar New Year
Many Chinese children dress in new clothes to celebrate the Lunar New Year. People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon, the Chinese symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon sleeps for most of the year, so people incorporate firecrackers in their celebrations to keep the dragon awake.  In the Chinese calendar, each of the 12 years is named after an animal. 2018 was the Year of the Dog and people born this year have the following character traits: Faithful, courageous and clever, dogs make great leaders and are good at keeping secrets. But they’re quick to find fault and can be distant. According to legend, Lord Buddha asked all the animals to come to him before he left the earth. Only 12 animals came to wish him farewell, and as a reward Buddha named a year after each one.

Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur
In September/October, Jews believe thatGod opens the Book of Life for 10 days, starting with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Jews try to atone for any wrongdoing and to forgive others during these days, the holiest in the Jewish year. A “shofar” (a ram’s horn trumpet) is blown before and during RoshHashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur.

Songkran
In Thailand, on April 13–15, a funthree-day water festival marks Songkran, the Buddhists’ celebration of the newyear. Wet parades with huge statues of Buddha that spray water on passersby area part of this cleansing tradition.  In small villages, young people throwwater at each other for fun and attempt acts of kindness like releasing fishback into rivers. At Songkran, people tie strings around each other’s wrists toshow their respect to their fellow man and community. A person can have as manyas 25 or 30 strings on one wrist, each from a different person. The strings aresupposed to be left on until they fall off organically.


Scotland

Several fire festivals occur all over Scotland for their New Year’s celebration but the most famous of Scotland’s many New Year’s Hogmanay fire festivals is the one in Stonehaven, where right before midnight a parade of trained professionals swing balls of fire over their head and then toss them into the sea.  The tradition dates back over 100 years, and many believe it’s based on a pre-Christian ritual meant to purify and ward off evil spirits. Some believe that its timing with the winter solstice signifies that the fireball actually symbolizes the sun.

Burmese Water Festival

The Thingyan water festival takes place in mid-April and marks the arrival of Thagyamin, a celestial Buddhist figure, on Earth with the firing of many water cannons. The streets are usually flooded with sprinklers and people celebrating, and the soggy celebrations last until New Year’s Day.  The water is meant to “wash away” the bad luck and sins of the previous year, and to begin anew through this cleansing ritual.

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Best Tropical Winter Escapes

Looking for a way to warm up your winter wonderland?  Lots of people choose to forgo icicles and flurries and opt instead for a warm, bikini-clad holiday.  If this is you, you’ve found the Holy Grail of travel blogs although this one has some great suggestions as well.  Leave the parka at home and get your AC ready! Read on for the best tropical winter escapes and remind Santa to bring his shades when dropping your gifts this year.

Kampot, Cambodia
The provincial town of Kampot in southern Cambodia doesn’t look like much at first sight because it is small and sleepy with unpaved streets and run down buildings, but Kampot’s sleepiness is part of its charm. Traffic is light and it’s easy to get around on foot, bicycle or motorbike. Life is slow and unrushed, with hot afternoons meant for lounging in hammocks or swimming.  The riverside location is at the foot of the Elephant Mountains and is a huge part of Kampot’s attraction. The river attracts everyone (both tourists and locals) at sunset for strolls. Just outside town you can swim and kayak from one of the riverside guest houses.  Known throughout Cambodia as the coveted weekend getaway destination, Kampot is a much needed reprieve from the chaos of Phnom Penh. Try out one of the eco resorts like Ganesha and Eden Eco Village that line the river while secret lakes and waterfalls abound for early morning canoeing and swimming. Rent a moto and take a drive up the winding roads of Bokor Mountain or over to La Plantation’s organic pepper farm and sample some of the world’s best.

Honduras

Do you like waterfalls, scuba diving, mountains and untouched rainforests? Who doesn’t? This second largest central American country is for you. It has colonial villages (Gracias, Comayagua), ancient Maya ruins (Copan), natural parks (Moskitia), a Pacific and Caribbean coastline, and the Bay Islands.  These all offer great beaches and coral reefs where snorkelling and diving are exceptional by any standard.  The country is bordered by Guatemala to the northwest, El Salvador to the south and Nicaragua to the southeast.  The Lodge at Pico Bonito lies in the middle of the gorgeous Pico Bonito National Park, putting some of the world’s most dazzling natural environments at your doorstep.

Mexico City

Mexico City is, and has always been, the center of Mexico in terms of population, events, politics and fun. Though it has a riddled past, these days the city is cleaning up its act. Revamped public spaces are springing back to life, the culinary scene is exploding and a cultural renaissance is flourishing. On top of all that, by somehow managing to distance itself from the drug war, the nation’s capital remains a safe haven of sorts. In the past few years, the ancient city has enjoyed a vibrant resurgence thanks to a close knit artist community and a world class food scene. Stay at the Four Seasons in the center of the city, enjoy the rooftop pool and the open courtyard, and save time in your trip to float the Xochimilco Gardens in the colorful trajineras.

Belize

Explore the ancient Mayan Ruins, an award winning historical site where you can get guided tours and learn more about Belizean history.  After that, swim through translucent seas and be treated to a kaleidoscope of coral, fish, whale sharks and turtles, while divers go deeper, investigating underwater caves and walls and the world-renowned Blue Hole. With one foot in the Central American jungles and the other in the Caribbean Sea, pint-sized Belize is packed with islands, adventure and culture.  Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world, after Australia’s, and with more than 100 types of coral and some 500 species of tropical fish, it’s pure paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers. Add to this island life on the sandy cays, where you can spend your days kayaking, windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, fishing or lazing in a hammock, and you’ve got a perfect tropical vacation.

Oman

These picturesque deserts are like nothing you’ve ever seen before this holiday season. Explore the great canyon of the Al Hajar Mountains and rip through the dunes of the Wahiba Sands. Head into Muscat to see the traditional architecture of the Royal Opera House Muscat and Grand Mosque, and be sure to take home some of the city’s famous fragrances.  Oman’s capital is very family friendly, with malls having dedicated fun zones and parks with play areas. It is, however, the beach that draws most tourists, whether it is for a picnic, to swim, a game of beach football, or just to stroll and enjoy the sunset. Water sports activities such jet skiing or banana boat rides are available at Qurum Beach and most beachfront resorts.  The afternoon can be spent watching dolphins frolic in the sea, followed by a beautiful sunset Dhow cruise starting from Marina Bandar Al Rowdah or Al Mouj Muscat.

Los Angeles

For some of us, the quickest way to cure the winter blues is to go where both the palm trees and the stars are. Los Angeles has something for everyone, with 75 miles of sunny coastline, a flourishing Downtown, lifestyle playgrounds for the rich and famous, acclaimed restaurants, trend-setting art and fashion scenes, and internationally flavored neighborhoods. One of the most popular ways to experience L.A. is by enjoying free activities, such as a scenic drive or visiting top cultural attractions. Los Angeles has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to green travel, from public transit to eco-friendly hotels. L.A. Tourism celebrates the city’s incredible diversity with its LGBT and ethnic guides. And you can bring your canine companion to L.A.’s dog-friendly parks, hotels, restaurants and attractions. Whether it’s luxury or budget, family friendly or singles, L.A. Tourism has the best itineraries and guides to explore this amazing city!  To relight your inner fire, jump between tanning at Venice Beach and taking in LA’s burgeoning art scene.

Costa Rica

December ushers in the dry season, so you can enjoy the warm weather without getting caught in a torrential downpour. There’s also a number of local festivals from January through March, perfect for experiencing the culture.  Costa Rica’s beaches offer the perfect escape from noisy cities. Whether you’re travelling with friends, family, or that special someone, you’re sure to find the perfect place to stay. From big hotels with comfortable facilities to ultra-posh boutique hotels, there’s something for everyone. Besides great accommodations, Costa Rica is increasingly renowned for its widely varied and delicious foods distinct to each region. One thing they all share in common is their excellent taste.  Costa Rica’s beaches are surrounded by forests, and have great natural diversity. Many contain beautiful coral reefs, perfect for diving and exploring. Depending on the beach, complementary activities may include hikes to mangroves, diving, surfing, sport fishing, hiking on trails or horseback rides. With easy access to many beaches, you can make the most out of both coasts. Most have warm water throughout the year, so they can be enjoyed year round. If it’s variety you’re interested in, each coast offers different shades and textures of sand. White, yellow, gray and black beaches are the result of the constant crashing of varied seashells on coral reefs.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

December marks the off-season on Italy’s South Eastern coast. Though you won’t see temperatures as high as in June or July, you can expect days as warm as 55 degrees Fahrenheit and won’t have to deal with quite as many tourists. Magically suspended between the blue sky and the iridescent colored sea, the Amalfi coast seems to be born from the palette of a painter. It is the land where the sweet scent of lemon blossoms mixes with lush Mediterranean vegetation and the salty sea air; where the brilliant colors of bougainvillea and carnations stand out among whitewashed houses, clinging to the last offshoots of the Lattari Mounts that plunge dramatically into the sea. A vertical landscape houses a picture perfect labyrinth of stairways and alleys. The shift from the sea to mountain is seamless: the mountain sides were terraced over the centuries, shaped by human labor to create flaps of arable land and already compared, during the Renaissance period, to the legendary Hesperides by the Italian writer and naturalist Giambattista Della Porta.

Miami

Get ready for sun-filled days and temperatures on the mid-70s. Miami hosts several winter events to make sure to keep the city alive during its off season.  The largest holiday theme park in the world, Santa’s Enchanted Forest is back for another season at Tropical Park. Enjoy carnival rides, shows, games, a 92-foot tall Christmas tree and more than three million Christmas lights. Ride the ferris wheel, race speedy cars, or risk it all on the “Mega Drop.” The park is open until the beginning of January. Check out the Deering Holiday Wonderland located at the elegant and historic Deering Estate located on the edge of Biscayne Bay when it’s festively decorated for the holidays and decked out in beautiful Christmas lights. Highlights include story time and photos with Santa Claus and a Festival of Trees evening stroll.  Lounge on idyllic beaches, take advantage of the city’s numerous water sports and explore the famous and colorful Art Deco District.

Hawaii

When considering a vacation to Hawaii for the month of December, choosing when to go greatly impacts both costs and crowds. The first few weeks are very quiet and relatively inexpensive, while the last week — including Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays — is a popular and expensive time. Hawaii’s weather is almost always wonderfully warm. Daytime temperatures typically reach the low 80s while evening temperatures dip in the middle to upper 60s. Even in December, tropical flowers continue to flourish as usual. You may also see poinsettia plants and shrubs growing and blooming outdoors.  With the exception of Hawaii’s Big Island, December is the wettest month for Hawaii. That doesn’t mean that you’ll likely encounter rain all the time. From our experience, we’ve enjoyed some wonderfully sunny days in Hawaii in December. We do recommend that you bring a breathable, rain-proof jacket and/or an umbrella so that a passing shower typically won’t interfere with your plans for very long. Even though this time of year is one of Kauai’s busiest, but with sunny days in the high 70s, it’s worth pricier hotel rates. Don’t worry about dealing with pesky crowds: The rural island only has two highways and visitors are encouraged to travel on foot through the gorgeous, rural terrain.

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The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for Paris

Thinking about spending 3 days in Paris? That is an excellent choice because it is the perfect amount of time to spend in one of the best European cities, giving you the chance to see many of the top sights and attractions and really get a feel for the city. Of course, if you have longer, that’s even better, but three days is certainly enough to see a lot.

Let’s get started!

Day 1
1. Eiffel Tower
What better way to start of your trip to Paris than with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. This is without a doubt the most iconic landmark in Paris (if not France!). The construct is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.  Constructed from 1887–1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015.

2. Seine River Cruise
Another must-do experience in Paris is a river cruise on the Seine. Enjoy unique views over Paris on a Seine River Cruise and pass under top attractions from the Orsay Museum, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. Get a unique perspective on Paris and take a majestic trip along the Seine River on the Bateaux Parisiens to discover the City of Lights from the water.

 

  1. Hop on Hop off Bus
    Talking of sitting back and relaxing, we find that a great way to get oriented in a new city and get an idea of the sights we want to see is to take a Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus tour.  Paris is no exception to this rule, and you can pick up a HOHO bus in Paris from right next to the Eiffel Tower, which will then take you around Paris’s key attractions. There are multiple operators running different routes around the city. We took this tour and enjoyed it – it’s both an easy way to get around the city, plus you can learn about many of the sights as you go.

 

  1. Paris Walking Tour
    All this sitting around on buses and boats is great for getting oriented, but at some point you’re going to need to put your feet on the pavement! The company Paris Walks has amazing tour guides who are all certified multilingual and very knowledgeable of the area.  All guides are university graduates and are enthusiastic about Paris and its history. Paris is an excellent city to tour on foot!
  2. Tour Montparnasse
    Last on our list for your first day in Paris is a trip up the Tour Montparnasse.  This is arguably the location with the best view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower. This is particularly the case at sunset, so if you can time your visit for sunset, you will get to witness a wonderful sunset across the Eiffel Tower, and then watch the city lights come to life.  The observation level is across two levels, one is inside and one is outside. The outside area is surrounded by glass, but there are cutouts so you can get reflection-free shots of the view. You can also bring a tripod up here!

    Paris Itinerary: Day 2
    Our second day in Paris takes in some more iconic sites including some of Paris’s most famous museums and churches.

  3. Saint Chapelle
    The Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine in Paris, France. Construction began some time after 1238 and the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248. This is a relatively small chapel that is not too far from Notre Dame, but the interior, which consists of almost floor to ceiling stained glass, is absolutely outstanding. It will definitely take your breath away.
  4. Notre Dame
    No more than ten minutes walk from Sainte Chapelle is Paris’s most famous religious building.  It is a medieval Catholic cathedral and is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. The innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttress, the enormous and colorful rose windows, and the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration all set it apart from earlier Romanesque architecture. Reserve your tour by using the “Jefile” app, available on iOS and Google Play.

 

  1. The Louvre
    The Louvre, or the Louvre Museum, is the world’s largest art museum and a historic monument in Paris.  This is one of the world’s most famous museums, and is home to an incredible collection of art, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, to name but a few.  True art lovers could lose themselves for days in the vast collection here!

 

  1. Arc de Triomphe
    We’re going to finish off the second day of our three day Paris itinerary with a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, another of Paris’s iconic landmarks. From the Louvre you can either take public transport here, or you can walk up the Champs Elysees, Paris’s most famous shopping street.  The Arc de Triomphe, built in memory of those who died in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, is wonderfully photogenic. If you arrive in time, you can go to the top for an excellent view of the city, which includes the roads spanning out into the distance and the Eiffel Tower.  As you journey up into the monument, you will also come to a museum which details some of its history.

 

Paris Itinerary: Day 3
On the last day of our 3 day Paris itinerary we’re heading out of the city center to take in one of Paris’s most famous Royal Palaces.

  1. Versailles
    First on the list for day 3 is Versailles, the incredible palace that was the seat of French political power and home to French Royalty, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  There is easily enough to see here to fill an entire day. We suggest starting off by touring the Palace. You’ll want to get here for opening time, as this is a really popular tourist attraction and it get busier as the day goes on. Afterwards, head outside, where there is a great deal more to see. A walk in the incredible gardens is a must.
  2. Montmartre
    Head to the Montmartre region to finish off your day. Montmartre is a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. It is 130 m high and gives its name to the surrounding district, part of the Right Bank in the northern section of the city.  This area of Paris was particularly famous as being home to artists, and folks like Dali, Picasso and Hemingway all either lived or frequented this area. It’s still popular with artists, and the Place du Teatre is the place in Montmartre is the place to go to get your portrait or caricature painted. Montmartre is a maze of cute little streets, cafes and shops.

For more things to do in Paris, click here.  For more general travel information, click here.

 

How To Survive Thanksgiving Travel

A lot of turkey wishbones – and travel records – are set to be broken during the Thanksgiving holiday this year. The following information from this article states,  AAA expects 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the holiday, a 4.8 percent increase over last year and the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005.  For the 48.5 million Americans expected to travel by car over the holiday, the best advice is: leave early. In the most congested cities, the Thanksgiving drive could take four times longer than on a ‘normal’ travel day, predicts INRIX, a mobility analytics company.  Traffic at airports and in the skies will break records as well.  The 12-day Thanksgiving air travel period is already under way, and trade organization Airlines for America predicts a record 30.6 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines.  That’s up from the estimated 29 million passengers who flew during Thanksgiving last year. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 25 million people between Wednesday and Sunday, a 7 percent increase over last year.

 

HOW WEATHER WILL IMPACT TRAVEL

 

The weather will cooperate for a majority of those traveling by road or air for the Thanksgiving holiday, with some exceptions in the northeastern and western United States.  The American Automobile Association (AAA) is projecting that 54.3 million will travel 50 miles or more away from home for the Thanksgiving holiday this year. Even in the absence of disruptive weather, the sheer volume of vehicles on the road in congested metro areas may cause travel time to double, triple or quadruple, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.  People traveling for the holiday can download the AccuWeather app to find out exactly when the weather could add further slow downs to their journey.

Snowflakes to fly in Northeast

The early taste of winter is expected to continue across the Northeast with batches of snow sweeping through the area and possibly lead to slick travel on occasion in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  Motorists should prepare for possibly slick and snow-covered portions of interstates 75, 81, 87, 90, 91 and 95 in the days ahead. The greatest disruptions to travel may occur Monday night into Tuesday from portions of Pennsylvania to Maine as a storm takes shape and lays a swath of accumulating snow.  Snow showers will also riddle the eastern Great Lakes and central Appalachians on Tuesday, potentially reducing visibility on the roadways.

Yet another round of snow is expected across parts of the Northeast on Wednesday.  “There is concern that snow squalls could greatly reduce visibility and quickly coat roadways on Wednesday’s busy travel day across the interior Northeast,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis.

“These squalls may not just be limited to areas downwind of the Great Lakes but may streak eastward to northeastern Pennsylvania and/or the Hudson Valley and western New England.”  These type of weather situations are notorious for causing chain-reaction accidents. Meanwhile in the Midwest, patches of light freezing drizzle may break out later Wednesday and Wednesday night, creating slick patches for motorists, especially on bridges and overpasses.

Rain to dampen travel in southeastern Texas

Travelers in southeastern Texas may contend with reduced visibility and ponding of water on the roadways as downpours cross the area at the start of the week.  “There is the possibility of wet roads and perhaps minor airline delays in Houston,” Sosnowski added. This includes on Monday afternoon, which is the worst time for Thanksgiving travel in the Houston metro area, according to AAA.  A press of drier air will shunt the rainfall southward on Tuesday, leading to a good day for travel along the Interstate 10 corridor from San Antonio to Houston. This dry press may hold firm on Wednesday, with damp conditions likely being held to southern and coastal Texas.

Storm to arrive along West Coast at midweek

Reduced visibility from wildfire smoke will be the main concern for travelers in California on Monday and Tuesday.  However, a pattern change will bring needed rainfall to the state starting on Wednesday. While rain is not normally a welcome idea during busy travel times and near the holiday, any rain with a lack of strong winds would greatly favor firefighting efforts and reduce the risk of new fires igniting, according to Sosnowski.  Despite the good news of rainfall, motorists will face slick roads as oil buildup from weeks of dry weather mixes with the rain. Heavy snow is expected over the Sierra Nevada by the end of Wednesday. Travelers over I-80’s Donner Summit should anticipate snow-covered roads, reduced visibility and possible closures. Rain will also spread into Portland, Oregon, and Seattle at midweek, heightening the risk of minor travel delays.


TRAVEL TIPS FOR THE AIRPORT

As with driving or going anywhere over the holiday, the key advice for flying is: leave for the airport early.  That not only helps reduce stress, but builds in extra time for all those things that can go wrong, such as discovering your favorite airport parking lot is already filled up or there’s a hiccup with your airline ticket.  TSA officials say new screening technologies, coupled with additional canine teams and more than 1,200 more TSA officers will help with the increased volume of passengers at airport security checkpoints this year. But there may still be long, slow-moving lines at many airports.

To make sure you’re not the person holding up the line, take some extra time when prepping and packing to make sure your carry-on items are checkpoint-savvy.  Dress for success: Transfer small items, such as wallets, phones and keys, from your pockets to your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint. Wear shoes or boots that are easy to take off and put back on.  Download and print your boarding pass. Putting your boarding pass on your mobile phone means one less paper to keep track of but a paper version is good back-up in case your phone loses its charge while you’re waiting on a long line, or if the checkpoint scanner can’t read the downloaded version of your pass.  Review the rules. If you’re an infrequent traveler, find a quart-sized clear bag and take a moment to read TSA’s primer on the liquids rule. Charge up your phone and other travel gadgets, including one or more back-up chargers, before you leave home. While airports have added more power ports, finding an empty one can still be a challenge. Show up with a power cord with extra plugs, and you’ll be a hero.  Download the apps for your airline and all airports you’re traveling through and sign up for the alerts for each of your flights. Get numbers. Make a list of all the phone numbers you might need for your trip. The list should include not only your airline, but also the rental car or shuttle company you’ve booked with, your hotel, the person picking you up and the person who dropped you off (in case you left something behind). Put those numbers in your phone and on paper.
Pack extras. Bring along snacks, a hefty amount of patience, and your sense of humor. Add a stash of ‘mad money’ to your wallet. That way, if something goes wrong despite all your planning and preparation, you’ll be able to buy yourself or your family a stress-busting treat.
If you’re traveling with food to eat during your journey or with a turkey or something else destined for the Thanksgiving table, you will likely be asked to take it out of your bag and put it in a separate bin for a ride through the x-ray machine.  TSA allows turkeys, turkey sandwiches, pies, cakes and other baked through the checkpoints, but foodstuffs that are liquid, such as jellies and cranberry sauce, need to travel in checked bags. Unsure if your food is a liquid or gel? TSA’s “What can I bring” tool, available online and as an app, can help – and you can send a question about a specific item to @AskTSA on Twitter.

 

To read more on how to survive Thanksgiving travel, click here.  For more general travel tips, click here.

Best Holiday Travel Destinations

Has the Holiday cheer put you in a wanderlust mood?  Give in to it and hop on a plane for a trip during the time of year that many deem the BEST time to see a new place.  Here are our top 10 American holiday travel destinations for you to indulge in. Enjoy!

 

No. 1 Aspen, CO
A combination of luxe living and quaint charm helped this Rocky Mountain town capture the spot as the merriest of them all. Wandering along Cooper Avenue, you may chance upon cookie exchanges, public s’mores roasts, or elf meet-and-greets. But the two most famous hotels in town act as the nerve centers for holiday cheer. The lobby of the Hotel Jerome regularly hosts carolers, while the Ajax Tavern and Element 47 at the Little Nell both serve fabulous holiday meals, with indulgences like venison loin with huckleberries, black truffles, and chestnut-and-caramel profiteroles.

 

No. 2 Vail, CO
Ski season kicks into high gear during the holidays in this Colorado wonderland. December brings the festivities of Snowdaze—where the fresh powder is celebrated with live concerts every evening—and Holidaze, which includes the village’s tree lighting during the winter solstice and a New Year’s Eve torchlight parade down Golden Peak, followed by fireworks. Any time of year, readers love Vail’s liquid nourishments, ranking the town highly for its hot coffee (compare local favorites Yeti’s Grind and Loaded Joe’s).

 

No. 3 Ogunquit, ME
Readers may be drawn to this former artists’ colony in Maine as a beach getaway, but the holiday season brings the perks of winter on the sand: lower prices and overall calm, with just enough festivity to keep things humming. Mid-December’s Christmas by the Sea Festival typically includes a bonfire on the beach and a soul-warming chowder fest. From Ogunquit, you can also easily reach two shopping areas for getting through your list: the Kittery Outlets and, an hour away, Freeport. For distinctive local shopping, browse the Harbor Candy Shop, where the gift boxes include a Vegan Sampler, featuring soy truffles, marzipan, and orange peel enrobed in dark chocolate.

 

No. 4 Nantucket, MA
The banner event during the holidays in this island town started in the 1970s, because too many locals left to shop in Cape Cod. Today, during the annual Christmas Stroll—typically the first weekend in December—you can shop downtown amid dozens of seven-foot, decorated Christmas trees, and take part in wine tastings, ghost walks, and home tours. Pick up some gifts at Murray’s Toggery Shop (the mother ship for holiday-ready Nantucket Reds pants) and Jessica Hicks, the boutique of a local jewelry designer. For more tree-gazing, go to the Whaling Museum, which houses 80 trees decorated by local artists, merchants, and kids.

 

No. 5 Naples, FL
This Florida town lacks snowman-building material, but the snowbird-style winter wonderland still lures holiday revelers with its luxury stores, cool boutiques, and festive ambience. Third Street South is the headquarters for the official tree, evening “snow” showers during Thanksgiving week, and gorgeous window displays, like those at department store Marissa Collections in the Old Naples Historic District. Continue shopping along Fifth Avenue South, and check out whimsical clothing and gift shop Wind in the Willows, whose window won Best in Show at the 2013 local holiday decorating contest. Of course, the holidays are about more than retail; catch the Naples edition of the worldwide TUBA Christmas, a concert on Fifth Avenue South’s Sugden Plaza featuring brass tubas, euphoniums, and baritones.

 

No. 6 Breckenridge, CO
Breckenridge gets revved up during the holidays, as ski season swings into high gear. Indeed, this resort town skates the fine line between thrills and low stress, ranking well in the survey for both adventure and safety. On the first weekend in December, the traditional lighting of the town’s official tree coincides with the Running of the Santas, in which hundreds of red-clad, supersize elves take to the streets; on December 31, there’s a torchlight parade down the mountain, followed by fireworks.

 

No. 7 Lewisburg, WV
Grande dame hotel The Greenbrier is the epicenter of the holidays in the Lewisburg area. The 18th-century resort trims the lobby with opulent decorations, holds ribbon-tying seminars in its Christmas Shop, and offers weekday discounts on treatments at its legendary mineral-springs spa. While you can hear the West Virginia Symphony play at Lewisburg’s own Carnegie Hall, the town may otherwise win the Silent Night award, getting high marks for peace and quiet.

 

No. 8 Beaufort, NC
Winter weather doesn’t really kick in until January in this Outer Banks town, so the holiday season is typically still a good time to paddle a kayak or take a boat tour along Taylor’s Creek. The Christmas lights take to the water too: one of the biggest holiday events is the Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla, a twinkling-lights-strewn boat parade held on the first weekend in December. Readers’ favorite cuisine in this low-key town are the sandwiches: try the double crab cake Cranky Crab at the Beaufort Grocery.

 

No. 9 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
This California town with a rocky coastline doesn’t experience much in the way of winter, but the chilly air makes the crashing waves and neighboring wine country seem all the more enticing. Carmel has its own tree lighting—a huge resident tree at the corner of Junipero and Ocean avenues—and the quiet days of early December also make it a little easier to get a table at nearby restaurants like La Bicyclette and Flying Fish Grill. December also brings the Inns of Distinction Tour, which includes the Cypress Inn (dating back to 1929) and the cottage-style Wayside Inn, as well as wineries such as Heller Estate and Cima Collina. Carmel also ranked well for its distinctive shopping; pick up French linens and antiques at Jan de Luz.

No. 10 Park City, UT
The holiday season ushers in serious wattage—star-powered and otherwise—in this Utah mountain town. In late November, Park City holds its annual Electric Parade, in which locals light up their trucks, cars, and bicycles and crank up the holiday tunes as they parade down Main Street. On Christmas Eve, Saint Nick spends the day skiing the slopes and then leads a torchlight parade down the PayDay trail. January’s Sundance Film Festival draws a Hollywood crowd, yet Park City also scored well with readers for feeling family-friendly. During the holidays, kids and sweet tooths of all ages will love the life-size gingerbread house (nearly 13 feet tall, made with 11,000 cookies) at Montage Deer Valley.

 

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DIY Trip Planning vs. Using A Travel Agent

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, you needed to use a travel agent to book a trip. Your travel agency would book your flights, give you a stack of maps and brochures, and they might even highlight the roads to take on the highway map if you were driving to your destination. Then, the Internet came around. In the world of Google Flights, and better travel rewards credit cards, and the many different flight booking sites, do people still use travel agencies?  If you’re like many budget travelers, you probably started booking your own trips yourself online in the early 2000s and thought travel agents went extinct. That’s actually the farthest thing from the truth. Sure, travel agents and agencies are not as common as they once were, but, they are still in demand. In fact, 34% of Millenials used an offline travel agent in 2017 (and many others with some crazy travel requests)! You know, the same generation that can send you a text message or tweet but won’t have a face-to-face conversation with you. I’m surprised that many know what a travel agency is.

How to find a reputable travel agent?

You can perform a quick Google search for “travel agents near me” and you will most likely find at least one private office. Or, you can always look for your local AAA location as well.

Why would anybody use a travel agency when you book the same flight or hotel room as the agent and maybe even save a few dollars in the process?

There are a few reasons actually. Let’s break those reason down below.

By finding a travel agent who is an expert on the region you want to visit, they can book the best flights, hotels, and even make top-notch recommendations of where to eat and sight-see. If you have never been to another continent, what looks appealing on the Internet doesn’t always work out so well once you arrive and begin to play tourist. Since the agent has already “been there, done that,” they can immediately tell you where to go so you can maximize every minute of the trip.

Not every travel agent is going to know everything about every corner of the globe. Travel Leaders can help you find an agent who specializes in the area you want to visit. For example, you can find an agent that specializes in beach weddings, Riviera Mexico, or Hawaii.

Travel Agents Aren’t That Much More Expensive
The Internet has driven the cost down for many items and services, travel agents included. To remain competitive, travel agents cannot charge the same fees they did before anyone could book their own dream vacation themselves. Travel agents do receive a small commission from the airlines and hotels when they book your trip, but, this helps keep your travel costs down.

Some agents might not charge any additional fees, but, you can expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $50 per person to book your trip for you. If you can afford the convenience or simply do not have the time to research your own flights, hotels, and sightseeing itinerary this can be money well-spent.

If you own one of the best travel rewards cards like the Capital One Venture or a Chase Sapphire Preferred, you have complimentary access to the Amex or Chase travel concierge. You tell them where you want to travel or even what special event you want to attend in your hometown and they will make it happen for no additional fee.

You Have a Complex Trip
Many great free, online tools exist that make booking a complex trip look extremely easy. Any DIY traveler needs to use Google Flights, Momondo, or Skiplagged (hidden city fares) to research a one-way, roundtrip, or multi-city fare. But, buying your plane tickets is only one side of the equation.

If you don’t have the time to research or simply can’t seem to put all the pieces to the travel puzzle together, don’t be afraid to call a travel agent. After all, it’s their job to book these complex fares so that you can have the trip of a lifetime. How often would you regret not going on a complex trip because you were afraid to ask for help?

Why People No Longer Use a Travel Agency
There will always be a demand for travel agents. That doesn’t mean you will use one to book most of your trips though. Here are several reasons why you won’t use a travel agency.

You Want Rewards Flights and Nights
One reason why you might book your own travel is so you can redeem your credit card rewards points. For example, there you can transfer and redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points that you earn from your Chase credit cards to book award flights on just about any airline and you don’t have to pay a dime (okay, maybe fees and taxes) to fly or stay at a quality hotel. Travel rewards card benefits have improved so much, you can even buy your own ticket to the Emmys and other exclusive events just for owning an elite travel credit card.

When you use a travel agency, your only payment method will most likely be cash. That means you will have more rewards points to use next time, but, that doesn’t necessarily help you now.

If you need help booking an award flight, you can call the airline when you transfer your points or the credit card travel concierge when you try to redeem your points through their travel portal (i.e. AmexTravel.com or the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal).

Plenty of Free Travel Advice Online
Not only can you book your travel directly from the airline or hotel, you can also research everything there is to do and even find the best flights from online travel blogs (like Johnny Jet!). Whether you want to research the best travel rewards card, things to do in Ireland (or anywhere else), and also the best award travel options, you can find all that information online.

Travel agents might know about the best places to stay and the must-see tourist sites, but, their job is to book a travel reservation that you pay for. If you want to book award travel or simply relish DIY travel, you can access all these resources online for free from travel aficionados that have witnessed the same sights and sounds that you will soon experience yourself!

Summary on Travel Agencies
People of all generations till use travel agencies. The Internet has made it easier than ever for you to book your own travel, and in a lot of cases, you may never need a travel agent. But, booking travel is the sole profession for travel agents and the good agents can be extremely helpful when you have complex routes or simply don’t have the time to research and book the travel yourself.

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