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Cheap winter getaways

Cheap winter getaways: Add San Juan to the list (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you’re looking to escape the winter cold or chase it, there are plenty of affordable places to visit this winter without breaking the bank. Several airlines are running amazing winter fare sales on domestic and international destinations, many under $300 round-trip. Here are 5 of the cheapest winter fares right now.
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Photo Courtesy of Embratur

The vigorous sounds of beating drums, flags flying, fans singing and chanting; finally, the FIFA World Cup 2014 has come to Brazil. With the excitement of the tournament setting the scene, visitors to the 12 host cities should take the opportunity to absorb themselves in the local culture and experience the hidden gems that make each location unique.

São Paulo, the City of Paulistanos
True to its city motto of “Non ducor, duco,” which translates to “I am not led, I lead,” São Paulo will lead the celebration by hosting the first games of the World Cup. Located in the southeastern part of Brazil, between Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo is a major business hub, but its hospitable people, the “Paulistanos,” know how to enjoy the diverse pleasures of life through food, art and music.

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Photo by Getty Images

Anyone who’s flown has been there — that moment when you’re passing through the TSA security checkpoint, and have to take off your shoes, empty your pockets, take off your belt and place your laptop in a bin. And you can double the fun if you have little kids in tow. Now TSA’s PreCheck program aims to make travel easier for those flying the increasingly complicated skies. But just in case you think PreCheck is a one-size-fits-all panacea, not so fast.

You can’t just sign up for PreCheck. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple … yet. TSA plans to — eventually — allow all travelers to apply directly to the PreCheck program, but it’s not clear when they’ll open up the application process. For now, travelers can enroll in the program in one of 2 ways: be selected to apply for the program based on your frequent-flyer status with an airline, or, enroll in one of several US Customs and Border Protection trusted traveler programs.

For Airline Frequent Flyers

Elite members of airlines’ frequent traveler programs — United, American, etc – if selected, can apply for PreCheck. If not selected, frequent flyers can still participate by joining a CBP Trusted Traveler program. Note that you must submit your biometric fingerprint for registration with the FBI, as well as undergo a criminal background check and pay an $85 fee to the TSA for a 5-year PreCheck membership. This program is slated to bring a total of $225 million to the TSA in 2013, and beyond that, over the next year, a reduction in passenger screening – the TSA’s goal is to see 25% of passengers see lighter scrutiny.

Photography by John Moore/Getty Images

Think the only way to avoid an airport meltdown during the holidays is to stay home? Fear not, it is possible to snag a cheap flight during the holidays, breeze through long airport lines, keep the kids happy during the entire flight, and not lose your cool (or dignity) in security.

We asked an air travel expert, Mark Drusch, Chief Supplier Relations Officer for CheapOair.com, to reveal his secrets for flying through the airport during the holidays. With over 20 years of experience in executive airline roles, Drusch shared with us his forecast for the holiday travel season, how to glide through security lines, and what he never gets on a plane without.

So before you take off this holiday season, take in Drusch’s expert travel advice:
Traveling Type: What’s your forecast for this holiday travel season? What trends are you seeing?
Mark Drusch:  Higher traffic than last year, however the peak days (Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday and Monday after) may be marginally less full because the other days around the holiday are seeing very strong traffic. But planes will still be very full. We see an increase in customers celebrating their Thanksgiving in vacation spots, particularly the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica.

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Travel's Best Travel Deals 2013

Our experts weigh in: We’ve rounded up top tips from industry experts like Frugal Travel Guy, Johnny Jet, Nomadic Matt and The Points Guy!

When it comes to travel, we know what you’re thinking — in fact, if search results are any indication, you’ve got trip planning through 2014 on your mind. And chances are you’re eager to save big bucks on that dream vacation you’re still figuring out how you’ll take. For serious, practical help, look no further than our incredible lineup of Travel’s Best Travel Deals 2013 … and yes, these tips are so good, they’ll see you through 2014 vacation planning.

Seriously, we’re not just blowing smoke up your suitcase.

What makes this list so good? For starters, each selection comes hand-picked by a leading travel expert — like Frugal Travel Guy Rick Ingersoll (you may recall Rick in this Today Show segment); The Points Guy Brian Kelly, who scored 500,000 frequent flyer miles a few years ago without even flying that year; John E. DiScala, whose site, JohnnyJet.com, has been named “one of the best money-saving websites for travel” by Budget Travel magazine; and Nomadic Matt Matthew Kepnes, who’s mastered the art of traveling the world on $50 a day. They’re part of our hardcore budget-savvy, points-accruing panel of advisors.

Once you’ve seen these travel experts’ top picks for the best travel deals, don’t stop there – check out our in-depth discussion with 2 of these leading experts: The Points Guy’s top tips for earning travel points, shared exclusively with TravelChannel.com’s readers; and Frugal Travel Guy’s step-by-step guide to snagging travel deals (Hint: start paying attention to sites like BiddingforTravel.com).

Now that you’ve got the tools to earn miles, points and cheap vacation tickets, start your 2014 holiday trip planning now!

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Courtesy of Thinkstock

Good luck on trying to find last-minute deals for any holiday travel this year. Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s Guidebooks, says, “This is probably going to be the highest-priced holiday fares we’ve seen in the last decade.”

The average ticket cost for the US and Caribbean is already up 9.4% over last Thanksgiving. Prices for Christmas week are up more than 7% to an average of $337.

What’s the reason behind the airfare hike this year? Travel experts blame it on mergers and consolidated airlines over the past couple years, which has forced some carriers to cut back on flights to many cities. This is the first time that planes are flying at 85% load factor — essentially full — since 1945. And today, more people are competing for fewer seats.

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Haunted houses, costume parties, and trick-or-treating are often seen as the “traditional” Halloween events that many Americans participate in each year. But one of the increasingly popular attractions taking over fall includes a stroll through real creepy crawlies, bats and “unnatural mysteries” at one of the nation’s zoos.

Coined as a “boo at the zoo,” the events attract people of all ages and offer a twist to the standard neighborhood trick-or-treating. As you prepare to make your Halloween plans, take a look at these 5 popular October zoo events:

1. Oakland Zoo  (Oct. 26 and 27)
Children get a free ride on the “spooky boo train” as well as access to exclusive trick-or-treating among the animals at this zoo-wide event at the Oakland Zoo in California. The event is included with admission and offers participants a chance to make treats for the zoo’s animals and explore monster myths through educational stations.

2. Smithsonian National Zoo (Oct. 25, 26 and 27)
Collect candy while visiting the animals and Halloween decorations at the Nation’s historic zoo in DC. While it’s not exactly cheap (tickets are $30 for non-members), the event sells out and benefits the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) foundation.

3. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Oct. 25, 26, 27 and 31)
Watch hippos play with pumpkins, rhinos explore ghosts and birds fly above your head at the Cheyenne Mountain “Boo at the Zoo” event. The “creatures” of the zoo are “let out” at this annual event as zoo keepers put on multiple educational Halloween-themed shows.

4. Bronx Zoo (Now through Nov. 3)
Encounter a dinosaur safari and creepy craft workshops at the Bronx Zoo’s annual Halloween bash. Visit the “winged icons” of Halloween, including bats, owls and vultures, before embarking on a trip back in time through a dinosaur safari during the annual New York tradition.

5. Tampa’s Lowry Park (Oct. 24 through 27)
The Halloween zoo event at Tampa’s Lowry Park is so frightening that there are “skull ratings” for the attractions. Features include “Pharoh’s Tomb of Revenge” where artifacts come alive and the scariest ranked attraction of all, “Tangled Terror,” which features a “failed experiment” with carnivorous plants.

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Were you planning on pitching a tent in a national park, taking in the beauty of the national seashore, or examining the art and artifacts housed in any of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and galleries this week?

If so, you’d better make other plans.

In addition to the 800,000 government employees who face unpaid days off now that the federal government has ceased operation, a shutdown spells a number of consequences for travelers, too. In his speech yesterday afternoon, President Obama put it bluntly, “Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed.”

While air travel and Amtrak service is not expected to be impacted by the shutdown, a number of popular tourist attractions have begun closing their gates, locking their doors and barricading their entrances. Here’s a rundown of just some the locations that are currently affected by the government shutdown.

National Parks

All of the National Park Service’s more than 400 parks, national monuments and historic sites are currently closed as a result of the government shutdown. On the National Mall in Washington, DC, monuments have begun to be barricaded and fountains turned off — a huge disappointment not only to expectant travelers but also to the 24 couples who were scheduled to get married on the National Mall during the month of October. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Alcatraz Island, Independence Hall, the Cape Cod National Seashore, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park are all be among the temporarily closed sites, which collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day in October.

As a result of the shutdown, all the parks have been closed today to visitors effective immediately, but travelers already camping in the parks have 2 days to pack up and leave.

Smithsonian Museums and Galleries

Visitors to Washington, DC, hoping to take advantage of the capital’s incredible array of free museums are out of luck today. Don’t count on seeing the Hope Diamond or Dorothy’s ruby slippers — all 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries have shut their doors, including the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Natural History. This also includes the National Zoo, leaving many upset at the new reality that the “panda cam” has gone dark.

So what should visitors to Washington, DC, do today? There are a number of museums not affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution – visit the International Spy Museum, the Newseum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Building Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the National Geographic Museum or the Phillips Collection.

American Military Cemeteries Abroad

Twenty-four American military cemeteries spread throughout the world have also been forced to close as a result of the shutdown. Anyone looking to pay their respects at any cemetery operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission will have to reschedule their visit.

What Else?

Be sure to check with your local passport agency before showing up today – while agencies will remain open, those located in federal buildings have been forced to close their doors.

While you wait for some of America’s most popular tourist attractions to re-open, explore (virtually, of course, since you can’t actually visit) the incredible natural landscapes and historic monuments that make up our country’s National Park sites. Then, test your knowledge with our National Parks Quiz – you’ll be an expert by the time congress gets their act together.

 

Labor Day weekend may already be upon us, but it’s not too late to rustle up some fun! So whether you want to head across the country or stay close to home, here are 5 last-minute ideas to make this Labor Day weekend one you’ll never forget.

1. Hit the road. Be spontaneous, get in your car, and go wherever the road leads you. Armed with an app like Hotel Tonight, you can figure out where you’re staying each night on the fly.

2. Stay-cation. Tour a neighborhood you’ve never been to before. Visit that restaurant you’ve heard so much about, try a new yoga practice, or spend an entire day exploring a park. You’ll discover hidden gems that make you feel like you’ve entered a whole new world (with the benefit of getting to sleep in your own bed).

3. Travel the world through your tastebuds. I challenge you: 3 days. 9 meals. 9 global cuisines. Go!

4. Spa retreat. Haven’t you always been curious about what those wacky spa treatments are like? Now’s your chance to find out what a fish-nibbling pedicure feels like.

5. Do one thing that scares you. Whether it’s sky diving over the Kennedy Space Center or biking across the city, push yourself to try something you’ve haven’t had the guts to do this summer, or in your entire life for that matter.

–  by Ruzwana Bashir

Ruzwana Bashir is co-founder and CEO of Peek.com, a site where you can find amazing things to do in your hometown or in a new destination, and easily book them online. Whether you’d like to explore underground street art, go swimming with sharks, or head to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Peek has handpicked the best activities from the highest quality operators. Bashir, formerly of Gilt Group, Art.sy, the Blackstone Group, and Goldman Sachs, is a self-proclaimed travel junkie, having navigated her way through 40 countries.

 

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Writer Patty Hodapp on a solo camping trip with her dog Pele along Lake Superior’s north shore in Minnesota.

Camping alone as a woman might sound crazy. Uncontrollable variables like weather, wackos and wild animals give credit to the old adage “safety in numbers”. But if you’re comfortable in the outdoors and want to camp solo, don’t let fear stop you. It takes common sense, good instinct and adaptability. Yes, it’s risky, but so is driving a car or stepping out your front door. The good news? There are a few things you can do to sleep outside alone, safer. Here are 7.

1. Know Your Gear

Test your camping gear before you pack — especially if it has been sitting unused in storage for a while. Bring extra batteries, matches, a lighter, tinder and paper in a plastic bag so they don’t get wet. Own a tent you can pitch by yourself (sounds obvious, but believe me, shelters with complicated pole structures are tough to set up solo).

2. Be Accountable to Someone

If you’re sleeping outside alone, tell someone where you are. Text a friend or relative your location, loose plans and end game, so someone knows when to worry and where to look for you. If you want to get specific, try SPOT — a sweet little GPS device that beams your location via text, email or emergency notification to those at home.

3. Stay at Family-Friendly Campgrounds

If you’re nervous about sleeping outside alone, splurge on a site at a family-oriented campground. Ask the park ranger or do your research online before you set up shop. Better to neighbor-up next to a couple with small kids than a rowdy group of partiers who might trash your gear or give you trouble.

4. Stick to the Trail

It’s simple: When you take day-trip hikes, stick to marked trails. That way, if you need help, you’ll be in a higher trafficked area so you’re more likely to get it. Bushwhacking is fun, but leave it for camping trips with friends. Also, invest in a backpacker’s first-aid kit or build your own, and keep it in your daypack always.

5. Skip the Booze

Sure it’s fun to have a brew around the campfire, but when you’re alone stick to water, sports drinks, coffee or anything that won’t impair your senses. You’re the only one out there to watch your back, so don’t get tipsy.

6. Bring a Dog

Some people argue that dogs provide a false sense of security. I say it depends on the dog. If your dog is used to the woods and alert, chances are it’ll hear, smell and respond to approaching animals and people faster than you. It was only because of 2 dogs that I survived a run-in with a mountain lion in New Mexico. Or so a professional lion hunter told me when I called him up the next day. I believe him.

7. Leave Room for Error

Think ahead and anticipate problems. Have a backup water supply; learn how to change a tire and use bear spray (don’t hose it upwind); master map reading. No trip ever goes as planned, but if you expect error it won’t catch you off guard.

Sleeping alone under the stars? Here are the best campgrounds for solo travelers who want a last-minute summer getaway.

 

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by Patty Hodapp

Patty Hodapp is a freelance writer and solo traveler reporting from the intersection of fitness and adventure. Her slew of expat addresses runs deep — most recently, a tropical Spanish island in the Mediterranean. She covers endurance sports, outdoor gear and adventure travel. Besides Travel Channel, she has written for Outside, Men’s Fitness, Shape and several other publications.

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