The Best Outdoor Adventures in California

Although states like Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Florida are hailed for their wide array of outdoor adventures, the massive state of California also has plenty to offer nature lovers.   From pristine mountain lakes and flourishing redwood forests to sunny beaches and sandy desert dunes, these are the best spots for outdoor exploration in More »

The Beauty of Okinawa Japan

I must admit, I don’t know a lot about Japan. It’s on my bucket list to be sure, but beyond Geishas, snow monkeys, and the bright lights of Tokyo, I’m not that fully versed in the country and what else it has to offer. Blame it on action films and nature documentaries, but the Western More »

5 Important Motorcycle Laws

If there’s a road trip in your future, why not consider leaving the car at home and riding across country on a motorbike? It’s better on gas, you’ll love the feel of the breeze against your skin, and you’ll meet plenty of like-minded souls who crave the open road as much as you do. Although More »

Tag Archives: tips

Awkward! Your world-weary passport pics

The late humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote a book titled, “When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.”

Via imgur.com

“The outtakes were just too funny to keep to ourselves,” said Joel, who uses the handle “Jorge Churano,” who posted this passport photo of his 5-month-old son on Imgur.com.

After seeing some of your passport mug shots, we’d have to agree. We understand that, just as this little guy’s pic shows, passport photos do not always present our best face to the world.

But don’t let that keep you home. If your photo looks like you just endured a 12-hour flight, you might as well earn it.

Does your passport photo look like it’s time for you to go home? Send it to us today; we’ll put together a gallery of your funniest, most awkward passport pics. 

Juggling work while on vacation

Getty Images Stock

In our wired world, our work takes place virtually everywhere. How do we stay efficient on the road? And when we manage to take a few days off, how do we make sure we have some semblance of a vacation? We asked some tech-savvy road warriors — including an exec from Google and several business-travel experts — for their best tips.


Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight

 

“I’m actually on a family vacation in Lake Tahoe right now. I keep things quick and simple by pre-scheduling a few tweets; I text more than email. It’s more stressful for me to fully go dark, but vacation is about compartmentalizing and time-shifting, so I only glance at email a few times. I don’t carry my phone in my pocket (but leave it within earshot). I’m lucky to have a great team that can flag the time-sensitive, important items.”

Vic Gundotra, Senior Vice President of Social Business, Google
“My best tip? Get a great smartphone and a small tablet. Leave everything else at home. Buy enough extra memory for your camera so you don’t have to take a laptop. (I carry a Samsung Galaxy SIII, and an awesome Google Nexus 7 tablet.) Like most people, I’m perpetually connected, so vacation is a chance to dial back a bit. I have poor self control so I’ve found bringing fewer devices helps me find some balance. I try to limit myself to one prescheduled hour a day if I must work. Honestly though, I find myself breaking these rules on most days.”

Wendy Perrin, Director of Consumer News and Digital Community, Condé Nast Traveler
“The advice I hear some psychologists give vacationers is to allocate a specific window of time each day — say, an hour each morning — to checking email and dealing with work, then unplug for the rest of the day. Some others say it’s better to interrupt your vacation less often but for longer: Instead of spending one hour per day on email, spend three hours every third day. In reality, I’ve found that neither method works for me. Since my biggest vacation goal is to spend time doing fun, new activities with my family, what I find most effective is to check email during, and schedule work for, those dead times when the family isn’t available anyway — when the kids are sleeping or taking sailing lessons, or when we’re in the car listening to books on tape, or when my husband and sons opt for an activity we’ve done before and I’m happy to skip (say, a third round of mini-golf or an afternoon at the waterpark). If I return from vacation with plenty of fun, new family activities under my belt and photos to prove it, I’ll feel I’ve had a vacation, even if I stayed connected through most of it.”

Travis Katz, CEO of Gogobot
“I have a tethering plan that allows me to use my iPhone as a modem, so I can always hop online even when Wi-Fi is not available. The key to enjoying your vacation is to avoid the impulse to respond to every email the second it arrives. I recommend scheduling a couple of windows each day where it is okay to check email or receive calls, and otherwise either turn your phone to airplane mode or switch your email to manual sync mode. I also recommend moving your email icon off your home screen, so you will be less tempted to click.”

Nathan Blecharczyk, CTO of Airbnb
“I always carry a GSM iPhone and 3G iPad. Whether you’re waiting to board a flight or stuck in traffic, these devices keep me moving. I also carry a 3G USB stick with me in case my phone battery is low. I keep Evernote ready and synched between my devices. During long flights, I use the iPad for reviewing my notes and reading since the battery life is better than the laptop. Work-life balance is imperative for strong productivity, so I try my best to unplug completely when I’m out of the office. If I must work, I schedule all meetings and calls in a two-hour time span at the beginning of the day so I have the rest of the day to relax. During the times I’m ‘unplugged,’ my phone is in airplane mode so I’m not tempted to check email.”

Nanette Lepore, fashion designer
“Bring lots of devices so that you have backup if one of them doesn’t work. I travel with my Blackberry, iphone, iPad and laptop. [My best tip for still having a vacation:] When I’m traveling with my sister, we like to bring our laptops down to the lobby bar right before dinner. We answer our work emails and have a cocktail.”

Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint
“Some hotel rooms lack power outlets. I always bring a compact power strip so I can recharge all of my devices at once. An air card or MiFi device is indispensable so I can even work in cabs. I actually love staying caught up with work while I’m away because if I don’t, all of the relaxation I’ve accomplished is immediately wiped away by the deluge I receive when I come back. I especially love traveling to Asia. Thanks to a 12-hour time difference, very little is happening the entire day that I’m on vacation, which leaves me free to enjoy without juggling any calls or crises.”

Joe Brancatelli, business-travel expert and founder of Joe Sent Me
“You can’t beat Skype for staying in touch. I love Media Hopper for keeping track of news from around the world on hundreds of channels. As for ‘semblence of a vaction,’ unfortunately, I haven’t had one in forever. If you cover business travel, you’re always looking at airports and hotels and options wherever you are.”

More from Condé Nast Traveler

6 ways to keep your stomach safe on the road

I’m planning a trip to Peru. Is it inevitable that I’ll get diarrhea? 
What’s that I hear? A collective “Ewww, gross”? Let’s settle down and demystify this common travel ailment, officially called travelers’ diarrhea (TD) but also known by a variety of colorful nicknames, including turista, Montezuma’s revenge, Delhi belly and the Turkey trot, depending on where you are in the world. 


Whatever you call it, the symptoms are, alas, universally awful: urgent sprints to the bathroom, abdominal cramps, sometimes nausea and vomiting, and in serious cases dehydration and fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that TD hits up to 50 percent of international travelers and up to 70 percent of those visiting high-risk regions, including most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America. 

But TD is not inevitable. The main cause is food and water contaminated with bacteria (such as E. coli and salmonella), viruses and parasites from animal feces. When those pesky microorganisms hit your gastrointestinal tract, your gut essentially erupts in an effort to get rid of the invaders. Your odds of getting sick are higher when a rudimentary water system — such as those in developing regions — fails to adequately separate tap water from waste water. What’s more, food-safety standards from farm to table are usually less stringent than in the U.S., Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Meat can become contaminated at the slaughterhouse, fruits and vegetables come in contact with manure-based fertilizers, and restaurant workers often aren’t taught to wash their hands before handling food — even after using the toilet.

What can I do to stay safe? 
One easy rule of thumb: If your lodgings don’t allow you to flush toilet paper, don’t drink the water. It’s a sign you’re visiting a region with an unsafe water supply. That also means no ice cubes or diluted juices or cocktails with water or ice, no swallowing shower water, and no brushing your teeth with tap water (a Budget Travel reader recently recommended placing an airline luggage tag over your hotel bathroom’s faucet as a reminder). Instead, drink bottled sodas and carbonated waters (unfortunately, some bottled still water may be contaminated in some countries). Or purify your own water: One option is to bring an electric kettle and boil tap water for at least one minute. Dr. Stuart Rose, founder of the Travel Medicine Center of Western Massachusetts, suggests that you bring iodine tablets, which kill bacteria in about 10 minutes. 

As for food, “Boil it, peel it or forget it” has been the standard recommendation. It means you should eat only foods that are thoroughly cooked (that goes for vegetables as well as meats, since raw veggies were likely washed in tap water) or that you yourself have to peel (like oranges and bananas), which ensure that only your well-washed hands have come in contact with the fruit. In high-risk regions, packaged foods — especially those that you bring with you from home — are going to be your safest eating option. 

Oh, and I should also mention: Your mom was right when she insisted you wash your hands before dinner. Pack a bar of soap and hand-sanitizing wipes or alcohol-based gel such as Purell. You may have no say in whether a restaurant worker washes his hands before handling your food, but keeping your own paws pure will go a long way toward keeping invaders out of your GI tract. Cleaning hands with soap and warm tap water (even in high-risk regions) is safe, says Dr. Cedric Spak, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, as long as you wash your hands vigorously and thoroughly dry them.

Are street food carts off-limits? 
No, but (of course) there’s a caveat. Food prepared at a street cart is not inherently more or less safe than food at the upscale bistro around the corner, says Spak. What matters — and this goes for any restaurant, cart, or home-cooked meal — is how scrupulously hands, surfaces and food are kept clean and how efficiently the food is served. Here are the things you want to watch for when deciding whether or not to eat from a street cart:

Likewise, probiotics (“good” bacteria) found in yogurt have not been clinically proven to prevent TD (the CDC says evidence is “inconclusive” to date), and taking antibiotics preemptively is not recommended for most travelers. Readers of Budget Travel’s blog, This Just In, recently posted their own TD remedies, including ginger and cayenne pepper pills, but research doesn’t yet support those remedies either. One reader suggested that drinking alcohol after every meal helps keep her safe. Spak jokes that, like chicken soup, “It couldn’t hurt.”

Are there any apps that can help me vet restaurants for safety? 
At the moment, DineSafe.com covers more than 250,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and offers an Android app (an iPhone app is under development) that allows you to find a restaurant’s health rating, with explanations of what the ratings mean and a record of recent inspections. Hopefully similar apps are being cooked up that will help vet eateries in regions with health-inspection protocols less vigorous than ours.

What should I do if I get traveler’s diarrhea? 
Because it may be possible to follow food-safety rules strictly and still be struck down — whether it’s at a sketchy dive or a four-star restaurant — there are some must-pack meds you’ll need to help you bounce back. Imodium, or any other over-the-counter product containing the active ingredient loperamide, may help control diarrhea. Spak says you should take diarrhea seriously, making sure you treat it yourself or seek medical help because it can lead to dehydration and other serious conditions.

Before you leave for your trip, ask your doctor if she’ll prescribe an antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin or azithromycin, and whether taking an antibiotic along with loperamide is appropriate for you. Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest so you can enjoy the remainder of your vacation. Although travelers’ diarrhea can last several days, it’s usually not dangerous if treated properly. But if your TD is accompanied by a fever of 101 degrees or higher, bleeding, or severe abdominal pain, see a doctor — there may be something more serious afoot and you’ll likely have to stop taking loperamide. 

Buy on the road:

  • Unpeeled fruits and vegetables, like avocados, bananas, oranges, peas, and edamame
  • Nuts in their shells
  • Bottled soft drinks, beer and wine

 

Top city for taxing travelers? Chicago

Courtesy GBTA

Planning a trip? Yellow stars refer to cities with the lowest total tax burden for travelers. Red flags refer to cities with highest total tax burden.

The only certain things in life are death and taxes, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin. But when it comes to taxing travelers, at least, all cities do it differently.

Those are the findings of a new report that lists the best and worst travel taxes of the top 50 U.S. destinations.

“A traveler spending a night in Chicago can expect to pay an average of 81 percent more in taxes than when visiting Fort Lauderdale, Fla., all else being equal,” said Joe Bates, vice president of research for the GBTA Foundation, which released the 2012 annual report on Monday.

The GBTA Foundation is the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), a trade group for corporate travel managers and suppliers based in Alexandria, Va.

This year’s report, “Travel Taxes in the US: The Best and Worst Cities to Visit,” found that taxes targeting travelers impose an average cost of 57 percent more than general sales taxes. Taxes on travel-related services, called discriminatory travel taxes, are for things like hotel stays, car rentals and meals at restaurants. These travel taxes are above and beyond the general sales tax, are borne largely by travelers, Bates said, and are often used to fund local projects unrelated to tourism and business travel.

Bates said the goal of the report, which highlights the hidden costs of travel, is to help travel managers make informed decisions on behalf of their companies about where meetings and events could best take place, as well as to assist local convention and visitor bureaus, eager “to make their cities as attractive as possible.”

The findings could also be valuable for independent travelers. “It’s very, very challenging for the average consumer,” Bates said. Travel taxes “are not typically published and can really add a significant cost to your trip if it’s not something you budgeted for.”

The top 50 markets are ranked two ways: by overall travel tax burden (general sales tax and travel-related taxes combined), and by travel-related taxes only. Portland, Ore., for example, has no general sales tax but a very high travel tax. The report also includes separate data for central city and airport locations, as the tax structures are often distinct.  

This is the fifth year that research has been conducted. In general, the average travel tax rate and the cities with the highest and lowest rates have remained fairly consistent, Bates said. Chicago, for example, has been on the top of the list for all five years for cities with the overall highest rates. However, compared to 2008, when the first report was issued, the percentage difference from highest to lowest travel tax rate has shrunk. “Cities over time have tended to be more competitive, so that’s good news,” Bates said.

Courtesy GBTA

Courtesy GBTA

Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, applauds the report. 

“It is very difficult for most travelers to find out this information,” he said. 

Meeting and convention demand, followed by nonprofits, are the most affected by these taxes, Hanson said, as both groups have travel professionals to be aware of these expenses and often have large numbers of travelers to accommodate, so costs are especially important when choosing a location.

Leisure demand will be less affected, as destinations are chosen based on a variety of factors, and leisure travelers are generally less aware of these taxes or do not know whom to ask about them, he said. And business travel demand is the least affected because those travelers often must go to specific destinations.

However, Hanson noted that the total cost of the trip should be factored in when making travel plans. For example, a city with high travel taxes might be a better bargain overall due to lower costs for things like airfare, hotel and restaurants. Conversely, a city with modest taxes might be more expensive overall.   

Due to the need for revenue in some municipalities and states, discussions were ongoing among officials regarding increasing or adding taxes, especially hotel occupancy taxes, and travelers are at a disadvantage, because they do not take part in the process. “It’s taxation without representation,” Hanson said. But while tax rates may be on the rise in some areas, because it is an election year, “I don’t think it will be a dramatic change.”

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Say what? Most overhyped hotel trends

Glowimages / Corbis via Travel + Leisure

They want you to sleep with them. And they’ll do almost anything to make sure that you do. They are … hoteliers trying to win your business.


It used to be that a hotel could secure travelers’ loyalty by providing the cornerstones of comfortable lodging: a great location, well-appointed rooms, dining and entertainment options, and doting service. But those days are long gone. Today’s savvy 21st-century travelers routinely check out beach conditions via webcam, are accustomed to interiors decorated by celebrity designers, and expect concierges to be quicker than Google and more discerning than Yelp. Nabbing their allegiance is no easy feat.

Slideshow: See the most overhyped hotel trends

As a result, hotels have been steadily upping the ante in trying to entice guests. Some pile on extra high-tech gadgetry to lure the geek-minded to their properties. Others rely on showy design elements (peekaboo bathrooms), luxury amenities (1,500-thread-count linens), retro appliances (record players with a selection of vinyl), customized services (on-call butlers), and personal touches (nightly poems left on your pillow) to woo you. Oh — and your little dog too: some hotels have started to offer weekends of “pet pampering.”

French designer Philippe Starck more or less started the boutique hotel boom when he fashioned New York City’s Royalton hotel in 1988. The midtown property drew jet-setters with its über-designed rooms and common spaces; its sleekly modern lobby — complete with a carpeted runway down the center, flanked by seating areas — was one of the first to become a see-and-be-seen hot spot for locals.

Since then, hotels all over the world have made design a calling card, ushering in over-the-top interior trends as disparate as high-glam Hollywood Regency (seen at Viceroy hotels) and industrial modern (Ace is the place). But it’s no longer enough to create lobbies that, at W Hotels, simulate “living rooms.” Now hotels are competing with nightclubs, opening exclusive rooftop bars with bottle service and VIP swimming pools. Meanwhile, the rooms that guests retire to have become ever-plusher oases of tranquility, with robes and slippers to be worn in marble spa bathrooms, pillow menus, and bath butlers.

Now, we love imaginative indulgences as much as the next traveler, but some of these offerings are much more head-scratchers than head-turners. We’ve scoured hotel offerings and discovered some hip trends you might like and some that are pure hype.  

More articles from Travel + Leisure