Where to Celebrate the New Year in the United States

newyears-destinations_coverAs a diverse population of over 300 million people, Americans embrace a variety of traditions and beliefs during the holiday season, from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to Festivus, ChrisFSMas, and more.  One holiday that the vast majority of us recognize, if only because the calendar forces us to do so, is New Year’s Day — and its lead-in, New Year’s Eve.  Of course, the proper way to mark the transition from one year to the next can be as personal a decision as the December holidays are.  If you’re still trying to determine where to celebrate the New Year, here are a few locations you might want to consider, depending on what your interests and desires may be.

New York Citynewyears-destinations_nyc

One of the things “the city that never sleeps” is known for is its televised Times Square ball-drop, which rings in the New Year in millions of homes throughout the Eastern time zone.  Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a popular bucket-list item, though, so if loud, boisterous crowds are on your agenda, try to get there early; revelers start staking out the best spots on the morning of December 31.  (Fortunately, there are dozens of other entertainment options in the area if you’d prefer a roof over your head that night.)

Pasadena, California

Looking for a warmer clime (and a longer tradition) than Times Square offers?  Try the Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Parade, which celebrates its 126th year with an “Inspiring Stories” theme.  You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to sit in the grandstand, but you can save money simply by watching the festivities from the sidewalk.  After the parade, football fans will want to head to the Rose Bowl for the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff game, which kicks off at 2:10 pm PT.  This semifinal match-up features #2 Oregon and #3 Florida State.

Key West, Floridanewyears-destinations_keys

If you’re not looking for tradition, large crowds, or hoopla, head to the southern-most spot in the continental United States.  Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, an eccentric gathering, or just some time alone, Key West offers a variety of events, sites, and sights to help you contemplate (or forget) the last 365 days and get ready for the coming year.

Estes Park, Colorado

If you’d rather embrace the cold than escape from it, try Estes Park, where you’ll find plenty of New Year’s activities, as well as all sorts of winter fun.  Its location in Rocky Mountain National Park provides an abundance of outdoor adventures to help you kick off 2015 in style — skiing, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, and more.

Travel Plus

Earn 5% cash back on your New Year’s airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that will help your 2015 budget.  With Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Tips for Vacationing with Elderly Parents

ElderlyParentsTravel_mainOne of the rewards of a long, productive life is being able to do what you love during your golden years.  Many retirees like to spend their free time traveling — creating new memories, visiting places they’ve never seen, even making new friends.  Of course, the one thing that retired parents prefer to do above all else is spend time with their children and grandchildren — and if they can combine that with a bit of travel, so much the better.  However, vacationing with elderly parents, whether over the holidays or year-round, can be challenging, so if you’re planning to do so, consider the following tips.

Travel_TravelListHelp Them Prepare

While people of all ages tend to forget things while packing, it’s more common among the elderly.  At their age, though, many of them can’t do without medications and other daily necessities.  Well before your departure date, work with them to create a comprehensive list of must-have, preferred, and desired travel items.  Consult with their doctor(s) to flesh out the list, stock up on required prescriptions — and create action plans for any medical issues or emergencies that might arise.  (If your parents don’t appreciate all the fuss, simply remind them of what they always told you:  “Better safe than sorry.”)

Before leaving, give your parents additional peace of mind by helping them lock down their home and secure their possessions.  If they have pets, speak with the petsitters to ensure that they’ll be properly tended to, and get their contact information in case your parents want to check in from time to time.

Help Them Relax

Travel_EarlyAirportAs you make your plans, keep your parents’ abilities and health conditions top of mind.  If you’re traveling by air, make sure to request any special services or meals in advance, and get to the airport early to ensure that they won’t have to rush to make the flight.  If they’re likely to get up frequently while on board, give them the aisle seats; if they’re more likely to doze, give them the window seats.  Ensure that the hotels you’re considering all have working elevators, or book rooms on the first or second floor.

If you’re planning day trips in your destination city, look into senior packages, arrange a bus tour, or rent a car to minimize physical strain.  Identify available restrooms, restaurants that serve senior-friendly foods, and other stops along the way to allow your parents to recharge their batteries as needed.  Don’t overdo the activities, particularly early on; give them time to recuperate from the travel and to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings.

Join Travel Plus

With Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on your airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that can help make your parents’ trips more comfortable, and you can save 10% on gift cards to popular restaurants (and other travel-related merchants).  When you join Travel Plus, you really can save on all your travel needs.

How to Save on Meals While Traveling

BaggedLunch_mainTransportation and accommodations aren’t the only travel expenses that can bite you in the budget — you also need to feed yourself and your travel companions.  Some people can comfortably get by on one meal a day, but most of us require more substantial nourishment than that on a daily basis.  To make sure your dining charges don’t consume other portions of your road resources, check out our tips on how to save on meals while you’re traveling.

Make Your Own

Eating out is a quick, easy way to blow through your travel reserves.  If you want to save money, prepare your own meals as much as possible.  Pick up ingredients at local farmers’ markets or grocers, which often offer lower prices than supermarket chains.  If your destination is famous for a certain type of produce or food (e.g., apples, tomatoes, cheese), buy that in bulk; foodstuffs that are available in great quantities tend to be less expensive.  It helps if you stay at a hotel that offers in-room microwaves, mini-fridges, and coffee makers.  Ask the front desk to empty the refrigerator beforehand (hotel prices on fridge goodies can be outrageous), then stock it with affordable favorites and easy-to-prepare dishes.

TravelMeals_HappyHourFind a Good Happy Hour

Please note that we do not condone excessive alcohol use; in fact, we applaud those states that have laws prohibiting special prices or other promotions that might encourage irresponsible drinking.  Beyond that, going easy on alcoholic drinks is one of the best things you can do for your travel funds.  However, restaurants and taverns nationwide offer free food during specific hours; just search for “happy hour + free food” in whatever city you’re visiting to find places to sate your hunger very affordably.

Reward Yourself

You shouldn’t be miserly all the time, particularly if you’re on vacation.  Schedule regular treats:  Go light on a series of meals so you can splurge on a delicious dinner.  For instance, you might limit yourself (and your family) to fruit and coffee for two straight breakfasts, followed by sandwiches, a big bag of chips, and soda or water for lunch both days.  For dinner the first night, maybe share a large pizza.  Put the savings toward a big dinner the second night (and be sure to request doggy bags for your leftovers).

TravelMeals_DinnerOutPick the Right Restaurants

If you must dine out, you still have several ways to save:

  • Order an appetizer (or two) instead of a main course.
  • Skip desserts.
  • Split main courses, and/or turn doggy bags into next-day lunches.
  • Research the most affordable restaurants in the area (and get recommendations from residents or local papers).
  • Eat lunch, which is typically lower-priced than dinner.

Join Travel Plus

Travel Plus members enjoy a 10% discount on gift cards to popular restaurants (and other travel-related merchants) — plus 5% cash back on airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations, in addition to cash-back rebates on all sorts of travel perks.  When you join Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Travel Tips: How to Pack Light

packinglight_mainAs much as we all like to daydream about the freedom of the open road, real travel isn’t exactly free.  Indeed, transportation costs seem to rise every year.  Air travel in particular has gotten more expensive over the past four years, and so have baggage fees and other related costs.  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines collected almost $900 million in checked-bag fees in the second quarter of 2014 alone.  Travelers don’t have any control over airfare rates, but to help you avoid paying anything at all in baggage fees, we offer the following tips on how to pack light when you travel.

Think Small

The first step to packing light is deciding to use — and stick with — a small bag.  The most common allowable carry-on size is approximately 9″ x 22″ x 14″, but the exact dimensions differ from airline to airline, so be sure to check with your carrier before selecting and packing your bag.

Think Tightpackinglight_packing

Savvy travelers swear by the rolled-clothes packing technique, because it decreases the space needed for wearables.  It can also add wrinkles, though; if certain pieces of clothing need to be pristine, fold and place them at the bottom, then layer the rolled clothes on top of them.

Think Differently

People often pack for worse-case scenarios, adding all sorts of “just in case” items that aren’t ultimately needed.  Turn that attitude around, and expect the best.  Eliminate any and all superfluous pieces — that third pair of shoes, those two extra books, the heavy sweater you’ve always carried as protection against an unexpected cold snap in summertime Florida.  Weather forecasting has improved significantly over the last century; check the forecast for your destination, and pack accordingly.

Think Ahead

The world isn’t as fragmented as it used to be.  Chances are, you’ll find your favorite soap, shampoo, or even pair of socks wherever you go — especially if you’re staying in the United States.  To save room in your bag for more valuable and/or necessary pieces, leave out the brand-name toiletries and various other items that you can buy (in travel size) once you land.

packinglight_airportThink Footloose

If you want to save on travel, plan to walk instead of paying for ground transportation.  Beware, though:  Airports keep growing bigger and bigger, so you’ll be carrying your luggage greater distances than ever before.  Take your cargo for a stroll right after packing it to make sure you can tote it for extended periods.  If it fails the comfort test, shed more weight (and/or pick a better bag).

Think Travel Plus

If you really want to save on travel, be sure to make your reservations through Travel Plus.  On top of earning 5% cash back on airfare, hotel stays, and car rentals, you’ll also enjoy rebates on dozens of travel costs, including in-flight perks, hotel extras, and rental-car gear — plus rebates on Wi-Fi fees practically anywhere you go.  When you join Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Valuable Tips to Save Time and Money on Business Travel

businesstravel_mainThe Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts that U.S. business travel expenditures this year will increase 6.6 percent over 2013 figures, with companies paying out $289.8 billion on over 460 million trips.  That’s a lot of money disbursed on a lot of flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel needs, to say nothing of all that time workers will be spending away from home.  If you’re one of the millions of road warriors who live out of a suitcase for a fair portion of your year, we have some tips to help ease the hassles of business travel.

Keep Your Essentials Ready to Gobusinesstravel_bag

Depending on whom you ask, your essentials might include everything from eyeglass cases (to hold assorted accessories) and sanitary wipes (to fend off germs and medical expenses) to earplugs (for obvious reasons) and smartphone GPS apps (to reduce rental-car fees), among many others.  You can determine which items you absolutely need when you travel on business.  To save time on packing, though, try leaving your essentials in your luggage when you return from a trip.  (Restock as required, of course.)

Pack Once, and Use a Checklist

Forgetting to pack something is easy to do (and fairly commonly done).  To avoid leaving anything behind, make a checklist (which may differ from trip to trip), and devote whatever time is required to check it off all at once.  Packing in stages can cause you to overlook certain items (or include them twice and thereby take up valuable space and weight).

Power (and App) Up

To avoid power-outage worries and frustration, make sure you fully charge all of your electronic devices the night before you leave.  To eliminate all those pesky scraps of paper that can clutter your wallet or disappear without a trace — from travel receipts to business documents and more — load your devices with travel apps designed to keep your business trip on track.


businesstravel_planeCarry On

Checked bags can cost time and money, especially if they’re over the weight limit or (worse) you need to change flights at the last minute.  If your trip will last more than a day or two, compare the cost of hotel laundry services against checked-bag charges to figure out whether you need that extra bag or can make do by flying in business-ready attire.

Play Your Cards

Frequent flyer cards offer upgrades and other perks (even for economy-class flyers), and the more clubs you join, the more you’re covered.   Don’t limit your choices to airline offerings; hotels and rental-car agencies also dole out the rewards.

Join Travel Plus

Whether you’re hitting the road to close a deal, hold a client’s hand, or expand your network at a conference or convention, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You can also get rebates on a wide range of airline services, hotel extras, rental-car fees, Wi-Fi, and more.  When you join Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Top 2014 NFL Training Camp Sites

NFLTrainingCampDiehard football fans look forward to August in much the same way that children look forward to Christmas morning.  After a five-month post-Super Bowl hiatus, the National Football League finally starts staging games again every August.  The slate begins, as always, on August 3 with the Hall of Fame Game, which features the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills this year.  The 2014 NFL regular season kicks off a month later on Thursday, September 4, when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks.  If four weeks of exhibition games aren’t enough to satisfy your football urges, we recommend checking out the following NFL training camps:

Pittsburgh Steelers, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania

With six titles, the Steelers are the most successful team in the Super Bowl era.  Since 1967, they’ve been training in Latrobe, hometown of the first Rolling Rock brewery, golfer Arnold Palmer, and Fred Rogers (a.k.a. “Mr. Rogers”).  If you’re hoping to watch the Steelers train, consider staying in Pittsburgh, which is 40 miles from Latrobe and offers world-class attractions.

NFLTrainingCamp_FootballGreen Bay Packers, St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin

The Packers, the only publicly-owned team in the NFL, have captured four Super Bowl titles.  2014 marks their 57th straight year of training in De Pere, a suburb of Green Bay.  Visitors can take in all of the charms and amenities of the third-largest city in Wisconsin, including Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and more.

Oakland Raiders, Marriott Napa Valley Spa and Resort, Napa, California

The Raiders have three Super Bowl rings, not to mention perhaps the nicest training-camp location in the NFL.  Since their 1995 return to Oakland, the Raiders have been working out in Napa Valley, i.e., Wine Country, which boasts approximately 400 wineries across the county.  A renowned tourist destination, Napa offers plentiful accommodations to suit every taste.

Dallas Cowboys, River Ridge Playing Fields, Oxnard, California

The Cowboys, named “America’s Team” by NFL Films after losing Super Bowl XIII to the Steelers, have five Super Bowl titles, tied with San Francisco for second all-time.  They return to Oxnard in 2014, the ninth time they’ve held camp there.  A coastal city about 40 miles southeast of Santa Barbara, Oxnard visitors can catch the Ventura County Fair, Concerts by the Sea, and other events when they’re not watching the Cowboys train.

(Please note that public training sessions for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in Renton, Washington, are already sold out.)

Travel Plus, Everywhere, USA

Whether you’re attending an NFL training camp or just getting away from it all, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus — plus you can get cash back on all sorts of travel services, including airline needs, hotel perks, rental-car extras, Wi-Fi, and more.  Wherever you go, there you are, but when you get there with Travel Plus, you know you’re saving on all your travel plans.

Where to Watch 2014 FIFA World Cup Stars in the United States This Summer

FIFA_coverThe 2014 FIFA World Cup™ caught the attention of the U.S. population like no previous World Cup ever.  The final game on July 13, in which Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 on a goal by Mario Götze in extra time, drew a combined audience of 25.6 million on ABC and Univision, making it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history.  The U.S.-Portugal group-stage match-up on June 22 set an English-language broadcast record, with 18.7 million people tuning in nationwide.  If you’re hoping to continue to feed your futbol fever this summer, you’re in luck:  Quite a few World Cup stars will be playing the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup in North America this summer.  Below are a few opportunities for you to catch the action, live or on TV.

Manchester United v. Inter (Milan), July 29, FedEx Field, Washington, D.C.

Under the watchful eye of new manager Louis van Gaal, who led the Netherlands to a third-place finish in the World Cup, Manchester United is hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 English Premier League (EPL) season.  Among the World Cup stars expected to play for Man U. are Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck (England), Juan Mata (Spain), and Shinji Kagawa (Japan).  Inter plans to field World Cuppers Yuto Nagatomo (Japan), Saphir Taider (Algeria), and Fredy Guarín (Colombia).

FIFA_kick

Liverpool FC v. Manchester City, July 30, Yankee Stadium, New York, NY

Following its second-place EPL finish last season, Liverpool plans to use World Cup stars Pepe Reina (Spain), Sebastian Coates (Uruguay), Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, and Daniel Sturridge (England), and Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast).  Manchester City will counter with a squad of international stand-outs like David Silva (Spain), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Joe Hart (England), and Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Olympiacos vs. Manchester City, July 30, Yankee Stadium, New York, NY

Champions of the Greek Super League last year, Olympiacos will field several Greek national team members, including Ioannnis Maniatis, José Holebas, and Konstantinos Manolas, against a Man City squad preparing to defend its 2013-14 EPL crown.

Manchester United vs. Real Madrid, August 2, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

Although James Rodriguez (Columbia), the 2014 World Cup breakout star and Golden Boot winner who recently signed with Real Madrid, probably won’t play, the squad will feature World Cup participants Pepe and Fábio Coentrão (Portugal), as well as Xabi Alonso (Spain).  Unfortunately, though, Real Madrid stars Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Toni Kroos (Germany), and Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) will be skipping the tournament.

FIFA_goalie

Join Travel Plus

When traveling across the U.S., be sure to earn 5% cash back on airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You can also save on a variety of travel extras, including in-flight entertainment, hotel services, rental-car gear, and Wi-Fi wherever you go.  And if you’re among the millions of Americans who got caught up in the excitement of the 2014 World Cup, be sure to check out the August 6 MLS All-Star Game in Portland, OR, featuring eight U.S. men’s team performers.