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.

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Great U.S. Destinations for Solo Travelers This Winter

solo_vacaWanderlust tugs at everyone, and as appealing as it often is to travel with your family or close friends, sometimes the urge to hit the road by yourself — to truly get away from it all — is too strong to resist.  The benefits of an independent adventure can be boiled down into a simple statement:  You’re in charge — of everything.  You choose the itinerary, the food, the resting points, the places to stay, the things to do, and the people to see (or avoid).  Far be it from us to intrude on such a personal decision, but if you’re looking for some ideas, we’re happy to offer you a few great places for solo travel across the U.S. this winter.

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Austin, Texas.  The capital of the Lone Star State, Austin also bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with a vibrant music scene that includes over 250 live venues.  One annual highlight is the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference and festival.  Taking place this year from March 7-16, SXSW features top stars and the hottest up-and-comers in the music, film, and interactive industries.  You’ll want to check out the movie premieres and concerts, but be sure to catch the various keynote speakers.

ArizonaArizona.  With average highs of 70 to 76 degrees in February and March, Arizona can provide a much-needed break from cold, inclement weather.  The Grand Canyon is the favored spot for most travelers, but the Cactus League (15 Major League Baseball teams that head to Arizona in late February for “spring” training) is a popular destination for fans who like to get a jump on the coming season.  Preseason ticket prices remain less expensive than regular-season tickets, and the ballparks are cozy enough to offer up-close views of all the players.

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York City.  “The city that never sleeps” has a slew of attractions and activities that appeal to tens of millions of travelers year-round.  From Broadway shows and museums to sporting events, 4,200+ restaurants, 1,700+ parks (including Central Park, of course), and a sprawling transportation system that can ferry you around town while protecting you from winter’s elements, you’ll likely find more ways to spend your time than you’ll find time to spend in New York City.

Kirkwood, California.  Adventurous solo ski buffs can test their skills with a trip to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which has averaged well over 400 inches of annual snowfall since 2008.  Just 47 minutes south of Lake Tahoe, and within reach of 14 other resorts in the area, Kirkwood is nevertheless uniquely isolated from the outside world, offering “Rare Earth” views and challenging trails that will leave you breathless.

Whether you just want to escape or are trying to find yourself, getting away on your own is a worthy pursuit.  Whatever your reason for solo travel in the United States this winter, Travel Plus can help you save on your journey, with 5% cash back on plane, hotel, and rental-car reservations, rebates on travel perks, and much more.

Time-Saving Travel Tips: What to Pack for a Ski Weekend

skiweekend_downhillGreat news for winter sports fans:  The 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, less than two months from now, on February 7, 2014.  The spotlight on the various alpine and freestyle skiing events will likely motivate both skiing enthusiasts and skiing novices, spurring weekend getaways to local ski resorts.  To help less-knowledgeable skiers save time and relieve stress, we offer a few tips on what to pack (and what not to pack) for a ski weekend.

Prepare for sub-freezing temperatures.  Cold weather is a common (and necessary) part of the ski experience, but there’s a significant difference — in degrees and in kind —  between a stiff January breeze blowing around a street corner and a bone-chilling winter wind at the top of a mountain.  Pack for a worst-case scenario; include:
skiweekend_kid

  • Long underwear
  • Waterproof thermal socks
  • Insulated blue jeans
  • Turtlenecks and/or flannel shirts
  • Heavy sweaters
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof ski pants
  • Insulated gloves and/or mittens
  • A warm hat and/or balaclava and a scarf
  • Ski goggles
  • Lip balm and sunscreen

You can take off some of the apparel as conditions allow, but it’s a lot easier to shed existing layers of clothes than it is to add layers you don’t have.

skiweekend_rentalRent your equipment.  Unless you already own skis, boots, and poles, you might be better off getting your gear at the resort’s rental shop, instead of splurging on everything for a sport you’re just learning.  Rentals can be more cost-effective, and the staff can match you up with the proper equipment for that day’s snow conditions.  Plus, the less you pack, the less you have to lug around.

Bring (or rent) a ski helmet.  For safety reasons, many resorts now mandate that their employees wear helmets when skiing or snowboarding, and the employees are probably much more adept in snow than you are.  Head injuries while skiing or snowboarding are serious matters; a helmet can save your life.

Pack your daily necessities.  That means toiletries, makeup, pajamas, medications, vitamins — all the items that are part of your day-to-day routine.  While virtually all resorts have convenience stores, they’re not as well-stocked as your local supermarket, and you’re unlikely to find a pharmacy in a remote location, let alone a doctor who will write you a prescription without a full workup.

Bring the entertainment.  For some, the fun begins with the après-ski activities.  Make sure you take along your camera, video (or perhaps board) games, your favorite bottle(s) of wine or beer, that book and/or DVD you’ve been hoping to catch up on, and definitely your smile and sense of adventure.  A weekend getaway is a vacation, so take the opportunity to relax in whatever way you see fit.

skiweekend_fireplacePack away some savings, too.  With Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations while enjoying rebates on a variety of travel perks.  Wherever you go, ski safely — and best of luck avoiding a yard sale!