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.

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.

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.

How to Stay Safe on Ocean Cruises

cruise_coverSummer is a popular season for family cruise vacations, although peak times for specific destinations vary according to their attractions.  (The busiest season for Canada and New England cruises, for instance, is in September and October, when fall foliage flourishes.)  More than 20 million people take cruise vacations every year, and the vast majority return with blissful memories and happy stories.  Cruises often travel outside the legal borders of individual countries, though (and, more specifically, outside the scope of U.S. laws), so wherever your voyage may lead, you’re responsible for your own safety.  To help you and your travel companions enjoy a safe, secure trip, we’ve put together a few tips on how to stay safe on ocean cruises.

Research Potential Ocean Liners

The Vessel Sanitation Program, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks gastrointestinal illnesses aboard cruise ships.  CruiseJunkie.com compiles anecdotal information about Events at Sea (“All the Things that Can Go Wrong On A Cruise”) from media reports, passenger accounts, and messages sent to the website.  Review as much data as possible about potential ships before booking your cruise.

cruise_firstaidTake All Necessary Medical Precautions

Any reputable cruise ship offers qualified medical care, generally on par with ambulatory care centers.  Research your chosen ship — and its various ports of call — beforehand to ensure that it can provide the medical services and resources to handle any pre-existing condition(s) among the people in your party.  Also, stock up on all essential medications before boarding the ship; you should have enough on hand to last well beyond the scheduled cruise length, in case your return is delayed for some reason.

Use “Street Savvy”

Ocean liners are basically floating towns.  The largest ship in the world, Allure of the Seas, contains 16 passenger decks, 24 passenger elevators, and accommodations for up to 6,318 guests and 2,384 crew members.  It may be comforting to think that everyone is there to have (or contribute to) good clean fun, but most large groups include at least a few troublemakers.  Follow certain safety measures:

  • Know the ship’s emergency procedures
  • Travel in groups (or at least pairs)
  • Drink responsibly
  • Avoid (and report) shady behavior
  • Supervise children at all times
  • Leave valuables at home

cruise_oceanUse Common Sense

Beyond the usual risks that life offers anywhere, the hazards on a cruise ship include going overboard.  It’s been estimated that more than 200 people have fallen overboard since 1995, and rescue efforts in open water can be incredibly difficult.  Recognize and respect the potential perils of ocean travel, and make sure you don’t place yourself (or anyone else on the ship) in harm’s way.

Try Travel Plus

Through Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations to and from your cruise ship embarking and debarking destinations — and get rebates on all those perks that make vacation travel that much more enjoyable.  Be sure to leave us a comment to share your favorite cruise ship memories.

Popular U.S. Travel Destinations in April 2014

With the extreme weather events of winter 2013-14 slowly fading into the past, April (with any luck) will mark a return to spring’s eternal promises of hope and renewal.  As people across the United States begin to shed their overcoats and break out the 2014 spring fashions, many of us will try to erase memories of the harsh winter via warm-weather activities, including rejuvenating vacation trips.  If you’re looking to put an extra hop in your spring, you might want to consider one of these popular U.S. travel destinations this April.

Opening Month of Major League Baseball Season - Image of a BaseballOpening Month of the Major League Baseball Season

Fans of every major league team can still dream of post-season glory when the 2014 Major League Baseball season moves into full swing this April.  (Technically, it starts on March 22, in Sydney, Australia, with an “Opening Series” between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks; details, details.)  While the season essentially opens on March 31, baseball fans can still enjoy opening-day festivities in 15 ballparks this April.  Can Boston remain strong enough to repeat?  Will the purchase power of the Yankees and Dodgers translate into on-field success?  Can the St. Louis Cardinals perform up to their expectations?  The answers to these and other riveting questions start unfolding in April.

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is already sold out, but admission passes can still be had on secondary ticketing sites.  It’s no surprise that tickets went so quickly; the 2014 Coachella line-up boasts serious star power, including Arcade Fire, Beck, Fatboy Slim, Nas, Outkast, and Pharrell Williams, among dozens of performers.  While many festival attendees will camp out (on-site and off-site), Palm Springs is within a half-hour drive, for those who prefer hotel accommodations.

New Orleans Jazz FestivalNew Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 25-May 4

The Jazz Fest was launched in 1970 with little fanfare, selling only 350 tickets even though it featured such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, and Mahalia Jackson.  Since that inauspicious start, the Jazz Fest has blossomed into a bucket-list destination for musicians and fans alike.  Consider just a few of the hundreds of artists in the 2014 Jazz Fest line-up:

  • Aaron Neville
  • Al Jarreau
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Fogerty
  • Keb’ Mo’
  • Lyle Lovett
  • Phish
  • Public Enemy
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Robin Thicke
  • Santana
  • Vampire Weekend

You can purchase tickets for single weekend days, the Big Chief VIP Experience, the Grand Marshal VIP Pass, and the Krewe of Jazz Fest VIP Pass.  Make your reservations soon, though; admission is limited, and VIP Passes in particular sell out quickly.

Try Travel Plus

To save on travel, not just in April but year-round, join Travel Plus, where you can earn 5% cash back when you make your flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations through the program — and enjoy rebates on a wide variety of travel perks.  If you could vacation anywhere this spring, where would you go?

How to Save Money on Cross-Country Moves

ccmove_mainIf you’ve decided to move cross-country before summer comes, you may already be saving money — most long-distance moves occur in warm weather, so mover rates tend to be lower during the off-season.  No matter what, you’ll still pay more for a coast-to-coast transition than you would if you were simply moving across town (unless you fall victim to a moving-company scam), but there are ways to keep your moving costs down.  Read on for a few tips on how to save money on cross-country moves.

Downsize.  As Thoreau suggested, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”  A long-distance move is the perfect time to rid yourself of all those possessions that take up space in your home but have no value in your life.  The less you need to transport, the lower your moving costs will be.  Earn cash with a yard sale, make a tax-deductible charitable donation, give your stuff away to friends, or simply throw it out.

Box it up.  ccmove_manmovingThe less your moving company packs, the lower your costs are.  If you need cheap boxes, just remember one phrase:  “Liquor is thicker.”  Your local liquor store has a plentiful supply of free boxes that are as sturdy as you’ll find anywhere (they need to be — they carry glass-encased liquids hundreds of miles).  Pack well; use bubble wrap, newspapers, and old clothes, blankets, and towels as filler.  (Warning:  Moving company insurance policies don’t cover anything that company employees don’t pack themselves, so consider letting them pack your expensive and/or breakable items.)

Break it down.  Beds, tables, other furniture, and appliances need to be disassembled or disconnected before they can be loaded onto the moving van.  The more of this you can do by yourself, the less your movers will have to do, and the lower your costs will be.

Research potential movers.  The lowest prices aren’t necessarily the best deals, particularly if the moving company doesn’t handle your property carefully.  Be sure to check various online reviews, ask friends or acquaintances who’ve made long-distance moves, and compare price and delivery estimates, insurance policies, and everything else you can find before contracting with any mover.  Keep an eye out for scams at all times.

ccmove_fragileInsure yourself as needed.  If life is a gamble (and it is), transporting your life to a new destination thousands of miles away certainly qualifies as a risk.  Moving insurance isn’t free, but replacing your prized and/or priceless possessions will probably be a bigger financial hit than the insurance policy rate.  Figure out how much your property is worth, and measure that against the cost of insurance.

If you’re planning a cross-country move, be sure to examine your new home in person before signing any contracts.  To save on your exploratory trips, try Travel Plus, where you’ll earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, as well as rebates on a wide range of travel perks.  Happy trails — and best of luck in your new digs!

Where to Catch Women’s March Madness in All Its Glory

Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

As the end of the regular season in women’s college basketball nears, the UConn Huskies are still favored to repeat as champions, but a string of injuries and illnesses have made their short bench even shorter.  Fatigue and/or foul trouble are potential vulnerabilities for Connecticut, though, Breanna Stewart’s unmatched abilities notwithstanding, and Notre Dame, Louisville, Stanford, and South Carolina, among others, all hope to take advantage of any crack in the defending champion’s armor.  If you’re a fan of team basketball (and why wouldn’t you be?), you should start making plans now to catch the 2014 version of Women’s March Madness in all its glory.

marchmadnessBelow are the sites, dates, and host colleges of all six rounds of the 2014 Division I women’s college basketball tournament.

Preliminary Rounds (first- and second-round games)

Ames, Iowa, March 22 and 24; Iowa State

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, March 23 and 25; LSU

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, March 23 and 25; North Carolina

College Park, Maryland, March 23 and 25; Maryland

College Station, Texas, March 23 and 25; Texas A&M

Durham, North Carolina, March 22 and 24; Duke

Iowa City, Iowa, March 23 and 25; Iowa

Knoxville, Tennessee, March 22 and 24; Tennessee

Lexington, Kentucky, March 22 and 24; Kentucky

Los Angeles, California, March 22 and 24; UCLA

Seattle, Washington, March 23 and 25; Washington

Storrs, Connecticut, March 23 and 25; UConn

Toledo, Ohio March 22 and 24; Toledo

University Park, Pennsylvania, March 23 and 25; Penn State

Waco, Texas, March 22 and 24; Baylor

West Lafayette, Indiana, March 22 and 24; Purdue

Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games)

Lincoln, Nebraska, March 29 and 31; Nebraska

Louisville, Kentucky, March 30 and April 1; Louisville

Notre Dame, Indiana, March 29 and 31; Notre Dame

Stanford, California, March 30 and April 1; Stanford

Final Four and Championship Game

Nashville,_TennesseeNashville, Tennessee, April 6 and 8; Bridgestone Arena

The 2014 version of Women’s March Madness will highlight the next generation of female basketball stars.  In addition to Breanna Stewart of UConn and her teammates Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, Kayla McBride (Notre Dame), Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford), Alyssa Thomas (Maryland), and Odyssey Sims (Baylor) all have a chance to shine.

You can purchase tickets to any round of the 2014 women’s college basketball tournament here.  Tickets to the Final Four and championship game are available here.  If you miss out on tickets to the Final Four and/or championship games, the NCAA has arranged a variety of events that weekend in Nashville, including youth clinics; a 4Kay Run in honor of Kay Yow, the late NC State women’s basketball coach; open practices for the Final Four teams; the Broadway Bounce, showcasing thousands of kids dribbling through the city; and free concerts.

Be sure to earn 5% cash back on your Women’s March Madness flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations through Travel Plus — and get rebates on all sorts of travel perks while you’re at it!  Tell us in Comments which team you’ll be rooting for this year.