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.

Safety Tips for a Winter Road Trip

From the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Sal and Dean in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, from Peter and Ellie in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” to the Delta House frat brothers in “Animal House,” Americans have always been attracted to the idea that our hopes and dreams may be waiting for us down the road, around the next corner, or over the next hill.  The lure of the open road can pop up at any time, even in winter, when Mother Nature isn’t exactly warm and welcoming to voyagers.  If your urge to travel outweighs any concerns about the weather, be sure to heed the safety tips for a winter road trip; we share a few of them below.

Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.Plan your itinerary in advance.  The idea of just hopping into your car and going wherever the road takes you can be very appealing, but it’s a recipe for potential disaster.  You may be heading directly into a paralyzing storm or straight into a long series of traffic jams, which are less dangerous than blizzards but just as frustrating.  Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.  Then make sure you share your plans with someone who can alert and inform the authorities if you get lost.

Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the way, including (but not limited to):

  • Emergency Kit - Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the wayA first-aid kit
  • A car emergency kit, complete with any potential repair needs and a fire extinguisher
  • Enough non-perishable food, drinks, water, and sanitary items to last several days (in case you’re stranded)
  • Cold-weather gear
  • Entertainment items (again, in case you’re stranded)
  • Your cellphone (preferably equipped with GPS), chargers, and up-to-date maps (cellphones don’t always work)

Once you’re packed, remember to fill the gas tank, and try to follow a route that offers access to quick, easy refills.

Get your rest.  Drowsy drivers are dangerous drivers — and not just to themselves.  Coffee may be an effective pick-me-up in the morning, but it shouldn’t be used as a remedy for driving fatigue.  If your eyelids are drooping well before your next planned stop, find a place to pull over for a nap; sleeping in your car is far preferable to (and much more affordable than) waking up in a hospital room.

Drive safely.  In inclement weather, safe driving means driving slowly, keeping your headlights on, maintaining more distance between your car and other vehicles, braking early and slowly, forgoing cruise control, and taking every precaution.

Hitting the open road can be quite rewarding — and/or just plain fun.  To enhance your enjoyment, make car and hotel reservations through Travel Plus:  You’ll earn 5% cash back on bookings and rebates on travel perks.  Happy trails!

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.

Tropical Winter Vacation Destinations

miami_flEvery now and then — say, when your part of the country is recovering from a polar vortex or coping with the effects of deadly avalanches — the idea of escaping winter and heading to a warm-weather paradise can be a comforting thought.  However, many of us are paying down our generosity over the holidays, which tends to put a crimp in the travel budget, so a trip to a tropical clime may be more fantasy than reality at the moment.  Still, voyages of the imagination are free, and, as Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  With that in mind, let’s ponder a few ideal (and reachable) tropical vacation destinations this winter.

Miami, Florida.  Miami is a common winter favorite for U.S. travelers — for good reason:  Average temperatures in January range from a high of 74 degrees to a low of 61 degrees.  Whether you want to relax on a beach or explore the vibrant nightlife, Miami offers a variety of events for virtually every vacationer.  Plus, if you’re up for a short road trip, Key West is a scant, scenic 161 miles away by car.

hawaii_2Hawai‘i.  There’s never a bad time to visit Hawai‘i, but it’s a particularly attractive destination in wintertime.  The higher holiday rates tend to drop in mid-January, and there’s a lot to do once you get there:  the Cherry Blossom Festival; the Maui Chinese New Year celebration; the Hawai‘i Chocolate Festival; and much more.  (Of course, you’re more likely to head to Hawai‘i for its beaches, and who could blame you?)

plamspringsPalm Springs, California.  Long known as “Hollywood’s playground,” visitors to Palm Springs can enjoy free activities ranging from the “Walk of Stars” to a wildlife sanctuary, tennis-court time, dog parks, and more.  If you’re willing to pay for your Palm Springs fun, you can test your golf game on four courses, test your luck at several casinos, or simply indulge in the nightlife.  (Unfortunately, it’s too late to catch the celebrities at the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival, but maybe next year ….)

Turks and Caicos Islands.  Located 230 miles north of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands comprise eight inhabited islands and an additional 32 islands and cays.  U.S. visitors will be pleased to discover that the official currency is U.S. dollars (you’ll still need a passport, though).  Better yet, the average temperature in the “colder” months is 80 to 84 degrees, with a water temperature of 70 to 74 degrees.  Tourists have a wide range of pastimes to pursue, from whale and bird watching and limestone caves to golf, kayaking, beach fun, and more.

TurksandCaicos

When cold, snowy weather brings you down, a winter vacation to a tropical destination can help warm your spirits.  Travel Plus members can also warm their travel budgets with 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and rebates on all sorts of travel perks and comforts.  Let us know your ideal winter vacation destination in the Comments section.

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!