Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Holiday Travel Road Trip Tips for July 4th and Beyond

It's July 4th weekend, when everyone needs travel tips.  WTOP Radio in Washington, DC turned to its favorite travel expert  for top tips for road trips.

Navigate Fourth of July traffic with helpful apps and alternative destinations

By Rachel Nania @nania

Nearly 42 million Americans will trek 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the Fourth of July this year. Avoid traffic with the hottest apps and some alternative destinations. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — The grill is ready, the sunscreen is stocked, and for many Americans, the luggage is packed.

This Fourth of July weekend, nearly 42 million people will trek 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the holiday, AAA predicts — the highest number since 2007.

“A large reason for the bump up in travel is the fact that the economy is stronger this year, the jobs report has had a slight uptick, and also gas is cheaper than it’s been in at least five years,” says Laura Powell, travel expert and blogger at The Daily Suitcase.

But the good news for the American economy isn’t the best news for those planning a weekend getaway.  Of the 42 million people expected to travel for the Fourth, an estimated 85 percent will drive to their destinations.

If you’re hitting the road, it’s best to pack your patience. Of course there are also a number of free apps that can help you along your journey. Here are Powell’s top picks:

  • The driving app Waze has become a popular tool for many drivers, thanks to its crowdsourced map and navigation system, which alerts users to real-time traffic situations, such as jammed roads, police traps and road hazards.
  • Members of AAA can download the association’s app for free. The tool has maps, provides navigation and allows users to submit requests for roadside assistance. It also offers recommendations for rated hotels and restaurants.
  • Sit or Squat is perhaps one of the most unique apps in the travel market. In search of a clean restroom? The app, which is sponsored by Charmin, allows users to search for nearby restrooms, and even filter by cleanliness, handicap access and more. “Especially if you have kids and you’re in search of clean restrooms, it’s nice to have that one,” Powell says.
  • If you need to fill up but don’t want to get ripped off, Gas Buddy comes in handy. The app searches for the cheapest gas in the area. Users can also search by city, state and ZIP code to find the best deal on fuel.
  • Hotel Tonight is the perfect tool for planning a spontaneous trip or for finding a last-minute deal when driving through the night isn’t an option. The app posts deals that users can book for that night. Powell warns that the app doesn’t list hotels everywhere in the country, but it covers most of the major markets.
Another way to escape the traffic on I-95 and other highly traveled beach-access roads is to avoid those roads completely. Instead, opt for an alternative Fourth of July vacation.

“A lot of people are going to be going east to the ocean, so I recommend going west, instead,” Powell says. “Head toward the mountains; the weather is going to be cooler and the traffic is going to be a lot lighter.”

Harpers Ferry in West Virginia is a great town for outdoor adventure; there’s plenty of hiking, zip lining and white water rafting. Visitors can also take guided tours through the historic town, and visit museums and exhibits.

If being on the water is still your idea of a perfect Fourth, consider driving to a nearby lake, rather than a beach. Smith Mountain Lake is located in Bedford County, Virginia, just outside of Roanoke, and is about a five-hour drive down Route 29 from the D.C. area. Many lake visitors rent houses, but there are also nearby hotels and camping options for last-minute travelers.

For a day-trip option, drive out Route 66 and branch off to a number of Virginia vineyards. Many, such as The Winery at Bull RunTrump WineryKeswick Vineyards and Boxwood Winery, have live music, food and other festive events planned for July 4. If you’re out that way, Swing by Great Meadow for the area’s largest fireworks display.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.
© 2015 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Laura Hits the New York Times

Well, well, well. I opened my New York Times on June 18 and discovered that my January CNN article on the prospects for tourism to Russia in 2015 served as the inspiration for this update. In fact, the NYT story starts off by quoting little ol' me.

If you can't read the fine print below, here's a link to the  New York Times supplement containing the story. It's on page 4.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Curio about Moxy, Vib and Other New Hotel Brands?

Here's my most recent story about the wacky monikers hotel companies are giving their new brands these days. Lodging Magazine even featured me on its June author bio page!

If you want to read the magazine on-line, visit My article is on pages 20 and 21.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The collection of international Monopoly games has grown to 36 (32 different countries) since I last wrote about it. So, I thought I'd roll the dice and update the list, with a few explanatory notes in parentheses. Hope you don't get 'board'.

Those marked (Gift) were bought for me by lovely friends. I welcome other such (Gifts) anytime. But please note,  I only
collect national versions of Monopoly. No Star Wars-opoly or Sports-opoly or Metropolis-opoly, please. 

Most of my games are called Monopoly, or the translated version thereof. For example, the Italian game is Monopoli, while the Russian version is монополия. Unlicensed versions usually sport different names, such as Cambopoly or Property. But several knock-offs, particularly those purchased from Eastern European countries between 1989 and1999, have the official name, but not the official imprimatur of Hasbro.

1.     Argentina (Gift)
2.     Australia.     
3.     Austria
4.     Belgium
5a.   Brazil (Gift)
5b.   Brazil (Monopoly Junior)

Instead of Go to Jail, Cambopoly has a 
Go to Medical Clinic space. 
Coincidentally,  I bought this game immediately after 
being released from the
International SOSMedical Clinic
 in Phnom Penh,
6a.   Cambodia    (Cambopoly)
6b.   Cambodia    (Siem Reap/Property)
7.     Canada
8.     Denmark
9.     England
The game that started it all.
I bought the English version of
Monopoly while in graduate school there.

10.   Estonia
11.   France
12.   Germany
13.   Hungary
14.   Iceland (Island-opoly)
15.   Ireland
16.   Israel
17.   Italy
Italy's Monopoli, purchased
in the 1980s, used to have painted
wooden tokens including a candlestick and
a bottle of chianti.
Come romantico!

18.   Japan (Gift)
19a. Jordan (Mickey Mouse in Arabic version)  
19b. Jordan (Wild/National Park version)
20.   Lithuania
21.   The Netherlands
22.   New Zealand
23.   Poland (purchased for $1 in September, 1989)
24a. Romania (US caricature version)
24b. Romania (Bucharest version)

Note the caricatures of
U.S. presidents on the money of
this Romanian game.

25a. Russia
25b. Russia (travel size)

I couldn't find a Georgian game
in Tbilisi, so I had to settle
for purchasing a second
 Russian  монополия,  this one travel size.

26.   Singapore
27.   South Africa (purchased in Namibia)
28.   Sweden
29.   Switzerland
30.   Tunisia (bought in a Moroccan souk; realized it was from 
        Tunisia after getting home) 
31.   Turkey
32.   Yugoslavia (purchased in Dubrovnik, September, 1989)

Italic type indicates countries to which I have not traveled.

Monday, June 8, 2015

New Spa Treatments and Wellness Trends

This week, I once again appeared on Let's Talk Live in Washington, DC to talk about innovations in spa treatments. Click this link and take a look.

The Umstead Spa in
Cary, North Carolina
offers forest bathing, which
involves neither getting wet
nor getting naked.

The Spa Nalai at Park Hyatt in New York City
is one of the first places in the
United States where you can
indulge in a sand massage.

SpaFinderWellness named Cannabis, Forest Bathing and Islamic Treatments top wellness trends for 2015.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Nine Images...and a Radio Segment....Vietnam and Cambodia

Here's my recent Around the World Radio coverage of an AMAzing adventure on an AMAWaterways river cruise through Cambodia and Vietnam. Go to the May 28 show in the archives and play Track 4 for the entire segment.

Angkor Wat at dawn

The peaceful shot belies Cambodia's bloody past.

A Cambodian floating village

Everyday life on a Cambodian river


I was in Saigon, aka Ho Chi Minh City,
on the day of the 40th anniversary of
the reunification of Vietnam.

The next generation waves the red
flag, albeit without a lot of gusto.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam is a UNESCO
World  Heritage Site.

Sunset Ha Long Bay

More pictures are on display in an archive of the live stream of the May 28 show. It's available at Go about 37 minutes into the show to catch the ten-minute segment. The images don't always match up with what I am saying, but you'll get the picture.

Friday, May 29, 2015

It's the Experience, Dude

Based on information supplied by yours truly during a radio interview for Washington, DC's WTOP,  Rachel Nania did a write-up. **

Travel Trends for Adventure Seekers: It's About the Experience

WASHINGTON — Gone are the days when windsurfing, parasailing or zip-lining qualified as a unique vacation adventure. Today’s travelers are upping the ante and redefining what it means to live it up.

Laura Powell, travel expert and writer for The Daily Suitcase, says the latest craze doesn’t involve jetting off to the most exotic locations — it’s all about collecting experiences.

Riding around Saigon, Vietnam on a scooter is a hair-raising
experience, even with a helmet on. Only attempt it
as the passenger of an experienced driver.
(Courtesy Laura Powell)

“The world is pretty much open to all, so in order to have that different kind of adventure, you need to have a unique experience, as opposed to solely going to an offbeat place,” she says.**

And throughout that experience, collecting the best photos, composing the best tweets and checking in at the most interesting locations is imperative. “Now that everyone is trying to outdo each other on social media, the more unusual the experience, the better,” Powell says.

Ready to plan your next trip?  Here’s how you can make sure your Instagram account gets more likes.
Vietnam Cruise
In 2016, AmaWaterways and Backroads will team up for
bicycling-focused cruises to Vietnam and Cambodia, along with
several European destinations.
Above: Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Travel with your taste buds

While some prefer to soak up a city’s culture by visiting museums and historic sites, others prefer to slurp it up with authentic bowls of ramen and heaping servings of pasta. Food tourism is a booming industry, and there are more options available for tourists looking to get a taste — or a sip — of foreign destinations.

“Whereas it used to be you [could go] to a cooking school, now you can do even more,” Powell says.
In Italy, travelers can tour a pasta factory or have Sunday dinner with grandma; Switzerland offers a variety of cheese and chocolate tours; and tourists in Bangkok can ride a boat through a traditional floating market. Plus, there are companies such as Home Food and Bookalokal that make it possible for travelers to attend dinner parties hosted by locals.

Cruise the water by night and bike paths by day
AmaWaterways recently launched a partnership with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey that combines cruising, biking and hiking. (Courtesy Backroads)
AmaWaterways recently launched a partnership with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey that combines cruising, biking and hiking. (Courtesy Backroads)
One cruise company is rocking the boat with its nontraditional tours.
AmaWaterways is teaming up with the adventure company Backroads to create a journey combining cruising, biking and hiking.

By night, guests who sign up for the Backroads adventure cruise can dine and sleep on the boat as it travels up river. During the day, they’re led on biking and/or hiking adventures with Backroads tour guides. Powell notes that the bike and cruise adventure is currently limited to the Danube River route. But, the itineraries will expand to other rivers throughout Europe and Asia in 2016.

A new degree of adventure

From Canada to Copenhagen, ice bars and ice hotels were once the rage. “All of the sudden, everywhere that had a cold winter had an ice hotel,” Powell says. But a chilling new destination is taking the excitement over ice structures to a whole new level. In June, travelers will be able to walk into the ice tunnels and caves of Langjökull, Europe’s second largest glacier. “They’ve burrowed out a tunnel within the glacier, so that people can actually go ice tunneling in the middle of a glacier," Powell says.

Peek inside the tunnels of Langjökull:

Experience nothing

In a constantly connected world where it’s hard to escape work, no matter how many miles are between you and the office, it’s no surprise that some travelers are in need of a little peace and quiet on vacation. And the travel industry is taking notice.

“Another thing people are interested in experiencing these days is nothing,” Powell says. She adds: “Silence tourism is kind of the next big thing.  There’s growing demand for places where people can get away, walk in nature, and not necessarily have access to Wi-Fi and cell service.”

In fact, “Silence, please,” is the slogan on Finland's official travel site. The slogan is accompanied by recommended escapes to remote lakeside cottages, igloo huts in the middle of the forest and foraging tours through the Finnish forest.

For original article, follow this link:  © 2015 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

**Note: I modified quotes and copy in order to clarify and/or add information to the story. I also added the Vietnam images and captions.