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Friday, December 23, 2011

Stocking Stuffers to Knock Your Socks Off...and Suitcases to Boot

If you still haven’t bought that perfect gift for your favorite traveler (or me--address provided upon request!), here are a few last-minute ideas. If you watched my segment on WUSA-TV in Washington today, here is the promised where-to-purchase information. If you are shopping online, however, you will have to make due with a product picture for Christmas Day itself. Or procrastinators can put a positive spin on the delivery delay and say they are extending the holiday.

On the Saturday before Christmas, you don’t want to find yourself at Best Buy, Target or Wal-Mart…you really don’t. Instead, hit a luggage store. No lines here, which, you must admit, is an anomaly when suitcases are in the picture. So many of us travel with boring black or blue bags, which can be easily mixed up at the baggage carousel. So, why not buy a present that pops? Heys Britto Collection is based on the designs of pop artist Romero Britto. Thanks to its polycarbonate material, the carry-on size weighs a mere 6.7 pounds. Yet, it’s as hard as nails in terms of protection. The Britto 22-inch bag retails for $300.
If you prefer something a little lighter, a little cheaper and a little less flashy, Heys 20-inch xCases cost $150. They weigh in at just 5.1 pounds. www.heysusa.com

If you prefer something super-duper lightweight, you can go with canvas. The Briggs & Riley BRX collection provides a lightweight solution with extreme performance capabilities. The Exchange Duffle is like two bags in one…it goes from duffle to backpack in one easy zip. Since the duffle compresses, it’s perfect for squeezing into small spaces, like overhead bins. It costs about $160 and is available at fine luggage shops. For a store locator-www.briggs-riley.com/

If you are looking for last-minute stocking stuffers for the traveler, iPad and tablet accessories will knock their socks off. Aside from being available on-line, you can find them at electronics and computer stores.

Love, love, LOVE the Menotek Waterproof Bluetooth Flexible Keyboard. Anyone who has been frustrated trying to write an article (ahem) on their iPad or a text on their iPhone will find this type of gift striking. It’s waterproof, it’s washable, and it’s wonderful. The retail is $79.00, but I found it on Amazon for $29.99.

If your travel/computer geeks are also yoga freaks, they will be head over heels…or heels over head…for this adjustable Gorilla Mobile Yogi for iPad by Joby. The Yogi stabilizes the iPad on any surface and offers adjustable viewing angles, including Downward Dog (left), Half Lotus (below) and Spinal Twist. You can also hang it from a bar, in case your exercise of choice is pole dancing. It retails for $39.95, although I found it cheaper on Amazon.

Joby also makes the Gorilla Mobile Ori for iPad for your favorite Zen master. Inspired by the art of origami, it’s a iPad case that bends and folds in multiple ways. Best yet--it has a swiveling hinge. It costs $59.95 at http://www.joby.com/

Speaking of iPad cases, this year's style is both fashionable and functional. In this case, if you want your iPad to look super skinny, just like a catwalk strutter, there’s the STM iPad Skinny case. Like its supermodel cousin, the case is sleek with a hard shell. It has an auto on and off front cover that wakes up the device, and control buttons are easy to access.
The foldable front cover can be styled for typing or viewing angles. It retails for $50, but you can find the case on Amazon for $30 or so. http://www.stmbags.com/

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where To Go This Winter*

Thanks to climate change, it's likely that this winter is once again going to be long and brutal. Even the hardiest cold-weather enthusiast is likely, at some point, to be driven to get the heck out of Dodge. And if Punxsutawney Phil decides the cold will extend six weeks beyond Groundhog Day, a winter getaway will go from a maybe to a must.

From January through March, people usually seek out the sun. Naturally, thoughts turn first to islands or cruising. But don’t forget, if you go south of the border….south to the Southern Hemisphere that is….it’s summertime. South America is often overlooked as a winter destination, but with archaeological treasures like Machu Picchu and Easter Island, along with natural wonders like IguazĂș Falls and the Galapagos Islands, it’s a continent that should definitely be placed on the map of winter possibilities.
While flights to South American countries can be lengthy, jet lag is rarely an issue, as the continent shares most time zones with the United States.

If you don’t want to go beyond the equatorial beltway, however, a tropical escape to the Caribbean or Hawaii can be the perfect elixir to whatever SAD symptoms you may be feeling. Aside from escaping the cold, another advantage of traveling to islands in January and February is a lack of crowds and shoulder season rates. Even five-star resorts are known to discount during these months, which fall between the busy holiday travel season and spring break.

The same season delivers value on the high seas. The big news in cruising these days is the proliferation of home ports outside of Florida. That is particularly helpful in the winter, as cruisers can avoid the potential of airport delays by driving directly to their ship of dreams. On the East Coast, winter port options now extend from Florida to Charleston, South Carolina to as far north as New York City (with Baltimore in between). Most of the ships sailing from these ports during the winter are Bahamas-bound. If you want to sail farther into the Caribbean, the Florida ports are still the best option, although there are also winter trips scheduled out of Galveston, Texas.

Winter golf getaways are par for the course in some of the country’s southernmost states. If you want to shoot for a multi-sport winter getaway, remember that it’s easy to hit the greens and then sample the succulent fruits of baseball during Grapefruit League season in Florida and Cactus League season in Arizona.

Of course, for some folks, a winter sports vacation can only mean one thing--skiing. The good news about ski resorts in places like Colorado, Utah and Idaho is that while the weather is cold, it’s also generally sunny and dry. So the cold doesn’t feel as intense. If you want to go to a legendary ski resort without the crowds, Sun Valley, Idaho may be America’s best-kept secret. Although it lays claim to being the country’s very first ski resort (thank you, Averill Harriman, circa 1936) and a former mecca for Hollywood movie stars (circa the 1940s and 1950s), most folks nowadays find it challenging to locate on a map. While the Hollywood scene is far more low-key these days, star power still exists in the form of present and former winter Olympians who call the town home. And if these moguls of the mountains consider Sun Valley a gold medal winter sports destination, the peak is worth the trip.

*A version of this article appears in The Weekly Standard's December 19 issue.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Travel Expert Talks Holiday Travel Goodies

It’s that time of year when Santa, Hanukah Harry, and Kwanzaa Kwame are checking out who has been naughty and who has been nice. For all of the nice travelers on your holiday gift list, here are a few items I suggested playing the travel expert on NewsChannel 8’s Let’s Talk Live on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Treats for Travelers

It’s that time of year when Santa, Hanukah Harry, and Kwanzaa Kwame are checking out who has been naughty and who has been nice. For all of the nice travelers on your holiday gift list, here are a few items I suggested playing the travel expert on NewsChannel 8’s Let’s Talk Live on Tuesday. If the clip doesn't appear below, try clicking here. Below the clip is ordering and pricing information.

For the Airport:
TrayGUARD: $7.99 http://www.trayguard.com/
Briggs & Riley Exchange 26 Duffle: $160 Check http://www.briggs-riley.com/ for a retail store locator.

Technology Gadgets and Gizmos:
Clear Harmony Active Noise Canceling Headphones: $299.99 http://www.ableplanet.com/
Samsonite Computer Travel Kit: $50 http://www.samsonite.com/
Contains keypad, mouse, earphone, 4-port USB hub and card reader.

As Santa prances to my door throughout December, I will be blitzen you with other options. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Untried But True Holiday Travel Tips

It's that time of year when scores of people ask me, "Laura Powell, you are a travel expert. Give us some tips." Generously, I comply, with directions to allow yourself plenty of time when traveling; to keep presents unwrapped if you are going through airport security; to wear your bulkiest clothing and boots on board to save luggage space; yadda, yadda, yadda. But this year, I want to present to you, dear reader, the gift of tips that keep giving all year long. And lest the headline fool you, I have tried them all, and they all work like a charm.

First, if you are a contact lens wearer, stop by a local optometry office to pick up a free, TSA-approved-size bottle of contact lens solution. By law, these offices cannot sell sample-sized bottles, but most will give one or two to the nicely-dressed consumer who asks nicely. If you are naughty, though, expect nada.

Feet aching after a day or two or three in stiletto heals? Raid your panty liner container. (For any gentlemen who are still with me after reading the word "stiletto", you may skip ahead two paragraphs). A panty liner can prove a pillow for your sole. Simply stick the adhesive side onto the sole of your shoe (liners are skinny enough so that they will not bleed over the sides of even the narrowest shoe) and let the ball of your foot absorb the newfound comfort.

As an aside, let me also mention that the larger sanitary pad can serve double duty as a duster, particularly for wooden floors. Lest you laugh, do note that The Swiffer was invented in the 1990s by an engineer at Procter & Gamble who noticed that very phenomenon. So, if any of you have extra pads lying around, you can always fashion your own cheaper version of The Swiffer and clean carefree.

But I digress. Gentlemen, welcome back to the conversation. Did you know that those little environmentally-wasteful bottles of amenities placed in your hotel rooms can also do double duty? That's right. In a pinch, conditioner can become shaving cream; shampoo can become detergent for washing your delicates; and skin lotion can serve as an anti-static agent for hair or for clingly socks/stockings that insist on sticking to your pant leg/skirt.

I will be back with more heartfelt travel tips as the holiday season progresses. Meantime, please share some original tips from your list.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What You Don't Know About Idaho

After spending two months in Idaho this year, I have unearthed many interesting facts about a state best known for its potatoes. To wit...

Despite its beauty, Idaho is the only state that has not staked claim to the Miss America title.

Sun Valley is considered the first winter destination resort in the United States. It was built in the 1930s by railroad magnate W. Averill Harriman.

Sun Valley was the home of the world's first chairlifts. The lifts were installed on Dollar and Proctor Mountains in 1936.

The Hokey Pokey was invented in Sun Valley during the 1940s.

Elsewhere in Idaho...

Idaho is the only state with two time zones divided north and south. The state divides between Mountain and Pacific Time just north of Riggins.

Television was invented in Rigby, Idaho in the 1920s by local science prodigy and farm boy Philo Farnsworth.

Bruneau Dunes State Park is home to North America's tallest sand dune, at 470 feet.

Calling All Spuds...

Potatoes are not the top agricultural product in Idaho. Milk is.

Potatoes are the #1 crop, but are third in the agricultural product list after dairy and cattle.

And while we are on the topic, Idaho is the country’s #1 potato producer, serving up 29% of the U.S. total.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Batter Up!

This article appears in the current issue of Hotel F & B Magazine, a publication for which I serve as breakfast editor.

In keeping up with and getting ahead of the competition, hotel brands simply can’t waffle. That’s why Holiday Inn Express is mixing a compact automatic pancake-making machine into its breakfast bar.“We did follow-up research that said guests wanted something more than scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast,” says Sue Morgan, former VP of franchise F&B, InterContinental Hotels Group. “Our average stay is about 2.2 days, so guests would probably experience two different occasions to eat breakfast with us. They were very clear in what they wanted, and we needed to be just as clear in delivering for them.”During the past three years, the mid-priced, limited-service Holiday Inn Express brand has undergone an extensive re-launch, adding hallmarks such as new signage and contemporary artwork. But the change that seems to provide the biggest bang for the buck is the Popcake™ machine, which can produce several flapjacks every minute.The machine, which has been exclusive in North America to Holiday Inn Express until this fall, has been in use in various hotels in the Asia-Pacific region for the past several years. The technology crossed the ocean last year, with Holiday Inn Express testing the machine at 60 properties. It was rolled out at all 1,800 North American hotels during the first quarter of 2011.Al Reingold, director of brand management for the Holiday Inn family of brands, explains, “We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance our offerings and increase the value proposition to franchisees and our guests. The pancake machine was a timely addition to our breakfast bar, which had remained fairly consistent since the introduction of hot items five years ago. After the testing, we found it to be operationally sound. Plus, the cost structure was in line with the franchisee bottom line.”Properties don’t pay for the machine, which is on loan. Instead, they buy batter from a corporate-approved vendor. It comes in bags of pre-made mix, which, with added water, can make 35 pancakes per bag. Dollops of batter drop onto a Teflon-coated cooking belt, producing one pancake every 18 seconds. After 60 bags (enough for 2,100 pancakes) have been emptied, it’s time to change the cooking belt. Hotels receive a new easy-to-install belt free with every 60 bags of batter ordered.“Our guests love it, especially the kids. The aroma of fresh pancakes is stunning, and it’s easy to execute—similar to a tortilla machine,” says Morgan.The pancake maker allows guests to control the quantity, size, and degree of “doneness” or browning, and is in line with the overall Holiday Inn Express brand image, says Paul Snyder, VP of operations for parent company InterContinental Hotels Group, the Americas. “It is a great fit for our guest and the perfect choice for a ‘griddle’ entry versus the ubiquitous and messy waffle machine.”Kathy Tabora, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Albany Western Avenue University in Albany, New York, is a fan and says guests have raved about the device. “It is very efficient, easy to use, and not messy,” she says. “It’s small, self-contained, and doesn’t require more staffing.”Reingold says the pancake machine has created only one hitch for Holiday Inn Express. “Lines have been the only problem with the machine, and we figure that’s a good problem to have.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Farewell to Yarns: A Sheep's Tale in the Land of Hemingway

Ever since I caught wind of its existence, I have been fixated on attending The Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which takes place in Hailey and Ketchum, Idaho every October. Perhaps it was the sheep poetry sessions that roped me in....after all, who could resist a sheep bleating Keats.

At any rate, as my obsession grew, I knit together a fantasy about becoming Queen of the Sheep. My dream was to show off my good breeding by donning a tiara and walking amongst my little lambs as we strode in unison down the streets of Ketchum. In order to blend in (somewhat) with the flock, I would enrobe myself in a virgin wool fleece frock.

And so, in order to get out of a rut and make my dream come true, I booked a trip to the Sun Valley area for the autumn of 2011. Hailing from Washington, DC, I decided the best way to win the title was to start lobbying Hailey town elders and the festival organizers. But as I grazed the landscape, I realized there might be a few hitches in my plan. First, I discovered that "The Trailing of the Sheep" took place during Yom Kippur weekend. Now, if this festival were to be renamed "Jews and Ewes" or "Hey, Ewe Jew", I would be a lock for the title. But alas, it was not, and I started to fear that the parade would be taking place on the Holy Day itself. Even though I planned to maintain my fast, I wondered if it would be kosher in God's eyes to be parading amongst sheep while atoning. On one hand, Moses was a shepherd. Still, he led his most important flock around Passover and not the High Holidays.

As I ruminated over this ruminant dilemma, I discovered that the parade was delayed until the day after Yom Kippur. Thus, I was back on the non-fast track to becoming sheep royalty. But soon enough, I was brought to the realization that my lovely dream could become a wolf in sheep's clothing. While having a moveable feast at the home of the lovely owners of a Ketchum art gallery, the husband started raining a bit on my parade. (Said husband, parenthetically, hence the parentheses, resembled a hip version of Mr. Keaton, the dad on "Family Ties"). Mr. Bleatin' advised me that, at times, the parading sheep have been known to run amok. One sheep wanders off in a different direction and the entire flock ends up pulling a big ewe-turn. Or, Mr. Baa Humbug noted, as the hills at the end of the parade route come into sight, the sheep sometimes start stampeding to quicken the journey to their winter digs.

At any rate, instead of ending the parade in a path of glory, I suddenly envisioned myself in my own private Pamplona, overtaken by a mad mob of sheep goring me with their puffballs of wool and leaving me with tiara askew and my garb transformed into the world's largest livery of lint.

Of course, the citizens of Ketchum might not take kindly to this intruder amongst their ranks, no matter how stunning said intruder was. In fact, the stunt might even get their collective goat. Therefore, after rising up, dusting myself off, and repositioning my tiara, I realized I might have to go on the lamb (sic) or risk being pelted. However, I knew it was likely that I would be quickly found, as after the sheep were long gone, I would be the only one in the valley for whom the smell lolled.

Thank ewe very much.

For more on the event, go to www.trailingofthesheep.org. There is still time to make your travel plans. It takes place October 7-9.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Can CCCP Russia From My Backyard

I recently noted a short thread on one Adam Junkroski's (a friend and former babysitting client) Facebook page, trading obvious puns about all things Soviet. As a punmeister, I couldn't resist the temptation to Russian. Below, Laura and Adam's no-so-Cold War of Puns (which lasted 45 minutes versus 45 years). It's oblast. By the way, if some of these references are too obscure, you'll be vlad to know you kazan surf around Siberia-space to chechen on things.

LP: I give you high Marx for the Russia thread. You didn't even Boris me to tears.
AJ: What can I say? We covered all the Engels.
LP: I'm tsarry, but you certainly didn't cast a wide nyet for that one.
AJ: Yuri just jealous.
AJ: But I suppose I could curl up Andropov the face of the planet.
LP: Damn, yuri good, comrade (oops, just saw you already used that). I was trying to figure out something Andropov and you beat me to the pun-ch. I'm such an Idiot (get it?) Ivan to win this game, but clearly, you are a steppe up, no Bolshevik.
AJ: I'll ruble the day I tangled with you yet.
LP: I'm stoli-ing (and stalin)for time.
AJ: Be-cossack I'm so clever?
LP: We need to take this show to the Borscht Belt.
AJ: Anyone reading this would probably rather we take it to Siberia. : )
LP: Speaking of ex-Soviet regions, as they say in Georgia (well, the U.S. one), Y'altap the list.
AJ: You just proved your Proletariat status with that one.

LP: (after a brief pause in the back-and-forth)
Had to Trotsky to write a new blog post.
AJ: I wondered why you went Romanov on us.
LP: Soyuz say. You probably thought I was mir-ly procrastinating.
AJ: Clearly you think I Kerensky.
LP: I have to gulag Kerensky...don't know who he is.
LP: Or gogol.
AJ: LOL! He preceded Lenin.
LP: Surely, you wikipedia'ed that, my little pierogi.
LP: Now, I don't mean to be volga, and I don't want to hammer this in, but I think we are both sickles.
AJ: Yes, we have a mig problem.
LP: Like Michelle Bachmann, I'm getting a mig-raine. And like her doppelganger, Sarah Palin, I can see Russia from my backyard.

Now that you have red your way through, a few other notes before closing.
First, I'm a slav to fashion. So-vi-et.
Any other puns you want to Chekhov or Markov the list? Do feel free to commune with us or matryoshka-late in our puniversity. We are happy to grad your entries.
Tatar, everyone.

Photo Credit: Matt Banks

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Endless Summer

According to the calendar, summer lasts through September 23rd. If you choose to wait until after Labor Day to experience a summer vacation, you're in luck. In general, September travel means lower rates, smaller crowds, and, if you are beach-bound, less traffic on the way.

For those who watched my segment on NewsChannel 8's Let's Talk Live...and even for those who didn't...here are a few more details for Washingtonians looking for the perfect late summer regional getaway.

Let’s start in Ocean City, Maryland. While the water and temperatures are still lovely after Labor Day, hotel prices tend to go down about 20 percent. September is prime golfing season there (with 15 courses in the area), so greens fees don‘t necessarily drop. But if you package golf with an overnight stay, you might be able to tee up a deal. Without traffic, it only takes about three hours to get to Ocean City.

While people often go to the beaches of eastern Maryland, they seldom head west. But Maryland’s western panhandle, located in the Alleghenies and just two-and-a-half hours from DC, is a feast for outdoor adventurers. Stay at the reasonably-priced Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort, located in Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. Go golfing on the resort’s Jack Nicklaus signature course or take a bike ride along the C & O Canal or the Great Allegheny Passage. You can also wander across the Pennsylvania border to Ohiopyle State Park, where you can go whitewater rafting into October.

Meanwhile, near the southern end of the Allegheny Range is The Homestead. September is a fine time to visit one of the country’s grande dame resorts, which is a five-hour drive from DC. Rates drop about 15 percent from the summer months, and cooler temperatures make for more comfortable hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, or golfing. If that’s not enough activity for you, you can fly-fish (endorsed by Orvis), hitch a horse, play paintball, or attempt archery.

If you want something a bit closer to home, how about taking your Romeo on a trip to Casanova? Casanova, Virginia, that is, home of Poplar Springs Inn & Spa. Less than a hour from Washington, the small inn offers rustic charm, gourmet food (served up by noted chef Howard Foer), and a topnotch spa offering soothing treatments and ointments for all of your ailments. Nearby, there are places to ride horses, stomp on wine grapes, or hit the greens.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jordan Sparks

Want to hear about Petra, Lawrence of Arabia, and eco-tourism in Jordan? Then listen to my segment on Around the World Radio, which aired August 18th. The report, complete with pictures, is 36 minutes into the program. If you prefer to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice without distraction, the segment sans images can be heard by clicking here. Look for Track 4 from the August 18th show. If you are intrigued by the report, even more information is available at http://www.visitjordan.com/.

2012 will be a particularly interesting year to visit, as it marks the 200th anniversary of the "rediscovery" of Petra by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.It's also the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia, which was filmed in Wadi Rum. Special events marking the anniversaries are in the planning stages.

But there's more, including the Dead Sea and its spas; eco-tourism opportunities in the Dana Reserve; and biblical sites like the Jordan River and Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw The Holy Land. By the way, the site, located in a Muslim country and devoted to a commanding Jewish prophet, is now owned by Italian Franciscan monks. But don't worry--it's not a tourist trap. The ascetics maintain this aesthetic for-prophet place as a non-prophet (sic).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Laura of Arabia: Part I

Out of the blue, a call from Amman. "Laura," the call said, "Could you come to Jordan to speak at a USAID conference on tourism development next week?" Weary from the heat wave that was swamping Washington, DC, I decided a trip to the desert was just what I needed to cool off.

In a series of upcoming posts, I will share my adventures, my discoveries, and insights garnered from my first trip to the Middle East. However, in this post, I will discuss my panic as I perused my summer wardrobe and perceived that everything I owned was either too short, too tight or too sleeveless for an Islamic country. Did I have any garb to wear? Would I be kicked out of the country for dressing inappropriately? It was a clothing cliffhanger.

Now, I am not a slut, mind you, nor do I play one on TV (as you can see from previous blog posts). But all my hemlines seemed unseamly, and my business dresses, thanks to Spanx, were quite form-fitting. And, just like Right Said Fred, with low-cut collars and keyholes, I was too sexy for my shirts. And so, with only three days to go before the trip (and with a 30-minute presentation to write about tourism development in a country I knew nothing about), I had to squeeze in a manic shopping spree.

I had been through this exercise before, prior to a trip to Morocco in 2001. And just like a decade before, I found shopping an exercise in frustration. You see, I am a Size 2. Not a lot of people in Washington are Size 2. So, choices were going to be limited.

I was simply petra-fied of finding nothing apropo for Jordan. And as I zipped from store to store, my fears were being confirmed. Lord & Taylor--oh God, nothing. T.J. Maxx--initially, it seemed promising. But a suitcase and a Calvin Klein knee-length (but sleeveless) frock were all-ah got. My patience was hanging by a thread until Filene's Basement, which became my own private Mecca. It yielded two Marc Jacobs cotton shrugs, perfect for covering the shoulders. I also found two pairs of knee-length shorts, an oversized pair of khakis, and a past-the-knee-length cotton khaki dress with short sleeves. It was fugly, but it was perfect for my needs and with it, I felt my Islamic ensembles were buttoned down.

But as I was packing my new suitcase the night before the journey, I discovered that the fugly khaki kimono still had its security tag attached. Ever wonder what happens when you try to pry off a security tag by hand? I'll tell you. You get green ink all over your hands and your new fugly dress.

Well, long story short, when I got to Jordan, I found that my clothing concerns were overwrought, though not for naught. While dress there is certainly more conservative than in the U.S. of A., Western women can get away with showing a bit of skin. Sleeveless was fine at night and outside the city (except in mosques and churches). Knee exposure was fine, even during the day. The piggy toe cleavage revealed by my slingbacks was kosher; all other cleavage was left to the imagination. Though my ink blot of a dress was left home, I still passed the wardrobe Rorschach test.

The moral of this yarn is that you can never judge a cover by the book. Even though most tomes said cover up, the reality of Jordan was a mythbuster. And, as I was soon to discover, there were plenty of other myths and misconceptions about the country also waiting to be uncovered.

Stay tuned for Part II of Laura of Arabia.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laura on TV: Refreshing Regional Getaways

My most recent Washington, DC TV segment on refreshing, regional getaways.

Links to the places suggested are listed in yesterday's post.

And just for vanity's sake, here's a Valentine's Day segment in which my hair is unaffected by summertime humidity.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Me and USA Today, Together Again

USA Today's Great American Outdoors summer travel series features me as Ms. DC. This week, USA Today offers suggestions for great hikes around the U.S. of A. Note that I am limited to the confines of Washington, as Ms. Maryland and Ms. Virginia lay claim to their respective states.

Here's the unedited version of my capital suggestion:

Looking to cool off with a summer hike? Tree-canopied Rock Creek Park provides a (relatively) temperate setting for a rugged DC constitutional. The country's largest urban park (at more than 1,700 acres) has two main trails for serious hikers which incorporate hills, dales, babbling brooks, and waterfalls. Meantime, casual hikers or bikers or inline skaters should wander over on weekends, when Beach Drive, the main thoroughfare through the park, is closed to motorized traffic.

Laura Powell reports on travel for several DC television stations and blogs at www.dailysuitcase.com.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Laura on TV

Hilton, Groupon and Microsoft recently hired me to present some of their new products as part of a summer travel satellite media tour. The video seen below is a one-take, unscripted taped round-up of the segment. Actual live interviews with television stations will be posted when available.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ms. District of Columbia/USA Today

For its new summer travel series, USA Today has reached out to the nation's top travel experts to outline the best drives, hikes, and wildlife areas in their own backyards. I've been named Ms. Washington, DC. Here's my entry for best drive, which appeared in the June 3 USA Today Weekend section.

District of Columbia
The best drive in the nation's capital is only about five miles. Wait until sundown and start at the base of Memorial Bridge. Drive past the Lincoln Memorial and then veer right and north to glimpse the Thomas Jefferson Memorial over the shimmering waters of the Tidal Basin. As you drive up Independence Avenue and over to Jefferson Drive, the Capitol will rise before you. Next, circle back on Madison Drive, which takes you past the National Mall museums. Look ahead for a view of the Washington Monument. Swing over to Constitution for a glimpse of the White House and finish back at the Lincoln Memorial. washington.org

Recommended by DC-based travel and TV journalist Laura Powell, who blogs at dailysuitcase.com.

Monday, May 30, 2011

New Jersey, For Shore

This article originally appeared in the May 15th Washington Post Travel section.

What do you get when you combine a colossal pachyderm, a Wild West rodeo, miles of beaches, a classic American entertainment mecca, and a dash of revolutionary history? New Jersey, for shore.

While the Garden State is America’s fourth smallest, you’d never know it by the diverse attractions within its borders. High climbers can scale the Appalachians, while high rollers can weigh their odds in Atlantic City. There are 130 miles of shoreline, plenty of seaside amusements, and eco-extras for the hikers, bikers, and birdwatchers among us. And, as it is all within a four-hour-or-less drive from Washington, getting to New Jersey’s wild side can be done on a tankful of gas.

During the summer, many city dwellers are attracted to New Jersey’s shores. Beach towns run the gamut, from the vintage Victorian village of Cape May (the entire place is a National Historic District) to the glitz and glamour of Atlantic City. In between are places like Seaside, Point Pleasant Beach and Wildwood, whose boardwalk amusements are stuff of legend.

Atlantic City has plenty of offerings for adults, including almost a dozen major casino resorts, showrooms, spas, and stellar cuisine. But like any coastal community, the A-C’s family-friendly nature can’t be denied. What kid wouldn’t love the midway games and rides dotting the country’s most famous boardwalk? The area’s family-friendly attractions run the gamut from an aquarium to a lighthouse to Lucy. Lucy the Margate Elephant, that is. The six-story elephantine structure hangs out just south of Atlantic City and is the only National Historic Landmark shaped like an animal. The wood and tin behemoth is a classic example of eccentric Victorian architecture circa the late 1800s.

Another New Jersey novelty is the Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove. It’s the longest running Saturday night rodeo in the country, dating back to 1929.

Speaking of times past, don’t forget that New Jersey was the Crossroads of the American Revolution. The state has more than 500 farmlands, hillsides and homesteads that played some part in that war. Some of the prime sites include Morristown National Historical Park (where Washington and company endured the war’s long winters) and Monmouth Battlefield State Park. While others are commemorating the Civil War this summer, Yankee Doodle Dandies can participate in June’s Battle of Monmouth reenactment, remembering the largest artillery battle of the American Revolution. Washington Crossing State Park, where the boys landed after fording the Delaware River, was originally preserved for its historical significance. But today, it is also a popular place due to miles of trails, wildlife habitats, and a plethora of bird-watching perches.

In fact, New Jersey’s wealth of wilderness and wetlands is often a surprise to the out-of-stater. There’s Lake Wawayanda, a prime place for fishing, canoeing and boating. A twenty-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park. Outside adventurers might also ramble over to the Meadowlands. Say what? That’s right, the Meadowlands is an ecotourism paradise. The thriving marshes and vast recreational opportunities along the Hackensack River are the best kept secret of the 30.4-square-mile Meadowlands District. Visitors can take a guided tour of the wetlands by boat, witness wildflowers or warblers, or explore tidal creeks and marshes by canoe.

For more ideas on New Jersey’s panorama of authentic, iconic, and original attractions, go to www.visitnj.org.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Mile High Book Club

It seems I am addicted to books that discuss the evolution of things. I’m not speaking in Darwinian terms (although I have been to the Galapagos Islands). Rather, I love books that explore the origins of Spam, or Twinkies, or the Yugo.

As I think back, I believe I may have discovered this gene in my reading DNA thanks to The Panama Hat Trail by one Tom Miller. More than a mere exercise in travel journalism, Miller, in my humble opinion, stages a coup d’tete (sic) in weaving the tale of the Panama Hat, which actually has its origins in Ecuador (home of the aforementioned Galapagos). While he does not discover giant tortoises sporting jaunty straw hats, he does write a captivating (ahem) yarn of Ecuador and its people…and why its indigenous bowler has been pinned with the name of another country (the chapeaus were, in the day, exported worldwide via the Isthmus of Panama).

More recently, I have taken to treatises on the origins of food products. Among the goodies I have explored in the past year are Twinkies and doughnuts (neither of which I can eat due to a gluten intolerance). I must say that Twinkie Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger was a bit dry (like a 20-year-old Twinkie), a little too scientific for my taste. Then again, considering that the Twinkie is more of a science project than a food product, maybe the tone is appropriate. Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut, by Paul R. Mullins, was also a bit professorial in tone, but more delectable to read. Sure, it's more about consumerism and soci0-economics than sugar and ice, but one chapter on doughnut history and another on the morality of downing dunkers are the frosting on the cake.

Lest you think I am a food addict, let me also mention another recent read--The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic. I can’t say it better than Sonja Sharp of Mother Jones. “Jason Vuic, a professor of modern European history, could have easily written a straightforward takedown of the most maligned automobile since the Ford Pinto. Instead, he uses the Yugo as a vehicle for an insightful and witty look at car culture, a half-century of Balkan history, and the last decade of the Cold War.” Indeed, Vuic’s paean makes luscious lemonade out of the world's most famous lemon.

Parenthetically, it does seem as though I am addicted to books with colons in their titles. As I wander through bookstores, monographs sporting colons are the ones I tend to digest. Both The Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World and Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World sound appeeling and are next on the reading list. There’s a lengthy book called The Toothpick: Technology and Culture that never fails to capture my attention in the bookstore. But I haven't sunk my molars into that one yet. Finally, The Book of SPAM: A Most Glorious and Definitive Compendium of the World's Favorite Canned Meat looks spamalicious (to coin a phrase). That's one, though, for which I'll have to work up an appetite.

Friday, May 6, 2011

See the USA in USA Today/DC

USA Today has asked me to be the DC contributor to its upcoming "Best Drives in the USA" series. Restricted to the confines of the nation's capital, my selection of scenic drives was fairly limited. Here's what I have come up with. If you have other ideas, please let me know.

The best drive in the nation's capital is relatively short, only about five miles, and can be done by car or by bike. Either way, you'll need headlights, as this is a nighttime jaunt.

Seeing Washington's shining icons lit up against a dark sky is a reminder of the Founding Fathers' visions for this country. Wait until sundown and then wander over to the base of Memorial Bridge, just behind the Lincoln Memorial. Drive past Abe and then veer right and north. On your right, you'll get a glimpse of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial looming over the shimmering waters of the Tidal Basin. As you drive up Independence and jog over to Jefferson Drive, the Capitol will rise before you. Once you approach the Capitol, drive behind and around or right in front via 3rd Street. Next, circle back on Madison Drive, which takes you past the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museums of Natural History and American History. As you pass the museums, make sure to look ahead, as you'll get a full frontal view of the Washington Monument. Then swing over to Constitution to get a profile of the imposing obelisk and a glimpse (on your right) of the White House. Finish up by driving back to the Lincoln Memorial. Emancipate yourself of your vehicle and pay your respects to Abe. Then, sit on his steps and survey the entire Mall from his illustrious vantage point.

Image courtesy of Destination DC

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Please Do Not Steal the Towels

Now, Dear Reader:

I have been very honest with you about my predilection for filching hotel bathroom amenities like soaps and shampoos. Mind you, my pilfering ways never extend to anything material.

But for those of you who prefer to purloin linens, consider yourself forewarned. Because, you see, a company called Linen Technology Tracking is watching you. Said company has developed radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that can be sewn into towels, sheets and bathrobes. The chips can survive hundreds of wash lickings and keep on ticking.

Right now, just a few hotels in Manhattan, Miami and Honolulu are using the chips. But as costs associated with disappearing linens soar, expect more and more properties to chip and charge.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Greetings From Snowy Sun Valley

The calendar may say spring, but here in Sun Valley and Ketchum, we are still in the midst of ski season. 31 inches this weekend and another foot or two expected today.
But spring is coming soon and that's the season I have been chatting about on Around the World radio.

In case you are interested, here are a few links for more information:

General Visitor Information for Sun Valley and Ketchum: www.visitsunvalley.com
Sun Valley Resort: www.sunvalley.com
Aston Hotels & Resorts (for condo rentals): www.aston.com

More coverage on the area to come on this blog, including Orbiting Sun Valley for Free: Ketchum: The New Cougartown; and Good Eats. And watch this space for more information on my Sun Valley/Ketchum app, which will be "published" in May.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: How to Avoid Paying for Checked Bags

Tired of paying $15 or $25 or $50 for checking your bag prior to a flight? Well, you no longer have to be a member of the military, fly Southwest, or pony up for a first-class seat to check a bag or two for free. Here's the scoop.

First, consider credit cards that are affiliated with airlines. Now, some such cards only give you frequent flyer miles for every dollar charged. But two, the Delta SkyMiles American Express Card and the Continental OnePass Chase Mastercard, also allow their carriers to fly their bags for free. The actual terms: One bag free per passenger for up to nine people per reservation. The Delta card has a $95 annual fee, while the Continental card costs $85, but both waive the fee for first-year cardholders. If you fly frequently on Delta or Continental, the price, even after the first complimentary year, may be right. However, if you tend to carry a balance on your credit cards, beware. Interest rates do tend to be higher on co-branded cards.

If you usually travel in large packs, United’s Premier Baggage might be of interest. For a $349 annual fee, you can check up to two bags per passenger for free on any United flight--domestic or international. The waiver applies to up to nine people traveling together under the same confirmation number.

If you are a United Premier Baggage member or a Continental OnePass cardholder, check throughout the year to assess how these programs are being affected by the merger of the two carriers. Currently, for example, flights and passenger-reward programs are operating independently. As the year progresses, though, the United-Continental marriage will come closer to fruition and more terms of the pre-nuptial agreement will come into effect.

Finally, during the past year, several hotel companies been running promotions offering to reimburse guests for airline bag fees. The most recent deal is from Intercontinental Hotels Group. Through April 30, guests can get up to $100 back in baggage fees whenever they book a two-night weekend stay at any of the company’s properties. That includes Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, and, of course, Intercontinental Hotels.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sweetheart Deals

Please enjoy my most recent television appearance on TBD in Washington, DC. I get to the heart of the matter, offering tips for romantic getaways.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Suites for Sweethearts; Rooms for Romeos

For those who watched the travel segment today on TBD TV, more information on various Valentine’s Day deals within 200 miles (or so) of Washington, DC can be found by clicking the links below:

Kimpton Hotels (for Valentine’s Day deal, enter ROBES in the rate box)
Washington Court Hotel, Washington, DC
Inn at Perry Cabin, St. Michaels, Maryland
Keswick Hall, Charlottesville, Virginia
The Boar's Head, Charlottesville, Virginia
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
Omni Bedford Springs Resort, Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Morning Delights

Given that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it follows that I must be the most important contributing columnist at Hotel F & B. Why, you ask? Because I am the pub's saucy breakfast editor. For a sampling of my tasty morsels, dig in.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Airline Etiquette

As my writing mojo seems to be in hibernation, I figured, environmentalist that I am, that I would recycle an old column. This story, written by my alter-ago Jane Air, originally appeared on www.womenontheirway.com.

Jane Gets to the Bottom of Airplane Seat Etiquette

Now that planes are more crowded than ever, the likelihood is the middle seat in nearly every row will be occupied. Hopefully, dear reader, it will not be your delightful derriere that will be dwelling in said seat. Still, regardless of whose behind is there, the bottom line is that there are accepted rules of behavior when it comes to middle seat manners. In fact, as Jane will discuss, other seats have their specific rules as well. But middle seat suavities are of greatest consequence.

Herewith are hints from Jane’s Book of Travel Etiquette.

1. To the middle seat belongs the armrests. Window Woodrow gets the armrest next to the wall. Aisle Annie gets the armrest at the other end of the row. Unfortunate Middle Seat Mickey gets both of the middle armrests. Period. However, Middle Seat Mickey does not have the right to lift either armrest up without the expressed permission of fellow seatmates. After all, it is every passenger’s right not to be rubbed up by a nearby thigh.

2. Those occupying both the middle and window seats should limit their fluid intake. Yes, it is important to stay hydrated on a plane. But if you have a weak bladder, or like to imbibe gallons of fluids, reserve an aisle seat.

3. That said, if you are in the aisle seat, do realize it is your duty to get up when your fellow aisle mates have to go. Don’t build a fortress of magazines, beverages and laptops around you that has to be dismantled every time someone needs to get out. The fortress-building privilege is solely reserved for those in the window seat.

4. Now, what happens when it appears that the middle seat will be unoccupied? First, wait until the cabin doors actually close before getting excited. How many times has Jane’s pulse quickened and her heart rate increased in anticipation of additional amplitude, only to experience the heartbreak of that last-minute arrival sprinting down the aisle directly toward Jane’s extra elbow room? However, if said passenger doesn’t show up, congratulations. The middle seat is fair game….but only by half.

If the middle seat stays empty, immediately lay claim to your share of the seat by discreetly placing a jacket or a book on it. This prevents the passenger on the other side of the middle seat from hogging the entire space for himself. Likewise, feel free to use half the storage room under the middle seat. Once you are airborne, if it appears that your fellow aisle mate has not laid claim to the other half, feel free to use it all. Jane also says it is perfectly kosher to use the middle tray table for beverages. But don’t use it for the meal service. For one, if you do so, you will likely be using more than your fair share of the table, which is not seemly for a lady of your stature. For two, in the event of turbulence, your meal could end up in your aisle mate’s lap.

Speaking of which, do not use the middle seat as a place to stretch out, unless you have the other passenger’s expressed consent. If said person is kind enough to grant you full-body access to the middle seat, make sure your feet are pointing in the direction opposite his olfactory organ. Also, make sure that the armrest between the two seats is down. Otherwise, you might end up in your fellow passenger’s lap….and that, dear reader, is not acceptable airline etiquette.

Jane is always happy to add new rules to her book. Please post your thoughts.