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Archive for the ‘Travel Advice’ Category

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston by telwink, on Flickr

When picking a new travel assignment, you can compare the “cool” factor of cities across the country.  Forbes ranked 65 American cities based on how cool a place they are to live. Cities with abundant entertainment and recreational opportunities, large number of restaurants and pubs (excluding chains), young diverse population, significant migration into the city, and low unemployment rate were the factors used to compile the list.

Houston’s strong economy has spurred its enviable growth. Residents and visitors enjoy world-class arts, pro sports teams, award-winning cuisine and loads of shopping in the nation’s fourth largest city.

WHAT TO SEE

  • •Buy a $2 METRORail ticket and go explore Houston’s Museum District. With 19 museums and a 50-acre zoo, the intellectually curious will find a range of satisfying topics from the Holocaust to postmodern art.
  • •Bike or hike on trails inside the 10.4 acre downtown Sesquicentennial Park or kayak through Buffalo Bayou during a four hour urban excursion.
  • •Play at the number #1 ranked children’s museum in the country or take the kids to the Health Museum—it’s part of the world renowned Texas Medical Center.
  • •Shopaholics can spend days in the Galleria with more than 375 stores. Take a break at the indoor ice skating rink.
  • •Spend an evening at the 17-block Theater District. Reserve a seat at the Alley Theater, the Houston Grand Opera, or Houston Symphony.
  • •Sports fans can back their favorite pro team. H-town has its own football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey teams.

TOP TEN

The top ten coolest cities in America are:

Houston, Texas

Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles, California

Dallas, Texas

Seattle, Washington

San Diego, California

Boston, Massachusetts

Orange County, California

San Francisco, California

New York, New York

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & AwayGlobal Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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Florida vacation & June 08-45

Flordia vacation & June 08-45 by juliawhite1115, on Flickr

For years, my family has spent summer vacations soaking up the sun on different Gulf Coast beaches. It is one of my favorite ways to relax.

In July, we drove to Florida’s Navarre Beach. Situated between Pensacola and Destin, its welcome sign reads, “Florida’s Best Kept Secret.” I have to agree. If you are on assignment in northwest Florida or just looking for a place to rejuvenate, Navarre Beach is a narrow strip of heaven on earth.   

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

  • Playing in the sugar white sand and clear, emerald green waters is the number one reason to visit Navarre. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs can be rented for $25 per day.
  • Walk or fish on the new Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, the longest of any piers in the Gulf of Mexico and a short stroll from our condo. Visitors pay $1 each to walk the 1,545-foot pier and $7 to fish. On weekends, live music plays at the adjacent Pier Restaurant.
  • Bike along the National Seashore–an eight-mile stretch of undeveloped shoreline protected by the federal government. Only ten coastal areas in the U.S. have received this recognition. Take a camera to snap photos of nesting sea turtles or the towering dunes.
  • Hang out at Juana’s Pagodas (look for the thatched roofs) beside the Navarre Bridge.  The complex includes a restaurant, bakery, and pub. You may also rent jet skis, a sailboat, boogie board, stand-up paddleboard, bike, and/or a surfboard.

WHERE TO STAY

If you are within driving distance but too far for a day trip, you may opt to stay overnight. My family and I stayed at the new high-rise condominium, Beach Colony West. Our 1,700-square-foot unit had three bedrooms and three bathrooms. A large picture window and sliding glass door in the living room provided views of the water. The best spot to enjoy morning coffee was the outdoor, circular porch with a table for four. This complex boasts the largest swimming pool in Navarre.

Condos are an affordable option for multiple families or couples who want to share the cost. Contact Gulf Blue Vacations (gulftbluevacations.com for information. Rates vary by season. (The condo, for example, rents for $2,420 per week in July.) After September 15, the weekly rate is half that amount. Taxes and cleaning fees are additional.

MORE INFORMATION

Visit floridabeachestorivers.com for tips on planning a laidback beach getaway.

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & AwayGlobal Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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Photo: Big Hassle

If being on the move is stressing you out, try creating a pick-me-up playlist to improve your mood and relieve tension.

Need a few recommendations?

Check out these tunes to help maintain your sanity while on the road.

Settle Down – No Doubt

The Southern California band is back and better than ever with this dancehall-inspired track. Sure, the chorus will get stuck in your head but just sway with the melody and go with it.

Roll Away Your Stone – Mumford & Sons

If you aren’t already acquainted with this indie favorite, there’s no better Mumford & Sons song to introduce you to the British folk rock band than “Roll Away Your Stone.” The tune is contagious and perfect for highway driving with the windows rolled down.

Lights – Ellie Goulding

Get your dance on with this radio darling that was a hit in the UK a whole two years before it caught the attention of music lovers Stateside. Ellie Goulding had the honor of performing at the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton so if she’s good enough for royalty, she’s good enough for your playlist.

Everybody Talks – Neon Trees

It’s nearly impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to the rockin’ feel-good tunes from Provo, Utah’s own Neon Trees. Upbeat and catchy, “Everybody Talks” is sure to be in heavy rotation on your MP3 player.

Unashamed Desire – Missy Higgins

Slow things down with this first single from Australian singer Missy Higgin’s latest disc The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle. Bluesy and emotional, you’ll love her powerful voice and confident lyrics.

Kelly Bryant is a freelance entertainment writer based in Los Angeles, California.

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Photo: miniyo73 via Flickr.com

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather walk to the nearest Starbucks and buy a coffee than pay for Wi-Fi in my hotel room. I feel like most people would do the same before spending $15 to check their email, right?

Either way, it’s no surprise that customers are increasing their Internet usage while staying in hotels. As travelers carry more devices, free Internet ranks “toward the top of guests’ want lists from hotels,” according to USA Today. People have gone from text- and voice-oriented devices to data-guzzling tech tools like the iPad that are all about graphics, pictures, and movies. And those customers are using more data per session, too.

Photo: sucelloleiloes via Flickr.com

The same article said that some hotels currently offering free Wi-Fi might begin to charge or offer a tiered type of service. For example, the Radisson Martinique in New York City charges guests a fee for a faster connection but also offers a slower connection for free, which is a great compromise. Owned by Carlson Hotels, the Radisson and many other hotel brands are beginning to monitor customer expectations and pursue different usage options.

Hotel brands currently providing free Wi-Fi in guest rooms include the following:

  • Aloft
  • Baymont Inn & Suites
  • Candlewood Suites
  • Comfort Inn
  • Country Inns & Suites by Carlson (in the Americas)
  • Courtyard by Marriott (North and Central America only)
  • Days Inn
  • Element
  • Fairfield Inn & SuitesFour Points by Sheraton
  • Hampton
  • Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham
  • Holiday Inn
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton
  • Howard Johnson
  • Hyatt Place
  • La Quinta Inns & Suites
  • Microtel Inn & Suites
  • Night
  • SpringHill Suites by Marriott
  • Ramada
  • Residence Inn by Marriott
  • Staybridge Suites
  • Super 8
  • Travelodge
  • Wingate by Wyndham
  • Wyndham Garden Hotels

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For a limited time–June 21 through September 4, 2012–travelers can avoid Wi-Fi charges by booking a hotel stay through Room 77. The super fast hotel search engine allows consumers to compare hotel rates and select the amenities they value most, like complimentary Wi-Fi.

If the hotel you book doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, Room 77 will reimburse you up to $15 per night to cover the expense.

For complete details, visit the Room 77 blog.

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & AwayGlobal Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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Planning a summer vacation?  Save a few dollars when you select one of the following hotel brands.

Photo: Jim Twardowski

Photo: Jim Twardowski

It pays to stay at IHG

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) may not be an immediately recognizable name, but you know their hotels. The parent company to all the Holiday Inn brands, Staybridge Suites, Crown Plaza, Hotel Indigo, and Candlewood Suites is giving $50 to guests who stay two consecutive weekday nights. The Rules:

  • Before your stay, register online for the promotion.
  • Two consecutive stays must occur on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
  • The offer is from April 16 through August 2, 2012.
  • Maximum of four rewards (up to $200) may be issued per household.
  • To receive the $50 — a $50 Travel Bonus prepaid MasterCard — you must submit rebate documentation.

Escape with Westin

Book a two night stay or more at select Westin hotels and receive a third complimentary night. Simply mention “Complimentary Night” when calling 1.800.937.8461. Arrival day must be a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, and the offer is valid through December, 31 2012.

Free Breakfast at Courtyard

Courtyard by Marriott hotels are giving guests complimentary breakfast nationwide. Book the “Stay for Breakfast” package using promotion code S4B online or by calling 1.800.834.7015.  Offer includes accommodations and breakfast for two (kids 12 and under eat free), and the promotion is valid through December 21, 2012.

Live It Up with Loews

Who doesn’t enjoy a long weekend? Loews luxury hotels — located in 16 destinations including Coronado Bay, California, New York City, New York, and Montreal, Canada — is giving 20% off your three or more day stay at all their properties (excluding Orlando hotels) from now until December 31, 2012.

Based on availability and some black out dates may apply; good for arrivals Thursday-Saturday. Visit the Loews website or call 1.800.235.6397.

Embassy Suites Sweepstakes

The “366 Days of More Sweepstakes” is giving away free lodging at the Embassy Suites Hotels every day until February 29, 2013. The brand that gives guests more through 2-room suites, free cooked-to-order breakfast, and nightly manager’s receptions is offering a chance to win a free night’s stay, plus a night to gift to a friend.  Enter the sweeps on Facebook at facebook.com/EmbassySuitesHotels.

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & AwayGlobal Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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Ceramic pots are heavy and hard to transport

When you’re moving into new digs every few months, it’s important to make the place feel like home. Few things bring a generic apartment to life more than houseplants: ferns, cacti, blooms, and greenery breathe freshness into your surroundings — literally.

But carting plants from location to location can take a toll on them. Even the most hardy species fall victim to travel overload.

Before you ditch the real thing for silk or plastic impersonators, check out these simple packing and transportation tips to keep your plants alive and well from one assignment to the next.

• Use plastic pots

You may prefer the rustic look of ceramic pots over the more nondescript plastic ones, but they’re heavy and hard to heft in and out of your car. What plastic pots lack in artistic value, they make up for in portability.

Lighten your load with plastic pots

• Examine for bugs & mildew

A few days before you depart, assess your houseplants for bugs, mildew, and diseases. There are several reliable websites out there to help you return your plants to health (try Guide to Houseplants).

This is important because some states have strict regulations about what you can and cannot bring across their borders. California and Florida, for example, both have restrictions. For specifics, check out the state’s department of agriculture website.

• Prune, but don’t overwater

Trimming actually promotes growth in most plants, but it also prepares them for transport. Not only are they more compact, taking up less room, but you can remove fragile pieces.

Be sure to give your plants a good watering a day or so before the trip, too, but easy does it. If you overwater, they could grow fungus in warm weather or freeze in frigid temps.

• Take extra precautions

If you want to protect flowers or branches from breakage en route, cover your plants with a large bag. Prevent them from sliding around in the car by placing nonskid material on pots, or contain them in open boxes. Never pack live plants in the trunk because carbon monoxide can build up in it, which can be fatal to the greenery.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be able to keep the feeling of “home” alive wherever you go.

Anne Baye Ericksen is a professional writer who has contributed to Healthcare Traveler since 1996. She resides with her family in Simi Valley, Calif.

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Photo: JoeyBLS Photography via Flickr.com

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be blind? The exhibit Dialog in the Dark takes participants on a one-hour journey through the streets of New York City in a completely dark environment.

Led by guides who are blind or visually impaired, participants’ senses are heightened as they haltingly navigate across busy, simulated streets, to a subway station, and into Times Square.

Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Dialog in the Dark is located at the South Street Seaport next to BODIES the Exhibition. Adult tickets are $23.50 and can be purchased at the exhibit box office, on Ticketmaster.com, or by calling 1-888-926-3437.

More than 15 million people worldwide have experienced BODIES the Exhibition, currently open to the public in New York City, Atlanta, and Las Vegas. BODIES the Exhibition features real human bodies, preserved using mortuary science, standing in an array of athletic poses. Unlike idealized models, the more than 200 respectfully displayed specimens provide a far more accurate understanding of anatomy.

Open seven days a week in NYC, adult tickets are sold on Ticketmaster.com for $28.50.

Where to Stay

Seven New York City hotels are offering buy one get one free admission to Dialog in the Dark.  The hotels participating in this promotion include:

  • Hilton Times Square
  • Hilton New York Fashion District
  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Times Square
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Metropolitan Hotel
  • Hampton Inn Manhattan Times Square North
  • Hilton Garden Inn New York/West 35th Street
  • Hilton Garden Inn Times Square

The NY Super Sale Package includes a reduced rate accommodation, buy one/get one free admission to Dialog in the Dark, and a $5 off coupon to Madame Tussauds from now through December 31, 2012.  Use code NX or NX1 at the Hilton online, or mention it when calling 1-800-HILTONS.

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & AwayGlobal Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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In my last blog, I discussed some of the unique insurance needs mobile professionals should consider for protecting their homes, vehicles, and personal items while on the road.

This time, I asked insurance expert Valerie Vollmer to share some pointers on evaluating different carriers. Below are some key factors to consider when shopping for insurance.

Reputation counts

Learn about the company’s history and its financial standing. Vollmer says to check out its A.M. Best ratings, and look for at least an A grade. Also, research its fiscal health. You want a company to have the funds readied in case you need to register a claim.

Geographic coverage

It’s not just about what types of insurance a company sells, but where those policies are honored — especially for mobile professionals. If you’re crossing state lines for contracts, make sure your insurance will go with you. Inquire about where the policy is in effect.

Lapse allowance

Of course, the best way to avoid any loss of coverage is to pay the premiums on time. Still, be informed on what kind of “forgiveness” period is allowed. Vollmer says most companies offer a 10- to 30-day grace period to get your payment on the books. To avoid that situation altogether, set up an automatic withdrawal program; chances are, you already have one with some of your regular bills.

Align with an agent

Because travelers move around so much, Vollmer says developing a relationship with an agent who understands your unique circumstances is even more important than for “regular” customers. Your agent can act as a surrogate in your absence, or at least an informed resource if you have to file a claim while on assignment. A single point of contact helps alleviate some stress or frustration. And, let’s face it; if you’re filing a claim, you’re already in a stressful situation.

Look for loyalty perks

While not every carrier offers every type of insurance, many sell multiple plans and offer discount premiums if you purchase a grouping, like home and auto. Others may reward long-term customers with loyalty discounts.

Good to know

Insurance may not be a topic you think about frequently — that is, until you need it. Regardless, if you’re in the market for a new company or it’s been a while since you reviewed your policies, it pays (or saves) to know that you and your belongings are protected if something happens on an assignment or at home.

Special thanks to Valerie Vollmer of Vollmer Insurance Services in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Anne Baye Ericksen has written for Healthcare Traveler Magazine since 1996. She resides with her family in Simi Valley, Calif. 

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Photo: Jim Twardowski

Each year, as soon as spring has sprung, I head to the local garden center. This year, I find a flower bed filled with bright red impatiens, a manicured front lawn, and a backyard filled with blooming azaleas, gardenias, agapanthas, and hydrangeas.

When I travel, I enjoy spending time in lushly landscaped gardens. Walking amongst the blooming plants provides inspiration for my own yard.

You, too, can find public gardens by visiting the American Public Gardens Association website. Featuring information on public gardens in all 50 states, track down and learn about gardens ranging from sculpture and topiary to aviary and Japanese. Use the “Garden Search” tool to locate one in your state, and here is a sample of what you might find:

Pennsylvania

The Brandywine Conservancy preserves art and the environment in Pennsylvania. American art is exhibited in the Brandywine River Museum — a 19th-century grist mill. Surrounded by wildflower and native plant gardens, providing a variety of blooms from early spring until the first frost, the museum houses a collection of works by Andrew, Jamie and N.C. Wyeth, as well as American illustrations, still life, and landscape paintings.

Idaho

Hundreds of gardens are located on college and university campuses across the country, but the 63-acre University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden sits in a valley with the rolling Palouse hills as a backdrop. Geographically arranged, visitors will see Asian, European, Eastern, and Western North American plant groupings.

Georgia

The American Camellia Society is based at Massee Lane Gardens and hosts the Festival of Camellia’s every February. The 100-acre botanical garden is located in the middle of Georgia, and a nine-acre section contains over 1,000 varieties of camellias.

National Public Gardens Day is on May 11 and Better Homes and Gardens is providing free admission to participating gardens. Simply visit the BHG website and download the voucher.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, visiting a public garden is a relaxing way to enjoy nature. And, you might just gain a greater appreciation for your own backyard!

Jim Twardowski, BSN, RN, CMSRN, is a travel writer based in Louisiana. His work has been featured in AAA Home & Away, Global Traveler, and QUEST magazines.

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Photo: dbking via Flickr.com

On Monday, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments regarding the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that every American purchase health insurance. Luckily, most staffing companies offer travelers employer-sponsored medical insurance. Still, that’s only one kind of insurance policy.

With auto, home, and renter’s insurance policies available for purchase, there are many types to protect you and your belongings.

For some insight into the finer points of insurance, and how to cater certain policies to a mobile lifestyle, insurance expert Valerie Vollmer offers the following advice.

Automobile

Driving to assignments every few months means spending more time behind the wheel than the average car owner. Vollmer suggests carrying full, comprehensive theft and vandalism, as well as collision with a low deductible. The more time your auto is out and about, the greater risk something could happen — like dings or accidents.

However, don’t neglect bodily injury and property damage liability. This not only covers you, the person you hit, and his/her passengers if they are injured in an accident, but having higher limits also protects your assets in the event that the other driver files a lawsuit against you. The damage element also reimburses others for any destruction of their property you caused.

Vollmer recommends travelers look for policies that provide a temporary rental car so you won’t be out of commission even if your vehicle is. These policies often include roadside services, too.

Recreational Vehicles

If you travel in a recreational vehicle or motor home, then you’re talking about another type of insurance altogether. Vollmer says to ask your agent about certain specifics, like what personal items are and are not covered. Are there comprehensive limits? Does it include breakdown services? Also, find out if a loss-of-use clause compensates you for temporary living accommodations.

Homeowner’s & Renter’s

If you own a home, you’re in luck. Homeowner’s insurance policies protect your belongings even if you are thousands of miles away on assignment. A notable exception is if you’ve turned your home into a rental property. If that’s the case, or if you don’t own a permanent residence, Vollmer suggests taking out a renter’s insurance policy at each new location. Generally speaking, this will replace items damaged or destroyed by burglary, water, smoke, and loss of use.

Travelers may also want to consider a personal article policy insuring valuables such as jewelry, cameras, and computers. However, cell phones, tablets, and e-readers aren’t usually covered.

Did you know that some carriers are dropping dog bite liability from homeowner’s policies? Other companies will exclude that coverage after the first incident. So before taking Fido on assignments, it’s important to know what is and isn’t included in your policy.

Stay tuned

Watch for the second half of this post next month, including tips on how to shop for insurance companies. Special thanks to Valerie Vollmer of Vollmer Insurance Services in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Anne Baye Ericksen has written for Healthcare Traveler since 1996. She resides with her family in Simi Valley, Calif. 

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